The Perfect Southern Namibia Self Drive Itinerary

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Southern Namibia Self Drive Itinerary

We drove into Southern Namibia from South Africa and were greeted by looming rock formations and empty roads. The path before us wound through an arid canyon and came up to a plateau, and the perfect Southern Namibia self drive itinerary laid ahead.  As we ascended out of the canyon the sun began to set. The change in weather created gusts of fiery red sand, that lit on fire from the descending sun. This all came within our first hour in the country. We had yet to make it to a single site on our journey, but we had already come to our conclusion. Namibia is entrancing.

Weather in Namibia is not pleasant nor is there much green. However, the landscapes and wildlife are spectacular. Breathtaking and stunning are not terms used loosely here, because the landscapes are just that.

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Our first trip with our new car begins in Southern Namibia, which can roughly be divided by the tropic of Capricorn. There are a number of places to visit in the south of the country. Granted it is the least sparsely region of Namibia, and it is not your standard place of beauty. Unless dry, hot, dusty, dead, weathered, rocky, or sandy are your ideal adjectives when looking for your next holiday. If you want to sit on a beach and drink pina colada’s Namibia won’t be your cup of tea. Namibia is a country that reminds you that the earth does not revolve around you. You’re small in Namibia. And we like it that way.

Southern Namibia Self Drive Itinerary

Fish River Canyon

Our first stop in Namibia was a deep gouge out of the earth that could swallow cities whole. Fish River Canyon was the result of the separation of the Gondwana supercontinent. An event that shaped much of the landscapes of Southern Africa today. We arrived in this area at the start of a new moon after driving all day from Cape Town. By the time we turned on the road for the canyon it was dark.

Read More: {Being Undesirable and the Real Reason We Bought a Car in Africa}

A Namibian night during the new moon is pure darkness. There are no street lights, paved roads, or houses. We drove down a sand road and could not distinguish any characteristics of the landscape. When I stopped to let air out of our tires for the road the light from my flashlight was swallowed whole by the black.

Driving in Namibia

Now imagine a pitch black night on this Namibian road!

After twelve hours of being on the road, we pulled into the most fitting place imaginable, The Canyon Roadhouse. A new lodge that embodies all of the aspects of an old roadhouse. The Canyon Roadhouse is also one of the best places to fill up on petrol or diesel close to the canyon. When you’re traveling through Africa being strategic on when and where you fill you tank up is crucial. So, we made good use of their petrol station. While, we stayed at the Roadhouse we had a comfy room, hot shower, A/C, and good food with all the charm. Old cars littered across the car park and license plates adorning the walls are touches that stood out. The roadhouse made for a great first stopover to explore the Canyon.

Check prices for the roadhouse here!

Gondwana Fish River Canyon Roadhouse

The next day we moved camp and went to Gondwana Collection’s Canyon Village. The lodge was set up in the form of a small village lost in the desert. Turning off the main road you wind 3km down a sandy track before arriving at the main lodge a low stone building with a massive thatched roof. We arrived early in the day eager to explore the area. After checking in we wasted no time and took advantage of the cloud coverage before the sun was in full swing.

Check prices here!

Gondwana Canyon Village Namibia

Fish River Canyon Southern Namibia Accommodation

Fish River Canyon Village Room Namibia

Weather in Namibia is no joke. Temperatures in Namibia during the summer can easily reach 45C. So, unlike other parts of the world, a little bit of cloud coverage and a breeze is a very good thing. With that in mind, we set out for a bush walk up the neighboring mountain. The walk provided stunning views of the landscape and gave us a chance to get active, something we needed after all the driving.

First Stop in Namibia

Overlooking Gondwana’s Fish River Canyon Village

We came to a small nature blind which provided shade, as the sun was starting to peak out, and offered a great vantage point. After sitting a moment, we spotted oryx, zebra, and springbok all in the Gondwana Nature Reserve. The reserve is 127,000 hectares and was returned to nature by Gondwana. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass us we began our descent down the small mountain in order to grab some photos. The wildlife within the Gondwana Reserve and the surroundings takes some work to find, but against all odds, it exists and in variety.

