Part 5, Self Drive, Windhoek and Sossusvlei

By Jason & Lyndon Duplessis

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As we left Okonjima, we realized that this wasn’t the end of our trip. We had done nearly a full circuit in Namibia but had new places to see and new experiences to keep us busy for a couple more weeks. We can definitely say that the second circuit was worth it. Learning things we may have missed, or even hearing them a second time truly did help make this trip memorable.

Once we arrived at the Windhoek airport it was time for goodbyes to our group of agents. From now on it would be just the two of us driving all around Namibia with a map and a gps unit to keep us on track. The map would actually help more than the GPS unit, as a few of the roads we were planning to take were not listed on the GPS. Particularly the roads leading to camps in Sossusvlei and Damaraland were not available. If we were to travel mainly with the GPS unit we would have needed to direct us to a town near the camp and then hope for signs, which were few and far between. We did, however, request an extra spare tire as we had quite a few flats with the Safari Wise portion of our trip. Luckily the extra would not be needed, but at the time it was worth the cost. One other thing that we had to get used to was driving on the other side of the road! A few sketchy moments in and around town really teach you quickly where you can and cannot go. I also can’t tell you how many times we went to the wrong side of the car (driver to the passenger side, etc). It was quite an adventure.

Our first stop was the Hotel Heinitzburg, which is one of only 3 actual castles in Windhoek and the only one that is accessible to the public. They’ve added rooms nearby that are structured similar to a castle wall so you can really get the feel of the place. The rooms were large and seemed very formal in their decoration. We had a dinner at the attached restaurant, Leo’s at the Castle, which had delicious food. The only snag was a local power outage for about fifteen minutes which was handled well by the staff.

The next day we stayed at the Olive Exclusive, the more luxurious brother to the Olive Grove Guesthouse. Our room was a junior suite which was just beautifully decorated as you can see in the photos. We would eventually stay for dinner, which was once again excellent. For lunch we went to the famous Joe’s Beerhouse for a rare Sunday buffet lunch. As with any buffet, we enjoyed being able to try a multitude of main courses, sides and desserts. The atmosphere was very social and we were seated with a group of total strangers but found the conversation quite interesting. We would have liked to visit Joe’s for a normal a la carte menu but just weren’t in town for long enough to do so.

In the morning we enjoyed a leisurely and tasty breakfast at the Olive before departing for Sossusvlei. We decided to take the same route that our Safari Wise guide had taken just because we were familiar with it, even though it did net us two flat tires the previous trip. Driving ourselves took much less time than driving in a full group. We were able to plan our breaks and driver changes, all in all the drives went very well throughout our self-drive experience. A stop at Solitaire on the way was a necessity. We tried some of the famous apple crumble, which was quite good but perhaps our batch wasn’t their best work as it did not live up to expectation. Roughly 5 hours after we left Windhoek we arrived at Little Kulala. The camp is set just beyond a dried up river bed with some large dead trees similar to those in Dead Vlei. The dried river bed actually still has subterranean water, which made it a prime choice for a camp. We did learn that the wind at Little Kulala can get quite harsh, so plan ahead with dust covers for your cameras!

As with all Wilderness Safaris camps, the staff was excellent. Our guide Felix was one of the best guides on our trip, pity we were there for just one night. The rooms had en-suite facilities and air conditioning with private plunge pools and a deck for relaxation. It was a bit too sandy and windy for relaxing on the deck at times but the plunge pool was a nice escape from the heat. Our real focus at Little Kulala was to climb one of the dunes. On our previous trip we had been to Dead Vlei and Sossusvlei but only managed to walk around the base of some of the larger dunes, finally we would have the opportunity to actually reach the peak of one. Felix gave us a wonderful idea to climb a dune that is rarely used. He called it the arm of ‘Big Daddy’, which looms over Dead Vlei and is very popular (albeit very difficult) to climb. The arm was not as tall but still managed to have all 3 of us, Felix included, out of breath every 20 or so steps. Once at the top we had an amazing view and were able to glide down to the salt pan that is Dead Vlei for some more photography. This entire area really is breathtaking and we highly recommend spending a morning in the area.

Our second camp in the Sossusvlei area was Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, owned by AndBeyond. The Desert Lodge was the most luxurious camp throughout our safari. Each room had amazing views of a large valley where zebra and springbok made their way to a man made water hole. Sossusvlei Desert Lodge has a variety of activities to keep you busy. Not only can you go to Dead Vlei and Sossusvlei if you leave early in the morning, but you can drive to the star dunes, petrified dunes, quad biking, game drives, sundowner drives and even star gazing at night. Our first activity was a drive up to the local petrified dunes. The drive itself was amazingly steep, quite exciting actually. The dunes themselves have been solidified into a near rock like consistency over millions (or billions) of years. They represent the final stage in the dunes’ life cycle, very interesting to see. Our second activity was so fun that it ended up being our third activity as well, quad biking! The Desert Lodge has a quad bike track in the dunes nearby where guests can ride at their own speed in and around the sand. Please note that these bikes are very powerful, so if you choose this activity and it’s your first time riding them you can take your time. The views alone are worth the time spent.

The final night in Sossusvlei would be at Wolwedans Dunes Lodge in the NamibRand Nature Reserve. The camp itself is quite far south and while they do offer hot air balloon rides, they do not offer trips to the dunes in Sossusvlei as it would simply be too far away. Once again we were surrounded by amazing landscapes and views. The Dunes Lodge is actually physically built on the top of some dunes, quite interesting. The rooms were nice enough but we were told that at night the wind can hit quite hard, which can cause portions of the tent to flap around noisily. We were given earplugs just in case, but luckily the wind stayed low during our stay. The highlights at Wolwedan’s were the beautiful sunset and our 5 course dinner with some of the best food we had eaten throughout our trip.

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