The landscape around the little town of Aus in southern Namibia was hot, parched and dusty. Klein Aus Vista’s Desert Horse Campsite, on the fringe of the Namib Desert and the Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park, was our stopover for a couple of nights. We were there to see Namibia’s wild horses, but what we found at sunset were rocky koppies washed in ginger light.
The next morning we woke at dawn to the chirping of sociable weavers and enjoyed a lazy late breakfast. We’d been told that the best time to find wild horses at the Garub waterhole was between about 11:00 and 16:00 and we were only 20km away so there was no hurry.
Then a guide from Desert Horse Inn (also part of Klein Aus Vista) arrived with a small clutch of foreigners. He told us that the horses eat their own dung, a desert adaptation that ups their protein intake (it’s twice as rich in protein as the dry grass) and makes sure they get the most from the nutrients in their grass diet. In dry times like this, they’ll spend some 20 hours a day grazing, but when the grazing is better after good rains it drops to about 12 hours.
As we were chatting another herd of ten horses appeared far away on the horizon, trailing in a straggling line, kicking up puffs of dust. The nearer they got to the water the more excited they seemed to get; they picked up their pace and there was some head shaking and a small back-kick from one of them before they bent their heads to drink.
After lunch on the deck at Desert Horse Inn we visited the small info centre at Aus, where you can buy a cold drink or have a light meal. But we were there for the poster displays telling the history of the area and its horses.
There are various romantic theories of how these horses came to be here, but the herd probably descended from horses that belonged to the South African army, German colonial forces and the Kreplin stud that bred horses to work in the diamond mines. Left behind in the turmoil of World War I, they were never recaptured thanks to restricted entry to the diamond fields at the coast.
From the displays we learnt that the area is a hotspot for plants, with some 500 species in a radius of 50km, and how fog moves in from the coast to sustain them. If you see the area when it’s as parched as it was when we visited at the beginning of winter, your mouth will drop open in wonder at the poster about the desert in bloom. Think Namaqualand and you’ll get an idea of what this beige-brown desert can look like from July to September, when the plains may burst into yellow, pink, purple and blue flowers.
Need to know
1. Klein Aus Vista (part of the Gondwana Collection) is a great stopover on your way to the coastal town of Lüderitz and the diamond ghost town of Kolmanskop, throwing in a chance to see the wild horses of the Namib.
5. You’ll find the Aus info centre at the turnoff into the little settlement of Aus from the B4, which continues on to Lüderitz.
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