Looking Over Namibia

Huntsman Zebra Fish River Canyon Namibia

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing poolside. It’s pretty much the best way to take in an area. Sitting down with a good book, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, and the pool was the perfect way to take in the tranquility of the region while escaping the heat with some company in the form of dassies.

Gondwana Fish River Canyon Village PoolDassies Fish River Canyon Namibia

The next day was the day for us and we set out for the Fish River Canyon edge. Late October in Namibia was hot as temperatures soared close to 40C. We initially made our way to the Canyon late morning, and it was too stinking hot so we agreed to make our way back to the pool. We made our way back to the Canyon around 17:00 with some cold Windhoek lagers in hand. The two notable beer brands in Namibia are Windhoek and Tafel.

Fish River Canyon - Namibia

Sunset over the canyon is breathtaking. It’s the sort of view you drive hours out of your way to take in with some cold beers, and that’s just what we did. However, the region proved to be much more interesting than we had hoped for. With our Windhoeks and the sun gone we made our way back to the Canyon Village for a delicious meal. Something about the hot sun makes us very hungry.


Fish River Canyon Facts

Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa. It is around 160 km long and 27km across while the canyon cliffs descend to almost 550m at points. The formation of the canyon dates back to around 650 million years ago and began forming during the movement of tectonic plates as the supercontinent Gondwana split. Over these hundred of millions of years Fish River, and at points glaciers have slowly worn away at the once solid plateau creating a mesmerizing canyon. Visitors can hike the trail in the winter months from May – September; however, during the summer months the risk of flash flooding prevents hikers from tackling the 88km challenge.

The NWR does offer camping at the gate, but we checked out the campsite on our way in and would not recommend staying there by any means (little shade and very dusty). The Gondwana Collection offers a campsite at their Canyon Roadhouse (Canyon Road Campsite) and Ais-Ais Resort offers camping to the south of canyon with thermal hot springs.

fish-river-canyon

Please note that although Fish River Canyon is a very popular stop for those touring Namibia it is remote and in a desert. Water scarcity, heat, bad roads, and sand storms are all real threats here. Always travel with enough water and be aware of what you are getting into. We have heard stories of travelers treating Namibia as if they were hitchhiking around Europe. Do not be one of them.

Fish River Canyon Park

Park Fees: N$30 Namibian, N$60 SADC Resident, N$80 International

Vehicle Entry Fee: N$10


Luderitz & Kolmanskop

Namibia can be perplexing. It is a former German colony and the influence is still felt today. Many Namibians speak German and towns like Luderitz and Swakopmund still bear the mark of German architecture. These German homes are sandwiched between a cold ocean and towering sand dunes. The chilly waters produce strong winds that beat gutters made for the snow with thick desert sands. It feels like a post-apocalyptic world, little wonder why George Miller shot Mad Max Fury Road in Namibia.

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Luderitz Beach Namibia

Decay in desert environments is, if not nonexistent, extremely slow. It feels as if the Namibian coast is stuck in time and trapped in this waterless environment. One doesn’t have to think hard about where the whole coasts former name, The Skeleton Coast, comes from. The Namibian coast feels like a testament to life on our planet, despite the odds it is teeming. We found thousands of flamingos, pelicans, seals, a few whales, and even a colony of penguins.

gloomy luderitz namibia

Looks like a photo from 1905 if not for our car!

Exploring more of Luderitz involves venturing south from the town out to see the Luderitz peninsula. We drove roughly 30km out of town and around to Diego’s Point. The point is where the explorer Diogo Cão first landed on his way down the coast before claiming Mozambique in the name of Portugal. The point may be one of the strangest places we have ever been because of its complete emptiness and eerieness. The cold waters whipped strong gusts of winds while the waves pounded against a rocky shore. We could see massive sand dunes in the distance and an island of fur seals just off shore.

gloomy-tasha-walking-luderitz-pen

Our true reasoning for traveling to Luderitz was not for the coast. Ten kilometers from Luderitz in the desert is where you can find the abandoned German mining town, called Kolmanskop.

