Namibia: Self-drive road trip by 2WD
January 1, 1970
by Chryssa Kotampasi
This is the story of my crossing through Namibia this August, which is part of a full circle road trip from Johannesburg in South Africa to Botswana, where I drove the Trans-Kalahari highway to Namibia, then back to South Africa, Cape Town, up to Knysna and then through the Great Karoo back to Johannesburg.
A beautiful trip through beautiful countries, but Namibia stands out for its amazing scenery and the endless sky.
This trip was organized mainly because of my wish to visit Namibia, but since I got extra days of holiday, I wanted to fill them with as many kilometers as possible. Another reason I landed at Johannesburg is that the air tickets from Greece were much cheaper and so were the car rental prices. Just to give you an idea, my 2WD car for 23 days cost less than 500€ (about 550USD), including full insurance and permission to enter Botswana and Namibia, while in Namibia I should have paid double price. Also, I chose to bring my camping equipment, as there are very well maintained and safe camp sites everywhere around the country, and this way I managed to keep this trip low budget.
I entered Namibia through Buitepos Border Post and drove a straight, empty road to Windhoek. It was already getting dark so I headed directly to the camp site which was inside the town. A nice thing about camp sites in Namibia is that they provide ample space for you and your tent or caravan as well as a braai (bbq). My knowledge on starting a fire even with a lighter is so limited that I preferred the camp’s restaurant, wherever there was one. The food everywhere I tried it was from decent to very good, in very touristic areas the food was also decent but…touristic. At places without restaurants in the camp sites having a gas stove with you can actually save you from starvation :).
The next day I drove around the capital, which doesn’t have much to do actually, so my wondering begun and took me about 450 km north to Hoba metorite, no more than a huge stone some would say, but knowing that it fell from the sky it makes it so special! The road was asphalted and only 30km were on a good gravel road.
Before night I was arriving at a camp site a few km outside Etosha National Park, near Namutoni entrance, from where I would start the next day.
Etosha National Park
The idea was to cross the park from Namutoni to Okaukuejo, doing my very first self-drive safari. If I did not get to see a Lion, I would go again the next day with a guided tour. Just a few meters after entering the park, there was a massive African Elephant walking in the middle of the road. “Wow!” I thought, “that’s gonna be a lot of fun”. And so it was, half way, a few cars had stopped spotting at something, and that was a lioness! She has killed a poor zebra pretty close to the road and she was standing there guarding her prey, while two more lionesses were sleeping in the bushes. To see such a majestic predator, so close and in its territory is an unforgettable experience. Buffalos, Zebras, Springboks, Giraffes, Elephants, Antelopes were very easy to spot along the way. There is a little road before arriving at Okaukuejo that leads to a waterhole where you can meet the Rhinos. Unfortunately, I missed it, so I guess that is something I left for the next time. All big five can be seen in Etosha, although the Leopard avoids being seen regularly. The road is an easy-drive gravel.
The next day, after I had stayed at Outjo, I entered the Skeleton Coast from Springbokwasser Gate and exited from Ugab River Gate. That’s an amazing drive in a vast land. The feeling you get there is out of the Earth, it cannot be described with words and one must feel it. It’s the feeling of roughness that inspired Bushmen to call it “the land God made in anger” and the Portuguese sailors to refer to it as “The Gates of Hell”. Soon before sunset, in a sunny day the fog rose from the sea, making the scenery even more intense. Near Ugab River Gate you can easily spot shipwrecks and an Old Oil Drill Rig. If you had any intention of staying for the night at Mile 108, reconsider as it is abandoned. I did have that intention but I continued driving up to Cape Cross, which is a very nice place to stay.
In the morning, I met the seals! At Cape Cross there is one of the largest colonies of seals in the world. An oxygen mask would have helped, as seals don’t seem to bath a lot. I swear that was the worst smell I had ever smelt! Other than that, these adorable, smelly and loud creatures are so fun to observe that made me stay for hours!
Walvis Bay – Dune 7
In the afternoon, I was already in Walvis Bay, setting my tent and soon I was walking on the waterfront with the company of flamingos. Bird photographers should love this spot.
