Namibia, considerably characterised by harsh desert and semi-desert conditions, is roughly three times the size of the UK. Despite this, it still has a considerably low population density and is the second least populated country in the world. Geographically, this makes sense when you look at it, the country is amass of stretching deserts that reach right up to the ocean side. But, despite these deserts filling up your google images when you key in Namibia, the country can in fact be divided into five similar, but distinct, geographical areas.
In the top, eastern corner of Namibia lies the Ovamboland, Kavango and Caprivi regions. Here the rainfall is considerably higher than the rest of the country and thus the areas are characterised by rivers, swamps, dense bushveld and a humid climate. Summer (October-April) brings temperature highs of 35°C and lows of 20°C, while winter (May-September) can climb to around 28°C but drop as low as 1°C. Like neighbouring Botswana, seasons in this region are largely differentiated by rain, with summer bringing the wet season and winter, usually dry. Our Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Programme researching African wild dogs and elephants takes place in Mangetti, which is in the north-east and close to this Caprivi region.
Stretching to the southern border in a strip below the Caprivi is the Kalahari desert. It actually receives too much precipitation to be called a ‘desert’ and is, in fact, a semi-desert. It is a terrain shared with South Africa and Botswana and is a part of the Kalahari basin which stretches as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is characterised by wide sandy plains and dune ridges with scarce vegetation. Again, completely distinctive seasons are not typical. Winter can bring below-freezing temperatures at night as well as cool air in the early morning. However, day-time temperatures can rise to the high 20°Cs. Summer brings both rain and temperature highs of the mid-40°Cs. Some say that rains in the Kalahari have a distinctive smell, something you have to experience for yourself.
Covering the middle stretch of the country, from the north to south border, is the Central Plateau. Most of the population resides in this region along with the majority of the country’s economic activity. Windhoek, the capital, is located here, almost exactly in the middle. The highest points in the country are also located in the plateau, the highest being at Königstein with an elevation of 2,606 metres. The ‘Great Escarpment’, which runs along the western side of the plateau, is a wall of mountains separating the interior from the desert strip that runs along the Atlantic coastline. Did you know that these mountains were actually formed about 80 million years ago when the rim of Southern Africa was lifted after the breaking up of the supercontinent Gondwana? The climate is similar across these two regions. Also defined by warm, sunny winter days and cold evenings and summer rains with hot, dry days. Unlike other parts, these two regions can experience frost in the early mornings.
On the west of this collection of mountain ranges, and the last of the geographical zones, is the Namib desert. It is known as the oldest in the world and is the place from which the country derives its name. In the north, you find largely gravel plains and the central part is known for its mighty sand dunes, which belong to the highest in the world. Inland the temperatures can reach highs of up to 50°C but also, due to the cold Atlantic winds, can drop below freezing at night. It almost never rains in this region, but the air along the coast is humid and there are often fogs, mists and low clouds. The majority of the projects take place along, or close to the coast and in this Namib desert region. Particularly, in and around the Namib-Naukluft National Park where our Carnivore Conservation volunteer programmes are based. This also includes the Dolphin Research volunteer project, in Walvis Bay, right on the coastline and the Desert Elephant volunteer project, in the Damaraland region, which lies more in the northern part of the Namib desert but experiences the same climate.