The Great Namibia Road Trip – Part 1
After our out of this world visit to Etosha National Park, Adam and I decided to hold onto our rental car and take it for a road trip through Namibia. Over the next week, we encountered massive canyons, unbelievable sand dunes, and lunar landscapes, and we learned that the entire country of Namibia is truly out of this world.
Our first port of call was the massive red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. Having seen incredible photos from the region, we were keen to see this one of a kind landscape for ourselves.
Starting at the ridiculous hour of five am, we left our campsite near the park entrance and joined the trail of cars to drive the 45km to the first of the dunes.
We reached the unimaginatively titled Dune 45 just as the sky was starting to brighten, and dragged ourselves to the top to see the sunrise. The climb was tough, and at times it felt we were just sinking in sand and getting nowhere, but finally we made it, in time to see the sun break through the streaks of cloud.
The paved road ended at Dune 45, and the remaining five kilometre stretch of unpaved sand was only fit for 4x4s or those daft enough to walk.
So naturally, we began walking. The heat was unbearable and the sand sank beneath our feet, making our legs ache. We quickly ran out of what little water we had, and began to wonder if we should try to flag down a vehicle. But, determined to make it to the end, we persevered. Although the walk was tough, it was pretty, and gave us our first taste of the views that lay ahead.
After an eternity, we reached the next car park, and, pausing for a breather, carried on the short distance to the famous salt and clay pan that is Sossusvlei.
The photos we had seen did not do it justice. The combination of white earth, dead trees and vivid red sand made for a scene that was surely dreamt up in a post-apocalyptic screenplay.
When we had exhausted all of our adjectives marvelling at the sight, we remembered that we had earlier exhausted all of our muscles. So we flagged down a passing tour jeep and agreed to whatever price they wanted to take us back to our car.
Tips for visiting Sossusvlei:
You can stay in the nearby town of Sesriem, or just inside the park entrance.
Do get up in time to see the sunrise, it’s worth it!
You can get from Dune 45 to Sossusvlei with a 4×4, but be careful as we did see some getting stuck in the sand.
If you do choose to walk, be sure to wear sunscreen, bring plenty of water, and make sure you’re fit enough!
The next leg of our journey was a long one. We headed east from Sossusvlei to Mariental, where we spent the night before heading south through central Namibia to reach Fish River Canyon.
As we drove along the sand road, Adam remembered hearing that Mad Max had been filmed in Namibia. I could definitely imagine it. The dead trees, red sand, and rocky peaks definitely put me in mind of a dystopian wasteland.
Our road trip, driving along a straight unpaved road for hours on end, was decidedly less exciting than the car chases and battles of the Mad Max universe. That is, until we hit a patch of soft sand and went skidding erratically back and forth across the road as our car threatened to roll. Thankfully there were no other vehicles, and nothing in sight that we could crash into. And thankfully Adam, keeping a cooler head than me, regained control and guided us to a stop. From then on I was glad our road trip was less Mad Max and more monotony.
Tips for driving through central Namibia:
A 2×4 car is suitable for most roads in Namibia, even those that are unpaved.
There isn’t a whole lot to see or do between Sossusvlei and Fish River Canyon. You can drive from one to the other in a single 11 hour journey, or stay in Mariental, which is at roughly the halfway point.
Be careful! The clear open route make it tempting to race along, but the sand is treacherous and the speed limit of 80km/hr.
Don’t forget to reduce your tyre pressure to 1.8 bar when driving in sand.
Check out AutoEurope to compare the best deals on car rentals in Namibia.
Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon lies in the far south of Namibia, surrounded by nothing much else. We debated back and forth about whether it would be worth the hours spent getting here, but decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did. The canyon is a hell of a sight.
We made the error of visiting on New Year’s Eve, and realised that, other than one rest stop 20 minutes from the park entrance, there is no sign of life anywhere. Toasting the the new year in a deserted campsite may not be the most exciting NYE we’ve ever had!
But it was worth it, as the next morning we got to visit the canyon, which is just a ten minute drive from the campsite. It really was an awe-inspiring sight; a gigantic gash in the earth with a bizarre ethereal quality, seeming almost like a painting.
We continued on to the hot springs at Ais-Ais, and were disappointed to find that it was a resort and spa, rather than the natural lakes we were hoping for. So unless you fancy a massage it’s not worth the trip.
Some facts about Fish River Canyon:
It’s the largest canyon in Africa, and, by most measurements, it’s the second largest canyon on earth (after the Grand Canyon in the U.S.).
The canyon is an impressive 100 miles (160 km) long, and reaches up to 27 km wide and 550 meters deep.
Visiting any park in Namibia, including Fish River Canyon, Etosha and Sossusvlei, costs N$80 per day for a foreign visitor, and N$10 for a vehicle. Permits are issued for 24 hour periods.
The five day Fish River Hiking Trail is open from May to September. The trail descends into the canyon, then follows the river for 85 km. Read more about the trail here.
Stay tuned for Part 2: The Skeleton Coast, Welwitschia Drive, and more! Coming soon…