Hello again, and welcome to the final part of my Namibia Self Drive Safari series. In the last post, I detailed the first week of our Namibia trip so you could see how all my planning actually went. In this post, I will pick up where we left off and detail the last week of our Namibian safari. Let’s get to it!
Day 7 – Etosha to Grootberg Lodge
From Etosha we had decided our next major stop would be Swakopmund, by way of the Skeleton Coast. However, while I was doing my research, I realized this was going to be one of the longest and most isolating parts of our trip. I was worried about being able to make the entire journey in one day, so I decided to add in a stop where we could rest for the night.
There isn’t much in terms of populated areas along the route from Etosha to Swakopmund, but I had seen frequent travel references to the Damaraland area (which is near the coast and south of Etosha by about three to four hours). I figured out that if we stopped around this territory we’d have around a seven to eight-hour drive the next day to Swakopmund, which seemed like a decent time split to me. So, I had done some research on accommodations in the area and booked a room at a place called Grootberg Lodge. This turned out to be a fantastic idea.
Grootberg Lodge is one of the most visually stunning places we stayed on our Namibian safari. Nestled high on the rim of the Etendeka Plateau, Grootberg offers amazing views of the surrounding area. There are no other buildings as far as the eye can see and you really feel as if you are in the heart of nature. Even though we arrived on a very windy day, which kicked up a lot of dust, we were still amazed. Our cabin was perched right along the rim itself and offered amazing views from every room. The staff was beyond welcoming and accommodating and the food was amazing! Seriously, if you can’t tell I loved this place.
What also makes Grootberg special, to me, is that they are members of the #Khoadi/Hoas conservancy and promote eco-tourism. I am in awe of their efforts and applaud them for the meaningful work they have done. I wish we had more than one night to stay here but with our limited time, we had to continue down the coast the next day.
Day 8 – Swakopmund via the Skeleton Coast
This day was what I labeled a “primary driving day” in my itinerary. From Grootberg Lodge we had to cover around seven hours of the most isolated driving I have ever done, down the Skeleton Coast to Swakopmund. Tip – if you find yourself driving Namibia make sure you fill both gas tanks – yes there’s two! – before setting out on a drive like this. There are no Valeros to stop at along the way. There is nothing along the way.
We spent nearly the entire seven or eight-hour drive in isolation after passing through the gates to enter the Skeleton Coast.
It was eery and honestly a little uncomfortable for me to be so isolated. Whereas in the more northern regions around Etosha or Grootberg you’d see animals and different geographical formations, along the coast it was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. No other living things crossed our path. Scholar that I am, I read on Wikipedia that some called the interior region “the Land God Made in Anger.”
At the same time, it was also a truly profound experience. It was epic to be driving along the seam where the desert met the ocean. Thinking there could be lions to my left and whales to my right was an insane thought. To think of all the shipwrecks that had happened here was overwhelming. It was terrifying to me to be so isolated in such a landscape but I am glad we experienced it. Thankfully we made it to Swakopmund that afternoon without issue.
Day 9, 10 – Exploring Swakopmund
We had arrived and checked into a beautiful Airbnb in Swakopmund in the afternoon of Day 8. The building that held our Airbnb was called Hohenzollernhaus and was built around 1904 according to Wikipedia. It was beautiful inside and felt extra luxurious after our first week of dust and desert. It was nice to be back in a city again for a few days – especially knowing that our next leg of our Namibian safari would take us back into remote regions.
The German influence on Swakopmund was readily apparent. I had read a little about its history, but to actually experience it was still surprising, especially after coming off safari in Etosha. It really did remind me of some of my experiences in Germany a few years prior. We took advantage of it for our meals, enjoying traditional German fare more than once.
In fact, we enjoyed a number of delicious eateries while in Swakopmund that I want to make sure I give credit to! Our first night (the end of Day 8) we stumbled tiredly next door to the Airbnb to enjoy the food at Kücki’s Pub. Zandt, who at this time had been doing his best to try every new game meat available, particularly liked their oryx burger. On our other nights, we visited the Swakopmund Brauhaus and my particular favorite Gabriele’s Italian Pizzeria.
Since we had two full days in Swakopmund I had divided each day into a planned and unplanned section. Each morning had a planned adventure activity – sandboarding on Day 9 and kayaking with seals on Day 10. I left the afternoons free for us to wander around Swakopmund or recover from our adventures. And adventures they were!
We had booked sandboarding with Alter Action Sandboarding and boy was it a great time! Now, to be honest, I’m pretty sure my out of shape self almost died when I realized how hard it was to climb up a sand dune – no lifts here, eco-tourism remember! Zandt was a great sport though and carried my board a few times and even struggling on my own, it was worth it! What a fun and thrilling feeling to slide down these dunes as if it were snow. We also got to try the sand equivalent of sledding – lying on a flat sheet and zooming down the dune as fast as possible. The group leaders even had a speedometer to track us. I only got to about 45 mph but the fastest in our group was around 60 mph! It was an amazing time and I would highly suggest it.
