Excursions from Keetmanshoop
If you prefer to base yourself in a town, then the Fish River Canyon
can both become day-trips from Keetmanshoop. However, each is a destination in its own right, and so they are covered separately. The two obvious excursions from town, the Quivertree Forest and the Giant's Playground, are almost adjacent. A little further afield, on the way to the Fish River Canyon via Seeheim, is Naute Dam, recently declared a recreational area.
Also known as the 'Kokerboomwoud', this is a dense stand of Aloe dichotoma tree-aloes, just 14km away from Keetmanshoop on the land of Gariganus Farm, owned by Coenie and Ingrid Nolte.
Take the B1 north for about one kilometre, then the C16 towards Koës, then left again on to the M29 shortly after this. These trees are found all over southern Namibia and the northern Cape, but in few places are so many seen together. (A second is a few kilometres south of Kenhardt, on the R27 in South Africa.)
Ideally drop in here around sunset or sunrise, when the light is at its best. These skeletal 'trees' make particularly striking photographs when the lighting of a fill-in flash is balanced against flaming sunset behind. Entry to the forest costs N$10 per person, plus N$20 for a vehicle, and includes entry to the Giant's Playground.
The quivertree, Aloe dichotoma, occurs sporadically over a large area of southern Namibia and the northern Cape, usually on steep rocky slopes. Its name refers to its supposed use by the Bushmen for making the quivers for their arrows – the inside of a dead branch consists of only a light, fibrous heart which is easily gouged out to leave a hollow tube.
The quivertree is specially adapted to survive in extremely arid conditions: its fibrous branches and trunk are used for water storage, as are its thick, succulent leaves, whilst water lost through transpiration is reduced by waxy coatings on the tree's outside surfaces. Additionally, in common with most desert-adapted flora, its growth rate is very slow.
Just 5km further down the M29 are some marvellous balancing basalt rocks known as the Giant's Playground. Reminiscent of formations in Zimbabwe's Matobo Hills, these are more limited but still interesting.
Naute Dam Recreational Resort
Surrounded by low hills, and overlooked by the Klein Karas mountains, the lake created by Naute Dam is about 26km long and, at its widest, some 7km.
From Keetmanshoop, take the B4 west to Seeheim, then turn south on to the C12. The entrance to the resort is to the left, about 25km from Seeheim, just before the dam itself. Further south, just beyond the dam, is a second turning on to the D545, signposted Nautedam, which leads towards the southern lakeshore. This road heads straight towards the mountains for 13km, then you turn right by a farm, signposted 'camping area'. From here, you can choose whether to head for the lake (take the left fork) or the game park.
Entrance to the park is N$7 per vehicle (N$15 for a minibus) plus N$3 per person.
Where to stay
Although an area around the lake is officially designated as a campsite, there are no facilities here at all, so if you plan to camp you will have to bring everything with you. That said, it's a peaceful spot right by the lake, and a wonderful place for birdwatching. It is to be hoped, though, that the area's new-found protected status will bring about a clean up of the broken glass strewn among the boulders. Camping costs N$30, and fees must be paid at the main entrance.
What to see and do
The 470m-long Naute Dam was opened in 1972. Standing 37m above the riverbed, it holds back the water from the Naute River as it feeds into the Fish River to the southwest. From the main entrance, where there are picnic tables and a small snack kiosk, there is a good vantage point over both the dam itself and the lake beyond with its cluster of small islands.
Not surprisingly, the lake has become a focus for numerous birds. There are opportunities for birdwatching from the viewpoint, but it is the reed-fringed sandy lakeshore to the south of the main entrance that is the real haven for waterbirds, with pelicans, herons, little egrets, cormorants and sacred ibis all in evidence. On the margins can be seen plenty of other species, including the blacksmith plover, African darter and African red-eyed bulbul.
At present, the game park is in its infancy, but it is presumably just a matter of time before this becomes an attraction in its own right.