For the enthusiastic volunteer, this 13 day package is the perfect combination of experiencing the higlights of Southern Namibia before spending the last 4 day volunteering at the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. Starting in Windhoek, we head west to explore Swakopmund, Namibia’s adventure capital on the Skeleton Coast. Here we can enjoy any number of adrenaline inducing optional activities before starting our journey south. Our next stop after crossing the Tropic of Capricorn is Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, home to some of the world’s highest sand dunes. Continuing on to Namibia’s deep south where breath taking landscapes abound, we visit the ghost town of Kolmanskop, spot the wild horses of the Namib Desert, gaze over the Fish River Canyon, before ending an incredible 7 day trip with the last night at the impressive Quiver Tree Forest before returning to Windhoek. After 7 incredible days exploring Namibia we head out to Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary where we spend the next 4 days getting our hands dirty and doing out part for wildlife conservation. This is the ultimate Namibian adventure for the budget traveller!
Day 1: Wednesday- International Airport -Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek -50km
We will be collected from the Hosea Kutako International Airport on arrival and transferred to Chameleon Backpackers in Windhoek. Depending on our arrival time, we may have the opportunity to join an afternoon City & Township Tour at your own cost, choose to relax by the pool or take a short walk into the city centre to collect supplies.
Tonight’s meal is at own expense in one of the many restaurants in Windhoek or order in and enjoy the evening at the Chameleon Backpackers’ bar before having an early night in preparation for the next 7 days exploring Southern Namibia.
Day 2 : Thursday – Windhoek – Hotel A La Mer, Swakopmund – 420 km
You will be collected from your accommodation within the Windhoek city limits at 07:15 and transferred to Chameleon Safaris Head Office for a short pre-departure meeting.
We first drive north via the small town of Okahandja, but soon we are heading west, past the tiny centres of Karabib and Usakos, to the port town of Walvis Bay. The edge of Africa and the Skeleton Coast.
Walvis Bay lagoon is an internationally recognised Ramsar site, (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat) and is justly renowned for its birdlife. Flamingo, pelican, African oyster catcher and turnstone to name but a few of the more than 50 bird species occurring here. This with other aqua fauna including bottlenose and Heaviside dolphins, humpbacked and southern right whales, ocean sunfish and Cape fur seals all add up to make Walvis Bay lagoon a wetland wonderland.In particular, we are here to see the flamingos which are usually abundant and found within easy photo distance from the shore. There are two types of flamingo to see, lessor and greater and they accumulate here because Namibia’s Atlantic coast is abundant with both phytoplankton and zoo plankton. Flamingos do not enjoy a solid diet, they live on micro-organisms such as plankton and they are filter feeders, almost like an oyster. They rinse the seawater through their beaks and tiny filaments filter out the nutrients as it swishes by. Flamingos are unable to eat unless their heads are fully inverted and, while feeding, they walk around in a circle stirring the sand and mud with their feet to release the nutrients. Certain types of these micro-organisms turn reddish pink when they die and this accounts for the pink colour of the birds.
Flamingos do not breed in Walvis Bay. The tides here are not usually very steep, but occasional spring tides can bring deeper waters and this in not suitable for the specalised nest constructed by the birds. Flamingos build a nest, called a cone, out of sand and mud which has a hollow top into which they lay a single egg. This cone is designed to keep the egg out of the water and so a tidal environment does not work. Instead, for breeding, huge flocks of birds head typically for the Etosha Pan or to the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana. Both these mineral pans are seasonal and are usually dry but can flood when there is sufficient rain. It is still not properly understood how the flamingos know when there has been suitable rain fall in these relatively far away catchment areas, but somehow they do know and they leave the coast in great flocks that streek the horizon pink as head inland.
We complete the final leg of our journey into Swakopmund and we check into our accommodation at the centrally located Hotel A La Mer. Swakopmund is an interesting place to say the least, founded by Captain Kurt von François of the imperial colonial army of the German empire in 1892. (He also founded Windhoek in 1890). It is bounded to the north, the east and the south by the mighty sand dunes of the Namib Desert and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. There are still many examples of colonial German architecture to be seen and the German language is still widely used.
Swakopmund offers many opportunities to keep us busy during our time here. The town centre is small and easily explored on foot but there are also many extra, optional activities available. Our guide will discuss all the options with you in advance and will be able to facilitate any bookings that we would like to make.
Dinner tonight is for your own account, Swakopmund boasts some truly excellent restaurants and again our guide will be able to help you with recommendations and bookings.
Day 3: Friday – Swakopmund – Sesriem – 350 km
Making the most of our time at the coast we only leave Swakopmund this morning at 11:30, giving us plenty of time to wander around town. Alternatively, there are many more optional activities available this morning if you wish.
