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Ravishing Namibia

There is something for everyone in Namibia. Cool misted coastlines, rolling savannas bleached blonde, desert horizons and towering mountains of rust coloured rocks. National Parks house leopard, elephant and rhino beneath the twisted boughs of flat-topped acacias; the cicadas singing in citron infused dusks. The biggest sand dunes in the world and giraffes ambling along the sides of never ending, lonely roads. The space is all encompassing, crushingly so, offering a solitude only felt in the outback, feeding the need to be well and truly away. Welcome to Namibia; the ultimate in road tripping adventures.

A wine with a view - do you need much more?

For those who like their creature comforts a little more luxe, the lodges are plentiful, full of character and delightfully air conditioned. But if you’re here for the silent night skies and red dirt between your toes, a roof tent on your car is the ultimate in convenience and camping paradise. Mozzie-proof and safely out of the way of stray slithery things, it offers an elevated platform for cool breezes and sunrise gazing while sipping coffee. Armed with a road map, a fridge and a case of Windhoek Lagers we set off to discover some of the absolute musts of Namibian landscapes.

The country is extraordinarily well geared for self-drives, and it’s not just for the tourists. Every local worth their salt has a meaty 4x4 vehicle kitted out with the camping nerd’s dream repertoire; weekend warriors ready for action. A very German history ensures the roads are exquisite, the highways perfectly asphalted and pothole free. But turning off the trodden path is half the fun, and for the next car hire insurance bracket up there is plenty of heart-thumping off-roading to be had. Campsites pebble the topography, wonderfully diverse, hidden beneath giant boulders or splayed across sandy bowls, accessible and equipped with fire pits, showering blocks and often bars and swimming pools. Also, Southern Africans are very into their barbecues – they call them a braii.I would say a good braai is higher on the agenda than democracy. In peak season from July to September it is advisable to book your site, but we turned up each day by the seat of our pants and found a site that piqued our fancy.

Drivers either head North and work their way down the country or vice versa, with millions of possibilities and destinations on hand to savour. With twelve-days up our sleeves we had a lot of miles to cover every day to see what we wanted, but with a more relaxed schedule (or a smaller itinerary) the days behind the wheel needn’t be so long. Heading south from Windhoek along the B1 we stopped our first night on the periphery of the Kalahari Desert (Kalahari means the great thirst), the largest continuous expanse of sand of earththat spans much of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa. Setting up our tent for the first time, euphoric with the freedom, we admired the copper expanse of red sand stretching before us, set alight by the sun dropping like a stone in a violet sky. Two giraffes sashayed in the distance, our only company in an empty moonscape. With a roof of stars above our open aired showers, we could have been the last people on the planet.

Sous chef and master fire builder Adam prodding sweet potatoes cooking in the embers

Have laptop, will travel. Working on the run around Namibia, the curling campfire smoke setting an ambient scene

We meandered down the country, stopping at Fish River Canyon, the largest in Africa. The enormous ravine bites deeply into the earth, its arid contours plummeting some 500 metres down and up to 27-kilometres across. There we followed the Orange River which wound its way along the South African border, a stripe of surprising lushness amid the bare and burnt mountains of rock, arriving at Ludertitz, an old German port town huddling on the shores of the freezing Atlantic Ocean. We dropped into haunting Kolmanskop – a ghost settlement just outside of town. We walked knee-deep in sand amid beautiful decaying houses slowly being swallowed by the desert; remnants of a deserted diamond mining village, replete with a rotting skittle-alley and ballroom.

The lone campers at this exquisite campsite, a wonderfully regular experience for us

Adam walks the line along a sand dune's knife edge in Sesriem

From Lüderitzwe headed north to Sesriem to access the Sossusvlei dunes, the largest of their kind in the world. We set our alarms for 4am, scrambling up the cool knife edge of Dune 45 to watch the sun pull herself into view, the undulating dunes, like the backs of colossal, sleeping prehistoric creatures, changing colours before us, blushing claret and cerise, the flame of the wine-coloured sun brushing the night off the sand’s cloak. We then climbed ‘Big Daddy’, the highest in Sossuslvlei standing at a magnificent 325 metres, making it to the peak by 10.30am. Already the sun was blazing, the soft sand scorching our feet as we ran down its steep side. At its bottom is the Deadvlei, an ancient pan bleached alabaster, the tortured remains of black camel thorn trees estimated to be around 900 years old.

Chanelling my desert princess at dawn atop Dune 45 in Sesriem

Trudging up Big Daddy, the highest sand dune in the world

The extraordinary Deadvlei, fossilised trees rising from a stark sand pan

Southwards, stopping by the tiny dusty town of Solitaire, which looked straight out of a tumbleweed Western, for its famous Apple Strudel from the German baker Big Moose. Swakopmund was next on the list; a coastal town renowned for its extreme sports. Try your hand at dune boarding, or hire a quad bike and go hooning along the sand. Then it was time to head back inland, through the soaring Brandberg mountains, the highest in the country and boasting more than 45,000 rock paintings. Rising out of the chalky savanna with boulders the size of houses, they play host to desert elephants and a litany of campsites squirrelled amid the stones.

Blending in with the locals in Etosha Park

Finally, it was south towards Etosha National Park, with a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. One of the country’s most accessible game reserves, its remarkable waterholes are how I imagine the waiting rooms of Noah’s Ark; a frenzy of furred and feathered creatures taking refuge in the life-giving water. With five resorts inside the gate, three of which offer camping, it’s a wildlife utopia, the gravel roads offering easy access. Buy a guidebook at the gate and tick off the abundance of game you spot along the way, which includes lions, cheetahs, leopards, zebras and giraffes, as well as more than 350 bird species. We pitched up at Halali Camp and were hard pressed to leave its waterhole, magically lit up by spotlights at night. We watched in silence as an endangered black rhino melted out of the inky bush, her chunky baby trotting at her heels. She dipped her head towards the pool, taking long cool swallows. As the warm African night sung around me, the moment was perfectly suspended in time. Namibia had me.

The packed out watering holes in Etosha are extraordinary viewing

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Originally published in Downtown Magazine

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