All over the world visitors are attracted to the obvious must-sees. To those images which catch the eye on a TV screen, in a travel magazine or on a billboard. Images are the most powerful tool in tourism and luckily, Namibia is one of the most photogenic destinations. There are so many places in our country begging one to come closer, look deeper and become part of the picture.
After 25 years of capturing images and moments, putting emotions and experiences in words for our readers worldwide, it is difficult to choose the 100 most captivating or memorable ones to share.
The team of young creative women at Venture Media chose a variety of the obvious and not so obvious. Some for younger, adventurous travellers and some for those who come to experience the qualities that Namibia is famous for, best described years ago as rugged, natural, liberating and soulful.
When you grow up in a country with so many wild places, exploring with a family who loves nature and adventure, some of the real secret places are treasures to hide from being over-used, because the magic lies in the feeling of solitude and unexpected enchantment. The highlights for first timers are not necessarily those secret places, but if you make sure to never miss the sunset or the moon rise, wherever you are in Namibia, whatever the season or the weather, you will experience wonder.
Our editor, Rièth van Schalkwyk decided to recall some of her first-time experiences that still take her breath away, regardless of how many times she has repeated them:
A sunset through dramatic clouds over the white Etosha Pan or over any desert landscape. Cerise pink when the sky is hazy.
The full yellow or red moon rising over an unobstructed horizon anywhere in Namibia.
A rainbow ending close enough to find the pot of gold at Brukkaros.
A turaco on the bank of the Zambezi River.
A black rhino in the wild, his horns still intact, against the harsh landscape of Damaraland’s stones and milk bushes.
Delicate blossoms on blackthorn trees, when everything else in nature is hazy and grey.
The smell of a campfire when the day is over.
The roar of a lion or cry of a jackal when
you are safely tucked away in your rooftop tent.
The first glimpse of the desert when you cross the escarpment at Spreetshoogte.
The smell of the Atlantic Ocean after a hot day’s driving through the desert.
The view from the top of any mountain, from where one can see the sunset or moon rise over the expansive landscape.
A flowing river after the dry season – with water like chocolate.
Colourful miniature wildflowers braving the harsh desert climate to blossom after the smallest amount of rain.
Multi-coloured lichens where you least expect them.
Graphic patterns on rock faces.
The call of a Fish Eagle any time of the day, the sound of a Vlei Loerie at first light and the Nightjar when it is dark.
The Milky Way on a dark moon night from your bedroll on top of a Land Rover.
A bird’s eye view of the Namibian landscape, especially where the ocean meets desert.
Trees without leaves. Baobab and Corkwood, and all the strange silhouettes delicately decorating rocky landscapes.
The shades of sand: Kalahari red, Namib tan, Skeleton Coast grey, Etosha white and Kaokoland ochre.
Christuskirche, the attractive sandstone church rising from an elevation in the centre of Windhoek, is a prominent landmark ever since it was dedicated in October 1910.
Dance the night away, sway with the crowd at a live music performance, sip on a colourful cocktail or try your vocal cords at karaoke. It’s all happening at the Warehouse. Did we mention the delicious pizza?
It is no secret that our high-quality organic meat ranks among Namibians’ favourite in the kitchen… or rather on the grill. Namibia, and more specifically Katutura, is well- known for its kapana, which is grilled beef prepared on an open fire. Spiced up with a cultural buzz, ethnic diversity, intricate history and social aspects, Katutura is a must-do on your list when visiting Windhoek. Katutura actually means the place where the people originally did not want to live, but coming here you will soon realise that today it beats with a pulse incomparable to anywhere else in the world. In the heart of Katutura is a little cultural jewel that attracts curious locals and tourists alike. Xwama Cultural Village, located on the corner of Independence Avenue and Omongo Street in the Wanaheda area, was created by two Namibians, Twapewa Mudjanima and her husband Erastus Kadhikwa, who were both born with a large dose of ambition and a serious love for traditional culture. Watch how the chef prepares your meaty goodness on the braai. Order other traditional delicacies. Pair it with a beer. And that, my friend, is the ultimate kapana experience.
Watch Windhoek unfold around you from the shopfront of Cramer’s Ice Cream in Independence Avenue, where organic Namibian ice-cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt is sold straight from cow to cone.
Watch Windhoek unfold around you from the shopfront of Cramer’s Ice Cream in Independence Avenue, where organic Namibian ice-cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt is sold straight from cow to cone.
The National Independence Memorial Museum fondly referred to as the Coffee Machine by locals, stands as a golden sentinel on a small hill next to the Christuskirche in Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek.
Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the gardens in front of Namibia’s parliament building, also known as the Tintenpalast (“palace of ink”). Set out your blanket on the soft green grass and dream the day away while white and purple jacaranda flowers dance down from the treetops.
Visit Town Square Mall in Windhoek’s city centre to view 31 of the original 77 meteorites from Gibeon in southern Namibia, where the remains of the largest known meteor shower in the world were discovered during the 19th century.
You are now in a desert country. Save water. Drink beer. Sample German-quality beer produced in Namibia on a brewery tour at Namibia Breweries Limited in Windhoek’s Northern Industrial Area.
Imagine walking with one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous predators. Watching them move through the veld. Only a couple of metres between where you stand and them. Exhilarating. Exciting. And completely safe. The N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary outside Windhoek is the brainchild of Marlice and Rudie van Vuuren, who look after cheetahs and other wild animals saved from conflict situations, abuse and illegal trade. The cheetahs that reside there have become habituated to humans. Some of the animals that arrive at N/a’an ku sê were kept as pets, and as a result are dependent on humans. Many of the animals at the sanctuary can never be released back into the wild. A silver lining, if one could call it that, is that the cheetahs are thus quite tame and harmless. A walk with them triggers the instinctual hair-raising that comes from being so close to a powerful wild animal. Walking with them is both respectful and insightful, and at no point is the line crossed from educational to Disney-world. Being so close to these magnificent creatures is enough.
Sleeping under the stars. Discovering a vast variety of huge beautiful trees in the Khomas Hochland. Marvelling at the spectacular 360-degree view from the highest point of the route. Being close to the city, yet totally unaware of it. Does this sound like your cup of tea? Continue reading if you enjoy setting up your gas stove to make a cuppa in the middle of the bush. City folk often look longingly at a fence along a road, wishing they could get onto the other side to climb a mountain or walk along a riverbed. Not even an hour’s drive from Windhoek’s city centre neighbouring farmers now invite hikers to do exactly that – climb over their fences, walk along riverbeds, scale mountains, enjoy spectacular views and then camp out under the stars.
As part of the Windhoek Green Belt Landscape project, the Khomas Hochland Hiking Trail northwest of the capital had been put to the test for the first time in 2016. The six-day hike starts and ends at Düsternbrook Guest Farm, one of the first guest farms in Namibia. It is perfect for spending your first or last days in Namibia. The 91-kilometre circular route crosses four more farms: Otjiseva, Onduno, Godeis and Monte Christo. It takes you along riverbeds, across open plains, through thorn-tree woodland, deep gorges and down steep granite rock formations.
Warthog, gemsbok, kudu, mountain zebra, baboons and klipspringer occur in abundance and if you are lucky, you may even encounter a leopard. Depending on the season, hikers will most likely be able to tick off many birds, seeing that more than 300 bird species have been recorded at the riverbeds, farm dams and rock pools. Some of the routes are aptly named Lovebird Gorge or Partridge Pool. The farmers’ sense of humour comes to the fore with names like Scorpion Hill, Death Valley, Giggle Rest, Kaalgat Rante, Take It Slow but Go and Level On The Gravel. There are two hikes to choose from: a 4-day and a 6-day trail. If you are only looking for a weekend hike, why not visit one of the individual farms that form part of the Khomas Hochland Hiking Trail? All of them offer a Namibian farm experience with activities ranging from hiking to mountain biking and even horse riding.
All roads lead to Joe’s. And once you’ve had a Windhoek beer you might as well stay for the zebra steak – low fat, mildly gamey and, needless to say, delicious.
