A remarkable blend of wildlife-rich parks, verdant rainforests, and pristine coastline, Kenya is truly enticing. One of our Travel Designers, Bella, recently explored this East African country with her family, travelling from the glistening Indian Ocean to Laikipia’s wilderness land. Hear from Bella about her experience.
Commencing my journey in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, I boarded my light aircraft flight destined for Sossusvlei. I’ve always dreamed of witnessing Namibia from above, as you sense the country’s diversity, colours, and shapes. A birds-eye view reveals a landscape that becomes more beautiful as it becomes increasingly barren, sprawling for kilometre after kilometre. The expansive nature of Namibia is indescribable.
After 45 minutes spent with my face pressed to the window, staring in awe, we finally landed. Stepping off the plane, an immense wave of heat flooded over me followed quickly by an incredible feeling of remoteness.
A memorable introduction to Namibia, I spent three days exploring the Sossusvlei region. With accommodation ranging from self-drive campsites to high-end lodges, the area caters for an array of desert activities including sunrise hot air balloon flights, game drives, and educational walks amidst the landscape. Most iconic however is discovering the ethereal scenery of Sossuvlei, where immense sand dunes rarely see rain and white clay pans are peppered with ancient camelthorn trees. Combining the local Nama dialect (sossus) with Afrikaans (vlei), Sossusvlei is aptly translated as ‘dead-end marsh.’
Deserts & Dunes
Rising before dawn to the chill of the desert, we set off into the darkness towards Sesriem gate, the only entrance to Sossusvlei. An experience not to be missed, we arrived before 7am to witness the sun rise over the dunes. As the first rays of sunshine crept above the mountains, a mesmerising glow cast a golden light onto the desert.
Journeying deeper, we were surrounded by the intense orange and red star-shaped dunes. Formed over five million years ago, the changing light gives them their animate appearance, with mornings and evenings the best times of day to see their three-dimensionality. The fascinating play of shadows in the Namib never ceased to amaze me. As my guide Enos said: “Every day is a new day.” Words from a man who has entered Sossusvlei four times a week for ten years of his life.
Our final destination was the iconic Big Daddy, Sossusvlei’s tallest dune. A well-trodden trail traverses the dune’s ridge, with a steep hike to the summit. As you incline, the white expanse of Deadvlei slowly appears, a dramatic contrast against the rust-orange sand and piercing blue sky. Around 900 years ago, the climate dried and dunes separated Deadvlei from the river which once sustained desert life. Too dry to decompose, the skeletal trees were scorched black in the sun, forming the stark forest which exists today. After taking in the sprawling desert vistas from Big Daddy, long lunar leaps are the fastest (and most fun) way to enter the eerie expanse of Deadvlei.
As the sun dips and the blanket of dusk falls, each minute brings a different shade to the mountains, a different light to the sky and a different feel to the air. One by one the stars make an appearance, and on this night, Venus shone particularly bright. When I reminisce about my Sossusvlei experience, the word ‘silence’ comes to mind. Never have I experienced a silence which can be only described as deafening.
A beautiful flight north and one night spent in Swakopmund, the next stage of my adventure was Skeleton Coast. Travelling by road allows you to get under the skin of a country, and for Namibia it is a perfect way to experience its otherworldly features and diverse landscapes.
Leaving Swakopmund is leaving civilisation behind and embracing the barren coastline, the entirety of which is protected. An area of 110,000 km2 touches the Atlantic Ocean’s Benguela Current, a protected marine habitat of cold waters. Here, the straight road is flanked by the ocean to its west and the desert to its right, a stark environment renowned for desolate shipwrecks and whale skeletons. Nowhere else on the planet do sea and sand collide so abruptly.
To access Shipwreck Lodge, my home for the next two nights, you are collected at Mowe Bay before setting off on a two-hour drive through powder-white sand. An experience in itself, you’ll see seal colonies, shipwrecks, ancient mines and the remnants of a Ventura bomber plane. Imparting remarkable historical knowledge, our guide brought the journey to life, making every minute exciting.
