Text & Photographs – Ailsing Knight
the Summer 2022/23 issue
A long ﬂight from London ends with a sunrise descent into Windhoek. The tiny window struggling to fully reveal the scope of what Namibia oﬀers. The light, the curvature of the earth and the space, as if inﬁnite within the world.
Straight onto the road and I spot a family of baboons perched on fence poles while they have breakfast, less amazed by me than I am by them. I get excited like a child and instantly feel guilty for every time I have admired them on my way around a zoo. Rows of gigantic mountains line the road, and when we stop I notice the variety of succulent plants, which brings so much joy, then the birds start to entertain and I can’t help but laugh out loud. This simple act of just watching and observing is a far cry from the London hustle.
It’s not long before more wildlife appears: ﬁrst the odd springbok and gemsbok, but when we take a stop at Spreetshoogte Pass I marvel at the huge armoured crickets. From up here you can see wide open landscapes that I imagine look similar to Mars with its endless horizon and dusty haze. It is the most peaceful place I have found myself in, so when rush hour strikes in the form of blue wildebeest, I’m OK with it. As these brilliant creatures slowly cross the road in front, it’s clear they have all the authority here – animals controlling the traﬃc ﬂow, nature’s hierarchy as it should be.
A little while later I am teased with the promise of world famous apple pie in Solitaire, and my list of reasons to love this country just got a little bit longer! Darkness comes with an exciting sense of mystery as we arrive at Dune Camp Lodge, set atop a sand dune in the middle of the desert. The evening brings just enough service, no WiFi, only peace, and I vow to get up early to greet the sun at dawn.
As I stand on a sandy hill dipped in bronze, the sun presents its colours for the day and I could cry. It’s perfection and I am reminded of the saying that simple things can be the best. Nature, light and Namibian coﬀee.
Our next stay is at Desert Hills Lodge. We nip oﬀ to a neighbouring lodge for a game drive – a mysterious activity. When we arrive I am loaded onto a bakkie and given cold beers… so I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty fantastic. Before we even pull away there are deer and wildebeest drinking from the waterhole. The sightings of gemsbok and zebra are a wonderful warm-up act for the white rhinos that follow, a family of them with a baby grazing on the hill. Seeing an endangered species so happy and protected in its natural habitat is something I will never forget. When I think that was it for today, the rhino family catches up with us back at the waterhole. The baby shuffles between the legs of the adults and the gigantic male gets curious and strides towards the lodge, right until he reaches the edge of our deck. Demonstrating complete ownership, he scratches his horn on the wood and I am left utterly speechless.
When our wheels start turning again we are oﬀ to Sossusvlei. Scaling the burnt red dunes is no easy feat but for a location relatively barren, it amazes me how much there is to see. Every peak gives a new perspective, and underfoot the plants and insect-life are too plentiful to fully appreciate. Our hike takes us to Deadvlei, where the 3000-year-old petriﬁed trees stand lonely in a ﬂat plain, reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting. As we continue south, nature constantly entertains – with a huge Letchwe lizard, Secretary birds and a bounding ostrich or two.
Another sunrise you say? Why not. As I dreamily stand on a rock I realise I have never seen this many sunrises in my life, and certainly not in a row. The colours of the African skies live up to their reputation. Some little birds join us for breakfast at the lodge, cheekily dipping in and out of the lounge to steal leftovers. It is very obvious that the harmony of nature and tourism has been perfected here.
Next up, the coastal town of Lüderitz! The Namibian coast is quite literally where desert meets the ocean and that brilliant juxtaposition is evident right here, where the only thing separating the two is this solitary town. The only neighbour is the ghost town of Kolmanskop, a photographer’s dream with its washed-out colours and sandy derelicts, a physical work of art.
Exploring Lüderitz started with a boat trip along the coast, as so much of the town’s appeal is oﬀ-shore. I spot seal pups resting on a rock while some hot chocolate is carefully handed out to us on the boat (nice touch!). Then there are dolphins, dancing in our boat’s slipstream. Around the corner a waddle of penguins prepare to dive in. The sunlight beams through the clouds in the most magniﬁcent way, as if to spotlight main attractions.
Bogenfels then beckons us. This great wonder is a huge arch in the cliﬀ as if the rock itself has frozen mid-wave on its way out to sea. It is easy enough to see why so many people long to visit this remote feature of Namibia: it is insanely impressive and mother nature should be very proud. I scale the enormous formation and am rewarded with the most breathtaking views of the Namibian coastline. A spiritual moment for me, of marvel and gratitude.
The diamond mining town of Oranjemund is a huge surprise. Surrounded by desert but full of greenery, it is a welcome sight after all the sand we have seen the last week. The next thing that surprises me are the gemsbok that casually stroll around. Elsewhere, these majestic antelopes are skittish and timid, but here they go about their business like any other local.
I could never get bored of sand dunes, I think, as I jump on a quad and surf the surrounding hills. From up there you get the best views of the Orange River and towards South Africa. The sun descends and the colours of the burnt sands glow on the horizon while I am introduced to another Namibian favourite – a sundowner. Huddled atop a dune with beautiful food, amazing wine, blazing ﬁre and the golden hour of light is truly what dreams are made of. I think I died and went to heaven in those moments.
As the end of our quick adventure gets closer I feel a longing for more time. It’s gone too fast and there is so much to see, even in the small town of Oranjemund. From history-inspired wall murals to the Sands Hotel (where we let oﬀ some steam and danced with the locals. Aweh.).
Our ﬁnal stay is at Canyon Lodge, another beautiful place with a maze of footpaths to the rooms, through crowds of rock hyraxes (I am 32 years and have never seen or heard of these rabbit-sized guinea-pig creatures, cute but deﬁnitely not cuddly). As I head to the restaurant for dinner I get distracted by the sunset. Knowing full well this might be the last African sunset I see for a while means my hungry stomach can wait. The sound of the bats swooping down and nipping at the pool is so sweet and gentle. The last light hits the surrounding rocks and the plains in the distance. It’s magic.
The drive back to Windhoek completes our tour and I don’t want to say goodbye. The truth is, sometimes in life things just align – the time, the place, the people. When you are young you maybe don’t recognise these moments, but as I have had more of them, rare as they may be, I have learnt to recognise their specialness, destined to be just a memory but so full in the present.
Namibia is truly special: warm, clean, vibrant, majestic. It taught me to wake up before the sun, gaze at the moon, look at the stones, birds, stars, and search in the sand. To close my eyes, only to feel the desert wind on my face and take constant, deep breaths of gratitude.
They say home is where your heart is and Namibia stole a big fat piece of mine. Namibia, you can keep it.