Stunning, dramatic, endless, wild and beautiful – these were words I often thought of and said during my three week self-drive educational through Namibia. 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 was incredible.
The Namib Desert with its high red dunes towering over the hardened white crust and sun-blackened trees of Dead Vlei beneath, was just breath taking. Climbing the Sossusvlei dunes in 40 degree heat at 8 o’clock in the morning was testing to say the least, but worth it to see the view from the top and great fun running down!
Swakopmund is a picturesque coastal town with quirky shops, lovely restaurants and a friendly atmosphere. The cooler temperatures, in comparison with the interior, are a welcome relief in the summer months and make it an ideal stop between the north and south. There are many excursions available in the surrounding area and a personal favourite was the catamaran cruise and Sandwich Harbour combination. The cruise gives you a fantastic look at marine life with seal colonies, birds, and, if you lucky, Heaviside dolphins or even whales (I was not so lucky on the latter). This is followed by a 4×4 adventure south along the beach and dunes of this stunning wild coastline to the remote ‘harbour’ estuary.
Inland and north from Swakopmund is the vast wilderness area known as Damaraland. On the southern edge of this region are the beautiful Erongo Mountains, where I tested some of my 4×4 driving skills just getting to the lodge set amongst the rocky boulders. From here I headed north past the busier Twyfelfontein region to reach the exclusive Palmwag and Etendeka Concessions, both of which are good for seeing desert elephant and rhino, and offer some wonderful walking. I then set off on a private guided camping tour that took me further north into the really wild north-west, known as Kaokoland, ‘wild camping’ on the banks of the Hoanib and Hoarasib rivers. This was an unforgettable experience – food cooked over the open fire, the incredible night sky, desert elephants, scorpions and snakes! I really was lost for words, the change in scenery in one day was like nothing else I had encountered, from river gorge to open rolling plateau, through jagged mountains to end at a lush green river oasis!
Working my way back to ‘reality’, Etosha Pan was next, well known for its great game viewing especially around the waterholes. Unfortunately for me, it has just rained, so my day driving through the park was uneventful. This is the main reason that the area is best visited in the dry months from May to October!
My last night was spent at Okonjima; home to the Africat Foundation, where I spent an exciting afternoon tracking leopard. The following morning we concentrated on seeing cheetah and wild dog. The foundation has done fantastic work for the rehabilitation of these big cats (and now dogs), 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. I do think that driving gives you a more complete experience and ‘feel’ for the destination and if you like adventure and the excitement of self-driving, then Namibia should certainly live up to all expectations!