As promised, here is my trip diary of the road trip I took from Johannesburg, South Africa, through Botswana and Namibia and ending back at Jo’burg. Hope you enjoy!
I arrived in Johannesburg in early July. There was a pre-booked rental car only wanting the form-filling ceremony before we were able to drive the yellow, VW Up! off into the South African evening.
To be clear, renting a tiny car for a road trip that would take us in a huge circle from Jo’burg, through Botswana, Namibia and back, over the course of six weeks, was not my idea. I’ve travelled on African roads and I tried to insist on a 4-wheel drive vehicle but I was over-ruled. That decision was regretted more than a few times. The vehicle did survive the trip but not without damage, including a cracked windshield.
The car did get a lot of attention, especially from young men as it was a very unusual colour.
My travelling companion had never been to Africa before and he wanted to be immersed in the culture. He made the first accommodation booking at Flossies, in Soweto. We were there for three nights.
Flossie’s deserves the five-star rating it enjoys on Trip Advisor. Flossie herself was only there to greet us as she had to leave early the next morning for a funeral but we were left in the capable hands of her ‘girls’.
The car was parked in her garage for the duration of our stay there. We walked to and from the nearby mall and to Vilakazi Street. Our hosts advised us that it was safe enough to walk during the day but that we should avoid walking at night.
I walked the single block to the Mapoonya Mall on my first morning. I wanted to put some South African cash in my pocket and pick up some rusks, biltong and endearmints.
The South African Rand gets it’s name from ‘Witwatersrand’ (White water’s ridge), the place where most of South Africa’s first gold deposits were found and where Johannesburg was built.
There are five denominations of bank notes and each of them has a different member of the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino) on it.
The rusks (something like biscotti, only better), the biltong (something like beef jerky, only better) and the endearmints (somebody made a better mint) are things that I learned to appreciate on my last stay in South Africa and I couldn’t wait to satisfy my cravings.
Vilakazi street is known as the only street in the world where two Nobel Laureates have lived: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. We walked through Mandela House and around the neighbourhood, reading the placards and learning of the area’s struggles with apartheid. As with any place that has become a tourist destination, the street has several restaurants and curio shops on it as well.
Another day, we walked several blocks to the train station for a trip into downtown Johannesburg. That was an adventure. We waited over an hour and a half for a train and it was packed when it finally arrived. Everyone was courteous and friendly and we didn’t feel at all uncomfortable about having the only white faces to be seen, but we were objects of curiosity.
The train station and the area around it at our destination were teeming with people. I aborted a trip to the loo, not after seeing the line-up, which was very long, but upon seeing that only two of the dozen toilets were usable, they were both filthy and neither had a door.
On my last visit to Jo’burg, I took the train line that was built for the World Cup, from the airport to my hotel in Sandton, an upscale part of the city. The trains were regular and clean and the stations, along with their bathrooms, were clean and functional. Just an observation…
To get back to Soweto, we opted to take a bus. The Rea Vaya rapid transit bus system is pretty wonderful. It has regular stations with very helpful staff, the buses are clean, modern with professional drivers and it follows dedicated bus lanes on its routes so it avoids traffic. I was surprised to notice that it was underutilized; the buses that I saw were mostly empty of passengers but they do cost a fair bit more than the train.
The few days of rest did us good and we were in good shape to start the next leg of our trip very early on the fourth morning. It was an ambitious drive and, I were to do it again, I would do the driving between Soweto and the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, which was our next multi-day stop, in three legs instead of two.
To get to Ghanzi, our next stop, was a 1000 km trip on good roads that would take us 11 driving hours. Google Maps did a great job of coming up with a route that zigged and zagged a bit from Soweto up towards the Botwana border until it met the number 4 highway that took us right to the border post.
Crossing the border in a vehicle, one has to sign out of South Africa at their border building before crossing the border and signing into Botswana. It isn’t the quickest, most efficient process in the world as it involves several line-ups at different windows and a lot of paperwork but there were no issues about bringing the SA rental into Botswana or Namibia when we came to it.
From the border, we followed the A2 up to Ghanzi. An excellent road and one that didn’t challenge the engineers who built it since it was mostly dead straight and dead level; this is the Kalahari Desert after all.
This was the dry season in the desert and it was winter as well. The days were sunny and in the mid 20’s (Celsius). Very comfortable for a pair from the northern hemisphere but I heard a lot of complaints from the locals that it was a beastly cold winter and it get down towards 0 at night.
There wasn’t a lot of variety in the scenery but antelope and especially warthogs were regularly seen grazing at the side of the road, which we whizzed past doing the 120 kph speed limit.
We reached Ghanzi about half an hour before sunset having gained a bit more sunlight by travelling quite a ways north. I requested a stop at a bank machine to pick up some Pula, the local currency. I always like to have a little cash in my pocket.
It was fortunate we made it before dark since the entrance to the Dqae Qare San Lodge, our accommodation for the night, was several kms off the nicely paved road, on a trail that was narrow, deeply rutted but of reasonable firm sand.
The manager, who I had communicated with when making the booking, said that a two-wheel drive could make it as long as it had sufficient clearance. This was the first test of the ridiculous little VW but it made it to the lodge, though not without several wince-inducing scrapes along its underside.
The lodge and the 7500 hectare (18500 acre) game farm it sits on are owned by the San Bushmen people.
