Contemporary African tourism has shifted from centralized bricks and mortar hotels, to sustainable safari tents and mud brick huts located in the very heart of untamed Africa, whilst maintaining the element of luxury. A more sensitive approach, comprising of smaller bespoke groups delving into these untouched regions ensure minimal human footprint, thereby protecting the epic wilderness.
Endless clear skies, cerulean oceans lapping at desert coastlines, savannah, dust pans and energetic river courses interspersed by mountains and scorched valleys. An abundance of wildlife, big and small, ghost towns, ancient cultures unphased by the passage of time, accessible only, in a practical sense, by light plane. These are the hallmarks of Namibia, and these are the reasons why the discerning traveler is placing this part of the continent at the top of their African agenda.
Namibia is a land in a state of perpetual flux, an ever changing environment which can present something new with each visit. With a population of a mere 2.2 million for an area in excess of 825,000 square kilometers, nature still reigns supreme here, and parts of Namibia see less tourists than Antarctica. You are guaranteed to feel remoteness in this splendid land, unhindered by hoards of tourists proliferating elsewhere.
It is a place where the drama of nature plays out in front of your very eyes on a daily basis, if you as much as peek out the window of your bespoke safari lodging.
From the air, however, you truly gauge the scale of this land. Giant rolling sand dunes, momentous rock formations, endless savannahs and dust pans gouged by river tentacles flowing during the Wet- the arteries that bring life to a vast biodiversity of creatures.
Other than an aesthetic aerial wonderland, accessing your destinations by light aircraft carries with it many practical benefits too, such as avoiding check-in queues, not having to worry about missing your flight as your private pilot awaits you patiently, and replacing hundreds of kilometres of corrugated dirt road with the odd bit of turbulence. As you arrive on a makeshift airstrip in the middle of what is best described as nowhere, your duffel bag is unloaded and a radiant Namibian smile shines through the settling dust while a cool drink is handed to you.
Among Namibia’s natural gems, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is a highly recommended destination. Crossing five national borders and roughly the size of France, swanky corner cafes are replaced by watering holes and croissants by traditional Namibian fare at the superb Nambwa Tented Lodge.
“Much like many destinations covered so far, your stay at the Mowani Mountain Camp also contributes to local conservation efforts, as well as the local community, making it an equally worthy destination from that perspective. ”
Established only 11 years ago, it is one of a very few places in Africa where humans and wildlife coexist within a national park, and has quickly become one of the most spectacular safari destinations on the continent. Thanks to the community driven conservation efforts, elephants have come back to the region, as have impressive herds of different antelope and zebra. The endless horizon will also expose you to red lechwe, hippo and crocodile along waterways, sable and so much more. The wild isolation is juxtaposed by the decadent luxury of the Lodge, combining the best of both worlds in a spectacular setting.
Walking along the elevated wooden walkway, weaving its way through a canopy of trees, eventually leads to your chic tented suite, offering exquisite comfort whilst exposing a commanding view over the vast savannah. The elevation gives giants such as Elephants, and other animals, the right of way beneath the lodge and, let’s face it, keeps you at a safe distance form some wildlife that may just want to eat you.
The expansive decks of the perched suites, nestled among tree foliage, provide an unrivalled vantage point, and a perfect platform to indulge in yet another gin and tonic, whilst avoiding the commotion of excessive tourist activity, and inflated pricing that accompanies the more established safari destinations in Botswana, just across the border.
The radiant Namibian smile is superseded by a warm hug as you board the light plane en route Etosha National Park, which presents a diversity of habitats from mopane woodland, open savannah to wildlife encrusted waterholes. Along its eastern border is the Onguma Private Reserve, some 84,000 acres in size, which offers an exclusive and intimate safari exposing you to game species including impala, zebra, wildebeest, lion, leopard and cheetah.
