In photos: 4 perfect places to stay on a trip to the Namib Desert

Posted by Melanie van Zyl on 19 May 2017 Tags:,

For the June issue of Getaway I went on a sandy, heart-pumping adventure in one of the world’s oldest deserts. Tackling the Namib Desert with a 4X4 means a journey filled with shipwrecks, ghost towns and scary slipfaces.

It’s an incredibly thrilling trip, but the drive up to Namibia takes two days – these are some of the best places to stay along the way.

 

1. Upington

The first leg of the trip is more about getting there than stopping to soak up any sights. With Upington as the first stop, it’s a seven-hour drive to get to the Northern Cape. The 4×4 is loaded with all the gear needed for the self-sufficient trip into the dunes and security can be a concern when you’re on the road.

Libby's Lodge

The interiors and exteriors at Libby’s Lodge are equally charming.

Libby’s Lodge in Upington was recommended by friends and we weren’t disappointed. This lovely B&B, set in a colourful garden, won’t break the bank and has off-street parking that caters for bigger vehicles with rooftop accessories. It’s centrally located and there’s dinner just down the drag at a popular pub-like restaurant called BiLo’s, where locals eat too. There are very mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, but the pizza is good and there’s local craft beer too, with names like Puff Adder Weiss. I mean, if that’s not reason enough…

Cost: B&B from R770 for two people, safarinow.com/go/libbyslodgeupington

 

2. Luderitz

After an early breakfast at Libby’s we make for the border. It also takes about eight hours to drive from Upington to Luderitz, but we arrive in the early afternoon and have time to look around the small town.

Luderitz

Hilarious Hollywood-style signage as you enter Luderitz.

I am always astonished at how strong an imprint Germany left on Namibia even though the colonial force was only in the desert country for a couple decades. Nearly 100 years ago, Germany signed over control and still the strong influence remains. You can still see it in Luderitz, a small coastal town surrounded by the Namib desert.

Luderitz

The view across Luderitz from the Felsenkirche.

Bavarian-style homes with wooden outlined windows and geometric roofs still stand overlooking the harbour, but I wouldn’t call it a quaint town (that title goes to Swakopmund) and it kind of feels like the last German outpost. A kind of cultural deposit left on the rocky cliffs that slide slowly into the ocean.

Luderitz harbour

Boats in the Luderitz harbour with the Namib Desert in the background.

When the light is golden, I spend the afternoon strolling about the harbour and go in search of the Namibian coast’s finest export at dinner time – oysters. I have to ask our B&B about the best restaurant for oysters in town and they thankfully offered a map. It would have been difficult to find otherwise.

Diaz Coffee Shop Luderitz

Delectable oysters and local beer at the Diaz Coffee Shop.

Even though the oysters are worth the trip to Luderitz alone, my main reason for visiting this coastal town is to explore Kolmanskop, a famous deserted diamond-mining town which has slowly been taken over by sand. I want to get a feel for the history of the Namib before tackling it on the six-day dune tour and diamonds strongly define this desert. I explore the empty town, watching the light filter in through broken wooden ceilings and see doors standing permanently ajar because the sand has fixed them so.

Kolmaskop

The invading desert at Kolmanskop.

The first tours start at about 9 o’clock and it was fascinating to learn how people lived a relatively comfy and lavish life in the desert. They had to ship in fresh water and devise an ice room to keep meat and other goods fresh to eat. There was even a bowling alley and the first x-ray machine in the country landed here to check people hadn’t swallowed any diamonds to smuggle out.

Cost: Tours range from R85pp to R230, kolmanskuppe.com

Kairos Cottage B&B Luderitz

A sea-view room at the Kairos Cottage B&B

Kairos Cottage in Luderitz is a great way to start the Namibia trip. It’s got lovely sea views and is based on Shark Island, just beside the harbour.

Cost: B&B from R680 for two people, kairoscottage.com

 

3. Aus

Aus

The tarred B4 from Luderitz to Aus. The wind picks up as we leave Aus, another odd little settlement closest to Luderitz, but still about 125 km away on the tarred B4 road. We drive past a couple of signs warning us about sand. This road from Luderitz to Aus stands alongside one of the biggest deserts in the world and this area is famed for intense sandstorms that’ll sandblast the smooth metallic paint clean off the car and blur the windows.

It’s also famous for desert horses.

Desert horse Aus

Wild desert horses close to Garub Waterhole.

We pull off the B4 at a sign pointing towards the Garub Waterhole in the hopes of spotting some of these intrepid creatures from the shaded hide. We see some in the distance, making their way to the water and also spot a pair of gemsbok. The origins of these wild horses vary depending who you speak to, but the most remarkable thing about them is that they have survived out here, in this harsh environment for a century.

Klein-Aus Vista

Views across the plains close to the rustic Geisterschlucht Cabin.

Klein-Aus Vista in Aus is nestled among mountains and is a good place to be before heading north to the start of the tour. Here, I begin to fall in love with the spare landscape that will characterise the rest of the trip. There are also accommodation options for every budget – camping at super sites (each one shaded beneath a big camel thorn tree and frequented by sociable weavers), B&B cottages close to a pool, a private hiking-style cabin hidden in a valley called ‘Ghost Canyon’ and self-catering chalets with endless views beautifully built around granite boulders.

Desert Horse Inn Aus

The Desert Horse Inn has a great farm atmosphere.

Desert Horse Inn Aus

Inside the lovely Desert Horse Inn chalets – notice all the cool themed details.

It is part of the Gondwana Collection and if you buy a South African membership card (R200 and valid for five years) you qualify for a 40 percent discount.

Cost: Camping is R130 per person and Desert Horse Inn B&B from R650 per person, klein-aus-vista.com

 

4. Swakopmund

Fuming Walvis Bay

Pink flamingoes tiptoe around the lagoons in Walvis Bay.

The dune tour ends in Walvis Bay, where you drive past lagoons filled with flamingoes and then, after six days with just the dunes sharing your personal space, it’s back to civilisation. The tour ends in the afternoon and it’s a short half an hour drive north to go and explore Swakopmund.

Swakopmund Lighthouse

The iconic lighthouse in Swakopmund.

A lovely coastal town, Swakopmund also reveals strong German architecture and traditions. It’s pretty busy city, with foreign and local tourists, perfect for swimming with a popular beach and plenty of restaurants too. The newest of which is a complex beside the renovated swanky Strand Hotel. It’s right on the pier overlooking the water and there are three restaurants to choose from – the Brewer and Butcher pub-style restaurant, a luxe sushi bar and seafood restaurant called the Ocean Cellar and a more relaxed bistro called the Farmhouse Deli.

Strand Hotel Swakopmund

Locals going for a sunset stroll outside the Strand Hotel.

We settled on the Brewer and Butcher (because beer), but all of them looked great. Also, nothing could beat the R10 oysters and R22 calamari dish we had eaten back in Luderitz.

Jetty Swakopmund

The jetty is also a great spot for sunset or sunrise as fisherman congregate to cast a line.

The Delight in Swakopmund is the perfect treat after six days in the desert. It’s colourful and design-conscious with free Wi-Fi and centrally located in Swakopmund making it the perfect base for exploration. I love that you get a good, detailed map to help navigate the streets. It was very easy and stress-free to walk around from this hotel.

The Delight Swakopmund

Quirky and bright decor inspired by the ocean at The Delight.

Cost: It’s also part of the Gondwana Collection so make the most of the SADC discount card. B&B from R642 per person, gondwana-collection.com

 

Read more from this story in the June 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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Our June issue features a Namibia dune tour, 8 epic Drakensberg hikes, and 22 of the most unbeatable winter deals in SA.