South and east of Walvis Bay in Namibia, Namib-Naukluft National Park, founded in 1907, shelters ostriches, springbok and gemsbok, among other wild animals.
In the middle of the park is Sossusvlei, an amazing place for viewing giant sand dunes. (In the dry season, the dunes can be 1,000 ft/300 m tall.) Go at dawn or dusk, not only to avoid the heat, but for prime game viewing (mainly gemsbok and ostrich) and the chance to see the dunes casting their long photogenic shadows.
Every few years or so, depending on rainfall, Sossusvlei briefly fills with water, a truly miraculous apparition below the tall dunes. Even more spectacular than Sossusvlei is the nearby Doodvlei (literally Dead Marsh), a Hadean parody of a lake whose cracked floor, punctuated with desiccated tree trunks, hasn't actually held water for centuries.
The Naukluft area in the southeast is a mountainous reserve that supports the very rare Hartmann's mountain zebra, a Namibian endemic. In the north grows the peculiar welwitschia, a plant that evolved 300 million years ago to get moisture from the air, not the soil. With a permit, you can examine a 1,500-year-old specimen. Permits can be obtained from the Directorate of Wildlife, Conservation and Research in Swakopmund.
Avoid the park during the hot season (October-March). Accommodations are available in nearby Walvis Bay or Swakopmund, and there is a campground complete with a swimming pool in Sesriem. Numerous upscale lodges are scattered on the private conservancies along the eastern border near Sossusvlei.
The park stretches 280 mi/450 km along the coast, from just east of Swakopmund to Luderitz.
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