Onguma has five different accommodation styles to choose from, be it the Treetop Camp entirely on stilts built around trees with uninterrupted views over the reserve’s waterholes, or the impressive Fort where luxury is the dominant objective- a Moroccan style castle festooned with ceramics, etched metals, dark woods and a regal grandeur.
Whilst your safari activities within the reserve and inside Etosha will be exceptional, there is further reward in having supported such a worthwhile sustainable operation encompassed by the Onguma initiative, about which you can learn from the eager and knowledgeable staff at your disposal.
The next stop along this stretch of wilderness is Okahirongo River Camp, situated in the magical Marienfluss Valley, the heart of the Kaokoland Mountains. A fusion of rare, exotic Himba culture, hidden valleys and understated casual elegance await in this natural splendor built into the harsh terrain, graced with just six luxury tents, so there are never more than twelve people to absorb this remote beauty at any given time. The commitment to conservation is evident everywhere, as exemplified by the fact solar energy powers the entire lodge. A highlight here is visiting one of the only places in the world where you can meet semi-nomadic Himba people in a local Himba village, whose traditions and culture have been maintained despite the increasing influence of the western world elsewhere. Your cultural experience with local Himba villagers can only be equalled, perhaps, by a sunset cruise down the Kunene River, also at your disposal.
From the verdant river camp the light plane whisks you away into boulder strewn Damaraland country, where rocky outcrops are dissected by rivers of scree, not unlike how we imagine a Martian landscape to present itself to future space explorers. The Mowani Mountain Camp, perched between huge boulders, awaits you there- an oasis in a prehistoric land. The area is rich in botany, wildlife and geological features, about which your hosts will impart ample knowledge, as you embark upon game drives, nature walks, or elect to recline by the pool with, well, yet another gin and
Here you are a short distance to the UNESCO site of Twyfelfontein, replete with ancient rock carvings which secured its listing, or the geological wonders of the Organ Pipes, and may even catch a glimpse of the elusive desert rhino and elephant, wandering the dusty landscape. Much like many destinations covered so far, your stay at the Mowani Mountain Camp also contributes to local conservation efforts, as well as the local community, making it an equally worthy destination from that perspective.
The ensuing flight from Damaraland to Swakopmund is best taken over the Skeleton Coast, along Namibia’s remote western coastline, exposing you to a truly unique visual feast, occasioned by some of the most evocative and haunting environment in the world. Its name derives from the many shipwrecks and whale bones accumulated over past centuries, with swirling morning mists adding the final touches to a truly surreal and dramatic scene.
It is also home to the flourishing Cape Cross seals, which swarm the coastline in tens of thousands, like a shifting, undulating, pulsating, organic jigsaw puzzle. Protective cows suckle coal hued pups whilst scarred bulls bask in the sun or square off in territorial fights over females and water, as the sound of waves is drowned out by the cacophony of a colony in its prime. The colony’s perimeter is patrolled by opportunistic predators- jackals on land and sharks in the water, leaving limited scope for the defenseless pups to stray without consequence.
The worthy finale to many a Namibian luxury safari is the Sossusvlei region, renowned for its impressive, shifting sand dunes, and nearby Wolwedans, within the NamibRand Nature Reserve. This remote and beautiful retreat also aims to minimise its ecological footprint through thoughtful design and energy efficient operation without compromising the integrity of true luxury.
A day spent on scenic walks, horse riding or on game drives, can be rewarded with an indulgent in suite massage. In the evening, once you are suitably limbered, dinner under the stars awaits, concluded by campfire cocktails. For those not quite ready to retire, a guide will enlighten you with an astronomy lesson beneath a star strewn sky, infiltrated by the odd shooting
star, unhindered by any form of light pollution.
The vastness of the universe is nowhere more apparent than under the Sossusvlei sky, placing your existence into a very clear context, and providing a fitting conclusion to your Namibian sojourn, before you finally head back to civilization, where the night sky is obscured again. Until your next African holiday, that is.