Travel the near entirety of one of the world's least visited and lowest populated countries in 2+ weeks of comfort. Explore the moonscapes of the Namib desert via the spectacle of the stunning Skeleton Coast before moving onto the amazing concentrations of game at waterholes in Etosha National Park.
Enjoy the colonial architecture and relaxed ambience of the breezy Atlantic coastal towns of Swakopmund and Luderitz. Eat their oysters and drink in the fresh water piped across the desert. Visit the abandoned diamond mining ghost town of Kolmanskop. Feel the pride and harmony with nature erupting from the ancient Bushman paintings and carvings at Twyfelfontein.
MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE SIX; MINIMUM TWO TO DEPART
We assemble at a central hotel in the Namibian capital of Windhoek after meeting and greeting you at the airport, or you arriving on a road transfer with us from the Kruger region, Johannesburg or Cape Town. Relax, meet the Guide(s) and your fellow travellers and enjoy the last hotel air conditioning and television you will see for a while...
Today we warm up Priscilla, our air conditioned luxury vehicle (or one of her friends), in order to transfer to the town of Mariental. Here we indulge in an introduction to the desert conducted by authentic Bushmen including traditional survival skills and craftsmanship in a two hour walk.
From here we head to our overnight stop at Keetmanshoop, where we will cook you a welcome braai on the coals under a spectacular desert sky.
After an early morning breakfast we head out to walk through a beautiful forest of quiver trees from the Lodge.
Aloe dichotoma, known as quiver tree or kokerboom, is a species of aloe indigenous to Namibia and South Africa's Northern Cape. Its vernacular name comes from the fact that its branches and bark are used by the bushmen to make quiver for their arrows. They are highly distinctive trees and a photographer's delight!
Thereafter we visit the Giants' Playground, a series of spectacular stacks of boulders that look like they have been created in a vicious battle between the Gods.
After lunch, we make tracks to the Fish River Canyon, arriving in time to take in two viewpoints (with an optional walk to a third) before having a sundowner overlooking the second largest canyon in the world.
We head back to the Gondwana Canyon Nature Reserve, one of the world's largest privately owned reserves in excess of 100,000 hectares in extent. There we find Canon Lodge nestling against a ridge overlooking a vista of desolate plains.
Dine on the outside verandah gazing heavenwards at the stars in the crystal clear desert night.
Overnight: Canon Lodge
Leaving early this morning we drive to Aus, a distance of just over 200km travelling on tarred roads in air conditioned comfort. We arrive in plenty of time to go out and search for the Namib's famous feral horses of the desert here.
There are several theories as to the provenance of these horses. One claims that during the German occupation of South West Africa a large number of horses were needed for the cavalry and an eccentric German nobleman, Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf, set up a horse breeding station at his outlandish castle, Duwiseb (see Day Six for details), on the edge of the desert. Once the Baron went off to the first world war in Europe nobody looked after the stable of more than 300 horses and after his death herds of them ran wild, roaming the veld around Duwiseb until 1950. It is possible that some of them wandered the 150 kilometres south- westward to the water at Garub.
It is likely, too, that some of the feral horses originated from the Schutztruppe mounts, as well as from the those belonging to a South African Expeditionary Force that took control of the Lüderitz- Keetmanshoop line during the First World War. Another theory is that a ship carrying thoroughbreds from Europe to Australia that ran aground near the mouth of the Orange River. The strongest horses could have reached the shore and found their way to the Garub plains.
We return to our Lodge in order to freshen up an enjoy an excellent three course dinner.
Overnight: Desert Horse Inn
There is another opportunity to look for the horses if we have not had success yesterday before we head off to the German colonial town of Luderitz, located on the Atlantic seaboard in the Sperregebiet restricted diamond mining portion of the country.
Today is a relatively relaxed drive of 120 odd kilometres enabling us to arrive in town with plenty of time to enjoy the cooling sea breezes whilst having a good explore on foot. Of particular interest here is the architecture of this bustling sea port, including some spectacular Art Nouveau edifices.
