The Spirit of the Rocks: Twyfelfontein

“Place of Ceremonies” – Twyfelfontein, Namibia.  A pathway leads between two imposing slabs of rock and on entering this shaded corridor there is an immediate sense of a captivating aura.  Some inner call whispers an invitation to reach out and touch the cool sandstone.  It’s like checking a pulse, finding an ancient rhythm and feeling a deep-earth heartbeat.  In the surrounding area, a legacy of San rock art is chiselled in the stone.   These petroglyphs are the finest in Southern Africa and date back to the late Stone Age.  Fortunately it was proclaimed a World Heritage site in 2007 and is administered under UNESCO’s preservation guidelines.  

Panels of engravings cover some 212 stone slabs depicting an extraordinary diversity of wild animals. Stories of animals slipping through rocks, elephant, rhino and the famous ‘five toed lion’ with a kink in it’s tail.   Giraffe, ostrich, graceful buck species parade along the slabs.  A seal here, and there flamingoes, creatures that exist some distance away from this inland place.  A young zebra foal suckling from it’s mother.   Our guide leads us through the ‘galleries’ theorising and giving context to the scenes.   Hunting scenes – spoor, geometric markings symbolising the rituals and beliefs of the hunter-gatherer people of the San.  Imaginings of a different realm, a spiritual trance world where animals were people and there was a connection between man and animal.  If only the rocks could talk what legends we would learn!


Twyfelfontein: The Organ Pipes along with baboons

The rock formation is aptly named –  the basaltic lava colums rise like organ pipes some standing 5 m high.  The valley is small, though the rocks have a lofty appeal.  The harsh light throws an unforgiving cast and the colours reveal shades of ochre and tan.  There are four of us negotiating the downward path, stepping carefully as there is loose scree.   There is a strange vibe here and the first bars of Edvard Grieg’s grand orchestral piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” plays through my mind.  I imagine Peer Gynt striding through the scene as the sound of falling rock shatters the calm.  Into view comes a troop of baboons!

We spot baboons nine separate occasions through the trip, but they immediately clear out, vanishing from view. Not this time  – they take up seats in the pews above and we’re being scrutinised.   We, the interlopers to this geological attraction take care not to be too intrusive, guessing that they want to descend to find water in the damp sand.  It’s hot, searingly hot and i notice that their fur is fine and sparse and that males don’t have the magnificent ‘manes’ that the coastal species have.

There are about 25 – 30 in this troop; not large by wild standards but in this tough environment you’ve got to admire how they adapt to survive in the harsh conditions.

We let them be and head back out on the opposite side; the encounter adds a layer to the timeless mysteries of the area.



WPC: Serene

Twilight in Southern Africa is a short affair – 45 minutes after sunset and evening rustles in. As birds and animals come in to roost there’s a gradual lessening of ‘chirp’. Here at the Kunene River Lodge the wind subsides and the water takes on a heavenly appearance to perfectly reflect the sky and clouds. It is remarkably serene – for about 15 minutes before the night chorus cranks up. Cicadas, crickets, frogs, night jars all tune up and deafen the night in syncopated symphony.
WPC: serene

Walvis Bay salt pans: jackal and pup

Walvis is situated on a lagoon and is a designated Ramsar wetlands site.  It teems with coastal shorebirds and waders and is regarded as the most important coastal wetland in the Southern African sub-region in terms of bird numbers and is one of the three most important coastal wetlands in Africa.

Mornings are agreeably foggy, due to the cold Benguela current lacing the Atantic Ocean, until the land mass warms up and the fog lifts.  Included in the wetland area are the saltpans where many bird species congregate including greater and lesser flamingoes.  Among the common Paleartic migrants are curlew sandpipers, sanderlings and little stints.  It supports nearly two-thirds of the southern African population of chestnut plovers – the smallest of the true waders and as the name suggests it has a chestnut coloured breast band.

The birds come in to feed at low tide and there is an air of social comradeship as the various species band together to feed.  The flamingoes wade through in an elegant style, the pelicans are solid and squawk in gutteral tones, the small waders dash here and there.  Set to this background we photographers lurk trying hard not to be too intrusive, invisible.

I notice the spoor along the saltpan tidal edge before spotting the jackal.  It surprises me to see it in such an inhospitable environment.  I guess though that it would be an ideal place for hunting birds.

It turns out to be a young female and her behaviour appears furtive.  I notice her anxious looks peering back to an area where there are pipes and a pumping station.  She in beautiful condition.

Panning carefully with the binoculars i spot movement and there near one of the pipes is a small pup in front of an open cut pipe.   “Hey mum, wait for me …. ”   The little pup appears to be signalling.   So well camouflaged it’s difficult to spot the pup – for the reader, look just to the right of the road sign.

Mum is not responding, so pup opts for security and dives back into the pipe ‘den’.

Isn’t it fascinating how animals find an ‘eco-niche’ in transformed environments?   On the edge of the saltpans there is a thriving bird population and an obvious steady source of food – but fresh water is scarce.

Judging from the spoor tracks in the area there are a number of other animals, yet they blend so well into the back ground and on the beach side sandy hummocks stretch towards Pelican Point.

What a wonderful sighting, although we’d come to observe birds, what a bonus to spot a carnivore ‘seeing the gap’ and adapting to this rich area.

Contrasts: saltpans to lush riverine terraces

The salt pans at Walvis stretch out in riveting colours – 3500 hectares and the pans are productive producing in excess of 700,000 tons of salt per year.  It’s a great place to hang out with the birds and surprisingly jackal._DSC1201_DSC1132_APR3835 - CopyThe Etendeka Plateau rises to 1500 meters and the view stretches over the Inselbergs.  Wild lion and desert elephant roam in this wide area.

Bordering Angola, the Kunene River supports a lush riverine vegetation –_DSC4516_DSC5832