Getaway magazine has covered pretty much everything in sub-Saharan Africa in the last 22 years: from Timbuktu to Tsodilo Hills, we’ve been there, photographed it, and got the proverbial T-shirt. But somehow, like the hordes of tourists piled on Dune 45, we’ve missed the NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia. Like other tourists, we’ve headed 60 kilometres north to Namibia’s most famous attractions: Sossusvlei, Dune 45 and Dead Vlei.
Turns out it’s rather hard to miss – at 170 000 hectares, the NamibRand is one of the biggest private nature reserves in Southern Africa. It’s a vast wilderness on the edge of the Namib Desert, with epic landscapes of massive apricot dunes and grassy plains peppered with mysterious fairy circles (see more about these below).
The reserve was established in the 1980s when landowner Albi Brückner integrated a number of livestock farms to form a rehabilitated wilderness area. Today, with its high-quality, low-impact tourism model, the NamibRand is a model of conservation success.
Here are five reasons why you should visit NamibRand Nature Reserve on your next trip to Namibia:
1. No tourists
Strict concession rules mean that the total number of guest beds in the reserve is restricted to one bed per 1000 hectares, with a limit of only 20 beds in any one spot. The six concessions in the reserve co-ordinate with each other, so that if you’re on a game drive at one lodge, you won’t come across a car from another lodge
2. Amazing stargazing
The private reserve has recently been named Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, meaning it’s one of the least light-polluted areas in the world. I saw more shooting stars in one night than I have in my life.
3. The best sundowner spots
Imagine sipping a G&T on top of a dune overlooking a lanscape that’s barely changed for millions of years, with a soundtrack of the occasional barking gecko, and nothing else. Living in a busy, noisy city you forget that there are still wildernesses out there where it’s possible to disengage completely from the
4. Awesome slackpacking
Tok Tokkie Trails offers three-day hikes in the reserve with small groups and experienced guides. This is slackpacking at its best, with your bags being transported, hot meals cooked for you by a chef, and hot water bottle warmed camp beds set up for you under a ceiling of stars.
5. Mysterious fairy circles
Along the edge of the Namib Desert there are thousands of small circles dotted around on the ground, like lunar pockmarks, in which nothing grows. Various theories have been formed by scientists and researchers trying to explain their existence: that they’re a result of fungi which poison the soil; meteor showers, or termites. However, no one knows for certain why they’re there.
You can adopt one of these mysterious fairy circles for R500 – a disk will be placed in your circle and you’ll get the GPS co-ordinates – the money goes towards the NamibRand Conservation Foundation. To adopt a fairy circle contact tel +264-61-224882 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accommodation in the NamibRand Nature Reserve
The Namibrand Family Hideout
In the south of the NamibRand you’ll find the only self-catering accommodation and self-driving 4×4 routes on the reserve. There’s a three-bedroomed fully-equipped farmhouse that sleeps 10 and offers a gas stove, fridge and freezer, and braai facility. The campsite, a kilometre away from the farmhouse, is exclusive, and can take two vehicles and up to eight people. There’s an ablution block, braai area (bring your own wood) and solar lighting. Activities include dune boarding (board hire is R120 a stay), 4x4ing on demarcated routes (permits are R165 a vehicle and must be purchased in advanced), star gazing, and hiking through the reserve (R60 an hour for a guide). The self-catering house costs from R925 a day for a group of up to four people, and R1#160 a night for a group of five to 10 people, with bedding and towels per person per stay R135, and R245 park fees a group a night. The campsite is R100 a night, and R106 a person a night, with park fees at R135 a group a night.
Tel +264-61-226803, email email@example.com, www.hideout.iway.na.
TokTokkie Walking Trails
Tok Tokkie offers two-day, three-night walking trails in NamibRand Private Nature Reserve. You walk in a small group with a guide and your bags are transported. The pace of the trail is leisurely and suitable for people aged 10 to 70 with a reasonable fitness level. Daily distances do not exceed 10 kilometeres. All sleeping equipment, linen and towels are provided and meals are prepared at the camps. Rates for SADC residents start at R1386 (this rate is only if you book between two and four weeks in advance during low season) a person a night in low season (all months except July, August and September). Rates for children under 12 start at R693 a night.
Tel +264-61-264-521, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.toktokkietrails.com.
Five properties make up the Wolwedans Collection in the NamibRand: Dunes Camp, Dunes Lodge, Boulders Camp, Private Camp and the Mountain View Suite. They’re all luxurious and fabulous. This is where you’ll stay if you’re wanting to splash out on your NamibRand trip. Prices range from R3385 a person at the Dunes Camp, to R5085 a person at the exclusive (it only sleeps two) Mountain View Suite. While it’s pricey, rates are full board, and include selected drinks and activities such as game drives (excluding hot air ballooning and scenic flights).
Tel + 264-61-230-616, email email@example.com, www.wolwedans.com.
If you want to splurge…
Take a hot-air balloon flight over the Namib Desert with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, who fly from the NamibRand, as well as from the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The cost of R3959 a person includes pick up and drop off from several hotels and campsites near Sossusvlei, as well as a champagne breakfast. Tel +264-63-683-188, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.namibsky.com.
When to go to NamibRand Nature Reserve
The best time to visit the NamibRand is from April to October when days are sunny but it’s not too hot. Mornings and evenings can get chilly in winter, so take warm clothes, especially if you’re going to be camping or doing early-morning game drives.
NamibRand Nature Reserve contacts
Tel +264-61-224882, email email@example.com, www.namibrand.com.
For more on the NamibRand Nature Reserve, read my feature ‘Dark Desert Dreaming’, from the September 2012 issue of Getaway Magazine.