Nestled amongst dunes, at first glance the lodge appears as a scattering of shipwrecks and whale bones, its unique features jutting into the skyline. Travelling closer, ten individual wooden rooms materialise with a large communal area where guests relax, eat and soak up the view. An oasis of calm amidst a raw, rugged environment, the lodge draws your attention away from Skeleton Coast’s unpredictable weather of strong winds and thick fog, generating a relaxed atmosphere and a connectedness to nature. Beyond the cosy interiors and friendly team, the experiential opportunity in the area is unrivalled. Sweeping sand dunes are perfect for quad biking and sandboarding, whilst the coastline invites you to embark on beautiful walks and to enjoy beach braais and sundowners. Driving inland from the coast along the Hoarusib dry riverbed, the landscape reveals areas of water where flamingos, oryx and springbok graze. Here you can delve deep into the lunar landscape of rocky outcrops on scenic drives, searching for elusive hyenas at dawn.
Following two magical nights at Shipwreck Lodge, it was time to journey east. Covering an area of around 40,000 km2, Kaokoland is one of Namibia’s most untouched regions with desert terrains in the west, dramatic mountain ranges in the north, and mopane savannah in the east. Unbelievably remote, this region offers some of the most rugged travel experiences, with intriguing tribal cultures and surreal landscapes.
We drove through a moonscape land which gradually transformed into an expansive desert with a river flowing through. Driving through Puros, I witnessed the community living alongside giraffes and other wild species as the locals herded goats and children played. Conservancy areas like this are unique as animals are completely wild and the area is left to allow humans and wildlife to co-exist.
Travelling from Puros to Sesfontein Conservancy, the landscape widened to a breathtakingly beautiful orange expanse, backdropped by grey, white and brown mountains – idyllic against a pastel blue sky. Here we discovered hundreds of ‘fairy circles’: barren patches of vegetation whose name reflects the mystery surrounding their formation.
Leaving the sand behind, we headed to our next stop, Hoanib Valley Camp, driving through a narrow valley where unique rock formations took on remarkable shapes. Over the course of six hours, I was blown away by the ever-changing landscape and the constant feeling of seclusion. I found these vast expanses of Namibian wilderness addictive. Nothing but nature – no power lines, no roads, no buildings, the occasional vehicle being a surprise encounter.
Situated at the bottom of a desert valley in the heart of Kaokoland, Hoanib Valley Camp is a joint venture between the local Himba community and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, meaning it has a direct positive impact on the surrounding ecosystem. With just six spacious tents, it feels wonderfully intimate, further enhanced by the phenomenal team who immediately make you feel at home.
I felt honoured to encounter elephants, giraffes, antelopes and birds in this barren yet staggeringly beautiful environment. Their bodies have adapted to the desert where water is sparse and temperatures soar. Elephants have larger feet to navigate soft sand, whilst rhinos have longer horns to help them forage. Elevating each adventure are the exceptional guides who go above and beyond to ensure each experience is highly educational and immersive.
The highlight of my Kaokoland adventure was my time spent with the Himba people, semi-nomadic pastoralists and the last remaining tribes to live entirely off the land. Their deep understanding of the land is unparalleled, with local conservationists harnessing their expertise. I was welcomed into a village where I spent time with three ladies and their children, learning how they clean their bodies and clothes before covering their skin with a mixture of animal fat and ochre powder. Worlds apart, my experience with these humble people was both insightful and unique as a meeting with the tribe needs to be accepted by the Himba themselves.
The final stop of my Namibian journey took me to Damaraland. A diverse region, picture palm-fringed valleys, petrified forests, red-rock mountains, and wildlife-rich grasslands. Untamed and unfenced, it is home to rare and endangered species which have learnt to survive Namibia’s harsh conditions.
The region is best known for the Bushmen stone engravings of Twyfelfontein, with over 2,000 rock carvings as old as 6,000 years illustrating wildlife, mythical beasts, and circles. A guided exploration provides an insight into the San people’s ancient customs and beliefs, as well as a journey through the area’s fascinating history.
Few places on our planet match the biodiversity of Namibia. The sight of desert-adapted elephants ambling across the sand, the hue of orange dunes that collide with the ocean, and rugged mountains which change colour as time goes by. The presence of wild nature is palpable and inescapable, making Namibia an ‘impossible to express’ destination. You simply need to experience the country to understand.
If Bella's Journey through Namibia has inspired you, get in touch with our Travel Team to start planning your own journey.