Looking out of the window from the small Cessna aircraft you could be forgiven for thinking that you may be landing on Mars. The sparsely populated landscape was dominated by desert, huge rocks and dry riverbeds. It is a place unlike any other I have seen.
Our first destination was Little Kulala Lodge, located just outside of Namib-Naukluft National Park. The Park encompasses part of the Namib Desert, which is considered to be the oldest desert in the world. We flew with Wilderness Air from the capital Windhoek for around 50 mins, where we touched down at Little Kulala airstrip. From there it was around a 20 minute drive to the lodge. Little Kulala is situated in a 67,000 acre private reserve, along with its sister lodge – Kulala Desert Lodge. Kulala reserve conveniently has a private entrance to Sossusvlei – the main attraction in the area.
Little Kulala has 11 luxurious, large rooms (known as ‘kulalas’ in the local language of Oshiwambo) all of which have air conditioning, indoor and outdoor showers with hot water, a private plunge pool and a sleeping deck on the roof, where you can sleep under the stars. As we visited in January, the height of the summer, both the air conditioning and the plunge pool were most welcome. During our stay the temperature one lunch time was up to 41˚c!
The huge bed was adorned with a mosquito net, however we didn’t see any mosquitoes during our stay, the area is possibly too dry for them, it hasn’t rained there for at least 5 years. The rooms also come with a stocked fridge containing water, soft drinks, beer and wine – which is all included in your stay.
The main lodge has a small waterhole opposite which was frequently visited by lots of wildlife. During the daytime we saw springbok, ostrich and oryx and at night we saw a cape fox and black backed jackal. There is also a large communal sociable weaver bird nest, with over a hundred birds coming and going. The lodge has free
WIFI should you wish to use it, but we mostly preferred to admire the views and forget the outside world. The main lodge also has a swimming pool and sun loungers.
Our first activity was an early morning trip to Sossusvlei to visit the red sand dunes and Dead Vlei, a dried up clay pan in the desert where the dead camel thorn trees are still standing, despite the fact that the water disappeared around 700 years ago. Dead Vlei is an incredible and awe inspiring place to visit and it is makes for some beautiful photos in the morning light. Sossusvlei is home to the highest sand dunes in the world some of which are over 300m high. Popular dunes to climb are Dune 45 (located 45km from the gate), Big Daddy and Big Mama. Big Daddy is situated next to Dead Vlei. After visiting Big Daddy & Dead Vlei we were driven to a shady area for some welcome cold drinks and snacks.
In the afternoon we went quad biking around the reserve with our guide aptly named ‘Action.’ The terrain is a mixture of flat sandy/gravelly tracks and large rocky hills with faces covered in sand, it was a fun place to quad bike and from the top of the rocks the views were remarkable. We returned to the lodge somewhat sandy and ready for a sundowner drink before dinner!
We chose to sleep on the rooftop bed under the night sky, where the stars were absolutely magnificent and Venus was shining brightly. We were awoken at around 4am by some jackals barking to each other; we couldn’t see them but it was fun to listen to them for a while before drifting off back to sleep under our warm duvet. The evenings can be quite chilly in the desert but we were lovely and cosy.
The following morning we were woken before sunrise for a hot air balloon flight over the Namib desert. Only a short drive from the lodge, we approached the balloon which was in the process of being inflated. At 6am, just before sunrise, we and 14 other passengers climbed into the basket and Eric the balloon pilot took off. Whilst we were climbing the sun was rising above the horizon, creating beautiful colours over the sand dunes and surrounding area. A swoop of swallows crowded around the balloon feasting on the insects that we were pushing their way, however every time the burner was deployed they scattered sharpishly! Eric was an interesting pilot, having grown up in Belgian Congo but a resident of Namibia for over 30 years. He was part of the fledgling tourist industry in Sossusvlei, encouraging everyone to see the potential of tourists wanting to visit Sossusvlei and the National Park. After 60 mins in the hot air balloon, we landed very gently and were served a wonderful champagne breakfast in the middle of the desert, close to Dune 1. It was a truly magical experience.
We spent the afternoon sitting in the plunge pool to keep cool and enjoying a couple of beers whilst watching oryx march past our room to head for the waterhole.
On our last evening at Little Kulala we were driven to a wonderful viewpoint to watch the stunning sunset, where we could enjoy a glass of wine and some snacks before returning to the lodge for dinner.
