Best Time For... Hiking

So what’s hiking...? More than a walk but not a major trek? Difficult enough to challenge, beautiful enough to make the effort? Both sound like fair definitions but, saying that, who’s defining? A hike’s a pretty subjective jaunt but one thing’s for sure you have plenty of options in Namibia.

You can hike for a half day, full day or more than a week depending on your health, stamina and desire. You can tackle mountains, huge rocks or trek across the desert. You can go on guided, unguided, even overnight hikes. And there are opportunities for all levels of expertise and time constraints. This article will give you ideas of when to go, what to bring and where to start. We’ll kick off with a handful of day hiking options to give you a flavour and then look at some ‘hiking heroes’, basically longer treks in classic spots.

When To Go

So when is the best time to hike it? In a nutshell, May to September will be the coolest time. After that the mercury rises significantly. Also, some guided treks only happen at certain times of year, normally in the winter months. But remember if you are hiking in Namibia’s winter, temperatures drop a great deal at night and it can get very cold. Oh, and best leave early in the morning. Before the sun rises, if you can.

Day Hiking

There are hundreds, if not, thousands of options for full or half day hikes. A huge number of lodges offer their own guided walks and have local information if you want to wander off alone.

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When it comes to examples, perhaps one of the most spectacular places to start with is Spitzkoppe in the Namib desert. Nicknamed the Matterhorn of Namibia, this collection of rocks, bang in the middle of nowhere, is ideal for a days hiking. They’re old too, of course, like all great lumps of rock, but these are especially so. This group of great, bald granite peaks or ‘bornhardts’ is believed to have formed more than 700 million years ago. It all kicked off after the ancient continent Gondwana split into the southern continents we know today - this led to the Brandberg Mountains too.

Several peaks jut up awkwardly and the highest point is more than 1700 metres above sea level. Hikers and rock climbers alike should be chuffed with the delights on offer. You can go around the rocks and climb onto them. There’s a hike known as the Normal Route which is popular with those who like to go bouldering. The view from the top is not to be sniffed at but you do need to be fit. And whilst you don’t need any technical gear, be careful - the nearest hospital is at least two hours away. If you take a guided tour you can learn more about the history and rock art sites too.

There are also good day hiking opportunities in the Erongo mountains. The huge granite boulders of Bulls Party and Elephants Head are popular spots.

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Another option is the Olive Trail in the Naukluft Mountains. You’ll pass olive trees along the route and after you go down a gorge it’s an easy walk along a dry river bed. The most challenging section is a chain bridge and rocky ledge. You may find having to trust this slim piece of metal rather hair raising but that’s the way it is. It’s about 10km and you may encounter kudu and baboon as you saunter along. The Waterkloof Trail is longer and harder. It’s 17km and takes about 6-7 hours. If the rains have been, you should see waterfalls and pools.

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Or do you want sand? Then head out to the dunes. Hiking to the top of Big Daddy in Sossusvlei takes about an hour. To be honest, it’s less of a hike and more of a scramble up a massive pile of sand really, but this is the highest dune here so it’s worth the effort. And if you’re worried about the heat, go early in the morning.

Or, if you want to see wild animals as you wander through the wilderness, a desert horse hiking trail might appeal. Klein-Aus Vista is home to the majority of wild horses of the Namib. Here, in the Aus Mountains, in Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park, you’ll find three trails - Sunset Walk, Schutztruppe Trail and Mountain Trail. They’re relatively straight forward and should take between 1 to 3 hours. Geister and Eagle trails are longer and are far more challenging, they take 4-5 hours.

And finally, to round off the day hiking options, there’s Brukkaros Mountain, a more obscure option. It’s a stunning place, off the beaten track and frequently missed by tourists. The mountain is thought to be the result of an enormous explosion that occurred around 80 million years ago. You can see the massif more than 80kms away as you drive towards it too. It’s impressive. In the 1920s the National Geographic Society worked with the Smithsonian Institute and ran a solar observatory here. The buildings are still here and you’ll see them if you hike to the centre or ‘crater’. There are quiver trees and lots of birds about. Don’t do this hike on your own though, there’s no mobile phone coverage and lots of rock scrambling.

Hiking Heroes

Fish River Canyon
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If hiking’s your passion and you want to walk for longer, or perhaps try some harder routes, then here are some more beefy options. Let’s start with Fish River Canyon, Namibia’s big guy. It’s got a reputation for being tough and there are guide books out there claiming it’s the toughest hike in Africa. It’s certainly the largest canyon in Africa, and it’s not your average ramble either, this place is a hiker’s mecca.

The trail is about 85km so that’s a big whack to start with. It starts from the main Canyon viewpoint near Hobas, and ends at Ai-Ais Hot Springs Spa. The trek will take about five days and you‘ll encounter sand, rocks and a river crossing.

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So when is the best time to hike it? May to September will certainly be the coolest time.

Waterberg Plateau Park
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This is a hike to do from April to November. You can go up the plateau but once you reach the top you’ll need a permit to continue. The Waterberg Plateau is in North Central Namibia. There are two hiking trails, one guided, the other self-guided. The latter is 45km long and should take about 4 days. The guided hike is 5 km longer but takes 3 days. This is a proper, mountainous, lush place and there’s a huge array of flora and fauna to see. There are red stone cliffs and hundreds of bird species. But you’re in the wilds here so you may well come across animals including buffalo and rhino. This may sound great but remember, you’re not in the car you’re walking so please take advice and guidance.

