When you think of Namibia, what comes to your mind? Not much, hm? Well, I had similar asociations. I knew where it is geographically, but I had no clue what is there to explore, other than wildlife. Once we were there, it was mindblowing, how many different landscapes and impressions this country has to offer. In about 3 weeks we saw Africa´s biggest canyon, played football with the kids in townships, followed dinosaur tracks, touched the largest known meteorite ever fallen on Earth, climbed the red dunes of Sossuslvei, explored the barren coastline, silently observed wildlife in Etosha National Park, ate worms and “Apfelkuchen”, walked through abandoned towns and lively markets and much more.
When: August 2006
Visited: Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Gondwana NP, Fishriver Canyon, Luderitz, Kolmanskop, Maltahöhe, Sossuslvlei, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Skeleton Coast, Ai Aiba, Omaruru, Outjo, Etosha NP, Grootfontaine
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: small hotels, lodges, guest farms
It might get hot but it surely will also get cold. So, take what every you can – depending on the the time of travel. We were there in August and had only 5ºC in the morning sometimes. In the day it can warm up up to 30ºC. On the Atlantic coast it will get windy also.
Every middle-size town has at least one hotel with a restaurant attached to it. They are often family run. In bigger cities like Windhoek, Swakopmund and Luderitz you can find guesthouses and hostels with dorms for a good price. Outside the towns we mostly stayed at lodges, which were more upscale but not luxurious. Some of them had small pools but in August it was too cold to jump inside. A few times we spend the night or a few days at a private guest farm. This is a nice way to see the every day life, the food was always home grown and organic and you get to experience and see things you could not do if you just stay at big hotels. If you wish to stay in National Parks, do book accommodation well in advance! Camping is very popular and you can also rent camping gear with the car, or buy it in Windhoek. Camp sites get very crowded in the time of school holidays, some of them can also be booked in advance.
DRIVING & TRANSPORT
We started our trip in Windhoek and drove south to Keetmanshoop, Fishriver canyon and Richtersveld NP before reaching Luderitz at the coast. A few days relaxing in Maltahohe and hiking the dunes in Sossusvlei then back to the coast, to Swakopmund. Short stop at Cape Cross and Ai Aiba then on towards Etosha NP. From there back to Windhoek. It is a great circle, if you have 2-3 weeks time.
Renting a car and driving on your own is pretty easy and a great way to travel around Namibia. The roads are empty most of the times so you can really enjoy the views and stop wherever you like to take a photo. Still, there are quite a few things you need to have in mind and take care of. Firstly – lots of roads are gravel roads, so do respect the speed limits. Be aware that anytime some animal can cross the road. Do not drive in the night if possible – in Etosha it is not allowed and the gates will close, so you can´t really go in nor out. It will take a long time to overcome short distances, so do give yourself enough time and don´t expect you can drive 500 km on a daily basis. If you see a gas station, fill up the tank! Don´t wait for the next one, it might come in 200 km. Here and there you will drive through an enclosed area with animals – there you have to open and close the gate at the road. A 4 WD is not necessary to get around, but if you want to drive on the dunes or on the beach then this is the way to go.
One of the joys of driving is also changing the tire! I believe it happened three time to us. So, do check that your car has all the equipment when you rent it and also check the extra tyre. There are many gravel roads so it´s easy to happen. Luckily, there seem to be enough car repair shops along the way so that you can get the other tyre fixed – this is essential, because if it happens again later, you have no extra good tyre.
The cuisine is a mix of the indigenous people cookery and the cookery brought over by the colonial countries. Therefore it is really easy to get German food, like pancakes, “Apfelstrudel” and even Sauerkraut, but on the other hand lots of beans, game meat (oryx, kudu, ostrich, crocodile), maize porridge, nuts, Mopane worms, fruits, bush leaves, Biltong (stripes of dried meat) and meat-based stews. Insects such as caterpillars are eaten as a delicacy. As you see, they are more of a meat lovers. We did not find many restaurants with fish on the menu, although Namibia has a long coastline, which we found rather strange. Dreid fish was common in the townships. The German brewing tradition also did a good job, the Windhoek lager must be the most popular brand.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
The town itself might not be overwhelming, but it´s a good starting point. Windhoek is usually the starting point of one´s travelling in Namibia, because of its international airport. If you are planning to camp throughout the country this is the place to buy some gear you might be missing. If you are renting a car you can stock up on some food or other suppliances. In any case, you can use a day or two to get used to the time or climate change and explore the town, getting to know the country´s history in one of its museums – the best way is to head to the National Museum first.
This was our first day of driving and we had to overcome a long distance, but the roads here were pretty good so there were not many speed limits. We stopped at the Hardap NP and took a look at the Hardap dam and saw some impalas, ostrich and zebras. Since we were there in the middle of the day, many animals were resting so it was not the best time. We stopped a few times along the B1 road to have a sandwich and stretch our legs. Finally we reached Keetmanshoop just before the sun started to go down (sunset was already around 17:30). We still had enough time to visit the famous “Kocherbaumwald” park (the Quiver Tree Forest) and admire the aloe trees in the evening light. Between the trees there were numerous dassies (rock hyrax) running around. The park is also a national monument.