The lodge is fully inclusive, meaning that all meals and drinks are included. Breakfast includes cold buffet options and a menu of hot breakfast items cooked to order. Lunch varies daily and the main course is a choice of a meat or fish option or a vegetarian option, a starter and dessert are also served. A three course dinner is served each evening, usually comprising of a choice of two starters, three mains and two desserts. There is an excellent choice of wines, mainly from South Africa and a good selection of spirits. There are two local lagers Windhoek and Tafel.
The staff at the lodge are excellent; Michael the manager is friendly and knowledgeable. Manfred the bar manager was welcoming, efficient and was able to remember everyone’s beverage of choice.
Our three nights at Little Kulala went by quickly and soon it was time to head back to the air strip to head for our next adventure at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. A 400 mile journey, it required us to take 3 flights in a small Cessna aircraft. The first from Little Kulala to Swakopmund, a journey which flew us over the golden sand dunes of the Namib to the Atlantic coast, we saw seals, flamingos and two sand covered ship wrecks along the way. From there we flew to Doro Nawas in Damaraland, where the landscape is full of red coloured rocks and golden sand then it was another 40 min flight onto Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp.
The camp is situated in a remote area close to the dry Hoanib riverbed and surrounded by large rocky hills. There are 8 tented rooms, which are chic, spacious and luxurious. This is not camping as you know it, the rooms are sturdy with floor to ceiling windows and contain a bedroom with a humungous bed, two wardrobe units, a desk with chair and a coffee table with two chairs, a large bathroom with two sinks and a giant shower and a separate toilet. On your outside private deck there is a sofa and table and chairs plus a fridge which is stocked with soft drinks and water. Each tent has a view of the waterhole, which is visited often by a variety of wildlife. The camp has no WIFI available and there is no mobile phone signal. It is marketed as a digital detox, which was a pleasant break from looking at the news and social media. The rooms do not have air conditioning as there is a lovely breeze that comes from the Atlantic which keeps the rooms cool and even though we were there in the height of summer it was never too hot in the room. Each room has an electric fan available.
The main lodge has plenty of comfortable seating, a bar and a separate restaurant area. There is also a small swimming pool for cooling off. In the evenings a campfire is lit and chairs arranged around it where you can sit and have drinks before & after dinner. One of the highlights of sitting around the campfire, is listening to Clement, the manager tell his hilarious and interesting stories. Clement and his team make the camp a truly memorable place to visit and they run an extremely slick operation. Without a doubt, our stay was one of the highlights of our trip to Namibia. From the moment we were collected from the airstrip the warm welcome that we received from all of the Hoanib staff was a large part of the reason that this camp is one of the best we have ever stayed at.
The food was delicious with a good variety of dishes on offer. The camp is all inclusive and meals included a cooked breakfast to order alongside a cold buffet, lunch was 3 courses with a choice of main courses and dinner was a choice of two or three options for each of the 3 courses. There is a large choice of wines, beers, cider and spirits as well as soft drinks which are all included.
Each group of guests is assigned a guide for the duration of their stay, we were lucky enough to get Charles who was part of the team who set up the camp 2 and half years ago.
On our first evening we went for a drive into the dry riverbed. Charles quickly picked up the tracks of a desert lion and followed them. She had been moving around a fair bit, but after a 30 min search he found her, sitting on a rock. She was absolutely beautiful and we felt very privileged to be able to see one of these rare lions. There are only an estimated 150 desert lions in Namibia, they are extremely endangered. We watched her as she climbed down from the rock and walked along the riverbed and then climbed onto a small dune before settling down to keep an eye out for any game to hunt. We left her to it and drove up to a high viewpoint for a sundowner, and whilst we were sipping out wine and tucking into our biltong a pair of giraffe walked past us below. The sunset turned the sky pink; it was a truly magnificent evening.
The following morning Charles took us for another drive in the riverbed where we saw the lioness once again; she was studiously staring at some oryx. We carried on along the riverbed where we saw plenty of giraffe, some chacma baboons, a jackal family with four pups and 16 of the known 18 desert elephants in the area, including some babies who are around 5 months old. The elephants were an absolute surprise to us, we weren’t expecting to see these stunning animals in the desert, but they looked in great condition. There are plenty of green trees and vegetation in the riverbed, which although it doesn’t often have water flowing through it, there is water underneath which the trees and bushes can root down into.
In the afternoon we went for a walk around the camp area where we were shown different animal footprints in the sand around the waterhole, showing that plenty of wildlife including brown hyena, springbok, oryx and elephant had visited the previous evening. We also saw the communal ‘hyena toilet’ where the hyenas like to go, telling them all about who else has been in the area and how recently! We saw some baboons, giraffe and oryx and then returned to camp for our sundowners by the campfire.
