Namibia… adventure, freedom and safety.
Namibia hasn’t been on our itinerary right from the beginning. When we asked our kids what they wanted to see on our world trip, both kids named giraffes, lions and elephants. So we had to reconsider our route (of course!) and included Africa as a stop. Spoiler alert about the lions: Gregor heard the lions roar at night, but we didn’t ever see them. They just hid too well.
We’ve only heard good things about Namibia as a travel destination for families. We agreed on a route pretty quickly, but in the end we shortened it drastically. Because honestly. You can’t see everything in 3 weeks. Driving to one different location every single day is feasible, but not a realistic (and relaxed) travel scenario with children. Not even without children.
The streets of Namibia…
… are diverse, incredibly varied, require attention and sensitivity when driving, are full of potholes, gravel or sand, large stones, sand AND gravel, sand AND large stones. The distances are long (note: always refuel in time, replenish water and pack enough snacks).
But right from the beginning
We had vaguely defined our route. It will be a common thing throughout our trip that we often cannot make up our minds and decide where to go until the day before. But at least, we are learning not to be surprised about any fully booked accommodations. After a short period of acclimatization in Windhoek, we planned to pick up our car and drive directly from Windhoek to Etosha. In addition to the accommodation in Australia, the car in Namibia was one of the two things that we had booked before departure and had received a really good offer for a 4×4 with roof tents, thanks to STA Travel.
Windhoek and transportation
The first day in Windhoek felt strange. I do not know whether it was because of the 36-hour journey to Namibia and the associated fatigue and sensitivity on my part. In any case, the looks we received during our walk to the supermarket were anything but friendly. In retrospect, we think it may have been because hardly anyone who can afford driving, walks in this city. Or carries his groceries home with two children. Maybe we didn’t fit in the picture? Maybe the looks were just irritated and not unfriendly?
However, after this arduous walk through Windhoek to do the groceries, in the midday heat, the next days we only drove by City Cab. We would definitely recommend using it. We received a recommendation from a friend in Windhoek to use that way of getting around. You can order the City Cab by phone or e-mail (e-mail doesn’t work for last minute, you should write some time in advance) and you are immediately informed about the price.
The Sim-Card plus data-package for Namibia we bought as soon as we arrived at the airport was a good decision, because we needed it for the navigation and most of the camps only had limited Wifi.
Etosha National Park – Camp Halali
Our first stop after Windhoek was the Etosha National Park. The only camp that still had capacity for our travel dates was Camp Halali. It is situated less than an hour from Etosha Park Gate. We had to be in the park before 5 p.m. and in the camp before 6 p.m. (sunset). Unfortunately we miscalculated the time it would take from Windhoek to Etosha (arrival plus detailed training at the Britz car rental, plus the necessary shopping for camping) and so we arrived at the camp shortly after sunset.
So it just happened that we did two quite stressful things: driving on the gravel roads after sunset, which is strongly advised not to do and worrying about not being admitted to the camp or paying a penalty, because of arriving after sunset or losing the permit to stay at the park.
We set up our tents in the dark. Our anticipation for sleeping in the rooftents had been growing over the past months, so we were quite motivated to set up the tents. Without that excitement I think we would have slept in the car instead, between all our luggage.
But we managed to unfold and set up our roof tents successfully, prepared a great meal on the camping stove – (very) salty rice with baked beans – and finally dropped into our sleeping bags. The children and I slept so deep that we didn’t hear the lion roaring loudly at the waterhole nearby. Only Greg’s beautysleep was harshly interrupted. The next day we visited that same waterhole in the evening, but the only animal roaring was our little Amélie who fell asleep, while everybody else was watching a Rhino sneak towards the water. Her snoring luckily only distracted the utmost silent visitors around us, but did not scare the Rhino away.