The desert truffle, much like its northern hemisphere relative, is almost worth its weight in gold. Called !nabas by the Namas, this delicacy grows in the Kalahari in symbiosis with the wild melon only after good rains. According to the Bedouins, they are kissed by lightning, swollen by rain showers and undone from the desert sand by thunderstorms. The aromatic desert truffle from the arid African soil can be enjoyed either raw or cooked in various ways, provided you’ve rid the truffle’s exterior of its first love – the soil it called home. Local chefs get creative with delectable recipes once word of a desert truffle harvest is out. Anything from a fancy truffle ragout to simplistically sautéed in butter with a splash of white wine and pepper can be expected when the !nabas is in season. Not only does it make for a delicious meal, but the desert truffle has also been used as an alternative remedy and cure for anything from stomach complaints to eye infections. A !nabas is the pint-size embodiment of everything Namibian – relentless, delicious, loving rainstorms and defying all odds.
Only 70 km north of Windhoek is the small town of Okahandja. The town is an important centre for woodcarvers from the north who showcase their ancient skills at the Mbangura Woodcarvers Market next to the main road. With so many items to choose from, you would want to spend some time here.
The soft glow of light bulbs strung over the many heads of Windhoekers dotted throughout a space that’s filled with laughter and talking. The sun has set and Friday night is in full swing. Where do the capital city’s inhabitants go every second Friday? The answer is easy.
Come by The Village in Liliencron Street and you’ll find them dressed with cool-without-trying-to-be-cool swag, wine glass in hand, surrounded by a myriad of market-style fare. This is the Windhoek City Market.
Ask any Namibian what it is about the land of the brave that we love the most, and we will surely mention our sunsets. Very much like the red dunes of the south, the sun sets the horizon on fire every evening. Although locals will tell you that the beach or wide open savannah plains are stunning spots to admire the sunset, the absolute best place to watch the sun go down is on one of Windhoek’s rooftop bars (Sky Bar at Hilton) or mountainside hotels (Hotel Heinitzburg). Sipping a cocktail is mandatory, but if a mojito or daiquiri isn’t your style, a proudly Namibian brewed beer will set the scene.
Did You Know?
Namibia’s protected coastline stretches 1 570 kilometres, linking 12 000 km2 of windswept ocean to almost 110 000 km2 of desert desolation. Both the sea and landscapes form part of a vast, formally protected area that is unique and parts of which have become a World Heritage Site. Namibia is the only country in the world that federally protects its entire coastline.
There aren’t many towns that offer quite as much to the traveller on foot as Swakopmund. The historic town is located where the desert hugs the Atlantic Ocean, north of Walvis Bay, and was the preferred settlement of early German colonists, perhaps due to its temperate climate and use as a harbour. Swakopmund has a distinct, quirky style that’s managed to survive despite lots of development. A walk along its roads reveals little treasures that would easily be overlooked otherwise. Keep your eyes open for the details, the history, the strange and the heart-warming. Swakop is always best on foot.
For the ultimate adrenaline junkies – what could possibly sound more thrilling than a tandem plummet down to earth from the heavens? Join one of the bespoke skydiving operations in Swakopmund for a rip-roaring view of the desert from above!
Get cultural and delve deep into Namibia’s history at the Swakopmund Museum at The Mole for displays
of indigenous plants, animals and minerals and a large collection of historical artefacts.
The most amazing sunsets are guaranteed as you stroll along the Swakopmund jetty with the mighty Atlantic crashing below – the best way to conclude an adventure-packed day.
It’s the closest thing to being a mermaid and living under the sea, when you walk through the glass-tunnel, fish all around and above you, even a shark flicking his fin as he passes.
The sand between your toes. The cool, refreshing breeze hits your face. The wind fluffs your hair, moving between the strands like loving fingers caressing. The sun can be anywhere on its axis, from high above or hanging low across the horizon. It doesn’t matter. Its warmth is comfortable and friendly. And in your hand is an ice cold beer (or any drink you prefer). It’s the pleasure of a beach bar.
The quaint coastal town of Swakopmund has a character entirely of its own. Surrounded by desert and lined by a chilly ocean, the town with its palm trees, wide streets and old German architecture seems to be out of place and out of time. Few foreign visitors pass through Namibia without spending at least one night in this popular town and locals flock to its cooler climes in the summer heat.
There are as many gems at the coast as sand grains. These gems include everything from Mother Nature’s hand to all things designed by man. Treasure-hunting for a gem you can take home with you? Swing by the Kristall Galerie where some of the planet’s most incredible crystal formations are displayed. Here you will discover how truly rich Namibia is in minerals, rocks, and meteorites that all trace back to the history and workings of our planet. The intriguing visit starts with a walk through a cave, a replica of the original Otjua Tourmaline Mine. Kristall Galerie is also home to the world’s largest quartz crystal cluster.
Enthusiasts, collectors and those who simply appreciate beautiful things will find something to take home at the adjacent shop. Look for your birthstone among all the colourful, shiny gems.
It is hard to imagine that forces such as heat and pressure deep within the earth, in combination with wind and water at the surface, are creating new geologic wonders at this very moment.
I promised myself I’d only have one beer today…
Discover the famous glass shoe at Brauhaus in Swakopmund. This is no Cinderella story, but one of a boot filled with beer. Prost!
Just as the sands of the Namib Desert meet the restless Atlantic, creating a most unlikely match made in heaven, so does the prime, tender beef of our inland perfectly accompany the flaky fresh fish of our ocean. The Surf and Turf at Anchor’s restaurant, Walvis Bay, combines two of Namibia’s proudest products on a plate.
Get up-close and personal with a seal. Make friends with a pelican. Glasses of sparkling champagne and fresh Lüderitz oysters. If you’re lucky, a whale might even swim near the surface of the water. After all, the harbour town’s name comes from the Afrikaans word meaning Whale Bay. Also on the (photographic) hit list are turtles and disc-shaped sunfish (Mola mola). Friendly seals flop onto the boat, wetting the nearest passenger in the process. And as they wait for their share of sardines, a photo-op is not out of the question. The pelicans may swoop past and grab a fishy morsel from the outstretched fingers of your guide/boat captain. It’s an animal party, and everyone’s invited.
The ancient-looking head of a leatherback turtle pops out of the water. Heaviside’s dolphins skim past, diving underneath. Lively seals play about in the water. Want to come eye to eye with these fascinating animals like never before?
With a multitude of adventures to choose from at the coast, it can be tricky to pick one. We highly recommend sea-kayaking on the Walvis Bay lagoon, a 100% eco-friendly activity. Enjoy the Atlantic Ocean from a whole new vantage point. With an experienced guide by your side, it is easy to get the hang of this sport. While kayaking on the calm waters of the inner lagoon area, exploring the islands at low tide and discovering the oyster farm, you get to see an abundance of birds. The variety of bird species is impressive, and your guide will be able to tell you all about them.
Teeming with thousands of graceful pink flamingos, amongst other birds, the lagoon is a must-experience, especially for marine fanatics, avid birders or anybody who wants to be active while exploring the beauty of our coast.
A 34° incline does not seem like much on paper or when it is mentioned in a sandboarding tutorial, but when you’re coming down a dune face your perspective quickly changes. Swakopmund’s dunes on the Namibian coastline of the Atlantic are a sandboarder’s ultimate fantasy. The curves and crests that rise as high as 300 metres in the oldest desert on earth hold a fascination that seems to call people from all over the world to the dunes, whether they have any intention of sliding down or not.
One thing that we surely have in abundance in Namibia is sand. So our own version of snowboarding was created – sandboarding. A few enterprising winter sports enthusiasts were quick to realise that it was possible to sled down sand dunes on thin wooden boards. It was not long before sandboarding became a national pastime, and a few years after this invention someone got the idea that you could strap a snowboard to your feet and go “dune-boarding.”
Sandboarding was born in Namibia after pioneer Derek Bredenkamp ventured down a dune on his plank in 1974. This activity was commercialised in 1996 and shortly afterwards dune-boarding also became the in thing. These heart-racing activities still attract travellers of different ages for the adventure of a lifetime. Both activities are a great spectator sport, too, as it is always fun to watch others getting the hang (or slide) of it.
Nowadays there are a variety of lie-down and stand-up boards available. The sandboard base is much harder than the one used for snowboarding. To glide over the sand the bottom of the board is waxed, usually with paraffin-based sandboard wax. A smoothly polished board is perfect to travel down the grainy dune slip faces with a soft ‘swoosh’. And it is best to take the instructor’s advice to heart: keep your mouth closed at all times!
Sandboarding is a great way of having fun in the ancient dunes of the Namib Desert. The biggest dune faces are reserved for stand-up boarders, while the lie-down boards can be used on a variety of routes. If you choose to lie down, you go head-first down the slopes. Sandboarders have clocked up more than 80 km per hour! The only “downside” to this popular activity is that once you reach the bottom you have to walk back up that huge dune.