*Please visit my travel-planning page for a further review of our time there. You will find a more in-depth review of all the places I stayed and things to consider for those contemplating following in my footsteps.
I could imagine no better place to learn about and interact with the San people and their culture, as those who worked at the lodge were all members of the local San D’Kar community.
There are bushman huts set up a short walk from the main lodge and activities are also offered were guests can learn crafts, stories, dances and bush-lore. I bought an ostrich egg-shell bracelet that was made by one of the staff.
Meals were served in a pavilion overlooking the water hole. It was interesting to watch the young ladies that served the meals. The meals were good by any standard and the service was friendly but I couldn’t help thinking that these girls were going through the motions of something that they had carefully learned but didn’t really understand.
It would be much the same for me if I were put into one of their villages and was asked to perform at a ceremony. I could learn to do all the right things but whether I could learn the point of them is a different matter.
On the other side of the dining area, a fire was lit early morning and in the evening and a salt block had been placed in the field by the water. The salt was much appreciated by the antelopes.
The game farm is stocked with several species of antelope, zebra, and giraffe and there are also cheetah, leopard and brown hyena but as these predators are so shy, it was deemed safe to walk the trails.
Our first walk was with an older San gentleman who took us on a bush walk. Very educational. We learned of tracking, hunting, the food and medicinal uses of some plants. I will forever after be able to tell the difference between giraffe and eland poo.
We could have taken a game drive but we were planning on some wildlife tours in the Okavango so we opted instead to walk to one of the watering holes, about three km away.
It was beautiful and a bit uncanny walking in the desert landscape, and a bit of a physical effort too since the trails were soft sand. There were trees but ‘bush’ is the best way to describe the area.
One of the reasons that the area was left to the bushmen was the lack of surface water that made potential settlers pass it by. There is an abundance of underground water though, that was pumped up to form water holes and for bathing and drinking at the lodge. It was a little on the mineral side but good and safe to drink.
We stayed there for two nights and left early on the following morning, dragging the belly of our little, yellow car along the trail back to the main road.
The excellent roads and 120 kph speed limit carried on right up to Maun, the entranceway into the Okavango Delta. There were a couple of roadblocks on the way; one where documents were checked and the other was a decontamination station where we had to get out of the car and stand in a shallow tray of solution to prevent the spread of animal diseases. Foot and mouth, I think. There was a dip in the road filled with the same solution that vehicles drove through to clean the tires.
We were booked into Old Bridge Backpackers in Maun for four nights in an ensuite tent.
The tent was the size of a small hotel room with a shower, toilet and sink in a rock-walled area out the back door. The bathroom was open to the African sky, which was delightful since said sky was clear throughout our stay. There is something magical about open-air showering, especially by starlight.
Out front, there was a deck with chairs that overlooked the river and the old bridge. The bar/restaurant also sat on the river edge and it was very pleasant, from either location, to sit and watch the kingfishers that dove and fed from the trees on the shore.
There were a lot of birds to be found in the trees and on the water including this skittery fellow. I got a few pictures of its tail as it ran away.
Maun was not utilized as well as it could have been on our itinerary. I would suggest that if you have gone all that way, you should indulge in a multi-day safari of the delta. It is a world heritage site, after all.
We did go on a full-day boat trip that was spectacular, with elephants and hippos and crocodiles, water-loving antelope like the letchwe and some brilliant birds.
The trip included lunch and a walk around one of the islands that began with a serious lecture on what to do if any dangerous wildlife was encountered. Running and screaming was never the right thing to do, by the way.
I was eager to see the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, seeing as we were in the area and not because it featured in an episode of Top Gear. Unfortunately, the tracks into that park and the one across the road were four-wheel-drive only. Go ahead and google it if you want to know why I’m so pissy about missing it; you know how I love baobab trees.
The road to the gates of the parks was a continuation of the one that we had driven up from Ghanzi so it was good and once inside the park boundaries, it was lined with zebra, giraffe and antelope, which made it worth the drive, especially the family of meerkats.
My travel buddy expressed his disappointment through his gas pedal foot on the way back and we experienced the courtesy of the Namibia Police force first hand. It took the combined pool of our Pula, about 600, to settle the ticket there at the roadside.
I wandered through some of the curio stalls in town because I do like to bring home something from every country that I visit, particularly a bathroom creature. My main bathroom is getting crowded with small carvings and artwork, one each of an animal from different places in the world that I’ve travelled.
I was a little disappointed to find that aside from the San crafts, which were limited to ostrich egg jewellery, there really wasn’t much local in the way of handcrafts. The stalls were full of imported carvings and weavings, which was a bit odd. I finally settled on a cardboard cut-out of a rhino that was being sold to fund conservation.
There was a theme of tin buckets and tubs offered for sale along the side of the roads. I didn’t see how I could pack one home or what I would do with one so I just admired.
Note to self: next time I take a once in a lifetime trip to Botswana, do a little more research. I came late into the planning of this adventure and scheduling left only a week in Botswana, which isn’t nearly enough. It will be well worth another trip, perhaps in the rainy season…
Maun to Windhoek
We left Maun for Gobabis, a town about halfway between the Namibia border and Windhoek early after four nights at the Old Bridge Backpackers.
There were three road blocks on the Botswana side of the border. One for decontamination and the other two were friendly information sessions on the possible dangers of driving in Botswana. The dangers were wildlife, sand and rough road related. All friendly and helpful but we had to argue hard against buying one of the fire extinguisher they had for sale.
