Sitting in the Green Grass hostel room in Sao Paulo, Brazil with strange accents floating through the window and helicopters buzzing overhead, I am day dreaming of Namibia. Maybe because overlanding South America is worlds away from overlanding Africa and I miss Africa. If I had to choose a country I have toured which is the most accommodating to overlanders and independent travellers, I would probably go with Namibia.
During our last African overlanding trip we entered Namibia from Zambia and the Caprivi strip and the contrast between the progress of the two countries is astounding. The Zambian border post is a very well hidden little house on a little dirt road and the appropriately little Zambian customs lady had no idea what to do with our AA Carnet. The Namibian border post is a glass, brick and steel structure complete with porcelain tiles, modern ablution facilities and air conditioning. The staff are well trained and friendly and we passed through customs and immigration control within minutes.
An excellent barometer of Namibian prosperity is the Northern Namibian town of Grootfontein where there is a Spar of the aaahah Good For You variety. It is an oasis of fresh produce, meat , more meat and refreshment. After the culinary drought in Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi we were amazed by the bounty. Namibia is predominantly rural and agricultural in the wetter areas, it is a Boer paradise and the Afrikaner in me was content. Touring Namibia is similar to touring the Northern Cape and the Karoo. Large, dry expanses with arrow straight roads and long hours of 110kmh chilled road tripping.
Easily accessible from the Western and Northern Cape, Botswana and Zambia there are many reasons why this peaceful and prosperous nation should be on the bucket list for both novice and experienced overlanders. Crossing the border from South Africa is a painless and professional affair if you have all of your documents in order. The Rand is accepted throughout Namibia as legal tender equal to the value of the Pula. It is not unusual to pay for items in Pula and to receive change in Rands. The roads, whether paved or unpaved, are generally in very good condition and Afrikaans is widely spoken and whether you are a hard core 4x4 bundu bashing dune ramper or a soft roading in a Volksie B&B frequenting overlander, or somewhere in between, you will find that Namibia will suit your wanderlust. Many of the attractions are accessible in a good family sedan but care must be taken on the very long sand roads. It is not uncommon to see a rented 4x4 by a German then flipped into the veld Avis car. This is bad news for Fritz because the nearest hospital could be up to 7 hours away.
A popular route through the country is the C13, C14 and C27 (mostly) unpaved route which starts about 20km from the Vioolsdrif border with South Africa and runs up the desert to Swakopmund. This is a very long and dusty stretch but is worth the clogged nose because your first night will be in the Ai- Ais/ Richtersfeld Transfrontier park. Don’t forget to look up at night because the Namibian night skies are superb. On the same route you will also be able to access the Namib Naukluft Park, Sesriem Canyon and Sossusvlei, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and will get you close to the Etosha National park. You can also deviate from the route to explore the coast (usually with a permit and/or a tour operator) or head inland to restock your beer and boerie.
Sossusvlei and Sesriem was a highlight for us and is very popular with tour operators. There is a main camp with ablutions etc which must be booked well in advance but if you don’t book, as we neglected to, there is an overflow camp without facilities. At 4am the road into the Sossusvlei resembles William Nicol on a Monday morning. A traffic jam complete with cyclists, overlanders and tour operators jostling for poll position to be the first to get to the dunes to set up the cameras for that unforgettable sunrise.
The entire west coast of Namibia was spectacular and peaceful. Actually if I have one criticism of the Namibian overlanding experience it would be that the country is a bit too safe, too peaceful, too easy to travel. Where are the AK47’s and road blocks, the tinned food, bad roads, mud, stomach bugs? Well… there is a little country to the North called Angola...