Highlights of Southern Namibia
By Emma Odendaal
'There’s nothing to see in Namibia,’ a greying German tourist said to her guide as she elbowed a fellow traveller from the buffet table. ‘We’ve seen nothing but desert.’
‘Ah, but that’s the point,’ her guide quipped. ‘Some people rush through the desert, from town to town, finding it too arid and empty. But those who stop to take in the solitude, stillness and bare landscapes will come back again and again.’
It’s true that southern Namibia’s not for everyone; tourists in search of the excitement of big game sightings will be overwhelmed and disappointed by the sense of isolation. With a little over two million people – that’s nearly half Cape Town’s total population – spread out across the vast country, you’re more likely to see quiver trees than humans. Caramel grass landscapes and blue-grey skylines give way to burnt red dunes, the serenity occasional disturbed by a lone car. Skittish small game roam with relative freedom, jumping farm fences and frequently crossing public roads; klipspringer, oryx and kudu are the most regular signs of life as you drive between towns (a word that’s used loosely in Namibia; a ‘town’ can literally be a dirt road lined by six houses and a convenience store).
It may be mostly arid desert, but with roads that are in good nick, a thriving tourism industry and welcoming people, Namibia is an easy introduction to travel in Africa.
10 THINGS TO DO IN SOUTHERN NAMIBIA
1. Visit the quiver tree forest at Garas Park, about 22 kilometres from Keetmanshoop. More than 300 towering Aloe dichotoma protrude from rocky outcrops and comical scarecrows made out of scrap metal and other recycled materials surround the parking area. There’s a very basic, but clean campsite. Day entry costs N$25 a person.
2. Have a burger at Cañon Roadhouse. The owner is an enthusiastic motor memorabilia collector and the bar is one of the best decorated in Namibia with number plates from around the world adorning the ceiling, and everything from antique bicycles and road signs to retro ’70s movie posters hanging from the walls. Tables are scattered among vintage cars. If it’s too early for lunch, ask for a takeaway to eat on the road – the burgers are that good.
3. Visit the Fish River Canyon and peer down the 550-metre deep ravine. The views from the main viewing point are impressive, but instead of having your solitude punctuated by a busload of tourists, take the road to the left of the parking area to a nearby, quieter viewing point where you can contemplate the 500 million years of glacial movements and water erosion that formed the 27-kilometre-wide gorges without interruption. Entry costs N$60 (for SADC residents) plus N$10 a vehicle.
4. The wild horses of Garub Pan are said to be descendants of horses that escaped from farmers and troops following the First World War. Be prepared to wait a few hours at the viewing point and take a pair of binocs to watch for the horses as they come galloping over the foothills of the Aus mountains. Entry is free.
5. Join a guided tour of the famous ghost town of Kolmanskop, once a thriving diamond-mining settlement that has been reclaimed by the desert. When the hour-long tour is over, take the time to explore the dilapidated buildings yourself, particularly the old hospital where there are endless photo opportunities in the long hallways. Entry, plus a guided tour costs N$65.
6. Spend an afternoon exploring the sleepy old town of Lüderitz. The German colonial influence is obvious in the architecture, which is concentrated around Bismark and Bay roads. Don’t miss the views over the bay from the century-old Felsenkirche Lutheran church. Avoid the town on a Sunday when most businesses are closed.
7. Nothing will prepare you for the beauty of Sossusvlei. Red dunes sculpted by the wind tower before you, the serpentine-like ridges begging to be climbed. Arrive at the gates at sunrise, pay your N$60 entry fee, and follow the road for about 60 kilometres to the first parking area. If you’re in a 2×4 leave your car here and hitch a ride on one of the open-top Land Rovers that ferry tourists to the dunes (costs N$110 a person). If you have a 4×4, you can drive into the dunes yourself, but do so carefully as the sand is extremely soft. Once at the next parking area, follow the main path to the famous bleached-white pan of Deadvlei or, if you want bragging rights and the best views without the crowds, tackle the Big Daddy, allowing around two hours for the monster 380-metre climb.
8. Take a game drive in the Namib Desert and your guide is likely to point out barren circular patches of land, known as fairy circles. There are many theories on their origin, ranging from a dragon that lives beneath Earth’s crust to toxic secretions from Damara euphorbia. The current reigning explanation is that they’re caused by sand termites, which feed on grass roots to create the rings.
