Laying down routes
Namibia has such a vast range of destinations that just planning your route will be enough to set your heart racing in anticipation. Do you want to photograph the mining ghost towns or search for desert elephants in Kaokoland? What about heading up to Etosha and staying at Okaukuejo in the hope of spotting a black rhino? Given time you could probably do all three. And that’s the key to a successful Namibian driving holiday; allowing plenty of time. Often it’s the detour down some minor road or a conversation over an extra cup of rooibos tea that you remember more than the main attractions, so try to plan some spare time in your schedule every day.

 

ImageThese itineraries can be done in a 2WD car unless otherwise stated. They are designed so that you can adapt them to suit your needs, interests and timescale. The time allowed is the minimum you will need and you should think seriously about building in some rest days, particularly after long drives. Enjoy.

 

The South - 7 Days

 

Day 1
Windhoek
Never think of downtime in Windhoek as being wasted. It’s a relaxed capital city that is easy to explore and a great introduction to the myriad cultures that the coming days hold. Even picking up supplies at a supermarket could reward you with the sight of a Herero woman in her full regalia next to you in the check-out queue. Try Joe’s Beer House for a lively meal that can include ostrich, kudu, springbok or alligator.

Accommodation:
Windhoek is oozing with good places to stay. Have a look at www.windhoekcc.org.na for something that suits you and your budget.
It’s difficult to camp centrally, although Cardboard Box hostel will squeeze you into their back yard if you have a roof-top tent www.namibian.org. Further out, there is camping at Arebbusch Travel Lodge www.arebbusch.com.
Hotel Heinitzburg is perfect for a special occasion. www.heinitzburg.com

Day 2-3
Sossusvlei
This is one of the spots where it truly pays to have your own vehicle. The key is to stay as close as you can to the park gate. This means you can drive through to the dunes and pans just before daybreak, beating the majority of tourists. From the top of any of the dunes (Dune 45 - 45km from the gate - is very photogenic) you can watch as the rising sun changes the sand’s colour to a seemingly impossible apricot orange. It is difficult to see everything in one trip: once you have watched daybreak from Dune 45 you are hard pushed to reach the pans of Dead Vlei or Sossusvlei itself while the light is still at its most alluring and the air cool. If you have to make a choice, head for haunting Dead Vlei with its skeleton camelthorn trees. For many it pays to visit twice, once at dusk and again at dawn.

Accommodation:
Sossusvlei Campsite, Sesriem. Bang on top of the gate, this campsite couldn’t be better located and you get into the park half an hour earlier than people staying anywhere else other than the Sossus Dune Lodge (below). Ask for one of the peripheral pitches underneath a camelthorn tree where the fabulous views far outweigh the long trek to the shower block www.nwr.com.na.
Sossus Dune Lodge. Just opened in the last few months, this lodge is the first opportunity visitors have to stay inside the park. This means you can be at the dunes before sunrise and after sunset. www.nwr.com.na
Away from Sesriem, try Wolwedans Dune Lodge for a real treat. It’s set in the vast Namib Rand Nature Reserve, which is worth a few days visit in itself.
www.wolwedans.com


Driving time:
Four and a half hours from Windhoek – six hours if you drive the picturesque Spreetshoogte Pass.

Day 4-5
deritz
It’s a scenic drive through the Namib Desert to this quirky former colonial town and you might see the desert horses on the way. Take care if it is windy as the ridges of hard blown sand that snake onto the road are dangerous. The town itself is fascinating and there are a number of worthwhile excursions. The most popular trip is to the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop, where once grand houses have been engulfed by shifting sand. You need a permit to visit. These are available from Lüderitz Safaris and Tours in town. Seals, penguins and flamingos can  all be seen if you head south in your car following signposts to Diaz Point

Accommodation:
Lüderitz’s Shark Island campsite is notorious for being windy. www.nwr.com.na
Haus Sandrose on Bismarck Street has self-catering accommodation and B&B with guarded street parking.


Driving time:
Six hours from Sesriem.

Day 6
Fish River Canyon
In your own car it’s possible to get a real feel for Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon without going on the arduous five-day hike along the valley floor. At nearby Hobas, pick up a map of the minor roads around the perimeter and seek out some of the quieter viewpoints. There you can peer precariously over the edge watching the birds of prey that often swoop below you in the 550m drop. Most of the roads are bumpy but passable in a 2WD, but to reach Eagle’s Rock lookout you’ll need a 4WD. The going is rough over very sharp gravel, so be prepared for punctures.

