We began our next adventure in Namibia, flying into Windhoek via Johannesburg, with two nights there before starting a camping tour of the country. It was actually two separate tours, a week in the south, followed by a week in the north.
Windhoek is a small city, surrounded by largely barren land. We discovered this when we ventured out from the city centre and in no time seemed to be out in the wilds. By contrast, the centre is quite westernised, with a number of modern shopping malls and countless coffee shops. We also found a couple of smart restaurants, with good food and service, but very reasonable prices.
While exploring Windhoek we saw the Gibeon meteorites (remnants of a 15-ton iron meteorite which broke up and landed in the desert) displayed on stands in one of the malls, and the old railway station with its collection of bygone rolling stock on show outside. We visited the Zoo Park, where we were entertained by a group of schoolchildren from the south putting on a dancing display. We also explored the pleasantly laid-out gardens of the parliament building, and viewed the Christuskirche which dominates the city.
Southern Camping Tour
On the southern tour we were accompanied by three Germans, three Italians and a South African, all much younger than ourselves. Most of the accommodation was in tents which we erected ourselves (sometimes with help), though we did have one night in a hotel in Luderitz. The main downside of camping is that the Namibian desert can get very cold at night!
Our first two nights were at a camp at Sossusvlei, near the impressive sand dunes of the Namib desert. On the way down there we stopped at the Namibian Carnivore Conservation Centre, where we were taken to see a pair of semi-wild cheetahs, slobbed out under a bush.
The following morning we were up early, to view the sunrise from the top of a dune – although not everyone made it to the top. Later we visited a place called Deadvlei, where a depression has filled with a white deposit, with a large number of dead trees dotted about. It was picturesque in an eerie kind of way. In the afternoon we walked through Sesriem Gorge, and scrambled over some rocks to see a pool of permanent water at the end of the canyon. Finally that day we climbed another dune to see the sunset!
Namibia is big – very big. And very empty. We appreciated that the next day when we drove for hundreds of miles, mostly on dirt roads, to our next destination – Luderitz, on the Atlantic coast. This is an old German settlement, with a number of brightly painted houses dating from the 1900s. Nearby is the ghost town of Kolmanskop, where they used to mine diamonds, but now it’s partly covered in sand.
Fish River Canyon
Our next major stop was in the Fish River area, to see the canyon, allegedly the second biggest in the world. We spent the night at the Canyon Roadhouse campsite, with part of the evening patronising their fascinating bar. This is packed with old cars and number plates from all over the world.
The following morning we visited the canyon, and walked along the rim from one viewpoint to the next. It is certainly impressive, though in such places it’s hard to get an idea of the scale. Unfortunately, we were unable to walk down into the canyon and had to be content with a brief view from the edge.
Fossils and Quiver Trees
Further north and west we were shown a hillside near our camp where dozens of mesosaurus fossils were found. Mesosaurus was one of the first reptiles, about 280 million years old. Some of the fossils were still in place, showing amazing details of the creatures’ structure.
Nearby was another hillside covered in piles of dolerite rocks and quiver trees. Quiver trees are actually a type of aloe, and can grow to a large size and great age. The combination of rocks and trees formed a very photogenic spectacle as the sun set.
Our final stop was on the edge of the Kalahari desert, at a game lodge called Bagatelle. We spent a few hours relaxing by their small (but very cold) pool, along with their tame springbok and a large fluffy cat. In the morning we did a game drive over the red dunes, and saw many examples of the local wildlife – springbok, gnu, oryx, kudu, giraffe, meerkats and vultures.
After that it was back on the road north to Windhoek, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn on the way, with a stop for a group photo.