Africa – Our Grand Namibian Adventure

Part 1 of 5

Early last year, my better other half  & I started planning a trip to celebrate her retirement and a ‘big’ birthday. My expertise and the weakness of the South African Rand led us to decide on Namibia. The trip was not to have a high focus on wildlife but instead a balance with scenery and new experiences for her. We had 13 nights to play with and since we had decided to self-drive most of the route and didn’t want to have to drive every day, we had to rule out visiting Fish River Canyon and the Caprivi Strip. It still left plenty to see and do though.

Rather than drive, we could have used the scheduled flight circuit that link areas within Namibia – it’s quicker but more expensive than flying and you miss so much of the country. It’s a time-cost-experience equation. We decided to drive.

The following series of five blogs, follows our routing through Namibia – I hope you enjoy reading it.

Arrival and Sossusvlei

Day 1

We flew via Johannesburg from Heathrow on South African Airways, the aircraft was modern and clean. Cabin crew do make a difference – enough said.

We were met by Namib Travel Shop on arrival and assisted to collect our hire car from a well-known rental company, our routing did not warrant a 4 x 4, so we chose a Nissan X-Trail, which gives good ground clearance and plenty of room for two with luggage. On first inspection the car looked fine, a recent model and in good condition – then I looked at the tyres. Like me the front two tyres were practically bald and the rear two weren’t far behind. With at least 1,000 miles of driving ahead of us, many on gravel roads, good tyres are critical. Polite words were had and we left Windhoek Intl with a Toyota Fortuner for the 45 minute run to our overnight accommodation.  Mind the speed camera on the way into Windhoek, there’s a (unnecessary?) change of speed limit followed immediately by the camera – sneeky. Most rural Namibian roads have sensible limits between 80-120kph, cruising at 100kph / ~ 60 mph (limit allowing) is comfortable and allows you to enjoy the scenery.

 We stayed at the Olive Grove Guesthouse situated in an upmarket residential part of Windhoek and it couldn’t have been more perfect for an overnight stop , or two nights if you’d like to explore Windhoek.  Although their menu for dinner sounded delicious, we met a friend who lives in Windhoek and went to Joe’s Beerhouse for dinner. What a place! There are times to go ‘native’ and this was one of them. You know you’re in a fun place the instant you arrive, it was packed with locals, the ambience was amazing – very friendly and relaxed – and the food and local beer very good. A round or two of Jagermeister is compulsory and were duly dispatched. Namibians eat a lot of game – so dishes with Springbok, Oryx and Kudu were much in evidence. If you want quiet and sophisticated or are not into game then perhaps Joe’s is not for you. In which case just go for a pre-dinner drink, soak up the ambience… you might just stay anyway.

Days 2 & 3

After a hearty Namibian breakfast, we bought water and snacks and headed south to Rehoboth before cutting inland to Sossusvlei, some 200 miles distant.

The first hour and a half were on good quality tarmac roads (again, beware the speed cameras), before we encountered our first gravel road. You need to treat these roads with great respect, the surface is loose and you can easily slide if you have to brake sharply or the corner turns out to be sharper than you thought – cut your speed according to what you can see and certainly do not exceed 70kph (45 mph). It also be more comfortable on the nether regions.

We were on these roads for a further three hours, saw very few other vehicles but gained an immediate understanding of the size of the country and its stark beauty.

On pulling into the Engen service station at Sesriem, we had to change a rear tyre due to a puncture – wish I’d listened more intently to how to get to the spare wheel – and buy a new spare, which the hire company has already refunded. Do not drive without a serviceable spare and perhaps consider hiring a second spare from your hire car company when you collect the vehicle. Or buy a can or two of tyre weld.

Our accommodation for the next two nights was at Little Kulala, an upmarket Wilderness Safaris lodge looking out towards the great sand-dunes of Sossusvlei. The lodge is away from the cluster of lodges in/around Sesriem and, as with its sister lodge, Kulala Desert Lodge, has private gated access to Sossusvlei. It is also the area from which Namib Sky Balloon Safarislaunch their balloons.

Our activities over the next two days included a visit to Sossusvlei where we climbed part of Big Daddy, an almost 1,000 foot sand dune, the eerily beautiful Deadvlei, quad biking in the Kulala Reserve, a sunset bottle of champagne from Little Kulala’s wine cellar, an overnight sleep out on top of our ‘kulala’ (chalet) and a ‘big birthday’ early morning balloon flight. How the pilot landed the balloon (with us in it) on the launch trailer was incredible to watch and shows how good Namib Sky Adventure’ pilots really are. A champagne breakfast and birthday cards followed.

I found that two nights is a perfect period of time to spend in Sossusvlei.

We bade farewell to Little Kulala mid-morning on Day 4, for our next voyage of discovery – the 230 mile drive across the Namib-Naukluft Desert to Swakopmund on the Atlantic Coast.

More to come including an amazing GPS instruction, a Christmas market and carols in Swakopmund at 35C in the shade and I have a ‘tête-à-tête’ with a pelican…