When Donald Trump made his uncouth slur about countries in Africa, I cursed him under my breath (for the umpteenth time), rolled my eyes and then emitted a little chuckle for the bigot. He obviously hasn’t been to Namibia.
Distinguished by the vast Namib Desert running along its Atlantic Ocean coastline, Namibia, a country in the southwestern region of Africa, is otherwise known as the land of open spaces and is characterised by breathtaking scenery and immense contrasts. Roaring oceans meet deserted deserts, mountainous landscapes meet rolling dunes and the swirling mists off the coast cool the baking African sun that shines all year round. Sparsely populated with immense open spaces, this enchanting region of the earth has the ability to stir your spirit and move you in a way that will undoubtedly leave a magical imprint on your heart. On a recent trip to what is often referred to as the soul of Africa, I found out why, first hand.
If you’re anything like me and love a good road trip, this is the place to go. With such great distances between places to visit, the incredible ever-changing landscapes and the freedom to stop anywhere at any time make it ideal – but planning (and a functioning GPS or good old fashioned road map) is imperative. As is a 4×4 if you’re hitting the road less travelled. Unfortunately, this time around, we had slightly limited time (3 nights), and a rather large distance to cover, so decided to stick to the tar roads to avoid any glitches. After a comfortable 2-hour flight from Cape Town, I landed at Hosea Kutako International Airport, met my travel buddies for the next few days, picked up our rental and hit the road. First stop: the coastal city of Swakopmund, sitting at the edge of the Namib Desert.
The road from Hosea Kutako to Swakopmund stretches just under 400km and is a pleasant drive with dramatic landscapes between small, friendly towns. Arriving in Swakopmund, often referred to as Namibia’s premier holiday resort, we were greeted by picturesque colonial buildings, cobbled streets and beautiful beaches. The whole town retains a strong German flavour but with an unmistakably charming African flair. Wanting to be as close to the beach as possible, we spent two nights at the Strand Hotel Swakopmund – an iconic and historic 4-star hotel surrounded by the ocean on three sides that truly epitomises Namibian warmth and first-class hospitality. After an extremely friendly welcome, we toasted to a successful day on the road with some chilled G&T’s and were checked in to our rooms. Airy and beautifully furnished with a real coastal feel, and absolutely stunning ocean views, the rooms are elegant and well-equipped with all the amenities to ensure utmost comfort. Stylish art adorns the walls and splashes of colour add a welcome charm.
That night, we ate at the hotel’s very own micro-brewery, aptly named, the Brewer & Butcher. A brewery, beer garden, restaurant, bar and lounge in one, Brewer & Butcher specialises in, you guessed it, meat and beer – Namibian, German and other meat dishes as well as its very own craft beer, brewed onsite. Naturally, considering its proximity to the ocean, seafood is also on the menu and fresh produce is caught and delivered daily and, like all the dishes on the menu, prepared exquisitely. It’s the perfect spot to relax and unwind after a day on the road – a cosy, chilled vibe with friendly service, cold beer and delicious, comforting food.
After a great night’s rest, and one of the finest buffet breakfast spreads I have ever seen and tasted (Strand Hotel really do breakfast best!), we headed out for an action-packed day of fun, starting in the port town of Walvis Bay, a 30-minute drive along the coast from Swakopmund. Here, we met our awesome guides for the day from Solar Switch Booking & Safaris (all organised through the hotel) aboard a luxurious catamaran and we were soon out on the water, ready to enjoy the amazing riches of the Atlantic Ocean. There was a chill in the air, the mist was thick and there was an eerie ambiance in the harbour as we made our way out into the deep. Before we knew it, we had some unexpected visitors – a pair of great white pelicans and a seal and her pup had made their way onto the yacht where they were treated to a fishy feast by one of the guides. This lifted the spooky mood instantly and before we knew it, we were laughing, toasting with sherry to warm our tummies (it’s never too early for sherry), and thoroughly enjoying the presence of our newly self-appointed crew members.
A catamaran cruise is a must if you’re visiting the area. As the mist lifted and the sun began to shine, we were treated to some incredible sights. We passed oyster farms, old, abandoned fishing boats and oil rigs en route to the famous Pelican Point with its signature lighthouse, where we witnessed around 60,000 resident Cape Fur Seals and hundreds of pelicans up close and personal, enjoying their abundant coastal habitat. For brunch, we were treated to a selection of delicious savoury snacks, sparkling wine and, of course, the freshest oysters one can imagine, before heading back to the harbour.
