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Namibia self-drive trip report

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We recently got back from a one-week selfdrive in Namibia. Me, my wife and friends of ours with their 14-month old daughter Lisa went in a VW

Caravelle (8-seat bus, 2WD). The route was Windhoek-Omaruru-Damaraland-Swakopmund-Sossusvlei-Windhoek, about 2000 km mostly gravel road. We

used Cardboard Box to help us with the itinerary and lodge selection and were very happy with them.

All of us, except for Lisa maybe, loved Namibia and found it to be a very beautiful country. It's easy to travel independently and self-drive

is the way to go if you ask me. True, the distances are long, but the landscape is very scenic, and the roads are generally in very good

condition. If you don't drive at least part of the way, you won't see Namibia. Namibia is about vastness, and that is best experienced when

traveling by car.


The first place we stayed at was the Erongo Wilderness Lodge, which was a fantastic place in a wonderful setting. Huge funny-shaped rocks,

boulders and vast plains. The lodge consists of about 10 luxury permanent tents with beautiful bathrooms. The pool was a highlight. After

relaxing by the pool we went on a sundowner walk, which was a light climb up a hill where you have a magnificent view of the surrounding

mountains and plains. The next morning two of us went on a nature hike, which lasted about 2½ hours. Our guide was knowledgable and friendly.

I can highly recommend doing that hike, to get an understanding of the geology and biology of the place.

We only stayed one night at Erongo (one more night would have been great) so we left late morning after a good breakfast, heading to Palmwag

in Damaraland. Rather than going the larger tar roads we decided to zig-zag our way to Palmwag on gravel roads, to better see the landscape. I

think it was a very good choice, but we were a bit unlucky as we changed drivers to our least experienced driver just before we crossed a

dried-up river bed with some loose sand. We got stuck. Not badly, but we couldn't move forward. We put the car in reverse and started pushing,

and after just a minute people started emerging from the trees on the river bank. With a few more hands it was no problem to get out of the

loose sand and back up far enough to be able to pick up enough speed before going through the difficult area again.

It was very interesting how this seemingly desolate place actually was inhabited, and all along the road to Palmwag we saw a few people here

and there. It was very beautiful and if you're the least adventurous, go gravel. The 14-month old girl we brought along weren't as excited

about the landscape as the rest of us, but she mostly put up with the driving and the road conditions. It was only when we crossed riverbeds

at speed that she protested.

In Damaraland we stayed at the Palwag Lodge, selected as it's in a reserve where there is black rhino. We stayed two nights and did a full day

safari with guide (about NAD 800/person). Damaraland is very beautiful, and you shouldn't miss a 4WD safari. It was a bumpy ride, since we

drove on tracks, but that was part of the attraction. We met other cars at a waterhole and a river canyon, but apart from that we were alone

all day. We saw 2 black rhino, lots of oryx, a huge herd of springbok, elephants, a giraffe, zebras, ostriches, a jackal, a hyena and more.

It's amazing how they can live with so little water!

The Palmwag Lodge is good, but lacks the charm of the Erongo Wilderness Lodge. The food was very good though and each night you got to choose

from two appetizers and two main courses, both of which were excellent.

From Palmwag we drove westwards, to the Skeleton Coast. Palmwag is arid, no doubt about that, but it gradually got drier as we got closer to

the coast and about at the entrance of the park we decided that we had officially entered the desert. A while after passing the gates we

noticed that the car was a bit difficult to control, but didn't think much of it. When we stopped a few minutes later, for a photo session in

the black and yellow desert (two types of sand mixing with each other, really cool!) we noticed we had a flat tyre. Neither of us was

experienced in changing tyres, and the spare was really difficult to release from its place (I would suggest that you check that before

heading out in the desert if you're renting a car, we didn't). Anyway, during the 45 minutes it tooks us to change it, two cars passed us. We

decided not to stop them as we felt things were more or less under control. We did drive a bit more carefully after that, as one more flat

would have been difficult to fix.

The road down along the Skeleton Coast is scenic, in a strange way. It's just desert for kilometer after kilometer, but it's really awesome.

The sand changes color from white to red, to yellow, to yellow-and-black and back to white again. We stopped at one of the few places where

you're actually allowed to leave the road and drive up on top of the dunes on the ocean-side of the road. We were happy to find a shipwreck

there and went down to the beach to explore it. Imagine being shipwrecked here, feeling lucky because you survived and was able to get to the

shore, only to find yourself in a desert with no water and no food. We had lunch on top of the dunes, watching the wreck and thinking about

the less fortunate people who arrived to this spot not in a car, but on a ship.

The drive from Palmwag to Swakopmund was long, but no problem to do in a day as long as you start fairly early. The road was very good and we

drove at 80-100 km/h most of the time. We had time enough to stop for seal viewing and a cup of coffee at Cape Cross.

Swakopmund may not be the most interesting place in the world, but it does have a charm of sorts. Lots of people of German descent live there,

and we went to the Brauhaus restaurant for beer, pork and sauerkraut! The attraction of Swakopmund is the activities you can do there. We

decided we wanted to do downhill dune skiing. The Sophia Dale Restcamp organizes skiing down the dunes, using regular slalom skis

(www.sophiadale.com). You strap on the boots and put the skiis on your shoulder, then you have to climb the dune, which takes 10 minutes (no

lifts, sorry). The view from the top is great and when you've caught your breath you go downhill. It's the same technique as skiing in snow,

but if you make too wide turns you lose speed immediately. Lots of fun!

After skiing we headed towards Sossusvlei, passing through some very scenic landscape (again!). We made a stop at Solitaire, which is an odd

place with a Wild West feel to it. A gas station, a run-down café and a very nice lodge (with a swimming pool) in the middle of the nowhere.

It wasn't until seven that we reached our destination, the Kulala Desert Lodge, which was the most beautiful of the places we stayed at in

Namibia. It was also the most expensive one, but on the recommendation of Cardboard Box Travel we booked one night Dinner, Bed & Breakfast and

one night fully inclusive. This way we could participate in activities free of charge, but not pay the full price two nights. The rooms were

very beautiful, the views breathtaking, the food excellent and the staff was very helpful. Laundry is included when you're on the all-

inclusive rate by the way. Hand in as much as you wish, except for undies which they don't do.

The big attraction in this area is the dunes at Sossusvlei of course. We left early morning (without Lisa, one of the lodge employees babysat

her while we went to the dunes), but not super-early so there were a number of people there when we reached the dunes, which didn't really

matter in my opinion. We climbed Big Daddy, which is the tallest dune. It took more than one hour, but it was well worth it. The views from

the top were magnificent. Perhaps the best part was running down the side of the dune, to Dead Vlei. It was so much fun running at full speed

- try it! Whatever you do, don't miss the dunes when in Namibia.

Unfortunately that was our last stop before heading back to Windhoek, to leave Namibia. We had a great time and really loved Namibia. We felt

that our route was good, although the leg from Palmwag to Windhoek was a bit long, especially when traveling with a 14-month girl. However, it

was really cool to experience the extreme nature along the Skeleton Coast and I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.

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