Namibia is a land of vast expanses with many of Africa’s ‘largest’. The largest nature reserves, the highest dunes and the tallest elephants can be found here.
It is a place where bone-dry salt pans cover its inhabitants in white dust, where desert elephants roam, and immense dunes touch the ocean.With some of the most remote regions and challenging mountain and desert conditions in Southern Africa, a plane or 4×4 is required to experience it properly. When you do, there’s an unforgettable vista at every turn.
Etosha National Park
The Etosha Pan, the ‘Great White Place of Dry Water’ gives Etosha, an immense 20,000 square km national park in the north of Namibia, its name. Visible from space, this seemingly endless 4731 square km saline desert shimmers in the heat and its dust turns Etosha’s elephants, the tallest in Africa, a ghostly white in dry season. But this immense and accessible park is not only desert. The wet season renders the Pan almost unrecognisable as summer rains fill its expanse with shallow waters that attract many migrating bird species including Greater and Lesser flamingos that regularly nest there. An incredible 340 species of birds call Etosha home, making the park a bird watching paradise. At its edges the Pan gives way to grassland savanna, with most of the park a fringe of mopane and camel thorn acacia. This diversity of landscapes supports an impressive diversity of wildlife, with over 114 of the most common and elusive mammals (including rare species like the black-faced impalas endemic to Namibia) or the dik diks (the smallest African antelope) meeting at the Park’s numerous water holes. It is here at Etosha’s water holes that huge herds of zebras, springboks, oryx and wildebeest meet the park’s predators, often in a cloud of white dust.
Home to the semi-nomadic Himba tribe, Epupa Falls, the Kunene River, Marienfluss and Hartmann’s valleys, desert elephants and desert lions, the Kunene is the most remote, untouched, and perhaps, most unusual, of Namibia’s regions. Forming the northern border of Namibia, its mountains are cut by wide, palm-fringed rivers that appear like oases from views high on remote 4×4-only roads. Communities of the eminently photogenic Himba people dot the seemingly inhospitable desert, welcoming visitors into their circle. Desert adapted elephants, black rhinoceros, oryx, giraffe and mountain zebras can be found along age-old paths cut through valleys and dry river beds. For those who make the effort to explore it, Kaokoland rewards with sublime landscapes and fascinating people.
The Damaraland territory is popular for its wild beauty, herds of springbok, desert adapted animals (elephants, oryx, zebra, giraffe, lion and rhino) and numerous cultural attractions including the famous ‘White Lady’ rock art site. Looming over its vast plains is the massive granite Brandberg mountain, the highest mountain in Namibia. Meaning ‘Fire Mountain’, the setting sun causes its western face to glow as if on fire.
The almost incomprehensibly red sand of the Namib-Naukluft Park provides a towering backdrop to skeletal trees and the brilliant white clay pans of unearthly Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. Home to some of the world’s highest, oldest and (probably) most photogenic dunes, this 32,000 square km “Sand Dune Sea” is Namibia’s most popular destination. Travelling through the park beyond its famous pans unveils an undulating mix of red, orange, cream and violet sands, a jewel of Africa’s arid biosphere with fascinating landscapes and varied wildlife. Exploration by foot, 4×4 and air reveals a circus of sand.
North of Swakopmund, highways made of salt connect remote stretches of beach dotted by seal colonies and the eerie skeletons of shipwrecks. On the southern edge of Swakopmund the desert begins to meet the sea, with expanses of dunes merging seamlessly with the sand of a seemingly endless Atlantic beachfront. South toward Sandwich Harbour the dunes literally fall into the ocean, with our beach drive into the dunes timed carefully according to tides. Panoramic views from atop these dunes provide a marvel in contrasts: endless sand on one side, endless ocean on the other. From here we are also rewarded with views of whales and the flamingo flocks below. A scenic flight will reveal a shipwreck now 1 km inland from the coast. After exploring the dunes, Swakopmund town offers pleasant walks by the sea and an interesting mix of Herero, German and Afrikaans cultures to enjoy.