Back on land, we were loaded into 4×4’s and headed out to one of Namibia’s most incredibly beautiful national parks – the Namib-Naukluft National Park – home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world, rising up more than 300 meters about the desert floor. These ancient dunes run straight into the ocean, resulting in some of the most dramatic, magnificent sceneries you will ever see. A 4×4 tour takes guests from Walvis Bay, via the Walvis Bay Saltpans – a spectacular sight of pink and white – into the Namib-Naukluft National Park and all the way along the coast to Sandwich Harbour, a breathtaking protected wetland on the Skeleton Coast. After a quick lunch and a mission, on foot, up one of the giant dunes to enjoy what seems like an endless view of Sandwich Harbour, sand, sea and sky that will make you emotional with awe, it’s time for the adrenaline pumping stuff. The route back is an absolute trip – thrills for days! Up and down the colossal dunes, and full immersion into the vastness of the desert at the hands of a professional 4×4 driver is a thrill-seekers dream (unless of course you’d prefer to take the wheel yourself!). For many people visiting the area, this is a highlight from their travels and I can understand why. It’s something you have to experience to understand and I urge those that visit to simply not miss it.
Back at the Strand Hotel after a full day of fun, we enjoyed a fine dining dinner experience at the Ocean Cellar – a restaurant that celebrates the essence of the Atlantic Ocean with a fresh seafood and sushi selection that will impress any foodie. Their exclusive World Oyster Journey is something I highly recommend and comprises of three oysters served in a condiment style from Mexico (spicy chili, tomato, lime and oregano), Japan (sake, soy sauce and wasabi), France (shallots and red wine vinaigrette), England (Worcestershire, bacon bits and parsley), Colombia (red pepper and lime) or Vietnam (lemongrass, soy, ginger and fish sauce). It’s impossible to pick a favourite, so I suggest you just try them all.
The following day, we bid adieu to the Strand Hotel after a magnificent stay and drove roughly 700kms inland to Namibia’s renowned Etosha National Park. With only one night and a long drive the following day, staying at the closest lodge to the park was ideal. Mokuti Etosha Lodge is located on the famous eastern side of Etosha – a mere 4-minute drive to the Von Lindequist Gate. On arrival at Mokuti, the sprawling, green gardens, sparkling pools and warm Namibian welcomes from all the staff and other critters that roam the space were an ideal way to end a day of driving. It really is like an oasis. After a dip in the pool, we made our way into the park on an afternoon game drive.
Aside from the incredible, diverse array of wildlife, the highlight for me was seeing the famous Etosha Pan – a bare, open expanse of iridescent white and green that spans around 4,800km². 130km long and up to 50km wide in some places, it is the largest salt pan in Africa and is visible from Earth. It is a truly magnificent sight and really puts things into perspective… as is common with most of the landscapes of Namibia. After a beautiful game drive, we were treated to sundowners on Mokuti’s private landing strip where we had front row seats to the most awe-inspiring African sunset I have seen in years. It was a magical experience – a moment in which time stood still for a while and all was ok with the world.
On arrival back at the lodge, the fires were roaring and the meat was cooking. A Namibian braai was underway, coupled with a buffet filled with delights to pair with the assortment of meats, stews and curries bubbling and searing on the open coals. A glass of a wine, a plate of traditional pap with tomato gravy, some deliciously prepared venison, hearty veg and great conversation and I was more than content.
We called it a night pretty early in lieu of a long drive back to the aiport the following day and as I lay in my room, listening to the sounds of the nocturnal critters doing their nightly business, I wished I could stay longer. Alas… I would have to return.
Namibia – the land of open spaces – truly stirred my spirit and gave me a thirst for more. I look forward to exploring more of this African paradise, the very soul of a continent that is alive with culture and natural splendour, in the very near future.
Donald Trump, eat your heart out.
For more information on the Strand Hotel Swakopmund, visit www.strandhotelswakopmund.com.
For more information on Mokuti Etosha Lodge, visit www.mokutietoshalodge.com.
For more information on Solar Switch Bookings & Safaris, visit www.desert-tracks.com.
Text © Julie Graham | Images © Julie Graham & Supplied