In the arid Namibian desert, there seems to be little of importance. But take a closer look and the wonders of this quiet piece of the world will come to light. An hour’s drive west of Khorixas there is a richness in history unlike other. Though there are not a lot of people, Twyfelfontein has been inhabited for 6000 years, from hunter-gatherers, the San, Damara to European settlers. Twyfelfontein means “uncertain fountain” in Afrikaans and was named by a farmer who settled in the region. Later the region became known as Damaraland and was a homestead of the Damara tribe. Locally it is also known as ǀUi-ǁAis which means “jumping waterhole” in Damara and it is believed to be the historical name of the region.
Visitors will be surprised to find that Twyfelfontein is home to numerous rock paintings and carvings made by the inhabitants of thousands of years ago. It is believed that the region was used in the dry winter months by shamans of the San tribe. Here they travelled to different planes and carved their experiences in the fallen desert rocks for the next generations to observe. In the 21st century, visitors take a trip back in time looking at this immaculate art. There are different areas of the site to visit, and some of them still carry their German names.
After exploring the activities available in the area, visitors can enjoy a sundowner at the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge or at one of the other camps in the area in true African safari style.
At the heritage site, visitors can take part in guided tours of the rock art; there are three different trails to take. Visitors should expect quite a journey as the trails are full of rocks and high steeps. Expect to spend two hours looking at this ancient art.
The rock art is not the only place in the area where one can get a glimpse into the past. There is also a petrified forest consisting of petrified wood carried into the desert by water that flowed there centuries ago. The forest is located 50 km west of Khorixas and is only a short drive from Twyfelfontein. The forest is also close to a 150 million year old rock formation named Organ Pipes because of their appearance. These rock formations were formed by lava. More evidence of the lava in the area is visible on the Burnt Mountain, a mountain with an obvious darker color compared to the light surrounding desert ground.
Nature lovers can combine history and nature by enjoying the sites of the one of its kind welwitschia. These plants seem to be dead branches sticking out of the dry earth, but in fact these plants are growing and alive, and become more than a 1000 years old. The welwitschia, together with the baobab tree and halfmens succulents, reveals the wonders of this arid desert. What is perceived as a wasteland is in fact an entire ecosystem of variety showing the adaptability of plants and animals. Visitors can experience this first hand by going on guided tours to find the wild desert adapted elephants and black rhinoceroses. Because these animals roam freely, and are not in a national park, visitors should not expect to see them easily.
From the international airports in Johannesburg or Cape Town, Windhoek Airport is the closest major airport to the Twyfelfontein area. From there, the journey can either keep on its aerial route by a charter flight to an airstrip right outside Twyfelfontein that receives a few of these flights weekly, or go by road.
From the airport by road, one of our experienced tour guides will serve as your driver in one of our comfortable vehicles for the few hours before arriving at Twyfelfontein, in the northwestern part of Namibia.
The climate in this part of Namibia is extreme. The area is a semi-desert with both freezing and hot temperatures to be felt in winter and summer respectively. Humidity in this part of the world is a non-issue luckily, and with a bit of shade the beautiful artworks of former generations can be enjoyed. The weather does, however, permit a best time to visit the area, which is in the autumn or early spring. April and September fall within that ideal sweet spot.
The World Heritage Site was first recognized nationally as a monument by 1952, some years after word of its existence was first spread by the farmer who discovered the collection. The work is currently accredited to hunter gatherers, some of the earliest inhabitants to the area some 6 000 years earlier before any major civilizations had been established. It is situated in the Haub Valley in the southernmost parts of the region. Since its creation it has been discovered, rediscovered, taken over by the Apartheid government, been declared a monument and finally declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site of Namibia.
The area is home to a number of animals adapted to the extreme weather conditions and the arid nature of the area’s environment. Elephants, similar to those who wander the Kalahari or the edge of the Sahara, are often sighted. Giraffes can also be found here, along with black rhinos that occasionally reveal themselves. Smaller mammals found in the area include the bat-eared fox, aardwolf and meerkat, all of which feed on reptiles and insects.
The area is very dry and rocky; making for a large inventory of canvasses for local people to transform the area into the cultural hub it is today. The area is also the transition point between the savanna areas to the east and the infamous Skeleton Coast National Park, part of the Namib Desert, to the west. The ground here is grass covered with scattered trees, but water remains a scarce and valuable resource, and all life that flourishes here is carefully adapted to this struggle for water. The valley has lower lying areas and rocky cliffs that encompass it, with many different elevation levels as opposed to the flat, dune-covered areas to the west.
First and foremost, taking a guided tour of the rock art tops the list of activities. The variety and history found amongst the art takes you back to generations and generations of people unrepresented in our modern society and stories of their encounters and challenges. The figures drawn on the rocks are also considered a pictographic communication system that preceded the first writing systems. Luckily, pictures like these have been deciphered and shared, along with the ancient stories they tell to this day.
A drive on the dry riverbeds within the area is the second commonly practiced activity here. One might not think a dry river is much different to any other dry patch of land around you, but elephants often dig below these rivers in search of water. Ground water is often found below these dry rivers and animals take full advantage of this. Such a drive usually comes with a few sightings because of these underground water sources.
The experiences to savor at Twyfelfontein stretch beyond the famous rock art sites and into the surrounding desert, with its wealth of desert-adapted wildlife and its distinctly dramatic scenery. Take a moment to enjoy the little things.
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