The Olive Trail is my first “real” walk in Namibia, located in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The park was originally created as a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s mountain zebra in 1968 and expanded over the following decades. It’s now 49,768 square kilometres in size, making it the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in Africa. The section I’m walking in is the Naukluft Mountains, which a mountainous region with large, varied rock formations that supports five different vegetation communities.
Unfortunately, with all the other activities we’re doing, I only have one afternoon free to tackle a walk in the area. The shortest walk is the Olive Trail, a 10km circuit. It’s a 126km drive on dirt roads from Kulala Desert Lodge, where we’re staying, to the start of the walk. Leaving a little after midday, it takes almost two hours to get to the Naukluft park office – longer than I had anticipated (the roads aren’t great!). Paying my fee at the office, I was given a rather sceptical look for my late starting time for the walk, as I start out around 2:30pm up the well-marked track.
Starting near the Kudusrus Campsite, the Olive Trail is named after the wild olive trees that populate the area. The trail starts immediately to climb up the slope – it’s a constant but gradual ascent, and fairly easy walking despite it still being fairly warm.
The views also get better as I gain altitude, looking back down the Olive Trail to the valley below and the mountain range beyond.
After about 2km, the Oliver Trail leaves the edge of the escarpment and continues to climb, a little less steeply, along a dry riverbed towards the top of the ridge.
Finally, after 2.4km (and a modest ascent of 320m) I reach the plateau. From here there are some great views again down onto the other side of the ridge. Below me is the valley that I’ll follow back to the car, and I can see the Olive Trail winding down the other side of the valley to the creek bed.
It’s easy walking for the next kilometre or so, along the top of the ridge, and then down into the valley. The Olive Trail gets rocky and uneven as it descends, but it always well marked by white arrows or markings on the rocks.
Having reached the valley, I follow the dry riverbed “downstream”. Its fairly rocky underfoot but not difficult walking, and the valley is still fairly wide.
The vegetation changes along the valley floor, with plants such as the quiver tree growing out of the rocks. Named the national plant of Namibia, the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is a member of a group of succulent plants known as ‘Aloes’ that grows to tree-like proportions.
The valley starts to get narrower, and the cliffs taller and more dramatic as I continue down the riverbed.
As it narrows, the valley becomes more canyon-like, with towering cliffs on both sides. The ground is increasingly uneven underfoot and there are bigger rocks to navigate: my speed is slower that anticipated and I have a nasty fall in my attempt to maintain a quick pace back to the car.
I push on as quickly as I can: I’m balancing appreciation of the beauty of the valley/gorge with a need to get back to camp before dinner… What’s not really helping is that the valley, now feeling more like a canyon, has massive boulders blocking the entire width of the narrow gorge. Careful clambering is required to get past these obstacles.
Finally, I reach a section that’s less than two metres wide, with a vertical drop of a few metres and sheer cliffs on both sides. I have a brief moment of panic, as I try and work out if I should give up and return the way I’ve come from.
I then realise there is a chain attached to the left-hand side… I’ve reached the section of the Olive Trail described as: “A ‘slight difficulty’ but nonetheless highlight of the trail, is at the end of the gorge where you have to use a ‘chain’ bridge to cross rock ledges”. Trusting this rather slim chain, which seems to take my weight, I slowly make my way across the section, arriving at the other end with some relief. (My bruised toe and sore ribs from my earlier fall is not helping!)
It’s a spectacular sight in the late afternoon light, as I make my way through the last, narrow section of the gorge before it opens again.
Shortly after this narrow section, there are a few more pools with water. There are many butterflies around, but I don’t see any another animals – with more time, this would be a good spot to wait and look for some of the larger animals that inhabit the Naukluft area.
I then manage to take a wrong turn, following a wide track that continues straight ahead. I soon realise my error and turn back – the Olive Trail veers south-west down a different valley. (There are arrows confirming the way, but this spot – about 7.1km from the start – is a bit confusing as it intersects with another, unmarked, 4WD track that seems the obvious choice. But it would have taken me a long, long way in the wrong direction!)
Once I’m on the correct route, the last section (about 2.5km) is quick and easy walking. I make good time back to the car, finishing in exactly 2.5 hours.
With the sun getting low in the sky, I’ve now got a two hour drive back to Kulala Desert Camp for dinner. It’s been worth the long drive though – the Olive Trail is a fantastic walk with a huge variety of terrain, vegetation and scenery.