4WD Adventure in Namibia | Luxury Africa Holidays | Lightfoot Travel
Olly Davy decided to get away from it all and drive through one of the most deserted places on Earth

The wind buffeted the tent, threatening to tear us from the roof of the car and dump us in the desert.

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ mumbled my girlfriend.

I hugged her a little closer in the sleeping bag by way of silent comfort, because, to be honest, I wasn’t.

Towards morning the wind dropped and I was down the ladder with the eagerness of a child. The disturbed night was swiftly forgotten as I scrambled across rocks to watch day break over the stark beauty of Spitzkoppe; a group of soaring granite peaks carved over 100 million years by the gusts that almost usurped us from our sleeping quarters.

Namibia is one of the best African destinations for a self-drive adventure: it’s politically stable and English is widely spoken. It’s also one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, larger than Turkey with only two million people. Australia is more congested.

A four-wheel drive vehicle is not essential, but we opted for one, for the excitement of being able to drive and stay almost anywhere. Although the truck was fully-equipped we planned to use the fridge and wine glasses more than the spade and tow rope for our Namibian adventure.

The day before we’d zipped along salt-scoured tarmac next to the Skeleton Coast, the western edge of the Namib Desert, named for the proliferation of whale and seal bones that once littered the shore. Nowadays the annual seal cull leaves nothing behind. Just north of Henties Bay we gawped at the Zeila, a South African trawler that broke loose while being towed to India for scrap. The stranded ship is slowly disintegrating; a surf-battered nesting site for cormorants.

We set off from Spitzkoppe, electrified by our desert camping experience. The road was bumpy and fun to drive; mile after mile of uninhabited scrubland, dipping in and out of dried up riverbeds.

The main routes in Namibia are paved but many roads are dirt or gravel, maintained by monstrous graders that chug up and down sporadically. With few cars outside the capital, Windhoek, the main danger is losing your concentration. It’s not uncommon for amateur rally drivers to end up in a ditch.

As we were taking in the breathtaking view. I heard a pop and the steering went slushy. We had a puncture. They say adversity is a bonding experience but when changing the tyre of an unfamiliar vehicle under a baking sun, I’d swap bonding for feuding. Needless to say, no one was left behind.

Brandberg Nature Reserve is home to Namibia’s highest mountain and an almost unique herds of elephants. Only here and in Mali has Loxodonta adapted to live in such arid conditions – with larger feet and smaller bodies than their savannah-dwelling cousins.

The elephants proved elusive, but a prize that couldn’t hide was the ancient cave paintings, the most famous of which is known as the White Lady, reached after a 40-minute hike that would have been more pleasurable had I not worn flimsy sandals. Approximately 2,000-years-old, the artwork was created by the San, hunter-gatherers who have inhabited Southern Africa for at least 40,000 years.

The following day’s drive was long and we arrived hot and dusty at the gate to Etosha National Park – the jewel in the crown of Namibia’s tourism industry and, at 20,000 km2, one of the largest game reserves in the world (8,000 km2 bigger than the Serengeti).

June is winter in Namibia and a good time to visit Etosha. It’s the dry season, best for animal spotting, but before the main rush starts in July. The man at the gate offered some encouragement.

‘Take lots of photos. The waterholes are great right now.’

I explained my camera had been destroyed when I ran (fell) down a dune earlier in the trip.

‘Ah – then you must steal with your eyes.’

Etosha was first designated a game reserve by German colonialists in 1907. The wildlife was almost wiped out by drought and war in the late 70s and early 80s and, although the animal populations have bounced back, poaching remains a serious problem with ivory smugglers earning thousands of dollars per kilo.

wildlife namibia

wildlife namibia

We made it to our camp, where as a treat we had booked a chalet with views of the floodlit waterhole. After a dip in the pool and dinner we retired for evening rush hour, beer in hand. Within minutes of taking our seats 30 elephants appeared to slake their thirst.

Sometime later two black rhinos entered stage left, drank, and began a strange courtship ritual. The male lowered his horn to the dirt and approached the female again and again but was always rebuffed. This is a critically-endangered species, with around 5,000 individuals remaining both in the wild and captivity, and a privilege to behold. We ate breakfast counting zebras as the sun rose then drove from waterhole to waterhole to enjoy the show. Binoculars upgraded our vision from pickpocketing to full-on bank robbery. We saw large concentrations of springboks, zebras and oryx driven by the dry conditions to share the few watering spots. Two elephants fought metres from our car and seven lions panted in the shade of spiky bushes.

The Big Five top most people’s list for African game viewing but my favourite was the giraffe; humble yet gloriously bizarre. Watching a huge male, legs splayed inelegantly to drink, was our final thrill before setting a course for the airport and an unwanted flight home.

The San called Namibia ‘the land God made in anger’ but it’s with fondness I recall the dazzling displays of landscape, light and fauna. Watching the world awake has always felt to me like a subversive act, as if the indigo hours before dawn are forbidden territory. In the vast spaces of South West Africa the rewards for trespassing are simply too great to resist. Prepare to be bewitched by Namibia, and expect some early starts.

Suggested Itineraries

From $14,300 pp

Russian High Arctic

Russia The Arctic

  • Sail around the Russian High Arctic in luxury with all modern comforts onboard Sea Spirit 
  • Experience a true expedition cruise to the rarely visited Franz Josef Land archipelago
  • Visit a soviet-era research facility, once a base for polar exploration
  • Look out for colonies of nesting seabirds on the rugged, steep cliffs of the islands
  • Spot polar bears, walrus and endangered bowhead whales around the archipelago

When to go:

ideal length 13 nights

From $8,500 pp

Arctic Wildlife Safari

The Arctic

  • Search for polar bears hunting seals in the pack ice on an arctic safari
  • Explore historical sites including early whaling camps, trappers’ cabins, deserted coal mining operations, and an abandoned polar research station
  • Sea kayaking near tidewater glaciers and icebergs
  • Look out for humpback whales from the outdoor decks
  • Take advantage of the included photography program and learn alongside the onboard expert

When to go:

ideal length 10 nights

From $7,000 pp

Mongolia’s Eagle Hunting Festival

Ulaanbaatar & Central Heartland

  • Living alongside a nomadic eagle hunting family and learning about their age-old traditions and ways of life
  • Attending the annual Ulgii Eagle Hunting Festival and getting caught up in the excitement of this event which locals spend their lives training for
  • Experiencing a less mainstream part of the country and really getting off the beaten track

When to go:

ideal length 6 nights
Destinations Featured in the Article
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia, Africa


From abundant wildlife in Etosha National Park to the haunting Skeleton Coast and vibrant red dunes of Sossusvlei, a luxury holiday to Namibia promises plenty of adventure.

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