This trip takes you from the Kalahari to the Namib Desert. Along the Skeleton Coast, up through Damaraland to Etosha and finally a visit to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. A chance to get up close to some big cats. You’ll also visit Fish River Canyon, Kolmanskop Ghost Town near Luderitz, Sossuvlei and Dead Pan with a whole lot in between. 16 days, 15 nights. You know you want to.
Day 1: Windhoek ( 1 night )
On the way: You’ll be met by a friendly face of NTS who will help you deal with the car rental paperwork and also give you your travel documents and welcome pack. Keep hold of it, it’s worth gold. And goes above and beyond a free biro or a simple road map.
When you're there: Now settle into your B&B. The rest of the day is your own. Wander into town, go for dinner. You’ll find there’s a German colonial vibe, several modest museums, plus, the rather lush National Botanical Gardens.
The Olive Exclusive
Am Weinberg Boutique Hotel
Day 2: Kalahari ( 1 night )
You're off to the Kalahari. Windhoek to the Kalahari will take roughly 3-4 hours. 245km. Get ready for sand. Red sand.
On the way: After breakfast, you’ll still have time to pop into Windhoek and do a spot of shopping before you hit the tarmac. Buy supplies and snacks for the road. Head south. Your self-drive adventure begins.
When you're there: The Kalahari desert is a big mass of sand stretching 900,000sq km across seven countries including South Africa, Botswana and, of course, Namibia. She’s the largest sand sea in the world. And not a real desert as there’s too much rain. She is, in fact, a rather handsome fossil desert. Eerie and silent. You’ll have dinner and bed & breakfast at your lodge here. Soak her up. Get out your bird and mammal checklist (the one in your welcome pack), the Kalahari’s a mecca for animals, birds and reptiles. But she wouldn’t be a desert without a healthy dose of scorpions. Eeek. Socks and shoes back on. You can take a game or nature drive or try the Bushman experience and learn about the first settlers here.
Zebra Kalahari Lodge
Camelthorn Kalahari Lodge
Day 3: Fish River Canyon ( 1 night )
Fish River Canyon. The largest canyon in the world. No way! Grand Canyon! Grand Canyon! Alright, alright. Keep your Quiver Tree on. Fish River Canyon. The largest canyon in AFRICA. A huge 100 mile long ravine said to be created by the whiplash of a dragon’s tail. One and a half billion years later, we suspect that’s a myth.
On the way: You’ll need to get your snacks packed for day three. You’ll be driving for 7-8 hours to get from the Kalahari to Fish River Canyon. Approx 440km. Head south via Mariental and Keetmanshoop to the Karas region. Now it’s detour time, the Quiver Tree Forest is lush and 13km north west of Keetmanshoop. Three quiver tree species, all aloes. Hundreds grow between the rocks like a beatnik fairy land. Whilst you’re here wander another 5km and check out the Giant’s Playground. A game of Jenga with huge dolerite and basalt rocks.
When you're there: Unlike it’s big American cousin you won’t have to share the Fish River Canyon with a million other tourists, it’s remote location means it’s not a vast tourist honey pot. There are several viewpoints which are great - particularly at sunset. The light here is spectacular. Really haunting. Breathe in the fresh air. Then head for dinner. It's been a long day on the road, but well worth it.
Fish River Lodge
Day 4 & 5: Luderitz ( 2 nights )
After all that splendid nature, it’s time for some bling. Well, there would have been if you’d arrived in 1909 when diamonds were discovered nearby. These days it’s an incongruous colonial relic barely noticed by the 21st century.
On the way: Take a final sneaky peak at that dreamy canyon before heading west through harsh but marvellous terrain. You’re coastward bound. Fish River Canyon to Luderitz will take about 5-6 hours. 385km. You’ll drive through Aus on the way - look out for wild desert horses.
When you're there: One full day is set aside for the glories of Luderitz and Kolmanskop. Notice the Art Deco buildings. Head to the beach to stretch your legs, there are many sandy bays and lagoons. Grosse Bucht is stunning and there is the Irmgard shipwreck. About 10km from Luderitz lies Kolmanskop. Base camp for the first diamond rush in Southern Africa. The rush was triggered by a railway worker who got lucky but then the place was, well, abandoned. Eerie, surreal, stunning. Like a shipwreck, the buildings are being digested by the desert. Kolmanskop is a ghost town. Visit the museum and take a guided walk. Choose a good spot or a fancy restaurant for lunch and dinner.
Luderitz Nest Hotel
Alte Villa Boutique Guest House
Day 6 & 7: Sossusvlei ( 2 nights )
The ancient Namib. The world’s only coastal desert. In other words, the only time you’ll climb a sand dune and say, “Ooh. Fog. Why’s there fog?” COASTAL DESERT!
On the way: After breakfast you’ll be setting off to the sea of sand, back tracking through Aus and heading north via Helmeringhausen. It’s a trek. Luderitz to Sossuvlei will take approx 7-8 hours. 505km of driving. Arrive. Have dinner. Sleep.
When you're there: Arise early. Have breakfast. Go. Straight to the Sossusvlei entrance - the Sesriem Gate.
Spend the day here. And what a day. Sossuvlei, the Dead Vlei, Dune 45, Big Daddy and Elim Dune. That’s a whole lot of dunes. Time for a canyon. Head to Sesriem Canyon. The early Afrikaans explorers used six (“ses”) leather straps (“riem”) tied together to create a rope long enough to lower buckets and fetch water from the canyon below. They were too tired to think of a different name. Don’t blame them. You can go back to the lodge to eat or arrange a lunch pack to take with you on the dunes. If you do the latter, you might want to head home in the late afternoon for a rest. Then, dinner. Optional extras include a guided Sossusvlei trip, a nature drive or a hot air balloon safari.
