We bade a sad farewell to Iskea at Little Kulala and headed out over the Namib Naukluft Desert to Swakopmund and the Stand Hotel, our base for the next two nights.
Since we still had well over half a tank of diesel left we bypassed the Engen at Sesriem and turned onto the C19 towards the small settlement that is Solitaire about an hour away. The dirt road was no better (or worse) than the road down to Kulala and after 10-15 minutes you get used to the shaking of the vehicle and settle into a routine of finding the smoothest part of the road, happy in the knowledge that this wasn’t my car taking the beating. Remember – to arrive safely, rather than early is a good rule of thumb in Namibia.
Solitaire is like an outback town from Mad Max with the (not-rusting) stripped bodies of several classic and veteran cars and trucks sitting on the deck around the entrance to the settlement. The petrol station offered a Germanic looking bakery, a coffee shop/café and a tyre replacement service (with another Toyota Fortuner being re-shod) – definitely hire a second spare. We filled up and drove the short distance to the junction with the C14, the road that was going to take us right across the Namib-Naukluft Desert into the port of Walvis Bay, on the Atlantic Coast, just south of Swakopmund. The GPS indicated the turn but we were not prepared for its next announcement –
“after 205kms, take the third exit at the round-about”. 205 kms!!
The drive took us over one of the bleakest places I have ever driven through; when you think of a desert you immediately think ‘sand’. Not in this case. This part of the Namib is rock, cut through with canyons where rivers ran many millennia ago – it’s a dramatic and starkly beautiful landscape. Greenery was a rare sight.
Eventually the round-about came into sight and we duly turned right and ran up the coast road into the very Germanic coastal town of Swakopmund. Be aware – there are a number of police check-points along the roads around Walvis Bay due to an initiative to stop the export of ivory and rhino horn. Have your documents to hand.
The Strand is a medium sized hotel recently built with a superb location on a small headland, close to the centre of the town. The staff were incredibly friendly and the range of restaurants and bars, including its own brewery offered a wide choice of food. We ate there on the second night but this being Roxane’s ‘big birthday’ we walked down the road into The Tug, a (now) land-based boat converted into a fish restaurant. It’s not surprising that locally caught fish is a speciality. Delicious.
We had a light breakfast as today we were heading back to Walvis Bay for a Dolphin & Seal Cruise into Walvis Bay’s lagoon to see some of the local marine and birdlife. The catamaran we boarded, part of small fleet of boats run by Catamaran Charters, was of a good size and we were soon cruising out towards the light house with a coffee (okay, a beer) in hand being briefed on what we were likely to see and what not to do.
It was at that moment that a pelican flew past, the guide called out and he wheeled and landed on the boat about five feet in front of me, clipping my head with his wing as he came in to land. There followed a few moments of ‘are you looking at me’, as I stared at him/her and he/she stared back. The offer of a fish was too much and the moment past and he ran (well waddled) to the other side for his snack.
If we thought that was pretty amazing a few minutes later the boat lurched a little and I was now staring at a 200kg male cape fur seal. This time I decided not to stare him out.
As we passed the numerous work boats moored just outside the harbour, we reached the headland and the noise and smell of several thousand cape fur seals and hundreds of gulls. By this time we had a glass of some sort of spiced aperitif in hand and spent a good length of time understanding what was unfolding in front of us. Sadly no Ocean Sunfish were seen and dolphins were rare and mostly distant.
The cruise ended with a superb champagne and oyster (fresh and baked) lunch below decks as we headed back to shore – a must do excursion to while away a leisurely morning.
That afternoon we wandered around a Christmas market near the hotel – it was most odd to see people wearing Santa hats and carols being sung in 35C of heat. But I suppose they think us doing the same in the freezing cold is equally odd!
Breakfast at The Strand are grand affairs and I am certain will suit any nationalities preferred style of food. Baked oysters – no problem. Pancakes with maple syrup – no problem. Full English – no problem. I could go on.
In the next installment – desert adapted elephant, the most superb team of lodge staff and a walk on the wild side.