With a sizeable landmass of 825,000 sq km, but a population of just 2.48 million people, Namibia is a vast but sparsely populated country. Much of the country is covered by desert and in fact contains the oldest desert on earth, the Namib Desert. But because of its natural beauty and the relative ease of travel through the country, it draws one million tourists a year! Namibia is teeming with European visitors, mostly German and French. Even the Chinese are here! And they all come toting their ginormous cameras.
Namibia only gained independence from South Africa in 1989 and has a colonial past similar to many other African nations. While there is still significant poverty and wealth disparity in the country, it has achieved political and economic stability better than many of its neighbours.
Traveling through Namibia on your own is definitely the road trip of all road trips. As the country is so big and sites are so spread out, there is a LOT of driving. And driving on dirt roads and on the other side of the road nonetheless. There are only a couple of paved highways in the whole country. There is such relief and joy of finding yourself on pavement after jostling around on dirt washboard for hours.
We planned our Namibian trip while still in Canada and luckily everything has worked out. This country is such a tourist hotspot that many people book a year in advance! We decided to rent a 4x4 truck with two rooftop tents for two reasons… to handle to roads and to enable us to camp along the way. The truck was fully kitted out with everything we needed for camping including sleeping bags, towels, and all cooking necessities. It seemed like a very popular way for tourists to see the country. We interspersed a couple nights of camping followed by a couple of nights at a guesthouse or B&B. This was a perfect blend of “roughing it” with indulging in the creature comforts of a proper bed and real walls. Actually, it wasn’t all that hard to camp. Many of the sites had great amenities like pools and even restaurants. A couple of camps we stayed at even had a private ablution block with a shower, toilet and kitchen area. The boys were in their glory with the camping. Finn became quite expert by the end with helping John set up and take down the tents. Thankfully the boys didn’t mind sharing cramped quarters as they all piled into one small tent together and seemed to manage fine. The hardest thing to deal with was actually the dust, dirt, and sand everywhere! It is the desert afterall! But even with everything closed up in the truck, there was a thick layer of dust on everything by the end of the day.
Our three week trip took us from Windhoek to the Kalahari Desert, and over to the dunes of the Namib Desert. We went to the coast in Swakopmund, then up to the Twyfelfontein area, and onto Etosha National Park. After Etosha, we visited the Waterberg Plateau Park and finished up at the private Erindi Game Reserve. Needless to say, we were treated with a huge array of epic landscapes and abundant animal viewings. We were able to see four of the “Big Five”…elephant, lion, rhino, and cape buffalo. No elusive leopard yet, but hopefully in South Africa.
While we really enjoyed all the places we saw and the things we did, two experiences stand out as definite highlights: Etosha National Park and the dunes of Sesriem and Sossusvlei.
Etosha National Park is the premier animal wildlife park in the country. It covers more than 20,000 sq km and contains the vast Etosha Pan, a huge saline desert at the heart of the park. The unique thing about Etosha and the reason for it’s great wildlife viewing is the abundance of waterholes dotted throughout the park. The animals just come to you! All you have to do is sit and wait and invariable you are treated to all sorts of animals coming for a drink. While we saw plenty of animals doing game drives through the park, we had some of the best animal viewing while at the waterholes…..huge herds of zebras, springbok, giraffes, rhinos, wildebeests, impala, kudu, and elephants. In fact one night at Okaukuejo Camp we saw a herd of 40 elephants! With the stars shinning in the sky and calmness of the night, it was truly one of the most special experiences ever. Animal safaris are in general pretty amazing for any age, but it’s especially cool to experience it with the kids. They were so engaged. They were also great at spotting animals and were always bang on. I, on the other hand, not so good. Once, I mistook a bunch of springbok to be baby zebras. Go figure.
Surprisingly, it is not Etosha but the dunes in the Namib Desert that is the most visited tourist destination in Namibia. It is not hard to see why. The red dunes of the desert cover 32,000 sq km and are out of this world beautiful! They impress from sunrise to sunset with the changing light of the day creating very different effects. We stayed at Sesriem campground inside the park which allowed earlier access to the sites to get there for sunrise and was well worth it. To stand atop the dunes and watch the sun come up lighting up the dunes was magical.
On a funny note, Nico and Milo's long hair really confounded the Namibians. They kept getting confused for "pretty girls" and were told on more than one occasion that they were in the wrong bathroom. I guess the Namibians are not used to seeing shaggy hippy boys.
We had a fantastic time in Namibia....amazing scenery, abundant animals, beautiful starry skies, and no flat tire to speak of!