We had a fantastic day trip to the Skeleton coast with a drive through the riverbed and flood plains, through the dunes and ending up at the Skeleton Coast. On the way we had some fantastic spots including honey badgers, spotted eagle owl and a porcupine. We stopped for a coffee break in the dunes and Charles drove us down a steep dune which roars when you travel down it. We also ran/slid down the dune, which also makes it roar and vibrate. It was lots of fun!
We visited a pebble beach on the Atlantic coast, the see is freezing so we didn’t swim, but this didn’t stop Charles going in for a dip and then warming himself up on the pebbles afterwards. We saw flamingos and a huge flock of cormorants and we also visited a ginormous seal colony, which was very smelly but an incredible sight. Some of the seals were swimming in the waves and looked like they were having a great time.
Our trip to the coast was topped off by a delicious lunch served right next to the sea, complete with chilled wine. It was one of the most beautiful locations you could wish to sit and eat lunch. We were collected by plane and flown back to the camp.
Charles was an excellent and knowledgeable guide with the perfect balance of professionalism, friendliness and humour. He is also possibly the only Stoke City football fan in Africa! Our three nights at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp were incredible and we were genuinely sad to leave.
Our next destination was Ongava Lodge close to Etosha National Park. We were flown from Hoanib to Doro Nowas where we changed planes and then onto Ongava airstrip, a flight time of around 45 mins.
It was immediately obvious to us that the landscape was different, there were many more trees and green bushes. We were collected from the airstrip by our guide Kapono and it was a 20 min drive to the Lodge. At around 1300m above sea level, the temperature is slightly cooler and we did experience a few rain showers during our three night stay.
The lodge comprises of 14 brick, rock and thatch chalets with air conditioning and a private outside deck. Some of the chalets have a great view of the floodlit waterhole, we were lucky enough to be in chalet number 1, which was situated closest to the waterhole.
The main lodge also has a great view of the waterhole, meals are served out on a large decked area and there is a bar which has a good range of wines, spirits and beers. There is WIFI in the main lodge area. Breakfast is a mixture of cold buffet and hot items cooked to order. Lunch is usually a choice of two main courses and the dinner menu is a choice of starters and main courses with one option for dessert. Some evenings the main courses are cooked on a large coal fired grill outdoors.
There is a large swimming pool close to the main lodge and also a curio shop. The lodge is in Ongava Reserve, which is a private reserve that borders Etosha National Park. Ongava means Rhino and both black and white rhino are the main draw here. It’s reportedly the only place in the world where you can see both black and white Rhino with their horns, as many rhinos around the world have had their horns removed to save them from poachers. The reserve will not confirm how many rhinos they have, in order to keep them safe, they have a large anti-poaching team on site to protect these magnificent creatures.
Afternoon activities are game drives in Ongava Reserve, which usually end in a sundowner drink and snacks before returning to the lodge for dinner. Morning activities are game drives in neighbouring Etosha National Park. It takes around 30 mins to get to the park, departing after an early breakfast you return in time for lunch.
During our afternoon drives in Ongava we were lucky enough to see two white rhinos together and a white rhino and her calf and a black rhino. It’s wonderful to see them with their horns, the way they are supposed to be. We also saw two female and one male lion resting and a male lion roaring very close to our vehicle. Other wildlife spotted were zebra, black faced impala, springbok, waterbuck, jackals, wildebeest and giraffe.
After dinner, whilst sitting on our deck enjoying a glass of wine we saw a stream of rhino coming to the waterhole to drink one after another, some of them with calves. It was absolutely magical and we felt so lucky to be able to watch these rhino roaming in a natural environment for them where we knew they were well protected. We also saw zebra, waterbuck, oryx and a porcupine come to drink.
Often we were woken early in the mornings by lions roaring, which in my opinion is a wonderful way to wake up. It’s often difficult to judge how far away the lions are as the roar can carry over 2 and half miles.
On our game drives in Etosha we had some wonderful sightings including a black rhino, lions eating a zebra kill with jackals stealing scraps, a large journey (group) of giraffe, zebra and springbok at a waterhole, wildebeest, zebras with foals, ostrich, blue crane, kori bustard, slender, yellow and banded mongoose, and jackals with pups.
