Written by: Nick Tucker
The coastline of Namibia is a dry, desolate place, with sand as far as the eye can see. The harsh coastline is only broken by a few small towns and cities. Standing with your back to the sea and looking into the vast dunes spreading north, east and south it is easy to think that, surely, nothing exists in this land of sand.
I have passed through Swakopmond many times, but somehow have never found myself with the time to get out into the desert surrounding the small coastal city. But the last time I was in Namibia I decided that come hell or high water I would get out into the desert and see the animals that make their home there.
Our morning started off at 8:30am when we arrived at the starting point of our trip into the desert in search of what are amongst the locals referred to as the ‘little five’. Our guides were both locals from the region who had grown up learning to read the subtle signs of the desert sands.
We opted to make use of quad bikes, giving us a chance to get away from the crowds and to feel the desert air blowing in our faces. We set out into the dunes following our guide closely, so as to have as little impact as possible on the fragile environment.
On quad bikes we were able to see a lot more and watched as our guides read the desert like a book, looking for the main characters. Our first sighting of the little five was the white lady spider, buried in her burrow the guide pointed her out, where she promptly jumped out, legs raised and on guard, before rolling up into a ball and was off down the side of the dune. This is one of the white lady’s strategies to avoid predators and danger.
Riding along in between two dunes we stopped next to a small plant and watched as a sidewinder made his way around the plant, before disappearing into the shrubbery, we left him undisturbed and moved on. We also managed to briefly see a shovel-snouted lizard but unfortunately we did not get any pics of it so as not too disturb it too much.
As the dunes flattened out more we hoped to encounter the Namaqua chameleon. After some searching we spotted a 15cm long chameleon making his way slowly across the plain. Finally, I had seen a desert chameleon!
The Namaqua chameleon feeds on crickets and beetles and are well adapted to desert life, using their ability to change colour to control their body temperature, warming up by going black in the mornings and cooling down by lightening their colouring to an almost white. It is common for them to change their colouring to half white and half black, divided by their spine, to keep the side not facing the sun warmer and the sunward facing side cooler.
With a photograph from just about every angle taken, we headed off in search of the final creature on our list of must see list. Our lead guide went off ahead in search of more deserts secrets and by the time we caught up to him he had found a Palmato gecko. The gecko is nocturnal and was slightly infuriated by been rudely awoken but after a few minutes calmed down and took to posing for the camera. With no eyelids, he is forced to constantly lick his eye’s to keep them moist. This creature alone was worth the trip into the desert.
All too soon our day of exploring the dunes and the treasures of the desert had come to an end. It was time to head back taking in the magnificence of the rolling dunes, the quiet desert breeze and the blue skies which seem to go on forever. As we went through our photographs of the day, we realised the desert had us hooked and had left us wanting to see more, to understand more and to get back out into the great sandpit.
For more on Namibia, see: I Love Namibia