Safari in the land of sand

Namibia is exotic but accessible, as Scarlett MccGwire discovered

"Ooh, this is better than Wildlife on One," enthused seven-year- old Misha, as she spotted an elephant. We had been in Namibia's celebrated Etosha Park a mere 15 minutes and already zebra had casually crossed the road in front of us and we'd seen giraffes munching the tops of roadside bushes. Herds of springbok nibbled at the grass, friskily nervous. The five of us sat in the car, staring at real, wild African animals for the first time in our lives.

We had organised the trip on our own from London - saving ourselves money and allowing for much wider choice than is offered by a package - and we had been surprised at how easy it had been. The efficient Namibia Tourist Information had sent us an envelope containing a list of registered accommodation (government and private), brochures, a map, and details of car hire companies. With the aid of a guidebook, we had decided where we wanted to go, and bookings had been made by phone or fax. Every reservation was kept.

The car hire company advised us against a four-wheel drive for our itinerary, as the roads were so good. So we saved ourselves pounds 20 a day, but our rented car still cost nearly pounds 50 a day. They also gave us valuable advice on how not to flip a car, a tourist speciality: drive on dust roads at 80kph with two hands always on the wheel. In Namibia, which is five times the size of Britain and has only 1.6 million people, meeting one car every 10km is par for the course.

After arranging the flight, my first call was to book a "luxury" bungalow at Okakuejo camp in Etosha, near the waterhole. (The adjective reflects neither the standard nor the price.) These need to be reserved some months in advance; the alternative is a more expensive hotel outside the park. Etosha is open only from sunrise to sunset, so those staying outside cannot enjoy an evening at the waterhole watching the animals leisurely come and go. It is the surest chance of seeing the rare black rhino; a pair came down both nights that we were there.

We stayed two nights at Okakuejo, and two at the eastern camp, Namutoni. During the day we went on DIY game drives. We bought a map of Etosha which had seven pages of pictures of birds and animals, and we drove around, able to identify what we saw: such as kudu antelope, and warthog families, which run around in the long grass with their tails up like flags so that they can see each other.

Our summer is their winter and dry season, so the animals were easy to see as they congregated around or journeyed to the waterholes, all of which were marked on the map. The days were T-shirt and shorts weather, but the nights and early mornings were cold.

After Etosha we had booked two guest lodges: the tiny, remote Kaross Lodge, where Tammy and Uwe Hoth were happy to answer all our questions - from race and politics, to the habits and habitats of the animals - and Mount Etjo, more the size of an English country hotel, which had brought animals such as elephants and rhinos on to the farm for the tourists and, rather more dubiously, a large pen of lions, which were fed every night.

We had decided to stay three nights in each place, so the children would not find the driving too gruelling, particularly as every guest lodge has its own daily activities. At Mount Etjo the extra day meant we were able to arrange horse-riding. While at Kaross, which is at the western end of Etosha, we went into the closed part of the park with Uwe as a guide and learnt far more about the animals we saw than we could have done from any book.

The food was astonishing in both quality and quantity, at both places. Twelve-year-old Pascoe and his father liked to admire the impala and oryx during the day and savour them in the evening, to Misha's horror; 17-year- old Molly and I found the selection of vegetable dishes quite wide enough to fill us up. A fresh home-baked cake every afternoon made us feel completely spoilt.

Staying at Kaross, visitors are made to feel like guests, and all meals are taken together. The Hoths have started a foundation, Afri-leo, to save lions, which often escape from Etosha and are shot by farmers. Their first rescue was to buy five of the animals, including three cubs, which had been kept in dreadful conditions in a zoo, and at least give them some space; they can never be reintroduced to the wild. Meeting and learning about the lions was part of our stay.

We then made for the coast, taking in the colony of 80,000 seals on our way to the cold, clammy seaside resort of Swakopmund. You can choose from camel riding in the desert, viewing the flamingo colony in nearby Walvis Bay, or dune buggy riding.

Our last stop was Namibia's most famous landmark, the pink Sossusvlei dunes, at 300 metres reputed to be the highest in the world. It took a pre-dawn start to be at the park gates at sunrise, then a 65-km drive, followed by a 5-km walk for those without four-wheel drive.

Finally we stood on the crest of Sossuslvei, looking at the parabolas made by the surrounding dunes merging in red, pink and orange, and then we launched ourselves off to race down the side. It was one of those rare moments of total exhilaration for us all.

The only airline with direct flights from the UK to Namibia is Air Namibia (0181-944 6181). Until the end of October, the airline is charging pounds 445 return (including tax) from Heathrow to the capital, Windhoek, but after that the fare increases to pounds 693.

Lower fares may be available from discount agents on airlines such as Lufthansa and South African Airways, via Frankfurt and Johannesburg respectively.

Namibia Tourist Information: 5 Chandos Street, London W1 (0171-636 2924).

Daunt Books for Travellers (0171-224 2295) recommends the `Namibia Handbook' (Footprint, pounds 9.99).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star