Emma's highlights on Namibia
Conservation is needed not just on the ground but above us in the sky. Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of Africa’s largest private nature reserves and has expanded its conservation role to include the preservation of the star-filled sky above its famous dunes, canyons and mountains…
If you had asked me last month what to expect from Namibia I would have said lots of sand and perhaps the occasional Oryx. Having grown up in Zimbabwe and travelled around East Africa, I assumed that Namibia wouldn’t hold the same “wow factor” as its neighbours. Having spent a fortnight on a self-drive trip, I realise now that I couldn’t have been more wrong – Namibia in fact has it all! Arriving in the capital, Windhoek I was immediately struck by how clean and landscaped it is. There is certainly little to keep the visitor here for long, but an overnight stop is a must after the long flight and Joe’s Beer House is well worth a visit!
The real excitement began the next day when we began our drive south west to Sossusvlei, in the heart of the Namib Desert and home to the world’s tallest sand dunes which burn red in the morning sun. One of the most popular destinations for visitors to Namibia, it is really not hard to see why! The scenery is truly stunning with the red dunes standing out against the cobalt blue skies – walks to Dead and the lesser known Hidden Vlei are an absolute must as is the obligatory climb up Dune 45 (I recommend doing this either first thing in the morning or just before sunset to avoid the burning sand in the heat of the day)!
From here it was up to Swakopmund – a surreal seaside town that will have you feeling that you’ve been transported all the way to Germany! En route we just had to stop at Solitaire for what is widely-regarded as the best apple pie in Africa (even Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor stopped here on their motorcycle adventure through Africa)! One of the greatest draws of Swakopmund, particularly for families is the range of adrenaline activities on offer – ranging from quad biking to sandboarding to sky diving to sea kayaking with seals; the list goes on… My personal favourite was taking a trip to Sandwich Harbour – where the sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean – a remote area 55km south of Walvis Bay which requires extreme sand driving and dune crossing – quite an adventure for which I was grateful I wasn’t the designated driver!
Leaving Swakopmund saw us cross the divide from southern to northern Namibia and begin a wilderness experience characterised by impressive geology and amazing wildlife – lots of which is desert-adapted. Our first adventure was to be had in Damaraland – home to the Herero and Damara people and full of interesting geological formations including the rock engravings and organ pipes at Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most unique experiences to be had was encountering desert-adapted wildlife with elephants and rhino populations being particularly impressive.
Our penultimate stop was at Etosha National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa at 22,270km² and consisting of saline desert, savannah and woodland with the impressive 5,000km² Etosha Pan at its heart. Etosha is the jewel in Namibia’s crown when it comes to game viewing, being home to 4 of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant and black rhino) but doesn’t offer the typical safari experience that we have come to expert with vast plains packed full with game. You do need to have patience as the dry environment does make it inhospitable but boy can you see some rewarding sights! The famous Okaukuejo waterhole certainly didn’t disappoint with huge elephants and a number of rhino visiting whilst we were there!
Finally we had a truly unique experience with big cats at the Okonjima Reseve – home to the AfriCat Foundation. Here you can get up close and personal with some of Africa’s most elusive cats (as well as wild dogs) and take a walk on the wild side with cheetah – all of whom are here for rehabilitation and conservation. A highlight for me was going to the night hide after dinner to watch porcupines battle it out for food scraps – a really amazing experience witnessing one of the shiest animals. Whilst the south is renowned for its dramatic landscapes of sand dunes, the north offers premier wildlife viewing in a unique desert-like wilderness – ultimately this means that I truly believe that Namibia has something for everyone. One of the best ways to experience this is on a self-drive circuit which we can adapt to include your very own highlights – so what are you waiting for?