The border crossing was as complicated as before; sign out of Botswana, sign into Namibia, many windows, and many lines that didn’t move very fast. Everyone was pleasant and helpful and it really didn’t take much longer than an hour to get through everything.
More straight, flat roads and bleak, desert landscapes but the road signs were entertaining. They got the idea across perfectly, especially the exclamation mark. I wasn’t the only one who thought so since they sell replicas in the souvenir shops in Windhoek.
Gobabis was just an overnight stop and I didn’t do much there except pull out some Namibian Dollars from an ATM. Namibia currency is the Namibia dollar but they use the South African Rand interchangeably since it’s kept at the same value.
I did experience the culinary joys of a Wimpy chicken burger while I was there and was entertained by the noisy parade with a band that went by on the street while I ate. That is, until I was told that it was actually a funeral procession.
We were off early the next day from a very nice B & B and on our way to Windhoek. Windhoek is a sprawled out little city with extensive roads. We didn’t really plan on any sightseeing there; it was more a stop for supplies as we were heading to Etosha National Park to camp for a week.
We stayed at the Rivendell Guest House, a very nice place within walking distance to downtown. The downtown area had bars, restaurants, grocery stores and lots of curio shops that I wandered through. I also felt it was necessary to have a Windhoek Lager when I was in Windhoek so I sat at a friendly little bar for an hour or so.
I pondered buying a sim card for my ipad so I could access cellular data but I read that there was no phone signal at our next camp so I didn’t bother.
That was a mistake. FYI, there is excellent cellular service in the main camps of Etosha, whereas wifi was not available at Halali or Namutoni. It’s not that I need to be online all the time, but I was still trying to book future accommodations as we were making this next part of our trip up as we went along.
I was noting by this stage of the trip, that there are cons as well as pros that go along with travelling with someone. The obvious pro was that I just wouldn’t be able to comfortably do a road trip like this on my own and plus, its really nice to have someone around to gape in awe at things with you and nod when you say things like “wow”.
My friend wasn’t interested in exploring shops and he’d rather have marmite on toast than go to a nice restaurant and he didn’t drink so he avoided pubs. He wasn’t interested in museums or history and he didn’t like to do things like horseback ride, boat, fish, dive, cycle or anything ‘touristy’.
Believe it or not, that did leave a lot of things that he and I both liked to do so I didn’t feel deprived in Namibia; we did and saw A LOT. There were just a lot of things that could have been done…
So, Windhoek was where we got camping supplies. He had brought a tent, sleeping bags, a little stove, a cute camping set of cups, bowls and pot, and one sleeping mat. We needed fuel for the little burner he had, a sleeping mat for me and food since we didn’t know what we could buy in the campground.
There are excellent shops in Windhoek for all your camping needs and we were soon set up but we saved the grocery shopping for a little further down the road.
So we headed to the next stop on our list, which was a place close to Waterberg Plateau National Park. Weavers Rock Guest Farm was an inspired choice and a beautiful and comfortable place to spend a couple of days.
The guest farm had lovely, duplex cabins with bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms that were set high enough up a rise that the whole Namibian landscape seemed to stretch off into forever. Amazing sunsets!
There were trails that could be hiked, one to a little lake and another up a hill that was a nice challenge but it was carefully marked and the panorama from the top was magnificent.
The Waterberg Plateau can be seen for miles and miles, rearing out of the plain with sandstone walls that reach over 400 meters (1200 feet). It has a very interesting history that you can read about here.
We took advantage of several of the 9 trails that are available for unguided hikers. The whole park is a sanctuary for wildlife and there are lots of birds as well. It’s funny how animals seem to know when they’re protected: the dik dik was so tame I could have petted it. Oh, they are tiny things.
It would have been worthwhile to take one of the guided trails further into the park or one of the game drives. Because it is so inaccessible to both predators and poachers, the park has been used as a sanctuary for endangered species with great success. The views and the wildlife on these outings is said to be magnificent. The little piece that I hiked certainly was.
You aren’t permitted to enter into Etosha National Park, either from the main gates or from a camp, before sunrise. Likewise, you must leave the park or return to camp before sunset so there is no set opening and closing times.
There was a short line at the Anderson Gate though we arrived well after dawn. Some members of a Himba tribe spend their days at the gate, in traditional costume (or lack thereof) and covered in red ochre, hoping to lure dollars out of tourists wanting their pictures taken with them.
I’m sorry but I just couldn’t. I don’t begrudge a person making some money but it just seemed a bit exploitive to me.
Etosha National Park is the best and most accessible game reserve in Namibia. The huge salt pan, over 4700km2 (1800 sq. miles), is the main feature and it’s surrounded by desert and open grasslands mixed with camel thorn and Mopani trees. And did I mention wildlife?
The road was paved from the gate to Okaukuejo Camp and thereafter, the roads are gravel, but easy enough to traverse in the stupid, little, yellow car. In dry season anyway, I think I would recommend something bigger and four-wheel drive for the rainy season even if I would never recommend the vehicle I was in in the first place.
It’s 56 kms (35 miles) from Okaukuejo camp to Halali camp, where we were camping for seven days. It took us hours to get there because we had to stop every time we saw an animal or a landscape or a cool tree or a bird and gawk and take pictures.