Sandboarding is not for adrenaline junkies only. Anyone can do it. If you find yourself going too fast, you just dig your feet into the sand for brakes. The stand-up version, on the other hand, is indeed tougher. It takes a good
day on the dunes to get the hang of it. Pros make it look easy, of course, but it is definitely trickier than it seems, although by no means dangerous. If you start going too fast for your liking, all you have to do is aim for the ground. If you are feeling brave, you can even try the ramp.
The greatest danger is that with every breath you take in the pure goodness of unpolluted air, a substance with the risk of getting you high on life. Before you know it, you will have become addicted to the Namib and what it has to offer. No joke. It happens to many who venture naively into this inhospitable enormity.
When the exploration bug bites there’s no point in resisting the temptation to go quad biking in the desert. It’s plenty of fun and an adventurous way to get better acquainted with the elements. Get geared up for the wind and sand that comes as standard and hop on your choice of automatic or manual, guided by a well-versed desert tracker. On these trusty four-wheeled bikes, you follow a path of plenty patrol deep into the meandering dunes of the Namib. If the hum of a bike gets you fired up, speeding vertically up the sides and ramping over the edge of skyscraper dunes will certainly feed your adrenaline addiction. If you’d like to marvel at the landscape at a slower pace, your guide will definitely accommodate you. But always remember one thing: stay on the tracks! Not only is the desert our proud heritage undeserving of more human traces, it is also ruthless in its ability to engulf man in the ocean of identical dunes, leading to a search party rather than an after-party.
Stretching from horizon to horizon, the Namib Desert attracts a lot of attention from all over the world. The urge to explore this vast, enigmatic space has prompted the introduction of fat bikes – exploration made fun yet eco-friendly. Passionate explorers and nature lovers can discover the dunes leaving nothing behind but tracks that are shortly afterwards filled with a new blanket of fine grains due to the sweeping winds. Experience the serenity of the oldest desert in the world. It is glorious, wonderful, smile-inducing freedom. And your legs will thank you!
What is a desert experience without a ride on the back of a camel?
These are all 100% eco-friendly adventures. We believe in leaving nothing but footprints behind.
There’s a trick to climbing a sand dune. You stand at the foot, stare up at the massive slope that leads skyward, take a deep breath and begin your climb. Pretty soon you’ll realize that placing one foot in front of the other is not likely to get you there in the way you expected. Sometimes your foot will slide backwards as you try to propel yourself forwards. Or sink deeply into the bottomless yellow sand. Perhaps you will revert to your animal nature and scramble up the incline on hands and knees. Eventually, you will reach the top. And what an accomplishment it will be. Feel on top of the world. All around you is one of the oldest deserts on earth. All around you is vastness and silence. And you in the middle of it all.
The earthworks for the construction of the campsites at the Moon Landscape in the Namib Desert started about two million years ago. The Swakop River,
in its youth a mere few millennia ago, was a vigorous, raging torrent that carved out a huge valley through soil and hard layers of granite. As you drive along the edge of this valley, its sheer size and the brutal, arid, moon-like topography will overwhelm you.
The best approach to this impressive area, known as the Moon Landscape, is along the C28 from Swakopmund. But first, you need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s offices in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay or Windhoek. To reach the Moon Landscape from Swakopmund, you take the turn-off from the C28 onto the Welwitschia Drive just after entering Namib-Naukluft Park. The variations of light and shadow early in the morning and late afternoon provide excellent opportunities for photography.
Pitch your tent at Goanikontes Oasis for an exceptional camping experience on the moon. It is out of this world!
The Cape Cross Reserve’s Cape fur seal colony can be overwhelming to see. Spread along the beach and over the black rocks are thousands of mammalian bodies. It is loud. It is smelly.
There are 21 colonies along the Namibian coast. The Cape Cross colony is one of the two largest colonies, which together provide 75% of Namibia’s seal pup population. The Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) can be found all along the south-western coast of Africa from the Cape Peninsula in South Africa to Cape Frio in northern Namibia.
How is it possible that these mammals can survive diving and swimming in the icy cold water of the Benguela? Cape fur seals sport vitally important dense fur, with a thick layer of blubber that insulates their bodies. On hot days, though, these adaptations can be fatal, especially for young pups that cannot reach the ocean in time to cool down. A large proportion of pups do not survive the start of summer.
The limestone cross that was erected in 1484 at Cape
Cross by Diogo Cão is one of four that the Portuguese explorer erected on the western coast of Africa. Called padrão, the stone crosses were meant to signify claims
made by Portugal. The padrão at Cape Cross stood virtually undisturbed for 400 years until a German corvette paused in the bay. The captain realised the importance of the cross and
had it shipped to Berlin. In 1895 a granite replica was erected in its place. About a century later a second cross, made from Namib dolerite, joined the older one as a tribute to history’s many explorers.
At the end of the 19th century, the main attraction of Cape Cross was its large deposits of guano, then known as “white gold” and used as fertiliser. The Damaraland Guano Company was established there for the purpose of exporting the bird droppings to Europe. Harvesting guano was so lucrative that the settlement at Cape Cross had a police station, post office and even the first railway in the country.
The breeding season for Cape fur seals begins in mid-October when bulls come ashore and establish territories, which they defend for about six weeks. Male territories contain from seven to 66 cows, or 28 on average. Pregnant cows give birth in early November. Mating takes place just a few days later. After eight months, the pups are born, ironically during the hottest time of the year, November and December. New-born pups weigh 4.5 to 6.4 kilograms and aren’t much longer than 65 centimetres.
The Cape Cross Seal Reserve is situated 130 km north of Swakopmund. Between December and June, the reserve is open on weekdays from 08:00–17:00, and between July and November from 10:00–17:00.
Some 30 km north of the coastal town of Henties Bay on the C34, 300m after the sign indicating “Cape Cross 20km”, you will find a heap of rocks with a white arrow on them. This is the turn-off that will lead you to Henties Bay’s very own Dead Sea. Significantly smaller than the endorheic lake in the Jordan Rift Valley, this popular local swimming hole (mostly frequented in the summer months) was once the site of the Strathmore South tin mine. The high salinity and minerals present in underground water that has seeped up into this old excavation site has created an impromptu salt bath where you can float on the surface of the water without sinking down. Some swear by the healing powers of the mineral-rich waters, while others simply enjoy the novelty. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a quirky and off-the-beaten-track point of interest for the adventurous spirit. Take caution on your quest though, as the ragged edges of the hole can be unstable.
When a long weekend rolls around, the entire Namibian population seems to flock to the coast, tackle in tow and sunscreen sorted. For visitors looking to try their luck at angling on the Atlantic coast, there are plenty companies that provide the gear and guidance needed to dabble in the sport Skeleton Coast-style. A simple online search for angling safaris in Namibia will reveal options of fishing from a boat or the shore. As the locals prefer fishing from the sea shore, it is quite the cultural experience. We recommend you pack your patience. Angling’s key feature is to wait patiently for long periods of time. The reward, however, is reeling in a catch and basking in the glory. Prepare your spoils on a traditional open fire right there on the beach!
If the name itself does not give you the chills, stories of early sailors meeting their fate along this daunting shoreline definitely will. Portuguese seafarers, the first Europeans to experience its inhospitality, named it ‘the gates of hell’. Local San called it ‘the land that God made in anger’. The Skeleton Coast is a place of dramatic environmental extremes and runs for 500 km from the Ugab River in the south to the Kunene River in the north.
Still largely wild and untouched, the biggest risk today when visiting the area is getting a flat tyre, or even worse, a flat camera battery. The Skeleton Coast attracts local and international visitors alike who feel the need to escape from civilisation. Pitching their tents in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, they spend long summer days angling and barbecuing fresh fish on an open fire while enjoying unpolluted, bright starry night skies.
You, too, can get lost in the Skeleton Coast in a lost-in-its- sheer-splendour kind of way.
A surprising diversity of animals occurs along the coast. Aside from cetaceans and massive Cape fur seal colonies, plains animals include jackal, hyena, ostrich, gemsbok, giraffe, desert-adapted elephant and springbok. Furthermore, the image of a lion walking along an isolated beach has captured the imagination of filmmakers, scientists and wildlife enthusiasts around the world. This area is notoriously known for desert-dwelling lions, a phenomenon that today occurs only along Namibia’s northern coastline.
The northern section of Skeleton Coast National Park is a tourism concession area that is restricted to fly-in safaris or visitors to Shipwreck Lodge, while the southern section is accessible to the general public visiting Torra Bay and Terrace Bay. These two camps are only open in December and January.
