Namibia 🇳🇦 | Exploring the canyons and deserts in the south
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
While I was getting my hair and nails done, enjoying a stroll along the Alfred & Victoria Waterfront in Cape Town, I was wondering from time to time: how is Bjoern doing? Well, of course that was not what was happening. Having been stuck in Khartoum myself I was constantly worried and praying he would make it out of there better sooner than later. I got the occasional update on visa procedures, PCR testing and Boggy’s place of rest and finally, one night - I was already tucked in to my large bed with a comfy duvet - I got the message: At the airport now. If you are loyal readers to the blog you already know that the night was going to get long. And there was a point where I actually thought that the Sudanese officials might just keep Bjoern for good and he’d be stuck at the airport, unable to get in or out like Victor Navorski. I can totally see that. Unfortunately, this would probably not happen before a couple of days. However, we all know, he eventually made it and I welcomed the adventurer back to civilization.
"...we had to stay true to our motto - living settled was not the spirit we could feel."
After it had become clear that we would be leaving Boggy in Sudan we had decided to find another home on wheels with which we could keep exploring. We realized in South Africa that we had to stay true to our motto - living settled was not the spirit we could feel.
The Southern parts of Africa, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe are very popular destinations for self-drive safaris and 4x4 campers. Therefore, the offers were plenty and since we had never planned on spending so much money for flights, accommodation or let alone another car, we opted for the cheapest deal. It would later turn out to be the wrong decision, but that’s a story for another time. So, meet Achim: a single cab 4x4 Toyota Hilux, equipped with a fold up roof tent and full camping gear and, the most outstanding feature to us: A/C! We got a quick introduction at the rental company, threw our bags in the back and off we went, so happy to be back on the road!
We had spent quite some time by now in South Africa and were ready for a new country so after getting tested, we headed straight to the Namibian border at Vioolsdrif/Noordoewer. For the first time since we had left Europe, we were about to cross a border without a fixer - no one to exchange bundles of cash with, no shady wheeling and dealing with officials at the border post but most of all: no one to tell us what to do! So, obviously, we couldn’t handle it and what could have been the easiest border crossing of all Africa turned out to be mayhem. We went full-on headless chicken, almost got stuck (again!) in the no man’s land between the two countries because we forgot the passage slip and overall, just left the officials at the post in disbelief. We were relieved to find that the whole currency thing was at least easier and not about finding a dark corner to exchange at black market rates: After Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in 1990, the Namibian Dollar was introduced in 1993 to replace the South African Rand. The Rand is still legal tender, since the Namibia Dollar is pegged to the Rand.
Driving towards our first destination, the Fish River Canyon, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t be meeting many people on our trip through the country: with a population of only 2.5 million on an area of 800.000 square kilometers (about twice the size of Germany) you can drive on long and dusty roads for hours with no one to pass.
Wild camping is almost impossible in Namibia since the land is pretty much entirely split up in private land, game resorts or national parks which meant back to campgrounds for us. But if we had to pick the one thing the Namibians are good at, it’s campgrounds. Once you’ve passed the reception, which is mostly some kind of barn, you are basically driving into wilderness but with the comfort of showers and clean, shady spots. So, on our way to Fish River Canyon, our first stop was in the middle of the desert with a pool and a Braii station where Benzino started his master class: no more artificial fire starters or briquettes, only mother nature’s offerings.
The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the view over Fish River Canyon all by ourselves, as so many attractions before. It’s a magnificent, impressive landscape which Katharina had time to take in while Bjoern rushed off to deal with the effects of his morning coffee.
After the successful completion of this task we hit the road again for our next destination: Kolmanskop, the mysterious gold miners’ ghost town in the Namib desert, just off the coast. We pitched camp in yet another awesome campground with wild horses stopping by as visitors and enjoyed doing nothing at the pool.
After the discovery of diamonds in the area, German miners started the settlement Kolmaskop which was followed by the German Empire declaring a huge surrounding area as Sperrgebiet (still called that today), exploiting the natural resources for almost 5 decades, holding 20% of the world’s diamond production. The German miners lived a life of luxury, driven by the enormous wealth of the diamond rush - Kolmaskop had its own ice cream factory, every household was equipped with a freezer, you could take a dip in the outdoor pool and champagne was sipped in the ballroom or the casino. As quickly as it had risen, the settlement fell when the diamond fields started to deplete in the mid 20th century and it was simply abandoned.
With a permit, you can enter the village and get an informative tour. Afterwards you can wander around by yourself, exploring the remainders of the settlers which are slowly vanishing with the desert claiming back the land.
After some cultural input we were excited for the next nature adventure: the Sossusvlei, a salt pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park with dunes that are among the highest in the world. Many are above 200 meters, the most famous one is nicknamed Big Daddy (about 325 m) and the highest one being Dune 7 (about 388 m).
Right outside the park gates is a campground where everybody stays the night before entering so you can get in by sunrise. It was our first time driving in deep desert sand, so it was essential to deflate the tires. Guess who wasn’t equipped with a deflation device? You guessed correctly. But as we were about to tackle the process with a pen, Bjoern played his charm with two French girls who helped us out and off we went.
The goal was to climb Big Daddy and if you are thinking: 325 meters, come on, don’t be such p*** - think twice: we’re talking very soft and sandy ground as well as 40 degrees and no shadow at 10 am. With 30 kilograms more on the scale than Katharina, Bjoern was in for a lot of suffering: less weight means less sinking into the sand, so I was the one pushing. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t accept that either the French-German influencer couple, or the two French girlfriends or the middle-aged German couple we passed on the way up would make it to the top before us.