Accommodation:
Hobas Campsite. Close to the main viewpoints and with shady pitches www.nwr.com.na.
Cañon Lodge has well-designed chalets set among kopjes in a private reserve that is adjacent to the conservation area. www.gondwanapark.com

 

Driving time:
Four and a half hours

Read Mark Stratton’s account of hiking Fish River Canyon in Travel Africa magazine issue 30.
www.travelafricamag.com  
“My guidebook had explained the 86-kilometre walk was suitable for ‘very fit, experienced, and self-sufficient backpackers’ but neglected to add ‘who enjoy vertiginous drops’. The nimbleness of a mountain goat was required, but with a fully-loaded backpack I could only just muster the grace of an inelegant rhino.”

Day 7
Windhoek via Keetmanshoop
It’s a long day’s drive back to Windhoek, so stop at the Quiver Tree Forest or Giants’ Playground – a bizarre group of black rocks balanced one on top of another – near Keetmanshoop. The quiver ‘trees’ are actually aloe plants. The San people used to hollow out their branches to use as quivers for their arrows, although the plants are now protected. If you have an extra night to spare, 70km past Windhoek is the Herero town of Okahandja which has two outdoor markets packed full of handicrafts and curios.

Accommodation:
Okahandja is a great place to stay at a farm and you may even get in an evening’s game viewing. Okatjuru Game Farm boasts black rhino on its land. www.jhein.iway.na.


Driving time:
Fish River Canyon to Keetmanshoop is two hours, Keetmanshoop to Windhoek is five hours. Okahandja is an hour past Windhoek.

 

 

The North - 7 Days

 

Day 1
Windhoek / Okahandja (see itinerary for The South)
If you have an extra day available, stop over at the guest farm at Okonjima on your way up to Etosha where Africat Foundation is based. This is a sanctuary for orphaned cheetahs and leopards, and cats that farmers want removed from their land. Okonjima is a two and a half hour drive from Windhoek. www.africat.org

Day 2
Etosha via Lake Otjikoto
Etosha is often described as one of Africa’s greatest game parks. On the way you can break your journey at Lake Otjikoto, where the Germans ditched cannons at the end of World War 1. You should arrive at Namutoni Camp in plenty of time for an evening’s wildlife viewing at the waterhole.

Accommodation:
Namutoni Rest Camp. There are no private lodges inside Etosha and many people choose to stay at one of the park’s three rest camps, regardless of their budget. Here you can camp or rent a bungalow. During school holidays accommodation here gets busy and it’s best to book in advance www.nwr.com.na.

 

Drive time:
Six hours

Day 3-4
Etosha
The gravel roads through Etosha are excellent. The speed restriction is 60km/h but you will go a lot slower as you watch out for animals. The park is home to 114 different mammals, 110 reptile species and 340 different species of bird. Talk to the wardens and check the game-viewing book at camp reception to find out where the cats and large mammals are hanging out. The wildlife watching does not end when the sun goes down as each rest camp is based at a floodlit watering hole where animals come in the evenings to drink. Okaukuejo’s waterhole is famous for regular visits by black rhino.

Accommodation:
Choose between Halali camp (a leisurely two hours from Namutoni) or Okaukuejo Rest Camp (another easy two hours from Halali).
There are a number of private lodges just outside the park. Mokuti Lodge is in its own reserve with no dangerous game so is a good family option.
www.namibsunhotels.com.na

If you want to move on after two nights in Etosha you can head to Palmwag in Northern Damaraland where it is possible to track rhino with the Save the Rhino Trust.

Accommodation:
www.palmwag.com.na 
www.wilderness-safaris.com


Drive time:
Okaukuejo Camp to Palmwag is four hours. Palmwag to Twyfelfontein is two hours.

Day 5
Twyfelfontein
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a wealth of things to see in a relatively small area. The highlight is the 6,000-year-old rock art. Nearby is the Petrified Forest which contains around 50 tree fossils that lived some 260 million years ago. You could also visit Burnt Mountain, which is stunning at sunset, and a group of basalt columns called the Organ Pipes.
   
Accommodation:
Aba-Huab is the budget option for camping.
Twyfelfontein Country Lodge has its own waterfall, rock art and petrol station
www.nambialodges.com


Drive time:
Okaukuejo Rest Camp to Twyfelfontein is four hours with some sightseeing stops.

Day 6
Swakopmund
Swakopmund is Namibia’s adrenalin capital. There is a vast range of activities available, from dune surfing to windsurfing, quad biking to horse riding and skydiving to fishing. There are some great excursions to be made in your car too. The four-five hour Welwitschia Tour takes you into a corner of the Namib Naukluft National Park to a welwitschia plant that is thought to be 1,500 years old. Permits for the drive can be bought from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on Bismarck Street. Alternatively, the Cape Coast Seal Colony is easily accessible from here in a 2WD. It is very pleasant to spend half a day just wondering around this relaxed town visiting the art studios, book shops and munching on apple strudel in one of the many coffee houses.