Uniquely in Africa, the predominant style of public, business and residential buildings, especially in Ring, Bismarck, Berg and Bahnhof streets, is straight out of late 19th century Germany.
Wildlife you may well see here includes seals, penguins, Benguela or Heaviside's dolphins, flamingos and ostriches.
The seafood is excellent and Luderitz is particularly known for its local oysters.
This morning we spend in the ghost town of Kolmanskop.
Kolmanskop developed after local discovery of diamonds in 1908 to provide shelter from the harsh environment of the Namib Desert. The village was built like a German town; you can witness the remnants of the hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre, sports hall, casino, and ice factory.
The first X ray machine in the Southern hemisphere is alleged to have been put here. Kolmanskop also had a railway line to Lüderitz.
The town declined after WWI as diamond prices crashed and operations moved to Oranjemund. It was abandoned in 1956 but has since been partly restored. The geological forces of the desert mean that tourists can now walk through houses knee-deep in sand.
After exploring this amazing ghost town, we return via Aus to Helmeringhausen. In the mid afternoon we take an excellent interpretative drive around a huge working farm to get a feel for the practicalities of ranching in adversity.
We return to the peaceful atmosphere of the main homestead where you will enjoy German-Namibian hospitality, personal service and delicious meals prepared mainly from farm produce.
Overnight: Dabis Guest Farm
This morning we drive to Duwiseb Castle, a solid rectangular structure of red sandstone with battlements and turrets on its corners situated amongst rolling red hills. A folly built by the legendary Baron von Wolf for his American wife, Jayta, the castle was completed in 1909. Most of the construction materials, including the furniture and fittings, were shipped all the way from Germany, off-loaded at Lüderitz and transported to Duwiseb by ox wagon. We explore interior of the castle which still contains much of its original furniture and artworks, including firearms dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today we will enjoy a packed lunch on the road as we head off to visit Sesriem Canyon in the afternoon.
This area was historically significant as a trusted water source in the middle of the desert. Early transport rides used to come and lower a bucket to collect water which typically took six lengths of thong tied together, hence the Afrikaans name: "Ses" meaning six, and "Riem" meaning thong.
There is a lovely walk to take along the canyon floor with plenty of great photographic opportunities before we retire to our Lodge for the evening, probably via the swimming pool to wash off all of the dust.
Tonight we are sleeping under canvas in luxury brown East African style Mehru tents after enjoying a traditional braai on the fire under the stars prepared by your Guide.
Overnight: Sossusvlei Lodge Desert Camp
We make an extremely early start today in order to get into the Sossusvlei dune field to catch the stunning light at sunrise. Dune 45 is one of the most photographed sights in Namibia and happens to be 45km from the park gate, although its name derives from the fact it was the 45th to be counted.
Depending on how much time we spend here, there may be the option to transfer on by 4x4 to Sossusvlei itself before it gets too hot, which is a clay pan in the middle of the desert surrounded by the photogenic Dead Vlei and Hidden Vlei. Breakfast today will be packed for us by the hotel and we will enjoy it in a sea of dunes!
We leave the National Park to drive north for around 3 hours to rejoin the coast at Walvis Bay (Whale Bay). The only natural deep sea port in Namibia, it was of vital strategic importance in German South West Africa and remains a thriving commercial centre today.
We aim to arrive in time to have a late lunch at The Pier, a spectacular floating restaurant 100ft out from the beach. Whilst enjoying your seafood, you may be lucky enough to see flamingos, pelicans, the endemic Damara tern and seal from your table through the panoramic glass surrounds.
After lunch we press on to Swakopmund where we spend two nights to relax and regroup.
This is a day of lesiure to explore the quaint town of Swakopmund in your own time. "Swakops" as the locals refer to it is a popular seaside resort and there is plenty to do if you have had enough sand to want to go to the beach! It is a wonderful town for walking around. Attractions include the National Marine Aquarium, a crystal gallery and a transport museum.
We recommend making sure you take in the wonderful Gallery of a renowned collector of Africana, Peter Haller and his son Ludwig, Peter's Antiques. The last room in particular has a world class collection of tribal artefacts that the pair have collected from all over the continent over a period of decades.