The campsite, which was quite full in the evening, was swept empty the next morning. As everybody knows, the safaris are particularly beautiful in the early morning and most visitors start early to get as much out of the day as possible. Everyone but us. We stuck our heads out of the tents just in time to see the clouds of dust from the other cars.
The safaris in Etosha National Park were impressive. At the Etosha Pan, a presumably dried out salt lake, we saw the gray-green and white colors of the earth and the flickering air that simulated water. The trees around Camp Halali were mostly white, dust-dry, sand and dust blowing through the air.
And in between there are giraffes, elephants, ostriches, zebras and a wide variety of ungulates, such as springboks. Elephants kept crossing the road. It is indescribable how it feels when a herd of elephants or even loners cross the street just a few meters away from your car.
Even if a self drive safari is amazing for us adults, for the kids a big part of it is mainly driving in the car on a bumpy road. So we were happy to have an Ukulele, Biltong and some fun games we could play to fill the gaps between the animal sightings.
Etosha Road Side Camp
In Halali we only stayed for two nights, so after some stunning safaris, waterhole visits with rhinos and zebras and hours spent driving through the landscape, we went on further west. Palmwag Lodge and Campsite were recommended to us from different sides, but it was too far away from Halali as a one-day trip, which is why we spent one night at Etosha Roadside Camp.
To be honest: when I drove into the camp, I wanted to turn around on my heel or on our rear tires. The camp was still a construction site and the words “At night you have to look around carefully when you leave the tent, because sometimes lions sneak through the camp. We don’t have a fence yet.” did not necessarily help to relax.
But we stayed. Being incredibly brave (and especially me being incredibly nervous) we even went to see the waterhole. In terms of location and mood one of the most impressive water holes. From high up you look down from a small shed onto a very small water hole in a valley. We felt like we were right in “The Lion King” with a dead giraffe in the nearby valley. I almost felt the lion lurking behind the next rock. At least we wouldn’t have tasted particularly good with all the stress hormones. Now that was a relief. Haha.
After sunset we made a small fire next to the car, which is supposed to chase the lions away and the four of us went to the toilet, that was only a few meters away from the car, together. Why so? Well, the children and me were just too scared to wait for each other in front of the toilet alone, and we didn’t fit in the little toilet all together. So Gregor had to keep watch.
We all survived the night unscathed and not nibbled by a lion. The sunrise on the next day was particularly beautiful. Was the special enthusiasm for the beautiful sunrise due to the imaginary near-death experience with the lions supposedly sneaking through the camp? We will never know.
Touched by the landscape
The way to Palmwag led us through such incredibly and impressively beautiful landscapes that Gregor uttered enthusiasm in (perceived) 2 minute intervals. The children, initially quite impressed, quickly pulled themselves out of the affair by falling asleep in the back seat on the small backpacks and jackets stacked between them (strapped on. Of course).
Every minute the view from the car changed, from flat land to mountain roads and passes, which we crossed, to soft hilly landscape and rocks in different earth tones. And then something happened: for the first time the moment that so many travelers to Africa speak of: feeling deeply touched, a feeling in the heart that cannot be explained. Although it wasn’t the feeling of coming home there was still something. Inexplicable. Beautiful. Touching and moving.
As soon as we checked in (luckily there were still free camping spots) Gregor decided that we would extend our stay the next day. From two to three nights. We enjoyed the luxury of the pool, restaurant and beautiful sanitary facilities. And when we woke up after the first night, the elephant Jimbo actually walked past our (luckily roof-) tent, picked a few branches from the bush next door and then continued leisurely towards the pool bar.
Jimbo is wild, but used to people. It is still important to keep your distance, to give him space, not to stand in his way when he goes for a walk.
How to guess the age of an elephant by its poo
One afternoon, Sophia and Gregor took part in a bush walk and, in addition to some plants and their use, they also learned how to guess the elephants age by its poo. The younger elephants eat more branches because they have more teeth. Once older elephants start to lose their teeth, they pick more leaves than branches. So if you find branches in an elephants poop, this means he still has most of his teeth and is therefore younger.
