Grand Tour of Namibia with Jules Verne
Desert and Canyon
At over 1600
metres, Namibia's capital deserved its name, Windhoek, 'the windy corner', and
early that morning it was almost deserted. We had a brief look at historic
landmarks then we were off on an equally deserted road, meandering around mineral-coloured
hills before heading south across the plain.
trees popped up here and there, silky bushman grass rustled along the edge and
there were small picnic spots and fences on both sides to protect the wild
life. We spotted zebras and baboons, hornbills and the huge nests of sociable
weaver birds. Red termite mounds rose under the trees and we waved at a couple
of donkey and carts, better known as Kalahari Ferrari. We crossed the Tropic of
Capricorn, exciting in the middle of nowhere, then turned off for the Kalahari
Anib Lodge on the edge of the desert.
This was a
lovely place with cosy rooms, swimming pool and palm trees and our first safari
through the bush then up the nearby dunes for a complimentary sundowner. I
didn't notice much about the drinks for the scenery kept me spellbound, the sun
glinting through a lonely tree, the burning red sand and below us, in the
darkening scrubland, the haunting shadows of blue wildebeest, courting
ostriches and flocks of gambolling springboks watched by a long-horned oryx, a
This was our
only glance of the Kalahari desert - there's only a small strip in Namibia -
and soon after dawn, we set off for the 400 km drive to the greatest canyon in
Africa near the southern border. We followed a single railway track for much of
the day and felt like tiny ants crawling through vast empty steppes under the
blue African sky. The only break was a daunting walk through the quiver forest
where strange 'upside down' trees grow among piles of rocks like a scene from
an alien land. Arrow containers (or quivers) were once made from the wood,
hence the name. It's a national monument.
Village', our resort, greeted us with thatched roofs garlanded in flowers but
beyond the public area, our chalets melted into a rugged landscape of rocks and
cliffs. It was awesome, especially at sunset. “Keep your eyes peeled, locals on
the move”, said a sign picturing an oryx, so we knew that even after dark we
wouldn't be alone in the wilderness.
The next day
it was only a short drive to the mighty Fish River Canyon. Stretching 160 km, up
to 27 km across and 550 metre deep, it is second only to the Colorado and part
of a Transfrontier Park (or 'peace park') with South Africa. The five-day
arduous trek at the bottom of the gorge was not for us but the walk along the
ridge was superb, on a breezy up and down path with fantastic views from one viewpoint
to the next. No parapets, no commercial outlets, just a pristine natural wonder
which simply took your breath away. I didn't see any chirping scorpions or
vervet monkeys, but I loved the flowers clinging to the very edge, yellow
devil's thorns, blue lobelia, fire lilies, and far below the green ribbon of
water struggling through this dramatic no man's land.
How could we
possibly beat this? Well, it was my first trip to Namibia and little did I know
about this amazing country.
it's a nine-hour drive”, said the guide, “that will take us to the Namib desert”.
along gravel roads, feasting on the 'best apple pie in Namibia' in a roadside
village and crossing the Tsaris Pass with spectacular mountain views were the day's highlights. Then we reached the
'Desert Quiver Camp', totally isolated, a scattering of beautiful huts with big
sloping roofs hugging the base of the rocks. Wild life roamed freely in the
grounds and the starlit night was full of mysterious sounds.
We left at
the crack of dawn for the 'Sea of Sand', within the Naukluft National Park and
the most extensive coastal desert influenced by fog. In this astounding UNESCO
site, we marvelled at the world's highest dunes rising towards the brightening
sky, their multi-coloured sand speckled with greenery, blinding sun on one
side, eerie shadows, on the other. Our challenge was Big Daddy, a fairly easy
climb along a narrow ridge until a sandstorm suddenly swept across the land. What
do you do? Slide down to the white Deadvlei below, a big clay pan sprinkled
with scorched skeleton trees. Once again, I was awed by the incredible force of
nature and two days later, on a 'rest day' in Swakopmund, I booked a 630 km
flight, in a light aircraft, along the Skeleton Coast and across the Namib
desert. It still haunts my dreams, the dunes spreading inland as far as you
could see then towering almost like mountains as they reached the sea, the
different shapes and textures, a dark ravine, a winding oasis and the ever-changing
colours, red, gold, pink, lilac and every shade in between.
