Quiver Trees and Fish River Canyon - Namibia Weekend Adventures, Part 4
Leaving the Tropics and a Trip to the Giants’ Playground
Looking at a map, Windhoek sits just north of the Tropic of Capricorn - something we didn’t realize. So, it made for a worthy U-turn-and-pull-over moment when, driving south out of the capital, we passed a Tropic of Capricorn sign on the side of the road. Like passing the Continental Divide, it’d be silly not to take a picture!
But, departing the tropics was just a minor milestone on our way to the first stop of the weekend - Quiver Tree Forest.
Five-ish hours due south of Windhoek, you hit the desert city of Keetmanshoop. We can’t speak to the city itself, as we’d camp a few miles outside, but the area around Keetmanshoop has some incredible nature. In particular, seeing pictures of these alien-like quiver trees made stopping here a must.
And, checking into our campsite, the owner surprised us with another wild local feature - the Giants’ Playground. Knowing nothing of this other-world-ish spot, we were surprised when she suggested that, before setting up camp, we drive a few miles down the road to “check out the rocks.”
In a happy little accident, Quiver Tree Forest happens to be right next door to a lesser known - but equally impressive - natural phenomenon. Known as the Giants’ Playground, thousands of massive, dolerite boulders look like they were stacked, building-block-style, by enormous hands.
As a couple of Lord of the Rings nerds, we couldn’t help but feel like we were walking through a valley in Mordor. Fair warning, though - it’s extremely easy to get turned around winding through these geological wonders. Fortunately, the campsite owner gave us some solid advice:
“If you get lost, just climb a tall rock!”
Quiver Trees and the Southern Cross
Back in the Quiver Tree Forest, we posted up at a campsite abutting the rocky hills of this straight-out-of-Dr.-Seuss-looking park. Doing a little research, we found out that these wild-looking trees aren’t trees at all. They’re a type of aloe plant, albeit one that can grow to over 30 feet.
Named after the indiginous San people’s practice of using their hollowed-out branches for quivers, these plants typically grow far apart from each other. Due to some quirk of nature, tons of them grow in close proximity here, making Quiver Tree Park a truly unique place.
As the sun set and our fire settled down to cooking level, we poured drinks and strolled up into the park. Once again, we fell victim to the is-this-real? effect Namibia has on you, taking plenty of pictures and just absorbing the bizarre and beautiful landscape.
A recurring theme in a country with next to no ambient light, that night we were treated to a stunning display of stars. Seeing the Southern Cross bright in the sky, it makes sense why so many southern hemisphere countries include this feature on their flags. As northern hemisphere folks, it took some time getting used to seeing this iconic constellation, only visible from “the bottom of the world.”
Naute Kristall for Some Namibian Brandy Tasting
Recommendations from friends are a great guide for travels. We lucked out with Namibia, as the dad of a good friend of ours lived and worked in the country - then South West Africa - years ago. When he heard about our travels, he connected us with a friend still living in Namibia, one who also happens to own a distillery there (thanks for the local knowledge, Jason, Ned, and Michael!).
Serendipitously, Naute Kristall distillery fell right in the middle of Quiver Tree and our next stop, the Fish River Canyon. Looking at the map, pulling over for a tasting would make for a perfect pitstop.
Approaching Naute Kristall from the north, it’s hard to imagine how a distillery could grow enough in this arid environment to make any liquor. But, cresting a ridge, a lush, oasis-like valley unfolded beneath us - miles and miles of planted rows. With incredible irrigation and a local dam, Naute Kristall and the surrounding farms have tamed the desert.
What a place! Located on some high ground, the distillery provided sweeping views of these lush fields. Excited to explore the “fruits” of Naute Kristall’s labor, we dove right into a tasting.
The distillery offers six different liquors - all local variations on popular ones (e.g. Nappa is the spin on Italian grappa, while NamGin Devil’s Claw covers gin). The tasting guides you through all six of these, allowing you some hearty pulls of absolute deliciousness while also exposing you to the local ingredients and processes that go into production. Blown away by the distillery’s Dandy - a date brandy - we bought a couple bottles to enjoy over the rest of the weekend. Always a good decision!
Canyon Farm Yard / Tatooine for Some Local Knowledge
Post-tasting, we - wisely - decided on a coffee and sandwich on Naute Kristall’s back patio before hitting the road. Our original plan was to head straight to Hobas Rest Camp - our next stop - and the nearby Fish River Canyon. That plan was derailed when we drove by a roadside joint that looked like it could’ve been picked up off the side of Route 66 and dropped into southern Namibia.
At a secluded intersection of the north-south national railway and a dusty road, we saw a sign for “The Best Apfelstrudel in Namibia!” Can’t turn down some sugary, apple-ly deliciousness.
Taking a hairpin turn, we button hooked back into what we now confirmed to be Canyon Farm Yard, a campsite, little restaurant, and - seemingly - an outpost from Tatooine (that’s a Star Wars reference…).
Unfortunately, COVID-related travel restrictions hit Namibia particularly hard. The regular stream of German, French, and South African tourists nearly dried up. So, it was understandable - but still disheartening - to see an empty parking lot here. With the way the owner greeted us, though, you’d think business was booming - absolute sweetheart of a lady.
For the next hour, the three of us chatted about things to do in Namibia, worked our way through some massive servings of apfelstrudel (as delicious as advertised!), and tried some unbelievably tender kudu and lamb fat droewors, a local dried meat snack.
Fish River Canyon for Sundowners
Stuffed, we said our goodbyes and took off. An hour south, we reached Hobas Rest Camp, another NWR-run campsite and lodge a few miles from the eastern rim of the Fish River Canyon.
Due to the fact that it’s so far south in Namibia, a lot of visitors can’t make it here, which is definitely too bad. At 160 kilometers long and up to 550 meters deep, Fish River is the largest canyon in Africa and one of the most stunning in the world. Hobas is one of the best places to see it.
After a late afternoon dip in the pool, we drove 15ish minutes west to the canyon rim. Unlike the Grand Canyon (and its US liability considerations…), visitors can drive right up to the edge of Fish River Canyon. This makes for absolutely incredible - and vertigo-inducing - sunset experiences.
Pulling off the dirt track paralleling the canyon, we slowly made our way over the desert terrain, creeping to about 10 meters from the rim. Making sure to turn the truck around (and throw on the emergency break!), we parked and took a couple folding chairs out of the bed.
For the next 30 minutes, we drank wine, soaked in the views, and watched the sun set over the western edge of the Fish River Canyon - without another soul in sight!