Journey Of A Lifetime 1: Southern Namibia

KIN is delighted to feature Allison and Tony Fraei’s account of journeying in southern Africa. The following gives a small glimpse of some of their highlights that they hope might encourage others to do the same.

 Seizing the opportunity

Story by Tony Fraei. Photos by Allison Fraei

Namibia elephantsWe flew out in August 2014 for two months, our first ever trip to Africa. Allison got the idea for the trip after seeing a presentation made on Africa at the local Kapiti Photographic Club in early July. For us retirees these things are easy, if you haven’t done it before, do it NOW!

We have tended, on all previous off shore travel, not to make accommodation bookings until we are there, apart from the first few nights. Primarily because we have found that it is much better to have the flexibility when there, to decide where we want to go, to add and delete locations as we talk to the locals, plus also pace our travel rate. We opted to continue with this approach for Africa.

The scope of the journey

Tony gets friendly with local kids
Tony gets friendly with local kids

In all we spent 8 weeks and travelled some 9000km in our little rental Corolla. We very quickly tuned into ‘African Time’. The pace is slower there. Namibia has some wonderful sites and places of interest for travellers of all ages.

It was the international holiday season when we arrived and a number of families had their children with them. We also visited Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Chobe National Park in Botswana. The local folks are just so friendly and all the countries we visited were very safe to travel in.

Getting to desert lands via Antarctica

Our journey started with a flight from Wellington direct to Johannesburg, with a brief stopover in Sydney. We flew with Qantas and their flight flies over Antarctica and we had some wonderful views of the vastness of the frozen landscape. We had a one night stopover at Johannesburg in the ‘City Lodge or Tambo’ which is in the terminal. We then flew on to the Namibian capital, Windhoek, the next day and arrived early afternoon.

We picked up our rental car from the airport and drove the 40km to the capital, Windhoek. You drive on the left hand side, as in New Zealand, which was the same with all the countries we visited in Africa. The other easy part of travel in Namibia is that English is the official language, Afrikaans is also spoken by the locals, plus a number of tribal dialects.

Sorting the accommodation and itinerary

Driving on the left in Namibia
Driving on the left in Namibia

We had booked three nights’ accommodation at cabins before arriving but extended that to one more night when we were there. On our second day we quickly became aware, that as we had arrived in the height of the holiday season and obtaining accommodation could be a challenge.

So on our second day we visited a local travel company, Cardboard Box. We explained to the young lady that we wished to plan and adjust our itinerary over the next two months, as we travelled. She agreed that this was one of the better ways to see the country. She said that she could work with us on a 10 day ahead basis. In the field we would just email her our next stops and duration of our stay, she would then book, email our vouchers and debit our credit card. WiFi was accessible in most of our stops so this system worked perfectly.

Most of the places we wished to stay at least 2-3 nights, possibly more. So we gave her our first four stopping spots. We also decided to hire some camping equipment, as a backup: a small tent, two sleeping bags, a small burner and a box of plates and cutlery.

The great adventure begins

So after three days in Windhoek we headed off into Southern Namibia on the first stage of our adventure. Our first stopover was at a lodge at Quiver Tree Forest with The Giants Playground site close by. All around the lodge were Quiver Trees which were quite an impressive sight at sunset or sunrise.

The Giants Playground, gets its name because of the massive dolerite boulders that appear to have been placed one on top of the other by some gigantic force, creating strange rock formations and a series of mazes. It was the first of many surreal experiences that we had on our journey. At this lodge we used their camping ground facility, which was very well maintained, plus we could dine in the Lodge restaurant if we chose.

The huge Fish River Canyon

SperrgebietOur next stopover was at Fish River Canyon in the Sperrgebiet National Park further to the south. It is located in the eastern Namib Desert near the border with South Africa. This is the second largest canyon in the world after The Grand Canyon.

It is 160km long and was created by a fracture in the earth’s crust and then further carved out by the erosion of the Fish River over millions of years. We viewed the canyon from a number of locations along the top.

The Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon

In August, a winter month, the river has dried up to just occasional semi-permanent pools. However we were told that in the summer, after heavy rainfall, the river can become a torrent of fast flowing water! The Fish River Canyon is accessible along a trail at its base which covers 86km.

The locals said that this trail gives an entirely different view of the canyon, with sheer 500 metre cliffs and rock patterns towering above you. Doing the trail though, is similar to tramping at home, as you have to take all your gear for 5-6 days and you require a good level of fitness. The good news though is that there is the Ais-Ais (burning water) hot springs at the end of the trail!

Accommodation matching the local environment

The lodge we stayed at, Canyon River Village had individual chalets that blended in with the local rock face. It was also our first taste of some “springbok” meat, very yummy and tender!

It was quite common on our journey that the accommodation facilities were designed to blend in completely with the surroundings. Often as you drove to them, even with full visibility, they were hard to pick out as they were so well camouflaged.

Next, we moved on, heading north to a “ Beau Guest” style lodge in the desert! More on this in Episode 2

Thanks for the great read, Allison and Tony.
You brought back a flood of memories.
I have been three times to Namibia, twice to volunteer for Elephant Human-Relations Aid, a desert elephant conservation organisation based in Swakopmund.
Not only do we volunteers work closely with local people building water point rock wall protection but also patrol regularly to monitor and gather data on the small herds of elephants in the Ugab/ Kunene area.
4 weeks of camping under the stars, campfire cooking, living in the acacia studded desert or farmlands, shaking scorpions out of sleeping bags or boots, spotting ele mums and their calves, is an experience so treasured but so hard to convey to the appreciation of anyone home here in Kapiti.
I relive a little of that through your writing.