To Mars and the Moon – This is Namibia!
I have traveled around Australia in a motorhome before and this was my first camping experience. We rented a 4×4 camping vehicle which had two roof tents. Why camping on top of a car? There are many predators in Africa, so camping on top of a vehicle makes sense, right?! Camping is a great way to be close to nature, watching the Milky Way next to a camp fire with a glass wine, and also not to worry about packing and booking hotels all the time, but camping for long period of time can be tough without basic comforts especially if the weather turns hostile such as the dust storm we encountered in Etosha. We checked into secured campsites most of the nights and stayed in lodges a few times in between which were much needed breaks from “rough” camping. Most of the campsites have own dedicated ablution block, toilet, hot water and washbasin. Our trip started in Windhoek, through Mariental, Fish River Canyon, Aus, Luderitzbucht, Sossusvlei, Namib Naukluft Park, Swakopmund, Spitzkoppe, Twyfelfontein, Etosha National Park, Waterberg National Park and back to Windhoek.
After picking up our vehicle in Windhoek, we stocked up the fridge and set off to our first stop, Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch in Mariental. The Kalahari, a harsh land, a land of relentless sun and searing wind, its relative inaccessibility, the harsh unyielding red sand dunes, the uncertain rainfall and lack of surface water, make it truly one of Africa’s last frontiers. We drove through this arid region which was covered by bone-dry yellow, gold and even transparent grass and shrubs. There was hardly any wild life apart from a few baboons. We stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn and trees on which sociable weavers built huge nests, some of which were compounds of hundreds of individual nests and bigger than arm chairs.
Fish River Canyon:
On route to Fish River Canyon, we made two stops at the Quiver Tree and Giant’s Playground. The quiver tree and baobab trees are my favourites which appear solitary and have spongy and clean lines of straight trunk and branches. It looks so strong, tough, standing-alone, being itself and pride. I was speechless when we entered into the Giant’s Playground. There are so many massive dolerite boulders randomly put together on top of each other by amazing nature which creates fantastically weird looking rock formations and a series of mazes. If one only looks around quickly, it is just a massive ground filled with endless rocks which are piled together. Then when you take a slow stroll around the mazes, the imagination kicks in and rocks come alive and start dancing around. Looking around, my imagination went wild, a dog, a dog and its owner, a few people standing in straight line facing the sun, two sisters talking to each other, old man and wife looking at each other…..Walking in this dolerite boulders forest, we almost lost our bearings a few times and you could easily find yourself a few hundred meters away from where you thought you should be.
We carried on our journey through Gondwana Park’s flat land, long stretch of granite mountains range passing by, quiver trees dotting here and there, swirling wind dancing with dust, white clouds splashing onto baby blue sky, nature at its best!
Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon. Landscape like this is just out of this world and no word can really justify its divinity. Space, lots of it: above, ahead and beneath! Standing at one of the lookout points at the edge of the Fish River Canyon you will breathe at the sight of such incredible vastness: far below, immense gorges meander through the scenery of rock. With landscape in such an arid environment, elements have their interesting way to interact, such as dust chasing after a passing vehicle and footprints of all kinds in the desert.
On route to Aus, we decided to stop at Seeheim, a minor town marked on the map. A minor town must have a place for coffee and pie, right? After we turned into the road marked by the sign to Seeheim, we saw nothing indicating existence of a community, no signs to any other establishments, buildings, shops and service station, just a sign to Seeheim Hotel. So Seeheim Hotel is all that Seeheim has??? It is a strange hotel which was built during the booming of diamond mining period, then left empty afterwards. Later on, somebody bought it and today it becomes a nice stop during the rainy season for bird watchers as it turns into an island surrounded by rivers. After a nice cup of coffee and bacon sandwich, we set off to the Klein Aus Vista campsite. From afar, the desolate plain displays how the desert and mountains interact with each other and the desert is taking over slowly over hundreds of years. The huge colour contrast amongst mountains, rocks, sands, stones and plantations is shimmering in the heat waves and desert mirages. Any form of life must have incredible resilience to survive here.
One of my favourite drives during the whole Namibia trip was from Luderitzbucht through Namib Rand Reserve to Sossusvlei. We had to stop to take photos so many times: just unbelievable landscapes, nothing like this and nothing can compare with it. The landscape is just out of this world: desert and semi-desert land interacting with mountains in all sort of wonderfully weird shapes, and the colours of rocks and sands and the sky, red, coal and metal black, brown, gold, grey…… all mixed in harmony by the amazing nature. There was hardly any wild life in sight, just the land, mountains, rocks, shrubs, trees standing there against the wind in silence.