Namib Naukluft National Park

If you want to trek through one of the oldest deserts in the world this is the place to be. The Namib Naukluft National Park is huge. And one of the largest conservation areas in Africa. Consequently there are lots of hiking options here, including overnight trails. We’ve talked about day hikes, like the Olive Trail, and there are many more. If you want to walk for longer there’s the 120km Naukluft Hiking Trail. This has 2, 4 and 8 day options. Basically the 8 day option is the whole thing and it’s considered to be a tough ole hike but the first section is easier so if you have limited time, or are worried about your fitness, you can still enjoy this place. You should see plenty of birds, trees and stunning views of the Naukluft stretching to the horizon. Temperatures are extremely high in the summer so March to the time to go.

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You could also try the 3 day Tok Tokkie Trail which starts near Sossusvlei. You can learn about the desert on this trip and you get your main luggage transported by a back-up vehicle. It’s ideal for small groups of 2-8 and you’ll have dinner provided.

Skeleton Coast

October is There are some splendid options on the coast too. The Jakkalsputz Walking Trail starts at the southern end of Henties Bay from the Gallows and ends at Jakkalsputz. It’s an unmarked 18km hike route which follows the beach to Solitude Bay in the direction of the Jakkalsputz camping site. There are a couple of longer, tougher options too, namely the Omaruru River Walking Trails. There’s both a 20km hike and a 70km hike.

Namib Desert

If you want a longer desert trek you can, of course, walk and walk through the Namib. But do think of the heat, seeing as it’s a desert. In May, the mercury can hit 40 Celsius by midmorning. There are also probably more scorpions here than anywhere else in southern Africa. So wear shoes. Or boots. Not sandals.

The Brandberg
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At 1800m, this is Namibia’s highest peak. Sitting in Damaraland the Brandberg is crowned by Namibia’s highest point, the Königstein or ‘king’s stone’. It’s got a variety of names including fire mountain, burning mountain and even mountain of the gods. It’s a wild, uninhabited place, covered in thousands of prehistoric rock paintings. It’s a comic book of life, a catalogue of human existence and a 5000 year old version of Facebook. By the way, there’s a lot of granite here and, as granite isn’t porous, when it rains it collects in small pools. This might give you the option to refill your water bottles but always take guidance and don’t rely on it definitely being available.

Ugab

This is a stunning remote place to explore. The seasonal Ugab River starts about halfway between Otavi and Outjo, it skirts the Brandberg and eventually reaches the Atlantic coast about two hundred kilometres north of Swakopmund, where it forms the southern boundary of the Skeleton Coast Park.

You can go on a 50km two-night, three-day hiking trail, guided by one of the Nature Conservation rangers.

These trips happen during the cooler months from April to October.

Etosha

Well, near Etosha, you could go on a 1, 2, 3 or 4 day hike at Mundulea Nature Reserve. It’s two hours south of the Namutoni Gate of Etosha National Park, in the Otavi Mountains. This is a place of hills, gorges, caves and underground lakes. These hikes are guided. Ancient trees and wild figs. Eland, kudu, oryx, hartebeest, all live here as do predators including leopard, cheetah, brown hyena, spotted hyena, jackal, serval and lynx. 260 bird species all this place home too.

Windhoek

And finally, Windhoek. Despite being a city there are hiking opportunities nearby. The Daan Viljoen Game Park is home to the Sweet Thorn Trail. On this you will walk through the Khomas Hochland mountains. There’s a 32km trail which is available year round. It takes 2 days and you can sleep in a hut at the halfway point. The landscapes vary a lot and you also walk on farm roads and often have the chance to buy meat, bread and drinks from the farmers.

What To Bring

It all depends on what you are doing and where you are going but here are some thoughts to muse over.

  • Food, if you need to provide for yourself. Hiking boots are great but you may find they get too hot or full of sand. Trail running shoes are good for walking on sand and jumping over rocks. Long sleeve shirts and long trousers offer better protection. Take a hat too and a warm fleece or jacket for cold nights.
  • Take a towel in case you can swim in pools, rivers or even hot sulphur springs.
  • Sunglasses. For sun protection and super style of course.
  • A tent adds weight to your luggage. It’s warmer to sleep in but you maybe fine with a good sleeping bag. The night sky in Namibia makes a pretty spectacular ceiling.
  • A self-inflatable small mattresses or foam rolled up one is sensible.
  • Hiking poles if you like them, they’re good for steep, downhill walking and river crossings.
  • Camel pack/water bottle.
  • Headlamp/torch.
  • Water purification tablets or filters - not all the water you may come across is drinkable.
  • Map.
  • If you need to cook - a small portable gas stove is good enough to boil water, cook pasta etc. Gas depends on a lot - how many you are, how long you are going for, how much cooking you want to do etc.
  • Lighter.
  • A couple of pots, cups, cutlery etc.
  • Swiss Army knife.
Final Thoughts

Check if you need permits. Consider your fitness, some trails entail 7 to 8 hours walking a day and you’ll be carrying your gear. You may have to make reservations in advance. Demand is high for certain treks so check with us. On longer treks you’ll be sleeping outside. You may need a recent medical certificate of fitness dated no more than 40 days prior to your trip. Take enough water, not all is drinkable. You aren’t allowed to make fires in certain places.

And most of all, remember, as Baz Lurhmann famously said... SUNSCREEN.

Updated: Fri 17 Apr, 2020

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