A unique Namibian Adventure

Driving the Dunes near Sandwich Harbour. Photo: Heiner Dillmann

A unique Namibian Adventure

12 April 2021 | Tourism

A trip along the Namibian coast from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay or even beyond, further up to the mouth of the mighty Kunene River, cannot be otherwise described than being a visual and emotional overload that only a few other holiday trips will ever allow.

By Heiner Dillmann & Frank Steffen

Should you ever have the opportunity to take part in a trip through- and along the Namib Desert, affirm before the opportunity passes and find the money for the trip later! Imagine driving through the valley of Klein Windhoek and peering up to the mountain ranges on your left and the right - then close your eyes and replace that picture of rocky outcrops in your mind with smooth and undulating sand. Sand that does not only stretch for the length of a valley or from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay (or Sandwich Harbour).

No, the Namib Desert expanse goes on for miles and miles as far as you care to see to the front or back, where you came from and where you are going - to the left and right. While driving thus along the Atlantic Coast, you will veer inland, off the coast, deep into this extremely arid eco-region that comprises of some of the world’s highest sand dunes, every so often being alternated by gravel-covered plains and rugged mountains. In fact many of these sand dunes simply hide solid mountain outcrops. The Namib Desert is the world’s oldest desert - older than 55 million years - and a remainder of the original Gondwana continent. This truly is a magnificent wonder!

Namibia has a number of tour operators that have concessions to take you on a guided tour from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay (which is part of the Namib Naukluft Park) or from Swakopmund to the mouth of the Kunene River (part of the Skeleton Coast). TN previously joined “Desert Magic Tours” on a 6-day trip named “Forbidden Land Shipwreck Trail”. Concession holders offer different routes and operators like Uri Adventure, Coastways Tours or Desert Magic Tours come to mind. We joined Omalweendo Safaris on two separate trips, but if you are an organised, unitary group, you may approach them to combine trips.

Day 1 - Koichab depression and beyond

Having met in Lüderitz and been fitted out with a two-way radio as well as having been instructed on both radio communication- and driving discipline, we are reminded of the fact that we as guests of the Namib Desert should leave no more than our foot prints! TN’s previous trip took us along the immediate coast, this time we turned towards the Koichab Pan about 35 kilometres outside Lüderitz as you drive back to Aus along the tar road. Then tyres were deflated to ± 0.9 bars as we approached the sand dunes.

This first stretch through the southwestern stretch of the Namib Desert gives you a pretty good indication of the vastness of what is still to come. On this stretch the focus is more intensely on nature than the previous trip, when TN followed closer to the coast witnessing remnants of mining operations and various shipwrecks from years gone by.

All of these trips have one thing in common: Listen to your guides and stick to their instructions and you will find that this adventure comes with an inherent risk, that can be managed so as to keep you safe and sound while navigating dunes and their tricky slip faces. “Dit is nie ‘n vraag òf jy sal vasval nie, maar eerder wanneer”, warns our immeasurably experienced guide, Dekker Smit, a desert fox in his own right. Driving dunes and getting stuck is like playing golf: It hurts your inner ego. Nature rules! As we gain confidence and learn to work with our vehicles, we enjoy more and more breath-taking views from the top of dunes increasing in size. Along the way Dekker and his team spoil you with a hearty lunch pack.

Passing east of Saddle Hill we venture towards the Uri-Hauchab-Mountains, close to which we stop to rest after an exciting first day. You now find yourself roughly 10 kilometres further west and about 70 kilometres south of Sossusvlei. Heiner has named this camp “Stewart se gat” after a friend, who experienced a tumble in the dunes. Sitting at the camp fire participants excitedly share first experiences - it pays to listen well, as you will invariably be confronted by similar challenges time and again. Pride has no place in the Namib Desert.

Day 2 - Sea of Sand

The early morning’s thick blanket of mist amplifies the eerie desert silence as we prepare for the next exciting stretch. It is during this day that you find yourself truly appreciating this environment, which suddenly imbues you with its wonders - it is pure excitement and awe!

We work our way through the dune belt and then down to the sea - it is dune driving as you would never have thought you will do, and under the guidance of the Omalweendo-team you feel safe doing it. You pass the “Lange Wand”, a sheer drop from the high dunes right down to the Atlantic Ocean - a sight to behold. You are now just across from the Sossusvlei and it is here that the experience gained during the previous day and in the early morning starts kicking in as you pass Fischers-Brunn and approach Meob Bay. The Bay is just about 15 kilometres northeast of Hollam’s Bird Island. We set up camp for the night. The camp fire is enjoyed in a subdued mood as many of us try to digest the day’s unbelievable experience of just becoming another grain in this huge sea of sands.

Day 3 - Kolmanskop’s Sister-Towns

After a healthy breakfast we exit the dunes and visit what is left of the diamond fields that were mined a century ago. Approaching from the south we visit the old, abandoned mining towns of Grillenberger, Charlottental and Holsatia.

