We arrived in Windhoek, the capital, early in the afternoon and hired a car at the airport. Driving in a foreign country is always a bit of an ask, but we seemed to manage it ok. Fortunately, in Namibia they drive on the left side of the road.
Ticking off the main attractions in Windhoek didn’t take more than a couple of hours. Among other things we saw a church famous for looking like a gingerbread house, which it rather did. But what was really interesting was to see how developed Windhoek is. My impression was that it would be poorer, but that was not the case at all. In fact, Namibia is not even considered a third world country. Certainly, some parts were not well off, but some of the houses we saw might have come straight out of Toorak or Rose Bay.
We spent just one night in Windhoek, before driving the next day into the depths of the desert. It was about a four or five hour drive to our ‘Desert Camp,’ made more difficult by the fact that most of it was on gravel roads. For so much of the drive, there was absolutely nothing to see. Towns and rest stops were few and far between. But we did stop once at a very interesting rest stop which was essentially someone’s house with a few guest rooms tacked on.
The proprietors welcomed us in and sat with us to chat. We were the only people there and it seemed as though we might have been the only people to pass though that day. It was difficult to tell whether we were more interested in their story, or they were more interested in ours. They were an endearing older man, and his daughter – a university student who, being nowhere near a university, studied through distance education. She made us sandwiches in the kitchen which they charged about $2 each for, although we had by then become accustomed to paying pittance for our food. It was a memorable stop.
Late that afternoon we arrived at Desert Camp, which was, as it’s name suggests, in the middle of the desert. All I remember was that it was so hot I’m surprised I didn’t melt into a puddle on the ground. No, I do remember that getting in the pool there that afternoon was heavenly. And I do remember having one of the best dinners of the trip that night, looking out into the vast expanse of the desert.
The next morning, we woke up safari-style early to go and visit the sand dunes in Sossusvlei. It was about an hour-and-a-half drive to get to the dunes, and along the way we experienced a desert sunrise, which is beautiful like any sunrise, but with a little bit of added awesome. The colours were sublime.
When we got there, our tour guide set up a sumptuous breakfast for us. We needed the energy in order to make it up the sand dune. These dunes are a stunning red – not the colour of the sand on the beach. And the sand is incredibly fine and soft, which is all well and good, but it’s difficult to walk on! And even more difficult to climb up. Having said that, the climb was actually less difficult than I had anticipated. I didn’t quite keep the pace of the tour guide and an athletic younger brother, but I was still in a state to be photographed when we got to the top.
The dune we climbed was called Big Daddy. We didn’t go to the very peak, but arrived at a nice vantage point to view the rest of the dunes. And going down was a whole lot of fun. It was pretty steep, so we semi-ran down in huge, un-coordinated steps. With every step, our feet sank deep into the sand.
That afternoon, we went to see a canyon, which was no Grand Canyon, but it was still impressive. But by that point it was well and truly the heat of the day, so we could barely stand out in the sun long enough to take a few photos. We spent the rest of the afternoon in and out of the pool. Oh, how I’d love to be back by that pool right now.
The next morning it was off to Swakopmund, a city on the coast of northwestern Namibia. We had some drama on the way. As I was driving along a seemingly endless gravel road in the middle of nowhere – literally nothing in sight – a tyre blew off the car. Fortunately I was able to stop the car safely. The real challenge was changing the tyre (something fortunately I played little part in). It was high 30’s, sun belting down. My Dad and my brother got down on their hands and knees, and struggled for about 40 minutes before one single car passed. Fortunately the driver of this vehicle was able-bodied and changed the tyre in about 5 minutes. It wasn’t that the males in my family are incapable, it was something about the jack…
Anyway, we finally made it to Swakopmund late that afternoon, and it was absolutely a delight. I speak especially about the weather, which was a good 10 degrees cooler than where we had come from, and much much needed relief. When we got there we went to see flamingoes, of which there were heaps. All standing together pink and pretty in the shallows of the beach.
Swakopmund – or Swakop as it’s affectionately called for short – is a beachside holiday spot, although it’s hardly warm enough to swim at the beach. The guest house we stayed in was very pleasant – and it had WiFi! Definitely a win. That night we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a restaurant on the water. It was designed to resemble a boat, and, you guessed it… specialised in seafood.
The next day was a highlight of the holiday. In the morning, we walked around Swakopmund, which I found to have an unexpected charm. The city centre is a web of endearing little lanes with cute, arty shops and attractive buildings. We visited the crystal museum, and the women of the family spent quite some time in the adjoining shop marveling at beautiful pieces we could never justify, let alone afford.
Swakopmund has sand dunes, too, and we were lucky enough to spend the afternoon quad biking on them. At first it was scary, but as I cottoned on to the fact that a little bump wouldn’t necessitate falling off, and getting stuck in the sand wasn’t the worst thing, it got easier. And a whole lot more fun. By the end I was going full throttle in parts, up and down, over and around. I love a good adrenaline rush, and this was so much fun. Even my parents, who I was convinced would be freaking out, swore to me they enjoyed it. The landscape was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Sand dunes all around. In one direction, the city, and in another, the sea.
To add even more adventure, Simon and I went sand boarding down the dunes. It’s essentially what it sounds like – lie on a board and slide down a massive sand dune. Once we got to the bottom, our tour guide would come down on his quad bike and run us back up again. It was fun, but you get sand EVERYWHERE.
It was sad to leave Swakopmund the next day. We knew we’d come across a good thing. Certainly it was better than the next place; a place called Twyfelfontein. The lodge we stayed in was nice enough, but it was completely in the middle of nowhere. And by midday we’d done everything listed to do in about a 100km radius. We saw rock paintings, which were cool, and a ‘petrified forest’ which brought to mind something out of Harry Potter. (Unfortunately it boasts no magic, but it does have some trees trunks so old they have turned to stone). Beyond that, there isn’t much worth bringing to your attention.
The last of our two night stops was Etosha National Park, another safari destination. It followed the same format as our safari in Botswana, but I think we saw even more animals. We even caught glimpse of a few that we hadn’t managed to see in Botswana, like hyenas. The most exciting part of Etosha was the fact that there was a watering hole literally right outside our room, and each night rhinos would come there. The first night, we saw a white rhino and a black rhino fighting it out. I’m not sure what they were fighting about, but I think every single person staying at the accommodation was gathered and watching intently. And like me, trying and failing to get a clear photo in the dark. Other animals also visited the watering hole throughout the day and night.
From Etosha, we drove back to Windhoek, where civilization was incredibly refreshing. On the way, we stopped in what I took to be a typical Namibian town. Poor but certainly not slum-like. There were people everywhere going about their daily business, and we were completely out of place. But I felt it was important to see the real Namibia, because I can say for certain that we didn’t see the real Botswana, nor the real Zimbabwe.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking it out. Next – and last – is Cape Town. Undoubtedly up there with my favourite cities in the world.