Camping in Spitzkoppe
In Namibia, 276 kilometers west of Windhoek, there is a kopje of rough weathered granite piercing through hundreds of kilometers of flat desert, like the dorsal fin of a buried dragon. This is Spitzkoppe. The pinnacles, natural arches and piles of boulders are famous challenges for African rock climbers. They are also spectacular landscapes for some supermoon photography.
With the sun already low in the sky, we made camp between two protruding fins of granite. Hartman’s Mountain zebra neighed in the distance, and we watched rock dassies wattle out of crevasses to bask in the last light of the day. As the dusk winds started to rise, we dug a hole in the sand, built a windshield out of rocks, and started a campfire.
We massaged paprika, crushed black pepper, sea salt, brown sugar, garlic, chili and yellow mustard into a one and a half kilo slab of porterhouse steak. We pressed it in a butterfly grille, with whole cloves of garlic, white onions and small button squash, and waited for the flames to turn our wood into cooking coals.
Going to Visit the Supermoon
The first star appeared overhead, and we mashed the roasted garlic into potatoes, and cut the peri-peri steak into juicy flame kissed strips. We knew the moon rose at 8:19pm, but figured we would not see it for another hour, as it had to rise over some of the pinnacles in the dragon’s spine before it would come into our view.
This gave us some time to sip red wine from box in the cooler, and prepare tripods, lens, lights and batteries. We then set out on foot around nine, tracing the edges of the granite boulders to the entrance of a small slot canyon, leading into the granite pinnacles. During the day we had seen agamas here with electric green heads, rock dassies dens, and raptors perched high on the walls hunting them.
Near the end of the slot canyon there is a pile of car-sized boulders blocking the exit. It forces you to duck down, suck-in and shimmy through the pure darkness of the cave they have created. Exiting the cave feels like emerging from the back of the closet in The Chronicles of Narnia into a new magical world. You appear at the foot of a natural arch basted in the glow of the rising supermoon.
Photographing Spitzkoppe under the Supermoon
We could see the arch of light above the supermoon growing brighter on the horizon, and knew where the super moon would soon rise, but were still unsure how much more time there would be until we could see it. I scaled a boulder, and Sara handed-up my tripod and camera. The boulder was shaped like an egg, so I balanced the tripod legs over the front of it, and took-off my flip flops so I could use my feet to grip onto the downwards facing slope on the back.
As the moon rose through the arch, we shot long exposures of its light bouncing off the bottom of the arch. As it rose overhead, it cast light over the crocodile-toothed peaks of Spitzkoppe, and the night became increasingly brighter. My feet grew sweaty from clinging to the side of the coarse granite boulder, and one by one the four of us deconstructed our equipment to sit together under the arch in the moonlight and drink whiskey and wine. It felt like that secret sanctuary you have sought with your friends all your life. Your private playground full of magical beauty, if even just for a moonlit night.
We shot more images. The supermoon painted our shadows on the granite wall behind us like the ancient Bushman rock art found in the surrounding caves. The moonlight was so bright it eclipsed the unique quality of some of the images, as they just looked like they were shot during the day. However, shooting away from the moon, the stars penetrated the night sky, creating the enchanted effect we were after.
After hours in the land of the supermoon, we walked in single file back down the slot canyon, ducked through the dark cave portal, and arrived back in reality. We brought back images of a dreamland under a supermoon that had not been that bright since 1948. In the year 2034 we will have another supermoon of this size, and I fully recommend transporting yourself to this moonlight drenched playground to welcome its rise above the desert.
Notes for Nomads: The Spitzkoppe campsites are epic. They are situated in private places in and around the rock formations with braai pits and long drops. There is no water though, and the days are extremely hot. This was one of my favorite places to camp on the whole African road trip. Rock climbers and hikers can easily spend 2-3 nights here. The guided community tours are worth doing to see the part of Spitzkoppe that are off-limits without a guide. However, expect an uninspired scout that that can show you where the rock art is, yet does not have much of interest to explain.
For the night shots in this series, I generally used a f-stop of 1.8 and tried desperately to manually focus at infinity. The exposures are from 10-20 seconds, and the ISO I generally keep between 400 and 1250. I shoot a Cannon 7D Mark II.