One of the oldest places on earth, Namibia is an extraordinary place – magnificent, magical and mysterious.
Our Sales Supervisor Simon Taylor was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit magical country recently, read the account of his extraordinary trip below:
“Dead Vlei”. “The scenic flight over the dunes”. “Approaching rhino on foot”. “The waterhole at Ongava Tented Camp”. “Damaraland’s scenery”. “The leopard cub”. As an unforgettable week in Namibia comes to an end our group is trying to decide on the highlight of the trip and with so many amazing moments and experiences to choose from, opinion is divided. Our route around this vast, beautiful desert country followed a typical itinerary taking in the towering red dunes of Sossusvlei, the coastal town of Swakopmund, the rugged, rocky landscapes of Damaraland and game viewing in Etosha and Okonjima and reinforced why this is such a wonderful country to explore by road, whether on a guided trip or a self-drive adventure. Some of the places you visit may be remote but this is wilderness that is accessible.
We head south-west from the capital Windhoek leaving civilisation behind, stopping on the Spreetshoogte Pass for the first of many “wow” moments as the desert unfolds below us and we catch the first glimpse of red sand dunes in the distance. The area around Sossusvlei is a must-see on any Namibia trip and an early morning start is needed to appreciate the towering dunes in all their glory. Driving along a wide valley following the course of the normally dry Tsauchab River you can stop and climb some of the dunes before the road becomes too much for 2x4 cars. If you are not in a 4x4, a shuttle takes you to the main highlights, Sossusvlei itself and the more impressive and photogenic Dead Vlei. The energetic can climb all the way to the top of Big Daddy (over 300 metres high) but even a shorter walk along the dune above Dead Vlei affords great views across the dune sea before a quick descent takes you to the vlei itself. After emptying the sand from your shoes explore the ghostly and serene landscape, studded with the desiccated, skeletal remains of camelthorn trees, dead 900 years since the desert diverted the river to nearby Sossusvlei.
While some of the drives in Namibia may be long (the next leg to Swakopmund is 5 to 6 hours) there is an amazing variety to the landscape with sand and rocks of different colours and formations, gravel plains, canyons and mountains and frequently completely different scenery on opposite sides of the road. Swakopmund is a lovely seaside town and an oasis of civilisation wedged between the ocean and the desert. The town is a base for numerous activities including sky diving and quad biking for the more adventurous and trips into the dunes to explore the beetles, lizards, birds and plants of the desert. A definite highlight of the whole trip and something I would highly recommend to anyone was a scenic flight from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei and back along the coast. Flying over dry river beds and canyons we even managed to spy some zebra and oryx as we made our way to Sossusvlei for a whole new view of the dunes we had climbed a couple of days previously, the return trip over the Atlantic Ocean affording sightings of shipwrecks, abandoned diamond mining camps, cape fur seals and flamingos.
Driving north of Swakopmund the coastline is desolate and often shrouded in fog. You may want to stop to view the thousands of cape fur seals at Cape Cross before leaving the ocean behind and heading inland towards the stark and scenically stunning Damaraland, a land of granite and basalt, boulders and flat topped mountains where desert adapted wildlife survives. Herds of elephants can be found in the normally dry river beds and from our base at the simple yet comfortable tented camp Ozondjou Trails we drove along the Ugab River with a researcher from EHRA, Elephant Human Relations Aid, to find these giant denizens of the desert that seem strangely out of place in such a dry environment. You can add an historical element to your Namibian journey as there are a number of rock art sites in Damaraland with the 6000 year old rock engravings at Twyfelfontein and the White Lady on Brandberg Mountain being fine examples.
The main game viewing region of Namibia is in and around Etosha National Park. The park itself is a great place for the self-driver to explore with the chance to stop off at the numerous waterholes and springs which attract a wonderful variety of animal life including herds of springbok, giraffes, zebras, elephants and rhinos with the chance to spot lion and cheetah too. You can of course take guided game drives too and at Ongava Reserve which borders Etosha you can explore both the private reserve as well as the national park with their superb guides. Having their own private land allows Ongava to offer additional activities not possible in the national park such as the chance to approach white rhino on foot. During an afternoon game drive we spotted a number of rhino and our guide then led us on an exciting walk to get closer to them. It was a little nerve wracking but Michael scrupulously took constant note of the wind direction and the rhinos’ behaviour to ensure we remained safe and returned exhilarated to our vehicle. Staying at Ongava Tented Camp you really feel like you are in the heart of the bush as the waterhole directly in front of camp allows close up game viewing. An elephant and half a dozen lions were there on our arrival and later than evening seven white rhino came to drink. The proximity of the animals and the superbly spacious and luxurious tents make Ongava Tented Camp a very special place indeed.
Our next and final stop was Okonjima, home to the AfriCat Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of large carnivores. A major part of their work involves trying to rehabilitate cheetahs that come to them as orphans or former pets in order to release back into the wild. Unfortunately, some are not able to hunt for themselves so cannot be released, rather they remain at the foundation as ambassadors for AfriCat’s work helping to educate tourists and local school children about the importance of conservation. The cheetahs that do live out in the reserve are radio collared and the cheetah tracking activity involves the guide using telemetry to find them and then leading guests up to the cats on foot for close up views of these endangered carnivores. The cheetahs are not tame, just very used to humans, allowing you to observe them at close quarters. There are also a number of collared leopards on the reserve and again the guides use telemetry to find them. Rather than approach on foot you remain on the vehicle but you can still get very close to the leopards. We were lucky to spend a long time observing a six month old cub and his mother at close range, one of the best leopard sightings I have been fortunate enough to witness. Okonjima is a unique reserve with an opportunity to learn about conservation while offering the best chance to see leopards and cheetahs in Namibia.
Dead Vlei. The scenic flight over the dunes. Approaching rhino on foot. The waterhole at Ongava Tented Camp. Damaraland’s scenery. The leopard cub. I am still no closer to deciding on the standout highlight of the trip. It has proved impossible to choose one from the multitude of memories Namibia has left me with.
If Simon’s blog has got you interested in booking a holiday to Namibia then give one of our experts a call on 020 7843 3500 today. They’ll be more than happy to tailor an itinerary to suit your exact requirements.
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