A tourism reverie

He tore down boundaries – a tribute to Albi Brückner
May 10, 2017
Overlooked riches – the floral diversity of Kaoko
May 12, 2017
He tore down boundaries – a tribute to Albi Brückner
May 10, 2017
Overlooked riches – the floral diversity of Kaoko
May 12, 2017

Text Rièth van Schalkwyk | Photographs SWA Safaris

I magine the year is 1954 and you are boarding a twin prop 50-seater Douglas DC-3 in Germany for a flight to Johannesburg. Four overnight stops and five days later you arrive in Windhoek.
Imagine fainting over the Alps because of the “thin” air, and getting airsick over Sudan because the pilot flew low enough for you to be able to see herds of elephant down below.
Imagine seeing the “Islands in the Sky” as the tops of Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru and Mt Kenya peep through the cloud cover, and on day four flying over the red Kalahari Desert en route to Johannesburg in South Africa. And then, on the fifth day, boarding another plane for the last stretch to Eros Airport
in Windhoek, where at last the real adventure is about to begin. Those were not only the early days of commercial air travel between Europe and southern Africa, but also the beginnings of commercial tourism in the country which was then still called South West Africa. The family of Uwe Sentefol – who literally steered the wheels of those early trucks and converted them to carry passengers instead of sand and stone – guided the transition from those early days to the modern age. From what is depicted in the photographs from a 1950s album (next page), to tourists in state of the art luxury coaches with the SWA Safari logo proudly displayed on green is a remarkable feat.

They still visit the same, now famous attractions of an independent Namibia, travelling on paved or wide gravel roads. Uwe’s son Wilfried joined SWA Safaris in the early eighties and with a university qualificatio n in IT ushered in the electronic age, moving from telex to fax machines to computers. From as young as three years old Wilfried travelled with his father in a Ford F250 to fix buses wherever they got stuck with mechanical problems. That same Ford is still the safari vehicle for Sentefol family trips all over southern Africa.
Reminiscing about the time he joined the family business more than three decades ago, Wilfried says that although the tourism business spontaneously started to provide trucks for visiting family and friends from Europe, who then also wanted to see more of the country, formal business through tourism agents in Germany made it necessary for the previous generation to offer formalised itineraries and structure. Before long the safaris became a separate division of the original construction business and eventually a separate business altogether. In 1960 they imported the first real touring bus from Germany and the show was on the road.
There is no big secret, says Wilfried. Keep up with the times. Follow the trends and adapt to change. As one of the leading privately owned Namibian companies in the fast changing landscape of international tourism, he does not shy away from competition, or from changing times.


No rules about staying in your vehicle – if you could handle the sun, you could get your photo, or at least the perfect sighting through your binoculars.

Strength, or the lack of it, was the only excuse for not pushing a few tons through thick sand, or fixing tyres. This was participation camping long before the phrase was coined.

With special permits, hand drawn maps indicating mostly just possible routes rather than tracks, and guests with adventure in their veins, they ventured into the remotest region – the Skeleton Coast.

Luggage on the roof, no tents, just stretchers on the ground and a steel trunk for all your possessions.

From the one extreme to the other. From the rugged beauty of Kaokoland, to the flat, sandy red Kalahari, towards the Okavango they explored.


This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Autumn 2017 issue.

1 Comment

  1. Winks Pinkerton says:

    My late husband was responsible for doing the aerial survey of the entire Namibian coastline right up to the Kunene in the early ’80s. At that time, I had never visited your beautiful country, but have now corrected that oversight and travelled from south to north and back again! An amazingly majestic country. Just love it!

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