Say safari and I am transported to Africa. I see the big open plains of Kruger or the Serengeti, huge skies and vast rolling grasslands that spill into great rivers. I see herds of wildebeest, elephants, impala gathering to drink at waterholes whilst their predator, the big cats wait patiently for their feed, lounging in the dust.
Say Namibia, however, and I am transported to an African safari unlike any other. I have been lucky enough to experience Africa so many times that I can appreciate the subtle differences between an African safari in say South Africa, where you can walk in the dramatic, green Drakensberg mountains to Botswana, where the flood land’s of the Okavango Delta means you can take a boat safari by mokoro amongst hippos, birdlife and even crocodiles. But Namibia isn’t about subtle differences, it’s about stark contrasts.
Arriving in the capital Windhoek, you have the surreal sensation of having flown from London all through the night only to have landed in Hamburg. Namibia has a strong German influence, which you can see in the architecture of the houses and the frequent availability of surprisingly tasty black forest gateaux on the menu. As you drive out, all other similarities end here.
Suddenly you’re in a different world. Sand dunes like red skyscrapers loom high in Sossusvlei. Some of the highest dunes in the world are found here, so they say, and attempting to climb one will certainly make you inclined to agree. In this deathly environment, you’d be surprised to see that anything grows or lives. But Namibia is all about surprises. As we ventured out amongst the dunes, we spotted oryx, springbok, and even what might have been the glimpse of the elusive desert elephant. You are far less likely to see lion, leopard or cheetah here than in the rest of East and Southern Africa. But they can and do live here. The reason for this curious abundance of life is the thick mists that roll in from the sea, whose dampness sustains life on this uninhabitable part of this most unforgiving continent.
Visiting Namibia in April and May can yield further surprises when the rains fall and in a moment the dunes spring to life in light green and small trees grow out of nothing.
Out of the nothingness, Namibia even boasts a small ‘resort’ town Swakopmund, where anyone with a taste for adventure travel can go surfing, dolphin watching or even sand boarding.
And most famous of all perhaps is the Skeleton Coast, a hauntingly deserted wilderness that stretches for miles, that’s a must for anyone in Nambia.