Halali Camp is in the middle of the park. If you ever plan a trip here, I suggest that you spread out your stay at different camps, perhaps a couple of days at Normatoni, a couple at Halali and a couple at Okuakuelo or even one of the camps further west. There is a lot of driving since the distances are huge but every drive was absolutely spectacular.
The camp sites look a bit like they’ve been plunked down in a parking lot under sparse trees; they are hard, dusty dirt in the dry season anyway but they were clean and they were in the middle of a magnificent place.
And to my utter delight, there was a family of honey badgers that roamed through the campground in the evenings looking for food. I saw honey badgers!! Super cool.
This was the first time that I saw truck tents, which are very popular. I would say that two out of three campers were so equipped. They set up and came down very quickly and the people that I talked to said that they were comfortable enough but very convenient for the type of camping to be found in Namibia.
The camp has a buffet restaurant that we tried that first evening. It was very good. They had a roast of game every night (I enjoyed eland and springbok while I was there) as well as some beef, pork or chicken, a salad bar and enough veggies to keep even me happy, and several desserts.
There is a store where one can buy simple necessities, water, ice, booze, canned goods, some frozen meat and some fresh veggies. They also sold souvenirs.
A short walk from the campsite was the waterhole, which had safe seating and lights for evening watching. It wasn’t always active but it didn’t often disappoint with nothing.
I was enchanted by the ghost trees that grew around the seating area and up the rocky rise behind it. I was just the opposite of enchanted by the idiots that felt they had to carve their names in them. Why do people do that?
Each day we started out in the car at dawn, lining up at the gates until they were opened. It was nice to be first since there was a lot of dust kicked behind a vehicle but it settled fairly quickly.
We would head in a different direction, driving slowly from one water hole to the next. No day was disappointing. Even if we didn’t see animals (that never happened), the pan itself was awe-inspiring.
The park is a popular destination for people from all over the world and it is necessary to book well in advance, especially in the high (dry) season but it never felt crowded like the Serengeti sometimes did. The waterholes would invariably have a vehicle or two at them but we sat for a long time, just on the side of a road, watching elephants or lions or cheetahs or rhinos with no one else around.
And once, we had to turn around because of a roadblock. The little, yellow car would have been no match for the herd of about thirty elephants. It was a long way around and since we were on our way back to camp at the end of a day, we had to hustle to make it to the gates before sunset.
Yes Etosha was amazing; truly a spectacular piece of the world.
Leaving it was the start of our introduction to C and D roads in Namibia. The letters go from A, being a major highway to F, being a goat trail.
To the Skeleton Coast
Our road turned from pavement to dusty gravel right at Kamanjab, which was about a two hour drive from the gates of Etosha, but we were fuelled by some excellent apple strudel that we got in Outjo as we passed through so we were up for it. We wouldn’t see pavement again for over a week.
The roads were very quiet and it was rare to see another vehicle but they could be seen for miles from the huge plumes of dust they kicked up.
We were meandering our way to Terrace Bay on the infamous Skeleton Coast. We were in no hurry so I had booked us a night each at opposite ends of the comfort spectrum at the campground and then the lodge run by the #Khoadi-//Hoas Conservatory.
The natives speak a click language which explains why it seems to be written in code. It is very interesting to listen to and impossible for me to imitate. It was mesmerizing to listen to songs in the language.
The Hoada (pronounced Waada) campsite is a campsite in a million. There are six sites, and I would call them luxurious, set amongst huge piles of boulders and the ever-present Mopani trees.
Each site is hidden from the next and has running water, a braii that also serves as a water heater, shower and bathroom. When we got there, baboons had been in the bathroom and had broken the lid of the toilet in a search for the water inside but they didn’t bother us at all while we were there.
We were allowed to walk on trails that ran into the wilderness from the camp and that was very welcome since it was rare that we were even allowed out of the car in Etosha.
The landscape was flat, with massive piles of boulders here and there and the plateau off in the distance. We saw signs of the desert elephants that roam the area but we didn’t see any that day.
The next day was one I was looking forward to after eight days of camping; I would be sleeping in a bed, in a room. And a spectacular one at that.
Twenty or so km along the road it wound up and up a pass through the tall, steep-sided plateaus. Our destination that night was the Grootberg Lodge, which was accessed from the pass between two of them.
The lodge sits high on top of the Etendeka Plateau and the road to it was far too daunting for the likes of a VW Up!. Fortunately, the lodge provides for guests that don’t show up in four wheel drive vehicles capable of tackling the steep, narrow trail from the road.
We left the vehicle in the capable hands of a caretaker in a covered parking area at the road and were taken up to the lodge in a land cruiser that was sent for us. It was a near vertical climb. All right that’s an exaggeration but it felt like it though the top was almost table flat.
There is a water hole by the path to the lodge, which was surrounded by baboons, oryx, and springbok when we drove by. We were early for check in so we were told we could walk back to the water hole while we waited.
I did wonder how the poor springbok that we could make out the carcass of had died and so I was watchful on the walk but we saw nothing scary, though there was a lot of wildlife.
The ground was covered in small rocks with little bits of brush and small trees here and there. It was a wonder that anything could survive there but all the creatures seemed to be plump and content.
The lodge is pretty wonderful. Check out the view off the deck.
I took a sundowner drive with several other guests that evening. It was a neat drive over a table-flat moonscape of rocks. The driver was entertaining and very knowledgeable of the area. He showed us a skeletal carcass left in a tree by a leopard and shallow depressions where the mountain zebras had kicked out the rocks and used as a dust bath.