Desert Homestead Outpost
Desert Homestead Lodge
Day 8 & 9: Swakopmund ( 2 nights )
Town time. Say goodbye to the desert and head to Swakop. The drive from Sossuvlei to Swakopmund will take approx 5-6 hours. 350km.
On the way: After breakfast head north to Solitaire, then west. You’ll cross the Tropic of Capricorn and drive through the Gaub and Kuiseb Canyons. The Namib Gravel Plains will take you to the coast. You can go to Swakopmund via Walvis Bay but ideally do a detour and go via Ganab to the Welwitschia Plains and Moon Landscape.
When you're there: Ah, the Namibian coastline. What a wreck. They’re everywhere. Broken shells, rusting hulls. There were once whale skeletons lying stark and barren too. You’ll have a full day and there is a lot to do between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. You could go on a dolphin cruise, dune quad biking or even sand boarding. Sea kayaking’s available too if you fancy it. The Sandwich Harbour excursion’s interesting and it gives you a big slice of the skeleton coast cake. Talking of food, you’re in a B&B here so lunches and dinners are your own. Lots of cafes to choose from. And restaurants which overlook the wide, wild sea would be particularly pleasant.
Swakopmund Luxury Suites
Day 10 & 11: Damaraland ( 2 nights )
Time to head back to the bush. Swakopmund to Damaraland, 445km, it will take about 7-8 hours.
On the way: First, a furry detour. Head north along the Skeleton Coast via Henties Bay to visit the Cape Cross Seal colony. Detour within a detour - stop at the Lichen Fields and the ship wreck between the holiday town Wlotskasbaken and Henties Bay.
Now, reverse or rather backtrack, to Henties Bay and head in land through the plains to Uis. Then drive north to the Twyfelfontein area.
When you're there: Elephants. Where? There. Shhh. Take your 4x4 west to the Huab River to search for the desert adapted beast. They’ve gone all desert adapted: sunglasses and khaki hats. Other game to look out for include oryx, springbok and ostrich. Go with a lodge guide because they really know their stuff. And they know the elephants have neither sunglasses nor khaki hats. For a bit of culture, visit the Damara Living Museum. You’ll have dinner and bed & breakfast. Not at the Living Museum but at the lodge, which is highly enjoyable.
Mowani Mountain Camp
Day 12: Etosha National Park - South ( 1 night )
Time to get serious about safari. None of this bush wandering, hope to get lucky shenanigans. Get in the car and drive for 325km to Etosha. You’ll be sipping a drink watching animals do the same in no time. Well, in 4-5 hours.
On the way: After breakfast, head east towards Khorixas. Detour for sure via the Petrified Forest. Done? Ok, back to Khorixas and head further east along the tar road up Outjo and then north to your lodge. It’s really close to the southern entrance of Etosha, the Anderson Gate.
When you're there: If there’s time go into Etosha for an afternoon drive and - depending on how many times you stop to ooh and aah - you should arrive at your lodge in time for lunch. It’s an optional extra but it’s there if you want it. Now. When you go inside the park your first stop will be Okaukuejo. Pay your entry fee, top up your supplies and get one of their maps showing all the various waterholes. Loads of mammals, loads of birds. Literally, hundreds and hundreds of species.
Enjoy your dinners at the lodge.
Day 13 & 14: Etosha National Park - East ( 2 nights )
Although you'll be spending most of the day in the car again, the good news is that it's at your own pace as you head from one side of the park to the other.
On the way: Go slow. You’ll be crawling east as you stop at the many waterholes. Be on the look out for animals. They're everywhere and you might just be lucky to spot some of the big guns.
When you're there: You can do a full day or separate morning and afternoon drives. On your own with a packed lunch or, as an optional extra, you could go with the lodge’s open safari vehicle and guide.
Our tip: Head into the park early morning when the gates open at sunrise and in the late afternoon before the gates close at sunset. During the heat of the day the animals are more lethargic. This is Africa. It gets hot. You'll be happy to escape the heat too. The swimming pool looks inviting.
Enjoy your dinners at the lodge served under the Namibia sky.
Mushara Bush Camp
Day 15: Waterberg ( 1 night )
It’s cheetah time in Waterberg.
On the way: Time to leave Etosha and drive 315km for 4-5 hours. Head south via Otavi and Otjiwarongo to Okonjima - the home of The Africat Foundation.
When you're there: Namibia takes conservation seriously. More than 40% of the country is under conservation management. Aim to arrive by 1400 at the latest to enjoy some rather marvellous tea, coffee and cakes. Then it’s time for an afternoon excursion. How charming. Dinner is included so don’t scoff too many cakes.
*You’ll have 2 activities included. Discuss this with the lodge on arrival to plan which activities you can do and the timings of such.
Okonjima Luxury Bush Camp
Okonjima Lodge Plains Camp
Day 16: Windhoek ( Departure / End of Tour )
And so, the end is near, it’s time to face the final activity... because you’ll soon be Windhoek bound.
On the way: It’s a 3-4 hour drive to Windhoek, 225km. Get up early, have a quick snack and then go for a morning activity at the Africat Foundation. You could also go for a drive in the animal enclosure which is more of a game reserve really. Then it’s back to the lodge for breakfast.
When you're there: Head to Windhoek where you’ll drop off your car and be transferred to the airport. Bear in mind it’s about an hour’s drive away and you do need to check in 2 hours before your flight.