Namibian road trip: from desert sands to wild Etosha

Posted on 15 June 2018

Welcome Lishivha takes a road trip through Namibia’s dynamic landscape, from dunes and rolling mountains to green flat plains and wild Etosha National Park.

Driving through Sandwich Harbour. Photo by Welcome Lishivha.

Flying over the Namib Desert into Walvis Bay, I was hypnotized by the beauty of the endless dunes sprawled below me that meet with the infinite ocean. We were flying into Walvis Bay to spend two nights at Swakopmund before heading to Etosha National Park.

Clouds began to gather as we touched down in Namibia, making me concerned about what lay ahead. For years I’d been dreaming of visiting the Namib and standing on the golden dunes that seem so vivid in those pictures where they appear against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

Aggressive looking clouds loomed large around Swakopmund the following morning and after collecting permits for driving through Sandwich Harbour at Namibia Wildlife Resorts, we headed out towards the dunes.

Thousands of flamingos dotted the gloomy landscape with flashes of pink breaking through the grey and eventually fading into the mist. On our drive along the seemingly endless dunes that make up Sandwich Harbour, we came across abandoned houses, covered in sand, which had belonged to a community of San who fished and who were removed from the area after it was declared a national heritage site.

The dunes were not without life however, we saw plenty of cormorants and black-backed jackals roaming between the dunes and the beach. Seeing the ocean halted by a wall of dunes, of all shapes and sizes, that stretch along the entire coastline was an awe-inspiring site.

Lunch on the dunes with some bubbly.

To my delight, we arrived at our pit stop in the dunes to a miraculously clear sky although the air was still a bit cold. The chilly weather meant that we got to warm ourselves by climbing up the dunes. Going up a dune – especially one that’s over 30 meters high – I realised, is not as easy as it looks, but a great workout and I was rewarded by even more views of dunes that lay like swirled icing on a home-made caramel cake.

The sun shone brightly and reflected the golden hue of the dunes, which were set against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky – this is the stuff of dreams.The Namib dunes take up the greater portion of Namibia’s surface area and are some of the highest in the world, and the tallest in this area. It is a wonder that these dunes have not been declared a world heritage site. This desert was as spectacular as the images had promised.

The entire western section of Namibia is comprised of the Namib, which spreads beyond the borders of Namibia and flows into southern Angola and the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. It is the world’s oldest desert and has been in existence for some 43-million years, stretching for 81000km² in its entirety.

Spotted a jackal roaming between the beach and the dunes. Photo by Welcome Lishivha.

After Sandwich Harbour, we drove out to Dune 7 where we set up camp chairs and enjoy an easy lunch – potato salad, juicy roast chicken and a delicious salad with avocado, washed down with some sparkling wine.

From here, we drove out in search of the Weltwitschia plant, near Moon Landscape. The plan is said to have a lifespan of 1000 to 1500 years and is endemic to the Namib desert and Southern Angola.

After spotting the plant and learning a bit about it, like that it only produces two leaves during its lifetime (these often split) we head towards Moon Landscape. This area named after a lunar surface is a rocky desert plain that looks like something out of Game of Thrones.

Moon Landscape was an even higher mountain range that was eroded over time, and the current remaining mountain range has experienced further erosion in the past 2 million years as a result of the flow rate of the Swakop River.

On our way back, we took a route past the historic farm and oasis called Goanikontes that lies beside the Swakop River amid the desert mountains and dates back to 1848 – we even came across abandoned farmhouses from this era.

Elephants at a waterhole at Etosha National Park. Photo by Welcome Lishivha.

We woke up the following day and got ready for a 6-hour drive to Etosha National Park. The drive to one of Namibia’s largest national parks – which spans over 22270km² and hosts a salt pan that stretches over hundreds of square kilometres – passes through quaint small towns with constantly changing landscapes that gave us a broader sense of the country.  We travelled from the various mountain formations to the quaint homesteads and flat green plains that seem to stretch into the arms of time. On our way, we passed Okahandja, Otjiwanrongo and Tsumeb.

Upon arrival at Mokuti Lodge, I was immediately put at ease by the blesbok that was casually grazing outside my room, a site that’s therapeutic enough to calm the most highly strung soul.
We spent two days at Mokuti Lodge that’s located next to the park, packed with plenty of relaxation, eating an abundance of great food and two game drives daily. On these drives, I spotted plenty of game including a lion at a watering hole, a rhino, blue wildebeest, black impala and a few birds such as the lilac-breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird), the secretary bird and the cormorant.