I had wanted to see mountain zebras for years and this was my first sighting. They look cleaner than the plains variety because they don’t have the brown line in between the black ones and they have white bellies.
The sun went down over the Brandberg Plateau and it did a fine job of it. I had a Windhoek Lager as it set though, of course, gin and tonic was available.
My travel companion had had an adventure while I was gone. He was going to walk back along the road to the edge of the plateau and take pictures. He had been out for an hour when a truck came screeching up beside him and the wild-eyed driver told him to get in.
Two young, male lions had been looking for dinner and had brought down an orxy right by the water hole. He must have walked right by them. He likes to gloat about that.
There was a set menu for supper, which was included with the stay as well as breakfast. Supper that night was lamb, not my favourite, unfortunately, but it was served with mieliepap and you know how I love that.
*Mieliepap is a traditional native food made with maize flour and usually served with a sauce.
The sun rising on the walls of the valley was magical and each cabin had a front row seat. We were in no hurry to leave so we dawdled over breakfast and then caught a ride down the path to the car.
Our next stop was the Skeleton Coast. There is only one place to stay inside the Skeleton Coast Park and that was at Terrace Bay. We had to make sure to be at the gate of the park before 1500 or we wouldn’t have been allowed in but we arrived before noon.
This part of the country seemed to be pure desert, nothing but rocks, sand and dunes, so it was surprising to see the number of oryx and springbok that we did. The Skeleton Coast Park boasts quite a number of animal species, including lions.
There were only two other sets of people at Terrace Bay for the two days we were there and the staff was a bit confused that we had come all that way and weren’t going to fish. People come there for the amazing shore fishing but we were just looking for a couple of days of downtime and we found it in that bleak, beautiful place.
The road, though sand, was surprisingly hard and smooth and we were able to take the silly little car a bit further up the coast and on a loop of a dune trail. There was much evidence that people come there as much to run off road on the dunes as to fish though it is strictly forbidden in order to protect the fragile environment. It’s hard to tell if the restrictions are working because the desert holds evidence of passage for a long time. I read one perfectly readable scratching in the sand from 2013.
The restaurant had wonderful staff and the walls and ceiling were covered with notes from years worth of guests. I added my own note on a ceiling tile after the bartender gave me a sharpie and advised me to use the table to stand on, rather than a chair.
I was hoping to see some of the shipwrecks that give this part of the coast its name but there was no access to that part of the park. Well, there is but one would have had to book a stay at a private lodge that had permission to access the places where wrecks could be found. It is possible to view one wreck if one takes the road down the coast towards Walvis Bay but we were heading inland for our next stop.
We saw our first and only clouds at Terrace Bay and there was even a hint of rain but it wasn’t serious. We left in fog, which lifted to low clouds that held until we left the park, checking out with the gate guards as required.
We were heading to the rock carvings at Twyfelfontein and my companion had booked us our last campsite of the trip at Aba-Huab Campsite. This our first experience with a D road and it was rather teeth-jarring and the car had its belly scraped some more in the frequent places where the ruts got very deep.
I’m amazed that we got through the trip without a punctured tire. The proliferation of tire repair shops didn’t bode well and have you seen the size of the thorns on the trees?
The campsite was set beside a river that was dry when we were there but the trees along side it were among the biggest we had seen in the country. And the soft sand in the riverbed was littered with huge elephant tracks.
The desert elephants in Namibia seem to be very tall though that may just because they aren’t as bulky as other elephants but they do have big feet. And they make very big footprints.
My travelling companion was absolutely disgusted by the staff and facilities of this campsite. We were supposed to stay there two nights but he had us packed up first thing the next morning and we carried on to Brandberg as soon as we had explored the rock carvings at Twyfelfontein.
Twyfelfontein (or /Ui-//aes in the Damara/Nama language) is a Unesco world Heritage site for the collection of ancient petroglyphs. I expected an area where there is as many as 5000 individual rock carvings to be huge but the whole site is less than 1km2 (about .5 mile2).
There is a visitor center on site with a small store and information gallery. The trails to the carvings are well marked and not too strenuous for anyone of basic fitness.
The Stone Age carvings were made by groups who used the area as a place of worship. The carvings and paintings were the result of shamanistic rituals. When you look at the carvings, and especially if you make use of one of the knowledgeable guides, you can see that the animals depicted have been given human qualities so they aren’t animals so much as animal spirits.
It’s very interesting to see our past and especially in a stark landscape with surprisingly few people around. And I’m happy to report that the carvings are protected so idiots can’t deface them.
The Organ Pipes… Well, they were a neat geographical feature and I would say that they are not exactly a tourist destination but there are a lot of people on Trip Advisor who disagree with me.
Mount Brandberg Nature Reserve
Uis was the next stop. I managed to say Uis a lot and I’ll still come with an excuse to because I love the way it sounds.
The Brandberg Rest Camp Lodge (in Uis) is an excellent place to see the famous White Lady from. Uis is a tiny little place that you can from walk end to end in less than 30 minutes but there was a supermarket (which was closed on Sunday), a gas station (where the only ATM, aside from the one in the closed supermarket, wasn’t working), and a nice little café aside from the good food available at the lodge.
