An hour's drive northeast of Sesriem, the main escarpment juts out into the desert forming a range known as the Naukluft Mountains. In 1968 these were protected within the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park – to conserve a rare breeding population of Hartmann's mountain zebra. Shortly afterwards, land was bought to the west of the mountains and added to the park, forming a corridor linking these mountains into the Namib National Park. This allowed gemsbok, zebra and other game to migrate between the two, and in 1979 the parks were formally combined into the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
The uniqueness of the area stems from its geology as much as its geographical position. Separated from the rest of the highlands by steep, spectacular cliffs, the Naukluft Mountains form a plateau. Underneath this, to a height of about 1,100m, is mostly granite. Above this base are alternating layers of dolomites and shales, with extensive deposits of dark limestone, rising to about 1,995m. Over the millennia, rainwater has gradually cut into this massif, dissolving the rock and forming steep kloofs
, or ravines, and a network of watercourses and reservoirs – many of which are subterranean. The name Naukluft, which means 'narrow ravine', is apt for the landscape.
Where these waters surface, in the deeper valleys, there are crystal-clear springs and pools – ideal for cooling dips. Often these are decorated by impressive formations of smooth tufa – limestone that has been re-deposited by the water over waterfalls.
Flora and fauna
Receiving occasional heavy rainstorms in summer that feed its network of springs and streams in its deeper kloofs, the Naukluft supports a surprisingly varied flora and fauna.
The high plateaux and mountainsides tend to be rocky with poor, if any, soil. Here are distinctive Euphorbia, Acacia, Commiphora
plants (including quivertrees – which are found in a dense stand in Quivertree Gorge). Most are low, slow-growing species, adapted to conserving water during the dry season. The variations of slope and situation result in many different niches suiting a wide variety of different species.
Down in the deeper kloofs, where there are permanent springs, the vegetation is totally different, with many more lush, broad-leaf species. Wild, cluster and sycamore figs are particularly prevalent, whilst you should also be able to spot camelthorn, buffalo thorn, shepherd's and wild olive trees.
The Naukluft has many animals, including large mammals, though all are elusive and difficult to spot. Hartmann's mountain zebra, gemsbok, kudu and klipspringer are occasionally seen fleeing over the horizon (usually in the far distance). Steenbok and the odd sunbathing dassie are equally common, and springbok, warthog, and ostrich occur, but are more often found on the plains around the mountains. The mountains should be a classic place for leopard, and the smaller cats, as there are many small mammals found here – though these are almost never seen.
Over 200 species of birds have been recorded here, and a useful annotated checklist is available from the park office. The Naukluft are at the southern limit of the range of many species of the northern Namib – Rüppell's parrot, rosy-faced lovebirds and Monteiro's all occur here, as do species typical of the south like the Karoo robin and chat. In the wetter kloofs, watch for species that you wouldn't find in the drier parts of the park, like the water-loving hamerkop, brubru and even African black ducks. Raptors are usually seen soaring above. Black eagles, lanner falcons, augur buzzards and pale chanting goshawks are common.