9. Eat a moreish berry strudel at Solitaire, a middle-of-nowhere pit stop at the junction of the C19 and C14. There’s not much else to this remote village other than a petrol station, general dealer and small lodge.
10. Drive the D1275 from Rehoboth to Solitaire via Spreetshoogte Pass, one of the steepest passes in Namibia, which connects the Namib Desert with the Khomas Highland. The views from the top of the pass reach the red dunes of the Namib. A sedan will manage the pass comfortably, but it’s advisable not to attempt this road if you’re towing a caravan or trailer.
SOUTHERN NAMIBIA TRAVELLING TIPS
Get off the tar as soon as possible to see the most scenic areas of Namibia. The dirt roads are in excellent condition and a 4×4 isn’t necessary in most parts of the south.
Don’t underestimate distances between towns. Ensure that you have enough petrol to get you to the next town, as pumps occasionally run dry and you may have to wait a day or two for the next fuel delivery.
Be aware of extra costs that you’ll incur beyond fuel and accommodation: lodge-organised game drives and excursions, for instance, can be expensive and generally aren’t included in room rates. Most lodges don’t permit guests to drive about the private reserves in their own vehicles.
GETTING TO NAMIBIA
Air Namibia flies twice daily from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Windhoek. At the time of going to print, return tickets started at R3 100. www.airnamibia.com.na
GETTING AROUND NAMIBIA
Self-drive holidays in Namibia are great – the roads are well signposted and easily navigated – but don’t underestimate the value of a good guide who will show you parts of the area you may not have otherwise explored. Our guide, Joseph Kafunda of Tourmaline Safaris (www.tourmalinesafaris.com), was excellent at spotting wildlife – even the rangers on game drives would have missed a plethora of game had it not been for Joseph’s sharp eyes. He made sure we arrived in time for tours, had us up at the crack of dawn so we got the best light when photographing the dunes and was a mine of information.
MONEY MATTERS IN NAMIBIA
Both the rand and Namibian dollar are accepted throughout Namibia. R1 is equivalent to N$1.
GONDWANA COLLECTION PROPERTIES IN SOUTHERN NAMIBIA
Getaway was hosted by the Gondwana Collection. Find the properties listed below at www.gondwana-collection.com.
KALAHARI ANIB LODGE
A good stopover if you’re travelling from Windhoek en route to the south. Red-brick rooms are set around a pool, each with a small private patio. Oryx is plentiful on the reserve – expect to try some of this tasty game meat for dinner. B&B from R685 a person.
This is great base from which to explore the Fish River Canyon, but you’re bound to spend most of your time at the pool beneath a bare koppie with far-reaching views of Gondwana Reserve. Book one of the thatch and stone chalets tucked into the rocky hills on the perimeter of the property for the most privacy and best views. If you have kids, a chalet on the lawns is best, although you’ll sacrifice the view. The sundowner walk to the top of one of the nearby hills is a must. B&B from R895 a person.
The private reserve is situated 20 kilometres from the wild horses of the Garub Pan and 90 kilometres from Kolmanskop, but what many find most appealing about this property is the walking, running and mountain-biking trails. Manager Piet Swiegers is an avid mountain biker and is able to provide excellent advice to those wanting to take advantage of the trails, many of which he laid out. There are four accommodation options. Desert Horse Inn offers ochrecoloured cottages that look out onto the plains of Aus. The rooms are comfortable but basic and close to the restaurant, bar and reception area. To experience the solitude and vastness of the desert, book into one of self-catering chalets at Eagle’s Nest, built around granite boulders a short drive from the main lodge. There is also a hiker’s cabin, perfect for groups, as well as a spotless campsite. B&B from R655 a person a night at Desert Horse Inn. Self-catering at Eagle’s Nest from R895.
NAMIB DESERT LODGE
Perched on the edge of fossilised sandstone cliffs of the Namib, this is one of the oldest lodges in the Gondwana Collection. The rooms are simple and some features could do with an upgrade, but the restaurant is excellent – I enjoyed the dinners served on the terrace, looking up at the steep red cliffs; don’t miss the hartebees steak. Excursions to Sossusvlei from the lodge are popular, but it’s a fair distance from the dunes, so be prepared for a 04h00 start. Camping is also available. B&B from R685 a person.
USEFUL CONTACTS FOR TRAVEL TO NAMIBIA
Source: Getaway Magazine