Text Marita van Rooyen | Main Photo Paul van Schalkwyk
Text Marita van Rooyen | Main Photo Paul van Schalkwyk
There are landscapes in which we feel above us not sky but space. Something larger, deeper than sky is sensed, is seen, although in such settings the sky itself is invariably immense.
AN INFINITE INTRODUCTION
A bird’s eye vantage point over a landscape tends to blur the lines between sky and space, and the flight from Cape Town to Walvis Bay is certainly no exception.
As the aircraft passes over the dry, mostly deserted southernmost regions of the country, the journey becomes an ideal introduction to the immenseness that is Namibia. Arid plains and the seemingly infinite Namib Sand Sea are but a fraction of what awaits the eager explorer on the ground.
Once arrived, the view will inevitably vary, but it will by no means be any less spectacular than from the sky. The space will be just as vast as before and now you will have the additional advantage of touch, smell and feel and getting to know some of the country’s most unique self-drive destinations.
From coastal charm to culture, wildlife watching and admiring weird and wondrous geological features, through desert, bush and wilderness, via the capital and some of the most spectacular mountain passes, to the dunes of Sossusvlei and finally back to the coast – let’s go on a great Namibian adventure!
WIND IN YOUR HAIR AND SAND UNDER YOUR FEET
The coastal hub of Swakopmund is our starting point. From here the road heads due north through Dorob National Park on a smooth salt surface that hugs the Atlantic coast. En route, massive sand dunes tower and drop into the ocean, and a selection of fishing hotspots provide ample choice for a good picnic spot – and an opportunity for closer inspection of where the oldest desert meets one of the most treacherous shorelines in the world.
The intriguing settlement of Wlotzkasbaken, the remains of shipwrecks and fields of lichen make for interesting pit stops before reaching Henties Bay where fish and chips or melt-in-the-mouth calamari at Skubbe Bar is a must. If you’ve packed the rods this will be the place to get your bait, and if not, take your pick from the morning’s fresh catch made by one of the local fishermen, cleaned and ready for the first night’s braai.
If you are moving at a relaxed pace and have the time, tackle one of the hiking trails to explore the surroundings – it’s a harsh but beautiful desert environment. There is also a nine-hole golf course: its location in a dried-out tributary of the seasonal Omaruru River provides a desert golfing experience like no other.
Namibia’s coastal climate offers a welcome refresher before heading inland, so make sure to enjoy every minute of the cool ocean breeze!
OFF TO SEE THE ANIMALS AND SOME CULTURE IN BETWEEN
Just north of Henties the road makes a sudden turn in an easterly direction to take you to the old mining village of Uis. Guided tours to Brandberg mountain, with its intriguing paintings dating back 4 000 years, are offered from Uis. Have a coffee at Vicky’s Coffee Shop and buy a few semi-precious stones from the small-scale miners before continuing to the cultural hub of Omaruru.
Omaruru is perhaps best known as host to the annual Artist Trail and as a result is often visited to see artists at work and buy some local crafts. But the town also has an interesting history – with many century-old buildings still standing to tell their tales.
A selection of small industries offer further incentive to linger a little longer, like Tikoloshe Afrika where weather-worn roots are transformed into masterpieces, Dörgeloh Chocolates for truly Namibian choc delicacies or Kristall Kellerei, a manufacturer of local wines, brandy and schnapps.
From Omaruru it’s not far to the animal kingdom of Erindi Private Nature Reserve. It is one of the largest private game reserves in the country and you certainly won’t be disappointed with the selection of wildlife that roams the plains and mountains which are characteristic of the area. From eland to elephant, lion to leopard and everything else in between – expect to see them all!
CAKE, CRAFTS AND RELAXATION AT THE SPRINGS
After having ticked all the species off your must-see list, head southwards towards the capital. Take time for a stop in Okahandja.
Not only is it the epicentre of Namibia’s biltong production, but it is also where you will find a large number of woodcarvers from the north who flaunt their skills at an extended informal craft market on the southern edge of the town. Apart from a wide selection of carved souvenirs, you will find anything from woven baskets to beaded chameleons and it is the perfect opportunity to stock up on presents for the unfortunate ones who had to stay at home.
Across the street the Brewed Awakenings Coffee Shop is the ideal place to try a variety of homemade cakes with your coffee. Don’t forget to take some biltong for the road, either next door at Savannah Biltong, from Closwa in the centre of town or Piet’s Biltong on the northern outskirts.
If you are looking for some real relaxation, take a break at Gross Barmen Hot Springs Resort just west of Okahandja, where you can soothe aching muscles and your mind in the naturally steaming spring water of the thermal hall.
TO THE CAPITAL AND BEYOND
Upon arrival in the capital you will be spoilt for choice in terms of food, activities and entertainment. Windhoek is a modern-day capital much like any other, but with a truly African flair where local customs complement western influences – don’t be surprised to see a Himba in traditional attire walking barefoot next to a businessman wearing a suit and tie and polished shoes.
Acquaint yourself with national heritage and history by visiting the National Art Gallery, the theatre and museums or take a lazy stroll through the National Botanical Garden, Zoo Park or the Parliament Gardens. Windhoek has numerous art and culture hotspots, some of which – including the Warehouse Theatre, FNCC and Goethe Institute – present live music and other performances.
An excursion to Katutura, ‘the place where we do not want to live’, is another must for culture seekers. Local markets are bustling with township life and are the ideal place for trying delicacies like kapana, oshikundu or ekaka. If you’re hungry for more, Xwama Cultural Village offers traditional specialities like Oshiwambo chicken and mopane worms, which can be enjoyed in a reconstructed village setting, complete with wooden cups, woven basket plates and soft sand under your feet.
Another popular eating spot, Joe’s Beerhouse, caters exclusively for meat lovers. Nevertheless, non-meat eaters will also find it worth a visit just to admire the décor which is an extensive collection of memorabilia. A public drumming circle on Wednesday evenings is another drawing card.
Once you’ve had your fill of the city, head in a south-easterly direction to explore the Namib Naukluft Park – the largest conservation area in the country and home to the world-famous Sossusvlei.
A SEA OF SAND AND SWEET APPLE CRUMBLE
Sossusvlei can be reached from the capital via a selection of picturesque mountain passes. It is a tough choice, as all of them have their unique charm – and spectacular views from the top – but Spreetshoogte is particularly popular.
Not far from the bottom of the pass lies Solitaire, a wonderful little oasis with a bakery straight out of heaven. Indulge in some sweet apple crumble before heading onwards through the desert.
Apart from boasting some of the highest and oldest sand heaps in the world, including a section of rock-hard petrified dunes, other attractions in the park are Sesriem Canyon and Dead Pan. The Naukluft Mountains also make for a fascinating geological excursion.
Now that you have seen it all, head back to Solitaire for a last sweet treat before making the return journey through peaceful desert landscapes back to the coast from where you started.
By now you would have collected just enough memories for wanting to come back for more. See you next time!
This expedition will take between 7-10 days, depending on the preferred stay-over time at each destination. A sedan car is suitable for most of the suggested route, but some of the more off-the-beaten-track stops are only accessible by 4×4. Make sure to do your research before diverting from the main roads.
See www.destination-swakopmund.com for more information.
| This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Winter 2017 issue.