Our next stop was Africat at Okonjima, around a 3 hour drive (150 miles) from Ongava. We were driven by a chap called Vincent, who is a huge rugby fan, so we spent most of the journey talking rugby, especially about England, South Africa and the All Blacks! Africat was founded in 1991 and their mission is to contribute to the long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores. Since 1993 it has rescued over 1,000 predators from farmlands across Namibia and 85% of them have been released back into the wild. Okonjima offers a wide spectrum of accommodation options, ranging from private camp sites to safari lodges. Unfortunately we were only able to participate in a day visit, but the accommodation looked very nice and the activities on offer such as tracking cheetah, hyenas and wild dogs on foot looked especially exciting. Our day visit included visiting Lewa a beautiful 8 year old leopard, who lives in a large enclosure which has a fantastic viewing room. Lewa is unsuitable for release back into the wild and she is not equipped with the skills to hunt, so food is provided for her by Africat. We were then driven into an enclosure where three male and two female cheetahs that were rescued as orphaned cubs. As they have not been taught how to hunt by their mothers, they are unsuitable for release back into the wild; however they may be suitable for release into a larger part of the reserve where they have the opportunity to hunt but they would be monitored so that if their hunting was unsuccessful Africat would be able to provide them with meat to eat.
The vehicle was able to drive fairly close to the cheetahs, who were resting in two groups, the males in one group and the females in another. We were given some excellent information and facts about cheetahs by the guide whilst taking some lovely photos of these special cats.
After visiting the animals we were taken to the Africat Information Centre where we learned about the work that Africat is doing with communities in Namibia including with farmers and locals and with children and education in schools.
The tour lasted for around 90 mins and then we had a delicious lunch in the large restaurant on site, before visiting the gift shop. Our journey then continued onto the capital Windhoek, 140 miles further south, which took around 2 and half hours.
Windhoek is a relatively small capital, with a population of around 360,000. The centre of the city is dominated by government buildings, headquarters of businesses and companies and German style churches. We stayed at the small Olive Grove Guesthouse in a residential area of the city. Olive Grove consists of 11 en-suite rooms which are modelled from cement. The facilities include air conditioning, mini bar fridge, kettle, free WIFI and a small swimming pool. The restaurant is excellent with a large and varied menu and a good wine list.
On our final morning in Namibia, we arranged a tour of Katutura Township with African Desk. Lorraine came to collect us in a local taxi driven by Philip. Both of them grew up in and still live in Katutura, known locally as Silver Town due to the thousands of huts built from corrugated shiny metal. In the 1950s Namibia was ruled by South Africa and subject to Apartheid laws, resulting in the segregation of the black population, who were forcibly moved to townships including Katutura (meaning the place where we do not want to settle). It is said that over 200,000 people now live in Katutura with the population growing monthly as people move from rural Namibia to Windhoek to look for work.
Lorraine and Philip took us to a viewpoint up on one of the hills in the area where it was possible to see the sprawling township extending for miles and miles in all directions. The government have been making clean water available to residents and have provided public toilets, however in some areas one toilet is shared by hundreds of people. There are health centres in the township but they are not completely free to all residents. We visited a large primary school, which was bright and colourful, in good condition and full of friendly and committed teachers.
We also visited a bustling market place, which revealed the full diversity of the population of Katutura, with many goods on sale from Angola and The Congo as well as local produce. The stall holders were welcoming and friendly and very happy to explain their different products to us.
Philip our driver kindly took us to his house, which he has built himself from corrugated metal. Despite the heat of the day which much of been at least 35˚c it wasn’t as hot inside as we expected. He had also built his own private toilet next to his room, which is becoming more and more common in the area as people understandably do not wish to share with hundreds of other residents. Philip was lucky and had been allocated a plot of land to build on top of a hill, which meant that he received a nice breeze. For those located at the bottom of the hills, it must be quite unpleasant when there is heavy rainfall.
Whilst travelling around the township it was clear to see that there are lots of entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses including car washes, barber shops, bars and food stalls, catering to the needs of the Katutura residents. We were very glad to have the opportunity to be shown around Katutura, feeling that it is important to see all sides of a city before you can feel like you have experienced it all. Especially in this instance, where more than 70% of the capital’s population live in townships.
Our time in Namibia was up, we had visited four wildly different areas; the Namib desert in the south, the Skeleton Coast and dry Hoanib riverbed, the grasslands of Etosha, Ongava and Okonjima and the City of Windhoek. My leaving thought was that Namibia is a fantastic country, with beautiful and varied landscapes, incredibly resilient people in a challengingly dry climate and a wide range of striking wildlife. Every single Namibian that we met was welcoming and friendly and proud of their country and keen to show it off – and rightly so.
Partially covered by the Namib Desert, one of the world’s driest deserts, Namibia’s climate is generally very dry making it fine to visit all year round. Namibia only receives a fraction of the rain experienced by countries further east.