We would certainly have stayed longer in Palmwag, but at some point we had enough of relaxing and sitting by the pool and exploring elephants poo. So after three days we left for Spitzkoppe. Quite a long way from Palmwag plus a couple of planned stops. The number of stops has dropped from three to one after we got lost.
But we made it there to our next stop, WOW! Spitzkoppe! Absolutely recommendable and beautiful campsite (Spitzkoppe Tented Campsite), lovely design and surrounded by the incredibly beautiful, red mountain ranges. After only one night we went on again, but before we started our drive to Swakopmund, we visited Spitzkoppe Park. We climbed and admired the rocks that were shaped by wind and weather. The kids loved climbing and jumping on these big rocks. And we were very lucky to arrive just before a large tour group and have this wonderful place for ourselves for a few minutes. There are also a few cave- and wall-paintings to be seen there, but we only made it to Small Bushmen Paradise and were guided to the paintings by a really committed and dedicated young guide.
After driving through the Namib Desert for hours, we suddenly stood in front of the raging and wild Atlantic. With huge waves and a wall of fog just a few kilometers from the coast. That mood! The stranded ships along the Skeleton Coast, inhabited by marine life, stand out from the fog and the foaming ocean. What an overwhelming contrast to the desert we had just crossed.
No need to be ashamed!
In Swakopmund we moved to an apartment for the first time after a week in the roof tent. With tons of sand in your backpacks, shoes and all your clothes. As we didn’t find a laundromat, where we could do our laundry by ourselves, we brought 6.5 kg of clothes into the laundry service. Not exactly our best moment when we wanted to pick up our laundry the morning after and we were told that it was not ready yet. Why? Because they had to put our stuff into soap overnight. They did not say that this was because our clothes were so dirty, but that was probably just them being polite. Haha. After a short, embarrassed blush we came to the conclusion that after a week of camping in the desert, it is quite justified to have extremely dirty laundry.
Swakopmund, you suprised us!
Swakopmund surprised us and we liked the exciting contrast between the Namib Desert on one side and the wild and raging Atlantic on the other. In Swakopmund we also tried out tobogganing, which did not really work out due to strong gusts of wind and our kids bringing in too little weight. It was funny anyway.
From Swakopmund we made a few day trips, including to the long beach and the Welwitschia Drive, which leads through the desert, along 13 marked stations: viewpoints of the “lunar landscape”, lichen on the desert sand in which one can see traces for decades or centuries, because the lichen grows so slowly, the dollar bush, which owes its name to the leaves shaped like coins, up to a huge Welwitschia. The Welwitschia Mirabilis is a plant that can only be found in the Namib Desert and in the south of Angola. Some of these plants are estimated to be up to 1500 years old.
Sesriem and Sossusvlei
After a night stopover in Langstrand we drove to Sesriem to have a look at the Sesriem Canyon and the Sossusvlei dunes in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, in the south of the Namib Desert. It is recommended to drive to the dunes at sunrise, the gate opens at 6 a.m. If you stay in a camp directly in front of the gate to the park, you can drive in an hour earlier than if you stay outside of these camps. So you can start before sunrise and then experience the sunrise on the dunes.
We had only booked two nights at the Sesriem Oshana Camp (right at the entrance to the Sossusvlei dunes), so we decided to get up early after the first night and try our luck at seeing the sunrise from the dunes. As it turned out later, the best decision of the trip so far.
Since we had our tents ON the car, we had to get up really early, fold the tent, give the kids a quick breakfast and start off. We were actually pretty good in time and left before dawn. Only a few cars drove in before us.
Somehow we were still a little late and sunrise had already started when we were halfway there. But it didn’t matter, it was also nice watching it from the roadside. Then we went on to the red dunes with the salt and clay pans in between.
