Julia and Mary explore Namibia’s Damaraland, Etosha and Kaokoland

Mary and I spent two glorious weeks travelling around Namibia, driving 3,700 kilometres through spectacular and stunningly varied scenery. Mary’s report captures our first seven days travelling south from Windhoek through the jaw-droppingly beautiful Namib Desert to the quaint coastal town of Swakopmund and on into the remote wilderness of the Skeleton Coast National Park. We then retraced our route southwards back to Torra Bay and headed inland to Damaraland, where my report begins…

Damaraland is a vast, mountainous desert wilderness with deep red, rugged mountain passes that take your breath away. The huge, spherical boulders were a fantastic contrast to the dunes and desert terrain we had encountered so far on the trip. The views here were staggeringly beautiful and we had to keep pulling over for photos as each turn would open up another incredible vista. This area is home to a variety of wildlife; elephant, oryx, kudu, springbok, ostrich and we had a lovely sighting of a bat eared fox too. We stayed at Mowani Mountain Camp and Damaraland Camp, both offering incredible views and opportunities to explore. Sunset drinks at Mowani are simply beautiful, as the setting sun seemed to make the red mountains glow even more. Another highlight was a wonderful sunset drive along the Huab River Valley from Damaraland Camp where we were lucky to see two different herds of desert elephant. Both had young as well as inquisitive adolescent males who trumpeted and flapped their ears determinedly in our direction. It was great to see the herds flourishing in this harsh environment.

From Damaraland we headed north-east to Etosha National Park, Namibia’s prime game viewing area. It also well known for its enormous pan which covers a quarter of the park; the largest salt pan in Africa. This vast, open expanse of shimmering white provides a stunning backdrop to animals slowly emerging from the hazy horizon. Visually, this is such a different game viewing landscape compared to other areas in Africa. The dusty elephants dominate the scene, standing out against the brilliant white of the salt pan, and the zebras stripes seem to shimmer in the harsh light making them disappear into the heat haze. Etosha caters for both guided safaris as well as self-drivers and the best way to game view through the park is to spend time visiting the waterholes which attract a range of wildlife. We had lovely sightings of elephant, jackal, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and black faced impala whilst visiting the waterholes. The bird life was interesting too and along with plenty of ostrich we saw other huge birds such as kori bustards, black bellied korhaans and secretary birds. The national park does get very busy with many self-driving vehicles in the high season, so staying in the privately owned Ongava Game Reserve which borders the national park is worth considering. As a private reserve they can offer guided game drives (both day and night) and guided walks on their private reserve, as well as extended game drives in Etosha.

From Etosha we head west into Kaokoland, arguably the most remote and wild of Namibia’s regions. It is not sensible to venture into this rugged wilderness without a guide (unless you know the area and travel in convoy) so we hooked up with a local specialist guide to explore the stunning Hoanib and Hoarusib Rivers. This adventure was a real highlight of the trip for me. For 3 days/2 nights we explored this enchanting area which is home to the nomadic Himba tribe, spectacular valleys and mountain ranges. The sense of isolation and remoteness defines the magic of this area and whilst this is a camping trip, it is extremely comfortable and a wonderful experience. Our camp assistant John was superb, swiftly setting up our dome tents each evening, each comfortably furnished with camp bed, thick duvet, pillow and fresh towels. Dinner was cooked over the camp fire and we dined under a clear sky full of stars each night. A typical itinerary would include one or two nights wild camping (no shower and long drop loo) with one night in a community camp site (hot showers and flush loo). This adventure is for the slightly more adventurous traveller but a fantastic experience. Longer trips of 6 to 7 nights can also be arranged that take you up through fascinating areas such as the Hartmann Valley to the Kunene River on the border with Angola.

Our final night of the trip was spent at Okonjima, a private guest farm and home to the AfriCat foundation, which focusses on the research and conservation of brown hyaena, leopard and cheetah. They also work closely with local communities, for better understanding and education on the preservation of species as ongoing human-wildlife conflict continues. Staying at Okonjima not only supports this vital work, but also provides the opportunity to see the results of their work first hand. Admittedly, this is a soft safari experience, but seeing rescued predators given a second chance in a beautiful reserve is well worth the visit.

Namibia is a land full of contrasts and stunning scenery, and whether you self-drive, fly or go with a private guide it will be an awe-inspiring trip unlike any other destination in Africa.

Julia stayed at: The Olive Exclusive, Hoodia Desert Lodge, Kulala Desert Lodge, Brigadoon Guesthouse, Hansa Hotel, Shipwreck Lodge, Mowani Mountain Camp, Mushara Lodge, Ongava Tented Camp, Mobile Camping Kaokoland (Namibia Tracks and Trails), Damaraland Camp and Okonjima Plains Camp.

Julia visited: Am Weinberg Boutique Hotel, Hotel Heinitzburg, Olive Grove, Hilltop Guesthouse, Wolwedans Dune Camp, Wolwedans Dune Lodge, A Little Sossus Lodge, Desert Homestead Lodge, Sossus Dune Lodge, Desert Homestead Outpost, Desert Hills Lodge, Cornerstone Guesthouse, Villa Margherita, The Delight, The Strand Hotel, Swakopmund Guesthouse, Camp Kipwe, Malansrus Tented Camp, Mushara Bush Camp, Mushara Outpost, Namutoni Rest Camp, Okaukuejo Rest Camp, Ongava Lodge, Andersson’s at Ongava, Palwag Lodge, Khowarib Lodge, Hoanib Valley Camp, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, Doro Nawas Camp, Okonjima Bush Camp.