A Namibian Road Trip

Marvin Peguese

27 Nov 2017

NWS client Marvin discovers the best of Namibia on a thrilling self-drive itinerary

They say the third time’s a charm. My first two trips to Namibia years ago were definitely not failures. But this road trip, with me behind the wheel for over 1,400 engrossing, contemplative miles (according to my Google map of the NWS itinerary), was the best.

The scenic drives through the country’s varied and vivid landscapes were as spectacular as the lodges and camps I’d selected. Namibia has some of the best roads on the continent. But, they could be narrow and intimidating to a foreigner not used to driving a huge suburban in occasionally heavy traffic on the “wrong” side of both the car and the highways.

Concentrating to stay on the road and avoid major potholes became zen-like, helping me to appreciate even more this unique spot on the planet where I felt so lucky to find myself again. Blissing out was even easier on remote gravel roads with no other cars on gorgeous horizons and a soundtrack infused with African jazz doing me no harm.

The rains came early to Namibia this year. That’s great for everybody and everything except tourists hoping for easy viewing of thirsty predators and prey at main waterholes. Most of the animals seemed to follow the rains to fresh water and vegetation remote to us. Elephants so ubiquitous in large herds on most trips were rarely seen at all on this one. Still, Etosha delivered close-up, nature show-worthy drama among a handsome pride of lions mating, hunting and driving off an intruder. And those massive storms that drenched us on some game drives also produced technicoloured skies – a dazzling backdrop to all that happened beneath them everywhere.

At Ongava, rhinos reminded us that animals use the roads as much humans, and for the same reason: convenience. This conservancy is known for its black and white rhino population, and we were able to see both frequently. But we were especially lucky to encounter a small family of rhino strolling and grazing that didn’t immediately flee into the dense roadside bush as we approached. They paused warily, in perfect light, and gave us a few much-appreciated minutes of their time before the calves got antsy and mama led them away.

All accommodations were great. But Spitzkoppen Lodge really rocked. Located among absurdly beautiful piles of rocks, its eco-designed tents were stylish and comfortable, and the rock formations on the grounds and at hiking sites beyond them offered opportunities to get physical exploring this stunning natural setting and San rock art threatened by erosion and human desecration.

Another highlight of the trip was Tommy’s Living Desert Tour in Swakopmund. All I can say about Tommy is: what a character! We ribbed each other in fun about me being his lawyer during a half-day nature tour that turned out to be way more captivating than I expected. The creatures he found as we navigated some amazing dunes just showed that he’s as knowledgeable as he is charismatic and funny. He is as much a treasure as the wonderful, fragile ecosystem his tours help to preserve.

Namibia’s iconic orange (Sossusvlei) and red (Kalahari) dunes define the country for those who know anything about it as a scenic travel destination. I’ve filled the walls of my home and office with images taken of them on prior trips. And as the unexpected chance to take this road trip came into focus, I knew I’d return to experience that austere desert grandeur. Finding new photographic angles on this awesome landscape that has no obvious bad angles was really satisfying.

Finally, at Erindi and Bagatelle it was great to see San communities integrated into tourism that usually invokes their images and aesthetic culture but otherwise sidelines them. Some of them work on the properties in operations and maintenance, and were eager as paid guides to show off the creativity and way of life that are still vibrant in their traditional homes. A wit and intuition lost on many of their observers shined in translated stories and explanations of rock art.

I live in a great city, and travel to others. But Africa’s pull seems constant. So I’ll probably get back to Namibia, hopefully along with family and friends whose interest was stoked by my photos and the stories that captured the magic of this trip.

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Comments

Allen Bechky

15/12/2017 12:39 PM

I'm a tour operator and guide. I have been to Namibia many times with Wilderness Safaris. I am interested in doing a self-drive with 2 to 4 friends. 2-3 weeks. I need an estimate of cost per diem for a suitable vehicle.

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