Sand and vision

With only stunning natural beauty for company, Jon Bowd drives through the deserts of Namibia

In 40C heat there are certain things that are recommended: cold drinks, air-conditioned rooms and frequent dips in either a pool or the sea. One thing unlikely to make the list is crawling on the ground while lifting heavy objects in the midday sun. Unfortunately, there isn't much choice when you have a puncture. The roads in Namibia range from silky-smooth Tarmac (a legacy of German colonial rule) to bone-shaking corrugated dirt tracks, and after a short drive on one of these pot-holed monsters the back-right tyre of our car was a misshapen mess of flayed rubber. After replacing old with new, we were left with the daunting prospect of a further 400km on the rough stuff with no spare.

In 40C heat there are certain things that are recommended: cold drinks, air-conditioned rooms and frequent dips in either a pool or the sea. One thing unlikely to make the list is crawling on the ground while lifting heavy objects in the midday sun. Unfortunately, there isn't much choice when you have a puncture. The roads in Namibia range from silky-smooth Tarmac (a legacy of German colonial rule) to bone-shaking corrugated dirt tracks, and after a short drive on one of these pot-holed monsters the back-right tyre of our car was a misshapen mess of flayed rubber. After replacing old with new, we were left with the daunting prospect of a further 400km on the rough stuff with no spare.

On all sides we were surrounded by red-rock desert scorched completely bare, and every 20 minutes or so we would drive slowly past a huge lorry, tyre lying shredded on the roadside. The closest house was 60km in the other direction and we had seen no other cars for two hours. The joy of travelling round a country bigger than both Britain and France but with fewer inhabitants than Paris had quickly disappeared.

Fortunately, the preceding week had been more comfortable. Namibia has fully embraced luxury eco-tourism, and can now boast accommodation that is the equal of anything available elsewhere in Southern Africa. Indeed, the tented camps in two of the country's best wildlife-viewing areas are about as far from the airbed-and-groundsheet version of an outdoor holiday as it is possible to get.

The tents at Ongava, a private camp that borders the huge Etosha National Park in the north of the country, boast huge double beds with blinding white sheets, massive wardrobes and roofless bathrooms that allow you to shower under the stars. Just so you don't forget that you're deep in the wilds of Africa, at night armed guards escort guests back from the dining area in case one of the park's many lions is looking for dinner. And Palmwag Rhino Camp in the vast empty canyons of Damaraland in Namibia's north-west has a main tent with a well-stocked bar, a leather sofa and standard lamps. Not bad for a place that is three hours by 4x4 from the nearest gravel road and five from the closest town with a shop.

Palmwag, in particular, is an object lesson in how to create accommodation that embraces the environment. Damaraland is one of the driest regions in the whole country (in a wet year annual rainfall might top 100mm) and the wind often blows in from the east across the Kalahari desert, sending the mercury soaring and firing the terracotta-coloured earth as though in a huge natural kiln. Water at the camp is scarce and drawn from a well, so each tent is limited to a maximum of two bucket showers a day. But just when you're thinking that maybe African camping isn't so far removed from a Scout trip to the Brecon Beacons, you step into a bathroom furnished in expensive looking wood, with a full-length mirror, porcelain sink and spongy towels draped over a rail made from a dead branch.

After a long, hot day on the plains searching for rhino, even a power shower would have had a hard time topping our pail-with-a-tap. And the meals were something else - four-course gourmet affairs with fabulous wine, when the sheer remoteness of the location would have made any burnt offering scorched over a camp fire acceptable.

Most people come for the wildlife, and Namibia's northern portion, from the Atlantic coast along the border with Angola to Botswana, is arguably bettered as an animal-spotting venue by only the Serengeti and the Okavango Delta. But where Namibia truly comes into its own is in the deserts of the south and west, where orange, razor-edged dunes soar up to 300m into the sky.

The icy Benguela current that flows up from Antarctica and hits Namibia's shores is so cold that virtually no moisture is released into the air. The result is the eerie desolation of the Skeleton Coast - hundreds of miles of shifting desert that buttress the shore, studded with the wrecks of a thousand ships that have run aground in coastal fogs. These fogs, caused by the current, support an astonishing variety of life in the Namib desert to the south, which extends across a huge area and includes the spectacular dunes around Sossusvlei.

After the incident with the puncture we were desperate to see some sign of life, and it is difficult to describe the sheer joy at the sight of the cinder-block office and whale jawbone that mark one entrance to the Skeleton Coast Park. While paying for a permit to drive through on our journey south, we were asked by a park employee whether we would mind taking some of his colleagues to the next gate 200km away. Keen for companions with more than the most rudimentary knowledge of car mechanics (it had taken my wife and I nearly half an hour to find the spare wheel), we happily offered up the seven spare seats in our people carrier. On arrival at the next gate, three hours later and having seen no other cars, I asked how long they had been waiting for a lift. Two days, they replied. Thank goodness we hadn't blown another tyre.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING TO NAMIBIA

The writer flew from London Heathrow to Windhoek via Johannesburg with South African Airways (0870 747 1111; www.flysaa.com). British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also fly to South Africa; Lufthansa (0870 837 7747; www.lufthansa.co.uk) and Air Namibia (01293 596654; www.airnamibia.com) operate services to Windhoek via Frankfurt and Johannesburg. Air Namibia for has returns from around £650 via Frankfurt.

STAYING THERE

Etosha National Park is about 500km from Windhoek. Namutoni rest camp, at the eastern end of the park, is an interesting (if spartan) base. Contact the Namibia Tourist office (020-7636 2924; www.namibiatourism.co.uk). Ongava Tented Camp and Palmwag Rhino Camp are run and managed by Wilderness Safaris ( www.wilderness-safaris.com).

The writer booked flights, accommodation and car hire through Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; www.rainbowtours.co.uk)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker