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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Namibia.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Namibia.
Etosha had been magical for elephants. In this vast national park, l’d watched a herd play boisterously at Okaukuejo waterhole, just a short walk from my chalet.
And, while driving the park’s easily navigable roads, l’d come across a big white bull, his skin temporarily bleached after a dust-bath in the pan’s salty clay soil. But now I was off to look for a more elusive kind of animal.
I drove west to Damaraland, easily one of Namibia’s most scenic regions. Outside the window lay an untamed wilderness of boulder-strewn plains and massive sandstone outcrops. It seemed empty, lifeless. But remarkably this region sustains a small but wide-ranging population of desert-adapted elephant able to survive the harshness of this sun-blistered, almost waterless land.
Herds are frequently seen around Damaraland’s Aba-Huab riverbed – which is nearly always dry – and at the Aba-Huab’s charming community-run campsite I noticed piles of dung. “Yesterday,” came the reply when 1 asked how fresh it was. The elephants, which can smell water, have even been known to destroy the camp’s reed shower-blocks in search for sustenance.
Even so, I still felt hugely privileged when a family of eight decided to visit while 1 was there. I watched from the sandy stoop outside my tent as they ambled up the riverbed to a clump of gnarled camelthorn trees. Tinged rich ochre by the Damaraland sand, they stretched their trunks to pluck a few mouthfuls of crunchy dry leaves from the unforgiving thorns. Mesmerised I watched as they slowly, very slowly, moved away up the red-hued valley. Their brows looked furrowed, perhaps concentrating on where they were heading next – another bunch of lonely trees, the next place to drink.
Damaraland is a timeless place that exudes wildness and utter peace. Watching these incredible elephants made me realise that some environments are so uncompromising that they transform those who inhabit them – and leave a lasting impression on those, like me, just passing through to another of Namibia’s landscapes, to another adventure.
Because whether it’s wildlife, scenery, culture or more pulse-raising activities, Namibia offers visitors whatever sort of trip they may be seeking – which might explain why Wanderlust readers voted it their Top Country. Although those astonishing eles probably do have quite a lot to do with it…
Population: 2.2 million
Foreign visitors per year: 1.2 million
Languages: English (official), Afrikaans, German, numerous indigenous languages
Major industry: mining (diamonds, uranium, gold, base metals)
Unit of currency: Namibian dollar (N$)
Cost index: bottle of Windhoek Lager N$6.50 (US$0.61), campsite per person N$150 (US$14), safari lodge double N$1000 (US$95), balloon safari per person N$4000 (US$375)
The golden sands of Namibia turned silver in 2015, celebrating its 25th anniversary of independence. And with memories of the country’s birth still fresh in many minds, expect the celebrations to be widespread and long lasting. There is more for you to enjoy in this year than just a landmark birthday, though – the country, home to inspiring desert and mountain landscapes, wildlife and people, is now more rewarding than ever thanks to its ground-breaking progress in sustainable development through conservation and tourism. Already the first African country to include the protection of its environment within its constitution (one of a few in the world to do so), Namibia also empowers local and indigenous cornmu nities to contribute to conservation efforts and ensures that they receive an equitable distribution of the tourism proceeds relating to them.
As a result, almost an eighth of Namibians are currently taking part, leading to registered conservancies covering more than 18% of the country’s landmass. This, in addition to the 19% of Namibia that is protected as part of a national park or reserve, is playing a major role in the nation’s conservation successes – it now hosts the world’s largest numbers of black rhino and cheetah, and, unlike anywhere else on the continent, the populations and range of lions and giraffes are expanding.
With stories of poaching and habitat loss elsewhere in Africa dominating the news, word of Namibia’s wildlife conservation successes hasn’t yet gained too much traction. That won’t last for long, however, so take advantage this year and explore it before you have to share it.
Musicians, dancers, poets and artists from many of Namibia’s cultural groups are on show at Windhoek’s /AE//Gams Art and Cultural Festival at the end of March.
In April the Capital erupts with live music, dancing and slapstick comedy at the Windhoek Karneval.
The Herero people of Okahandja commemorate Maherero Day (Heroes’ Day) in late August with a procession through town. The vibrant traditional garb is a sight to see.
