Namibia is a country of extreme wild beauty, unique landscapes and, of course, wildlife. But it’s not all about the big five; Namibia is where the desert comes alive – if you know where to look...
The Desert Express is the perfect way to travel from Windhoek to Swakopmund without missing out on the wildlife or scenery. As the train ambles through the surprisingly lush landscape, we eagerly search out cleverly camouflaged wildlife. It takes a while to ‘get our eye in’ but once we do there is plenty to see - strikingly marked oryx idly grazing, bounding springbok and a flock of ostrich racing headlong through the Savannah.
130km from Windhoek we arrive at Oropoko Lodge (www.oropoko.com.na) for a game drive (included in the package). Here we get close up to leathery white rhino while giraffe keep half an eye on us from the shade of the trees; warthog, crocodile, springbok and oryx all make an appearance and a herd of buffalo, out to impress, kick up the dust in a scene stealing stampede.
Back on board we enjoy a compulsory ‘sundowner’ during a spectacular red and gold sunset while continuing our journey towards the coast. After pulling in to a siding, dinner from the A la Carte menu, is served in the train's elegant Welwitschia Restaurant followed by a breath of fresh air under the brightest stars in the blackest sky I’ve ever seen.
And so to bed - our carriage had been turned into a bedroom with two single bunks and an incredibly nifty ablution solution; a cupboard housing shower, toilet and hand basin combo. We are woken abruptly at 05.30am as the train shudders into life and resumes its journey; there’s definitely no shut eye now as we are jolted around in our bunks but that's the idea - the Desert Express timetable is tailored to make the most of the superb Namibian sunsets and sunrises so we pull back the curtain and take a look. The view is astounding; as the dawn ebbs away, the sun rises over seemingly endless, stunning pale apricot sand dunes.
www.namibweb.com/desertexpress.html; NAD2320 per person sharing twin cabin, one way.
The Living Desert Tour
Swakopmund sits on the edge of the dunes on the Atlantic coast, a slightly odd but quaint town with German, colonial style wooden, buildings. It’s the country’s only beach resort and is an ideal base for a variety of tours. An unforgettable morning can be spent in the dunes with Tommy Collard on his Living Desert Tour. As we approach the dunes Tommy partly lets down the tyres on his truck for more traction and we’re off up a dune. All I can see is sand, sand and a million more tons of sand; there’s no wildlife to be spotted that’s for sure. That is until Tommy jumps out to investigate some apparently invisible clue, after digging around in the sand he hooks up a sidewinder snake and, grinning widely, tells us all about this venomous creature, we watch as he releases it twisting and curving its way in an 'S' pattern across the dune back to its habitat.
We learn about the flora and fauna of the Namib desert, the protected gravel plains and why the colour of the sand varies. Tommy points to a ‘stone’ which turns out to be a fairly large chameleon, carefully picks up a deadly black scorpion and then finds a tiny transparent gecko. His enthusiasm and obvious love of the wildlife and desert make this fascinating tour something very special. On our return journey we enjoy some extreme dune driving and top a dune to see spectacular views of the Namib desert flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.
Half-day tour leaves at 8am returning at around 1pm. NAD550.00 per person (2010); +264 (0)64 461038; www.tommys.iway.na/default.htm
From sand to sea
From sand to sea and our boat, The Olin, sets off on a slightly chilly, overcast morning for a cruise round Walvis Bay with Mola Mola Sea Safaris. Before long a wet, black nose appears at the back of the boat and Sally a huge, rather smelly but sociable, sea lion clambers aboard. After entertaining us and demanding some fish in reward for her company she reluctantly returns to the waves, there's major competition between the sea lions for fishy treats and two or three others try to join us but its a strictly first come first serve basis.
We pass Bird Island, a wooden pier crowded with gulls and then heading further out of the harbour we are joined by pelicans flying alongside at eye-level collecting fish in their capacious bills from our skipper. Dolphins sometimes accompany the boats out to sea but we weren't in luck that day. Pelican Point, the very tip of the sandbank that forms the bay, is home to a colony of Cape Fur seals; thousands of them frolic in the waves, their barking and baying causing quite a commotion. Pink flamingos, cormorants and Cape gannets abound and occasionally the jackass penguin puts in an appearance. This area is part of the Skeleton Coast and many rusting wrecks languish in the waters here.
Morning Cruise with sparkling wine, fresh oysters and snacks on board. NAD 450.00 pp (Rate valid from 01.11.2009 - 31.10.2010); +264-(0)64 205 511; www.mola-namibia.com.
Where to stay
Windhoek Country Club (B1 Western Bypass, Windhoek South, Namibia) is ideal for a stop-over in Windhoek. This large hotel on the outskirts of town has a pool, casino and golf course. Double Room NAD 2310 per night b&b (2010 rates).
Swakopmund Hotel (2 Theo-Ben Gurirab Avenue, Swakopmund, Namibia). This four-star luxury hotel has been built around the impeccably restored Bahnhof (old train station) where the old ticket sales area has been transformed into the reception and hotel lobby. The colonial style hotel is set around a large quad with lawns, swimming pool and palm trees. Double Room NAD 2950 per night B&B (2010 rates).
Where to eat
Joe’s Beerhouse (160 Nelson Mandela Avenue, Eros, Windhoek; +264 (0) 61 232457; www.joesbeerhouse.com)
I loved this hugely popular bar/restaurant serving succulent, tender portions of Namibian and German food such as kudu steak, springbok fillet, ostrich, and sauerkraut. There is also a vegetarian menu if you haven’t been put off by the various stuffed animal heads adorning the walls. The bar is decorated with various pieces of Joe’s memorabilia, graffiti and bar stools made from toilet seats! A boma is home to an open-air fire which adds to the already fun and quirky atmosphere.
Booking essential; main course NAD 100-NAD 150; Mon – Thur 1600 hrs till late, Fri – Sun 1100 hrs till late.
The Tug (Strand St, Swakopmund, Namibia; +264 (0) 64 402356; www.the-tug.com/)
Built around a real tug, this is the best place for excellent fresh fish and seafood, meats and salads with fabulous picture windows overlooking the ocean and fantastic sunset views over the Atlantic.
Main course NAD 70 - NAD 120; booking recommended.
Kucki's Pub (22 Tobias Hainyeko Street, Swakopmund 9000, Namibia; + 264 (0)64 402407; www.kuckispub.com)
Kucki's Pub is more of a restaurant than a pub serving seafood and grilled meats with a varied selection of tasty fresh food including pastas and salads. The huge, locally caught oysters are delicious and there is freshly tapped draught beer and wines.
Main courses NAD 55-NAD 95.