Accommodation:
Camping here is cold and windy. Try a backpackers’ instead for budget accommodation. Desert Sky is a popular option. www.swakop.com
The town is awash with small pensions and B&Bs.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie checked into the Burning Shore Beach Lodge, on Swakopmund’s outskirts, for the birth of their daughter. www.burningshore.info

 

Drive time:
Twyfelfontein to Swakopmund is four hours.
4WD ALTERNATIVE ROUTE
In a 4WD from Twyfelfontein you can drive part of the bleak Skeleton Coast National Park via the gate at Springbokwasser. On the C24 road you’ll pass the wrecks of many ships that have fallen foul of this foggy coastline, and can visit the Cape Coast Seal Colony before reaching Swakopmund. This route will take you a good seven hours, but it’s a great adventure. Be sure you have enough fuel on board as your first petrol station is at Henties Bay.

Day 7
Swakopmund or Spitzkoppe
Swakopmund and nearby Walvis Bay have plenty to keep you occupied for two days, but if you’d prefer a quieter end to your tour, head to Spitzkoppe and camp. Here each carefully-planned pitch is isolated among the rocky outcrops that rise up spectacularly from the gravel plains. Showers are cold buckets on a pulley system set among the rocks and some pitches have carefully hidden alfresco long-drop toilets – all immaculately clean. Spitzkoppe has a number of cheetahs, although these can be elusive. Similarly difficult to spot is the bushman art that is dotted around this community-run site.

Accommodation:
Spitzkoppe Community Camp www.nacobta.com.na


Drive time:
From Swakopmund to Spitzkoppe is a two-hour drive. It is three to four hours from both Spitzkoppe and Swakopmund to Windhoek to complete your circuit.

 

 

Ideas for more adventurous trips

 

Kaokoland
An excursion into Kaokoland is a real chance to meet Herero, Himba and maybe even Topnaar people. Much of this remote part of Northern Namibia is reached on roads that are badly rutted or are dry river beds – although the C43 as far as Sesfontein is passable in a robust 2WD. North of Sesfontein, a fully kitted-out 4WD is essential, and it is important to travel with at least one other off-road vehicle in case you break down or get stuck.


Preparing your own expedition into Kaokoland is time-consuming. You’ll need to work out how much fuel, water and food to take and it is advisable to carry a GPS and satellite phone and to get training in off-road driving techniques. However, the rewards of travelling in this part of Namibia are huge and you will return with a life-time’s worth of memories. Here, more than anywhere else in Namibia, you’re unlikely to want to move on every day as the driving is tough. If you are not an experienced 4WD driver you should always join an organised guided tour.

Accommodation:
The community campsites here are a real highlight and a chance to put money directly into the community. Sites such as Purros offer great wildlife viewing and the opportunity to visit a Himba village with a local guide. If you need to rough camp, ask permission at the nearest village.
There are rooms at Sesfontein Fort (www.fort-sesfontein.com) and Kunene River Lodge. Palmwag (see the Northern Route above) makes a good place to start your expedition.


Drive time:
As a rough guide, it’s possible to drive from Palmwag to Purros in one hard day’s drive (it would be far better to start your day in Palmwag with a game drive in the concession area and overnight in Sesfontein). Distances can be deceptive. For example, the short 100km trip from Ruacana at the top of the C35 to Kunene River Lodge will take a day.


More information:
Wilderness Journeys by Willie and Sandra Olivier details a useful route for 4WDs through Kaokoland, including advice on responsible driving and camping, fuel, water, equipment and journey times.

Caprivi Strip to Victoria Falls
The drive from Windhoek through to Victoria Falls is feasible in a 2WD. It is an epic journey that can incorporate many of the highlights of Northern Namibia, including Etosha. The Caprivi Strip feels like a different country to the rest of Namibia, with its lush flood plains and green forests, yet it is often overlooked by tourists because of its distance from Windhoek. There are four rarely visited game parks to choose from in this narrow strip of land which is 500km long but at times only 32km wide.

Drive time:
The coach from Windhoek to Victoria Falls drives solidly for 22 hours, but it would be a shame to attempt this yourself in anything less than seven days as there is so much to see.
The Bradt Guide to Namibia details a 21-day itinerary that takes in Kaokoland, Etosha, The Caprivi Strip and even nips into Botswana.


Cape Town
The road from Cape Town into South Namibia is not difficult.  Time your trip between mid-August and mid-September and you could catch Namaqualand blooming around the town of Springbok. The border area around Vioolsdrif is particularly pretty and you can stay on the banks of the Orange River.
If you are hiring a car and driving it into Namibia you need the permission of the hire company. At the border crossing you may be asked to show proof of insurance and the vehicle’s ‘blue book’ which contains all its details.

Drive time:
It is 1455km and roughly 20 hours driving from Cape Town to Windhoek, not including the time taken to cross the border and breaks – not to be attempted in one day! 

 

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