From South Africa
Driving to Namibia from South Africa is possible, and there's an excellent road network for all in-country tourist attractions, but be warned that the trip is tiring and time-consuming because of the huge distances involved. The Trans-Kalahari Highway links Johannesburg to Windhoek and Gaborone. From Johannesburg to Windhoek on this road it's 1,426 km (884 miles). To allow free access to game, there are no fences in the Kalahari, so don't speed, and look out for antelope as well as donkeys and cows on the road. You can also drive from Johannesburg to Windhoek (1,791 km [1,110 miles]) via Upington, going through the Narochas (Nakop) border post (open 24 hours). This is a good route if you want to visit the Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa first. You can also drive from Cape Town to Namibia along the N7, an excellent road that becomes the B1 as you cross into Namibia at the Noordoewer border post (open 24 hours). It's 763 km (473 miles) from Cape Town to Noordoewer, 795 km (493 miles) from Noordoewer to Windhoek. Border posts are efficient and friendly. Make sure you have all your paperwork to hand over—you’ll need a current international driver's license.
Coming from Botswana, Namibia is entered at the Buitepos on the Trans-Kalahari Highway if coming from Gabarone, or through Ngoma on the Caprivi Strip if coming from the Okavango Delta. Border posts aren’t open 24 hours, and opening times should be confirmed before traveling. Cross-border charges (CBCs) must be paid by all foreign-registered vehicles entering Namibia, and cost about N$220 per vehicle (more for buses and motor homes). Tourists driving a rental car must also pay the CBC and will receive a CBC certificate for every entry into Namibia.
To Etosha National Park
You can drive from Windhoek, via Otjiwarongo and Tsumeb, and arrive at the park on its eastern side by the Von Lindequist Gate, 106 km (66 miles) from Tsumeb and 550 km (341 miles) north of Windhoek. Alternatively, you can drive from Windhoek via Otjiwarongo and Outjo and come in the Anderson Gate, south of Okaukuejo, 120 km (74½ miles) from Outjo, 450 km (279 miles) north of Windhoek. The latter is the more popular route. The newest option is to drive through Kamanjab to access the park’s recently opened western side through the Galton Gate, 476 km (296 miles) north of Windhoek. All three drives are long, hot, and dusty, so you might want to fly to your camp's landing strip if you're short on time. Travel time will depend on your driving and choice of vehicle, so check with your car-rental company.
If you're not staying at a private lodge in Etosha that provides transportation, you’ll need to rent a vehicle. Air-conditioning is a must at any time of the year, as are spare tires in good condition. You can pick up rental cars at the town nearest whichever park you’re visiting or at Etosha itself, but it's better to book them before you leave home. For driving on the main roads, a two-wheel-drive vehicle is fine. In some areas, though, including parts of the Namib-Naukluft Park and Damaraland, four-wheel drive is essential. In Etosha a two-wheel-drive car is fine; don't exceed the speed limit of 60 kph (37 mph). Always check the state of the roads with the nearest tourist office before you set off, and never underestimate the long distances involved. Don't drive at night unless you absolutely have to. Roads are unlighted, and animals like to bed down on the warm surfaces. If you hit an animal, even a small one, it could be the end of you and your vehicle, not to mention the critter. Don't speed on gravel roads. It's very easy to skid or roll your vehicle—at least one tourist per year dies this way. Don't drive off marked roads: Namibia's "empty" landscapes are incredible fragile habitats that cars can scar for hundreds of years. Make sure you have plenty of water and padkos, Afrikaans for "road food." Try out the ubiquitous biltong, Namibia’s upgraded version of jerky. Finally, keep in mind that gas stations sometimes only accept cash and can be few and far between.
Automobile Association of Namibia (AAN). Windhoek, Khomas. 061/224–201; www.aa-namibia.com.