Songs by pop singer Kurt Darren, peppermint Don Pedros and a floodlit watering hole that attracted a range of buck and some thirsty rhino — this was a perfect night at Lapa Lange Game Lodge in the southern part of central Namibia.
And breakfast was enjoyed in the company of young cheetahs on the front lawn, tucking into huge chunks of meat and bone, with the lodge cat patiently waiting for leftovers.
On a whirlwind weekend trip to southern Namibia, we covered over 2,200km of tarred and gravel road, with not a pothole in sight.
With intimidating distances to travel each day, safe and comfortable transport was a priority. We had ordered a solid Nissan Hardbody double cab with potent air conditioner and obviously unlimited mileage. But even though we’d booked and paid for this vehicle way in advance, the agency dumped a single-cab farm bakkie on us, citing a shortage of rental stock.
Ten minutes from the airport we discovered it had no aircon, so we swung around, went back to the terminal, stood our ground and finally got our first choice.
One has to watch out for straying goats, baboons, donkeys, cattle and warthogs and fill up wherever possible, as fuel stations are few and far between.
The second night was spent at Fish River Lodge. Its stylish chalets are located at the very edge of the Fish River Canyon, the second-largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The views and mood of this long, rugged formation are ethereal. There are walks along the canyon cliffs, dotted with gold-and-silver quiver trees. These plants are a type of tall aloe, so named because hunters used it to make quivers to hold their arrows.
With Namibia experiencing the same prolonged hot and dry weather conditions as SA, the Fish River looked completely dry, as were all the supposed rivers we crossed.
Leaving the impressive vistas of the canyon, our next stop would be for a few hours in Lüderitz. The journey to this small southwestern coastal town is through desert and dunes, and you can spot the wild horses of another small town, Aus.
The deserted ghost town of Kolmanskop can also be seen en route to the coast. It consists of a few grand old houses, worker accommodation and utility buildings, all slowly being reclaimed by the accumulating sand drifts.
We strolled around the Lüderitz harbour and waterfront area, stopping off at the eclectic Garden Cafe. Hospitality in Namibia is unique. With very few chain names in the hotel and food-service industries, most facilities are owner-managed. This means design and service are highly personal and every place has its own charm and quirks. With the Namibian dollar being one-to-one with the rand, travel costs are well priced and unaffected by the diving of the SA currency, which is accepted everywhere. Many guesthouses do not have TVs in the rooms, and Wi-Fi is usually quite erratic, but the break from constant news was welcome.
The corrugated route to Diaz Point, outside Lüderitz, has several cautionary notices along the way regarding restricted diamond zones. It leads to the stone cross that commemorates the landing of Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz, where it is inhospitably battered by waves and winds.
It is said that one should go to Lüderitz in the morning, and, equally, return from there in the morning. Not having this local knowledge, we travelled back in the afternoon and hit the strong side winds coming off the dunes, with sand buffeting our vehicle as it sprayed across the road. Oryx took shelter wherever they could, huddling against the walls of a few utility sheds.
Undoubtedly, the best stayover on this trip was Alte Kalköfen Lodge, near Keetmanshoop. Accommodation is in serene and exquisitely decorated bungalows overlooking a shrubbed river bed and watering hole lit by solar power. Homemade iced tea and breads, the lightest apple pie, and breakfast frittata were all superb. Hosts Frikkie and Hilde Mouton are passionate about hospitality and committed to environmental preservation.
Then it was on to the unquestionably bizarre Duweseb Castle, a pseudo fortress that looks ridiculously out of place in the barren landscape of the southern Namib. This 1909 red sandstone folly is sometimes referred to as a “castle of love“; it was built by a German officer for his wealthy American wife.
Heading for the last night, at Mariental, we visited the Hardap Dam, Namibia’s biggest reservoir. Then it was on to Anandi Guesthouse in the town, which ticked the boxes for a quick overnight stay.
Mariental is not exactly a throbbing metropolis, and is representative of the typical Namibian dorp — nothing luxurious, not much to do, but well-ordered and friendly.
Back to Windhoek for our flight home, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and spotted Heroes’ Acre. This is a war memorial obelisk with the statue of a soldier, commemorating the country’s liberation struggle.
Friends have said that such a “long but short” trip was a little whacko-cracko. We faced a driving challenge of huge proportions in just a few days, and it was hot, windy and dry.
But it was also a visit to an eternal landscape of lonely wilderness, and worth every kilometre.