December to March – summer, can be very hot. Towards the east of the country there can be rain and thunderstorms.
April & May – autumn, warm and dry with more greenery in the landscapes.
June to August – winter, cold nights and early mornings, below zero in the desert. Very dry – good for game viewing.
September & October – spring, warmer but can be windy and dusty.
November – a variable month, sometimes experiences cloud and rain but recently has been hot and dry.
Game meat is very common in Namibia, the terrain and lack of rain makes it difficult for much of the country to raise cattle. We found oryx, kudu and eland to be delicious as well as springbok sausages.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, light cotton shirts/tshirts, long trousers & shorts (neutral colours), a jumper, waterproof jacket, torch, camera, binoculars.
Little Kulala – Rates
11 rooms. Rates are fully inclusive including food, drinks, activities, entrance to Sossusvlei.
Per person sharing per night Rates (South African Rand) £ GBP
11 January 2017 to 31 March 2017 ZAR 6,740 £407
01 April 2017 to 31 May 2017 ZAR 6,985 £422
01 June 2017 to 31 October 2017 ZAR 10,375 £627
01 November 2017 to 19 December 2017 ZAR 6,740 £407
20 December 2017 to 10 January 2018 ZAR 8,310 £502
11 January 2018 to 31 March 2018 ZAR 7,280 £440
01 April 2018 to 31 May 2018 ZAR 7,545 £456
Hot air balloon flight not included – rate 5,950 Namibian dollars per person – includes champagne breakfast, balloon flight, Sossusvlei entrance fees, transfers from selected lodges. Also contributes to local community projects such as schools and education for disadvantaged local children. Minimum 2 passengers. (Approx £360pp) Book with Namib Sky
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp – Rates
7 double/twin rooms and 1 family room. Rates are fully inclusive including food, drinks, activities. Trip to Skeleton Coast included for guests staying 3 nights or more.
Per person sharing per night Rates (South African Rand) £ GBP
11 January 2017 to 31 May 2017 ZAR 9,470 £572
01 June 2017 to 31 October 2017 ZAR 13,055 £788
01 November 2017 to 19 December 2017 ZAR 9,470 £573
20 December 2017 to 10 January 2018 ZAR 13,085 £790
11 January 2018 to 31 May 2018 ZAR 10,230 £618
It is not possible to drive to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, it is a fly in camp only. Flights with Wilderness Air can be arranged when making your booking – nearest airstrip is Doro Nawas, where you can park your vehicle.
Ongava Lodge –Rates
Fully Inclusive (incl game drives) Months Rates £ GBP
Double room Per Person Sharing Dec – Jun ZAR 6,668 £403
Single Room Dec – Jun ZAR 8,336 £503
Double room Per Person Sharing Jul – Nov ZAR 8,891 £537
Single Room Jul – Nov ZAR 11,114 £671
Dinner Bed & B’fast (no game drives) Months Rates £ GBP
Double room (per person sharing) Dec – Jun ZAR 3,816 £230
Single room Dec – Jun ZAR 4,771 £288
Double room Per Person Sharing Jul – Nov ZAR 5,089 £307
Single Room Jul – Nov ZAR 6,361 £384
Africat Day Visit – Rates
Activity (compulsory) – N$ 385 per person (approx. £24)
Children (age 7 to 16 yrs) – N$ 285 per child (approx. £17.50)
Activity departure times:
Summer (Sept to March) @ 11:00 & @ 13:00
Winter (April to Aug) @10:30 & @ 12:30
Lunch N$ 175 per person (approx. £11)
Olive Grove Guest House – Rates
11 rooms. Rates include breakfast.
Per person sharing per night Rates (Namibian Dollars) £ GBP
Double Standard Room N$805 £49
Double Luxury Room N$1270 £77
Double Executive Suite Room N$1495 £91
Per person per night Rates (Namibian Dollars) £ GBP
Single Standard Room N$995 £60
Single Luxury Room N$1570 £95
Single Executive Suite Room: N$1790 £108
Katutura Township Tour – Rates
900 Namibian Dollars for two people, including guide, taxi for the duration and pick up and drop off in Windhoek. (Approx £55)
INFORMATION ABOUT NAMIBIA
- Population of approx. 2.3 million
- Official language is English but Oshiwambo and Afrikaans is widely spoken. German is spoken in some areas
- Currency is the Namibian Dollar – which is linked as 1:1 to the South African Rand
- It is advised that you drink bottled water or filtered water provided by lodges
- Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road
- There is one main international airport in Windhoek. There are flights from Walvis Bay Airport and Swakopmund Airport to both Johannesburg and Cape Town.