Measuring about 30km by 23km at its base, and 2,573m at its highest point, this ravine-split massif of granite totally dominates the surrounding desert plains.
Though you cannot miss seeing it whilst driving in the vicinity, getting to Brandberg without driving over the fragile lichen plains needs thought. Its eastern side, around the Tsisab Ravine, is easily reached using a 2WD car via the D2359, which turns west off the C35 about 14km after Uis Mine on the way to Khorixas. It is signposted to the White Lady (Witvrou in Afrikaans), the famous rock painting.
Those with 4WD vehicles can also use the extensive network of rough tracks which turn towards the massif from the north, west and south, off the D2342, starting some 14km southwest of Uis Mine on the Henties Bay road.
If you are heading out to the coast, then the D2342 and D2303 are passable in a 2WD. The second is in better repair than the first, as it gets much less traffic. The D2342 is often used by small-scale miners, and it has patches of bad corrugations with sharp turns, though the spectacular scenery and profusion of welwitschia plants make it worth the journey. Note that the most northerly 5km of the D2303, where it approaches the Ugab River, is in very poor shape and should not be attempted. In case of emergency, Save the Rhino Trust usually staff a base at the end of this stretch. If taking either road, phone ahead to your destination so that someone expects you, and will know where to look for you if you don't arrive.
Where to stay
There's only one place to stay, and that's the restcamp, which makes a good base for exploring Brandberg:Brandberg Restcamp
(11 flats, campsite) PO Box 35, Uis; tel/fax: 064 504038
This small restcamp has five 2-bedroom flats and several 3–4-bedroom houses The flats each have four beds, two baths, two toilets, and a kitchen. The houses each take 6–8 people. There's also a camping site, a 25m swimming pool, tennis courts, a full-size snooker table and a badminton court here – at a restcamp that's trying very hard to survive and thrive even after the closure of the mine. The restaurant serves breakfast for N$31, and lunch and dinner à la carte.
Although the erstwhile gem-cutting school has now closed, there is still a souvenir shop selling some stones.
What to see and do
Two attractions are drawing increasing numbers of visitors:Climbing
With the highest point in Namibia and some good technical routes in a very demanding environment, the massif attracts serious mountaineers as well as those in search of a few days' interesting scrambling. It's very important to remember to take adequate safety precautions though, as the temperatures can be extreme and the mountain is very isolated. Unless you are used to such conditions, stick to short trips in the early morning or late afternoon, and take a long siesta in the scorching midday heat.
Serious climbers should seek advice from the Mountain Club of Namibia, in Windhoek, well before they arrive or contact Joe Walter, at Damaraland Trails and Tours (tel: 061 234610; fax: 061 239616). He knows the area well, and organises small backpacking groups.Paintings
This area has been occupied by Bushmen for several thousands of years and still holds a wealth of their artefacts and rock paintings, of which only a fraction have been studied in detail, and some are undoubtedly still to be found. The richest section for art has so far been the Tsisab Ravine, on the northeastern side of the massif. Here one painting in particular has been the subject of much scientific debate, ever since its discovery by the outside world in 1918: the famous White Lady of Brandberg.
The figure of the white lady stands about 40cm tall, and is central to a large frieze which apparently depicts some sort of procession – in which one or two of the figures have animal features. In her right hand is a flower, or perhaps an ostrich egg-cup, whilst in her left she holds a bow and some arrows. Unlike the other figures, she has been painted white from below the chest. The coloration and form of the figure is very reminiscent of some early Mediterranean styles and, together with points gleaned from a more detailed analysis of the pictures, this led early scholars to credit the painters as having links with Europe. Among the site's first visitors was the Abbé Henri Breuil, a world authority on rock art who studied these paintings and others nearby in the late 1940s, and subsequently published four classic volumes entitled The Rock Paintings of Southern Africa (see Further Reading). He concluded that the lady had elements of ancient Mediterranean origin.
More recent scholars seem to think that the people represented are indigenous, with no European links, and they regard the white lady as being a boy, covered with white clay whilst undergoing an initiation ceremony. Whichever school of thought you prefer, the white lady is well signposted and worth the scramble needed to reach it.
Further up the Tsisab Ravine there are many other sites, including the friezes within the Girl's School, Pyramid and Ostrich shelters. If you wish to get more out of the rock art, then Breuil's books cannot be recommended too highly – though as beautifully illustrated antique Africana they are difficult to find, and expensive to buy.