The Brandberg Nature Reserve (take a look at it on Google Maps) is set all by itself, south of the plateaus that the Grootberg Lodge was set on. It has the highest point in Namibia at 2574 meters (about 8500 feet) and the iconic White Lady who isn’t a lady at all.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been accused of not being much of a lady myself sometimes but the picture really does depict a man, a shaman in fact. A French anthropologist misinterpreted it shortly after a German explorer discovered it in 1929.
In spite of it being understood for decades that the figure painted amongst the oryx is a man, it is still referred to as the white lady. S/he is about 2000 years old and to see this and other paintings, you must be guided on a 30-60 minute walk along a (mostly) dry riverbed.
The walk is nice with the possibility of seeing desert elephants but you aren’t permitted to bring any water or liquid close to the paintings because idiots in the past would pour their drinks on the painted rock to make the colours stand out.
Again I ask, why do people do that? I can understand a desire to touch something that was made by hands thousands of years ago but to destroy it…?
For a few dollars more, we were guided to another set of paintings, a further ten-minute walk away. This part was a climb but not a hard one.
The guide that took us was, as at Twyfelfontein, one of a pool that was available during opening hours however, here, you weren’t permitted to enter the park on your own. The price of admission necessarily included the guide and it seemed a very small price to pay even with the little bit extra we paid to be taken to another site.
At this point on the trip, we had definitely finished camping. My companion had brought a tent from the UK but it was old and he didn’t want to bring it back. I had also purchased a nice sleeping mat that I didn’t need anymore and listening to our guide talk about the three-day hikes he guided to the top of Konigstein, the highest peak and we agreed that he seemed a worthy recipient of our unneeded gear.
He was thrilled! The set-up of the tent is not exactly intuitive so he was given a demonstration in front of the visitor center when we returned. The audience included all the unoccupied guides and the curio sellers but fortunately for my friend’s pride, it had been put up and taken down several times lately so it didn’t take long to get it up.
Next on our itinerary were sand dunes but first, I insisted on a day at Walvis Bay. You probably won’t remember that when I took the Rovos Rail train from Pretoria to Cape town, the cabin I was in was called the Walvis Bay. Of course I had to go there!
We left Uis on yet another fine morning and made a beeline for the coast. Really, the road is pretty much that straight and oh joy, we hit paved roads for the first time in weeks.
We passed the colourful beach resort of Jakkalsputz (yes really!) on the way to Swakopmund where we stopped for lunch and picked up more memory cards for our cameras.
I didn’t really have any plans for Walvis Bay; I just wanted to go there. I convinced my tight-fisted companion to have supper at The Raft, a nice restaurant/bar set on pilings over the water of the bay but other than admiring the flamingos which could be found in the bird sanctuary and hanging out on a sandbar just off one of the beaches, we just rested.
On our way out of town the next day though, we stopped and climbed Dune 7. That was my very first dune assent and it was a good one to start with.
The height and the slope wouldn’t have been a challenge except for the very soft sand that the dune was made from. I seemed to slide back down almost as much as I stepped up which made it a very good workout.
The view from the top went on forever though it was a cloudy morning. I walked the ridge along the top for a bit, marring the sharpness of it, but it wouldn’t take the wind long to blow my foot steps out.
And going down? Fun! I ran full tilt down the steep slope, giggling like a maniac.
We scheduled three days to stay in a lodge close to Sesriem, the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the Namib Desert.
The road turned to gravel soon out of Walvis Bay and after a long stretch of straight, it wound its way through a series of rocky hills and canyons. Very pretty.
Solitaire is a stopping point more than a town. We ran across a few of these places that seemed only to be there to provide fuel, food, toilets and souvenirs for travelers.
And some places that were a little optimistic:
There were quite a few people stopped there including a girl in here early twenties who was walking around with a selfie stick. She seemed to be barely aware of her surroundings as she walked around, with arm outstretched, giving coy, sideways smiles to her phone’s camera.
Our home for three days was Weltevrede Guest Farm and aside from it being an hour’s drive over rough roads to the gate at Sesriem, it was a great place. There was a spotted eagle owl that spent time hooting softly in the tree outside the cabin and I saw a pygmy falcon catch, and then fly clumsily away with, a bird almost as big as it was.
My friend takes his photography very seriously and so we were up before dawn to be at the gates at Sesriem as soon as they opened. Pictures of dunes are best in the early morning light, don’t you know, so we bumped along the rough road, in the dark, risking collisions with antelopes, to be at the gates for the 06hr30 sunrise.
If you were prepared enough to book accommodation inside the park gates, you were permitted to head off to the Sussusvlei dunes one hour before dawn. Obviously, we weren’t that prepared so we waited outside the gates with a line of other vehicles until the guard determined that the sun was up.
The line of vehicles then began a race to get to Sossusvlei, 65 km away. Sossusvlei is a combined word that comes from the Nama ‘sossus’ which means roughly dead end and the Afrikaans ‘vlei’ which is marsh, so; ‘dead end marsh’. It’s a white, salt and clay pan that is surrounded by huge, red dunes and it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Namibia.
The road is nicely paved so most vehicles somewhat exceeded the 60 kph speed limit in their urgency to get to the premium picture taking spots while the sun was still low enough to cast the shadows that give the best pictures of the dunes.
The last five kms of the road that ends at Big Daddy and the Dead Vlei is deep, soft sand and not to be attempted by a little yellow car or indeed any vehicle that wasn’t capable of full four-wheel drive as a couple of people found out.
