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).

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor