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Messum Crater - for 4 x 4 Enthusiasts ONLY
What is the reason for you to come to Namibia? Is it the possibility to do some 4 x 4 driving? Well, even as born and bred Namibians we do get the urge to do some serious 4 x 4 driving every once in a while, especially when we have those misty and cold winter days at the coast that normally keeps one indoors all day. During the winter months 2011, we had such a nasty day and my husband and I decided that we surely needed some sun and warmth to survive the day and we started off to the north. Being a Tour Operator it is always interesting for me to see new surroundings and find new sightseeing spots and activities to do and this outing definitely turned into one to be remembered.
You might have heard about the Messum Crater but few have taken the trouble to visit that off-the-beaten-track witness of natures powers. Situated to the south-west of the Brandberg Massif, Messum is proof of major tectonic activities eons ago, and the resulting geological formations and landscapes within the crater are absolutely stunning.
We departed Swakopmund very early in the morning and drove north towards Henties Bay. On our way we were surprised by a green desert next to the road. It was unbelievable but the rain had triggered so much growth in little succulent plants that the plains looked liked being covered by a green lawn. We visited the lichen fields at Wlotzkas Baken as well as the ship wreck just before reaching Henties Bay. So I had started taking photos almost from the word go and caused many delays indulging in this hobby of mine but thanks to the strong nerves of my husband, we made good progress towards Messum anyway.
The 4x4 round trip starts at Lagune Hill situated only 44km north of Henties Bay. If the sun is shining, you can find a small black gecko in this area that is active during the day. Furthermore, lichen cover almost every rock in the most splendid colours. If you see them in sunshine just after the mist has vanished they sparkle in bright green, orange, grey and black colour. Like everywhere else in Namibias fragile environment, please keep in mind to Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but foot prints. We continued further north to Cape Cross were we paid a visit to the seal colony and I just could not get enough pictures especially of the baby seals with their big black eyes. Something that really warmed my heart was a board fastened to the walking bridge stating that this bridge was made from recycled plastic. A perfect way to use waste. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to a cup of hot coffee at the Cape Cross Lodge, a very beautiful spot that unfortunately is often by-passed by travellers en route to Swakopmund or driving north towards the Damaraland or Terrace Bay. It is though a spot one should consider for a night or two to really experience the solitude of the Skeleton Coast.
Only a few kilometres further north is the turn off to the Messum Crater which can be easily missed, if you do not have the coordinates and a GPS. Our GPS failed just after we had turned off and so we had to guess which of the many roads into different directions was the one we should take - under such conditions, they usually say on TV dont try this at home, and thats exactly what you should not do, if you are not used to finding your bearings with the help of the suns position and a general idea of the right direction to aim for.
While I was lying on the ground taken pictures of the lichen my husband got our GPS working again and so we continued to the first view point of the crater. It is amazing what huge plains lie behind the row of hills that mark the craters southern entrance. After some heavy rainfalls, the whole of the crater bottom, rather a huge plain, was covered with grass and it is hard to imagine that this once was an active volcano. Only while continuing the round trip youll come across rocks that look like they have been molten and bubbly. Driving through this vast landscape, finding something to ooh and aah around every bend, we finally came close to a point that was called salt pan. What do you expect in the middle of a grass savannah in an arid country like ours? Definitely not what we were looking at - a lake, by no means a small one, that was completely covered with a thick layer of salt. What a treat for the animals living in this area! I tried walking on the edge of the lake and found the salt crust to be really solid.
On went the road to a next viewpoint and then towards an ancient Damara settlement. In the distance, we saw some spots which turned out to be a giant herd of Springbok grazing. As we came closer, following the road, the first antelope started half running towards where the road was and all of a sudden all of them started stampeding over the road just in front of our vehicle. What made them do this I can not explain but one of the last animals gave me the idea that they were overflowing with energy and were seeking for a way to release a surplus. This last Springbok I am talking about, stood waiting on the right side of the road, until we were almost past him, before he started sprinting towards the road at top speed and stretching to his full extend with each jump. Having passed the car, - we had come to a stop by then -, he fell into a lazy trot and kept looking at us, like he wanted to say See what I can do?.
Next, we reached the village and climbed up to the gathering cave of the family that once lived here, from where one has got a view that seems to go on forever. Nothing at all obstructs the vistas towards the far land. Continuing along the route, the next highlight listed in our trail guide was a giant Welwitschia mirabilis it turned out to be a whole valley dotted with countless Welwitschia plants, each one of them bigger and more beautiful than those on the Welwitschia drive near Swakopmund. So if you can find the time to include the Messum Crater in your tour, this surely is the far better place see Welwitschias. Next stop was the Messum River Terrace. A strange gathering of rock formations washed out by the flowing river during millennia when water was still plentiful. Today, the Messum River is ephemeral, draining rain water off the Brandberg Mountain. Almost every formation has a different face and makes ones imagination fly.
Unfortunately, this was already the end of our Messum Crater visit, since the trail connects to the main road at the craters northern end, from where one returns to Swakopmund on the public road along the coast. Being able to start the trail earlier in the day though, from Henties Bay or even better, from Cape Cross Lodge, there are plenty of additional tracks to take which allow exploring many more beautiful spots in and around the Messum Crater.
article published 1/12/2012