My wife and I went to Namibia in August of 2011 as part of our honeymoon. While taking a break from the planning of our wedding, I was reading a magazine that had images of crazy-high sand dunes on the cover. My wife and I literally said “Let’s go there!”
So we did.
We booked the trip entirely on our own, so we didn’t go through any tours or travel companies.
After landing in Windhoek, Namibia‘s tiny little airport, it wasn’t difficult to find the rental car counter. After checking in for our reservation my wife and I were taken outside and given a COMPLETE tour of the vehicle. We requested a 4×4 through a few different companies, but no one had any. We had to settle for a standard truck and just hope for the best. The rental agent went over every tiny detail about our truck like a father was letting his sixteen year-old kid take the car for the first time. I would later understand the rental agent’s thoroughness.
About 70% of the roads in Namibia are unpaved, and that 30% paved is pretty much downtown Windhoek. Namibia one of the least densely populated countries on earth, so there really isn’t any money or need for the government to get paving.
On our travels from Windhoek to the village of Sossusvlei in Namib Naukluft Park it would be about a five hour drive, four of which were on rough gravel roads. At times, my wife and I would drive for what seemed like an hour before we passed another vehicle going the opposite direction. The solitude was comical as it was terrifying. After 45-minutes or so my wife and I would start laughing about how ridiculous the road conditions were, then a few minutes later get back into our “okay, done with this” attitude. The fun went away for good when we cut a tire and had to pull over on the side of the road to change it. We were just beyond halfway in our journey, and although we had a full-sized spare, it was our only spare. Any trouble beyond that would mean we’re up Shit Creek without paddles. Our rental agency had an emergency phone number, but not surprisingly neither of our phones worked in the remote desert that is nearly all of Namibia. Furthermore, in the period of time leading up to our flat, it had probably been close to an hour since we saw our last vehicle, and it would be another 45 minutes to an hour of driving before we would see another one. Add in twenty minutes to change a tire and you have the idea of the remote and scariness of it all.
After finally reaching our destination, the Namib Naukluft Park, we gladly ditched our car and went straight for the bar. We stayed inside the park gates at the Sossus Dune Lodge which is an all-inclusive resort, and that was good because that last thing my wife and I needed to do was go out and look for a dinner option at this point. Additionally, we were staying inside the park’s gates, which close at sunset. Obviously we couldn’t go far if we couldn’t get out or, once out, back inside.
Staying inside the park was a wonderful advantage and I highly recommend it. At Dune 45, one of the park’s more famous places, tourists were sitting along the peak of the 500-foot tall sand dune watching the sun set. As it dipped low in the sky, each one packed up their belongings and made their way to the cars. As the sun slipped behind the miles and miles of sand dunes along the horizon, my wife and I were the only ones at the park since everyone else had to be out before sunset, lest they be locked inside. That is one huge advantage of staying within the park, the other is the sunrise side of things. We booked a tour (through our lodge) to head to the Big Mama and Big Daddy Sand Dunes for sunrise. The sand-blasting wind was something I’ll never forget (nor be able to accurately describe), but then again neither is sitting atop a MASSIVE sand dune watching the sun slowly peak up over the horizon. By the time the sun was high in the sky, a few other tour companies had arrived, but we were so far ahead of them it was fantastic.
Speaking of fantastic: The stars. Never in my life have I seen so many stars. July is winter in Namibia, so the air lacks humidity. Additionally, being so far removed from any civilization gave us zero light pollution. At night, we’d sit for hours and watch countless shooting stars streak across the sky.
There isn’t much to do in this area of Namibia so I’d only recommend two or three nights. Take the sunrise tour of Big Daddy Sand Dune, stay up and watch the stars, and enjoy hiking around the rest of area during the day time. We did venture into town briefly (to get our tire fixed) and there wasn’t much beyond a couple of gas stations with oversized convenience stores attached.
On our journey back to Windhoek, we decided to take the longer route because it had more traffic. We would sometimes go twenty or thirty minutes between passing cars, which was far better than the “shorter” route we took to Sossusvlei. Before we left the resort, the girl checking us out recommended we stop in Solitaire for some apple pie. I can certainly vouch for the apple pie, but more so it was a nice break a few hours into the journey (we would have stopped anyway, just for the stretch, but the pie was certainly a nice touch). Additionally, there are a couple of signs along the way marking the Tropic of Capricorn which is a fun place to stop and take pictures.
The road back to Windhoek twists and turns quite a bit. At times, the ledge is a straight drop down the side and guardrails are nowhere to be found. Other times you’ll splash through a river running through the roadway. If this is your first or second trip out of the country I’d suggest going to some other country first. If you’ve been to a couple dozen countries you’ll be just fine.
Both roads to and from Sossusvlei take the traveler miles and miles through private game reserves. Its fun to see ostriches, springbok, monkeys, warthogs and zebras all watch the passing cars. Be prepared to stop. One of the highlights from our trip back to Windhoek was a group of six zebras curious of our car. My wife and I stopped to stare at them, as they were staring at us. When we decided it was time to head out, the zebras galloped alongside our car for nearly a mile.
We spent our final night in Windhoek at Roof of Africa, and one of the perks was gated, secured parking area. Not that crime is rampet in Windhoek (like, say, Johannesburg, SA), but things still happen. This hotel is also walking distance to Joe’s Beer House, which is famous for the different types of game one can try. It’s a HUGE restaurant that has a fire pit in the middle, long picnic table style of seating and plenty of cold beer. Even though it’s winter, beer still tastes damn good after a long journey.
On our final day, while traveling to the airport we ditched our rental truck at the drop-off site. The guy who painstakingly went over our car before we rented it out was back to do the same before receiving. The purchased insurance didn’t cover the frame, the windshield or the tires; three things we thought odd as we left, three things we completely understand upon arrival. The man seemed almost heartbroken when he discovered our patched tire. We tried to explain our displeasure in calling their help line and not getting any help (from the Sossus Dune Lodge), but he’s the car mechanic and not customer service, so he didn’t really care. As he walked us to the rental car counter to tell them about our damaged tire, he casually made a passing comment of “you know, we can solve this ourselves before we get to the counter.” I caught it; my wife didn’t. As we get to the counter, our car was perfectly fine and there are no issues or damage to report. My wife, who knows the tire had a hole and still isn’t pleased with no one helping us via the “help line” started to speak up but was quickly “shhhh-ed” and pulled away by me, while the mechanic-guy says she was mistaken. It’s only then my wife realized a deal had been made and I paid the mechanic to take care of it, instead of going though all of the paperwork and making an official report. As annoyed my wife was about not being informed of our deal, she completely understood that I can’t just turn to her and yell out “Hey honey, I just bought off the mechanic!”
As odd as the airport and rental car return may have been, it was a seemingly fitting send-off to our time in Namibia. I can’t recommend going enough, and my wife and I truly enjoyed ourselves there. It would have been nice to make it to the Skeleton Ghost Park to see some of the wrecked ships laying scattered off of the coast, but time was a factor for us. Then again, time is a HUGE factor in Namibia, where things are so spread apart and the gravel road to get from one place to another is in pretty rough shape. Maybe that’s why I loved our time in Namibia so much. It’s very much “off the beaten path,” but that path may not be so beaten, after all. From the tiny international airport to the never-ending sand dunes, Namibia was quite the adventure. I could have done without the flat tire, but in the end, it really became the cherry on top what was a great adventure trip.
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