DOROB NATIONAL PARK

The Dorob National Park is another example of smart conservation in Namibia and represents one of Namibia’s newest National Parks that incorporates core conservation areas and multiple use areas for adventure tourism. It used to be referred to as the West Coast Recreational Area - due to continued destruction of the extremely delicate environment by quad bikes as well as other off-road vehicles, the areas most in need of protection were announced off-limit areas and ultimately form the most important parts of the park. Running from just south of Walvis Bay to the Ugab River in the north, forming the Central Namib Desert, it is a key piece of the puzzle along Namibia’s coast that allows for the entire coastline of the country, 976 miles (1,570km), from the Kunene River, at the northern border with Angola, to the Orange River, on the border with South Africa to be protected. Collectively this area is known as the Namib Skeleton Coast National Park. The protected coastline consolidates three national parks: Skeleton Coast, Namib-Naukluft and Sperrgebiet, and includes four RAMSAR wetlands of international importance. The 10.754 million hectare mega-park is the 6th largest terrestrial park in the world and the largest in Africa. In fact, the protected area is larger than Portugal!

Horse's Graveyard

The vague version of the story is that it consists of the skeletal remains of horses used by German colonial forces, the Schutztruppe. However the true story is somewhat different. In late 1915, troops the Union of South Africa were located at the coastal area, having driven out the German colonial troops, the Schutztruppe. In October 1915 they brought in a large number of horses and mules. An infectious disease known as glanders broke out amongst the horses and mules. The disease is caused by the bacteria Burkholderia mallei which is spread by contaminated food and water. Symptoms of the disease include lesions in the lungs and ulceration of the mucous membranes in the upper respiratory tract. As the disease reaches its acute stages, the effects are coughing, fever, septicaemia and release of an infectious nasal discharge which infects other animals. The animal dies within days, and animals that it has infected become carriers that will later die as well. The disease is also able to infect humans. A veterinary officer was sent to the area from Cape Town aboard the ship, ‘British Prince’. He carried with him a serum that was used to diagnose glanders. But the ‘British Prince’ sank off Possession Island, along the Namibian coast, and the veterinary officer was delayed for approximately 10 days, so the number of infected horses and mules increased substantially. On his arrival, he immediately began his diagnosis and those animals who had later stages of glanders or who tested positively for glanders were destroyed. The number of horses put out of their misery or spared from the fate of glanders number 1,695 and the number of mules, 944. Today all that remains is their bones, which are occasionally covered by the shifting sands of the Namib, only to appear again when the sands move on.

Martin Luther Steam Engine

In the 1890s, the coast of the country was separated from the rest of the country by the Namib Desert. Goods had to come in from South Africa or the coast, but the distance was a major difficulty. The shortest routes, from the coast, travelled from Walvis Bay and Swakopmund to Windhoek, along the ‘Baaiweg’ or Bay Road. Traces of the ‘Baaiweg’ can be seen on the Welwitschia Plains Drive, just outside of Swakopmund. Goods were transported by ox wagon. The stretch of 100 km through the Namib Desert meant that the oxen could not be fed for seven to eight days. As a result, the oxen had to recuperate and gain weight after the trip, and could not be used for months afterwards. This delayed the transport of goods even more. Although there was talk of a railway line in the future, a German lieutenant, Edmund Troost, imported a steam locomotive from Germany, in 1896. His plan was to haul the goods from Swakopmund to Heigamkab, where the Swakop River joined the Khan River. This would solve the problems with the oxen and speed up the delivery of goods. However things did not go according to plan. Firstly, there were problems with landing the locomotive at Swakopmund, so it had to be landed at Walvis Bay. At the time, hostilities broke out between the German colonial government and the Khauas Nama, so transport of the locomotive from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund was delayed for five months. Driving the locomotive to Swakopmund also proved very difficult, as the engine kept on sinking up to its axles in deep sand. In fact, it took three months for the locomotive to travel the 30 km with its trailer. Yet Edmund Troost was convinced that if the locomotive could just be brought to Swakopmund, it would fare far better on the more solid gravel plains of the Namib. Once it arrived in Swakopmund, the locomotive made a number of trips carrying goods to Heigamkab (40 km from Swakopmund) and Nonidas (12 km from Swakopmund). Lieutenant Troost’s theory about the harder ground of the gravel plains of the Namib was correct! But another problem arose… the Swakop River came down in flood, putting an end to the locomotive’s trips. Further plans were made to use the locomotive in construction of the jetty, but these were abandoned, and the locomotive was left to stand on the spot where it had last come to a sputtering halt, the same place where it stands today. Work on the railway began shortly afterwards. A plaque was erected to commemorate the valiant efforts of the locomotive. The words come from Martin Luther, the German religious reformer who established the Lutheran Church. In 1521, as he stood before the Diet of Worms, answering to charges of heresy, he was asked to renounce his beliefs. He responded with the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” The Martin Luther steam engine takes its name from this man and his words. Over the years, the Martin Luther engine was severely eroded by the combination of mist and abrasive winds from the desert. It was restored to its former glory, and now stands under protective brick and glass.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

As treacherous as it may have been for mankind, this rocky shoreline represents the breeding ground for largest colony of fur seals of Southern Africa. The area can hardly be described as the most romantic (let alone agreeable) sight for a great moment in the annals of discovery, yet, in this malevolent setting new masters of the sea and technology stepped ashore some six years before Columbus beheld the islands of the new world. The Portuguese navigator and explorer Diogo Cão was in 1484 ordered by King João II, as part of the search for a sea route to India and the Spice Islands, to advance south into undiscovered regions along the west coast of Africa. While doing so, he was to choose some particularly salient points and claim them for Portugal by setting up stone crosses called padrãos there. During his first voyage, thought to have taken place in 1482, he reached a place he called Monte Negro, now called Cabo de Santa Maria, roughly 150 km southwest of today’s Benguela, Angola. During his second voyage, in 1484–1486, Cão reached Cape Cross in January 1486, being the first European to visit this area. During this voyage he proceeded ca. 1,400 km farther than during the first one. He is known to have erected two padrãos in the areas beyond his first voyage, one in Monte Negro, and the second at Cape Cross. The current name of the place is derived from this padrão. What can today be found at Cape Cross are two replicas of that first cross. The original Cape Cross padrão was removed in 1893 by Corvette captain Gottlieb Becker, commander of the SMS Falke of the German Navy, and taken to Berlin. A simple wooden cross was put in its place. The wooden cross was replaced two years later by a stone replica. At the end of the 20th Century, thanks to private donations, another cross, more similar to the original one, was erected at Cape Cross, and thus there are now two crosses there. The inscription on the padrão reads, in English translation: “In the year 6685 after the creation of the world and 1485 after the birth of Christ, the brilliant, far-sighted King John II of Portugal ordered Diogo Cão, knight of his court, to discover this land and to erect this padrão here”.