Although despite our 4×4 we got stuck in the sand (note: never try parking on a sand road!), then had to continue with a shuttle, and only arrived at Dead-Vlei after sunrise, it was so incredibly impressive and beautiful. The light was still similar to the sunrise mood, it was not that hot yet and there were hardly any other visitors compared to an hour later.
We climbed at least half a dune until we branched off to the white salt / clay pan with the white tree trunks. The view, the colors and the whole area was simply breathtaking.
And then the tour busses arrived. Hundres of people were walking in single file, one after the other, on the dune crest until the entire dune was finally lined with people. We decided it was a good moment to leave. A light wind started on the way to the shuttle, that was supposed to take us back to our car, which we had left halfway there.
Within a few minutes the wind grew into a storm. We reached our car just in time before a heavy sandstorm started and reduced the view to just a few meters. We drove back to our camp and apart from a short, approximately one-hour break, which we used to visit the Sesriem Canyon, the sandstorm didn’t stop until our departure on the next day.
The sand blew through the air, even in the camp restaurant, with the tarpaulins closed, the dust was in the air and the drinks had red sand dust layers on the surface within seconds. During the night Gregor moved to the kids’ tent as every gust of wind lifted the tent and almost folded it. I curled up on the side where the ladder was attached, so that the tent wouldn’t collapse, Gregor did the same in the children’s tent.
Folding the roof tents the next morning, with a gusty sandstorm, was the next challenge, and with sand EVERYWHERE we finally packed everything up and started driving.
We are so thankful that we made the right decision to get up at 5 a.m. after the first night and drive to the dunes. Because the next day we would not have been able to see the sunrise on the way or anywhere else. We probably should have stayed away from the dunes during the sandstorm anyways. All in all: we were lucky that we took advantage of the sandstorm-free day. The entire Sossusvlei area is definitely worth a visit.
If you go there, we recommend to start early in the morning and you shouldn’t stop at the first dune but drive deeper into the valley, since there are less people around, during sunrise.
In Solitaire we stopped two times. On the way to Sesriem on the way back. The second stop we actually made because of Amélie, who loved the car wrecks scattered in the desert sand so much that she didn’t want to leave both times. Well, we didn’t mind getting good coffee and freshly baked apple pie in the local bakery. Solitaire consists of a restaurant, a bakery with a café, a small grocery store, a gas station and an auto repair shop. If you go there, it is the last opportunity to fill up your tank, buy water and get good coffee for about 100km.
From Sesriem we drove to Lake Oanob, where we wanted to stay for two more nights. For the first time in Namibia we saw actual water (apart from the Atlantic in Swakopmund, of course), because all the riverbeds that we had crossed were dry due to the years of drought.
The campsite at Lake Oanob was very nice, the children had a lot of space to play, there were pools, the lake was perfect for swimming and we could even go on a small safari on foot in the park nearby. We mainly saw traces of animals there and only at the end we did see a few zebras at the feeding station. Just when driving towards Windhoek there suddenly was a beautiful giraffe standing right next to the street.
However, Lake Oanob is definitely worth a visit. Sometimes on weekends some party-loving young Namibians like to stay at the camp and occupy the pool, which is not a problem as the lake is really fine for swimming.
Last night before returning the car
We spent our last night with our car in a small lodge near the airport, where we were to return the car the next day. We used the accommodation to clear out the entire car, clean it up and above all, to divide, stow away, and pack up the things we had stashed out of our backpacks over the weeks.
The next day we returned the car to Britz at the airport. We asked Mbambi, the taxi driver who drove us into the city from Windhoek on our first day, to meet us at Britz and take us to Windhoek where we would spend the night with friends.
Kids, what did you like best in Namibia?
Amélie: The campsites and our car! I liked our car in Africa. And the giraffes. We did not see a lion, but lots of elephants. That’s not bad neither.
Sophia: All those animals, the different places and landscapes. Our car. How the elephants crossed the street, the campsites. The elephant Jimbo!