For our adventure on the morning of Day 10, we booked kayaking with seals from Walvis Bay with Eco Marine Kayak Tours. It was highly suggested on TripAdvisor as a Namibian must do and I’m here to tell you it was probably one of the highlights of our trip! Which is really saying something, since the whole trip was fabulous. We drove about 30 minutes from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay where the tour guides picked us up. They were super friendly and knowledgeable. We then drove out to the point where a huge seal colony (or multiple?) was staying. At this time of year, there were young seals everywhere! I have never in my life seen so many.
Soon we hopped in our kayaks and paddled out to where they were frolicking in the water. The seals surrounded the kayaks as we sang and called to them (they are curious creatures apparently and will come to investigate the noise). Playfully flipping upside down in the water to look at us or bumping into our hands they splashed around as we grinned like kids at Christmas. If you were lucky they would float up and roll over to ask for a belly rub. I didn’t get to give a belly rub but Zandt got pretty close. I received plenty of hand nibbles and small hand touches. It was truly a marvel. Zandt didn’t want to bring the kayak in when our time was up!
After our sandboarding and kayaking adventures, our time in Swakopmund was sadly coming to an end. We enjoyed our last night in the Airbnb and prepared to head back out on the road.
Day 11 – Driving to Sossusvlei and the Desert Quiver Camp
We set out from Swakopmund early on the morning of Day 11, as this was another of my “primary driving days” on our Namibian safari. We were headed to the final area on our trip, Sossusvlei, before returning to Windhoek. I had estimated the time would take about six hours. The drive was mostly uneventful and isolated (at this point I was getting used to it) until we were about 40 minutes away from our lodging for the night. I pulled the car over to use the bathroom and coming around the side of the truck realized we had a problem! One of our tires was completely shredded! Almost to the rim shredded! Now you may be wondering, how did we not notice? Well, the roads can be quite bumpy and loud, especially in the Sossusvlei region we noticed. I guess it had happened and we simply bumped along unaware.
Now, there is nothing like having a blown tire in the middle of nowhere let me tell you. And not only that but before we had departed our kayaking guide had warned us to keep an eye out for cheetahs in the area! So we found ourselves nervously changing a tire and hoping not to get eaten! Thankfully Zandt got the tire changed without issue and we were able to continue to the Desert Quiver Camp where we rested for the night.
Day 12 – Exploring Sossusvlei
We had one full day to explore Sossusvlei before we needed to head back to Windhoek. We set out early to fit in as much as possible. Our first stop was the giant dunes that surround the area. We found Dune 45 and climbed to the top. The view was outstanding! It was an amazing feeling to stand there, surrounded by these ancient dunes and vast wilderness.
From Dune 45 we continued on to Deadvlei, something I had been looking forward to. If you’ve seen pictures from Namibia it is likely some of them have come from Deadvlei. Where skeleton trees stand stark against the red dunes and blue skies, it is a visually remarkable area and a major attraction for photographers. We needed to drive through some sand to get there, but Zandt has offroading experience and handled it with ease. Once we reached Deadvlei we spent some time exploring its wonders and had a nice lunch from the truck.
We spent the rest of the day happily exploring more of the dunes and areas around Sossusvlei before heading to the Sossusvlei Lodge for the night. The lodge was very nice and offered the best buffet we had seen. The grilling station allowed you to try any meat from zebra, to warthog, oryx, wildebeest, etc which was super exciting!
Day 13 – Back to Windhoek
We woke up very early for a special treat on our last morning in Sossusvlei, before we had to drive back to Windhoek. To end our trip, we decided to take a hot air balloon ride over the area. I couldn’t imagine anything more special than seeing the beautiful dunes from the air. We went with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris who picked us up at the lodge.
We were lucky that the weather was perfect or we wouldn’t have got a second chance given we had to get back to Windhoek. The guides were amazing and we floated through the desert at sunrise, listening to them explain the area and being generally amazed at life. When we landed we were treated to a champagne breakfast right there in the desert. I enjoyed the champagne and smoked zebra especially. I truly was in awe that I had gotten to experience something so special.
After that spectacular balloon ride, we began the long drive back to Windhoek. We completed our circuit, coming back to the Hilton where we spent our first night in Namibia.
Day 14, 15 – Return Home
We spent the last two days of our trip reversing our original flight, coming back to the US through Doha. I spent the entire 15-hour flight from Doha to the US writing a research paper for grad school (more blogs on traveling while working and/or being a student coming soon)! It was a long journey but I wouldn’t have traded our time in Namibia for the world.
Traveling through Namibia was one of the best experiences of my life so far and I will forever remember the great memories I made there. There is so much more I could say about this trip – how it affected me, how I enjoyed smaller stops along the way like the amazing Solitaire, the things I wish I had time for but couldn’t fit in. I hope to explore these topics in later posts. For now, thank you for taking this journey with me and I hope you have enjoyed reading! If you’d like to read more case studies like this Namibian safari, check out the Journeys page!