By Peter Bridgeford
There are a multitude of sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Africa to be experienced and enjoyed by camping in Namibia – from the harsh, barren, stony plains around the Fish River Canyon, past the towering red dunes of Sossusvlei, along the wind-swept shores of the cold Atlantic Ocean to the seemingly endless plains and rocky mountains of Kaokoveld and the humid forests on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River in Caprivi.
For veteran campers or novices on their first camping holiday, Namibia has something to offer everyone – from luxury campsites under shady trees and green lawns, to wild places under a camel-thorn tree in a sandy riverbed; the choice is virtually limitless.
To enjoy your camping holiday in Namibia, start planning and preparing long before you hit the ‘long and winding road’. There is nothing worse than having a breakdown between somewhere and nowhere and spending hours on the side of the hot dusty road because you didn’t check your vehicle/trailer or have a spanner to change a wheel. It happens!
When, where and how
Besides your vehicle, check your equipment. Camping on the coast at Mile 108 in a howling south-wester in a tent with a broken zipper or not enough blankets is guaranteed to lead to matrimonial problems and rebellious kids. There are excellent books in the bookshops and your public library to help you plan your adventure into the wild places of Namibia. The planning is not restricted to your vehicle and equipment, but important decisions on when (summer or winter), where (dry, hot Namib or wet, hot Caprivi), how (sedan car, yes it is possible, or 4×4 vehicle), roof tent (advisable in some areas) or sleeping under the stars next to the vehicle (try it in the Namib).
Remember, in some parts of northern Namibia, malaria is endemic. Plan for this, discuss it with your doctor, read travel guides and use appropriate camping equipment, for example mosquito nets or tents with built-in mosquito screens. Wear protective clothing and use repellents. Better safe than sorry. Take a first-aid kit for the small mishaps likely to occur. A good sun-block cream is essential, especially if there are children or if fishing is on the cards.
In some parts of the country, fuel stations are far apart, so carry extra fuel, or better still, have an extra tank fitted to your vehicle. Some fuel stations in the back-of-beyond do not have facilities to accept petrol cards, so carry enough cash. It is also advisable to have a second spare wheel. If you don’t have another rim, then at least carry a new spare tyre and tube. If your trip is off the beaten track, take a puncture repair kit and make sure you have the instructions. A tyre pump – the old type, will give you plenty of exercise – or a modern electric unit, is essential. Don’t forget the tyre pressure gauge!
Camping is camping, but the diverse habitats of Namibia require different approaches. In the hot treeless desert areas around the Fish River Canyon and along the miles of road between campsites, shade is vitally important. Even on the coast, shade is needed. So fit a shade awning or make it from shade-cloth and fit it with ropes to help you erect it. On the coast, the south-west wind blows just about every afternoon. With no windbreak of canvas or shade-cloth with stout poles, ropes and strong tent pegs to support it, it will be difficult to get your braai-fire going and unpleasant to sit outside the tent to enjoy sundowners. Inland, a windbreak is seldom necessary, but is still a handy item. It can also be used as a ground sheet.
If your vehicle is fitted with a deep-freezer, install an extra battery or solar panel. Warm beers, a flat battery and a 4×4 that won’t start are a recipe for disaster. Murphy’s Law dictates: when the battery is flat, there will be no other campers for miles around. Keep in mind that Namibia is a desert country. You’re not going to find many burbling streams of cold mountain water when you have a problem. Carry at least a full 20-litre container of potable water. Beer or a prized 10-year-old brandy are not much good when you’re in trouble.
Wide choice of campsites
There are campsites all over Namibia. With the increase in tourism, even the smaller, out-of-the-way places accommodate campers. Many of the more attractive sites that have excellent facilities are found in the most unlikely places, for example, on farms in the vicinity of attractions such as Sossusvlei and Etosha National Park, and in the Kalahari, along the route to the newly opened border post at Mata-Mata. These campsites are well managed, clean, uncrowded and good value for money.
The Namib-Naukluft Park has a number of basic sites north of the Kuiseb River, where the stunning surroundings compensate for the lack of facilities. On the coast there are the basic campsites from north of Swakopmund to Mile 108. However, in Swakopmund and at Mile 4, almost on the beach, good campsites provide all the amenities required. Several lodges and guest farms also have camping sites and campers can usually use lodge facilities such as the restaurant or swimming pool.
Other out-of-the-way campsites are found in communal areas and conservancies throughout the country, from Brukaros in the south to the Kunene River in the north. The local communities manage these sites and often have trained guides to show tourists the interesting features like the rock art or explain local customs and traditions.
Such communal camping sites are found in Kaokoland, Kavango, into the Caprivi and south to Bushmanland. Remember that you’re in Africa, that it is big game country, and that you may find buffalo, elephants, lions and hippos wandering through the campsite. In these areas it is wise to sleep in a tent and not on the ground next to your vehicle. In the Khaudum Game Park, because of its deep sandy tracks, minimal infrastructure and inaccessibility, visitors must travel in a minimum of two 4×4 vehicles.
So start planning, read the guidebooks and travel magazines, look on the Internet and speak to your friends who have been to Namibia. Or contact the Namibia Tourism Board offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg. You’ll never regret tackling the ‘long and winding road’.
National Parks of Namibia – click here
Community campsites – click here
This article was made possible by Cymot Namibia
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘08 edition of Travel News Namibia.