The Nourishing Mists of Dorob National Park
While it is hard to find respite from the sun in most of Namibia, on the Atlantic coast, the hot desert air meets cold water from southern Africa, and creates huge fog banks. The mist from the morning fog floats inland over the coastal dunes of Dorob National Park, providing just enough water to support life in an otherwise harsh habitat.
Around two hundred species of Tok-Tokkie beetles live in the dunes, including the fog basking beetle, which climbs to the crest of the dunes in the morning and does a headstand, allowing the passing mist to accumulate in droplets on its back, and roll down into their mouths. Then they scavenge around the troughs of the dunes for seeds and plant detritus that has blown in from as far away as Angola.
These small beetles are the bottom of the food chain for a diversity of cleverly adapted desert animals. Most are miniature to limit their need for scarce resources, and have found ways to blend into the dunes, making their hidden worlds hard to find. However, all life leaves little signs in this world of misty moving sand, and those that have learned to read them can take you on one of the best desert safaris in the world.
Reading Dorob’s History in the Dunes
The desert is not all sand, it sits on a crust of gypsum, which breaks when trod upon, capturing a timeless cast of what has passed over it. It is said that the ox drawn wagon tracks from Captain James Edward Alexander’s exploration party in 1837 are still clearly visible today. History stands etched in the desert floor.
However, the wind blows the dunes into wispy crests that stay in constant motion. They slowly dance over this gypsum foundation, covering and revealing the stories carved beneath them. They are a relentless force, consuming ship wrecks on the skeleton coast to the north, ghost towns from the diamond rush in south, as well as the original railway tracks laid in 1902 from Windhoek to Swakopmund, which now emerge at the coast from under hundred-meter sand dunes.
However, while the motion of these great dunes can bury the past, they also record more contemporary stories on their surface. Every morning the dunes read like a bushman’s newspaper of recent activity in the area. Nothing can move across them without leaving their imprints in the shifting sand. Dots and dashes, pitter patters, S-shaped sidewinder slithers, paws and claws, and records of meetings and close escapes litter the dunes.
There are no secrets for life in the sand, as every movement is recorded on the surface. However, history here only lasts for a day. Breezes sweep over the dunes, ordering the sand back into neat lines, like sets of waves in the open ocean. This means timing is very important on a desert safari, as these signs in the sand must be followed before they disappear.
Desert Safari in the Dunes
A desert safari in Dorob National Park first exposes you to the barren beauty of endless sand dunes. This sea of sand is made of white quartz, purple garnet, and black magnetite giving colorful sheens to the slopes. Pencil plants, dollar plants, nara bushes, and Kraal aloe cling here and there in the sand, providing some minimal shelter from the sun and wind, but everything that lives here must be designed for the desert to survive.
We find a Palmato gecko with webbed feet that allow it to glide over the sand dunes, and big alien eyes it can gather moisture on and lick for a drink. We found a dancing white lady spider, that cartwheels an escape down sand dunes when threated. Our guide caught a Fitsimmon’s burrowing skink, which is a legless lizard that slithers under the sand like a snake, sensing vibrations from its prey, and attacking like a monster from the movie Tremors.
The wildlife sightings on the desert safari were phenomenal. We got to see a Namaqua chameleon hunt, a Namib sand snake wind through the sand, a shovel-snouted lizard do its thermal dance, and a Perinquey’s adder (sidewinder snake) shimmy down into the sand, until only the two eyes on the top of its head were exposed, camouflaged amongst the trillions of grains of sand.
While you will not see the big five safari animals on this desert safari, you may just find some of the most interesting species you have ever heard of, all in some of the most barren and beautiful landscape in the world. So, head to Swakopmund for some tasty seafood, and discover the dunes of Dorob on a safari to find the desert five.
Notes for Nomads: I joined Living Desert Adventures for a desert safari in Dorob National Park twice, and loved the experience both times. Beyond the animal sightings of the desert safari, the guides expertly explain the ecosystem, the treats to its conservation, and take you on an adventurous scenic tour through the dunes. I highly recommend it. Also, bring a good macro lens to get the most out of this tour, and be prepared to get sand everywhere and on everything.