While the sun is rising, the colour of sand dunes starts changing and dancing. The shapes of sand dunes are true artistic sculptures, full moon, half moon, ridges….. Enclosed by the waves of a sea of red sand a lake glistens deep down in the valley of dunes – this is where the seasonal Tsauchab River ends; lined by trees it meanders through the dunes from the east. At Sossusvlei the river’s course to the sea is blocked by the highest dunes on earth. It rarely happens – only after abundant rainfalls – the clay pan of Sossusvlei fills with water. There were some interesting patterns in the sand, footprints from wind, humans, animals….. Then I saw the Deadvlei, a white clay pan dotted with 900-year old dead camel thorn trees. Walking around the Deadvlei in silence is a feel of solitary and tranquillity. The photography of black dead camel thorn trees rising on white clay pan towards the sky with gigantic sand dunes as back ground is amazing. We visited the Sesriem Canyon afterwards. Sesriem Canyon is so narrow that it gives shade even at midday.
Namib Naukluft Park:
The drive from Sossusvlei to Namib Naukluft Park was only 100km. Holding my camera in the moving vehicle, I couldn’t stop clicking. Without any fancy lenses, my little camera captured the magical moments of the natural elements: mountains in all sorts of shapes and colours, rock cliff faces and ridges, interspersed sand, arid and semi-arid fields, random rock growing plants and trees such as baobabs, quivers and golden eucalyptus rising against the skyline, and the sky, clouds and their shadows…. Just when we started worrying that we might have passed the exit to our campsite, we saw THE sign. We opened the gate and let ourselves in and closed the gate behind. Immediately, eye-dropping scenery, the best landscape painting I have ever seen presented right in front of us. Could this get any better and were we in the right place as there was still nobody around, not even a guard to check our papers? There was only one way winding through the mountains with views waving from distance. The reception of this campsite is a small building which has a classic and simple restaurant and bar areas. The Namib Naukluft Park contains mainly arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Unique sites such as the dunes at Sossusvlei, the Welwitschia Plains and Moon landscapes are in the park. Situated in the Naukluft section of the Namib-Naukluft Park, the Naukluft campsite offers an idyllic setting, under shady trees, and along the banks of a stream, Naukluft has what is generally considered one of the toughest hiking trails. With its massive and varied rock formations, Naukluft is a geologist’s paradise. The intermittent layers of horizontally folded igneous rock, quartzite, dolomite and shale are impressive with their giant symmetrical patterns.
That night we were the only guests at the campsite and we were the only diners too!! The whole park is neat and well posted. The next day, we set off to walk the Olive trail. We stopped many times to appreciate the views while we were climbing and the scale of the landscape didn’t cease to amaze us from different angles. It was a tough hike with loose stones, sharp rocks and steep hills. Descending from the highest point, I started seeing many beautiful and weird quiver trees and baobab trees growing along the rocks. Some grew almost horizontally in order to catch more sunlight as they were in the shadow of the valley. Then we saw the olive tree forest hence the trail’s name, again many of the trees just grew through the rock with roots exposing in the air. I have never seen so many different kinds of rocks in so many different shapes and colours. The walk just seemed to carry on forever, and then we arrived at the Gorge. One has to walk along the almost vertical rock cliff along the gorge with the help of only a chain fixed to the rock. So we either pass it or return to walk another 3hrs with the white footprint signs on the opposite side. There was a note left by someone who was here yesterday: “I couldn’t pass this gorge and now it is 4pm, I will have to head back.” After a few attempts, we made it!
On route to Swakopmund, we stopped at Solitaire to try the bakery. It was well worth the stop and its apple crumble and chicken pie were divine. Along the journey, we drove through Gaub Pass and Kuiseb Pass, and Namibia just seems full of surprises around each corner. Just when you feel that you have seen it all, there they are different and amazing formations, sediments and colours of rocks and landscapes. It is truly like Moon and Mars! Our campsite Alte Brucke Resort is very close to the beach, fully lawned and paved, consisting of individual ablution facilities, wash-up, braai and power units. I booked a scenic flight and for me it was a reverse journey for the last two days all the way back to Sossusvlei from the air. It was very interesting to see the meeting point of the ocean and the sand dune, the sand dune, the rocky mountains and the forests. Trees grow along the dry river bed and from the air, it is an obvious forest line dividing the sand dune and rocky mountains. When the vertical sand dune wall meets the ocean, it is an amazing sight. I also saw a few ship wrecks stuck in the sand along the Skeleton Coast. If I can’t go to the Moon or Mars in my life time, the trip to Namibia is the closest it can get. That night we had a great dinner at the Tug, a restaurant sitting right next to the jetty.
We went for a drive around the Welwitschia Plains. Apart from this impressive 1,500 year old Welwitschia plant which looked like a massive dying lettuce, we also came across some very interesting rock formations: molten lava pressing up through softer rock in the middle to form this black lava line in the middle of a lighter colour rock.