The next morning we drove back to walk around the “Giant´s Playground” to see the dolorites – these are magma that was pressed up, but cooled off just below the Earth surface. The softer parts of the stone and the top layer of the earth´s crust eroded away, which left the dolorites exposed.
It was time to move on and so we ended up exploring the Gondwana Canyon National Park with its main attraction, the Fishriver canyon. The canyon is the largest in Africa, stretching for about 160 km, up to 27 km wide and in some places up to 550 metres deep. The Fish River is also the longest Namibian interior river. You can do a 5 day trekking in the canyon but unfortunatelly we did not have time for that, so we just observed it from a few view points.
Since we still had enough time we decided to drive to the well-known Ai-Ais hot springs, which are only opened from March to November. You can also take a swim in the hot water, or just walk around. We were staying at the Canyon Roadhouse which was amazing. An evening walk behind the house with some great photo opportunities.
We had to drive about 400km today, to reach the Atlantic coast. Since we were good in time we also planned a stop at the famous abandoned town of Kolmanskop. The road to the coast was in good shape and we were once again amazed by the sceneries. You will drive through some restricted areas, where you are not allowed to go off the road (there are many diamond mines in this area). About 20 km before Luderitz you can visit the so-called “Ghost Town”, Kolmanskop. You can only take a guided tour, which lasts about 45 minutes. This used to be a small but rich diamond mining town with everything a town needs. But since the mining has moved to other places (mostly to Oranjemund) the whole town has been deserted in the 1960´s. The houses still present European architecture, besides people´s homes you can see also a hospital, ball room, school, the first tram and the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere.
Because the town was build in the middle of the desert, the sand has found its way into the deserted houses, making it a very unique experience to walk through the rooms. There is still colour and some paintings on the walls.
LÜDERITZ & DIAZ POINT
It´s a smaller harbour town at the Atlantic coast, with a nice relaxed atmosphere. We did not concentrate so much on the town itself, more on the peninsula close by. You can drive to the Diaz Point lighthouse and stop many times on the way, the coast and the scenery is amazing. And don´t forget your binoculars, you can observe the penguin colony on the nearby island of Halifax.
Ever seen such huge algae? I haven´t!
At some parts, the coast is literally covered in shells.
The “road” was covered in small red succulents – you had to drive over if you wanted to get further, there was no other way.
LA VALLEE TRANQUILLE
We were driving on smaller roads today and on the way to our La Vallee Tranquille Lodge (about 60 km south of Maltahohe) we stopped also by the Duwisib castle. For a few days we enjoyed the great food and peaceful surroundings of our lodge – which was truly in the middle of nowhere. We climbed up some mountains around the lodge with one of the young helpers – that day, he was our guide. He pointed out lizards, birds, rabbits, snakes, animal footprints, cactus and other medicinal herbs which we probably never would have noticed on our own.
We enjoyed the views, saw how they take care of the animals, read books, watched the stars in the night and spend our evenings chatting with the friendly French owner. Staying in such smaller lodges or guest farms is a great way to interact with people, the atmosphere is usually very relaxed and kind of private.
We left the peaceful house and drove towards the Namib Naukluft National Park which covers the area of the Namib desert and the Naukluft mountains and is one of the largest game parks in Africa. The most known part of the park are the red sand dunes around Sossusvlei – Soussusvlei is actually a salt and clay pan. Needless to say the park leaves you speechless. Of course you also have to pay an entrance fee (which was relatively high, but in this case worth the money) – if you have a 4WD car you can continue on your own, if not, you will be transported with jeeps for the last 5 km before the dunes begin. You have to pay extra for the jeep.
Take your time and climb on the famous Dune 45, but don´t think it will be so easy, walking on the sand will make you tired pretty quickly. Don´t forget to take some water with you! The views from above are stunning, so it´s definitely worth the hike.
After visiting the dunes we had to drive all the way to Maltahöhe, where we stayed at the Hammerstein Lodge – which was the biggest on our whole trip, with 40 rooms. Also here, there were mostly German tourists. They also have some animals like leopards, cheetahs and wild cats. We had a wonderful dinner with some good wine. It was a long day and we felt tired so we pretty much just fell in the bed right after dinner.
Next short stop was Walvis Bay. We parked close to the lagoon and walked around – it´s a perfect spot to watch pink flamingoes and other birds. We also saw the salt pans at the Pelican Point. After lunch we drove to Swakopmund, where we stayed for some nights.
This is the fourth largest Namibian town and is a great example of the German influence and architecture. After a short walk and a very European tasting dinner we woke up the next day to a foggy morning which was kind of strange and it did not felt like we were in Africa. Since we have been visiting more or less isolated places for the past days, we were happy about going to the local market where we also bought some neat wooden crafts – our first souvenirs!
