I hate to admit it but I have to say that as a South African, I sort of disregarded Namibia. So much so that the day I flew there, I realised that I had not informed my bank that I would be in a different country using my card. It felt like I was flying to Cape Town, not across a boarder where my passport would be required.
The flights were super quick too. A two and a half hour flight got me into Windhoek and another half hour to Walvisbay where I was greeted with the hottest wind I have ever encountered and a long walk up an obscurely deserted runway to get to the airport. Not a shuttle in sight. Welcome to the desert.
I have never travelled the African continent and I think that the fact that I could use my normal passport without a visa gave me a false sense of security. I was sorely mistaken and can safely say that in all my international travels, I have never encountered a more difficult customs section until this little country with a population of just 2 million people. Maybe they were cross because of the really long drive to work.
The first question that I have to ask myself is why? Why would anyone live here? My confusion was heightened when we arrived at Henties Bay over an hour later; a small and quiet residential town that we were staying in. At night I would stand outside and look up and down the street only to see a handful of houses with their lights on, the rest stood empty as their owners were who even knows where.
The nearest town that showed signs of life happened to be Swakopmund and for anyone travelling to Namibia I would recommend staying in this lovely city as it is lively with a rich history that is simply fascinating. This city is a good reason to live in this country that is full of wonder and beauty at every turn.
The drive to Swakopmund from Henties Bay runs along the Dorob National Park and has a number of fascinating locations and sites on the 70km journey between the two.
First on the list would have to be the small German settlement that is entirely off the grid. Wlotzkasbaken is a holiday settlement with no walls or fences and is surrounded by lichen fields. The land surrounding the quaint self-sustaining houses is dotted with little rocks covered in lichen which gives it an otherworldly feel, as though settlers have colonized a different planet.
A little further up is where you begin exploring the Skeleton Coast. Originally named after the animal carcasses along the beach, the name soon stood for something more sinister. Multiple shipwrecks litter the Northern part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia because of the treacherous phenomenon associated with the Namib Desert Coast. Titled “The Gates of Hell” by Portuguese sailors, the cold Benguela current produces dense fog that led numerous ships to their demise. It is possible to view one of these wrecks near Mowe Bay where the ‘Suiderkus’ ran aground in 1976. The fishing trawler did not survive its maiden voyage and the eerie skeleton lies rusting in the chilly waters. The trawler appears deceptively close to the shore but lives have been lost in an attempt to swim out and explore it. Small miners also mill around this area and offer a wealth of stunning gemstones for purchase. Ranging from amethyst to black tourmaline, cut and uncut, it is worth it to bring some cash to buy some of these stunners and support their cause.
The Suiderkus shipwreck
It's not called the skeleton coast for nothing!
A beautiful amethyst that I bought
This terrain is even more unearthly than that of the Dorob National park. The Welwitchia Plains consist of black Damara granites which were pushed to the surface of the earth’s crust over 460 million years ago. The Swakop River once ran through this landscape, leaving behind the twisting and winding topography that is a favourite for filming, including the most recent Mad Max. One visit explains exactly why this stark setting would work well for movies.
Having fun at the Moon Landscape
The desolate Moon Lanscape is really quite something to see
Mingle with locals
If you can, whether at a pub or restaurant or even at their homes. We were lucky enough to experience a snoek and galjoen braai held by the local community. The food and company were both incredible. It was fascinating to listen to their use of the pure or ‘suiwerde’ Afrikaans along with slight intonation differences. It is also interesting to note that because Namibia once was a German colony, the language is quite widely spoken along with a number of indigenous ones too.
The delicious snoek and galjoen braai we were lucky enough to enjoy
My beautiful family and the lovely Beukes family who were incredibly accommodating and hospitable
Out in Walvisbay one of the taller dunes measuring in at 383m tall, Dune 7 is open for the public to climb. It takes a while to do because the steep incline forces you to take much needed breaks in between but once at the top the view is spectacular. The bragging rights (which I now have) are also pretty impressive.
The larger than life Dune 7
It's a long journey to the top
Dune Drives I can only recommend this to those with a 4X4 and an overt knowledge and understanding of how to traverse the dunes. Our dune trip was nerve wrecking, especially when the car was at what felt like a 90 degree angle (I'm sure it wasn't that bad but terror has a way of distorting things). Our guide told us that the dunes are like a woman with all of the curves and mounds. He sure knew his way around and despite my fear, it was a mind-blowing experience ramping those lady bits with zero fear (on his part that is).
My sister was far less afraid than I was upon these steep dunes
The dunes look misleadingly flat here
The National Marine Aquarium of Namibia was a quick visit but entertaining nonetheless. Smaller in size, a quick tour will take you through the incredible tunnel tank which offers mind-blowing views of the aquarium containing a variety of fish as well as some sharks that give you minor heart palpitations when they swim up close. I quite enjoyed the large open tank at the entrance which contained some amicable stingrays that swam to the surface whenever anyone was near. It is both cute and creepy looking into their weirdly smiling faces and dead black eyes.
The incredible tunnel tank
A shiny eel chilling in the sand
Never too old to have some fun
In Swakopmund pop in to Desert Explorer as they offer a variety of activities ranging through camel rides, quad biking, dolphin cruises, sand boarding and more. We opted for the first two and were not disappointed. The camel ride made me feel as though I was in set of The Mummy (1999 version of course) as we headed out on our own camels. My sister landed up with a rogue camel that came free and took a slight wander off in the opposite direction. Our guide was kind enough to offer to take photos so we got a mini photo shoot whilst seated on our desert ships.
Photo shoot whilst camel riding
Look at our camel swag
The quad biking is a must for any adrenaline junkies. A crash course on riding along with a few hand signals and suddenly we were off on our 45 minute adventure. We were able to go in so deep into the dunes that all you could see around was sand. The instructor also allowed the more daring of us to make little arcs across some of the dunes. I immediately regretted it when my bike started sliding out from the back but continued despite my fear.
Original gangsters on our quad bikes
Food and drink
Swakopmund has a stunning town centre filled with old German colonial architecture making it an absolute joy to walk through. When you feel a little hungry you can stop in at The Swakopmund Brauhaus where you will be able to order authentic German food served by German speaking waitresses. Their schnitzel and bratwurst were delicious. Do remember to get there before the lunchtime rush because once they are full, you won’t find a seat.
Lovely buidlings in Swakopmund
Tasty Bratwurst from the Brauhaus
For dessert you can head over to Ankerplatz Ice-cream. The tiny ice-cream parlour has over 20 home-made flavours that are so delicious you will be tempted to go back for more. Ranging through flavours such as pistachio, Oreo, cheese-cake and then some, you will spend a few minutes just trying to narrow down your selection.
Delectable ice cream at Ankerplatz
I had pistachio in a sugar cone
Finally for drinks you can visit Tiger Reef Beach Bar and Grill. Situated right on the beach, the roof is an old fishing net. The restaurant opens up to some wooden floors and the rest is still sand. Their wide windows all face the ocean and they have deck chairs lain out, perfect for you to lie back and watch the sun set over the ocean.
Tiger Reef Beach bar and grill
The enormous net roof and deck chairs facing the ocean
I had a wonderful time exploring parts of this country that is no longer an absolute mystery to me. The people are beautiful, inside and out and the range of activities is almost endless. Thank you Namibia for remaining an almost untouched gem, I count myself as lucky for viewing your magnificence and am far richer for the experience. I’ve read that before you travel overseas, you should explore your own continent first as it contains just as much splendor and I can safely say I completely agree.