Torra Bay is situated about 270 kilometres north of Henties Bay and Terrace Bay is another 50 km to the north. Travelling time from Swakopmund is around five hours. These famous destinations rank among the favourites of avid anglers. A total of 500 fish species abound, upping your chances of your dream catch. Keep in mind that you will need a fishing permit, which you can obtain from the MET office in Swakopmund. Terrace Bay is also a popular gateway to explore the Uniab River Delta, a great destination for hiking, bird-watching, game viewing and exploring the dunes.
When visiting the northern section of Skeleton Coast National Park, look at the following accommodation options:
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is situated in the Kaokoveld and overlooks the rugged landscape of a wide valley that slopes down to the ephemeral Hoanib River. Enjoy a luxury stay in an en-suite tent.
Shipwreck Lodge with its unique shipwreck-shaped chalets is located only 45 km from Möwe Bay in the Skeleton Coast concession between the Hoarusib and Hoanib rivers.
To incorporate your trip to the Skeleton Coast with other parts of Namibia, opt for a safari with Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris.
Once proud and mighty ships sailing the perilous seas, they are now reduced to wrecks half-buried in the Namib Desert. Survival was understandably the foremost thought of all souls aboard these stricken vessels. Often the terrible decision was whether to stay aboard and hope for rescue from a passing ship or defy the pounding surf and risk a raft, or swim ashore and face blistering sands, raw winds, a relentless sun or dank fogs.
Seaward, the south Atlantic offered little hope and landward lay a sea of sand, offering nothing but a waterless wasteland. Some survived; others died a lingering death on the legendary coast of skeletons.
What once became the grave of many a sailor, is a sanctuary for animals and also turned into one of Namibia’s most famous landmarks. While you can reach some of the shipwrecks by car, others can only be seen from a plane. Both Scenic Air and Skeleton Coast Safaris offer scenic flights which are ideal for a sky adventure. Learn about our most famous shipwrecks to decide which ones you would like to visit:
In 1907 the 2 200-ton German freighter Eduard Bohlen began her last voyage. Her bow struck sand 500 metres from shore, south of Conception Bay. Despite frantic attempts to prevent her beaching, chains and propellers were no match for the energy of the waves, which pushed the doomed ship shoreward.
She is now berthed 400 metres from the shoreline. Here
she plays host and centre stage to tourists taking the extraordinary sand safari between Walvis Bay and Lüderitz. Small aircraft drone overhead whilst their guests capture the surreal scene below on camera before flying on to relax at their desert destination. The Eduard Bohlen is Namibia’s most famous shipwreck.
At the end of 1942 the British steamer Dunedin
Star left Liverpool for Cape Town, carrying munitions and supplies for the Allied forces and more than a hundred crew and passengers. After hitting an underwater obstacle off the Skeleton Coast the captain managed to beach his ship 500 metres from the coastline. All the passengers were taken ashore. The shipwreck triggered the most dramatic rescue operation in the country’s history – by sea, air and land. More than three weeks later every passenger was safe, the only casualties being two rescue crew members. Part of the cargo was salvaged as well.
Even the most advanced electronic equipment sometimes is no match for wind and waves. The Suiderkus left Cape Town in 1976 on her maiden voyage to trawl Namibian waters. She ended up on the rocks at Möwe Bay, with a loss of N$3.6 million in the latest of navigational equipment and fittings.
Just south of Swakopmund the hake trawler Kolmanskop caused a spectacle in 2006 when she got lodged between rocks after being driven ashore by 50-knot gusts of wind that propelled her 20 km northward from her mooring in Walvis Bay Harbour.
The Zeila stranded in August 2008 at a popular fishing spot about 14 km south of Henties Bay. The Namibian fishing trawler had been sold as scrap metal to an Indian company and was to be towed to Mumbai. Just out of Walvis Bay the vessel came loose from its towing line and was swept north.
Northwestern Namibia is often seen as a faraway hinterland of desolation. Stark, empty and rugged landscapes as far as the eye can see. Home to ancient rock-art sites, the country’s tallest mountain, geological marvels and desert-adapted species such as elephant, lion, rhino and giraffe. The Kunene Region, made up of what was previously known as Damaraland and the Kaokoveld, is an enigmatic and magnetic corner of this vast land, full of hidden gems and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
As you traverse the northwest’s gravel roads en-route to far-flung destinations, you will note small and unassuming stalls along the side of the road. These setups, often built from rugged wooden poles, are in actual fact small curio shops that locals of the region have built near their homes. Many have made creative signs or statues to advertise their small enterprise and you might see them waving, dressed in colourful cultural garb, as you drive by. If you choose to stop at one of these shops though, you won’t be disappointed. Beaded necklaces, carved bracelets (or some made from recycled plastic), wooden animal statues, baskets, material dolls or semi-precious stones and gems are all on offer here. Friendly locals will explain how each craft is made when asked and are all too happy for your business. If the shop or stall appears unattended, do not fret! Soon after pulling over you will likely see a child or young adult come running along from their nearby settlement to welcome their newest, or perhaps only, patron for the day. Many stalls also run on an honesty system. The general prices of items are scratched into the wood or marked with pencil. Just leave the money in the jar provided or under a rock and be on your merry way, locally sourced and handmade crafts in hand to take home with you as a pleasant reminder of your rural shopping experience.
The famous – or recently perhaps more infamous – White Lady of the Brandberg is the most noteworthy and legendary rock painting of the mountain and the surrounding areas. The Brandberg, Namibia’s tallest mountain, is host to numerous rock art sites, dated between 2000 and 4000 years old. The White Lady is located in what is known as Maack’s Shelter, named after the surveyor who discovered it in January 1918. Reinhard Maack came upon the site by chance when he stopped to rest in the shade of a rocky overhang while he and his companions were descending the mountain.
Just two days earlier they had stood on its highest peak, Königstein. Their expedition is the first recorded climb to the very top. French pre-historian Henri Breuil, a foremost authority on cave art at the time, determined that the painting was that of a white female of Mediterranean descent, despite Maack’s own conclusion that the figure was male. Much debate has ensued on the true origins and the depiction of the Brandberg’s White Lady, with archaeologists discussing whether the painting is male or female, Mediterranean or Khoisan. But how are we to ever really know the truths of ancient times? Today Maack’s Shelter is a National Heritage site, open to visitors daily. Be sure to start the hour-long walk early in the day to avoid the heat.
The Burnt Mountain, just south of Twyfelfontein in Damaraland, is part of a 12-kilometre long volcanic rim. The sediments of ancient lava flows make for a visually interesting and unexpected geological spectacle.
In 2007 the site was inscribed as a UNESCO cultural World Heritage Site. The 2 000-plus rock engravings at Twyfelfontein in the Kunene Region represent one of Africa’s largest and most important rock-art concentrations. They are estimated to be 6 000 years and the newer paintings approximately 2 000 years old.
In an increasingly virtual world, a ‘real’ adventure has become rarer than… well, rarer than a desert-adapted black rhino. The unique population of black rhino found in the remote northwestern Kunene Region of Namibia is the largest one in the world to have survived outside of a formally protected park. Through the work of Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), IRDNC, MET and the local community, the numbers of black rhino in the region have more than doubled since 1985.
At the centre of this species’ conservation is Desert Rhino Camp, offering one of the most original wildlife experiences to be had today: tracking a “desert rhino,” as these rhinos are commonly known, in the starkly beautiful Palmwag Concession. An experience that can well be classified as once in a lifetime. The experience plays off in the 450 000 hectares Palmwag Concession in Damaraland – a region characterised by its minimalist beauty and a surprising wealth of arid-adapted wildlife.
The black rhino is known to be shy and easily agitated, moving away from people when disturbed. As a result, it often leaves protected areas and ventures into places where it may be exposed to poaching activities. Therefore, if a rhino becomes aware of tourists watching, it may well take off in a hurry, which defeats the purpose. To avoid that, you get the pleasure of enjoying an extraordinary sighting on foot, as long as trackers deem the situation safe for both parties. Conservation and safety first.
As you stand on the red soil, car parked far off behind a hill, looking at a rhino cow browsing on a Euphorbia damarana bush, you will finally understand the enormity of the situation. First of all, it is mind-blowing that there is no fence between the two of you. Maybe for the first time you will actually realise how huge these animals are. You will recognise and appreciate the weight that the SRT trackers carry to protect this special species. And you will get the thrill of knowing that you contributed to their conservation.
