The Rivers of the Namib

In Adventures, Articles, Gallery, Places, Vehicles by Eben DelportLeave a Comment

The Namib is all about vast space.

This vastness, all 130,000 square kilometres of it, is teeming with life, and contains all they need for life, water, food, shelter and ability for their young to grow up. As a desert, the Namib is situated in the Angolan, Namibian and South African lowlands below the altitudes of 1000 metres and gets less than an average rainfall of 100 mm per year, sometimes none at all. This automatically brings to mind thoughts that the Namib is dominated by sand dunes, desert landscapes and open grasslands.
Raging rivers is not a thought that springs to mind. An interesting fact is that all rivers starting in Namibia are ephemeral rivers – flowing only after heavy rains have fallen over their catchments. For most of the year, these internal rivers are dry sandy channels…but don’t be fooled thinking life in these riverbeds is restricted to just plants and insects. The ‘real’ rivers forming part of the Namibian borders (Orange, Kunene, Kavango, Zambezi) all originate in neighbouring Angola, Zambia and RSA.
In the central Namib the rivers would rarely reach the sea as they would either be blocked by sand dunes, being the case at Sossus vlei, Tsondab vlei and to same extent the Kuiseb river, or the river bed will just ‘absorb’ the water and store it underground in big aquifers. On a recent trip from Luderitz on route to Walvis Bay on the 4×4 trail, we once again crossed the Koichab Pan. This pan is situated some 50km away from Luderitz on the edge of the Namib Sand Sea in the Koichab river valley.
The Koichab river originates near Aus on the escarpment in an area that only receives on average 80 mm of rainfall per annum. This harsh, dry, area has contrasting features and presents the most beautiful landscape, really triggering ones appreciation due to the kaleidoscope of colours and the vastness. Underneath this pan there is an aquifer, 50 km in length, 13 km wide and approximately 50 meters thick.Likewise, further North in the central Namib, the Kuiseb and Omaruru rivers also have big underground ‘reservoirs’ which support Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Henties Bay as well a several industries and mines in this region.
In the northern part of the Namibian Namib one would find various supply various ‘springs’ and ‘swamps‘ with a water table close to the surface the wildlife and local inhabitants easily dig shallow holes to get a fresh supply of clean water.This very special and unique attributes of the Namib contribute to very unique and special mini eco-systems in existence in and along the rivers.
The riverbeds of the Northwest support a large variety of big game, the most famous probably being the desert elephants. Spectacular in their own right, these elephants share the riverbeds with black rhinos, lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas – not even mentioning the large number of plains game and smaller predators. The largest west flowing rivers of the Northwest include the Omaruru, Ugab, Huab, Hoanib, Hoariseb & Khumib Rivers.
Normally due to time constraints the ‘normal’ Damaraland and Kaokoland adventures ‘standard’ itineraries normally include parts of these rivers as these eco-regions stretch beyond the escarpment that forms the eastern border of the Namib. Time-wise a lot of time is spend in the ‘high-lands’ and the time spend in the areas below the escarpment does not do justice to this strange and exceptionally beautiful area of the Namib.
Although the northern areas are at their most interesting during the rainy season (January to April) it is important to make certain that the river is dry enough before embarking on a trail in and along the river. Heavy downpours inland can cause the river to come down unexpectedly. It is best to do these excursions in the company of more than one vehicle and experienced off-road enthusiasts’ or in the company of an organised commercial group.

Worth mentioning is the fact that all the Namibian Rivers have their own distinct character and “look”. In most cases one can simply identify a river by looking at a photo. The photo’s accompanying the story in some ways illustrate this.

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