Before we were allowed to leave Sesriem we had to pay for two days permit for the National Park. This was a surprise to us as the campsite is situated just inside the gates (no more than 100 metres inside), and as the campsite fees were 3 or 4 times more than any other campsites that we paid to stay in, we assumed that this was all inclusive (its impossible to use the campsite without entering the park), especially as both are run by the Government body called Namibia Wildlife Resorts. But no we had to pay. The total cost for 2 nights camping and permits was $1,060.00! Wow, a crazy amount, but in reality it still only works out £12.62 per person per night. A lot for Namibia, but still cheap for us Europeans (especially as we got our 2nd night a bit cheaper as we bought it off our new Dutch friends that had pre-booked and paid for it).
After leaving behind the very busy Sesriem, we headed South on the gravel track that runs through the private game reserve of Namib Rand, but before we got there we wanted to check out a strange hotel that we stayed in on our last visit to Namibia, and see if it still seemed weird seeing a Moroccan style castle/riad in the middle of the Namib Desert, and yes it was still very weird.
The Namib Rand Reserve is huge, and the D826 gravel track only runs through about 50km of the eastern side of it, but it really is stunning, quite hilly, and very high up following the plateau of the Nubibberge Mountains, with the huge sand dunes to the west. We stopped so many times along here to take photos, and take in the views, and of course there were very few people about.
As with most inhospitable places in Namibia you can still spot wildlife, here it is extremely hot, there is no water, food is scarce, and yet there is still life here. In the photo below is a huge Gemsbok/Oryx that is standing in the heat haze.
I think the desert environment polarises opinions, you either love it and find it beautiful or you hate it. Luckily for us we absolutely love it.
And so it seems do others.
Our plan for that night was to head for Duwisib Castle and spend the night at the campsite there, but we stopped at a place called Betta, which is literally just a farm on the junction of two tracks, where as in England the farmer has diversified. He now has a 24 hour fuel station, a shop, a cafe and a campsite. We decided to stop for a coffee and a toasted sandwich, and Jac decided to have a nose about. The campsite was very nice, and so we decided to stop there for the night. The cost for the use of this campsite, including electric hookup (we didn’t use it) and nice clean hot showers was £3.81 each. Its a really nice place (if a little wind swept when we were there) and the views from up on each camp area own viewing platform was incredible especially at sunset. It is right on top of a plateau, at about 5,000 feet, and you are surrounded for 360 degrees by mountain peaks.
Next morning we topped up with diesel at the pump there (slightly more expensive than usual at 52p per litre), and set off along the track to Duwisib Castle which was about 20km away. Namibia does throw up many surprises, and seeing a castellated walled castle in the middle of the desert is certainly a strange thing.
It was built by Hansheinrich von Wolf, who served a couple of years in the German army in German South West Africa (as Namibia was known as then) between 1904 and 1906, as a captain of a regiment of “Schutztruppe”. Then is 1906 he was allowed to resign his commission and return to Germany, where he met and married an extremely wealthy American woman. They decided to build a new home in the Maltahohe area and using tradesmen mostly brought over from Europe they completed Duwisib Castle in 1909. All building materials apart from the stone was brought over from Europe, and transported the 300 odd kilometres from the port at Luderitz. They lived here until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, when Hansheinrich was killed during the battle of the Somme. Jayta (his American wife) never returned to the castle and all its contents remained there until eventually everything was sold to a Swedish family in the 1920’s. Of course after the First World War, South West Africa was taken away from German hands, and was then administered from South Africa. The amazing thing is that this castle was completed within two years.
The “castle” is more like a large fortified house, but it was worth the small detour to see it. I’m not sure how many tourists it gets but there were very few comments in the visitors book, and almost all of them were written in German, I would guess not more than half a dozen visitors a day. Of course as its run by the government owned NWR, there were a large number of staff including the guy that was dragging his broom backwards and forwards across the sand out the front of the building to smooth it down! And obviously all the staff have accommodation on site as its miles from the nearest town. The cost to enter the castle was about £3.80 per person.
So we retraced our route back to Betta, and then took the other track towards the Tiras Mountains, where the plan was to spend a few days at the very remote campsite there to chill out. This is why we don’t make plans as they always have to change in Africa.
This area of the Namib is very remote, its not unusual, not to see anyone else for a few hours, and it is punishing for vehicles. We were about 50km from the turn off for our campsite when we hit some very deep sand, it came up very suddenly without any warning, meaning that we hadn’t had chance to select low range or deflate the tyres on the truck. So we thought that we would just plough on and hope that it is only a short stretch and we would soon be back on gravel, and if we got stuck we would then reduce pressures etc. After about 3km it just got deeper and deeper, but we were still moving forward. Then in the distance we could see another vehicle that we assumed was coming towards us, but as we got closer we realised that it was facing in the same direction as us and the driver and passenger were out of their car. They were stuck and there was no way through for us, so we very gently slowed down to a gentle stop (to prevent a build up of sand in front of the wheels).
