The Brandberg mountain massif is located in Namibia in its northwestern part. There is also located, the country’s highest peak, Königstein, measuring 2573 meters above sea level. You can get there only after obtaining the appropriate permits and under the charge of a guide. Due to that the Brandberg mountains are a few dozen kilometers away from “civilization” and there are very high temperatures, except in winter, less than 50 tourists a year venture into this area. But thanks to this, the place still remains wild and untouched by man.
The Brandberg Mountains are shaped like a large, circular granite intrusion, measuring about 30 km by 25 km. They are the remains, dating at 100-120 million years ago (data depending on the source) of a volcano that was covered by today’s waters of the Atlantic Ocean (it is not known if in its entirety). The mountains are located in the Erongo region, in the western part of Namibia, and cover an area of approximately 750 km². With very good air clarity, the Atlantic Ocean, which is about 90 kilometers away, can be seen from the highest peaks, such as Königstein. The mountain range has an average altitude of 2,500 meters, by which it exceeds the nearby surroundings by about 2,000 meters. The land around the mountains is virtually flat and consists of steppe and plains. Brandberg means “fiery mountain.” This refers to the red color that covers the mountain during sunset or during the intense summer heat. Some of the more popular peaks in this mountain range are Horn, Numasfels, Aigub, Orabeskopf or Zisabspitze. These mountains are uninhabited, there are no villages, and the only people who venture here are tourists and groups of explorers with guides.
The closest town to stay overnight and make shopping for the trip is Uis, less than 35 kilometers away. This town lies 330 kilometers northwest of Namibia’s capital Windhuk. By car, the distance can travel in less than four hours. The route can be driven with a single-axle drive, but to get from Uis to Brandberg, it is better to get an off-road vehicle. The road towards the mountains is not paved in entirety and there are numerous bumps. On the way from Windhuk to Uis there is no problem with refueling the car, and there are ATMs at stations where you can withdraw money It is worth has a cash in wallet, because while you can pay for lodging or shopping by card, the guides no accept this form of payment.
WHO CLIMBED TO THE TOP FIRST?
German explorer Reinhard Maack was the first person which documented the ascent of the highest peak of Namibia, Königstein (2573 meters above sea level). Maack climbed the mountain in February 1917. He also discovered the famous “White Lady,” which, along other rock paintings, testifies that the area was previously inhabited by Bushmen. Some sources say the painting was discovered by Reinhard in January 1918. Others, however, indicate that in 1917 Reinhard wanted to do topographical and trigonometric work to draw accurate maps of the mountains, so he had to organize a second expedition, which Maack led in December 1917.
On the evening of January 2, 1918, Maack, Ernst Gries and Georg Schulze were already standing on the highest peak of the Brandberg mountain range, enjoying the incredible views and silence. Reinhard wrote about the mountains Brandberg in his diary that: “If you want to get to the top of the Brandberg […] three things are necessary: firstly, water […], secondly, a thick skin that allows you to rest comfortably on bare rock, and thirdly, irrepressible energy to cope with the seemingly endless trek through wild rock debris.”
Excavations on the Brandberg massif have revealed that the area was already inhabited by San people nearly 5,000 years ago. Mountain streams and caves may have served as a massing area for dispersed groups of hunter-gatherers or shepherds. The increased social and ritual activity associated with the concentration of people probably contributed to the emergence of rock art. After that, you can conclude, that the Brandberg was an important cultural place for indigenous Namibians.
Guides are usually stationed at the park office on the east side of the Brandberg mountains, where the trail to the “White Lady” painting begins. The artwork is located in the Tsisab Gorge and is about 2,000 years old. You can walk both ways in less than 3 hours. Tours to this place are only with a guide. It is best to view the paintings there in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat (except in winter). The drawings there paint depict Bushmen, medicine men, warriors, and animals. The paintings have been painted between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. The “White Lady” figure was so named in the 1950s, or more precisely in 1955, by Henri Breuil (1877-1961), a French archaeologist and prehistorian. He compared the figure with paintings found in Crete, using the Palace of Knossos as an example. Although the “White Lady” does not have any typically female forms, Breuil concluded that the figure must have been a woman, due to her posture and the objects she held. It was a vessel or lotus flower. However, if you look closely at the figure, you can see the physical features of a man, holding a bow and arrows in one hand and something resembling a wine glass in the other. The hair is straight and light, completely non-African. The body, on the other hand, is painted white from the chest down. The rest of the painting depicts other women during of some ritual, with one of them impaling a small animal on a stake. It is now assumed to be the figure of a hunter or shaman, who carries hunting fixture. Some say it is a medicine man, considering the white coloration of the figure.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO KÖNIGSTEIN PEAK?
If the participants of the group are very good condition and reach to the mountain massif by car, it will take one day to reach the highest peak. On the other hand, if somebody wants to see the paintings and take photos along the way, simultaneously not imposing a fast pace on oneself, then in that case one should count two days for the hike. On the first day you approach the summit, where you set up camp, and on the second day you climb to the top. After reach the summit is the descent back to your car.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The necessary permits and “hiring” of a guide can be done on the website of the Namibian National Heritage Council in Windhoek. This can be done through the contact form, or you can call and speak to a representative (if you call, the response time is much shorter). You can also try to obtain permits at Brandberg Rest Camp in Uis. The whole process of acquiring permits and filling out the relevant documents, which you have to send back, takes from two to three weeks. The total cost (guide and necessary documents) is several hundred US dollars, but you need to inquire about the specific price, as the rate depends on the length of the trip and the places which you want to visit.