After all, the goal of saving the rhino is bigger than one group of people and arouses passion on more than one continent. Support keeps coming from around the world, from organisations as well as individuals. It is a battle that we as Namibians cannot face alone. Become part of our conservation story.
Rhino tracking is offered by a number of lodges in the area, including Desert Rhino Camp and Grootberg Lodge, and is facilitated by Save the Rhino Trust and communal conservancy game guards.
Visit Ma i Go Ha, Save the Rhino Trust Namibia’s basecamp at Palmwag, to learn more about rhino conservation in the region.
Spitzkoppe is known as Namibia’s Matterhorn, due to its striking resemblance to the mountain in the Alps. The mass of granite rock in the otherwise flat landscape of the Erongo is about 700 million years old and sports an impressive plethora of ancient San paintings. When camping at the foot of Spitzkoppe, however, the extent of this collection of rock art is put into perspective. Scramble up the mountain’s sides, try not to do it on all fours, and if you are lucky you find rainwater pools along the way for an ice-cold dip. The daring among us might opt for a more exciting and somewhat dangerous activity: rock climbing to the top. Spitzkoppe may not seem like the toughest rock to climb, but appearances can be deceiving. The rough granite is tough on the hands and the climbs range from the relatively easy level 16 to the more difficult 24. The reward, though, is endless views from the summit.
Sit on a rock on the side of the main falls with the water gushing below and the baobabs rising from the cliff sides. You will want to return for a second helping of this baobab-and-water treat.
A hike through the 400 km2 Etendeka Concession in the Omatendeka and Anabeb Conservancies will take you through the untouched landscape in the foothills of the Grootberg Mountain massif. This new hiking adventure is facilitated by Etendeka Mountain Camp.
The Kunene, strong yet calm, emanates a sense of peace, also reflected in the demeanour of the local Himba. Outdoor lovers can treat themselves to the unforgettable experience of camping directly on the banks of the Kunene River.
The Kaokoland has long been described as a forlorn and mysterious place, but a new enigma has recently emerged, one that adds to the atmosphere of this fascinating wilderness – the Lone Men of Kaokoland. Nearly life-size sculptures of men have started appearing across the area. Made from thick metal wire and rock prevailing in the region, the figures strike different poses and each is perched in a different desolate spot on this landscape. No one knows who makes them, but their unpredictability surely keeps adventurers entertained and intrigued. Keep alert, they may surprise you around any bend!
A ‘Living Museum’ may seem like an oxymoron, but this novel initiative by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia (LCFN) has provided a new lease on the concept of cultural tourism. These open-air museums, as they are sometimes classified, offer visitors an utterly unique view into the traditional cultures, skills and identity of Namibia’s endemic peoples. They also support the preservation of cultural heritage for local communities, and at the same time create job opportunities for those who make the visitor’s experience an engaging and enlightening affair. Learn first-hand about living in the Namibian bush, dance and sing around a traditional fire, learn about ancient techniques of medicine-making, crafts and cooking and be amazed by the intriguing cultural diversity of this corner of Africa.
Visit Namibia’s Living Museums across the north of the country:
• The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi (Namibia’s first Living Museum) at Grashoek; also stop at the Little Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi-San close to Tsumkwe
• The Living Museum of the Mafwe, situated under huge Baobab trees near the Kwando River in the Zambezi Region
• The Living Museum of the Damara close to Twyfelfontein
• The Living Museum of the Mbunza, 14 kilometres west of Rundu in the Kavango Region
• The Ovahimba Living Museum near Opuwo
Etosha is one of the best places in the world to view Africa’s unique wildlife in its natural habitat. Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive salt pan. The pan is a large dusty depression of minerals and clay which only fills with water after heavy rainfall
and even then only holds it for a short time. Clearly visible on satellite images, the shallow Etosha Pan is the largest of its kind in Namibia and one of the largest in southern Africa.
It’s called the Golden Hour. That time of the day when light becomes soft and every plant, animal and person takes on an other-worldly appearance. It can be either at sunrise or sunset. As long as the sun is hanging low over the horizon, the landscape is sure to be dipped in its magical glow. That’s the time you want to be out in Etosha National Park. A game drive a few hours before the sun sets is the time when predators yawn, stretch and start their day. It is when the veld unfurls into a totally different world. Anything could happen. The inevitable fall of nighttime comes with skittishness among the animals. No one knows what the darkness holds. The drive ends before things get out of hand, with the striking neon of sunset.
The campsite at Olifantsrus in Etosha National Park feels intimate and wild. It is the only camp in the park exclusively for campers, and the result is a refreshingly simple and relaxed experience.
Big game, the Big Five, just feels like a fancy animal popularity contest. Like, it’s the animals everyone wants to see. Who cares about giraffe? They’re just horses with long necks. But a lion? They’re great. They sleep all day and run around at night, the females do all the cooking (as in hunting) and the men wear long hair. Sounds fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to put them on their list?
But the Cape buffalo made the list! Who took that executive decision? Firstly, they have the same expression as a plank of wood. And the intelligence to match. Sorry, are we being a bit tough here? OK, let’s ease up for a minute.
The Big 4 are Etosha’s version of the Big 5. They are the same animals as the Big 5, except for the Cape buffalo. Which is probably not a bad thing. It’s a trimmed down version of the original list. Herd animals not allowed.
Elephants are the giants of the animal world. African elephants can grow up to 3.3 metres. They live in families, led by the oldest female, the matriarch. Rhinos are not quite as massive as elephants, but they share the curse of wanted horns with the ivory curse of the tuskers. They are also known for being a bit temperamental, especially black rhinos (keep your distance!).
It’s believed that their aggressive nature has something to do with their poor eyesight. While leopards and lions are both predators, they have very different styles of hunting. Leopards are solitary creatures, secretive, lonesome. Lions, on the other hand, move in groups called prides and it is the females who do the hunting (apparently the males do the protecting, or so they say).
So now we’ve got the feminist guys who look impressive on the Etosha plains (elephants), are basically blind (rhinos), love climbing trees (leopards) and take long naps in the long grass (lions). And that’s it.
Thank you, Cape buffalo, you are not needed here.
Shy, nocturnal, agile and downright sneaky, here is a list of five mammals you are not too likely to see when visiting Namibia.
They are here though, hidden among the natural beauty of the wilderness, and a sighting is a true wonder to behold, so be on the lookout!
1. Pangolin – The only mammals wholly covered in scales, they use them for protection against predators. When threatened, pangolins will curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves. They are currently the world’s most trafficked mammal.
2. Brown hyena – One of Africa’s rarest large carnivores, in Namibia they occur throughout the country, but are most commonly found along the Namib Desert coastline. They are mainly scavengers but eat nearly everything they can find, including fruit, insects and other small mammals. It is not uncommon for them to travel as far as 40 km in a single night in search of a meal.
3. Aardvark – A nocturnal mammal, aardvarks spend their days in cool underground burrows dug with their powerful feet and claws. They use their strong claws to dig into termite mounds to get to their meal of choice – termites.
4. Bat-eared Fox – This small mammal is known for its enormous ears (which can be over 13 centimetres tall). They are insectivores, with termites making up 80% of their diets. It’s not unusual to find groups of bat-eared foxes occupying the same area, something uncommon among other wild dog species.
5. Honey Badger – Pound for pound, this small yet tenacious carnivore has a reputation for being the most fearless animal in Africa. They scavenge for carrion but also actively hunt a large variety of prey, including birds, reptiles and other mammals.
Spending the night at community campsites is a chance to support enterprise value in Namibia, i.e. community-based tourism. The rich cultural heritage is a major draw card for visitors from far and near. The customs, traditions, history, beliefs and the languages of the Owambo people north of Etosha are no different. By choosing to stay at a community campsite, visitors are directly benefiting the local community by adding to an alternative means of income. The community campsites of Owambo offer visitors the opportunity to experience the environment, food, music and everyday activities at grass-roots level and thus gain an insight into the local mind-set.
Here are a few community-based campsites to visit during your travels in Owambo:
1. Nakambale Museum and Restcamp
2. Omauni Community Campsite.
3. Ombalantu Baobab Tree Campsite
4. Hippo Pools Campsite
5. Uukwaluudhi Traditional Homestead
Located in the village of Olukonda, 14 km from Ondangwa, Nakambale holds more than a century of character. Surrounded by mahangu fields and housed in the old mission house, the thick walls of the museum could tell a thousand stories.
