Hardap is so much more than just a dam. A huge waterbody in a desert landscape changes things. It creates a fascinating interface between wetland and dryland. All life adapts. Fish, washed here by the river or introduced by man, settle and breed. Water birds are drawn to it and find a new haven for breeding colonies. The permanent water allows desert wildlife to become more sedentary. A new rhythm of life develops.
The Fish River is Namibia’s longest ephemeral river. Its source lies near the centre of the country. After meandering through southern Namibia for well over 600 kilometres, it joins the Orange River on its journey to the Atlantic. There are many fascinating features along its course. The Fish River Canyon is the most famous. Hardap Dam is often overlooked.
The Hardap Game Park tends to come as a revelation to visitors. Its landscapes are striking. These are the rocky fringes of the Nama Karoo, with their typical hues of purple, their sparse vegetation, their rugged topography. They are home to diverse and plentiful desert wildlife.
Giraffe, rhino and leopard roam here, as do Hartmann’s mountain zebra and various antelopes. Pelicans and cormorants have chosen the lake as a favoured breeding site. Other water birds come and go in flocks, while the feathered denizens of the arid veld are more sedentary.
Hardap is also a place of leisure. A quiet spot for fishing along the lake shore. And the dam invites the active to get out on the water, boating, swimming, waterskiing. The resort, perched on a high ledge overlooking the dam, is a sanctuary from the desert heat: lazing by the pool or sipping cool drinks at the restaurant, with views across water and wildlands.
TRAVEL TIPS - HARDAP:
WHEN TO BE THERE:
• The park is open all year; travel is most comfortable in the cooler months (May-Sep.)
• Hardap is in one of the hottest parts of the country; summer temperatures are often above 35°C
• Dam water levels are highest at the end of the rainy season in May
• Many locals come to Hardap to relax at the resort, especially on summer weekends
WHAT TO DO:
• Drives in the game park provide excellent game viewing & birding
• The Komatsas Walking Trail is outstanding, but suitable only for very experienced hikers
• The dam is superb for fishing, boating & water sports
• Fishing is possible all year, spring & autumn are best for many species
WHAT TO REMEMBER:
• The game park is reached via a separate entrance, 4x4 is required throughout
• Shore fishing is allowed along the Fish Route only; no fishing in the game park
• Boating is not permitted in the Fish & Pelican Reserve (clearly marked on maps)
• A permit is required for fishing, obtainable at the Hardap Regional Council in Mariental
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This is the largest member of its genus in the southern region.
Rüppells horseshoe bat occur in small colonies of about 12.
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African palm-swifts inhabit semi-dry savannahs with scattered palms and in towns with native and alien fan palms.
Water is one of the fundamental forces of nature. Harnessing that power comes with risks. In an arid land, the line between not having enough and having too much water is quickly crossed by flash floods. Much of Mariental was suddenly waist-deep in muddy brown water in 2006, when an already full Hardap Dam couldn’t cope with massive additional inflow.
‘The Great Fish River and its tributaries cover an immense area especially favourable for the construction of large dams. Systematic harnessing of this river alone will facilitate the irrigation of vast stretches of arable land.’ The sentiment of this assessment by the German administration over a century ago still fuels imaginations today. The Neckartal Dam on the lower Fish River, completed in 2018, is Namibia’s largest storage dam.
During their 30-year tenure, the Germans systematically surveyed hydrological potential across their colony and identified several sites for dams along the Fish River, including Neckartal and Hardap. Construction was approved at the Komatsas site near Hardap, but this was thwarted by World War I. An intensive review by the South African administration from 1949 to ’59 selected the final site on Farm Hardap, and the dam was built between 1960 and ’62. At the time of its completion, Hardap was the third-largest storage dam in southern Africa, and remained Namibia’s largest dam for over half a century. It supplies water to Mariental, as well as for agriculture and aquaculture near the dam. Extreme downpours in the upper catchment have repeatedly caused extensive flooding of Mariental, as sluice gates had to be fully opened to cope with massive inflow. The flooding of 2006 was the worst recorded. Serious flooding also took place in 2000, and several times during the 1970s.
The Fish River has been a focal point for people for millennia, shown by striking rock engravings and other artefacts. San, Nama and Oorlam used the area prior to the arrival of Europeans. By the late 1700s, European hunting expeditions were decimating wildlife across the region. During a 1791 quest by Willem van Reenen and consorts, rhino, giraffe and buffalo were shot as food along the Leber River, a tributary of the Fish originating near Hardap. In the course of nine months, they shot 65 rhinos. When the Germans occupied South West Africa a century later, the land around Mariental was developed as private farmland, mainly for small stock.
Hardap is named after the farm Hardap on which the dam was constructed. The farm name is derived from the Nama word /haras, which means wart and refers to the many wart-like hills or kopjes found in the area.
The Hardap Game Park is a by-product of the dam, rather than a strategic conservation choice. A recreation resort was opened in 1964, and the game park was proclaimed in ‘68 after the amalgamation of farmland around the dam. Leisure and water sports remain the biggest drawcard, although a variety of historically occurring game has been reintroduced, most notably black rhino. Giraffe were brought back and are doing well, and the populations of some antelope species have been boosted by targeted translocations. Regular bird counts document the importance of Hardap as a bird sanctuary and breeding site, especially for pelicans and cormorants. The Fish and Pelican Reserve, where no boating is allowed, is important for successful nesting. Introduced fish create a conservation dilemma, as they easily spread throughout the river system, including the Orange. Mozambique tilapia, carp and largemouth bass were all introduced to increase the popularity of the dam for anglers and to improve commercial fishing viability.
The Hardap Irrigation Scheme, with several thousand hectares under irrigation, is an important producer of lucerne, maize, wheat, grapes and other crops. The Hardap Freshwater Fish Institute is a vital centre for research, while the Hardap Inland Aquaculture Centre, consisting of almost two hectares of fish ponds, is one of the main freshwater aquaculture sites in Namibia. Beyond these schemes, Hardap is surrounded by freehold land with a focus on livestock farming and tourism.
Management of Hardap involves several agencies. The park falls under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the fish stocks under the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and the dam infrastructure and water provision under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
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