Namibia — a stunning, stark, visceral, hauntingly beautiful country in southern Africa that must be seen in person. Pictures and videos do not do justice to this place. If you're a Star Wars fan, you'll swear, at least to yourself, the scenes from Tatooine were filmed here.
Breathtaking landscapes, unique cultures, and iconic wildlife are standard fare in Namibia, a country where the norm is iconic. Many well-known wildlife icons in South Africa are in game preserves, parks, or zoos. In Namibia, you can drive up to a Giraffe or Zebra right on the side of the road. This place is so remote and somewhat untrampled by humankind that wild animals are not afraid of humans to some degree. Only two persons per kilometer live in this country.
We took a week-long jaunt into this country from South Africa via our rental car. For context, it's a seven-hour drive from Capetown, South Africa, to the Border with Namibia at Vioolsdrif. And then, it's another 5-hour drive from Vioolsdrif to Luderitz, our destination on the Atlantic coast.
Namibia: Our Encounter at the Border with Officials
Of course, our first encounter with Namibians occurred with officials at the Border. “Welcome; why are you here?” was the greeting to us by one official. Our response? “To see your beautiful country. We write travel stories and take pictures to tell and show people about other countries”. Their response? “Oh, thank you; welcome, welcome, we glad you here. We are much friendlier here than they are in South Africa (absolutely true in our experience). That was our first encounter with Namibians, and the warmth of the people came through to us everywhere we went after that.
Namibia: The Fish River Canyon
When you cross into Namibia from South Africa at Vioolsdrif, the Fish River Canyon is the first significant sightseeing detour you can choose. All you have to do is divert off the road heading straight North.
Known as the “Little Grand Canyon,” the Fish River Canyon is one of the largest of its kind in the world. At 160 km long and up to 27 km wide, the stunning views in this canyon make it a popular destination for hikers and photographers. The canyon is home to diverse wildlife, including Baboons, Kudu, and mountain Zebras.
Visitors can take a guided canyon tour, explore its rugged terrain and stunning vistas, and enjoy horseback riding, hot air balloon rides, and camping.
Namibia: The Road to Luderitz
After you cross the Border into Namibia from South Africa, the road before you is a two-lane blacktop path that heads North as straight as a string and goes on and on and on and on for hundreds of miles. Mounds of brown, black, pink, and red mountains jut out into the sky as if they had been planted there purposefully by a deity.
How is it possible, we thought, for these mountains to exist in such singular color?
You can drive through this country for hours and see nothing but desert; you may not see another vehicle for hours. This begs the question, where would one stay? We made reservations at the Luderitz Nest Hotel, a 5-hour drive from our border crossing.
Luderitz is a small town in the southern part of the Namibia. Founded in 1883, the city was originally a trading post for the German colonial empire. German control of the country ended after World War I but German influence remained. In fact, the Allies kicked the German's out again during WW II. The Germans ran a concentration camp in the middle of the desert — down the road a piece from Luderitz during World War II and, they ran similar camps throughout country during the late 1800's to jail native insurrection leaders up through WW II.
After both World Wars Namibia was part of South Africa and known previously as German Southwest Africa. That's why you'll find German and Afrikaan's (a Cape Dutch descendant dialect) spoken widely here. Yet English is one of the official languages.
German architecture abounds throughout the city. The Felsenkirche, a church built by German missionaries in 1912, presents the Gothic architecture and stunning stained-glass windows of the church, making it a must-see for visitors.
One of the must-see attractions in Luderitz is Kolmanskopp, now a ghost town and once a thriving diamond mining community. Today, the town's abandoned buildings and sand-filled streets offer a glimpse into Namibia's diamond mining history. Visitors can take a guided tour of the town and explore its eerie, deserted buildings.
Namibia: The Luderitz Nest Hotel
It's difficult to visit Luderitz and NOT stay at the Luderitz Nest Hotel! The hotel sits directly on the rocks and the sea with its own private tidal beach – unique in Namibia and iconic like the city and the country. Rooms and suites have been renovated, and enjoy direct sea views. Free fiber-optic WIFI connectivity is available throughout the hotel — and it works — which is more than we can say about WiFi in South Africa.
The hotel's full-service Penguin Restaurant, with large outside terraces, serves local seafood and Namibian dishes. Breakfast is complimentary for guests. A full bar and contemporary lounge with sea views, an outdoor residents' pool, verdant gardens, a private tidal beach, an adventure playground, a sauna, and colorful walking trails from the hotel round out amenities. A generator and large water tanks on the ensure guests are not inconvenienced during power grid or water supply failures. Secure parking on-site is an added benefit.
Namibia: The People
Namibians are an open, receptive people curious about visitors we assess based on our limited contact.
The area around Luderitz and the Fish River Canyon are safe to visit. Based on our experience, Namibians will go out of their way to help strangers.
On one occasion, we got our rental car stuck in sand in the desert during an attempt to turn around. As luck would have it, two young men drove by us about 10 minutes after we got stuck. They lowered the pressure in the tires of our rental car and lifted and pushed the car back out into the road while one of us drove it. Their help was truly fortuitous — we could have been stranded for days. Afterward, they stood in the hot desert sun to talk with us.
It's easy to get stranded in this country, and you can drive for hours and not see any sign of civilization or other vehicles on the road. But we were lucky — twice.
On our way out of the country back to South Africa, we stopped at a park on the north end of the Fish River Canyon. On the road to the park entrance, about 10 miles from our destination, a truck driver stopped to tell us a rear tire on our rental car was going flat! Our arrival at the park entrance at 16:40 — 20 minutes before closure — gave us a chance to get to the local park service station for tire repair — 20 minutes before the station closed!
Our visit to the country was brief. We drove our rental car from South Africa to Namibia for a week.
Hopefully, these pictures will give you some idea about the environs. But we have almost no pix of the people (:<). We need to return to spend a month wandering through the country.
Here's a tip for future travelers: sign up for a 6-day surf the dunes with a 4X4 adventure! It's on our list ! Check out South African Country Life magazine for tips. Or Google search 4X4 adventures in Namibia.
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