For those with a love of adrenaline sand boarding is also a very popular if you fancy careering down the slip face of a sand dune at 60 km per hour. This activity is generally only available in the morning.
Departing Swakopmund no later than 11:30 we head east into the desert. We first cross the Namib gravel plains, large areas of flat and seemingly barren terrain broken up by huge mountain inselbergs. We have two mountain passes to traverse this afternoon, first is the mighty Kuiseb Pass and we follow the road from the top of the mountains, dropping steeply down into the canyon carved over eons by the Kuiseb River on its way to debouch into the ocean at the port town of Walvis Bay. We climb up from the banks of the river and over the pass, travelling through the mountain peaks and on to the second, smaller canyon of the Gaub River, a tributary of the Kuiseb. We emerge from the mountains onto a flat road and almost immediately we cross the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 south degrees. There is a signpost at this auspicious spot and we stop along the road for photos. Onwards again to our destination for today, the gateway to the dunes and Sossusvlei at Sesriem.
We make our campsite in anticipation of our day tomorrow, in the shadow of the towering red dunes of the world’s oldest desert.
Day 4: Saturday – Sesriem – Sossusvlei – Sesriem – 120 km
Sunrise in the dunes is the name of the game this morning and that means a pre-dawn start. Our first stop will be at Dune 45, so named because it is 45 km from Sesriem, and we cover this first distance in darkness and early morning twilight.
The best time to photograph the dunes is around sunrise and sunset. This is when you can see towering sand dunes illuminated a glowing orange, apricot red on one side and swathed in shadow on the other. The depth of field is amazing at this time of day.
We arrive at Dune 45 and climb to a vantage point for sunrise, watching as the colours grow and change with the ever-altering light. Back to the vehicle for a quick breakfast and we carry on for the last few kilometres to the 2×4 car park where we board the 4×4 shuttle vehicles into the vlei. From here we enter the ancient Tsauchab River-bed for the last 5km leg to Sossusvlei itself. The Tsauchab River is ephemeral, it only flows seasonally, when there is enough rain, and for the most part the river-bed is dry. Eons ago, during these rare floods the Tsauchab sometimes received enough water to flow all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. However, as the millennia passed and the dune fields began to form, (around five million years ago), wind -blown sand invaded the river-beds. The rivers became more and more constricted by sand until eventually the occasional floods could not break through the sand barriers that had been erected by the wind. The valley we drove along this morning in the darkness is kept free of sand by the Tsauchab but Sossusvlei is now permanently waters end.
Sossusvlei does still sometimes flood, (perhaps once in a decade). After good rains in the Naukluft Mountains where the river rises, Sossusvlei can become inundated, and the lake that this creates can last for many months, but no longer can the river find its original path to the Atlantic.
The 4×4 shuttle service will transport us through the sandy terrain of the river-bed. We will visit Dead Vlei on foot led by our guide, an ancient pan completely surrounded by sand, that is strikingly populated with dead, skeletal camelthorn trees. These trees have been a feature on this landscape for over 1000 years. Sossusvlei is almost surrounded by dunes, just one narrow path kept open by the Tsauchab River. We have time to explore the area on foot and to climb one of the highest dunes in the world, some towering 300 m above us, the views are breath taking and justly famous.
We drive back to Sesriem for lunch and perhaps a dip in the swimming pool and in the afternoon we take a short excursion to see the Sesriem Canyon.
Only four km from our campsite, this canyon has been carved out of the landscape by the Tsauchab River. Around two million years ago there was an ice age in Europe. This caused glaciers to form and resulted in a worldwide drop in sea level.
The knock on effect of this at Sesriem Canyon was that it increased the length and waterflow of the Tsauchab River. This greater force of water allowed the Tsauchab to begin cutting through the terrain resulting in the canyon we can see today. We can easily walk into the river-bed, it is usually much cooler in the canyon and we can follow the river for some way along its journey to Sossusvlei.
In the late afternoon there is one further option with which to close our time in the world’s oldest desert. A short drive will take us to Elim Dune, for the best golden light before sunset. From here, if you would like to, it is a relatively short walk back, through the desert, to our camp.
Day 5: Sunday – Sesriem – Klein Aus Vista – 350 km
We have a scenic drive today through ever changing desert scenery, mountains and open grassland. We are continuing our long drive south and our destination is the tiny community of Aus, located in the Aus Mountains above the plains of the Namib Desert.
Aus was formally the site of a prisoner of war camp set up by the South African army to house German prisoners during the second world war.
