Ai-Ais Transfrontier park, Luderitz, Tiras Mountains, Sesriem and Sossusvlei, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Omaruru, Windhoek, Etosha National Park, Opuwa, Rucana Falls, Waterberg Plateau, Grootfontein, Caprivi strip.
General - History
Namibia is one of the youngest countries in Africa, as it only became independent in 1990. In colonial times it was part of Germany as the Germans, Portuguese and British agreed on the borders of South West Africa (SWA) in 1890. Germany was mainly interested in the diamond mines in Ai-Ais and around Luderitz. The German colonial times didn’t last that long as during WWI South Africa invaded in 1914 and Germany faced their defeat in May 1915. In 1919, under the treaty of Versailles, SA got mandate to govern South West Africa. Germany had to renounce all it’s colonial claims and by 1920 all the German farms were given to SA settlers and the mines were incorporated into the SA consolidated diamond mines (nowadays Namdeb). While the mandate was renewed by the UN after WWII SA was more interested to annex SWA. They scrapped the terms of the mandate and rewrote the constitution. Despite pressure from the UN SA refused to release their grip on SWA. A political organisation, called SWAPO, starting fighting for independence. After the international courts upheld the SA mandate as legal SWAPO started with guerrilla fighting in 1966. In 1972 the UN finally declared the occupation of SWA by SA as illegal. When Angola became independent in 1975 it was sympathetic to SWAPO, allowing them to set up basis in the South of Angola. SA responded by invading Angola, leading to the Cubans sending many troops to Angola to support the Angolan military. The invasion of Angola failed, but fighting between the different countries last until late in the 1980’s. Finally in 1988 under pressure of the major economical decline and the war costing SA more than US$250mln per year and got SA to participate in negotiations for independence of SWA. And in 1988 a deal was finally struck between SA, Cuba, Angola and SWAPO. In 1990 the first election in Namibia was held and leader of SWAPO Sam Nujoma, after 30 years of exile, was sworn in as the first president of Namibia.
Ai-Ais Transfrontier park (Ai-Ais hotsprings and Fish River Canyon
On August 21 we crossed the border to Namibia with a surprisingly fast procedures at the South African side with numbered offices from 1 to 3 (admittingly; it was a Sunday morning). We visit all offices to get our passports and the carnet de passage stamped and get the clearance from the police. It just took us 20 minutes to get to the Namibian side of the border. The actual border entrance was closed for construction and no signs were placed explaining where to go… We decided to drive around a couple of buildings and park the car continuing on foot to find the offices. We headed for the first office we saw, which turns out to be the office for signing the carnet de passage, the employee signs it and our car is officially in Namibia before we are. Two more offices to go to get the passports stamped and the road tax paid. After that we were good to go. Within one hour we were driving into Namibia towards Ai-Ais hot springs resort in the Richtersveld/Ai-Ais Transfrontier Park. The park is mainly formed around two rivers; the Orange and Fish River.
The hot spring is at a constant temperature of 65 degrees and too hot to go into. It is used to supply the hotel and campsite of hot water and for the spa with pools at different temperatures. After a couple of days without any hot water we spent a couple of hours soaking in the pools.
Next stop was Fish river canyon measuring 160km in length, up to 27km wide and an inner canyon reaching a depth of 550m. Surprisingly the Fish River canyon actually exists of two canyons; one inside the other. Both are formed entirely differently, but that is difficult to distinguish for us while enjoying the views. At the various viewpoints we were very impressed by the exposed rock formations (sharp corners, rounded edges) and lack of plant life. When we visited early morning the views were clear, but during the sunset there is a haze over the canyon that influences the view negatively (or is it the fact that we are looking straight into the sun?).
Aus, Luderitz and Ranch Koiimasis
Aus is a very small town in the middle of… and serves as a petrol and lunch stop for us on the way to Luderitz. While walking in town it appears that all small businesses (aimed at tourists) are managed by the same family. When drinking our coffee, we are confronted with the German heritage… They make excellent espresso machines, but poor the lousiest coffee… We should have known better.
Just outside of Aus, on the way to Luderitz, there is an artificial waterhole aimed at the wild horses (feral horses). It is a very nice stop and we are served many horses near the waterhole, drinking and bathing in it. Just when we want to leave a herd of Oryx (Gemsbok) join the horses at the waterhole.
We arrived in Luderitz in the late afternoon and after cooking a lot of nights while camping decide to go to a wine & oyster bar… Unfortunately we find the recommended one closed; Cooking after all and we buy a fresh Kingklip at the local fish shop in the harbour… While driving back to the campsite however, Judith noticed a sign Diaz Wine and Oyster bar… and this one seemed to be open! We enjoyed fresh oysters, baked with various toppings. The waitress laughed as we ordered more and more oysters…she even mentioned we are doing a rather extensive oyster tasting!
