Rhea Williams recounts her fabulous journey through the African country of Namibia (all images in the gallery © Rhea Williams);
Namibia… What a wonderful name for a country and what a wonderful place to visit. We flew via SA and the best terminal ever, where you can shower, have a meal, and generally feel human again after a long flight. We were doing a self drive holiday around lots of Namibia and had arranged to pick up a 4×4, thank goodness. Our daughter had been to Namibia the previous year and taken an ordinary family car but had told us that was not a good idea, so we got a 4×4 Amarok which was just fabulous. It sat so high that I had to swivel in the seat and slide down to get out of the vehicle. But it did us proud! We were given a phone so we could always get in contact if the vehicle broke down or we had problems, because many of the roads were not tarmacked, instead being either salt or gravel. It was really good for going through bits of river and sand dunes across the road. We had no problems with the vehicle and just made sure we filled up when we saw petrol stations. (Interestingly, when we did stop to fill up, people would chat to my husband about the vehicle, which was only just out then, despite the fact that I was the one driving and he knows nothing about cars… Bit of a macho culture going on there!).
But oh, what a journey around the country and what wonderful sights. The first non-tarmacked road we did was full of armoured crickets, creatures that look as if they have been used as templates for Dr Who. They are the most amazing creatures that you just have to drive over and squish, but believe me, you’ll not wipe them out, they are too plentiful.
Everywhere you go, there is wonderful scenery, green and verdant, and around Windhoek there are monkeys to be seen. There are fabulous lodges around where one can stay or just go for a meal. There is wildlife everywhere, if you just wait for it to come to you. The first things we saw, while sitting having lunch, was a family of wart hogs. They trundled around the place snuffling here and there and then disappeared, but what a great start.
From Windhook we went to Sossussvlei and Deadvlei in the Namib desert. Along the way we saw springboks posing at the side of the road, pale chanting goshawks standing on sentry duty on the telegraph poles, and a silvery snake slithering across the road. At the Sossussvlei Lodge where we stayed, we sat watching the mountains change colour and listening to the bird song of who knows what birds? It was magical.
In the morning, we arose early to take a dawn balloon flight over the desert. We were both anxious about this but oh, what a treat it was. Standing in the balloon basket like bottles in a wine bottle box we waited to take off as we watched the gas-lit flame. But, no sound, no sense of movement and looking down we realised that we were in the air and watching the sky lighten and the sand change colour. We were the only balloon up that morning so we had longer than we should have done, flying around. Our pilot was so amazing he took the balloon down to a few feet above the ground and then up, over a dune and around again. Looking down we saw ostriches running around but it was the shadow of the balloon that I thought was the most wonderful. And then the pilot landed that basket on the back of the following truck and out we got for a delicious champagne breakfast, laid out for us in the middle of the desert.
A trip into the desert to see the huge sand dunes is a must. The sand is red, Saharan sand and has been swept into the most beautiful shapes. It’s better to have a driver take you on this trip because you have to go through sand and they know where the holes and dips are. And if you go early, as we did, you see again the sand changing colour as the beautiful light catches facets of the dunes and they emerge from shadow into light. From there you go onto Deadvlei which is magical area of dead, 900 year old trees. It is a breathtaking area and worth just sitting there and contemplating whilst taking the pictures everyone takes.
Swakopmund was next on our trip. It’s a distance of about 400km and takes about 5 hours, but oh, what a 5 hours. The drive takes you through lots of nothing and then you come to a couple of passes that take you into what feels like another country. It could be Scotland, Austria or Rwanda with folds of hills, very uppy-downy roads, and little brooks babbling alongside you. At one point we stopped, went down to the little brook and watched a fabulous red dragon fly sunbathing on a rock. It was bizarre. And then it was miles and miles of nothing, making me wonder if we were actually still on the earth or on another planet, there was so little traffic. Seeing hundreds of pylons marching off into the distance let me know that all was well and the sand dunes across the road told us that we were near the sea. Lo and behold, here was Swakopmund.
This town was established by German colonists in 1892 and has quite a German feel about it. To be honest, it was the place I liked least in Namibia, despite being on the sea and fairly Western. There was a very touristy street market there along with a Himba lady sitting selling stuff. The Himba women are famous for covering themselves in red ochre and not washing. The clean themselves by taking a daily smoke bath.
From Swakopmund we drove on to Cape Cross, passing a group of Cow People, waiting to have their photographs taken by paying tourists. Cape Cross was the most amazing, scary, wonderful place possible. We stayed at The Cape Cross Lodge, which was literally at the end of the road. It was on the beach and then there was the sea, and what a sea. Our fabulous room looked out over a noisy, wild sea, the huge rollers of the Atlantic Ocean. We sat on the balcony watching seals frolic in the water and in the morning, there were black-backed jackals sauntering across the beach and the front of the Lodge.
From there we drove to DoroNawas in Damaraland, to stay in one of the 16, round rooms, each private and with an indoor bathroom, an outdoor shower and a balcony onto which one could wheel the beds to sleep outside. We watched a fabulous, biblical thunderstorm from our balcony; dark, threatening, storm clouds that advanced slowly across the countryside, followed by huge rain and then a rainbow. And in the morning, my husband went off to see the ‘desert-adapted elephants’. For him, they were the best thing of the trip.
Then it was on to Etosha Safari Lodge, through ever changing countryside, so we could visit the game park. The first day we took an organised trip into the game park, in the sort of vehicle you see in films, open sides and benches. It was wonderful and we saw springbok, ostriches, oryx, blue wildebeest and red hartibeest. I said I wanted to see a secretary bird, and as if by magic, one appeared….as did a few bustards. I was really keen to see zebra and got very excited when we saw one. Our driver said not to worry, we’d see lots of them ….he was right, in spades. They were everywhere, on the road, at the side of the road, in the distance, on the road, on the road, on the road etc. I’m sure you get the picture. We even saw little ones. And then, surprise surprise, we saw a group of giraffes standing very still and looking at something. Kind of them to stand so still for photographs. We saw vultures, eagles, sociable weaver birds and best of all, the simply truly beautiful lilac-breasted roller, the national bird of Botswana. When it flies, you get to see the amazing blue of its wings. And then we saw a monitor lizard ambling across the road, several gaggles of the extremely stupid guinea fowl and a family of four ostriches, who looked as though they were out on a shopping trip, crossing the road to town.
The following day was the high light for me. We took our vehicle into the park and drove around seeing spring bok, lots of birds and then, a group of vehicles parked. I pulled up too and what did we see? A family of lions with a recently killed and half eaten, large something. They were fairly quiet, having eaten well and so it was possible to get good photos. This was truly the experience of a life time. On the drive back to the lodge we saw kudu, impala, bustards, eagles, lilac breasted rollers, chameleons and the BIGGEST spider we had ever seen. We felt we had almost seen too much to take in.
And then it was on the best lodge of all. Each one was better than the one before and this last one, the Frans Indongo Lodge was just the bees knees. We drove through lovely country side to get there, seeing lots of greenery, trees and huge termite mounds. After a short rest at the lodge, we were taken on a game drive around the land belonging to the lodge, and saw so many animals it was just wondrous.
I can’t recommend Namibia highly enough. We had the most wonderful trip but I do wish we had stayed a bit longer at each lodge, if only to enjoy the facilities of the lodges, to just sit and watch game coming and going, sky changing, birds flitting around. It is the most magical country and so worth a visit.