What to see & do
There's a lot to see and do in Southern Damaraland, and virtually all of it is easily accessible with your own vehicle.Vingerklip – the rock finger
For years now the Vingerklip, or rock finger, has been a well-known landmark in this area. Around it are flat-topped mountains, reminiscent of Monument Valley (in Arizona), which are so typical of much of Damaraland. They are the remains of an ancient lava flow which has largely now been eroded way.
Amidst this beautiful scenery, Vingerklip is a striking pinnacle of rock, a natural obelisk balancing vertically on its own. It's an impressive sight, and similar to the (now collapsed) Finger of God near Asab.Twyfelfontein rock art
Twyfelfontein was named 'doubtful spring' by the first European farmer to occupy the land – a reference to the failings of a perennial spring of water which wells up near the base of the valley.
Formerly the valley was known as Uri-Ais, and seems to have been occupied for thousands of years. Then its spring, on the desert's margins, would have attracted huge herds of game from the sparse plains around, making this uninviting valley an excellent base for early hunters.
This probably explains why the slopes of Twyfelfontein, amid flat-topped mountains typical of Damaraland, conceal one of the continent's greatest concentrations of rock art. This is not obvious when you first arrive. They seem like any other hillsides strewn with rocks. But the boulders that litter these slopes are dotted with thousands of paintings and ancient engravings, only a fraction of which have been recorded.
Amongst African rock-art sites, Twyfelfontein is unusual in having both engravings and paintings. Many are of animals and their spoor, or geometric motifs – which have been suggested as maps to water sources. Why they were made, nobody knows. Perhaps they were part of the people's spiritual ceremonies, perhaps it was an ancient nursery to teach their children, or perhaps they were simply doodling...
Even with a knowledgeable local guide, you need several hours to start to discover the area's treasures. Begin early and beware of the midday heat. Take some water up with you, also stout shoes and a hat!
To reach the valley, which is well signposted, take the C39 for 73km west from Khorixas, then left on to the D3254 for 15km, then right for about 11km (ignoring a left fork after 6km) on the D3214. Entrance to the valley costs N$5 per person and N$5 for a vehicle, and a (compulsory) local guide is N$20. (Small extra tips are greatly appreciated.) Organ pipes
Retracing your tracks from Twyfelfontein, take the left fork which you ignored earlier (see directions above), on to the D3254. After about 3km there's a small gorge to your left, and above it a flat area used for parking. Leave your vehicle and take one of the paths down where you'll find hundreds of tall angular columns of dolorite in a most unusual formation. These were thought to have formed about 120 million years ago when the dolorite shrank as it cooled, forming these marvellous angular columns up to 5m high in the process.Burnt Mountain
Continuing just past the Organ Pipes, on the D3254, you'll see what is known locally as the 'Burnt Mountain'. Seen in the midday sun this can be a real disappointment, but when the red-orange shales catch the early morning or late afternoon light, the mountainside glows with a startling rainbow of colours, as if it's on fire.Petrified Forest
Signposted beside the C39, about 42km west of Khorixas, lie a number of petrified trees on a bed of sandstone. Some are partially buried, while others lie completely exposed because the sandstone surrounding them has eroded away. It is thought that they were carried here as logs by a river, some 250 million years ago, and became stranded on a sandbank. Subsequently sand was deposited around them, creating ideal conditions for the cells of the wood to be replaced by silica, and thus become petrified.
Now there is a small office here, a car park, and demarcated paths around the site. A small entrance fee is charged (about N$10), and there are helpful guides who will show you some of the highlights of the forest in about an hour.Wondergat
Off the D3254, about 4km north of its junction with the D3214, a track heads west from the road. After about 500m this comes to a huge hole in the ground – thought to be the remnants of a subterranean cave whose roof collapsed long ago. There are no signposts or safety barriers, so be careful near the edge.Ballooning
Francolino Fly-ins Tel: 067 697041; fax: 067 697042; email: email@example.com Set up around 2001, and run by Francesca Mattei and Wolfgang Rapp, Francolino offer ballooning, micro-lighting and scenic flights in a light aircraft. They are located at Rag Rock, which is signposted from the D2612. It's very close to Mowani, and about 4km from Aba-Huab Campsite. Last time I was in the area they were not around, and thus trips were not possible… so pre-booking these activities would be very wise.