through the Grand Tour of Namibia, we enjoyed a short break in Swakopmund, a
pretty seaside resort even though the mist drifted in from the ocean for most
of the day. We did see the flamingos in nearby Walvis Bay and lots of seals
when we set off on a cruise, which included a local oyster feast. That was
delicious, but I was quite happy to leave the next day, back to sunny skies as
we headed north to Damaraland.
across the gravel plains of Erongo, we looked out to the dramatic mountains
rising on the horizon, the 'Matterhorn of Namibia' on one side and on the other
the Brandberg range reaching 2573 metres, the highest point in the country. But
scenery aside, the land of the Damara people has plenty to offer, especially in
Twyfelfontein, Namibia's oldest World Heritage site, with over 2000 ancient
rock engravings scattered across the sandstone hills. We scrambled up the
slopes, gazing at pictures of giraffes, rhinos and more, and most famous of
all, a shaman in a trance turned into a lion. Then in the Damara Living Museum,
locals in tribal dress showed us how to clean goat skins, light a fire, dance
and communicate in click language. Not easy… That night we stayed in the Mopane
lodge, named after the local trees, where every guest cottage had a herb and
The next day
took us to a petrified forest then on to Palmwag along a roller coaster road
where we came across elephant tracks and giraffes peeping through the trees. We
spotted three desert lions, just across a ravine, and we slept in tented huts,
with a horn by the bed in case we needed help.
Now we were
ready to explore the Etosha National Park, the 'great white place' named after
a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. It covers 23% of the park, a
white powdery desert for much of the year but attracting pelicans and flamingos
during the summer rains. Beyond the pan, open grasslands, savanna shrubs and
woodlands provide for a rich variety of wild life, 114 species of mammals, 340
species of birds plus reptiles and amphibians.
with anticipation, we entered through the west gate and made our way to the
nearest waterhole. Wow! Antelopes, zebras, ostriches, elephants, giraffes, they
were all there, waiting for their turn to drink, no squabbling, no rush, so
different from humans. Of course, there would be hunting and killing at times,
but this felt like nature as it was meant to be. Later when the sun set over
the Okaukuejo lodge, we gathered around the softly lit waterhole and watched in
silence, giraffes silhouetted in the dying light, zebras, a herd of
closely-knit elephants and when the full moon rose in a starry sky, seven
rhinos came along, including a couple and their young. We couldn't have dreamed
of a more enchanting evening.
three days in Etosha, driving right across in open safari trucks, most exciting
at first light when the bush begins to stir. We didn't mind the cold - blankets
were provided - but I wished I'd packed a woolly hat and gloves. Every
waterhole, every track brought something new; black-backed jackals, Damara
dik-dik, the smallest antelopes, kudus with long twirly horns, a lioness with
her cub, a hyena and most exciting of all, a rarely seen leopard who followed
us for a while then stopped right in front of the truck to mark his territory.
Then we reached the edge of the salt pan, glistening white and even turquoise
in places just like the sea, but that was only a mirage. And guess what we saw?
A 'real' white elephant covered in salt to protect his skin from the heat.
I wished I
could have stayed longer in Etosha, but it was time to start heading back
towards the capital, stopping en route at the Africat education and refuge
centre for injured animals where we came within feet of the most beautiful
cheetah. Our last two nights were in the Mount Etjo Safari Lodge, on the edge
of a lake in the Okonjati game reserve. There were mountains all around, trees
and shrubs and plenty of wild life, including hippos and square-lipped white
rhinos grazing in the tallest grass. On our final day we left with a
magnificent sunrise over the lake and the call of a lonely hornbill landing on
a tree top.
clean, safe and has excellent guides but if you want to see it all, expect long
drives, often on gravel roads.
accommodation was superb, full of character in stunning locations.
roughly 3 times the size of the UK, but has just over two million people. A
great destination to discover the natural world, away from it all.
the first country in the world to include conservation in its constitution.
right of way right across the country.
your own is possible but expert guides constantly in touch with each other will
take you the best viewing spots.