After three months exploring South Africa (see previous posts), Mathieu and I crossed the beautiful Orange River into the Republic of Namibia!
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While a relatively large country, roughly the size of Texas, Namibia has a population of only 2.6 million people, making it the most sparsely populated country in Africa. English is the official language but eleven other languages are recognized, including Oshiwambo, Nama/Damara, and Afrikaans. Formerly part of South Africa, Namibia gained independence in 1990 after the War of Independence.
After an easy border crossing, we drove north. For nearly 145 mi (230 km), we traveled along a 2-lane road that cut straight lines through the desert. We passed only a few other vehicles and other than the mile after mile of road-side fencing marking the private property boundaries, we saw very few people or signs of habitation. We didn’t know it then but this would be characteristic of our travels throughout Namibia.
We spent the first night at a great bush camp in a dry riverbed in the desert where we fell asleep to the sounds of jackals yipping nearby. And on the way to our campsite, we passed a giraffe! We’d seen giraffes in fenced parks and reserves in South Africa but this guy was just …in the wild. And we finally saw an oryx (aka gemsbok). So cool.
The next morning, we drove the short distance to Fish River Canyon. Standing at the rim, we looked down into the largest canyon in Africa [100 mi (160 km) long, up to 16 mi (27 km) wide and in places almost 1,800 ft (550 m) deep]. Even with very little water flowing, it was impressive to see the footprint of the mighty Fish River way down at the bottom of the deep gorge. We spent the day stopping at the various viewpoints along the rim to admire the canyon and surrounding lands from every possible angle. Then at the end of the day, we watched the fading light of the setting sun spread across the landscape. Gorgeous.
The next day, we drove nearly 250 mi (400 km) to Luderitz, a quant, colonial-style, coastal town where we restocked our supplies, enjoyed the wifi at a local cafe, and got blasted by strong, cold winds while exploring the rocky coastline. It was a nice stopover, and we woke up at our bush camp the two mornings we were there to see flamingos doing their feeding dance in the shallow lagoon!
From the coast, we returned inland, driving nearly 270 mi (430 km) north to Namib-Naukluft National Park. At 19,216 sq mi (49,768 sq km), it’s the largest park in Africa, and the fourth largest in the world.
On the way, we drove through the stunning desert landscape of the NamibRand Nature Reserve. While we weren’t able to visit the reserve (by reservation only), we found a roadside bush camp just outside this designated “dark sky reserve” where we opened a bottle of wine and passed a wonderful night under a gazillion stars.
The next morning we drove to Sossusvlei (in Namib-Naukluft National Park) to see Namibia’s famed red sand dunes. The dunes are part of the larger Namib Desert and were created by sand being carried on the wind from the coast. The dunes, whose vivid red-orange color is due to the high concentration of oxidized iron in the sand, are among the highest in the world, many of which are above 650 ft (200 m).
We arrived at sunrise and spent the day playing in the stunning landscape. We climbed to the tops of Dune 45 and Big Daddy, the highest dune in the area at 1,066 ft (325 m) high. The steep climb in the deep sand was tough but totally worth it. The expansive views from the tops of the dunes was breathtaking. We looked out over the massive orange-red sand dunes for as far as the eye could see and watched as the light and shadows changed across the landscape with the rising sun. It was truly amazing (and the run down the side of the huge dunes was super fun too!).
It was a great first week in this beautiful country. I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty and splendor of this part of Namibia.