The Tug is an interesting spot to eat down on the harbour, being converted from a working vessel of the same name. It's worth checking to see when they are open as on a recent visit they were only serving at lunchtime on weekends.
The area is renowned for extreme sports, which you can organise locally. Outside of the city, the Rossmund Desert Golf Course is one of only 5 all-grass desert golf courses in the world. Nearby lies a camel farm and the Martin Luther steam locomotive, dating from 1896 and abandoned in the desert.
Today we loop inland to visit the magnificent Spitzkoppe mountain, a striking dome-shaped eruption rising majestically from the flat plains to 1,728 metres. Its unusual profile gives it an alternative name: the Matterhorn of Africa. We will walk to see the San bushmen paintings for which the place is famous, go and visit the spectacular rock bridge formation, before clambering into a spectacular old chasm-cum-cave to consume our brunch boxes.
Once refreshed, we continue on into Hentiesbaai in the National West Coast Park, where there is chance to reprovision. From there we follow the coastline up to Cape Cross where, in 1486 the Portuguese explorer Diego Cáo landed here and erected a stone cross in honour of John II of Portugal.
Today Cape Cross is home to a thriving colony of in excess of 200,000 Cape Fur seals at the peak of the breeding season towards the end of each year. Black backed jackals circle the mass of heaving bodies seeking out the sick and weak.
Tonight we stay on the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Cross Lodge, which is reputed for its food. The rooms are well appointed with views of the sea, and the Lodge is well out of the "smell zone" from the stench of the seals!
Overnight: Cape Cross Lodge
We move on north into the Skeleton Coast proper across the Ugab River, leaving the sophistication of town and entering the wide wilderness of the National Park. This remote area is characterised by striking landscapes constantly changing mood and colour as the sun moves through the sky.
The rugged, barren coastline gets its name from the skeletons of the wrecked ships that have grounded themselves on the perimeter of the desert unable to navigate in the dense coastal fogs and cold breezes of the Benguela Current microclimate. Many a seaman and not a few airmen perished in the inhospitable, waterless desert.
We will have the opportunity to stop and explore two of the older wrecks during the course of the morning. We first get out at the South West Sea which foundered in 1976 and is one of the more accessible wrecks. Here you can often see jackal and brown hyena scavenging for scraps left by visitors right at the sea's edge.
Between the Huab River and the apparently insignificant Koichab River you will be able to visit another shipwreck, that of the fishing schooner Atlantic Pride.
Other wildlife that we may encounter include cheetah, desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, lion, giraffe and large groups of ostrich.
The harsh conditions are also slowly taking their toll on one of the more ambitious or misguided projects of the heady days of 1960s German colonialism. Speculators erected a large oil rig on the coastline close to the Huab River Lagoon. Abandoned and with its drilling tower collapsed onto its side, this apocalyptic place is now home to a large breeding colony of white-breasted cormorants.
From here we exit the Park through the Springbokwasser Gate and drive for an additional 160km to Twyfelfontein (literally "doubtful fountain" referring to the uncertainly in finding water here). Here there are some of the best San bushman rock carvings in existence and in wonderful condition, and we take one of three different foot trails led by a local Guide who interprets the tableaux as they unfold.
We stay locally at a remotely situated two storey thatched Lodge where, on occasion it is possible to arrange to be entertained by Bushmen performing traditional trance dances in the evening.
Overnight: Twyfelfontein Country Lodge
Today we start early, heading towards Etosha National Park, stopping briefly to explore the Petrified Forest. The story behind this phenomenon is remarkable. Around 280 million years ago, at the end of the Great Gondwana Ice Age, a gigantic deluge washed these huge trees down from the equator to modern-day Namibia, submerging them under silt in the process. When they came to a halt, they minerals fossilised over time leaving spectacular trunks up to 45m in length.
In total we cover some 250km via Xhorigas and Outjo today, mainly on tarred roads, with the aim of getting to our overnight destination in good time to ensure we can enjoy the wonderful atmosphere, facilities and food before heading out early into the Park tomorrow.