Kolmanskop

The abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop was once a thriving place despite being in the middle of the Namib desert. In the early 1900’s a German railway worker found a diamond lying on the ground and the rest is history. A town was quickly set up and grew in size. At it’s peak the mining town had a hospital, ballroom, bowling alley, theater, school, power station, ice factory, a trolley system, and a sports hall with 400 Germans and 800 Owambo contract workers.

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Kolmanskop Bathtub Dune

They went to all sorts of lengths to prevent diamond theft. There are stories of making workers drink castor oil and do a stint in the infirmary ward at the end of their contract to ensure they were totally clean of any merchandise.

Kolmanskop Namibia Doorway

Today, the ghost town still stands in the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. In the 1980s the DeBeer mining company decided to turn the former town into a museum. The only threat to the towns now are the encroaching sand dunes.

kolmanskap

The museum offers a free tour, but we suggest giving it a pass.The tours are informative, but as Namibia continues to experience a tourist boom the groups number close to 50 in what was formerly the off-season. If possible do some reading on the town here, and then go to Kolmanskop yourself.  You no longer need to pre-arrange a tour or permits for your visit to Kolmanskop. We arrived 10 minutes before the tour and had no problem. (Don’t pay for a photography permit they do not check.)

Kolmanskop Permit Cost: N$75.00 per adult


Aus

This stop won’t appear in most tourists Namibian itinerary, but it makes for a wonderful stop. Aus is a small town with very little except for two campsites, a lodge, petrol station, restaurant, and a hotel. It lies along one of the few major roads in Namibia, the B4. The road is largely flat and desert, but as one approaches Aus the mountains rise up out of the desert. Here you’ll find stunning red rock sunsets and a rare group of horses.

along-the-road

Our true reasoning for venturing here was in search of the feral horses. This proved to be much more work than we initially thought. The corrugated roads of Namibia had put our Land Cruiser’s radiator in a bad place. Several years of no love and the radiator was full of sediment. Meaning that when we made the desert hill climb up to Aus with the wind on our back and five people in the truck we started to overheat in a bad way. With the heat running and us baking like hams in the oven we got lucky and spotted the horses out of our window thanks to Ben a fellow traveler, with his own blog.

feral-horses

We turned off the highway and down the dirt roads to the watering hole where the feral horses were waiting. No one is certain of where these wild desert horses originated from, but they now number close 150. The horses have adapted to their desert environment and are said to able to go five days with little to no water.

horses-in-namibia

We parked at a distance from them, but they quickly approached out of curiosity. Within minutes we found ourselves surrounded by the wild horses who found Charlie, our Land Cruiser, quite interesting. The horses are beautiful, but in many ways do feel like regular domesticated horses. You can observe more wild behavior as the horses play (and even fight) with each other.

Wild Horses Of Namibia

We set up camp at Gondwana’s Klein Aus Vista campsite. The campsite costs N$160 per person. The campsite much like their lodges is well run and had spaced campsites with shade, fire pits, showers, and toilets. Watching the sun descend over Aus mountains makes for the perfect sundowner location. The next morning we broke camp and headed towards Mariental and the famous Kalahari Desert.

Check current prices here!


The Kalahari

The Kalahari is a massive swath of desert land in Southern Africa and occupies much of Namibia and Botswana. Here rust-colored sand stains the earth and vegetation dots the horizon making for a gorgeously colored landscape. As beautiful it may be in the evening, it can become unbearably hot during midday. Temperatures in the Kalahari can reach 50C and the midday sun turns everything into a bleak barren looking wasteland. The landscape here is grand in scale. A short walk through leaves you wondering how it can go on for thousands of kilometers. It is a landscape that leaves its mark on the earth from space.  Sand storms here reach up into the earths atmosphere and can affect global weather patterns.

