Stunning, dramatic, endless, vast, wild – these are words often synonymous when talking about Namibia. With previous visits to this sensational country, I knew what to expect and it was as mind-blowing as before!
This trip, Fran from our office and another colleague self-drove an epic 3000kms visiting some of the country’s highlights. We travelled south-west to the Namib Nature Reserve before heading northwards through Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Damaraland, wild camping in Kaokoland and finishing with Etosha and the Okonjima Africat Foundation. The contrasts are incredible. The colours, landscapes and scenery change hour by hour as you drive through rocky mountains, across gravel plains and past immense sand dunes. It is so hard to focus on any one highlight when, in truth, every section is unreal.
I have always loved the Wolwedans concession located in the Namib Rand Nature Reserve within the Namib Desert. A huge area covering around 2100 square kms of pristine wilderness. The scenery on this concession alone takes your breath away and is so contrasting from red dunes in the north to grassy plains and rocky boulders in the south. Travel only a couple of hours out of the concession north and you hit the impressive red dunes of Sossusvlei.
We spent a couple of nights in the Sossusvlei area with Fran and I split up to try out different properties. My first was spent inside the park at the NWR Sossus Dune Lodge. This is owned by the parks department and although the accommodation is reasonably comfortable, the food and service is poor! Your only reason for staying at this lodge is location. As you are within the park, you have the opportunity to be one of the first on the dunes and watch the sunrise – a highlight especially for keen photographers. After a restless night (the temperature barley dropping lower than 35 degrees and no air-con), I woke up at 4.30am and travelled with our guide to Dead Vlei and the famous ‘Big Daddy’ dune. The disappointment of the lodge was soon behind me as I was the first to step and climb the dune and watch the sunrise – it was magical. With fellow travelers soon following in my footsteps, I partook in the exhilarating run down the dune onto the eerie Dead Vlei. The hardened white crust and sun blackened trees with the dunes towering over the entire scene is mesmerizing.
A sad farewell to Sossusvlei, we departed for the five hour journey northwards to the coastal town of Swakopmund. This really is a spectacular drive and one of my favorite in Namibia encompassing rocky terrain, lunar sandscapes, endless plains, rugged mountains and the impressive Kuiseb Canyon.
Swakopmund is a picturesque coastal town with quirky shops, lovely restaurants and a friendly sea-side atmosphere. The cooler temperatures were a welcome relief and it is an ideal stop to break the journey between the north and south. There are many excursions available in the surrounding from seal cruises, kayaking, interactive dessert trips or more adventurous quad biking or sand boarding. A highlight is definitely a full day trip to Sandwich Harbour giving you the opportunity to see the dunes meeting the ocean. We enjoyed this excursion which entails a fantastic 4×4 adventure driving through the endless sandy dunes of this stunning wild coastline to the remote ‘harbour’ estuary. The estuary offers some excellent birdlife whilst along the way you have the opportunity, if lucky, to see some wildlife. We were treated to a seal posing for us on the beach and were blown away by stumbling across a female ostrich and her eight chicks in the dunes!
Inland and north from Swakopmund is the vast wilderness area known as Damaraland. We spent a night in the Twyfelfontein region – a spectacular scene of rocky boulders. The highlights of the area are the rock paintings as well as opportunity to search for the rare desert elephant. We did the latter and travelled a little further north to catch up with these incredible elephants on a morning game-drive. It is always so special to see elephants, but in this harsh environment only enhanced the whole experience.
A couple of hours north of Twyfelfontein and you reach the Palmwag concession. We spent two nights in the area, the first at Desert Rhino Camp and a second on the exclusive Etendeka concession. Both were whistle stop tours, Desert Rhino Camp gives you the opportunity to track for black rhino whilst Etendeka, for avid walkers, an opportunity to stretch your legs in pure wilderness and hopefully see some wildlife.
