Having the world's oldest desert, the highest sand dunes, and one of the most notorious coasts to shippers (the 'Skeleton Coast'), Namibia is one of the world's newest independent republics. Previously known as South West Africa, Namibia was a German protectorate up until World War 1, when it came under the administration of South Africa. The German heritage is still evident in the architecture and place names (eg. Luderitz, Swakopmund) and in the dress of the Herrero tribe, who still copy the dress of the 19th century German missionary wives. The country has large stocks of diamonds, copper, uranium, tin, silver and other minerals, and these, plus the more traditional stock raising and fishing underpin the economy.
The largely desert-like landscape offers some stunning scenery: The Fish River Canyon in the south, Etosha National Park in the north and the Fish River Canyon. Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world (161 kilometres in length, 27 kilometres wide, with a drop from the rim of over 500 meters). The sightings from the many viewpoints are spectacular. The Fish River itself does not flow every year but when it does, it appears suddenly and with force. During the winter months it is reduced to a few pools. There is a hiking trail along the bottom – some 86 kilometres long, it takes about 5 days to complete and ends in Ai-Ais (that is, hot springs) - but it is only accessible at certain times of the year.
Etosha National Park
Etosha is one of the largest game parks in Africa, at some 22,270 sq kilometres in area surrounding a central salt pan. The local Ovambo people named Etosha – as 'huge white area' or 'place of dry water'. In the dry season the Pan is an inhospitable place where salt crystals reflect the sun to form mirages.
Namibia’s largest National Park - at 23,000 sq kilometres, the fourth largest nature conservation area in the world - lies within the Namib Desert which stretches from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north (border of Angola). The Nama people call it ‘Namib’ – meaning ‘vast’, which is very appropriate.
Sossusvlei and Sesriem canyon
Sossusvlei is a dusty clay pan overlooked by hundreds of towering sand dunes up to 300 metres high. The dunes vary from pale apricot to vivid reds and bright orange. The most famous one is undoubtedly Dune 45, it is best to climb it in the early hours and watch the sunrise from the top.
Namibia’s second largest town looks like as if it had been ‘cut and pasted’ from Germany into Namibia. The architecture of the town, wedged between the desert and the ocean is redolent of its German colonial past. But Swakopmund has a relaxed atmosphere with pleasant promenades, palm trees and gardens and there is plenty to do here. Swakopmund has also become Namibia’s adventure capital and there is an array of activities on offer: sand boarding, quadbiking, camel rides, offroad driving, sky diving and desert horse riding.
When to Travel
Namibia’s dry season runs from mid-April through to the end of October with the summer months bringing seasonal rains which turns the country green and you may experience seasonal flooding in the desert.
November through to February can be very hot, however during the winter months of June, July and August you can experience freezing temperatures at night. Foggy mornings are often experienced along the coastline where the cool air off the Atlantic Ocean meets the warm air from the desert interior.
Getting there and away
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city is the country’s main hub with regular flights on its national carrier Air Namibia (http://www.airnamibia.com.na/) from a number of Southern African destinations as well as Frankfurt. Both South African Airways (http://www.flysaa.com) and British Airways (http://www.ba.com) operate regular flights from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport.
Swakopmund is served by the nearby Walvis Bay Airport with Air Namibia (http://www.airnamibia.com.na/) offering regular flights from both Cape Town and Johannesburg.