Our journey begins in a Gondwana Duster, the slinkiest car-hire vehicle I’ve yet been in, a mix of modern convenience and robust 4×4 toughness in just the right quantities, perfect for a cross-country adventure.
Gliding out of Windhoek on the tar, music playing, Namibia’s blue dome of sky up above, it’s difficult not to feel like the luckiest people alive. The reservations have all been made, we have a folder with our itinerary next to us, a programmed GPS – and a map because the old-fashioned part of me prefers to see the layout of the land in its entirety.
It’s an easy route winding through the Windhoek hills to Rehoboth, past the kaross sellers at Duineveld, their display of springbok hides flapping in the breeze. A donkey cart careens past heading in the opposite direction on the sandy road parallel to the B1 and we wave to the passengers, sharing the universal currency of travel – a smile.
Veering eastwards before Mariental, we cruise into Kalahari Anib Lodge. This stylish lodge has captured the essence of the desert with a relaxed modesty, a dash of love and a good bit of soul, a hearty combination that is repeated in the Gondwana lodges countrywide. Lunch outdoors in the nearby Kalahari Farmhouse with its secret garden atmosphere, a walk through the Self- Sufficiency Centre, which supplies fresh produce to Gondwana’s twenty lodges, and an afternoon nature drive complete the day. Toasting life from a dune with the sinking sun setting everything aflame, we partake in the great southern African tradition of celebrating this time of day with a sundowner – and feel a pervasive sense of contentment.
It’s destination canyon today and I can feel the excitement build as we travel southwards and turn onto the gravel to Naute Dam and its oasis of palm trees and vineyards. The gravel calls for a slower pace and it doesn’t take long before I’m in gravel rhythm. Canyon Roadhouse is our lunch stop for Roadhouse burgers, state-of-the-art coffee and slices of Amarula cheesecake. The Roadhouse, a light-hearted and colourful tribute to the grand old days of the automobile, reminds me how beneficial it is in life to nurture a sense of humour. The large-roofed lodge with its fun-filled interior of classic old-timers, transport paraphernalia and the rusting Fords and Chevys creatively placed outdoors has become a landmark in the canyon area, not to be missed. With full bellies and wide grins we make our way to our home for the next few days, Canyon Lodge. With its reception area housed in the quaint century-old farmhouse and the cosy stone bungalows tucked into the granite hills, it’s a place that immediately warms the cockles of my heart.
There are several great Earth masterpieces of which the Fish River Canyon is one. Gazing out at the depths, sculpted by the journey of the meandering Fish River and time, is a humbling experience. We spend hours exploring the various viewpoints, awed by this vast place of life at large.
Needless to say, when I leave the canyon, saying my farewells to the friendly staff, I feel a quiet tug in my heart. But, travelling towards the Orange River, the large perennial river that forms the border between South Africa and Namibia, I’m soon happy to be on the road again, riding the rollercoaster of travel emotions.
Our route leads along the gravel arteries through the desert landscape until the Orange and then we follow its smile around to Rosh Pinah, curving northwards to Aus. Klein Aus Vista, the warm family-owned and -run lodge resonates with the spirit of the Namib wild horses. Favourite things to do here are to walk in the rocky hills, visit the horses at the Garub hide and take a day trip to explore Lüderitz and the abandoned diamond town of Kolmanskop.
Sunrise finds us watching the horses galloping to the waterhole before we head to Kolmanskop for their guided tour. I try to imagine opulence in the desolate surrounds when people flocked to the desert after the first diamond was discovered in 1908. The highlight of the visit, besides stretching the imagination, are the colours and textures of the sand that fills the corners of some of the houses that have been allowed to be recaptured by their host, the ancient Namib Desert.
The town of Lüderitz still rings of diamond days when champagne is said to have been cheaper than water, which was shipped from the Cape Colony, and where diamonds sparkled in the sand by the light of the moon.
Although it’s tempting to linger longer at Klein Aus Vista, the renowned Sossusvlei dunes are flashing on my mind’s dashboard. It’s slow going along the sandy D707 scenic route bordering the Namib Naukluft Park, where I feel as if I am entering another world. And it’s reinforced at Namib Desert Lodge where we have reserved a night at their satellite camp, Dune Star, on the crest of the fossilised dunes. The view is mesmerising, as is the starry night when we roll our bed (especially designed with wheels) onto the balcony of our room to sleep under the stars.
When we drive to the famed Sossusvlei the next day, the scenery vies for beauty. The 60km drive from Sesriem is like entering a sci-fi scene, where everything you are familiar with vanishes. A line of gigantic sentry dunes ushers us into a kingdom of red sand. We hop aboard the shuttle to Deadvlei and trudge through the thick sand to the dancing old camelthorns studded in the cracked white pan, and then to Sossusvlei. The vlei – or seasonal pan – marks the spot where the Tsauchab River sinks into the sand at the end of its journey, thwarted by the massive dunes. Only rarely filling with water after good summer rains when the Tsauchab hurtles through the Sesriem canyon and the desert, it is now bone dry. Best seen from above, we climb a short stretch up the adjacent Big Mama dune and then sit, taking in the regal scenery around us, listening to the pulse of the Earth.
As a treat, the night is spent at The Desert Grace. Gondwana’s newest lodge is a luxuriously lovely lodge that balances the harshness of the desert with soft pink and opulent touches. Here, ostrich feather lampshades, clumps of rose quartz and zebra skin mats set the innovative style, expressing the gentle and delicate desert beauty.
The trip is not yet done, by no means. Neither is the adventure. After a stop to fill the tank and for apple pie and charm at Solitaire, it’s a day of driving northwards to Swakopmund. The road snakes past robust mountains, over the Tropic of Capricorn, across desert plains and down into small canyons before we reach the swaying palms of Walvis Bay and the sea.
Back on the tar, we drive the last stretch between sand dunes and the crashing Atlantic Ocean to the unusual coastal town of Swakopmund with its old German architecture. Opposites merge in this place where new and old, African and European shake hands.
Our aim is to continue to be absolutely delighted, and our Swakop accommodation ‘The Delight’ complies. At the refreshingly different lodge, our base for the next few days, we throw off our shoes, wash off the dust of the road and appreciate how good it is to be alive and well, and travelling in Namibia.