We then set off on a private guided camping adventures with Kunene Tours and renowned guide in this region, Caesar Zandberg. Our two nights were spent travelling further north into the really wild north-west area, known as Kaokoland, This was without a doubt my highlight. We drove through the dry Hoanib River bed flanked by jagged mountains and had wonderful elephant, giraffe and oryx sightings. The first night we camped in the Muderub River (southern tributary of the Hoanib River) and enjoy the simplicity of wild camping. Your accommodation is in a spacious dome tent with stretcher bed (rigged up short drop loo a few paces away, no shower this evening). Once settled, we enjoyed ice cold gin & tonics whilst our lamb chops cooked over the open fire and later that evening watched the full moon light up the desert as it rose over the mountains.
The following morning, we visited Wilderness Safaris high end and very luxurious Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp before continuing northwards enjoying yet more spectacular scenery to reach Purros. A short stop at the ‘Manchester United Store’ in Purros village for a few supplies, before continuing to our campsite on the banks of the Hoarasib river. The setting is magical and we had a bit of luxury this evening with campsite facilities including a flush loo and shower, throw in some cold beers and chicken curry cooked on the fire and what’s not to enjoy!
The following morning we visited a nearby Himba village which was a great experience. Although this village is not nomadic, it did give us a fascinating insight into their culture in a very relaxed manner.
Working our way back to ‘reality’, Etosha National Park was next, well known for its great game-viewing especially around the waterholes. We spent the first night on the private Ongava reserve bordering the park. Our afternoon was spent with a game-drive on their reserve and we had some fantastic lion and rhino sightings with an exciting sighting of python on the side of the road whilst driving back to the lodge! The following morning, we entered the park at the Okaukuejo Gate with a quick stop at their amazing waterhole where we enjoyed watching elephants, oryx, wildebeest and springbok. We then spent an enjoyable several hours driving through the park. Unfortunately, there had been some heavy rain before we arrived and so the waterholes were very quiet, but highlighted the fact why the area is best visited in the dry months from May to October!
Our night was spent at Okonjima, home to the Africat Foundation. Our afternoon was spent tracking for leopard, several of which are collared. We managed to find a beautiful male who proceed to bump in to a honey badger! Our last sundowner in Namibia was spent on the vehicle watching a leopard and giraffe drink from the waterhole, icing on the cake! The Africat foundation has done fantastic work for the rehabilitation of these big cats, and gives you a great opportunity to see these elusive animals in as natural an environment as possible.
We have always felt that Namibia is best as a self-drive destination. I have been fortunate enough to fly and now drive through the country and both experiences were fantastic. If you are happy to drive, then I do think it gives you a more complete experience and ‘feel’ for the destination. If you have the time and don’t mind a bit of wild camping, then spending a few nights in the remote north-west is an incredible experience (there is also the luxury lodges to enjoy the area too). Namibia is a land of contrast. If you like adventure, the excitement of self-driving and having some independence, then Namibia should certainly live up to all expectations!
Michele stayed at Olive Grove, Wolwedans Dune Camp, Sossus Dune Lodge, Kulala Desert Lodge, Cornerstone Apartments, Villa Margherita, Mowani Mountain Camp, Desert Rhino Camp, Etendeka Mountain Camp, Kunene Tours, Ongava Tented Camp, Mushara Outpost and Okonjima Plains Camp.
Michele site inspected Hotel Heinitzburg, Hilltop House, The Olive Exclusive, Wolwedans Dune Lodge, Wolwedans Boulders Camp, Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Desert Homestead, Little Kulala, Hoodia Desert Lodge, Desert Grace, Cornerstone Guesthouse, Brigadoon Guesthouse, The Strand Hotel, Hansa Hotel, Delight Hotel, Camp Kipwe, Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, Doro Nawas, Hoanib Valley Camp, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, Khowarib Lodge, Little Ongava, Ongava Lodge, Mushara Lodge, Mushara Bush Camp and Okonjima Bush Camp.