The name Nakambale was given to one of the first Finnish missionaries, Martti Rautanen, who lived in the mission house with his family. He was known for wearing a hat that if turned upside-down, resembled a type of Owambo basket, called okambale in the Ngandjera language. Martti erected the first church building in northern Namibia at Olukonda and completed the translation of the Bible, initiated by various missionaries, into Oshindonga. In addition to the museum, Nakambale has a campsite (and a replica of a traditional Ndonga homestead), making it a destination to add to your itinerary as a good overnight stop to absorb a serving of history, culture and charm.
To complete the visit, pre-book an Oshiwambo meal and partake in a walk through the village.
Be sure to shop around town, whether it be in Owambo or in the capital, for a beautiful and bright traditional Oshiwambo skirt or dress. These garments made of pink, purple and black-striped fabric, known as odelela (the skirt) or oshikutu sheenulo (the dress), are worn in times of celebration or for joyous gatherings.
The Rivers and Wetlands of the Zambezi
The major rivers of Namibia’s Zambezi Region include the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and Okavango. The waterway systems consist of wide rivers, shallow sandbanks, islands, lagoons, raging rapids and isolated pools with calm waters. The lure of the region is perhaps the vast contrast between the water-rich green splendour of nature here compared to an otherwise dry and arid country. It is home to an abundance of wildlife and species such as hippo, buffalo and various other antelope that you will not find elsewhere in Namibia. Enjoy the perfection of a sunset from the deck of a riverboat while cruising on the tranquil waters, while migrating herds of elephant drink along the riverbeds.
At Kongola in Namibia’s Zambezi Region, on an intersection on the main tar road leading to Katima Mulilo, you will find a wonderful depot of traditional arts and crafts – the Mashi Craft Centre. Stock up on hand-woven baskets, jewellery, wood carvings and much more to take home.
Take something typically Namibian home that will last as long as your memories. In buying a traditional woven basket you contribute to a greater cause – the livelihood of locals providing for their families.
The Zambezi Region’s rivers are home to more than 84 species of freshwater fish, culminating in what can be described as a fisherman’s paradise, the perfect location for a Namibian angling adventure. Fishing in the region is done on a catch-and-release basis. The most important goal at the top of most anglers’ to-catch list is most certainly the feisty tigerfish. The thrill of hunting the notoriously hard-to-capture, ‘tiger of the Zambezi’ is what draws fishermen back time and again. If you have an adventurous spirit, be sure to take on this epic quest on your visit north-east.
The Zambezi Region is a birder’s paradise with everything from kingfishers, African Fish Eagles to bee-eaters. We’re talking Boubous, Black-crested Barbets and White-browed Robin-Chats. There is even the ever-elusive Narina Trogon to keep you busy. Squacco, Night and Purple Herons. Dwarf Bitterns. Reed Warblers and African Jacanas (even Little Jacanas!). Our favourite birder, Pompie Burger, says that finding Pygmy Geese is more difficult than one would think, especially when they turn their backs on you every time you try to take their picture. The watery environment in winter is perfect for Thick-Knees, Whiskered Terns, Long-Toes, Wattles and White-Faces, while spring brings the African Skimmer. As for bee-eaters, there are many: Little, White-fronted, Blue-cheeked, Carmine. Raptors also make their appearance. Think Long-crested Eagle, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh Harrier and, if you’re lucky, you might see a Western Banded Snake Eagle. But don’t forget the very special Pel’s Fishing Owl. If you catch a glimpse of one of these, consider yourself among the very few.
The San are said to be the original inhabitants of the arid south of the African continent. There is more genetic diversity between them than any population of people on earth. Their skills are honed for survival in the most unforgiving environments. They can tell you a story by glancing at the animal tracks in the sand, of what came by, what they did, where they went. They live in harmony with nature. One of Namibia’s three groups of San, the Ju/’Hoansi, live in the east of the country, centred around Tsumkwe. It is here that visitors can learn about the San culture and way of life through the “living open-air museum”. Experience traditional dances, music, habits and a real hunt in the wild with bow and arrow first-hand.
It’s not always possible to know that your actions have positive consequences. With the rise of overtourism it is more important than ever to be sure that travelling is for the greater good of a country. The advantage of Namibian tourism is that so many tourism activities are indeed to the benefit of the country. None more so than a visit to the big cats of Otjiwarongo.
Otjiwarongo is known as the “Cheetah Capital” of Namibia and that is most likely as a result of the efforts of two non- governmental organisations, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and AfriCat. Both are located in the area and are committed to the conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores – cheetahs, leopards and lions.
The need for conserving these animals was evident in the continuous negative narrative surrounding big cats in the agriculture sector, which identifies them as vermin.
Both organisations set out to educate the agriculture industry, and the population at large, about how best to deal with big cats. Visitors to the centres have the opportunity to learn about these animals, about what makes them special, what sets them apart and why their cause is so worthy.
If exhibitions are not for you, a more exhilarating activity is to visit rehabilitated carnivores at a feeding or on a tracking excursion on the large private reserve.
Spending an evening in the lap of luxury is not conventionally considered conservation, but in this case, it should be. A room at either AfriCat’s Okonjima or CCF’s Cheetah Ecolodge directly support both organisations and their initiatives. When tourism is responsible, it means taking the time to see what the underlying commitments of an establishment are. And why supporting them can make a difference.
It is hard to imagine Namibia submerged in water or smothered in ice but both have happened and Waterberg Mountain is the result. Made of harder material than the surroundings, the plateau has weathered the crushing forces of climate change and erosion. Today, thanks to its daunting cliffs, Waterberg Plateau National Park remains a highly biodiverse environment that is a world unto itself. Waterberg itself is not only an island of vibrant colour and biodiversity, but it also presents a natural opportunity for conservation. Guided game drives on the plateau, plus time spent in a hide lying in wait for rare species to approach a waterhole, give you the chance to learn more about this safe sanctuary for wildlife. It is recognised as a suitable breeding centre for rare and endangered species. This is one of only two places in Namibia where you can spot the African buffalo – one of Africa’s Big Five. Several species – black and white rhinoceros, tsessebe, roan and sable antelope – have all been reintroduced here. This mountainous area is also a birding delight! Over 200 species have been recorded in the park. In addition to hosting 33 species of birds of prey, including Black Eagle, the Waterberg has the highest density of Peregrine Falcon in Africa.
On the north-eastern outskirts of this vast land lies one of the last true Namibian wildernesses. Khaudum National Park is a remote, rugged and vastly unexplored utopia, teeming with herds of elephant and roan, with lions prowling about and endangered African wild dogs yapping in the early evening air. Khaudum, formerly known as Bushmanland, was proclaimed a game reserve in 1989 and a national park in 2007, which now encompasses an area of 3 842 km2. The mostly unfenced surroundings allow wildlife to roam freely beyond the park borders and into and through surrounding conservancies. Not for the faint of heart, this rugged park is for those looking for a truly off-the-beaten-track wild experience.
A 50-tonne mass of iron and nickel crashed to earth many moons ago. Dated to be between 100 and 300 million years old, this “fallen star” is the largest known meteorite of its kind globally. Hoba lies on the farm Hoba-West, 20 km from the town of Grootfontein. Discovered by Jacobus Brits in the 1920s, the meteorite is estimated to have crashed to earth some 30 000 to 80 000 years ago. Now a protected natural heritage site under the National Heritage Council, the meteorite can be visited in its stone amphitheatre open-air exhibit.
The Namib Sand Sea
The Namib Sand Sea lies within Namib-Naukluft National Park, south of the Kuiseb River in central Namibia. In 2012 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Namibia’s second, but first Natural World Heritage Site. The area has been protected for more than 50 years, remaining relatively unscathed from human attention. Home to more than 300 species of life forms, of which more than 50% are estimated to be endemic to the area, it is not hard to understand why the Namib, and this area, in particular, is known fondly as a ‘living desert’. The daily intake of fog from the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean has caused these life forms to take on rare behaviour in order to survive on minimal water in this hot, and cold, sandy landscape. The Namib Sand Sea covers around 35 000 km2 and is deemed the oldest desert in the world.
The most magical place on earth. Soaring mountains of sand surround you as you traverse the soft desert in this otherworldly valley. You’ve passed Dune 45 on your drive in. Those tiny dots along the edge of the dune are people. We kid you not! When you’ve roughed it along the 5km 4×4 trail to reach Deadvlei you will see a giant before you. Big Daddy. One of the tallest dunes in the Namib Sand Sea. Get there super early if you want to attempt a climb to the summit. It gets hot sooner than you’d think. The view from the top astounds like no other. Deadvlei (or Dead Pan) lies below you, dotted with 500-year-old camel thorn skeletons and visitors to this ghostly expanse hidden among a sea of red sand.