Considering the average temperature in the Brandberg mountains, which is about 30 degrees Celsius, in a span of a day of hiking, an adult is able to drink up to 5 liters of water.
When you are going to the Brandberg mountains, it is necessary to take with you strong mountain boots, hiking poles, high-energy snacks and appropriate sunscreen clothing (hat, sunglasses, cap, creams, etc.). If we want to overnight, you should also take a sleeping pad, a tent and a sleeping bag. You can always ask your guide before setting out what you will need during the hike.
The cost to enter the trail that leads to the “White Lady” painting, in 2022, is N$60 Namibian dollars per person and N$20 for parking. You can check current prices here.
It’s a good idea to whip a filter or water purification tablets with you to purify the water when you take it from the stream.
WHERE IS THE TRAIL TO KÖNIGSTEIN LOCATED?
The trail to the top of Königstein starts from the entrance to the Gaaseb Gorge. This is a shorter version that takes 1 to 3 days of hiking. The length of the hike depends on the condition of the participants, the number of stops for rest, viewing paintings or photo shoots. One should remember that the trail is poorly marked and has many branches, boulder fields and smooth rock slabs. Therefore, it is so important to have a guide at our side. Once in a while you may see small bushes and individual trees of acacia, aloe or quiver trees scattered over the rocky terrain. These can serve as landmarks on the trail. Impressive rock formations, steep cliffs and angular boulders are other elements of the local landscape. The ideal place to spend the night below the summit are areas where there are flat rocks so that you can sleep fairly comfortably near watercourses to replenish your water supply. Namibia’s highest mountain offers a magnificent 360-degree panorama that shows the many dark gray peaks and ridges, forming the Brandberg massif and light brown plains and deserts.
There is also a second option, which takes from 4 to 5 days of hiking. The trail starts from the entrance to Amis Canyon on the southwest side of the Brandberg. Amis in the local language means “Ostrich.” Along the way, you can visit the so-called Snake Cave, which pictures paintings of animals. When choosing this option, be sure to keep your backpack as light as possible and carry one or two empty bottles so that to in case encounter a stream, it will, can make water supplies for the rest of the hike. The summit is chilly, and the wind often blows, so a good option is to leave your backpacks at camp and climb the peak without them. It is better to dress warmly or at least take a sweatshirt with you. Amis Canyon is steep and very rocky, so you need to be extra careful here (especially when descending). You should also remember to take your cell phone with you that can call to the rest camp on the way back to be taken away from there. At the top of Königstein Mountain and after descending from the Brandberg massif, there shouldn’t be a problem with coverage.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO NAMIBIA?
The recommended time to go to Namibia is winter, which lasts from June to August. During the daytime, the temperature averages 21-22 degrees Celsius, and at night it is around 10 °C. It is advisable to take warm clothes with you then, as nights are chilly at this time. Some tourists also come to the country in April, May and September to avoid larger clusters of tourists in popular places, but then temperatures are higher.
It is said that there are more than 900 documented sites with rock paintings in Brandberg and countless others that have not yet been “discovered” (or at least reported).
The official currency in Namibia is the Namibian dollar. However, you can often also pay in Namibia with the Rand (South Africa’s currency), as their currency rate are very often identical. It happens sometimes be a difference of a few cents, but this is a rarity. In South Africa, however, you can’t pay with the Namibian dollar.
The Brandberg Massif, which contains 43,000-50,000 paintings (data depending on the source) and cave figures, is seen as a treasure trove of prehistoric art. People who spread information about these paintings were Ernst Rudolf Scherz, who published three books on the local figures, and Harald Pager, who made 43,000 – 45,000 drawings of figures from 879 sites.
In the old days there were mines in Uis where tin was mined, but now the area mainly burns clay bricks.
Brandberg White Lady Lodge
Brandberg Rest Camp
Travel agency organizing ascents to the Brandberg mountains
Königstein mountain trail map
Interactive map of Namibia with tourist attractions
Weather in the Brandberg massif
3D visualization of the view from the Königstein summit
For lovers of mountains and wilderness, the Brandberg Massif is an ideal destination. The fact that no more than 50 people a year venture there guarantees travelers coming to the area a complete distraction from civilization. Persons interested in ancient painting will certainly not omit the open-air museum of painting near the famous “White Lady”. It is worth paying attention that Namibia is a relatively cheap country, and English is the official language. Despite that, for example for Europeans, Asians and Americans, is a remote country, it is not as foreign as other regions of Africa.
Ji-Elle, source commons.wikimedia.org.
Ji-Elle, source commons.wikimedia.org.
Tsisab River Gorge, author Thomas Wagner, source wikiwand.com (photo edited).
Königstein peak, author Mariusba, source commons.wikimedia.org.
Thomas Wagner, source commons.wikimedia.org (photo edited).
Olga Ernst source commons.wikimedia.org.