Route Master
Namibia has 45,000 kilometres of open road that are crying out to be explored by anyone with just a little independent spirit. But with so much choice, where do you head on a fortnight-long trip? Iain Wallace put himself in the driving seat.

 

“So it’s quite straight-forward,” I explained. “We’ll leave Windhoek, head northwest towards the Skeleton Coast, turn right to traverse Etosha National Park, double-back south via Omaruru to Swakopmund, nip down to the dunes of Sossusvlei, then back home via Rehoboth. Just over 2750 kilometres. On gravel roads. In two weeks. Piece of cake.” Our transport contact, Günter Dainat of African Car Hire, sighed, rolled his eyes and ordered extra tyres. What I needed, however, was a better map of Windhoek. It may be one of the world’s smallest capital cities, but the road signs are a bit so-so, and after a pleasant tour we found ourselves sitting outside Namibia’s Central Prison. It had to get better. And of course it did. Günter’s indestructible Toyota 4WD truck was soon growling along the B1 and B2 towards Omaruru, accompanied by the driver’s tuneless whistling and a game of “spot the other car”.

 

STOP 1
Erongo Wilderness Lodge (250km)
Here’s an interesting fact: Namibia has the second-lowest population density of any sovereign country – after Mongolia – with just 1.8 million souls scattered throughout 825,418 square kilometres.

So you’re definitely at one with nature when you visit Namibia, particularly at this tented chalet camp set amongst the massive granite boulders of a vast volcanic crater complex.


The best way to experience the beauty of the Erongo Mountains is simply by walking. Get up early, and let a guide lead you on a two-to-three hour walk through the bush and to the top of an imposing granite dome. Before we knew it we were experts on the local fauna, flora and birdlife, and ready to lord it over our lazy fellow guests back at the lodge. Be warned though, you’ll need stamina, a decent pair of walking shoes, and plenty of water.


To recover fully, we went in search of a little gem we’d heard about through the grapevine.


Kristall Kellerei, on the outskirts of Omaruru is, would you believe, one of three vineyards in Namibia, and wine lovers drive huge distances to secure a few bottles of their Colombard or Ruby Cabernet. It’s not half bad, and certainly compares with some of South Africa’s top plonks.


You can also sip – cautiously – some of their nappa (grappa) brandy or prickly-pear schnapps…and just wait until the tequila comes on stream!


The new owners were in residence when we arrived and the jovial Michael Weder kindly gave us a tour of the vines, bottling plant and cellar before his wife, Katrin, force-fed us with a huge platter of local meats and cheeses.


It was a magical afternoon, and we eventually slunk off home to collapse like beached whales, and prepare for the road ahead. 

 

STOP 2/3
Twyfelfontein and Huab (400km)
We soon discovered the value of a proper 4WD vehicle. One hundred kilometres from Twyfelfontein our first stranded travellers came into view: an elderly Swiss couple stuck up to the axles in a dry riverbed. Immobile for over two hours, they were visibly distressed, and more than relieved when a passing farmer pulled them free.


Yet their predicament was self-inflicted. In the interests of economy they had hired a 2WD compact car, which is pretty well useless in this harsh environment, and their rescuer pretty well told them so too.


The area is home to Namibia’s elusive desert-adapted elephants and, true to form, they remained elusive. It was the same story at the wonderful Huab Lodge some 100 kms to the north, but visitors mainly come to this regenerated nature reserve for rest and relaxation in the thermal springs. The Huab had subsided just before our arrival, so there was no need to use the overhead pulley system that ferries man and material across the murky waters. Thank heavens.


STOP 4/5
Okaukuejo/Namutoni (500km)
With torrential rain making our northern route impassable, we headed back through Outjo, with a brief stop for fuel and some tasty German pastries at the popular Outjo Backerei. Northwards to Etosha we sped, passing antelope sheltering in the shade of some scattered trees and the occasional deranged cyclist attempting to become the next person to pedal from Cairo to Cape Town.


Okaukuejo, some 18 kilometres inside the National Park, is a great stopping off point with an excellent range of accommodation, and the floodlit waterhole will guarantee you some wildlife, possibly even black rhino and the three big cats.


Map in hand, it was time to head east, and the 4WD was holding up rather well, apart from a few squeaks.


Etosha is vast, 22,912 square kilometres in fact, and it can be difficult to track down the wildlife, especially after the rainy season. On our own, we saw mile after mile of springbok but precious little else, apart from a fascinating family of banded mongoose. We picked up a guide at Onguma Plains who quickly located a wealth of wildlife, including a massive herd of elephants, which broke free from the dense woodland to engulf our vehicle.


The gates to Etosha are locked at sunset, so give yourself plenty of time to escape. We left it rather tight, and the guide had no option but to put pedal to the metal and hurtle towards the exit screaming, “It’s not a safari, it’s a Ferrari!”

 


STOP 6/7
Swakopmund via Okonjima (775km)
The long road southwards from the mining town of Tsumeb is mind-numbingly dull, but fortunately it’s mostly metal and we split the journey to view the fascinating cheetah rehabilitation programme at Okonjima. The nearby bustling town of Otjiwarongo is also worth a stop for supplies while their Spar store offers excellent lunches and a very acceptable range of pastries. (Notice a pattern?).


The enigma that is Swakopmund came into view late in the day and we made a beeline for a 4WD garage to check out that little front-end ‘squeak’ which had developed into a death rattle. Fortunately it was nothing more than a loose bumper fixing, and the mechanic fashioned a repair for the princely sum of R70. Swakopmund is adventure-central for Namibia, and next morning we hooked up with Steven Dobson at Desert Explorers to experience quad biking and sand boarding on the nearby dunes. Steven’s tricks on the bike had us spellbound, but it’s not all about speed and exhilaration. He was also able to track down sidewinder snakes, lizards and chameleons, and initiate the eerie sound of ‘roaring sand’.

 

STOP 8
Sossusvlei/Wolwedans (400km)
Without doubt this section through the Namib-Naukluft Park was the toughest part of the trip; mile after mile of dusty, rutted roads with little in the way of scenery. After the obligatory stop at Solitaire for fuel and some of their fabulous strudel, we staggered into Sesriem, our base to visit the famous sands of Sossusvlei.


We decided to do it in style, and very early next morning teamed up with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris for a slightly nervy flight into the unknown. We were in good hands, however. Professional pilot Astrid Gerhardt from Lake Constance, Germany, soon had us floating 700 metres above the Tsauchab River and perfectly positioned to savour a sunrise.The views of the ‘fairy circles’, dunes, and wildlife were spectacular and it was with great disappointment that Astrid brought her 800kg balloon to rest some ninety minutes later. Despite being given instructions on bracing against the impact, we merely kissed the ground, and fortunately, the balloon was free of the dunes. Astrid explained there was no guarantee of a solid landing, and balloons marooned in the dunes often take two days to extricate.

 

STOP 9

Windhoek (420km)
We ventured home by way of the D1261 and the Remhoogte Pass, which may have been a misjudgement as the road was almost impassable in places. But after 2750km we returned safely, and without a single burst tyre. It certainly wasn’t a ‘piece of cake’ but, if you prepare and listen to advice from your 4WD provider, it can be safer than parking at the local supermarket.

 

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