As we exited through the Palmwag Conservancy veterinary fence, we were thrilled to catch sight of several ochre coloured women of the Himba tribe. They were climbing into the back of a pick up that sped off down the road ahead of us!
We continued on our leisurely two hour journey south, encountering goat farms, traditional donkey carts (4 abreast) and small roadside stalls selling gemstones, eventually arriving at our next camp, Doro Nawas standing on a prominent kopje like a black citadel. This was to be home for the next two nights and is close to Twyfelfontein famed for its San ancient rock carvings, mostly depicting animals (look out for the lion with the crooked tail). Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, it has become a bit of a tourist hub with a Visitor Centre and a few larger lodges close by, but well worth a guided visit.
Damaraland Village Life
Rock engravings at Twyfelfontein
Also close by are the unique dolomite columns known as Organ Pipes and a small inselberg named Burnt Mountain. For some cultural interaction head for the Damara Living Museum for an insight into Damara life as it used to be including traditional blacksmith (making of weapons and tools), tanning of leather, jewellery and crafts, dancing, singing and traditional games, Holy Fire and fire making.
Late in the afternoon our guide drove us along the Aba Huab dry riverbed until we found what we were searching for – the desert-adapted elephants. Far from a dusty environment, these eles were gorging on summer grasses and drinking from a waterhole as deep as a swimming pool.
Desert adapted elephants
From Southern Kunene to the Atlantic Coast, it’s gravel all the way, mostly on the C35 – some 5 hour’s driving. Distant views appeared of The Brandberg massif, Namibia’s highest point at 2573m above sea level. The main attraction is the White Lady, one of more than 45 000 rock painting in the area. We stopped to refuel in Uis, a small tin mining town and found a wonderful coffee shop tucked away behind town, in a small courtyard adorned with cactus plants – we could have easily have stayed longer chatting to fellow travellers, but our destination was calling.
The drive from Uis to Swakopmund was on challenging corrugated gravel, where sand and gravel had become compacted. In the heat of the day the white coloured gravel merged with the white open plains which was kind of disorientating and infrequent vehicles emerged like a mirage out of the haze. Car hire companies stipulate a speed of 80 km/h on gravel roads and with good reason. The lady in the café in Uis had graphically described a recent road accident involving the death of a tourist that had given us pause for thought.
Finally reaching the ocean, we stopped at Henties Bay, breathed in the Atlantic air, saw our first shipwreck, Zeila, then headed into Swakopmund town to check into our accommodation at Villa Margherita
German colonial architecture abounds in this relatively lively town and German foodie influences persist in places such as the Hansa Hotel. Being on the coast the seafood is king and we headed for The Tug Restaurant overlooking the jetty. Pre booking is essential as it has quite a reputation with tourists and locals for its buzzy atmosphere and the fact that the restaurant is partly an old tugboat.
Swakopmund is about adventure activity and a great base for extreme sports such as skydiving over the desert or sea kayaking. We only had one full day in Swakopmund, so opted for a guided tour of the desert guided by an enigmatic local to see the smaller flora and fauna, followed by a scenic flight over the Skeleton Coast and shifting sand dunes. Both great choices. In the morning we held a Fitzsimmons skink, inched closer to a Namaqua chameleon and stood back from the venomous sidewinder snake. By the afternoon we were airborne marvelling at the vast desert sand dunes, flying over shipwrecks, admiring seal colonies and gazing at the “Long Wall” before dipping down over the Walvis Bay salt works, an attraction to thousands of flamingos on the edge of the Atlantic surf.
NAMIB NAUKLUFT PARK
Leaving the 4×4 behind in Swakopmund, we took to the air again with a scenic flight south to the private Kulala Wilderness Reserve, adjoining the Namib-Naukluft Park. Little Kulala is a luxurious desert retreat with the advantage of private access to the dunes of Sossusvlei. Main park gates only open at dawn, so this gains you the advantage of arriving ahead of the crowds and in time to admire dawn breaking over the stunning red star dunes. Dune 45, Big Daddy and the ancient clay pan with its black camel thorns at Dead Vlei are the must see attractions. If time allows, definitely do an airborne activity such as ballooning as the sun rises over the dunes.
After the exertions of taking in the sights, we devoured a desert brunch before heading back to camp to cool off in the lodge’s enticing pool. Our final highlight was a late afternoon visit to Sesriem Canyon, a narrow gorge 30 m deep carved by the Tsauchab River. It’s a good hour’s drive punctuated by sightings of gemsbok, jackal and ostrich. Sundowners among the dunes allowed for quiet contemplation of our epic surroundings before returning to camp for another delicious meal of oryx steak complemented with a nice South African shiraz.
My final thoughts are what a really superb Safari Holiday destination Namibia is! It’s just perfect for a self-drive adventure for a family or group of friends. There is no doubt that Namibia is a unique and fascinating country. Attractions range from prime wildlife safaris to awe inspiring desert landscapes; adventure activities on land and sea, the indigenous tribes and a whole lot of unpopulated places inbetween.
If you are feeling inspired to travel to Namibia or indeed any other country within southern Africa, then we are your Africa Travel Specialists and would be delighted to help organize a trip that is unique to you.