The Lodge is nestled on an outcrop of dolomite rocks under a forest of Mopane and white Seringa trees, under which a herb garden grows to provide produce for the traditional Namibian style restaurant. The menu changes every day but is always complemented by freshly baked bread and a good choice of Cape wines.
Overnight: Toshari Etosha Gateway Lodge
The two days are what for many people forms the crowning glory of this itinerary - Etosha National Park.
At 2.3 million hectares, it is larger than the Kruger National Park. And the reality is very different to classical expectations of the bush. Etosha's defining feature is a gigantic salt pan which extends 130 kilometres on the east-west axis, and 70km north south. It accounts for 40% of the land under protection in the Park.
Etosha's main pan is a huge white void extending to the horizon, where it feels like you can sense the curvature of the earth. For the bulk of the year it is dry, but after rain a few centimetres of water may persist for a brief time.
More than 110 species each of mammals and reptiles have been identified in this semi-arid desert, and the birdlife is also plentiful with a species count of more than 340.
The general absence of water makes the few oases a hive of activity throughout the day. A particularly good one is in the camp at Okaukuejo, where we spend our first night in the Park. In the evening we will sit and enjoy the comings and goings at the waterhole under the light of a red floodlight. Your Guide will conduct a brief introduction to astrononomy in the clear skies of the desert.
Today we continue to explore Etosha, heading east for the old German fort of Namutoni, just inside the von Lindequist entrance to Etosha. This improbable Beau Geste-style fort is located in an area dotted with graceful makalani palms, Hyphaene petersiana.
Once again, we admire amazing concentrations of game at the Camp's King Nehale waterhole, including a breeding colony of flamingos when it is wet.
Namutoni was originally a police post in German Sud West Afrika, constructed before the turn of the 20th century. Later it was used as an army base and then for English prisoners during World War I before being restored to its present state in 1957.
The sunrise and sunset bugle calls are no longer sounded, but you can still get a great view of the park and the setting sun from the elevated deck walkways of the fort.
Today there is an option (if the whole Group desires) to extend your trip for a further two nights in order to visit a traditional Himba community at either Palangas or Opuyo on the Namibia's northern border with Angola (additional cost).
With or without the extension, we exit the Park and head south to visit the spectacular Hoba meterorite. The largest known single piece of space debris on the planet, it is also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of iron discovered to date. Found by chance by a farmer in 1920, it weighs around 60 tonnes and has now been protected from vandalism with the construction of an interpretative visitors' centre.
From here we continue to the Waterberg Plateau National Park, arriving in time to take an optional Game Drive or enjoy one of the several short, self guided bush walks or two longer hikes if you are feeling energetic.
The Plateau is home to the endemic Damara dik-dik, as well as Cape Buffalo, Black and White Rhino, Sable Antelope and Blue Wildebeest. There are also in excess of 200 different bird species including Namibia's only breeding colony of Cape Vultures and Black Eagles.
We enjoy this remote, spectacular 41,000 hectares National Park, and have the opportunity to take a dip in the spacious spring-fed pools under the glowering mountain before settling down to a farewell braai prepared by your Guide.
Overnight: Waterberg Plateau National Park
Today we point Priscilla in the direction of Windhoek, where the itinerary ends. By now, you will be basking in the glow of the weather, scenery, people and wildlife of the world's least populated (and less-visited) country.
We would be delighted to arrange accommodation for you in the capital. Please request this when you enquire.
There is also an additional option to extend your visit by an additional six nights/ seven days to travel to Johannesburg via the Caprivi Strip, Botswana's Chobe National Park and the Makgadikgadi Pan adjacent to the Okavango Delta. Please contact us for further details.
This itinerary is limited to a maximum of six people to ensure comfort in the vehicle, and that everyone has a window seat to drink in the spectacular Namibian landscape.
We also require you to pack lightly to avoid the need to take a trailer with us, which slows progress on some of the more difficult roads we encounter. We can arrange secure storage for any excess baggage that you may have in Windhoek.