As border crossings go, entering Namibia from Angola was an absolute breeze. We walked into a big building with ‘immigration’ above the door and right in front of us was a big sign with the step by step process for driving into the country. Great! Although border crossings don’t amount to very much time on the grand scheme of things, they do amount to most of the stress we experience so to avoid this means we are on the win before we have even seen any of the country. A week back I had noticed a problem with the car. It was the front differential, left output bearing… (if you needed to know) and although it wouldn’t have stopped us, leaving it could cause more damage in the long run so I wanted to get it fixed as soon as possible. Using our favorite app, iOverlander, we found a town near the border that had a few options for workshops and headed off.
Namibia was first colonized in the late 1800’s by Germany but was handed to the British after WW1. Many Namibians still trace their heritage to the first colonizers and it shows in the way the country runs, with a touch of German precision. For the first time after leaving Morocco we are seeing people stop at red lights, wait for pedestrians at crossings and shop staff smile and greet us. The roads are maintained and they even have signs warning about the few potholes they have! We can buy anything we need for us and the car and to be honest, I felt quite at home. We stopped first at the town of Oshakati in the north and headed for one of the many workshops. The first place I went to really started well with the owner, Ozzy, sounding like he really knew his stuff. We were promised a quote the next day and we went to a campground and waited. After a couple of days, we decided that if they cannot send a quote, I didn’t want them working on the car. We went to another workshop we found in iOverlander that was listed as Land Rover experts and met Braam. We went through the things that needed doing and nothing was a problem. He gave us a price on the spot and then insisted we stay at his very flash house complete with full time house keeper and gardener so he could start straight away! Well, it was luxury for us but Luxy wasn’t too keen on the 3 dogs he had. Braam had his guys remove the diff and upon inspection the bearing could be easily replaced but the parts have to come from a town 1 days drive away. To cut a long story short, the supplier messed up and the part wasn’t sent so not only did we have to wait an extra day, it was then the weekend so we ended up staying near on a week with Braam! It was totally awesome! Braam is an expert at braai (wood BBQ) and we had some amazing food and his housekeeper was finally able to get our towels clean. Braam rides motorbikes and has toured southern Africa and has been eyeing up New Zealand for some time. We are looking forward to hosting him.
Other than fixing the diff, we also got a new ‘bash plate’ or under body protection for the front, we had a full service, got new tyres, a wheel alignment and a body lift for extra ground clearance, had a box made for the roof and installed a water tank with a tap at the back. Have to say the box is excellent and really solves the problem of what to do with our winter stuff and the other seasonal things we had that were clogging up the back seats. The water tank is also an excellent addition and we really now feel like we have finished the set-up of the car. Weren’t we going to do all this in South Africa, the home of 4x4 and overland vehicle setup? We were but thanks to the spat the SA and NZ governments are having right now, the SA embassy insisted we fly to New Zealand it get the visa… it was the only way, they said. We ended up hanging around the capital, Windhoek, for nearly 3 weeks trying to sort this out but we couldn’t make any headway against such staunch bureaucracy and we gave up. It was a real shame to not be able to go from the Arctic Circle to Cape Town as it’s a real destination for overland travelers and was a landmark on the entire trip but the budget did not include a round trip to New Zealand just to go to South Africa. When decided instead to explore more of Namibia than we had planned as we now have an extra month to deal with. And explore we did. We were in Namibia for almost 2 months!
After reluctantly leaving Braam’s place, we headed to the east and a place called The Caprivi Strip. As it sounds, it’s a narrow strip of land that goes to Victoria Falls. It’s an intersection of 3 countries at the falls and it gives Namibia access to the Zambezi River and reliable hydro power generation. We went to our first game park up there. It was a community park, meaning they just charge people a fee for driving onto their village lands to see animals and consisted of driving along the river front and out to a small lake or, as they are all called here ‘water holes’… even though they really are small lakes or ponds… anyway. We drove through the gate and were a few hundred meters into the drive and Christine had just finished saying about wanting to see Zebra when we rounded a corner to a herd of Zebra. It was great and we finally felt like we had arrived in Africa! That day we saw loads of animals. The village grounds are on the edge of a park and the beginning of the Okavango Delta and as is normal they are called Game Parks even though the animals are no longer there for game. We did drive past a few large properties that offer hunting but it all seems a bit lame to go into a once farm that’s been stocked with ‘wild’ animals and ‘hunt’.. The only park we visited other than community parks like the first one we found was Etosha National Park. It’s a very large park in the middle of the country that was created out of remnants of other parks and farm land. They sunk bores and created water holes, then stocked the park with animals that now live like they have always been there. The park receives some criticism for creating the habitat and some say it’s like driving through a zoo but the truth is that in all of Africa very few areas exist where people can see so many of Africa’s great and unusual animals over a short period of time. It’s very popular and most of the overlanders we have met visited Etosha. The camping areas are near the water holes and in the evening and at night the big cats and rhinos will come to drink. We couldn’t stay overnight with Luxy but we did do a drive through taking all day and enjoyed seeing loads of animals but some of our best animal sightings in Namibia were out in the wild, not behind fences.
