For more photos and a great chronological description, please visit Andy’s website (scroll upwards after clicking the link) where he has organized our holiday into five segments.
For our last week of holidays during our stay in Africa, Andy and I decided to explore central Namibia. We flew into Windhoek last Saturday and stayed one night. In the morning we took a shuttle bus to Swakopmund and stayed five nights. From there we went to Usakos for two days and one night, prior to returning to Windhoek for our last night. Before I go on to describe our vacation, I feel it is important to share a little bit of what we learned about Namibia.
In our Lonely Planet Botswana & Namibia Tour book (2010), we read that the tourist industry is primarily controlled by the Namibian caucasian population, who only account for 6% of the total population.
As such, while we definitely learned a lot about Namibian geography and enjoyed various activities, our cultural experience was quite limited. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of opportunity to interact with people of the Owambo tribe for instance, who comprise 50% of the population.
Some other interesting facts about Namibia from the same tour book:
– one of the lowest population densities in Africa
– 85% literacy rate
– high HIV/Aids stigma and approximately 15% of the population is infected
– 5% of the population controls three-fourths of the economy and 55% of the population lives on $2USD per day (according to a 2005 UN Human Development Report)
– as such, a large economic gap exists between the rich and the poor; unfortunately there are huge inequalities between population groups
Our travel efforts:
– we stayed in eco-friendly accommodation
– we appreciated when the accommodation management hires local Namibians
– we walked when and where we could to reduce our carbon footprint
– we ate at local run restaurants as opposed to large food chains
– we participated in low environmental impact activities: hiking, kayaking, desert tour
– we booked with responsible and environmentally conscious tour companies
– we purchased local products to support the community’s economy
Windhoek is the capital city and seems to be large and somewhat modern. We did not spend a lot of time here at all. There are more sky-rises than in Gaborone. We read that the architecture of the older buildings demonstrate the influence of German colonization. The city streets seemed very quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of Gaborone.
The coastal town of Swakopmund, also colonized by Germany, is beautiful, quiet, and quaint.
The streets are lined with sand and many of them with palm trees. This offers an interesting contrast with the straight lined modern buildings of the town. At any given intersection, as you look to the West, you see the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the street, and as you look South, you see golden sand dunes.
We spent our first afternoon exploring Swakopmund, although most of the shops were closed as it was Sunday, and the waterfront. When walking out to the jetty and along the beach it was extremely windy and slightly chilly.
It is safe to walk around town at night. We realized that this was the first time in 3.5 months that we had traveled from one place to another after sunset by foot. This freedom gave us the opportunity to scope out various restaurants for dinner. Seafood places were easy to come by, however other varieties of restaurants were more limited.
Walvis Bay is more of an industrial town, compared to Swakopmund, which is geared more towards tourists. The outer edge of town is where many residents live in metal or cement shacks. We could see many children dressed in school uniform heading off to school by foot and workers walking to work, many of them dressed in navy blue long pants and sleeved shirts. Some may be working at construction sites, building new homes closer to the waterfront, or others may work in the salt mine. Walvis Bay is home to one of the largest evaporating salt mines in the world, however it is still owned by South African and not Namibia.
The drive from Windhoek to Swakopmund was very scenic. Small and spread out bush trees fill the landscape in front of large distant hills for much of the way. As we approached Swakopmund the terrain became paler with sand and vegetation is scarce. Few habitants live between these two towns.
We began to understand the vastness of the sand dunes as we drove down to Walvis Bay from Swakopmund. It was a beautiful drive: sand dunes on our left and Atlantic Ocean on our right. Our guide Craig pointed out part of Dune 7, the seventh largest dune in the world in terms of area.
During one of our early days in Swakopmund, we decided to have a closer look at the nearby sand dunes. We walked past horse stables before reaching a large river bed. After crossing over, we were walking amongst beautiful sand dunes. In the wind, it was neat to see the ripple patterns left as the top layer of sand shifts. I was surprised at how colourful the vegetation was with greens and purples, albeit it was very brittle with dryness.
We gained an even greater appreciation for the sand dunes after going on a Living Dessert Adventure Tour. We saw a white-lady spider, a small side-ways moving snake, a gecko, two different types of lizards and a chameleon. The guide was very good at explaining the elements of the desert ecosystem and the life cycle within it. We also learned about the formation of sand dunes in terms of shape and mineral composition. He stressed the importance of protecting Nambia’s fragile deserts. Unfortunately, those who ride quad bikes and 4×4 vehicles in the deserts do not always stay on the approved trail, damaging vegetation and animals species. What is also disturbing is that the tracks they leave behind can remain on the desert floor forever, as much of the rock is too heavy to be displaced by wind. In the last five years, our guide Chris brought his concerns to the international community, discouraging tourists from visiting the country. This forced the Namibian Government to create laws around desert use and as of April 2011 the entire west coast of the country is considered a national park.
The morning of our final tour, we got to explore part of the Namib-Naukluft Park in a 4X4 Landrover and by foot. We saw numerous jackals and some seals. At first it was rather cloudy, but just as we began our desert walk the sun came out. We really enjoyed walking in the sand, climbing up various dunes and strolling along the ridges. The sand felt very hot on our bare feet at times. We finally had the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, completely surrounded by golden sand dunes. These are some of the tallest coastal sand dunes in the world. We climbed the tallest peak in sight and sat on its summit overlooking the coast with the nice ocean breeze cooling us off.
At the beginning of our kayak tour in Walvis Bay, we quite enjoyed the drive through the salt mine and out on the sand spit, which now stretches three to four kilometers past the former end point where the lighthouse was placed. Winds continue to transport sand from the dunes out onto the spit, extending it gradually. We spotted flamingos, seagulls, pelicans, jackals, and numerous seal colonies. From our tandem kayak on the water, we got to see the seal colonies up close and witness the male bulls fighting each other for the female. We also saw dolphins jump and swim along side various other boats. The best part was interacting with the young seals in the water. We were amazed by their personality as they did acrobatic jumps all around our kayak, popped their heads up to look directly at us, and came up to our paddles to gnaw on them.
The afternoon of our final tour, we drove further south along the shore (now that the tide was out) to Sandwich Harbour. Here we walked along the edge of the lagoon and up various sand dunes until reaching another beautiful look out point. From up high we could really see the fresh water lagoon (the only coastal fresh water in Namibia) and where it feeds into the ocean. We then descended the steep side of the tall dune, which felt like walking down scree in the mountains, crossed over the lagoon, and walked along the beach barefoot before heading back to the vehicle for the long drive back to Swakopmund.
We spent two half days hiking in the Erongo Mountains. Just outside of the small town of Usakos lies the Ameib Ranch, a privately owned game farm. Inside this land there are numerous hiking trails around the mountains. We first explored Philipp’s cave, a national monument with famous rock paintings. From there we followed a trail to an area full of enormous rounded boulders called Bull’s Party. We then climbed past boulders and through caves and gorges to the plateau behind Elephant Head (Klettersteig “Elefantenkopf”) at a height of 1200m. It was quite amazing to see ancient rock paintings for the first time, and then walk in a valley amongst gigantic oddly placed boulders, that must have fallen many many years ago off the mountain tops and are now smooth from wind and rain. We were in complete awe of our surroundings all afternoon.
Nambia was a great country to visit during our final holiday in Africa. The owners of Mieke’s Guesthouse in Swakopmund were especially helpful in assisting us with our travel plans as we were unable to rent a car after forgetting our licenses in Botswana. We really appreciated their help organizing tours and transfers for us so that we could did get a sense of Namibia’s natural beauty.