The Spitzkoppe mountain is an isolated and unique environment on the interior fringe of the Namib desert. Not only does it showcase the most striking geological formations in Namibia, it also offers hunter-gatherer ancestors, dating back to the introduction of livestock in the last millennium. The Spitzkoppe Campsites are safe, secluded and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and one is completely engulfed by tranquillity and serenity. Camping at Spitzkoppe is world famous. A mountain oasis in the Namib desert, with unique oversized boulders and secret caves, allows the visitor to camp in complete peace and tranquillity. With the majestic Namibian “Matterhorn” as backdrop, and with the next camping site kilometres away, each visitor owns the mountain during staying there. We drove around and decided to take up the furthest site, number 11A which was said to have the best sunset. It is certainly very private and there are a few huge rocks hanging right on top of the site. No worries, they have been there for thousands of years! That night we lit a camp fire, cooked a BBQ whilst drinking wine and watching the stars, I saw the Milky Way for the first time.
The next day, we headed to Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO site famous for rock engravings. The landscape is different again here with many red brick huge rocks floating along the hills in all sorts of formations. We visited many rock engraving sites and listened to the tour lady explaining the history behind the site. Same as the cave painting, rock engraving by ancestors fascinates me in the sense that thousands of years ago, prehistoric humans with no education what-so-ever, created this art for recording and ritual purposes. By the time we arrived at the Movani campsite, it was quite late. What a gorgeous campsite!! It is surrounded by more amazing rock formations and from our site, we could see both sun rise and sun set. It has an outdoor shower and toilet where the hot water is heat up by wood fire. It was the time to take a hot shower to wash off the Namibian desert dust, and get ready for another night of camp fire, BBQ, wine and stars gazing. The Milky Way was even better than last night!
We booked two nights at Etosha, but left on the second day. I had very high expectations for wild life encounters in Etosha, but unfortunately the weather became unbearable overnight. On the way there, at about 100km away from Etosha, the earth turned into dry white clay mud. It was so hot and dusty and windy outside. It felt like being in a dusty burning oven!! I also found that the waterhole setting at Etosha is superficial and unnatural. When the night fell, jackals appeared and there were many of them. During the night, they were roaming around the site and howling. Around 10pm on our first night, the wind suddenly picked up blowing sand into my tent. The next day, we went for a safari self-game-drive and comparing to the safari game drive we had in Kruger in South Africa, what we saw in Etosha was nowhere close, but I saw a wild cheetah lying underneath a tree, better than nothing. We went away and went back again to check if the cheetah would move around being active. It only had a big stretch, a lazy and clever cheetah, saving energy in this hostile weather!
Returning to Windhoek:
After two nights at Waterberg to recharge, we were heading back to Windhoek. On route, we visit a cheetah conservation fund to observe a program called Cheetah Run. Cheetah has the similar behaviour patterns like a cat: the way moving its tail, and staring at, becoming intrigued and catching a moving object. They are truly beautiful creatures with slender body and legs. The cheetahs that participated in the programme seemed to know the game of chasing the moving lure too well. A few times, they caught the lure and then just lied on top of it until the staff gave them some meat to bribe them to release it. Soon they lost interest and jut laid underneath a tree. The staff introduced that cheetahs are very smart and not aggressive. They tend to stay in living farms and avoid confrontation and competition with lions at national parks. Hence there is an ongoing problem between farmers and cheetahs. The conservation centre has been studying and helping to improve the conflict situation.
It is such a privilege to watch a cheetah running with precision, strength, power and the coordination of its legs from start to speeding to turning to steering and catching the targets. We then visited a dinosaur footprint fossil near kalkfeld. Putting my hand in one of the footprints, I imagined 200 million years ago, one or more dinosaurs past here. Call me a romantic, same as looking at ancient cave and rock paintings and engravings, it is very sentimental to me to imagine our ancestors and hundreds of millions of years ago, some creatures left something personal behind which we can still see and touch today.
The returning journey was long and finally we arrived at Olive Grove Guesthouse in Windhoek. That night, over the dinner we exchanged our traveling stories with other travellers. Listening to people talking about their wild life encounters, I felt that I want to start this trip all over again! Namibia, so different to all the places I have ever been, one of a kind! Thousands of photos were taken in Namibia alone and whenever I look through them, I am immediately transported back! Namibia, just repeat this name again and again!
Could do better next time:
- Lesson learnt at the campsite in Fish River Canyon. One morning after getting up, we couldn’t find our shoes and later found them being scattered nearby which were done by small animals overnight. When camping in a country where there is wild life around, do not leave anything outside which can be easily carried away.
- When camping in such a remote place, one should have a rigid system to check the essentials such as water, food, petrol and electricity.
- The hiking trail at Fish River Canyon is roughly a 5 day camp-hiking. One has to book it well in advance with a certified guide.
- Desert Horse Campsite at Aus is a run-down place. A lodge called Eagle Nest nearby seems very nice and worth trying.
- Our B&B in Luderitzbucht, Kairos Cottage is located right on the coast with the sunset view, a good place to recharge during a camping trip.
- As this was our first time camping, we didn’t have enough experience to rent a well-designed camping vehicle. Along the trip, we saw some well-equipped vehicles which were designed with efficiency and easy to operate. So it is worth the effort to do a good research to find the best vehicle where you travel.