The empty country: Namibia
- Recommended for:
- Eco, Adventure, Mid-range
No internet, no pollution, no hope for mobiles and no decisions about where to go for dinner - Namibia's the perfect place to get lost
Spending my first night in a spa wasn't quite what I'd imagined in a country known for its vast deserts. Eerie shipwrecks lie off Namibia's sandy Skeleton Coast, where oryx emerge from coastal fog at dawn and unexplained 'fairy circles' appear in the awe-inspiring desert. It is a place of extremes, where sand dunes soar 1,000 feet at Sossusvlei and valleys plunge 550 metres at Fish River Canyon. It also has green marshland teeming with birds in the Caprivi Strip and a chance to see the big five at Etosha National Park.
Ten years ago, only the odd backpacker had heard of Namibia, an ex-German colony. But today, it is on every fashionista's hit list - which explains the spa. Although less than an hour's drive from Windhoek International airport, Gochaganas Nature Reserve consists of a cluster of 16 thatched rondavels sitting camouflaged on a hilltop. The spa is named after the camel thorn trees that gashed my legs as I strayed off the path while making my way to the bar, from where there was a stunning 360° view of the sunset. The sky glowed yellow over the mountains and layers of lilac and pale blue glided over plains inhabited by giraffes, rhino and cheetah. Here you can swim in the pool, have a marula oil deep tissue massage and get a shock in the bath when you see yourself mirrored in the skylight.
However, finding a remote spot for reflection - not getting a high on aromatherapy oils - is my assignment. Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa where you can just take to the open road. But I have chosen to travel in a four-seater Cessna plane heading to Wolwedans – a remote luxury camp on the edge of the Namib desert. 'Namibia has it all,' says Andrew, the pilot. 'A little bit of every other country in southern Africa.' Twice the size of California but with less than two million people, it is practically empty.
Below, red scratches of roads lead to lonely homesteads and mountains give way to towering orange sand dunes. Wolwedans may be just an hour's flight from the capital (a six-hour drive), but its location gives new meaning to the word remote.
Arriving at the tented camp in time for another breathtaking sunset, I sit on a deep orange dune watching the mountains turn pink, the only sounds the chirrup of crickets and the wind stirring the pale yellow grasses. With no internet, no hope for mobiles, no pollution and no decisions about where to go for dinner, I feel the deepest peace I've experienced in a long time.
Camp life means aperitifs sipped in canvas chairs around an open fire and gourmet cuisine - delicacies such as mango soup, mushroom ravioli, oryx fillet on polenta and the Kalahari truffle in season. With zebra (tastes a little dusty), eland, springbok and even game burgers for breakfast, Namibia can be tough for vegetarians. But ecotourism is a matter of survival here and your shower, sans shampoo, waters the trees.
We spend the night at Wolwedans, where individual tents on a raised platform are tastefully decorated with cacti in clay pots and bases of grasses. They include all the mod cons, as well as gold taps and a kingsize bed. But still, it's the view from the balcony that is to die for.
'The desert is our newspaper,' says Nico, our guide, as we set off on a game drive the next morning. 'We call this one six-wheel drive because he runs so fast,' he laughed at a stop, pointing to a turquoise-backed fog-bashing beetle scurrying along the orange sand. We pull up to a granite cave and Nico smiles: 'Lunch at the Hardrock Café!' Masked weaver birds hang from the trees on the road to Eningu Clayhouse Lodge, a cattle farm an hour's drive from Windhoek. We learn about everything from aardvarks to termites on a guided bush walk.
An hour's drive to the airport, it is back to a less scenic world. Although Namibia is seen as 'beginners Africa', a recent tourist board survey found that travellers either loved or hated it. I know which side I'm on. Namibia’s vast empty spaces have filled my soul with wonder and I've not stopped raving about it since.