Fortunately, there is a ferry service from the parking lot at the end of the paved road to the parking lot at the end of the sand road. The Land Cruisers were well driven and getting there was almost half the fun.
The Dead Vlei was our first destination. We ignored the stream of people who were walking up the ridge of Big Daddy from the parking area and we crossed a couple of shallow dunes. And there we found the white pan with scattered, fossilized camel thorn trees, surrounded by tall, red dunes under a bright blue sky. It is all its hyped up to be, as you can see.
The dune, Big Daddy, even at a whopping 325 meters (1066 feet) isn’t the tallest dune in Namibia. That honour belongs to the elegantly and confusingly named Dune 7 (not to be mistaken for the Dune 7 outside of Walvis Bay).
We had sidestepped the relatively shallow approach along the ridgeline of Big Daddy by heading straight to the Dead Vlei but I thought a side assault wouldn’t be that difficult.
It was difficult. Many, many panting stops and starts later, I reached the top. Great view and quite a sense of accomplishment but I didn’t consider that, by coming up the side, I was going to be fighting people who were coming up the ridge when I went to walk back down to the parking lot.
That might not make sense but the top of the dune is a ridge that the wind is constantly forming as it blows the sand. The dune drops off sharply on either side of the ridge so the most stable place to walk is in single file, right along it.
I met maybe twenty people and not one of them would move off the top so I had to step carefully down the steep side to let them pass. One person said thank you and it wasn’t the girl with the selfie stick that I had noticed in Solitaire, but she was still smiling vapidly into her phone and maybe not even aware of me. Or her surroundings.
Once the slope got a little less crazily steep, I leaped off the ridge and ran down the side, past a panama type hat that someone lost and didn’t dare retrieve. Yes, I was giggling like an idiot again.
It’s a surreal experience being among these huge dunes. I climbed Dune 45, which isn’t as tall but it’s accessible and very popular. It was very windy that day and the sand was whipped up around me as I climbed and I seemed in danger of being pushed off the ridge. It was worth it though, just to stand at the summit and watch as my footprints disappeared as the wind quickly replaced the sand into an unbroken peak.
I sent the car screeching to a halt when I recognised some fairy circles at the side of the road. I hiked a few hundred meters off the road to stand in one, scaring off a small herd of oryx (I like saying oryx too) in the process. I didn’t see any fairies but how often does a person get to stand in a fairy circle?
I saw more fairy circles when I climbed the Elim Dune. That was pretty wonderful. There was nobody there except for a couple of oryx and I had a grand time climbing and climbing, trying to get to a definite top but there didn’t seem to be one which was fine too.
I learned the advantage of leaving sand footprints when I misplaced my lens cap at one point. It was just a matter of following them back and there it was.
Definitely a place worth experiencing.
The next stop was about the same distance away from Sesriem but on the other side and it was my pick. A winery. In the desert of Namibia. Who would have figured on such a thing?
If you ask the Google oracle about wineries in Namibia, once it has finished snickering at the idea, it will come up with the Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate.
Neuras means ‘place of abandoned water’ in the native, Koikoi language. There are several springs on the property, surrounded by trees, hanging with very neat weaver bird nests, that provide the necessary water to the vines.
The estate has a history dating back to the late 1800’s when the area was a German protectorate. The couple that bought the estate in the mid 90’s were intrigued when they found old, old grape vines on the property and decided to try their hand at wine.
I took a tour of the winery. It isn’t very big but it was interesting, partly because it was small and mostly done by hand. And the wine is very good though I am only an enjoyer of wine and not a connoisseur. I brought one bottle, of the 3000 a year that the winery produces, home with me.
It was a very nice place to spend a day and night, even though I was travelling with a person who disapproves of drinking and managed to make a snide remark or a disgusted noise whenever I opened a beer or had a glass of wine.
I know! He picked the wrong person to travel with but he is a nice enough fellow otherwise.
The food that they served was very good (and went well with the wine I had with it) and the rooms were lovely. By the way, that thing in the room, that you can’t figure out? It’s to hold the curtains back.
Luderitz and Kolmanskop
Luderitz was a destination not for itself but rather for its proximity to the abandoned town of Kolmanskop.
Kolmanskop was a bustling little town that was built just a few miles outside of Luderitz as the result of a diamond strike. When the diamonds petered out, the town was abandoned and the sand started taking over. It is eerie to stand amid the houses that look like they could be lived in again tomorrow if it weren’t for the sand filling up the rooms.
The afternoon before, we got a permit to be there before the official opening, and there was no one around as dawn arrived, adding to the otherworldliness of it. I didn’t feel a need to take pictures in every single building as my friend did, so I spent most of the morning in the big, central building that was once a community hall and is now a museum with shop and café in it.
I was wandering through the rooms (this building is kept sand-free) when I found myself back-stage, behind the closed curtains. I pushed the curtain aside and, in the second it took me to realize that the brown hyena in front of me was stuffed, I had the bejeebers scared right out of me.
Brown hyenas are native to the area and are protected. I only saw this sign on the road to Luderitz.
Luderitz was nice; it’s tiny, it has a quirkiness about it in the architecture and it’s right on the ocean. We showed up on a Saturday afternoon and everything seems to shut down on Sundays in Namibia so I missed the chance to do a perusal of the many little shops.
It also has a nice, and a not-nice dose of history. What is now a campground on Shark Island, run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, was once a concentration camp operated by the Germans in the early 1900’s. Many thousands of natives died there as a result of forced labour and horrific conditions.