Red dunes, the highest on earth, and in their midst a dazzling white clay pan dotted with skeletons of ancient camel thorn trees. Parched by the scorching heat, the trees are too dry to decompose. They are relics from more humid times hundreds of years ago when the Tsauchab River formed pools of water in the area before it was blocked off by the shifting masses of sand. Take a photograph as your memento, but please do not climb or hang on their branches. Time has made them brittle, as it does all things.
Interestingly, there is only one 100% truly endemic bird species in Namibia – the Dune Lark (Calendulauda erythrochlamys). This diminutive bird occurs in western Namibia on the fringes of the Namib Desert, between the Koichab River in the south and the Kuiseb River in the north. Spot it on your visit to the NamibRand Nature Reserve or in the Namib Sand Sea and surrounding habitats.
Moose McGregor’s Bakery at Solitaire, the small settlement on the C14 in Namibia’s south, is said to be home to the most delicious and delectable Apple Crumble in Namibia, nay, The World! Everyone in Namibia knows this. Or at least we thought we did, until on further exploration of the country’s southern reaches we came upon a sign at the hotel in Helmeringhausen that read: “Best Apple Cake in Namibia!” Suddenly I was confused. Where can I find the best apple crumble or cake in Namibia? An epic debate! So we did a sceptical tasting at Helmeringhausen. Presentation: beautiful. Very fresh. Available in the middle of the desert. All good.
Still doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Moose though… See you at Solitaire for Namibia’s BEST apple crumble!
Pack your best hiking boots, more than enough water and leave all your pretences at home, because hiking the Naukluft Mountains takes heart.
Within the largest game park in Africa (49,768km2) the Naukluft Mountains form the easternmost part of Namib-Naukluft National Park. Meandering little streams with rock pools and waterfalls can be expected after a good rainy season. Bubbling water as your soundtrack, and the lush vegetation of this mountainous area as your backdrop, makes for a spectacular hike.
Getting an early start is essential, as frequent breaks will be necessary in the scorching heat at noon. Adequate SPF and sun protective clothing are crucial, but have your bathing suit ready – the rock pools high up in the mountains are crisp and clear and offer much-needed refreshment.
Take your pick from three trail options: The Olive Trail, the Waterkloof Trail or the Naukluft Hiking Trail. Each of which promises its own spectacles, challenges and triumphs.
The 10 km Olive Trail will take you four hours to complete, the 17 km Waterkloof Trail is done in about seven hours. Although both of them are meek and mild in comparison to the 8-day, 120 km Naukluft Hiking Trail, the terrain is challenging enough with plenty of slippery scree and daunting rock faces. It is imperative that you stay near the water as this will be your guide rather than the trail markings which are often sun- bleached and almost impossible to read.
The mother of them all is the guided Naukluft Hiking Trail, known amongst avid hikers as one of Africa’s toughest. A recent medical report is required upon booking, deeming you fit enough to take on the challenge. Each day of the 7-8 day trek consists of roughly 15 km of climbing, briefly interrupted
by lunch breaks and moments of silence to take in the vistas, the flora and fauna. Lucky for the courageous souls who take on this pilgrimage, the infrastructure along the way is rather accommodating of the weary
by providing roofed shelters built from concrete and stone as well as the occasional cold shower. Safety chains have been bolted to the boulders along the precipitous rock faces to help the hikers and their heavy backpack up the steep slopes. This demanding trail covers diverse terrain and is definitely the most rewarding of the three.
On day 6 and 7, your final ascent is adorned by waterfalls – depending on the time of year, either dry or rushing with masses of water. Looking back, you have followed the footsteps left by the leopardess on her hunt the previous night, the baboon on the adjacent cliff and you have tread the ground on which a treaty was signed between the Germans and local Khoikhoi in September 1894 after numerous historic battles. The guided Naukluft Hiking Trail is ruthless but well worth it.
Whether you decide to take it easy on the one-day trails or challenge your mind and body with the multi-day tour, the Naukluft Mountains and surrounds are Namibia’s beauty in its prime. The Camino de Santiago can take a hike!
A phenomenon of epically pink proportions occurs when the right conditions converge on the farm Sandhof, 35 km north of Maltahöhe. An enormous salt pan that is usually dry, plus good seasonal rains which allow water to build up to a depth of 15 cm in the pan, result in a burst of bloom. Amaryllis lilies appear seemingly overnight. For hundreds of hectares, all you can see is pink and purple and white. Namibians flock from far and wide for the single weekend of splendour. “The lilies are here”, you’ll hear in either January or February. Wading through shin-high water, cameras clicking away, a gathering of nature lovers document the annual event. All too soon, though, the lilies start to wither and are set upon by enormous swarms of elephant beetles. And so the beautiful sight fades away in the blink of an eye. A flash of excitement come and gone… hopefully to return next year, if the rain gods allow.
Signboards were built for stickers and selfies. The two Tropic of Capricorn signs in the south of Namibia are no different. Take a picture here to record your global latitudinal traversing adventure!
You wouldn’t expect it. It shouldn’t be there in the first place. Not on a dusty road south of Windhoek, south of Rehoboth, where you turned from the B1 motorway first onto the C24 and then onto the M47, going down the alphabet as you move along through the expanse of Namibia. Small towns, mere settlements to be honest. A Pale Chanting Goshawk sitting on the stark line of a telephone pole. And then you see it. A dusty sign, faded. Did it say “restaurant”? Out here? In the middle of nowhere? You turn off at the next sign, which points the way with a conspicuous red arrow. The simple wire farm gate is wide open. The yard looks deserted, but as you turn a corner, there is another car, parked in the shade of an aged red building with a wide veranda. And suddenly you are in another world. Because where else would you find the best coffee in the country but on the stoep of a yogi-cum-coffee- connoisseur? Günther Martins bought the restaurant from the family of the original Conny, a woman from the community who served traditional Baster fare to the trickling stream of tourists on their way to Sossusvlei. Günther stayed true to Conny’s recipe book, but his passion for coffee shines through. Home-style cooking is one thing. But delicious coffee quite another. And quite a surprise, too.
Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate sits on a geological fault in the middle of the desert, but in this particular case, “fault” refers to something magnificently magical. Who would have guessed that some rock mass movement would create near- perfect soil for cultivating grapes in one of the driest places on earth? Vines thrive here owing to the pure water, mountains shielding the earth from the unforgiving desert wind, and the alkaline soil. A full wine tour takes you through the vineyard, the cellar and to the fountains. Sip on a variety of red wines. Only a limited number of bottles are produced each year.
Day visitors and overnight guests in search of a rustic farm experience will enjoy everything Neuras has to offer.
Fairy circles are one of nature’s best-kept secrets. Those mysterious bare patches in the sand dotting desert grasslands have probably elicited wider speculation than any other natural phenomenon in Namibia. Ranging from the deeply scientific to the purely fanciful, theories and assumptions abound. These fairy circles nevertheless serve a huge purpose in the conservation framework of NamibRand Nature Reserve. Here nature lovers can adopt one of their own fairy circles! How does it work? Pick a circle, donate a set amount to the NamibRand Conservation Fund, and place a numbered disk in the circle you would like to call your own. You will receive a certificate acknowledging your donation as well as the exact GPS-coordinates of your fairy circle. Allow the fine sand of the Namib Desert to mesmerise you. Or is it fairy dust?
Three great ways to see fairy circles:
1. From the ground: NamibRand Tourism; www.namibrand.org/Tourism.htm | www.wolwedans.com
2. From a hot-air balloon: Namib Sky Balloon Safaris: www.namibsky.com
3. From a plane: various flying safari operators, click here for more info.
“High up in the early morning skies, the mist and the sun meet, and for brief moments compete for utmost beauty as heaven and earth merge in a silent union.”
Climb inside the sturdy basket and let the balloon carry you up towards the sky. With a hot- air balloon you peacefully glide over the desert sands, see the landscape change in colour and texture and watch the desert animals follow their daily routine totally unaware of the spectators above. The balloon drifts smoothly with the wind, until finally it gently sets down again on the soft ground, bringing the most magical of journeys to an end.
