Out of the 39 countries I’ve traveled to around the world, Namibia remains one of my absolute favourites. This sparsely populated country contains some of the most scenic, truly epic landscapes I’ve ever seen, from desert dunes and petrified trees to cracked salt flats and a spectacularly dramatic canyon. Then there’s the calming emptiness – sometimes you drive on Namibia’s gravel roads for hours without seeing another car – there’s a profound stillness to the nothingness of huge, uncluttered horizons. It’s a spectacular destination of incredible experiences, and a place I hope to visit every year.
Here’s why Namibia has captured my heart.
The beauty of the Namib Desert
A rolling sea of apricot, terracotta and blood-red sand dunes, ripples extending in endless waves to the horizon. Mysterious fairy circles etched into the silvery grass. Watercolour sunrises and movie-worthy sunsets of skies ablaze. Camping outside and falling asleep under one of the world’s darkest skies – watching the thick blanket of stars move as the hours pass, and seeing dozens of shooting stars crisscross the dark bowl. Waking up at dawn to go hot air ballooning as the horizon turns from purple to golden and you’re high above the dunes, flying over gemsbok and zebra. Climbing the towering dunes of Sossusvlei and walking among the petrified trees of Deadvlei, standing surreally between the cracked pieces of the desert floor. The Namib Desert, for all its harshness and desolation, is breathtakingly beautiful and the main reason I love Namibia.
The wildlife of Etosha National Park
Namibia’s unmissable wildlife reserve, Etosha National Park is almost the same size as Switzerland. It’s hard to fathom the vastness as you drive around the park, which is set around a giant salt pan that cracks like puzzle pieces in the dry winter months. Winter is the best time to be here, when animals – elephants, rhino, lion, giraffe, zebra and gemsbok – cluster around the waterholes, offering you a wildlife show worthy of a Discovery Channel documentary.
Canoeing the Orange River
This powerful river, which forms the border of Namibia and South Africa as it snakes its way towards the Atlantic Ocean, is a ribbon of life in the harsh desert environment surrounding it. One of my best holidays ever was spent canoeing 90 kilometres down the river under the hot sun, flanked by rippled sand dunes and craggy mountains, dipping into the water to cool off, navigating rapids and sleeping on the river banks under the stars.
The Fish River Canyon
Standing at the edge of the Fish River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon, peering into a mighty gash in the Earth 500 metres deep, you can’t fail to consider your own insignificance in the face of the forces of nature. What you’re confronted by wherever you go in Namibia is the sense of how small you really are – something we forget about in our normal daily lives of work, deadlines, pressures and stresses. Being in Namibia’s giant, unpeopled landscapes, like the Fish River Canyon, makes you not only rediscover your connection to nature, but also leads to the humbling realisation that nothing you worry about really matters in the context of millions of years of geology. Namibia isn’t just a holiday destination for me – it’s a place of philosophical mindshifts.
Near Luderitz, in the southwest of Namibia, Kolmanskop was once a prosperous diamond mining town, but it was abandoned decades ago and is now an eerily photogenic ghost town. Kolmanskop is slowly being reclaimed by the desert –buildings are filling up with sand, as the dunes move in with the wind. Exploring the crumbling town feels like being on the set of a horror movie, minus the ghosts or zombies – a totally unique experience in a country full of unique experiences.
Sarah Duff is a freelance travel writer and photographer from South Africa whose assignments have taken her all over Africa. In the name of work she’s tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, driven around Malawi and Mozambique in a Mini, trekked over sand dunes in the Namib Desert, sailed dhows around Lamu Island in Kenya, eaten her way around Mauritius, hiked into an active volcano on Reunion Island and explored the South African bush on foot. www.sarahduff.com