The Protea Hotel was an unusual choice, as we hadn’t stayed in a traditional hotel for the entire trip. I don’t have a problem with hotels since it’s nice for me to have a bit of anonymity that you can’t find in a B&B or a guest lodge. And this one provided some entertainment as well.
The room was pre-booked and pre-paid for but that didn’t stop the front desk from ringing the room at 2230 (10:30 pm) one night to demand that we come down and pay for it right-now! We didn’t.
And the restaurant… It has a wonderful menu, which we contemplated carefully only to be told by the waitress – when we ordered, mind, not when we were given the menu – that the only item available was the fish. I had the fish.
There was a nice beach close-by but the highlight of that drive was going past the sewage treatment area. The fields were bright green with grass and plant life and there was a whole menagerie of antelope and birds taking advantage of the greenery. Funny that I don’t see that mentioned in the tourist brochures…
To Quiver trees
Since it’s a one way road to get to Luderitz, we had to backtrack along it to get to our next destination. The SAND sign warns of sand drifts that grow across the road when it’s windy. It would not be fun to hit a fully-grown sand drift in a little yellow car so we were cautious but we only encountered light dustings on our passage.
We were heading to Quiver Tree Forest Rest Camp, which is set on the Gariganus Farm outside of Keetmanshoop. What a great place that is. They have traditional rooms but they also have several igloo-like structures that are set up inside with beds, kitchen and bath. Of course we stayed in an igloo. It was appealingly eccentric but very comfortable. That is, once the branch that was scraping relentlessly against it in the wind, was broken back.
This was one of the residents there and there were dogs everywhere, which I strongly approve of.
They had also rescued a couple of cheetah and they were kept in large fenced areas surrounding the main camp. No, not cruel to take them in since they couldn’t be put back in the wild. They were obviously loved and they had the best life they could have. In my humble opinion.
There is a large, glorious quiver tree forest a very short walk behind the main buildings and right beside the campground. Aloe dichotoma is a large, beautiful aloe species that are called quiver trees because the San Bushmen would hollow out the branches to make quivers for their arrows.
The walk to the trees took me past a group of the farm’s cows with new calves. They were quite cranky if you tried to approach but the calves were adorable as were the oh-so-curious little black foals in a corral beside.
There is a ground squirrel colony on the way as well, which was a consolation prize as I was hoping to see meerkats but I was told that they didn’t approach the house like they once did.
I also saw a yellow mongoose, which made me stupidly happy. I’ve wanted a mongoose ever since I was a little person when I read of one in a story.
The area that is owned by the family is quite unique. We also ventured to their Giant’s Playground, which is a few kms down the road. It really does look like some humongous children were playing with boulders and there are more quiver trees interspersed throughout, making for great, otherworldly landscapes, especially on a setting sun.
Fish River Canyon to trip end
One can’t be in that neck of Namibia and not take the time to visit Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa and, apparently, the second largest in the world after that little, ol’ one in Arizona.
The drive to the lookout takes you through the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and I was gifted with new road signs, unique to the park. The roads were little-yellow-car navigable but only up to the public viewpoint. Thereafter one would need 4 wd.
One can’t descend into the canyon unless a permit is purchased and the trek is guided. It’s a three day trek and I would have loved to do it but… Ah well, next time.
My friend had booked a place for that night…somewhere. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day as well as the border into South Africa to get through, PLUS a time change of an hour so it would have been wise to book a place further along the road.
It turned out that it would have been an hour drive back to get to the booked place so we cancelled it and drove on to Karasburg, hoping that we could find a place to stay the night.
We found the Zebra B&B. If you’re ever in Karasburg and you need a place to stay, I highly recommend it but I don’t really recommend Karasburg as a destination.
The border crossing was interesting. We signed out of Namibia at Ariamsvlei and we travelled many kms to Nakop where we checked in to South Africa. I had never encountered the posts at one border crossing so far apart before.
We settled for the night outside of Kimberly. Yes I was back in the place of the Big Hole and lesser flamingos and I was happy to be there.
My friend had booked a room 10 km outside of town at the Langberg Guest Lodge. It is a working game farm and the corral across from reception had herds that varied between sable and springbok and Cape buffalo. This is the view from the back window of my room.
As you know, I had been in Kimberley before but I was happy to see the Big Hole again and I also took the time to see the local art gallery and museum.
Note to self: don’t ever go to an art gallery with an artist unless you wish to endure eye rolling, tsking and head-shaking. Okay, maybe it was just that particular artist who behaves that way; I don’t know a lot of artists.
I know the huge flocks of lesser flamingos on the Kamfer’s Dam are worth seeing but I saw them from the Rovos Rail train, which stopped so we could look and take pictures (like this one!).
Trying to get to see them when you’re driving through is more difficult, especially when one of us wouldn’t ask for directions and we couldn’t get close in the car.
One last big drive to Johannesburg and that was the end of the odyssey. We stayed at a B&B very close to the airport. The couple had made several tiny rooms around their pool and they were very friendly.
Very friendly. But it was only one night and there was a pizza place close by. My pizza and Windhoek Lager were not ruined a bit by more eye rolling, tsking and head shaking from my friend because a group of young people had the audacity to be having a noisy good time at the table behind us. Obviously, he had spent too much time in the wilderness.
So that was my Kalahari Desert experience featuring Botswana and Namibia. Any questions?