kalahari

The Tswana refer to the Kalahari as the Kgalagadi: Land of Thirst. It most certainly is. The massive stretch of earth stretches across eight countries and sunsets here are mesmerizing and demand the travelers’ attention. The morning and evening light pulls out great contrasts as the red iron sand compliments acacia trees. By some accounts, the volume of sand in the Kalahari makes it the largest desert in the world, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find large sand dunes here. Instead, it is endless plain of deep red sand.

namibian-sunsets

On a smaller scale, life does exist! The horizon can be dotted by a family of meerkats standing at attention. While hundreds of species of birds fly through the sky, not including the flightless ostrich. Not to mention one of our favorite African birds – the weaver. The desert is also home to numerous large mammals such as oryx, springbok, zebras, and jackals.

kalahari-eland

Our journey into the Kalahari began 25km from Mariental. The Gondwana Collection’s Kalahari Anib and Farmhouse were set as our bases to explore the legendary stretch of desert. It was a long travel day for us and we made our way to Mariental from Aus after spotting the feral horses in a mountain desert. Our struggle with Charlie continued as traveling through the scorching hot Namibian sun caused him to continue overheating. More of the windows down and heat on drill, NOT FUN!

Check prices and availability here!

driving-in-the-kalahari

However, turning into Gondwana’s Kalahari Park for the first time and we knew we’d made a good decision regarding our itinerary in Southern Namibia. A short check in and explanation later we were sitting on our private deck and enjoying some gin and tonics while watching the breathtaking sunset. The park houses both the Kalahari Campsite and Kalahari Anib Lodge. We stayed in the Anib Lodge, but their campsites are also a wonderful option for those looking to be more in tune with nature or on a budget. Dinner on the back deck of the Anib lodge was buffet style and both delicious and relaxing. Nights in the African bush have this quality to them you can’t find back in any city.

Kalahari Anib Lodge NamibiaGin Kalahari Africa

Kalahari Anib Lodge

We were nearly run over by a springbok on our walk back to our room as he pronged right up over our heads after we gave him/her a fright. After retiring to our room we woke up to a herd of eland at the watering hole outside of our bedroom window. Nineteen rooms at the Anib Lodge face out to the Kalahari Game Park and a watering hole frequented by the wild game. There seemed to be a revolving door of animals at all times of the day, and night. The park is filled with lots of wild game and makes for a wonderful introduction to the Kalahari.

Oryx Kalahari Red Sand

Sidewinder Namibia

An interesting facet of the Kalahari is that it is not as dry as it seems. One of the largest subterranean aquifers in the world exists here. So large that despite being in a desert there are places where the water is pushed up out of the ground. One of the natural aquifers is in Stampriet just another 25km down the road from the Anib lodge. This is the farm or the self-sufficiency center for the entire Gondwana Collection where they grow much of produce used in their lodges. The water on the farm is actually a natural spring and is some of the cleanest water due to the natural filtration process from the Kalahari sands.

Kalahari Farmhouse Namibia

The lodge at Stampriet is called The Kalahari Farmhouse. Each room is rustic and modeled after a miniature farmhouse. We loved the touches here like the old school farmhouse doors. What made it all the more incredible is that it is more or less a hidden oasis in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. It’s like an escape from Namibia, within Namibia. Here there is a lovely garden, green grass, large trees stuff you will not find anywhere else in Southern Namibia. Tasha also made full use of the pool during the midday Namibian heat.

Check prices here!

 

dscf1069The Kalahari Farmhouse


Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Mariental and Stampriet make for those looking to get a taste of the Kalahari; however, for those looking to truly get into the bush then the lodges/campsites make for a great stopover en route to the the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The park is located in Botswana and South Africa. The park is home to some of Africa’s greatest wildlife. Here you can find migrating herd of wildebeest and eland. While, large predators like lions and cheetahs roam free.

checking-out-the-desert

The red sands within the park stretch on forever. The experience we received was a good taste of the Kalahari, but the real thing lies within this park where it is truly wild. 4×4 tracks lead deep into the wilderness though thick red sand offering a true adventure for those brave enough, or crazy enough. You can read more about the park here.