In the morning we did some sightseeing in Luderitz; Shark Island, Diaz point and some of the old(er) colonial buildings (early 1900s). As it is high season in Namibia we also needed to plan our trip a bit more in exact, meaning we basically have to book all the needed reservations for Sesriem/Sousesvlei and the Etosha National Park. Although we cannot get all the accommodation on the dates we want, we replan the route a little bit to make it fit. We are now faced with two deadlines: Sesriem on August 28th, and Etosha NP on September 6th. Yes, deadlines, even when we’re on holiday with all the time in the world!
After Luderitz our next stop was planned half way between Luderitz and Seriem, as this is almost 500km. We ended up at a campsite at Ranch Koiimasis. Our campsite and the surroundings were more beautiful than we imaged on fore hand and staying an extra day seemed like a no brainer.
Sesriem and Sossusvlei
Since it is high season in Namibia we needed to plan more a head, however our planned stop near Duwesib castle didn’t look that nice, so we decided to drive closer to Sesriem, one of the most popular sights in Namibia. Not a good idea during high season as it turns out… if you don’t have a booking and spontaneously want to stay another night at the number one tourist attraction of Namibia! The only campsite within a 50-75km radius appears to be fully booked. While sipping a cold drink on the terrace of the fuel station (that also manages the campsite) we were debating on what to do next…staying in a really expensive lodge or a campsite 70km further away…then the girl for the fuel station walked up to us, she asked ‘Do you still need a campsite for tonight? Someone just called to cancel for this evening.’ So there we are thankful we can stay close to Seriem and Sossusvlei.
Our first stop in Sossusvlei is the Deadvlei. With a 4WD we are allowed to drive the extra 6 kilometers to a special parking closer to Deadvlei. Wilfred has to do his best off road driving so far…the sand is very thin and deep and the tracks are difficult to follow. At least a couple of 4wd car get stuck here everyday, but Wilfred managed to get us sound and safe to the parking from where it is ‘only’ a short walk to Deadvlei (satisfied, but very exhausted after our 2,2km walk in at temperature between 35-38 degrees we get back at the parking). Deadvlei is a large pan that has high red dunes tower up to 200 meter above the valley floor and the floor is mostly white, cracked dry mud.
The next morning we woke up at 05.00AM to start at 6.15AM with our hike up ‘Dune 45’. Yes, we learned from the day before that hiking mid day is not the best idea! Dune 45 is a huge red sand dune of more than a 150 meters high. From the top of the dune we have a ver nice view of the surroundings during sunrise. The name of the Dune, Dune 45, is not very inspiring…it appears to be 45km from Sesriem...
After descending Dune 45 we made our way to Sesriem Canyon. This canyon is only 1km long and 30 meters deep. The canyon itself is pretty small if you compare it to Fish River Canyon. However the rock formations are completely different from what we had seen so far. The short walk down below, is very pleasant compared to the temperature outside the canyon that had already reached around 30 degrees (at 10.00AM).
On our way to Walvis Bay we stopped for a coffee break at Solitaire. A very small town of nowadays 50-75 people (outside the many tourists that stop for a short break or overnight stay on their way to Walvis Bay/Swakopmund). In 1996 the town was even smaller… Ton van der Lee arrives there and meets the only two persons living in this small town. Ton stays a couple of years an even opens a small primitive restaurant and camping. He likes the fact that only a few people per day pas through the town, but than the inevitable thing happens…he gets noticed by the lonely planet…and tourist form all over the world stop in Solitaire just to eat in his restaurant or stay at his small campsite. Gone is the tranquillity, the peace and quite…so Ton sells his restaurant and campsite and leaves. Solitaire has become to busy for him.
From Sesriem to Walvis Bay
From Sesriem/Sossusvlei we drove, via Solitaire, through the Namib-Naukluft national park towards Walvis Bay. The variation of vegetation we saw during our drive is impressive; from just desert plains, to the valley of a thousand hills. It was a long day of driving, almost 350km, but as the landscape changed so often it was never boring! We never planned to stay in Walvis Bay, however after spending some time shopping, yet again, for camping stuff, we decided to book a B&B and not continue the drive to Swakopmund. An excellent choice, our B&B had really comfy beds. Yes, even better than our matrass in the Land Cruiser! And the fastest internet in Africa so far. We decided to go out for dinner after cooking every night for the last two weeks. From the window at The Raft (our restaurant) we saw couple of dolphins jumping and having some fun in the sunset. It really is a lovely sight. Walvis Bay has a lagoon that is home to many flamingo’s and we expected to see many of them…but the thousands of flamingo’s we saw is much more than we expected! In the Bay of Walvis Bay we also saw a many pelicans and they are huge! In hindsight we are very pleased to have spent the night here.