It was a Kia SUV, driven by a German couple, who had completely burnt out the clutch on the car, and it was constantly slipping, so would not drive the wheels. A ‘grader’ appeared in the front of them (a machine that is used for levelling gravel roads), and he offered to tow them out of the sand which was about 1km further on, but had no tow rope. So using our 5m tree strap (used for winching from) and shackles, the grader towed them out and we arranged to meet them once we got out of the sand. So we quickly took out the tyre valves and reduced the pressures by about 60%, selected low range in the transfer box and hoped that Colonel K pulled himself and us out. Slowly but surely we got out without the need to use your our shiny new sand ladders (much to Jac’s relief, it would have been really hard work in that heat).
We found Gerd, and Gerda (yes they really do have almost the same name) about 5km further up the track on firmer gravel but obviously still no drive from their engine, but worse still without any mobile signal to phone for help. There was no way that we could leave them there, so we said we would tow them to the nearest ’town’ which we were pretty sure would have a phone signal, that town was the small desert settlement of Aus. This was where they had spent the previous night . I generally leave the map reading to Jac, so I had it in my head that Aus was about 50km away so it shouldn’t take too long to tow the Kia there. But once we had attached the strap to the rear tow point of the Daf, I jumped in and entered the hotel name into the Garmin sat nav, and I realised it was 150km away, this was going to be a very long slow few hours.
It was also almost all uphill, with Aus standing at over 5,500 feet, at a steady 40kmph, it took us over 3.5 hours of towing on everything from gravel, more sand (not as deep thankfully) and everything in between. It was pretty tough for our 150hp cummins engine, not only hauling our 9.5 tonne, but also 2 tonnes of South Korean metal, but to the Daf’s credit it managed it without a cough or a hiccup. I’m not sure what doing all those kilometres in low range has done for our fuel consumption but the gauge was dropping a little quicker than normal.
Gerd and Gerda, insisted very kindly that they would buy us a beer and dinner that evening at the Barnhof Hotel, so after dragging the Kia round the back into the very tight car park, we drove to the campsite next door and then walked back to the Hotel.
We had a lovely evening getting to know this very well travelled couple, who were obviously very grateful to be rescued by Colonel K. They arranged for another car to be delivered to the hotel the next morning and so continue their trip around Namibia.
Next morning we had to decide whether to drive back the 130km to the campsite that we were going to, or rethink our ‘plans’, so we went for a walk around Aus to think about what to do. Aus is tiny desert town but does have a few buildings from the German colonial period, including the train station that is now the hotel.
We walked into the hotel to find Gerd and Gerda to say goodbye and to make sure that they were sorted out with a new car. They were round the back having just received a Toyota Corolla to get them back to the capital of Windhoek so they can pick up a new 4×4 for the rest of their trip. The Kia was also being taken away.
So after a quick goodbye and a promise to keep in touch, we went to the garage that also owns the campsite, and the shop, and the cafe etc to stock up on cold drinks.
We decided to go to the coastal town of Luderitz which was about 130km west of Aus, but as there is a port there (and huge amounts of diamonds) they have tarmac’d it. Along this road is a small turn off to Garub Pan, a very dry desolate place (especially in November) that has a small man-made water hole there. This has been set up as a viewing place where you can watch what is possibly the worlds only wild desert dwelling horses. There are around 200-300 of these animals that obviously originate from domestic riding horses (mostly from the South African Army), and against all the odds they are thriving. Its amazing that they share this waterhole with Gemsbok, and Ostriches and as far as the eyes can see there is nothing for them to eat of any consequence.
When we were there we counted approx 60 horses at the water hole, mostly just dozing in the midday heat. It was fascinating to watch the very unnatural interaction between the normally bullying Gemsbok with the horses, which seemed to refuse to be intimidated by those huge dangerous antlers of the Gemsbok.
Everyone that we spoke to about Luderitz suggested that it was a town that wasn’t worth the effort to drive too, and for sure its no Swakopmund. The harbour itself is very industrial, with a big terminal for the zinc mines in this part of Namibia, but we were pleasantly surprised. We chose a campsite on nearby Shark Island, that you reach via a causeway (that you hardly notice), and the views across the large natural bay are stunning, and within an hour or so of arriving we had seen Dolphins and Seals and numerous types of sea birds, such as Gannets, Cormorants, and Oyster Catchers.
And in honour of that classic Two Ronnies comedy sketch I found two “fork handles” washed up on the shore! (Possibly only the brits of a certain age reading this will understand the above comment)
We both really enjoyed our couple of days in Luderitz, but as usual it was time to move on.
Thanks so much for taking the trouble to read this.