Ok so you´ve seen the German looking like coastal town of Swakopmund where you possibly ate the original pancakes and apple pie – and then you come to Mondesa, the township just a few kilometres out of the city centre. It´s something completely different and it does make you think. The children seem to be happy and are jumping into the camera lens, having fun and fooling around, everything is laid back and there is no hectic. I guess you will see and experience more if you take a guided tour (we were just a few people in the group), because going on your own might be too risky, besides you would not know where to walk. Our guide Charlotte from the Mondesa Township Tours was great – she grew up in Mondesa herself and knows her way around. We walked around for about 4 hours, visited her home, schools, kindergarten, soccer fields and the local market. You get to try local specialities at the market and if time allows you you can eat some more at a local home. All in all, its a wonderful experience. First you see small brick houses which are very nice, have coloured facades, gardens, electricity and everything they need for normal living.
Once you go further the picture gets worse, there are just cardboard houses with almost nothing. You are now in the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community). There is no electricity and the toilets are shared. We got the chance to chat with a few residents and took a look inside their homes. Here is how they look like.
Billiard anyone? No? Just a beer maybe?
Guys, as I am writing these lines, I´m actually reading my travel diary and this just made me laugh. Cape Cross is a famous stretch of beach about 130 km north of Swakopmund and it´s know for its seal colony. In my journal I wrote, the seals were like sheep, making strange noises as if they would burp and puke at the sane time. They also smelled a lot. I remember holding a piece of cloth under my nose. Well, they are just animals and they stink, that´s normal. If you are into animals you should definitely go there. There are so many of them and you can get very close. I would say it´s not the best idea to try to touch them – just take photos from a distance and observe their natural behaviour.
BRANDBERG, AI AIBA LODGE
So, we went on to Ai Aiba Lodge where we spent the night. On the way we had some car tyre problems which took about 3 hours from our day, but we got two tyres fixed an we were convinced they should now last till the end of the trip. Although it was not a long way to the lodge, it took us a long time, because of the tyre repair shop so we just dropped into our beds in the evening.
This lodge is quite secluded and set in the beautiful surroundings. In the morning we explored the area around the lodge and found the famous rock paintings.
OMARURU, DINOSAUR FOOT PRINTS
The next day we made a stop at the Otjihaenamparero Farm (now, I´m not kidding, that is a real name). Our goal were the dinosaur tracks. The site was still quite wild and did not show any signs of mass tourism. The foot prints were marked with white circles so that it was easier to locate them.
I don´t even know where to begin – probably by saying, you need to plan in at least a few days for Etosha NP. One day would just be a shame. At the time, there were 3 lodges in the park, which were already booked out well in advance, so we slept just outside of the park. That meant we had to drive in and pay the entrance every day. Be aware that you are not allowed to drive around in the night and don´t step out of the car once you drive around the park. In August the landscape seemed a bit dry, but this made us spot the animals sooner. If you have been to some similar parks elsewhere in Africa this one might not be something you have never seen before, but nonetheless unforgeable.
The first day you might catch yourself often saying: “Antelope, antelope, look, there is an antelope!”. The third day you will say more something like: “Something is moving over there behind those bushes, it might be a LION! … Oh, wait.. no, its just an antelope.” It´s similar to the temples in SE Asia, at some point they are just not so interesting anymore. But if you really start observing them, you see their beauty is totally underestimated!
Don´t just look for the “big five” (lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard, elephant) – take a look at bird life too, the birds are amazing and you can see them good in the summer. Oh and don´t forget your binoculars.
The best guarantee to see zebras, giraffes and elephants is to drive to a water hole in the evening time where animals come to drink water. Take a look at the map and mark those places.
There are gas stations inside the park, so you don´t have to worry about an empty tank. Drive slowly inside the park and stick to the speed limits. Once you spot some animals approach slowly and turn the motor off. Don´t step out of the car, after all those are wild animals and we should respect them. Also, don´t make loud noises. Ask at your lodge/guesthouse about specific road maps and exchange experience you made in the day with other guests. Certain animals tend to stick around in the same area for some days so if you know where they were today, there is a good chance to see them around also the day after. And don´t forget to fill up your camera´s batteries!
Here is the largest meteorite ever fallen on Earth, the Hoba meteorite. It has been uncovered, but because of its large mass, has never been moved from where it fell. It is estimated to 60 tonnes of iron. Its quite spectacular to see it, although it did not seemed like a tourist attraction as we were the only ones there. What was also “interesting” are the cuttings seen on the edge of the meteorite. Looks like some visitors wanted to take a piece of it to keep it in their living room.
BACK TO WINDHOEK
Our trip was coming to an end, there was just one last long drive back to the country´s capitol, Windhoek. We had a nice dinner, drank the last wine bottle and brought the postcards to the post – like always, the last day. Next morning there was a flight waiting for us, back to Europe. Namibia was great! It does not feel like real Africa, but yet, it is. It is not densely populated and is really peaceful. Here and there you meet a young African boy named Hans, Jürgen, Klaus or something German which might confuse you – but that´s the beauty of Namibia, it´s a great mix of cultures, tribes, languages and landscapes. Simply extraordinary.
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