Our actual destination today is Klein Aus Vista located just outside Aus and just inside the private Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park. We aim to arrive in the early afternoon and set up camp, giving us time to stretch our legs on the un-guided hiking trails on the property.
The landscape is wide open vistas and we are hoping for a spectacular sunset.
Day 6: Monday – Klein Aus Vista – Luderitz – Klein Aus Vista – 250 km
We again start early but with the luxury of a proper sealed tar road today. We travel through grasslands and wide open desert scenery on our easy drive towards the ocean.
Desert adapted horses run wild in this area and we need to keep a good look out for these amazing creatures. Horses are not a part of the true desert ecosystem and their origins here remain open to speculation. Perhaps they are descended from the German cavalry lines during the first world war. It is also documented that Hans Heinrich von Wolf, owner and resident of Castle Duwisib in 1909 was a keen horse breeder.
Maybe the origins of the horses today come from his blood stock escaping their stables at Duwisib. Whatever their true history it is a privilege to see these animals in their wild habitat.
We are en-route to the ghost town at Kolmanskop, located about 15 km from the port town of Luderitz. For centuries, amongst early mariners, there have been rumours and stories of untold riches to be found on one far flung coast or another. Most often these claims turned out to be just stories but in the case of the far south-west of Namibia, it happened to be true. When diamonds were first discovered here you could literally walk along the beach and fill your pockets with these precious stones.
The first diamond mine was called Kolmanskop. Founded in 1908, it was built in the architectural style of a German village and was supplied with the most modern amenities of the age. There was a hospital that boasted the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere, a power station, school, ball room and ice factory. The decline of Kolmanskop started around 1920 when the diamonds began to run out. Then in 1928 the richest diamond deposits that the world had, at the time, ever known were discovered 270 km away to the south at the Orange River. Kolmanskop became deserted and so started the slow reclamation of the town by the desert. Still a striking sight today, we will stop at Kolmanskop for a guided tour of the town and the opportunity to photograph this unique and interesting site.
On departure from Kolmanskop we quickly cover the last few kilometres to Luderitz itself, well known for its unique and colourful colonial-style buildings. We drive out on to the Luderitz peninsula and enjoy the scenery on way to the historical monument at Diaz Point. As at Cape Cross, the first sign of European interest in this land was from the Portuguese and in this case it was the navigator Bartolomeu Diaz who landed here in 1487 and caused a stone cross to be erected. This time the name given to the area was Angra das Voltas or ‘Bay of Tacks’ with reference to the many times Diaz had to ‘tack’ his ship against the southern gales. Luderitz is still today one of the windiest places on planet earth, so some things at least have not changed over the centuries.
We head back to our accommodation at Klein Aus Vista, taking a second opportunity to see the desert horses and arriving in time for a sundowner at Klein Aus Vista.
Day 7: Tuesday – Klein Aus Vista – Quiver Tree Forest – 550 km
A long drive today but we take advantage of the tar road for the first part of the morning. We are heading east but we will soon turn south again to complete our traverse of Namibia’s southern region. Our first main stop this morning will be the incredible Fish River Canyon located in the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveldt Transfrontier National Park. We enter the park at the Hobas gate and from there it is only a short drive to the main lookout point over the Fish River Canyon.
Second only in size to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the vistas across this most immense of nature’s sculptures are breath taking. From our vantage point high up on the plateau we overlook the so called ‘Hell’s Bend’ which takes the form of a huge meander along the course of the Fish River.
The canyon itself is around 160 km long, 27 km wide at its widest point and in places 550 m deep. The origins of the Fish River Canyon can be traced back to about 1,800 million years and the formation of the canyon itself can be attributed to just about every possible geological force known to man. Huge seismic forces, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, glacial activity, relentless erosion of every kind and finally, deepened by the Fish River that we can see glinting in the sunlight far below us. This is a perfect example of tortured rock that inspires our awe by its sheer massive size.
It is hard to leave such an impressive sight but we journey onwards, turning our heads to once again to the north as the canyon marks the end of the southern leg of our trip. We are en-route to Keetmanshoop, the main commercial and political centre of Namibia’s south. A short stop here and then on to our overnight camp at the Quiver Tree Forrest. Quiver trees are Namibia’s National Tree and are so named because the San tribes of Southern Africa used to strip the scaly bark from these trees and construct from it a narrow cylinder. From this they would manufacture a quiver in which to keep their poisoned arrows. A quiver tree, despite it’s very tree like appearance, is in fact not a tree at all. It’s real name is Aloidendron Dichotomum, (formally Aloe Dichotoma), and so is an aloe, and an aloe is a plant and not a tree. This does not diminish the impact they have on the landscape, weird and wonderful shapes abound from this collection of around 250 quiver plants/trees/aloes? The oldest specimens here are estimated to be about 200 years old and it is thought that they can achieve an age of up to 300 years. Dating a quiver tree however is difficult, as it does not have rings of bark to count, the centre of the tree is fibrous and there is really no established method of ageing.
