Around the end of July, we did a roadtrip from Capetown in South Africa to Walvis bay in Namibia.
La Baleine, Paternoster, July 28th-29th
After a brief stopover in Capetown we drove for around 2 and a half hours to Paternoster, an old fishing village on the east coast of South Africa. Fishing used to be the main industry, but since then it has become a tourist attraction, particularly the white-washed buildings. Paternoster also has a number of excellent restaurants there. We took advantage of this.
There weren’t many tourists, since Paternoster typically experiences heavy rain throughout the winter (your summer). However, the recent drought in the region meant we were treated to blue skies and unseasonally warm weather.
We had booked two self-catering houses for two nights. The houses were situated on the beach with views across the peninsula. The highlights were probably eating fish and chips on the beach and a trip to the Wolfgat restaurant, which served excellent food in an unassuming eatery. It was very intimate. There were just 4 of us there.
Yellow Aloe, Clanwilliam, July 30th
After reluctantly leaving Paternoster, we drove for 3 hours inland, north east to Clanwilliam. To stay at the longhouse, an old self-catering house with a thatched roof. Except we hadn’t. The website had booked us into the underwhelming B+B next door, owned by the same company.
Clanwilliam is a thoroughly unremarkable town. Our hope had been to see the early spring flowers, but the ongoing drought put paid to that. So, we decided to stretch our legs and ended up witnessing one of the strangest sights i have seen — an army of young people with mattresses on their backs. There must have been a few hundred of them.
While I was struggling to get my head out of the gutter, the in-laws were pondering the death of humanity. Where was their morality? Was nothing off limits? Cath had to explain to us they were going bouldering– people climb boulders and use their mattress to break their fall if they slip. To be honest, I didn’t get it. Why would people from Europe want to spend a small fortune to take an overnight flight and drive for 4 hours just to climb boulders in this tiny place?
Springbok, July 31st – August 1st
It took 3 and a half hours drive to head north from Clanwilliam to Springbok, the last major frontier town before hitting the Nambia border. By this point, the landscape had become semi arid. We managed to secure a house for 2 nights.
The following day, after securing tyre sealant and various paraphernalia for the car — in anticipation of Nambia — we took a walk in the Goegap nature reserve, which turned out to be stunning if a little bleak.
Ais Ais spa (Namibia), August 2nd
The trip to Ais Ais spa took around 5 hours, with around an hour and a half stuck at the land border between South Africa and Namibia. There was a good section of tarmac road after border control (B1) until we had to turn off and take the last 70 km to Ais Ais on a gravel road (C10).
Gravel roads in Namibia have a reputation. Roads are not frequently maintained and can get into a terrible state. To counter this you are supposed to keep car speed to around 60 km/h, but when the going is good you can drive much faster. People can get lulled into a false sense of security, increase speed and end up spinning off when they hit a bad section of road. Most drive Toyota Hilluxes to cope. Unfortunately, we had the absolute minimum 4X4 requirements. Which meant limited clearance, power and far from adequate tyres. The only thing we could do was to reduce the pressure in our tyres to increase traction.
Unfortunately, gravel roads in Namibia are the norm, given the distances involved, the incredibly sparse population (only 2.5 million) and the cost to upkeep roads. As it turned out, the C10 was a horrible road. Towards the end, the road became heavily corrugated and churned up. If we weren’t getting thrown around by the corrugated stretches it was navigating around sharp bends on a sea of gravel. But we made Ais Ais without incident.
The resort itself is a hot springs in the middle of a desert. An oasis surrounded by palm trees, set against a backdrop of mountains. It is prime real estate. Normally, this would have been snapped up by a luxury hotel chain. Instead, it’s run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR). Basically, the Government.
Upon arrival at reception we were told that recent renovations were still largely incomplete and our paid booking could not be honoured. We would need to be relocated to a villa, which hadn’t been cleaned. After a pleasant soak in the hot springs pool we discovered the resort had a water leak and there was no water. Dinner proved to be the final straw– several lumps of incinerated meat. Nevertheless, i took immense satisfaction at the group’s incredibly naive efforts to secure some wine, pointless. I ordered a beer.
Canyon lodge, Fish river Canyon, August 3rd -5th
The drive from Ais Ais to Canyon lodge took an hour and half. Back along the C10 and then up the D324 for around 60 kms. I had been looking forward to staying at Canyon lodge. The lodge is part of the Gondwana collection. It used to be a huge farm, spanning hundreds of kilometres.
Accommodation consisted of individual thatched huts, looking out across the plains. Most were actually built into the boulders. We stayed there for 3 nights. Enjoying the sheer beauty of the place, particularly at sunset. Going for walks in the mountains. There were also plenty of wildlife with Kudu, Springbok, Zebra, and Eelands, which ventured on the grounds at night. Unfortunately, my father-in-law did not enjoy much of it. Julie was flying into Upington airport (South Africa) to join us, so Michael was required to drive to pick her up.
Since we were there we took a quick trip from the lodge to look at the Fish River Canyon, although the road was so bad that our car barely made it. It’s supposed to be the largest canyon after the Grand Canyon and is definitely worth a look. The 5-day walk through the canyon is considered one of the greatest walks in South Africa, but it’s incredibly demanding. Henry’s kind of walk.
Namib Naukluft lodge (Namib Naukluft national park), August 6th
Booking Namib Naukluft lodge was sheer luck. By January, all accomodation in Sossusvlei had been booked up. Even the campsites. Until a couple of months ago we had only had a night booked for Sossusvlei and the dunes. Fortunately, there was a cancellation at Namib Naukluft lodge and we managed to secure 3 rooms.
