Car-trekking in Africa - Namibia's grand canyon, dunes, desert and, of course, a safari
Tourism has a lot to answer for. As soon as you read about a great road trip you can guarantee that thousands of others have read it too and are packing their bags and packing their cars. But here’s one for the more adventurous, how about revving it up in Namibia?
Namibia is a country of contrasts - on one side is the Kalahari Desert, on the other, the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This southern African nation, bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the east and Angola to the north, has the great advantage of having slipped under the tourist radar so that even in high season you’re unlikely to encounter a horde of foreigners at even the most popular sights.
Start at the regal Fishriver Canyon in the south, second only to the USA’s Grand Canyon in size. At 160km by 27km, with sheer walls at a height of 150m, its awe-inspiring geography is testament to the rugged beauty that exploring Africa can reveal. There are several lookouts accessible by car along the canyon where you’ll see boulders scattered around the Fish River’s shining, snakelike form.
Away from the canyon, head northwest towards the desert. All of Namibia’s main roads are paved but many of its secondary roads are unsealed. Most are in good condition, but you’ll need to ensure you have a solid off road vehicle, especially as the next part involves a lot of sand dunes.
Along the coast there are some quirky places that are worth visiting. One is Luderitz, a township of vivid houses modelled on a Bavarian village, a remnant from the days when Namibia was a German colony, and the other is Spergebiet, an eerie, partially intact ghost mining town abandoned in the 1950s.
Heading north you’ll enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the road leads to Sossusvlei, a pan crowded by red sand dunes that usually serves as a base for treks into the desert. The most amazing sight is the surreal Dead Vlei, a shimmering white pan, ringed by red dunes, sprouting gnarled, barren trees, which is a few hours hike from Sossusvlei.
Further inland is Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, set in a pleasant valley cornered by two mountain ranges. Then to the north enter Etosha National Park for a bit of a wildlife safari - you wouldn’t come to Africa without that promise, would you? Peppered with waterholes, Etosha offers the best opportunity to view animals in their natural habitat and in the cool shoulders of the day - dawn and dusk - you have a pretty good chance of spying giraffes, zebras, ostriches, wildebeests, elephants, rhinos, warthogs, jackals, several species of buck and a range of big cats.
Namibia is not for road trippers addicted to cruise control but its untamed beauty will appeal to those with a yen for genuine adventure. If you’re after a rough ride, get on board.
Namibia Tourism Board: www.namibiatourism.com.na
Namibia Wildlife Resorts: www.nwr.com.na
Namibia Community Based Tourism Association: www.nacobta.com.na