Climb to the top of a sky-scraping red sand dune at Sossusvlei in the early hours and witness the day’s first light seemingly set the desert landscape on fire. You’ll need to stay within Namib-Naukluft National Park at either Sesriem Camp Site or Sossus Dune Lodge, the only two accommodations that allow pre-dawn access to the site.
Sleepless nights are a good thing. Well, in Etosha National Park anyway. Sit up into the wee hours at one of the park’s three floodlit waterholes and be enthralled by the natural night-time theatrics of safari’s big-name game.
Experience the sheer beauty and drama of the Skeleton Coast and its wildlife (both aquatic and terrestrial) on a low-altitude flight safari.
Self-drive safaris. With evocative landscapes, empty roads and world-class wildlife, Namibia is simply the best place in Africa to get behind the wheel and explore. And with the western section of Etosha National Park recently opening up to self-drivers, there is more to see in 2015 than ever.
Oil. How will the development of recently discovered offshore deposits shape the country’s coast and its economy?
Beetles, lizards, spiders and various plants in the depths of the Namib Desert collect their drinking water by ingeniously condensing fog on their extremities.
The golden wheel spider escapes its predators in the desert by cartwheeling down dunes at a remarkable 2600 revolutions per minute.
Although its remote shores are adorned with half-buried, bleached whale skeletons, the Skeleton Coast actually received its name due to its reputation for sinking ships, and the deadly environment that awaited the survivors.
Kolmanskop, once a booming diamond-mining town – complete with a hospital, school, church, theatre, bowling alley and casino – was deserted and left to be devoured by the Namib’s shifting sands in the 1950s after richer deposits were found elsewhere. Today, Kolmanskop’s dramatic half-digested remains are a surreal testament to the power of nature and to the wastefulness of disposable culture.
When the world is too much, this is the safari to consider – not to view game (which is a bonus) but to experience the strange solitude of one of the world’s most unusual and scenic areas.
Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is a little-explored desert paradise of wide-open spaces, undeveloped, unpeopled, and far from civilization. Its name refers to the treacherous, barren shoreline where shipwrecks and whale bones litter the fog-shrouded beaches.
The Cape Cross Seal Reserve is a breeding ground for tens of thousands of Cape fur seals; they lounge on the rocks and beaches, and their blue-eyed pups arrive in late November or early December. Light aircraft is the ideal way to visit much of this desolate land, which at times resembles a harsh moonscape, at other times a vast sea of shifting sand dune mountains, reputed to be the highest on earth. This is the Sossusvlei area of the Namib Desert, one of the world’s oldest and driest, whose 1,000-foot-high apricot-colored dunes are shaped and driven like waves by the sea winds.
Especially magnificent at sunrise or sunset when the colors of the dunes shift kaleidoscopically, the vastness of the region is best experienced by climbing a dune and listening to the roar of the sand grains spilling over the surface. You may even spot a rare desert elephant.
Despite its harsh climate, Namibia has some of the world’s most compelling and untrammeled scenery, with a diverse and plentiful wildlife that has adapted to the rigors of its desertlike conditions. The Etosha National Park in the north, a semiarid savanna grassland ten times the size of Luxembourg, is the third largest game reserve in the world.
With 144 species of mammals and well over 300 species of birds depending on its water holes, game sighting is relatively easy here. At the Etosha Pan, the flat depression at the heart of the park, the variety and profusion of species found at the water holes at any one time make for a veritable arkful. You may see spectacular numbers of elephants, zebras, giraffes, blue wildebeests, springboks, and the endangered black rhino. For a few days each year after the rains, when the pan fills with water, flamingos and pelicans descend by the tens of thousands.
There are three lodges within the park, but if you go the extra distance beyond the park’s confines to the 19,800-acre Huab Lodge, a private reserve on the Huab River with game-viewing similar to Etosha’s, you’ll find the warmest welcome, the finest guides, and the most stylish comfort in the country.
A swimming pool and natural thermal springs pass as your own private watering holes. There are excellent meals, and barking geckos will lull you to sleep – or is it the free-flowing South African wines?