On the other hand, this meant we had to take a horrific 11-hour drive from Canyon lodge to reach Namib Naukluft lodge before dark. To complicate matters, daylight hours were at a premium, with it being winter in Namibia. Driving on gravel roads in the dark is not an option.
Although tight, Cath and I had worked out the route and spent a while discussing it with everyone the day before. Take off at first light (around 0630) with the aim to get there before dusk (1730). Somehow, this message got lost on the day. Come breakfast the other car were still faffing around trying to accommodate lots of useless items including a huge cool box. We finally managed to set off after Cath threatened to leave without them.
The other car was actually much better equipped for the trip. My father-in-law had stacked his previous rental car into a post at the airport picking up Julie. Avis didn’t have an X-trail, so had replaced it with a landcruiser.
The first stage of the route involved taking the C12 up to Seeheim and then getting on the B4 highway to Keetmanshoop, followed by the B1 highway to Mariental. There we paused. Our original plan had been to head north up the B1 before finally heading west to Namib Naukluft lodge, to limit driving on gravel roads. However, it was a longer route and the poor quality (single lane) road and numerous trucks meant we were not making enough time. So from Mariental we headed west to Maltahohe, through the Zaris mountain pass and up the C19 to Sossusvlei.
By the time we hit the area around Sossusvlei, the road had been churned up so much by coaches that it resembled a sea of gravel. While the landcruiser was handling it no problem, our car was struggling to stay on the road. But with the sun setting we made it to the lodge. Just in time for a cold drink and an opportunity to admire the sunset. The views across Namib Naukluft national park are spectacular and there are no tourists. Dinner in the evening turned out to be an excellent Boma (outdoor barbecue), with a ridiculous selection of meat including springbok steak.
Sossusvlei desert lodge, August 7th
The following day we left early to get to Sossusvlei. The roads were much better because of the road smoothing machines. Once in the park, there was a tarmac road to take us to the dunes.
Whenever you look at a travel guide to Namibia the iconic red dunes of Sossusvlei are on the cover. Understandably, everyone were keen to see the dunes. However, I had little desire to go up some dunes with a ton of tourists with selfie sticks. Unfortunately, some of us were up for doing everything– Deadvlei (the petrified forest), Big Daddy (the largest dune of all), Big Mommy and Dune 45. Which would have meant spending the whole day there.
Upon arrival at the dunes, we realised tourist numbers had exploded past my gloomy predictions. Even remote dunes had hundreds of tourists scaling them. We settled on going to Deadvlei, which had less interest. After scaling several ridges in 30C heat, everyone lost any enthusiasm for doing anything else after that– it’s hard work walking up sand dunes.
By noon, we were already driving back with the aim of getting to Sossusvlei desert lodge for lunch. The lodge is located in a private reserve with views out across the Namib Rand. While we were there we witnessed a lunar eclipse, which had Alex in raptures of delight.
Pelican point lighthouse (Walvis Bay), August 8th – 9th.
The following day we headed off early, north past Sossusvlei and through Namib Naukluft national park to Solitaire where we would refuel. We had been forewarned about Solitaire. Every guidebook on Namibia, talks about the world famous apple pies and abandoned vintage cars in Solitaire. Suffice to say when we got there it was mayhem. There must have been 5 coachloads of tourists. We didn’t linger.
After Solitaire we headed west on the C14, through the national park for 3 hours to Walvis Bay. Despite Walvis Bay being a major port the road is in a shocking condition and was packed with tourist coaches. Every twenty minutes, coaches were whizzing past us to ferry tourists to the next picture stop, spraying our cars with dust.
From Walvis Bay we drove through the town, past the salt farms, and onto the sandbank. We immediately got stuck. None of us had reduced the pressure in the tyres enough to be able to drive on sand. It all got a bit too much for the in-laws who lost it, especially since we had neglected to inform them what we were doing. I think the prevailing view was the kids (read us) had made the reckless decision to drive on a treacherous sandbank with the intention of having a picnic on quicksand.
Soon after, help arrived to tow us out. Reducing the tyre pressure enabled us to drive out of the sand, although the lack of clearance on our car remained a concern. Once we reached the converted lighthouse it was all worth it. Built in 1915 to keep boats off the treacherous coast, the building had recently been converted into a beautiful lodge. We spent 2 nights there. At times it felt like you were at the end of the world. In the morning, the lighthouse was blanketed in fog before dissipating at noon. By afternoon the light was so bright it gave the lighthouse an almost ethereal quality. While we were there we visited one of the better preserved shipwrecks and observed the seal colonies, which are the largest in the world. But mostly we gazed out to sea observing the huge ships in the distance.
Swakopmund Beach lodge, Swakopmund, August 10th – 11th
Exiting the lighthouse was always going to be a challenge. Our car’s limited clearance meant we had to drive at pace or become swamped by the sand. We managed to keep out of trouble, until the end when we got undone by a sharp left turn, which you couldn’t take at speed.
Anyhow, after a few mishaps we got to Swakopmund Beach Lodge. Frankly, the place was a bit of a disaster. Set in the middle of a suburb. Our bedroom was the only one without views of the beach. More importantly, we were positioned directly below the kitchen to the flagship restaurant. There’s a reason why this is not the norm. The bedroom was only free of noises from the restaurant between midnight and 6 am in the morning.
On the penultimate day, we went on an airplane ride, tracing the route we had taken through Namibia. It was awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling very well. To be honest, the significant turbulence in the 8-seater plane was not agreeing with me. My father-in-law who had bankrolled the flight was slightly aggrieved to see me slumped over with my head in my hands when I should have been enjoying the view. But I still managed to get some good shots (below).
On the 12th of August, we packed the cars and drove to the airport. Unfortunately, our car unexpectedly broke down and we had to get picked up by Avis. Was a great trip.