November 15, 2014
The little Cesna banked sharply over the striated Hartmann mountains as the pilot flew the plane low over the Marienfluss valley.
Probably for my benefit we skimmed over the camel thorn trees and fairy circles which dot the yellow grasses covering the valley floor in this part of the Namib Desert. Ahead of us the gently curving Kunene River was a gash of blue in an otherwise burnt red-and-khaki landscape.
Beyond were the jagged peaks that guard the way into Angola. We landed on a strip of dirt rather than any form of airstrip marked only by a few half-submerged white painted tyres. By anyone’s standards this part of Kaokoland – three hours’ flight by light aircraft from the capital, Windhoek, and seven hours’ drive from the nearest shop of any note at Opuwo – is remote. The only remaining native inhabitants are the semi-nomadic Himba people.
The lodge here is small and tranquil – a place where all that can be heard is the murmur of the river and gentle dawn chorus of birdsong. It is definitely the end of the line and a seriously wonderful place in which to escape the world. The wide sand dune belt which stretches all along the Namibian coast gives way to gravel plains in the north – a seemingly harsh environment that has a stark and other worldly beauty.
You don’t see huge herds of game here in this north-western corner of Namibia or by the ephemeral rivers further south – after all this is the desert with next to no rainfall – but it is astonishing how many animals do manage to eke out an existence: ostrich, oryx, springbok and jackal thrive, and there is even a number of lion which can go without water for up to five days, as can desert-adapted elephants and rhinos.
Whilst some might say Namibia, perhaps because it doesn’t boast the large numbers of game to be found elsewhere, is a second-time African destination, you do see animals on a bigger scale in Etosha National Park where the variety of species to be found at the many water-holes impresses. On just driving from one side of the park to the other I saw all of the big five bar buffalo, as well as a host of other plains game.
I stayed on the edge of the park at Onguma Fort, without doubt the most stylish property in the area. From the main deck you can stretch out and watch the animals come down to drink at the waterhole. As you may have gathered, the best game viewing is all to do with waterholes!
But it is the little animals that surprise too and a living desert tour will be a highlight of your holiday when you stop at the coastal resort of Swakopmund. You are taken early into the dune belt and shown the “bushman newspaper” – tracks in the sand left from the animals’ activities of the night before.
Your guide will show you the weirdly translucent web-footed gecko, the Namaqua chameleon which, with a tongue as long as its body, catches insects with razor-sharp precision, and the dancing white lady spider that on sensing danger rolls itself into a ball and does a roly-poly down the dunes faster than its predators. Children absolutely love this tour.
It is an easy country to drive around by yourself, although having a guide to drive and look after you can be an easier way in which to enjoy it all. Some scenic flying is essential if one is fully to appreciate the drama of the country’s terrain. Up in the air, one moment you can be marvelling at extraordinary rock formations and the next flying low over the skeleton coast seeing the rusting hulks of shipwrecks, flocks of flamingos and then thousands of seals.
Namibia is a country of infinite variety, so it was no surprise on this recent trip to come across many travellers who have visited it many times. The more I go the more I want to return, and fortunately new places keep opening up. The fact that it is as big as France and England put together with a population of only two and a quarter million people means that the sense of space it gives one is unparalleled.
With the Namibian currency linked to the weak South African rand, your pounds go much further.
On visiting Namibia, so an old saying goes, you cry twice: first when you arrive, and then again when you have to leave.
For further information and bespoke itinerary planning please call Miles on 0207 723 5858.
Please call for further details. 020 7723 5858.
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