At sunset I was climbing up Dune 7, while the sun was setting. A sunset from the top of Dune 7, is a view not to be missed.
Tropic of Capricorn
Next day, would be the hardest. The destination was Sesriem, in the heart of Namib Desert. My navigator was very specific that it would take about 8 hours to arrive, and so it happened. The 320 km were mostly on a super bumpy gravel road. Midway, getting to the Tropic of Capricorn sign was a happy break that reminds that even in the middle of absolute nothing, this country has a gift for you. Some would say it’s just a sign, for me it’s a connection to the solar system, a point from where the sun stands directly above in December solstice. A few hours later, I was finally there.
Sesriem – Sossusvlei
I had planned to spend a whole day in the desert and it was a great decision. Getting there was exhausting, but what a surprise, in the middle of the desert there was an asphalt road (!) leading to Sossusvlei. The first thing that catches your eye is the color of the sand, pink or orange depending on the sun light, like the sea changes color, always beautiful, no matter how. The road passes right next by Dune 45 and I guess that’s why it’s one of the most photographed dunes in the world. Of course I couldn’t resist to a few shots, but I was really anxious seeing Deadvlei.
At the end of the asphalt road, about 6 km far from the Deadvlei, you have two options. One is to walk; the other is to get in a 4WD “taxi”. Even if you are on your own 4WD, just know that many were stuck in the sand and try it only you are an experienced 4WD driver. Of course I chose to walkJ. I just wanted to live at least some desert experience, and at least that day, it seemed I was the only one.
Arriving at Sossusvlei I just couldn’t believe my eyes. That beauty is not found every day. I just sat watching and feeling blissful. Next project: yeah! I had to climb that Dune standing across me, Big Daddy. It took a while and some effort on that hot day but it absolutely worthed it. The view from the top is equivalent to the view from the highest peak of a high mountain. I could see the whole desert and right below me there was white as snow the Deadvlei.
The whole hike took me that long that all visitors were already gone in their taxis and I was there alone! What a feeling! You can’t get enough of it but at some point you have to go back. I run down the hill, on the burning sand (just remember to wear boots, cause I didn’t and regretted it) and there I was in Deadvlei standing between 900 years old dead trees.
Getting back on foot was not my first choice but no visitors, means no “taxis”. Lucky for me someone was stuck on his 4WD and a taxi was on its way to help him so I rode and I won a ride further in the desert where that poor guy was stuck. Back in my car, I thought it was be nice to take a timelapse video of the sunset at Dune 45, and be back at the gate of the park before sunset time, as it’s a rule.
Lüderitz – Kolmanskop
Half the road to Lüderitz proved to be quite a pain in the ass as well, but the scenery is very rewarding, as you pass next by dunes. The other half part of the road is an asphalt road with beautiful panoramic views. Lüderitz is a very nice city, very isolated next to the Ocean. Its highlight is the view of the city from above the Felsenkirche, the rock church. The camps site is also in a great location, on a cape, offering a great view of the city lights.
Kolmanskop, or the ghost town is an abandoned town where diamond miners uses to live and trade. I know you will be tempted to look around for a shiny little diamond, but not only it is forbidden to take it, it is also rather impossible to spot any as there is really nothing left. Try to take some pictures instead that could be real diamonds.
Leaving the area, on the road to Keetmanshoop’s Quiver tree forest, you probably won’t miss the wild horses and if you decide to stand for a while on the side of the road they are most likely to approach you for a nice shot. If these good-hearted amazing creatures get too close don’t be afraid, they trust you, so trust them back.
Quivery Tree Forest
Arriving just before sunset at the Quivery Tree Forest is a great opportunity for wondering in the forest, meeting the rodents that live there and get great shots.
Fish River Canyon
World’s second biggest canyon offers a million dollar views. Don’t just stay at the end of the road, follow the paths and see its majesty. There are two areas for picnic, so take a beer with you, your lunch or your gas stove, cook something and enjoy a meal at a surrounding that no restaurant can offer you. Just remember to pick your rubbish ;). I should also mention that you can only pay in cash to enter the park and/or stay at the camp site. Also, be aware of the baboons!
