Glass comes close to nirvana in Namibia

OPEN spaces on an epic scale, landscapes that embrace the desolate and the dramatic, an initially disconcerting lack of other people (fellow travellers and Namibians) that soon settles into a comfortable normality, conviction that elemental travel has been experienced – all this is what a self-drive journey in Namibia is all about.

NamibiaOngava Lodge

There is something else, essential and no mere optional extra: bespoke accommodation that makes Namibia a unique destination. The country offers lodging experiences that blend serenely with the primary character of particular regions through which, on a once-in-a-lifetime odyssey, your adventure unfolds.

Namibia, Spitzkoppen Lodge between the rocksSpitzkoppen Lodge between the rocks

Take Spitzkoppe: a place where the flatness of the surrounding landscape is theatrically altered by a small cluster of rocky outcrops. Calling them mountains would be an exaggeration but – such is their challenging configuration – the highest of them (1,728m) was not climbed until 1946. This is the setting for Spitzkoppen Lodge and it presents a spectacular backdrop for a starry night’s stay in a tented chalet with a viewing platform over an expanse of sandy and very jagged rock formations. One of the morning activities takes you to sites where rock paintings by Bushmen are etched in shades of ochre; a human figure – possibly a shaman – is depicted in a trance pose, with strands of wild-looking hair shooting up from his/her head, eerily evoking an ancient pre-writing era.

NamibiaGetting away from it all in Namibia

Namibia’s enticements are essentially non-urban but the town of Swakopmund is the exception to the rule. It was developed by German colonists who wanted a harbour for their commercial interests but the settlement fell into decline when the British took over after World War I. Nowadays it thrives as a lively holiday town for South Africans and Swakopmund’s charm lies in its colourful German architecture, good restaurants and range of local activities (tours into the pristine Namib Desert with Tommy’s Tours & Safaris and boat rides at nearby Walvis Bay are two of the best). Great places to stay include the well-managed The Delight which declines to have a restaurant but puts maximum flair and variety into its breakfasts; the hotel’s bar area is also a draw. The Beach Lodge is a hotel on the outskirts of town and enjoys stirring sea views and a fine-dining restaurant.

NamibiaAnimal Carnival at Etosha

The undoubted highlight of any trip around Namibia is the wildlife and there is no better way to experience it than by a drive in Etosha National Park. What an American trader, McKiernan, wrote about the place in 1876 still holds true: “All the menageries in the world turned loose would not compare to the sight that I saw that day”. You don’t need a guide or a 4×4 but you need a car because no walking is allowed: the animals are big and potentially dangerous so staying within the confines of your vehicle is mandatory and this adds to the thrill of being safely close to wild creatures in their natural habitats.

NamibiaSand-dwelling lizard in the Namib Desert

The watering holes have designated parking areas from where you can sit and relish an animated, 3-D Noah’s ark as creatures stroll in for a leisurely drink: elephant, giraffe, zebra, oryx, springbok, ostrich. Some quirky collective nouns become memorable: a dazzle of zebras; a journey of giraffes; a sounder of warthogs. On the horizon, dolomite hills provide the only relief to the flat terrain that envelops the scene.

NamibiaA leopard in Namibia

Ongava Lodge is situated very close to one of the gated entrances to Etosha National Park but such convenience is not the chief reason for wanting to stay here. It has its own game reserve, covering over 125 square miles, and the chalets, built out of brick, rock and thatch, might look primitive but enjoy air-conditioning and overhead fans plus private covered verandahs overlooking the mopane woodland.

NamibiaAnother animal Carnival at Etosha

The dining area is superbly well situated, overlooking a watering hole that after dusk becomes a theatre of the spectacular: a rhino and its young shuffle out of the bush, antelopes hurriedly back off with respect, a bull rhino appears to general consternation and only a lowly porcupine unconcernedly continues to drink at the water’s edge. During the day, flocks of red-billed qualia congregate and the occasional elephant trundles onto the scene in slow motion.

NamibiaOryx at Ongava National Park

Namibia cannot be compared with other destinations in Africa. It lacks sandy beaches, water sports and five-star resorts but its wilderness is the real deal. The world’s oldest desert is to be found here and so too is one of the earth’s longest-living plants, Welwitschia mirabilis, which can survive for up to two thousand years. This is not a destination where you find yourself seated in a convoy of 4x4s, parking nearly bumper to bumper for the incessant clicking of cameras taking identical photographs. Namibia’s appeal is no longer off the radar but, for the time being at least, it is relatively undiscovered: a nirvana of the natural in a vexed world.

by Sean Sheehan

An 11-night tailor-made itinerary to Namibia costs from £3,230 per person based on two people travelling and including flights, accommodation (three nights bed and breakfast, eight nights half board) and car rental. Book with Rainbow Tours (020 7666 1266). British Airways flies from London to Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, via a seamless connection in Johannesburg.