We stand in wonder of what these early miners accomplished in such a hostile environment, apparently leaving as suddenly as they came, as you are able to witness from pots and pans still hanging from the walls of dilapidated wooden shacks - even found still standing on an oven. There is an almost intact steel pipeline running from Conception to Charlottental! And we found workshops that today still speak of maintenance being carried out on heavy machinery. It was all abandoned, because it was regarded as too expensive to remove the equipment from the remote desert.

We proceeded to the wreck of the freighter Eduard Bohlen, which through some ill luck was literally carried half a kilometre inland, never to be recovered. The steel skeleton is found west of Conception Water and south of Conception Bay. That night we put up camp near the bay.

Day 4 - Trip ends on a High

We now follow the compass towards Sandwich Bay enjoying a drive along the beach where we find the wreck of the Shawnee. Previously we were able to stand on the ship that was mostly hidden by a sand dune, this time the tides have washed it clear. As the massive dunes again literally run into the sea, we need to pass a stretch during low tide to get past. After this we “dive” back into dunes that seem to be - and are - getting bigger and bigger. Technically we could drive through to Walvis Bay, but that night’s fire finds all participants in a reflective mood, pondering on the fact that the Namib Desert has forever forged a bond among us, who enjoyed the privilege to be allowed into this age-old, living desert.

Preparing your Soul

Both Walvis Bay and Swakopmund offer ample accommodation and opportunity to clean up and restock your supplies should you undertake the mammoth trip from Lüderitz up to the Kunene River. It is a good opportunity to clean up and get everything ship-shape before taking on the next adventure. As you would be likely to approach such two-fold adventure as a group, you might consider staying over for two days.

It needs to be understood that this second trip does not miraculously end at the Kunene River as you would obviously have to return home (or if the devil rides you, continue beyond). The second part thus leads to the Kunene and into Kaokoland.

Day 1 - Getting into the Groove

We assembled early in the morning in Swakopmund going through the same procedure that we experienced before leaving Lüderitz: Radios and communication discipline, driving instructions, etc. While the day is spent travelling (except for a lunch break as usual), we still visited a place of interest, such as Cape Cross, along the way to Terrace Bay, where you have the last opportunity to fuel up and restock the essentials. This journey follows the salt road leading up to Skeleton Coast National Park.

This park was established in 1971 and spans the north-western coast of Namibia, starting at the mouth of the Ugab River (just north of Mile 108) reaching right up to the mouth of the Kunene River, which forms the north-western border of Namibia. It covers a surface of almost 17000 km².

We continued up towards Möwe Bay, setting up camp at a spot between the Hoanib River and the Bay.

Day 2 - Witnessing past Tragedies

Leaving after having been spoilt with another hearty breakfast, we move on to Möwe Bay and from there to the Hoarusib River and Rocky Point, and beyond to the Khumib River’s mouth. By now our experience of the first trip came to bear fruit. It is in this region that you stumble over shipwreck after shipwreck, confirming the name Skeleton Coast. We passed the “Graves of the Seamen” (Sir Charles Elliot ship wreck) and went beyond the Khumib River and through the Sarusas Valleys on to Cape Fria, where we entered into the dunes, preparing camp at one of the sites well sought-out by Dekker Smit. We were now close to Angra Fria.

Day 3 - The mighty Kunene

On this day we travelled from Cape Fria right up to the Kunene River’s mouth, which is a substantial delta, in the process seemingly taming this mighty river as it enters the Atlantic Ocean. This is a typical Namib Desert landscape and you reach the north-western border via massive white Namib sand. We did turn back however, i.e. did not follow the river, but backtracked to the height of Bosluis Bay, where we set up camp at another Dekker-find, the Dune Camp.

Day 4 to 6 - Kaokoland: A last Hurrah!

Whether this would be your exclusive and only tour or whether you do this as a long-winded journey up from Lüderitz, you would spend the next days, leaving Bosluis Bay and crossing roughly 45 kilometres of dunes in an easterly direction towards Hartmann’s Valley in Kaokoland (passing Serra Cafema, which is found further north along the Kunene). You would set up camp after a day’s heavy driving in the heart of Hartmann’s Valley, which is named after the Hartmann’s Mountain range lying to its east. Next we ventured back down to the Khumib River, setting up camp nestled into the surrounding mountains.

For the purpose of this article the journey is described in short, as we have covered this area substantially in previous TN-editions, but this should not distract from the fact that this is an unbelievable experience. Driving is tough at all times, but now you pass the harshest area you can imagine, sometimes travelling at average speeds of less than 10 km/h.

We ended up entering the Hoarusib River just after Purros and then ventured onwards over the massive plains alternating between rocky surface and soft sand, until we reached the route leading to Sesfontein and beyond to Khowarib on the banks of the Hoanib River. Having almost completed our round-about trip and once again marvelled at the fact that nature could forge a bond so strong after just a few, but hard days. Would we dare miss it? Never!

Visit “omalweendo.com” or contact Dekker Smit (+264 81 122 0168 / [email protected]), or his wife Willemien (+264 81 128 6296 / [email protected]).

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