Sossusvlei

After the Kalahari, we spent a week exploring the Namib desert on a more intimate scale before we headed for the world-famous Sossusvlei. If there is one place you have seen of Namibia in photos it is Sossusvlei, and rightfully so. The famous location is in reference to a small arid clay pan that is surrounded by the Namib Desert and the highest sand dunes on earth. This section of the desert is home to some of the countries largest sand dunes and they’re are by all accounts grand in scale. The location also happens to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Namibia.

Read More: {Waking Up in a Dream in the Namib Desert}

Fairy Circle in Namib Desert

Driving Through Namibia

We arrived at the Seriesm Campsite in Sossusvlei with no reservations and were relegated to the overflow campsite. This campsite turned out to be less than stellar and we would not recommend staying here (at least in the overflow). The campsite is a parking lot in the Namib Desert at the foot of the largest sand dunes in the world. Suffice to say it was not a pleasant camping experience…but we stayed because…

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The early morning light! Yes, we stayed in what will likely be one of our least enjoyable campsites on this whole trip so we could get up at 4:30 a.m. Yay! The big thing with the Sossusvlei area is to see the sun rise over the dunes which are an incredible sight to see. Before the sun rose we packed up camp and hightailed it into the desert.

Dunes in Sossusvlei

The majority of visitors make it to the gate as they open up at 5:15 a.m. and make a mad dash for Sossusvlei or Dune 45. Dune 45 is one of the tallest dunes within the park. The main draw is its accessibility. The dune is 45km from the main gate, hence its name. The road to the dune is paved and it has a parking lot at its base. If timed properly it is possible to drive to and climb the dune to watch the sun come up over the Namib desert. You must see the sunrise over the desert at least once in your life.

Read More: {15 Namibia Travel Tips to Know Before You Go}

Sunsets over the desert

We chose to opt out of climbing the dune with the other tourists this time. Instead, we found a dune all to ourselves deep in the national park. When the sun crests over 300m high piles of sand set the sky lights on fire. The dunes go from a flat color to a deep red while the shadows cast from theses giants take on the shapes of living creatures on a monstrous scale.


Sossusvlei Park Prices

Park Fee: N$30 Namibian, N$60 SADC Resident, N$80 International

Sesriem Campsite: N$200 Per Person


We left Southern Namibia as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on our journey closer to the Equator in Uganda. For the next few days we’ll spend our time soaking up the odd colonial vibes in the cities of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay on the eerie coast of Namibia. Old German homes, flamingos, and a massive seal colony await.

Tropic of Capricorn Namibia

Namibia is, by all means, a country of the desert.  This is only detailing the first half of our journey through the nation. Stay tuned for our trip through Northern Namibia!

Quick Help to Self Driving Southern Namibia

  • Capital: Windhoek
  • Currency: The Namibian Dollar, equivalent to the South African Rand
  • Borders are easy to cross between South Africa and Botswana.
  • Self-Driving Southern Namibia is the most popular way of getting around. Distances are great and petrol stations are scarce so buy a map and plan accordingly. We were able to pay with credit card for gas at almost all gas stations.
  • Most roads around the country are in very good condition, however, expect corrugation and some bumpy rides.
  • Visitors will be able to get by just fine with English in Namibia
  • We experienced no bribes, hassles, or police corruption in the country during our month in the country.
  • We felt very safe traveling in Namibia. We did not go to Windhoek as we felt we didn’t need to see another big city.
  • MTC and TN Mobile are the two main cell phone providers in the country. We received a promotion for 1.3 GB of data for $N40 for one week with TN Mobile Jiva Surfer. Cell phone service was only available in towns and cities.

Thank you to our partner The Gondwana Collection who helped make this post possible. We were very fortunate to partner with them in Namibia. We firmly stand behind their brand and believe them to be a positive force within the tourism industry in Namibia. Their efforts towards conservation, job creation, value, environmental impact, and guest happiness are beyond commendable. We found multiple instances of actions that extended beyond self interest and towards the betterment of Namibia and the communities in which they occupy.  As always all opinions are our own. 


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