This is the last night of our safari and time to reflect on our amazing adventure as we sit around our camp-fire one last time.
Day 8: Wednesday Quiver Tree Forrest – Windhoek 500 km
We head north today and we have the luxury of the main tar road for our whole journey, no gravel road ‘African Massage ’to contend with, as we head back to Windhoek.
Namibia is so rich in interesting things that it is impossible drive for any great distance without passing places of interest and there are several worth mentioning along the way today.
After about 80 km from Keetmanshoop, in the distance and off to the west we can see a tall mountain peak. This is Brukkaros, another volcano but quite an unusual one. Brukkaros was formed around 180 million years ago when molten magma from deep below the surface was pushed upwards until it intruded into the overlaying, relatively soft, sedimentary formations that made up the surface. Molten magma intrusions are common in world-wide geology, but what makes Brukkaros unusual is that in this case the upward moving magma hit an underground lake leading to a huge explosion powered by super-heated steam.
What was left formed hollow cave, that was once the magma chamber, but with an overhead ‘caldera’ forming a partial roof. 80 million years later the weight of the caldera was too much and collapsed into the magma cave. Brukkaros is 1,590 m tall at its highest point, the collapsed caldera measures about 4 km in diameter. The mountain itself is 650m higher than anything else in the area and the crater floor is 350 m below the rim. Steam formed volcanoes are very rare, and although Brukkaros is too far away to be included on this itinerary it is an interesting landmark to look out for on our drive today.
About 150 km into our long road today we will pass a signpost to a place called Gibeon. Again, like Brukkaros, Gibeon is too far away to be included in this itinerary, but there is an interesting story that is worth telling.Near here, in ancient prehistoric times, the area around what is now Gibeon was subjected to a Meteor strike of very significant proportions. The meteor, when intact, was thought to measure 4 x 4 x 3 meters and we know that it was made of solid metal. As it entered the earth’s atmosphere the metal began to melt and in due course the meteor fragmented in a huge explosion scattering chunks of molten metal across the countryside. Meteor’s from this event have been found as far away as Brukkaros Volcano to the south and as far away again towards the north, but the greatest concentration of meteor material has been found in and around Gibeon.
If you have time in Windhoek after our safari it is worth going to Post Street Mall in the city centre where you will find a public display of Gibeon Meteorites
Still heading ever north our journey today takes us through the small centres of Mariental and Rehoboth and we will stop along the road today for a light lunch. We aim to be back in Windhoek in the late afternoon where we will check into our accommodation at the Chameleon Backpackers hostel.
Dinner is for your own account and the staff at Chameleon will happy to recommend many of Windhoek’s excellent restaurants and to assist with bookings.
Day 9: Thursday Windhoek -Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary -50km
An early breakfast this morning and we will be transferred to the volunteer centre at Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, which provides a safe haven for injured, orphaned or conflict animals.
Whenever possible the goal is to re-introduce the animals into the wild. Only animals too ill, abused or habituated remain at the sanctuary. Arriving early this morning we will meet the Naankuse team for an induction presentation before heading out in the afternoon for our first hands on activity. The next 4 nights are spend in basic tented accommodation with spectacular views over the veld.
Days 10-12: Friday – Sunday Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary
We enjoy an early morning breakfast and a quick morning meeting with the team to start the day off. The next couple of days are the perfect opportunity to learn about and actively participate in the conservation, rehabilitation, care and research of the African wildlife.
The wildlife team takes us out for group based morning activities, such as feeding orphaned and injured animals, cleaning enclosures or project work and animal enrichment. After a morning full of fun and work, we enjoy a light lunch at the Lapa. After lunch we start the afternoon activities with a presentation from the research team before we learn about the on-going projects Naankuse is involved with to support wildlife conservation.
Research activities may include; monitoring free-roaming carnivores, analysing camera traps and analysing GPS data or game counts. Dinner each night is a home-cooked meal served at the Lapa. Saturday and Sunday are more leisure days and we get time to do some fun activities together as well if we want to spend some time at Naankuse Lodge.
Day 13: Monday Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary – Airport 50 km
Depending on our flight time, we may have time for a leisurely breakfast and morning activity before being transferred to the International Airport approximately 3 hours before our scheduled flight departure. Be sure to say goodbye to all new friends before departing. Transfer times subject to flight departure times.