After having so much work done to the car, we decided to do some off-road trips. Namibia has loads of tourists from South Africa and Germany and we were one of hundreds of Toyota Hilux 4x4 Utes, or Bakkie as they are called here, on the roads. We headed to the west and picked a few tracks to travel on. Most of the tracks are old roads that follow the river valleys and are a mix of sand, soft sand and rocks. As they are marked as roads on the map we had, we were looking for more than what was there so we missed our first turnoff and had to carry on for another 50ks until we could pick up the next track. It was excellent! Despite all the other tourists around we were completely alone for 98% of the time we were in the area. We later read that the area we were in is considered the last true wilderness area in the entire continent of Africa and with no light pollution the night sky was incredible too. It sure was different to what we had experienced in West Africa, which is the most densely populated part of Africa. The geology is also incredible and due to the sparse vegetation, it’s quite easy to see the land formations. Travelling the off-road tracks was actually mostly more comfortable than the back roads. Although the roads have no potholes, they sometimes have really bad corrugations that can go on for hours and hours. We decided that 6 hours of off-roading was better than 4 hours of corrugations any day. The wild camping is also amazing off the beaten track. Some nights we were the only people for many many miles in any direction. Luxy loved it too!
We had our first wildlife scare driving some of those tracks. We rounded a corner to see 4 large elephants on the left side of the road. I pulled up straight away as they were very close to the side of the road and when I stopped they would have been only meters from the car. Wooah! What’s going on?? In about 2 seconds we realized that on the right side of the car, hidden by some bushes was a small elephant! We had just come between a mother and her young, and she was not happy about that at all… Christine, who saw this all unfold seconds before me said (in her usual way) DRIVE!! and I did.. The angry elephant was on her side after all.
For most of the trip down the west coast of Africa, we had been staying in campgrounds or cheap hotels. It was nearly impossible to find a quiet place away from people to wild camp. After leaving DRC, we have hardly paid for accommodation at all and we spent zero on accommodation in Angola and Namibia was looking to be the same, with the exception being when we were staying in towns or near to some ‘attraction’ we wanted to see. When we did stay in campgrounds, they were first class. Water, BBQ and electricity at every site and some even had your own private toilet and shower. They all had hot water too, often heated by a wood fired boiler they call a Donkey. Luxury! unlimited hot water! Anyway, due to our attempt to get the SA visa, we had spent quite a bit of time in the capital of Namibia, Windhoek. As we could only talk to the SA embassy about our entry visa between 9am and 2pm on a Wednesday (yes, that is the only time even though its staffed every day, they only process visas on a Wednesday morning…) we had been coming and going seeing things around Windhoek but we always came back to the same place, a campground called Urban Camp that is right in town, quite close to the CBD and only a kilometer or so from the embassy. We stayed a total of 10 nights at the camp all up and we were able to catch up with so many of our travelling friends, it was a bit like home for a while. It was excellent to catch up with Patrick again after meeting him in Mali and catching up with him again in Togo and now here. We also caught up with Mike and Sue who we also met in Mali. The camp was really relaxing and well laid out. Apart from Luxy getting caught up in some razor wire and needing stiches to a nearly 2-inch gash on her back (she is proud of her scar and never complained...) it all went really well, until the last time we went to leave and Luxy decided that after spending so long at this place, it was home! It was the first time she didn’t want to get in the car. We always pick her up and place her in the car (she isn’t jumping in like a dog yet) but she never struggles and will always come when we call her to go.. but not this time. We had to chase her for nearly an hour. She kept going back to campsite 11 which was where we spent 7 of the 10 nights. Poor wee thing… she really liked Urban Camp (more than she liked us…?)
It was sad for us to have to say good bye to Kevin and Steph while we were in Windhoek. We had met up again and were going to travel to the south west together but Kevin discovered a problem with the Landie that needed to be fixed and they stayed on in town. I kept telling Kevin to not look under the car. Every time he did a problem would materialize that needed to be fixed straight away but he couldn’t help himself. I am convinced that the car is in far better condition now than when they left The Netherlands and I’m sure some of the problems could have been saved up and fixed at the end of the trip when they were sure the money could be spent. Discussions around money were never far off and sometimes took over, changing the vibe somewhat. In most cases people have 1 of the following two things; time or money. Very seldom do overlanders have both. For Kevin and Steph to drive from Europe to Cape Town is an amazing achievement. Many start and never get past Morocco and I think that if it wasn’t for Kevin’s ability to keep a 31-year-old car going over some of the worst roads in Africa they wouldn’t have made it past Morocco either. We are really looking forward to seeing them again in Europe or better yet, New Zealand…
We spent a long time and many evenings discussing what we would do next. Not being able to get into SA had made us rethink the entire plan we had. When I say plan, it was a lose collection of ideas that had formed a plan all by themselves really and we had just gone along! We were at the southern part of Namibia and we could see South Africa just over there but we couldn’t go any further south. We attempted to get into the Frontier Park that spans Namibia and SA but it was also too hard so that’s it with heading south. After visiting Fish River Canyon, which is an area that they have discovered rock paintings that are said to be as old as the famous French cave paintings that re-dated the rise of modern man, we headed north. It was quite sad to leave Namibia. It was the longest we had spent in any country other than Morocco and that’s because we really enjoyed it. We headed back to the north and then towards the east and Botswana. Elephant country!
Thanks to Braam, Joe, JP, Iklazo, the team at Urban Camp and the many other people we met in Namibia for making it a great stay.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!