Namibia is two and a half times the size of France, but with only 2.5 million people, you certainly don’t see many cars or villages – in fact, it feels incredibly remote and at times, almost otherworldly. When you think of Namibia, most people picture the typical red dunes of the south – but the remote beauty of northern Namibia is actually just as spectacular for Namibia adventure holidays.
Our Namibia expert, Kirsty, recently returned from a two-week self-drive trip to Namibia where she ventured off the beaten track to explore the stunning scenery and incredible wildlife of the north and northeast of the country. Despite the remoteness, the region was still accessible and the driving surprisingly straightforward. So, from coast to desert and mountains to ephemeral river beds, join us as Kirsty shares the highlights of her northern Namibia adventure…
After flying into Windhoek, our first stop was the Erongo Mountains. A two-hour drive from Windhoek, the mountains are a rugged taster of Damaraland scenery with strewn kopjes, green valleys and rolling hills. The walking in this area is absolutely incredible: guided or unguided, the stunning scenery speaks for itself – but we’d recommend going with a guide to learn more about the area. From knowledge about local plants and how they are used to make medicines to how people live and even information about the wildlife, these guides have got tons of expert knowledge and insight to make your experience even more memorable.
If walking isn’t your thing, there are also several caves and rock painting sites which you can visit, some of which are thought to date back more than 2,000 years. And there’s some pretty fantastic wildlife here too, with residents including springboks, kudus, antelopes, mountain zebras, oryx, peregrine falcons and rosy-faced lovebirds, as well as giraffes, baboons and leopards.
After two nights in the Erongo Mountains, we headed northeast to Damaraland. A mid-point between the Skeleton Coast and the east, we stopped here twice more during the trip as we made our way across Namibia. There’s plenty to see and do, with the spectacular landscapes and incredible geology being the main draw thanks to Damaraland’s rugged mountains, cascading kopjes and dry river beds. In fact, Damaraland has some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of Namibia, including prehistoric water courses with open plains, grassland, massive granite koppies and deep gorges.
Head to the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain and home to the famous ‘White Lady’ Bushman painting, or visit the rocky outcrop of Twyfelfontein. Make sure you check out the Vingerklip (finger rock), an iconic towering limestone rock, as well as the Petrified Forest which is millions of years old. There’s unique wildlife here, too – and if you have time, the Palmwag Concession is a must for Namibia adventure holidays. A rocky, mountainous environment, the 5000km² concession and surrounding areas are home to some incredibly rich and varied wildlife, including black rhinos (it’s the study centre for the Save the Rhino Trust), desert elephants and lions, as well as spotted hyenas, giraffes and antelope.
A frontier destination offering some of southern Africa’s most remote and unspoilt areas, the Skeleton Coast is home to incredibly stark and awe-inspiring scenery. On the drive from Damaraland to the Skeleton Coast, Torra Bay is the first place you reach. The coastline you can drive to is stark, bleak and quite often cloudy, which can leave you wondering what everyone raves about – and as you carry on north to Terrace Bay, it still doesn’t quite tick the boxes when it comes to dramatic coastal scenery. Most people stop driving here, but we carried on along a 4×4 only road for another 80km to the most northern accessible area, Möwe Bay – and that’s where it starts getting exciting.
The scenery and landscapes gradually become more surreal (we drove past a sign exclaiming “Lions – don’t get out of the car!!”) as you venture alongside sand, stone and rock. It’s incredibly stark, yet wildly beautiful and unique. When we arrived at Möwe Bay, the public road ended and we were transferred a further 1.5 hours north past seal colonies and shipwrecks – make sure you keep a lookout for the wreck of the Ventura bomber from the 1940s which was involved in the Dunedin Star rescue in 1942.
When we finally arrived at the lodge, we were greeted by the most spectacular sunset over the sea and white-sand beach. But be warned – the weather here can change in an instant, and the next day was cold, grey, and full of mizzle. If you do get bad weather, there are plenty of activities on offer here to take your mind off it: we drove up the Hoarusib River bed, under stony cliffs, and over epic sand dunes before suddenly stumbling across green patches with grazing herds of oryx: the huge variety of scenery was spectacular.
After a couple of days of off-road adventure, it was time to head back to Damaraland and then north to Sesfontein. As Damaraland’s most northerly outpost, Fort Sesfontein was built in 1896 by the government of former German South West Africa as a control base. Abandoned in 1914, today, a lodge has been built from the ruins of the fort. We left the car here and took a two-hour transfer along the Hoanib River to our camp situated to the east of the Skeleton Coast National Park, a destination all about desert wildlife, giraffe conservation and desert scenery.
The camp is in a spectacular location – you can drive up to one of the hills at sunset and look down at the dry riverbeds and mountains around you with no one else there. Highlights of this area include the chance to explore an ephemeral river bed, visits to the nomadic Himba tribes and the chance to spot desert-dwelling elephants wandering along the river valleys. After a couple of nights here, we headed back to Damaraland for a final time before venturing on to Etosha National Park.
Etosha National Park
Our first stop was a new reserve on the southern border of Etosha National Park. Slightly too far to use as a base to explore the park itself, it’s a great safari location in its own right and a great option for people who don’t have time to go to Etosha itself. Next, we headed to another private reserve also on the border of Etosha, but very close to the park’s southern Andersson Gate and well known for its focus on conservation. There is excellent wildlife here, as well as the opportunity to meet resident researchers who can teach you all about the conservation being undertaken both locally and throughout Namibia.
We then drove across Etosha from the Southern Gate to Eastern Gate of the park, stopping at waterholes along the way to wait for wildlife and taking in the incredible views across the Etosha Pan. Covering more than 20,000km², the ethereal and shimmering salt pan is so large you can see it from space – it truly felt like we were standing on the edge of the world looking across it. Etosha is a prolific area for wildlife with elephants, lions, leopards and more – at one of our stops, we were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants, including baby elephants who were just a few weeks old!
We spent the final night of our trip at the Okonjima Reserve, a 20,000ha reserve that is home to the Africat Foundation. The foundation started out rescuing and releasing cheetahs, but now runs lots of research programmes with leopard, brown hyena and pangolin, the world’s most trafficked animal. It’s an absolutely amazing place to stay for a couple of days, with activities such as leopard tracking, nature walks with experienced guides, hiking and game drives. There are also over 250 species of bird at Okonjima, so whether you choose to hike, bike or are an avid bird watcher, there are many ways to spend your time here!
If you’re looking to see a different side to Namibia, a northern Namibia adventure will certainly not disappoint! With some of the most stunning scenery on earth, from ephemeral river beds to rugged mountains and cascading kopjes to deep gorges, northern Namibian scenery is absolutely spellbinding. And with fantastic wildlife, incredible birdlife and excellent walking available too, northern Namibia has all the ingredients you need for a completely unforgettable holiday. Ready to start planning your adventure? Our team are experts in Namibia adventure holidays and are on hand to tailor-make your perfect trip. Contact them today for a free quote.