As you stand at the viewpoint above the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa, you cannot help but think how we are only tiny, insignificant specks on the most brilliant orange horizon… How nature has really outdone itself by simply following its course over hundreds of millions of years. Will you brave Namibia’s most famous hiking trail in the Fish River Canyon?
Well-hidden in the middle of nowhere, a neo-romantic castle built of sandstone awaits in the semi-desert of southern Namibia. Duwisib Castle, a site of both historic significance and romantic tales of grandeur, is an intriguing destination to add to your Namibian travel itinerary. The latest renovations of the century-old castle located between Mariental and Aus in the Karas Region were completed in 2014. Namibia Wildlife Resorts now host guests in five of the castle’s rooms. With minimal changes made to the structure of the old dwelling, the experience of sleeping in the stone-walled chambers is truly special. Housing a collection of 18th and 19th-century artefacts and antiques, the main quarters of this manor house are reminiscent of a bygone era, seemingly unchanged. 2019 marks the 110th anniversary of the
castle’s completion. In 1907 Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf, a captain of the Royal Saxon Artillery, commissioned renowned architect Wilhelm Sander, who built the three castles overlooking Windhoek, to design a grand and stately manor house for him and his wife Jayta. European artisans constructed the castle with sandstone quarried in the vicinity but just about everything else was imported and carted via ox wagon to Duwisib from Lüderitzbucht, more than 300 km away. Duwisib is located 390 km south of Windhoek, a drive of about 4.5 hours. It makes for a great stopover on your way to Sesriem and Sossusvlei.
One of the very few valid reasons to get up before sunrise is to see the sky greet the morning light with silhouettes of quiver trees lining the horizon.
Millions of years ago, when giants walked the earth, unsupervised giant toddlers stacked their giant playing blocks and left them right there. In the middle of the Namib Desert. That’s our theory and we stick to it.
Bogenfels, a dramatic but graceful rock arch straddling the coastline south of Lüderitz, is one of the Sperrgebiet’s most famous tourist attractions. Sperrgebiet literally means ‘restricted area’… Tourists were not allowed to visit the area for many years due to the wealth of diamonds found in the surroundings. However, controlled tourism is now practised here. Lucky for us! Who would want to miss out on a climb up the side of the Bogenfels arch? You can expect nothing less than unsurpassed views of the swirling Atlantic down below. With so little human intervention in the area, the experience is fresh and unspoiled.
Diamond intrigue, colourful stories, and the nature of a coastal town in the middle of the desert make a journey to Lüderitz worthwhile. Fishing boats bob on the waters of the tranquil harbour, fish factories line the shore, and
the town stretches into the rocky hills, with Felsenkirche, the 1912 “church on the rock”, perched on one of them. Make sure you try the world-renowned ocean-fresh oysters.
What makes a town a ghost town?
Should it be located in an out-of-the-way place? Should it be derelict and run-down? Should it have a history of opulence and irony?
If so, then Kolmanskop is all of the above, and more.
Only a few minutes inland from Namibia’s most southerly harbour, Lüderitz, lies the little ghost town of Kolmanskop. Partway to being reclaimed by the desert, the buildings that are accessible attest to the fleeting impact of humankind. Here in the desert, if allowed to, all will be as it once was.
The wooden floors are swept with fine straw-coloured sand, where the planks have not yet fallen away. The roof is torn open, allowing bright stripes of sunlight to form patterns against the colourful walls. Nothing remains inside these rooms, nothing remains of their owners. What can we say of them? Except that it seems they all had a penchant for bright paint, a need to contrast the interior of their homes against the monochrome paleness of the environment outside.
Do all ghost towns have ghosts? Walking along the halls of the abandoned hospital it is easy to imagine them, patiently waiting for their check-up, for their surgery, for their saving grace. The houses, do they have spooks? Speculators, returned from beyond the grave to continue in Kolmanskop’s previous opulence, to continue searching for diamonds in the sand. When Zacharias Lewala spotted the first diamond in the desert, it triggered a diamond rush that saw Kolmanskop spring up out of nothing. And as the diamonds around the town dried up, its inhabitants left for greener pastures, and slowly, Kolmanskop is returning to nothing once more.
Take a tour of the town on a windless day, or risk being swept off your feet by the strong gusts. Learn about the history of Kolmanskop on a walking tour. Have an ice-cold beer in the old theatre café. Greet the ghosts on your way out…
The Orange River, southern Africa’s longest waterway, rises high in the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho, only 195 km from the Indian Ocean. Yet, almost wilfully, it chooses to turn west, flows 2 300 km to the Atlantic coast, carries precious fresh water into otherwise parched regions, and serves as a linear oasis through the arid Karoo and the southernmost Namib Desert.
This life-giving source of water has been called ‘The River of Diamonds’. Over the millennia it carried stones from the interior along its whole length, through the delta and into the ocean, where strong currents swept them northwards and deposited them on the beaches.
Diamonds were the reason why the tiny town of Oranjemund was founded in 1936, in order to cater for the workers of the company exploiting the alluvial diamond deposits on the lower Orange River, which had been discovered several years earlier by the legendary geologist Hans Merensky. As the name of the town (“Orange Mouth”) implies, it is situated right where the Orange River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. A magnificent sight when the river comes down in full force during the rainy season and gushes into the ocean.
When flying overhead and seeing the compactly laid-out little town surrounded by boundless rolling sands and the ocean, you are reminded of science fiction classics like Solaris. The frequent, thick early-morning fogs add to the sense of other-worldliness.
Here in the furthest south-western corner of the country, you will find one school, one supermarket, one hospital and one roundabout, but at least six churches. Up until recently, visitors needed a permit to get access to the ‘diamond town’.
Now it is open to the public, and the community has a desire to share the authenticity of their beautiful town with others.
Of course, the gemsbok grazing on the lawns of parks will forever remain part of the community. Owing to the perennial river close by, there is an abundance of public gardens, lawns and huge shade trees. Do not expect to see any diamonds, however – the mining operations are situated well out of town and surrounded by impenetrable security.
Today the Orange River mouth is considered the sixth-richest wetland in southern Africa, supporting a wide variety of plants and animals. The near-threatened Cape Cormorant and Damara Tern have been recorded here, as well as the endangered Ludwig’s Bustard. Several threatened fish species are found here, along with localised amphibians and reptiles. At least 33 mammal species are known to occur at the mouth, including the Cape clawless otter, the second- largest freshwater otter species.
Canoeing and rafting are popular activities on the lower course of the river, offering spectacular scenery and a few Grade 2 (medium difficulty) rapids. Tourists come from all parts of the world to join canoeing trips. Imagine camping on the banks of the Orange River and to wake up to the most beautiful orange sunrises that set both water and sky alight.
Fishermen can expect common and mirror carp, sharptooth catfish (barbel), and largemouth and smallmouth yellowfish. This pastime is 100% safe, as hippos, which once populated the area, were hunted to extinction already in the 1800s, and the Orange is outside the range of the Nile crocodile.
Whether you are a history buff, a keen water sports adventurer, or simply interested in discovering the natural wonders in the area – this enigmatic corner of the country will not disappoint.
Scenic flights and fly-in safaris in Namibia offer the discerning traveller the chance to explore parts of Namibia that are almost exclusively off-limits from the ground. Flying by plane, the landscape unfurls before you and the breathtaking views make for once-in-a-lifetime photographs. Flying gets you to your destinations in a short period of time. As opposed to driving vast distances on dusty roads, take to the skies instead.
A flight to Namibia’s northwest passes over its dramatic desert landscapes, all along the coast and over famous fishing-waters off Swakopmund, Wlotzkasbaken and Henties Bay. See shipwrecks abandoned along the lonesome beaches and the bright orange lichen fields all the way up to the Kunene River. Admire the line where Namibia’s sand dunes and the dark blue waters of the Atlantic coast meet.
From above, the Skeleton Coast becomes completely open to visitors. The area is unlike anywhere else in the country. The isolation and desolation lend itself to the legendary area’s dramatic name. This is a part of Namibia that up until recently very few people had the opportunity to see, and it continues to be one of the least-visited places in the country.
Further east, moving inland towards the Kaokoland and Kunene River, visitors have the opportunity to land in the heart of the Himba community and pay a visit to one of the last semi-nomadic cultures in the world. The landscape might even offer a rare sighting of an endangered desert-adapted rhino.
Many Namibian companies offer day trips along Namibia’s coast, setting off from Swakopmund and looping around the area. Other flights are available to lodges from Eros Airport in Windhoek, and between lodges around the country.