The road from Mariental to Keetmanshoop
Between Mariental and Keetmanshoop is a 221km stretch of tar road that most visitors see at speed. However, a few places are worth knowing about as you hurry past:
About 6km west of the B1, this sprawling community lies in a valley. Its sole claim to fame is as the site of what is thought to be the world's heaviest shower of meteorites some 600 million years ago. Many of these are now displayed in Windhoek's Post Street Mall, while a smaller specimen may be seen at the museum in Rehoboth.
Almost halfway between Mariental and Keetmanshoop is a tiny place beside the road: Asab. There's a fuel station, the dirty, run-down Asab Hotel
(tel: 063 242577), and a sparsely stocked shop. It's a useful spot for emergencies, and the place to branch off the main road if you are heading to Mukurob.
Known as 'the Finger of God', Mukurob was once an immense rock pinnacle, which balanced on a narrow neck of rock and towered 34m above the surrounding plains. It collapsed around December 8 1988, leaving a sizeable pile of rubble. Its demise caused much speculation at the time, as the finger's existence was linked to divine approval – and the country was in the process of becoming independent. Initially it was claimed that God was displeased with contemporary developments in this independence process. Later, right-wing extremists were blamed rather than God. Eventually, though, theories linked its fall firmly with the shock waves from the large Armenian earthquake of December 7. To drive to where it stood, turn east off the B1 on to the D1066, just south of Asab, and follow the signs for about 23km. To see it as it once was, drop into the tourist information office at Keetmanshoop and have a look at the replica.
Two-thirds of the way towards Keetmanshoop, opposite the turning to Berseba and Brukkaros, Tses is a small township on the east of the road. As in any small, poor country township, visitors passing through are treated as something of a curiosity, but made welcome. If you're travelling by bus, the service leaves for Keetmanshoop on Monday and Friday at 13.15. There's a small trading store across the railway, and a Caltex petrol station open 07.00–20.00.
Rising to 650m, the volcanic crater of Brukkaros towers over the expanse of bare, flat plains that surround it. It's a classic volcano shape, easily visible west of the B1. Early this century the Germans used the eastern side of the crater as the base for a heliograph. Then later, in the early 1930s, the Smithsonian Institute built a solar observatory on the western side, taking advantage of the clear air and lack of artificial lights nearby. Both the Germans and the observatory have now gone, and the skies are as clear as ever – so it's a great place to explore and possibly camp.
About 80km north of Keetmanshoop, and just south of the turning to Tses, turn west on to the M98 (signposted simply 'Berseba'). The road crosses the Fish River after about 19km, and it's worth a short stop to check out the waterbirds, including sacred ibis, that congregate here. In late afternoon, you may even spot a family of baboon crossing the river.
After a further 19km, just before you reach Berseba, turn north towards the volcano on to the D3904. Though this looks like a short distance, it'll be 9km or so on a flat road until you are at the gates, and only then do you start to climb the volcano near the end of the road. Getting here without your own vehicle would mean taking the twice-weekly bus to Berseba (arriving from Keetmanshoop at 11.00 on Monday and Friday, and departing at 12.15) but you'd almost certainly have to walk from there.
There's an entrance fee of N$15 per person for day visitors, or N$25 for those camping overnight, plus N$10 for a vehicle. The money collected benefits the people of the surrounding villages.
Where to stay
Before the road deteriorates, there's a small campsite (tel: 061 250558; fax: 061 222647) with individual barbecue places, basic toilets and bucket showers. Above this, you need a 4WD to reach the second camping area. Though wood and water are said to be available at the gates, don't bank on it – there's a basic store in Berseba if you're out of supplies. There's a public telephone at the gate in case of emergency.
What to see and do
From the 4WD campsite, a footpath leads to the eroded edge of the southern crater's southern lip. The path here was made whilst the observatory was being constructed, and it goes over the lip and into the crater, taking about 40 minutes, then continues up to the old observatory just below the western rim after an hour or so. The rim itself is a very short scramble away. Guided walks are in theory available for N$20 an hour.
You can hike around here, or just sit and watch the dust-devils twist their way for miles around as the sun goes down. It is a superb place to sleep out under the stars, which you will probably never see more clearly.
The nearest town to Brukkaros, Berseba is one of the region's oldest settlements – notable for having had a Rhenish missionary, Samuel Hahn, based there as early as 1850. Now it remains a large though poor settlement, surviving by subsistence farming. This area often receives very little rain, and agriculture of any kind is difficult. There are a couple of shops for essentials and a fuel pump at the end of the road, though don't rely on the latter.
Continuing south on the B1, the road remains level and straight. If you're camping and hoping to stop before Keetmanshoop, it may be worth considering Susan Hulme's somewhat unusual site 22km to the north of the town:
Garas Quivertree Park and Restcamp
PO Box 106, Keetmanshoop; tel/fax: 063 223217; email: email@example.com. There's a great sense of humour here, with numerous model figures lining the 1km drive from the B1 to the campsite. Although there is a campsite, with some very basic (but nevertheless clean) toilet and shower facilities, the real appeal is the rather eclectic mix of traditional huts and other artefacts that are displayed around the place almost in junkyard fashion. There are quivertrees too, as you would expect from the name, and several aloe plants. Wood and water are available, but otherwise you need to be entirely self sufficient.Rates: camping N$25 per person, plus N$5 per vehicle and N$5 per trailer. Day visitors N$5 each.