After experienced all that, I said a “Thank you” and a “Goodbye” to Namibia, until the next time. I exited from Noordoewer Border Post, and continued my adventures in South Africa, but that’s another story to be told.
When travel guides refer to Namibia’s criminality they should not leave out that this country will steal your heart!
Golden rules and tips for a road trip in Namibia
- Stay safe. Namibia is another African country, although its people are kind and always happy to meet you and get to know you better, there is a lever of criminality that should not be disregarded. Fortunately, in Namibia there is no danger that someone will stub you to steal your camera, but make sure to arrive at your destination before sunset. That way you can always enjoy another beautiful sunset over the golden lands. It’s not a disaster if you are on the road still when it’s dark, but be very careful of crossing animals. Not only, it is a pity to hurt the poor animal, but you could also break your car and get into unpleasant adventures. After dark, you shouldn’t walk around the cities and you should never leave anything and I mean nothing in your car in a conspicuous place, cause that could end up with a broken window. During the day you should keep your camera under your arm and your wallet out of sight. Another trick I use a lot and makes me feel comfortable is “the fake wallet”, which is full of expired credit cards and just a few money for the day needs that I wouldn’t mind it been stolen, as I keep all the valuables well hidden. I had a minor incident in Windhoek my very first day in Namibia, so here is an advise. I wanted to withdraw money from an ATM which was next to a central road but it was early in a Sunday morning and hardly a car or two passed by. A man suddenly came and stood right behind me, who I fortunately noticed and I canceled the transaction. Later I found out from a local girl, that it can be unsafe to withdraw money from ATMs that are unguarded. Actually, many ATMs have one or two security guards, but even so, you should always ask them to keep in a safe distance from you. The best option is to do your transactions at the shopping stations that you can find in every city. There is, usually a big parking area surrounded by a bank, a gas station, a supermarket, a pharmacy, other kind of shops and security guards. In general, I must say that I felt pretty safe in Namibia, there is absolutely no need to worry, if you just follow these simple rules especially in the cities. At all touristic destinations the safety is of a high level.
- Stay fueled. I was never anxious about arriving at the next fuel station, only because I filled up the relatively small tank of my 2WD in every given chance. Namibia is a very sparse populated country and you may drive for hours and hours before reaching the next gas station. Make sure you have enough fuel to reach your next destination and make sure there are gas stations. It’s better to go on a detour at a gas station a few kilometers out of your route, than run out in the wilderness. What you should also know is that gas stations accept only cash! and no credit cards.
- Currency & tips. You can pay with credit/debit card almost everywhere in Namibia, except of course gas stations and a few other facilities, and so keep always enough money for gas and accommodation. The currency that is accepted in Namibia is the local Namibian Dollar (NAD) and South African Rand (ZAR), which have the exact same value. The typical tip for a waiter at a restaurant is 10% of the bill, and for a guard at the public parking areas is 5NAD.
- Clothes & camping equipment. In August it is still winter, there is no rain, the sky is blue and the temperatures vary from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius, so it may get a little bit chill at night especially near the Ocean. The musts are a winter sleeping bag and a warm jacket during this period of year. I strongly suggest a gas stove and kitchenware. If you need to buy camping equipment you should do it at Windhoek or Swakopmund, as you won’t find elsewhere.
- Car. A 2WD will not disappoint you in Namibia, although sometimes it can be tiring because of the bumpy gravel roads. In general I never regretted renting a 2WD, but if you can afford it, a 4WD will save you time and effort.
- Apps. There is one navigator application that is free, reliable, works offline and is a must. MAPS.ME has driven me 9.000 km in Southern Africa and many more in my other road trips. Never disappointed me, I highly suggest it.
A fun fact
I sent post cards to my friends, family and myself from Etosha National Park Post office and they arrived, more than a month after, long after I had returned home. I really believed they were lost… So, buy postcards but consider delivering them yourself!