The mountains decrease toward the south and the sand dunes increase. The gentle curves are announced kilometers in advance; sharp angles are non-existant. Signs warn you about the sand (it’s nearly everywhere: in the car on the console, in your clothing and suitcase) and about giraffes (two of them in an 81,000 hectare area). Visibility: three kilometers.
A contemplative trip to the end of the world, beginning with the drive to Wolwedans, you travel another 20 kilometers through the endless expanse of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve (200,000 hectares). And now, no civilization, no man-made light, absolute quiet, only the sounds of nature. Instead, you see endless dunes like bizarre, living sculptures whose shapes change daily. Beds under the starry heavens of the south, a very few private, open chalets, cozy tents, and a “back to earth atmosphere.”
Wolwedans is a nature reserve with an area of 1,720 square kilometers and a total of 22 suites in four lodges. If you divide the whole, even when booked full each guest has 400 square kilometers of private sphere. An ambitious and guarantied paparazzi-free zone.
Wolwedans is not a station for passing through for one night. It is a place to arrive and linger. Relaxed and earthy with rustic chic, a spot for open-hearted nature lovers, for individualists who are looking for a unique desert experience far off the beaten path. In addition, the reserve is home to many animals: chamois bocks, oryxes, cape antelopes, ostriches, zebras, and droll mongooses. Hardly anyone comes here for the animals, rather for the breathtaking landscape and the remoteness. If you want to see the expanse from above, you can drift over the dunes in a hot-air balloon; when the wind is right, the desert stretches away in endless silence.
In the other direction, i.e. northwards from Windhoek, lie the famous Etosha Pans. Once a great sea, they are now huge salt pans spread over 6000 square kilometers with an enormous number of animals. Oryxes, hartebeests, zebras and wild boars, elephants and rhinoceroses, the big cats – game watching at its best. If the rainy season has been good, the pans occasionally fill ankle-deep with water and are then colored pink, so to speak, with thousands of flamingos. In the park itself, are a few “official” camps in the three-star-plus range, while surrounding the park are some extraordinary locations that are newer. Hidden behind names like Mushara Outpost or Onguma are small designer temples with just a few, elaborately arranged tents and chalets. Onguma Fort is a mix of Marrakesh, India, and of course Namibia, with a “3-D cinema” from its own terrace featuring the sunsets over the Etosha Pans.
The trip continues into the remote Kaokoveld in the wildest and most untouched Namibian Northwest. A lady from the Milanese fashion scene was indeed touched. With her Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, she set a fat exclamation point in the middle of this dramatic staging of red earth and bizarre mountains. The eight suites are like over-sized Bauhaus cubes made of clay in ocher, corn, and sand colors that are completely integrated into their surroundings. African and Indian accessories are unerringly arranged in the best Italian style – the Lodge is a hymn to good taste. With a little luck, the inhabitants of the desert will show themselves. Suddenly you see elephants and lions. Here it is easy to relax and let your mind wander, combined with good food and a portion of paradise – pure enjoyment.
Namibia borders on Angola in the north, and in the last tip is Hartmann’s Valley in the middle of the endless Namib, and your small sport plane lands here. From above it looks like a miniature marble in an over-dimensional sandbox. Far and wide the nothingness stretches out – no streets, no people, no sound. Instead, you have a surreal landscape, shadows and light direct themselves – colors and forms of the sand landscapes, massive dunes, and imposing mountain chains on the horizon – a mekka for landscape photographers.
The natural border with Angola is the Kunene River that snakes like a deep green corridor through one of the driest deserts in the world. Directly on its rapids sits the Serra Cafema Lodge – unexpected, unconventional, and unbelievably good. Hidden under the green tree canopy, it can accommodate a maximum of 16 guests, in eight luxurious tents with thatched roofs, who will granted the pleasure of being sung to sleep at night by the gentle gurgle of the water. An unexpectedly romantic spot, undiscovered by tourists, a tip for insiders.
And yet, pure adrenalin is here as well. The imposing dunes are not only fantastic to look at, but also perfect for quads. Whether you have already tried it or are a raw beginner, your heart will almost stop beating for the first ten minutes. At the crest of the dune ridge, a steep look down feels like 180° with your pulse racing at 180 at least. Later, you are so thrilled that you never want to stop. In between, a cool dip in the glass-clear water of the Kunene River, under palms in a small bay. The crocodiles? They’re big, and they either cross here on land by foot or shoot the rapids right past the bay. You can tell about it when you get home so that your listeners can also share some of the adrenalin kick.
Half an hour’s distance from the Lodge is a solitary Himba village. The Himbas are probably the last true nomads in Africa, living with goats and dogs and a few huts like hundreds of years ago. The arrival of the quads and a handful of tourists don’t interest them much. After a friendly “Hello,” they continue smoking their pipes and gesticulating among themselves. All are naked except for a small loincloth and smeared with a cream made from butterfat, ocher powder, and the aromatic resin of the Omuzumba bush. This not only corresponds to their ideal of beauty, but also protects them from the blazing sun and the flies. The children play as do all children of the world at their age. The only thing that doesn’t fit into the picture is the Bayern Munich soccer ball; somehow it doesn’t really belong here. Also, the offered artworks are a bit thought-provoking. Can and should civilization be delayed? Without a clear answer, you again mount your desert vehicle with the certainty that here, they will be so “uncivilized,” relaxed and content, naked, and joyful for a long time still to come.
In the evening, you sit on the wooden deck, rather fatigued but satisfied. Your right hand is still vibrating from opening the throttle, but in your mind’s eye is the changing light over the dunes and mountain ridges. Enjoy with a soft, delicious Shiraz from South Africa or even from the nearby Neuras, where a former Shell manager, Alan Walkden-Davis, has been cultivating wine in the Namib. Along with this, cheese, and the murmur of the river in your ear. Across the way is Angola, and all around you is sand. Now the question of civilization becomes a subject for the philosophers.
Today, there is a “best” list for everything, such as “1000 places to see before you die” or “40 trips to change your world.” We don’t keep “hotlists,” but Namibia deserves our undivided attention. It is uncommercial, offers the eye incredible beauty, and the Namibians are refreshingly different: open, earthy, and not all that glamorous. One sentence that you will hear repeatedly is: “We are making a plan.” And they are really doing it – for you personally, so that you can get to know this wonderful country from its most beautiful and most charming sides. Let’s go to Namibia!