Lilac-breasted roller spotted at Etosha National Park. Photo by Welcome Lishivha.

I also spotted elephant sauntering through the bush. Later on, I got to hear the fantastic sound they make when quenching their thirst at a watering hole. We observed giraffe and eland basking in the warmth of the sun and saw a lion drink, yawn and laze around a waterhole.

From the enchanting dunes to seeing an array of wildlife in Etosha and immersing myself in the quietness of the bush, Namibia is a delight well worth repeating.


Plan your trip


Getting there

We flew from Johannesburg to Walvis Bay (there’s a connecting flight in Windhoek – where you can also start the leg of your road trip towards Swakopmund and explore along the route). We used a rental from the day we left Swakopmund to drive towards Etosha National Park.

Photo by Welcome Lishivha.


For your trip to Swakopmund, stay at The Strand Hotel. It’s about 30 minutes from the Walvis Bay Airport. The Hotel is wheelchair-friendly and overlooks the harbour with about 80 ocean-facing rooms. It’s located close to eateries like the Ocean Cellar and their own Farm House and Brewer & Butcher have nice offerings. From R2696 for a room that sleeps two.

Mokuti Lodge is located right next to Etosha National Park and offers a truly tranquil bush escape within a nice set-up. They have a sparkling pool that you’ll want to sink into and they also offer massages at an additional cost. The lodge can also arrange game drive for you. From R1815 for a room that sleeps two.


Eat here

Farm Deli. The restaurant inside The Strand Hotel serves nice breakfast for R110 for a full English breakfast and R23 for an Americano. They serve lunch and dinner too.

Ocean Cellar, also located right by the harbour and a walking distance from The Strand Hotel, serves fresh seafood. I especially enjoyed the oyster platters inspired by various parts of the world.

Take the catered option at Mokuti Lodge, where chefs prepare fresh food throughout the week, buffet style. On certain nights a Namibian braai is served under outside in the African Boma. There are also private alternative dining venues for special occasions, inquire about this option.


Do this

Photo by Welcome Lishivha.

Drive through Sandwich Harbour. Located just about 45 kilometres south of Walvis Bay is Sandwich Harbour which contains a large saltwater lagoon which makes a great spot for birdlife. Take in the beautiful coastline that meets with high golden dunes, we drove with Desert Tracks.

Climb a dune. While you’re here, you have to take a moment to climb a dune, you’ll be thrilled at the views that await when you get up there.

Have lunch on the dunes. We drove through Sandwich Harbour and visited Dune 7 with Desert Tracks Tour as part of their full day tour package which costs R1870 and includes lunch, and access to Dune 7, Sandwich Harbour and Moon Landscape. They had arranged for us to have wine by the dune at Dune 7. All these activities you can arrange for yourself too, but you need a 4×4 to drive through Sandwich Harbour.

Do a bit of 4×4 obstacles on the dunes. It was fun and exhilarating to briefly go up and down dunes in a 4×4 – which I’ve dreamt of doing since I read about Melanie’s heart-thumping 4×4 adventure in those very dunes. It was scenic and fun, also part of the package with Desert Tracks.

Stop and watch the many flamingos. There are so many flamingos along the lagoons on the way to Sandwich Harbour, although they are shy (almost everytime I took out a camera or came out the car, they disappeared into the mist). But it’s worthwhile stopping to spot them feed on the side of the salt road. I’d never seen so many flamingos in one space.

Go for a game drive at Etosha National Park. The hotel offers a guided game drive in a 9 seater Toyota Land Cruiser (there’s an option for a 20-seater Dyna truck). A game drive is a good way of taking in the quietness of the bush on offer here and to witness some of their fantastic game. I spotted giraffe, elephant, lion, springbok and several fantastic birds. It’s worth the drive. It’s R60 per person entrance if you’re taking your own car.

Go and spot the Welwitschia Mirabilis and take in the view at Moon Landscape. The plant is endemic to the Namib desert and Southern Angola. Some of these plants are said to be between 1000 and 1500 years old.

Drive around the farm and oasis Goanikontes. The farm area dates back to 1848 and lies between the Swakop River amid desert mountains. The drive here is captivating – I’m told by Andreas from Desert Tracks that there’s been an episode of Mad Max shot here.

Laze around Mokuti Lodge. In between the game drives, the food and the Gin and Tonics at Mokuti Lodge, there’s very little to be done but laze around with a book in hand and take in the quietness of the bush.

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