In the weeks leading up to our trip, friends and family often asked where we are going in Namibia. The answer was simple: We’ll see when we get there.
Admittedly, my wife and I were not just going to jump in the Isuzu D-Max, hitch up the Tonga Tojem camper trailer, and head out blindly with absolutely no plan. We at least had a list of must-visit destinations.
But that was it… no planned route, and no accommodation bookings.
In the end, our adventure totaled around 6000 kilometres, and included nine campsites!
GET THE WHEELS ROLLING
Anyone who has ever visited Namibia knows one thing: You are going to be doing a lot of driving! And if you are going to be spending a lot of time behind the wheel, you want a comfortable, reliable and safe ride.
Our wheels for the journey north was the Isuzu D-Max 1.9 Ddi Double Cab HR LS A/T.
The first time I experienced the bakkie was seven months before the trip to Namibia, when I had the privilege of attending the vehicle launch.
Getting to know the latest incarnation of the D-Max over a weekend in the Eastern Cape was one thing, but you can imagine my excitement at the opportunity to take the bakkie on a weeks-long trip to a magical destination such as Namibia!
And it came in a colour that Isuzu calls “Desert Orange”… an absolute perfect fit for heading to the Namib.
Speaking of a perfect fit, our towing companion for the journey was the Tonga camper trailer, manufactured by Tojem. The small fibreglass caravan can be set up (and packed) in a couple of minutes, which was just what we wanted since we planned on doing a lot of moving around to be able to see as much of Namibia as we possible could.
The Tonga started back in 2016 as a personal hobby, and officially launched in 2019. This trip would be the first time I got to experience the Tonga after it received a nice revamp at the end of 2021. In fact, the camper trailer has undergone even more upgrades from the model that we towed on this trip, but more on that later.
Before we head out, I want to give a shout-out to Arnold Prosch and the team at Cara-Camp in Somerset West. A few days before we set out, I popped in to their dealership and store to get some new camping gear, and it was awesome. They really have everything you need for camping, and everyone in the store is incredibly helpful and friendly.
HEADING FOR THE BORDER
The Namibian border post closest to our house in Hermanus, Western Cape, is at Vioolsdrift – a cool 775 kilometre drive.
Now while there certainly is a lot of things to see and do along the famous Cape Namibia route up the N7, we decided to push hard and tackle the entire stretch in one day so we can spend our first night on the banks of the Orange River.
Overall, there’s not much to be said about this part of the trip. It’s a long road, with our only stops being to refuel.
It did give me a proper introduction to our towing combination on the long road. What a sweet ride! We know Isuzu’s are great to tow with, but the new D-Max with all its comfort and technology upgrades makes it a real pleasure.
The Tonga cruised behind us with ease, and even checking things out at 120km/h felt incredibly stable, and assured me that we have a winning towing combination.
There are a ton of camping sites on the South African side of the river, all close to the border post. Our choice was The Growcery Richtersveld Eco Camp, a resort I had never visited or even heard of.
And oh boy, did we make the right choice!
VIOOLSDRIFT – THE GROWCERY CAMPSITE
To reach The Growcery, you take the Kotzehoop road just before the Vioolsdrift border post and drive for about 20km.
It’s a dusty gravel road winding through some of the vineyards along the Orange River. The road should be easily navigatable with all vehicles, so no need for high clearance or 4×4 capabilities.
It’s fantastic to arrive at a campsite and immediately know that you have made the right choice. And that is exactly the case at The Growcery.
After stopping in the parking area, you make your way through a neatly laid out garden area below huge indigenous trees to reception – which is also the bar.
The main reception is a large paved area under zinc roof, with tables and benches, a bar (as mentioned), and a huge fireplace – you can immediately see they like to braai!
Looking to your right you get a glimpse of the Orange River, and a couple of the huge grassed camping sites.
The Growcery has a total of 14 campsites of various sizes, all grassed and with plenty of shade under the indigenous. The smallest sites are for up to six people and two vehicles, with the largest sites that can accommodate up to 16 people and four vehicles.
The sites next to the river are for bush caravans and 4×4 trailers only, so if you have a standard caravan, you’ll have to set up on the bigger sites a bit further from the water.
Each camp has its own kitchen area with wastebins, washbasins, huge braai, and electricity.
The campsites are near the ablutions (bathrooms and showers). The facilities are all neat and kept clean at all times.
I especially enjoyed the semi open-air showers, where you can get a view across the garden, as well as at the stars, while washing off the long day’s drive.
The Growcery Camp is an “eco camp”, so it’s all about recycle, re-use, and upcycle. At check-in you’ll receive a bucket for all your organic waste that you can return to the reception. This is used for their compost project.
Apart from a great selection of drinks at the bar, The Growcery also offers freshly cooked meals daily. Just make sure to book your dinner before noon because they need time to prepare.
If you are making your own food, you are welcome to to use the organic produce and fresh herbs in the garden.
The Growcery also offers a variety of adventure activities that you can book at the reception. There are daily excursions, so make sure not to miss out on those.
One more thing to note is that they have a designated fishing area, but all fishing is on a tag and release basis. They don’t allow using live caught fish as bait because they want to protect the declining numbers of largemouth yellowfish.
AUSSENKEHR – NOROTSHAMA RIVER LODGE
It was sad to say goodbye to The Growcery after just one night, but our journey had just started and we were eager to reach Namibia.
From the camp it was a quick 20km drive to the Vioolsdrift Border Post on the South African side of the border, and then across to Noordoewer in Namibia.
The border crossing was a smooth process, with both sides being relatively quiet on the morning.
Because we had spent a lot of time on the road the previous day, we looked for a campsite relatively close to Noordoewer for our first night in Namibia.
My first thought was to head to Ai-Ais Resort to relax at the hot springs and take a look at the Fish River Canyon. But over the past months (even years) I’ve seen some really negative comments about how the once-loved campsite had fallen into disrepair. And after doing some online research and reading about the dilapidated facilities and unhelpful staff, I decided to give Ai-Ais a skip.
Instead, we headed to just outside the small town of Aussenkehr to Norotshama River Resort.
Here, just a quick note on Aussenkehr. For those who don’t know, Aussenkehr has a shopping center that opened in 2017, with shops including Spar and Tops Liquor. While this could be a great place for you to stock up on your first days in Namibia, be warned if you plan to do this over a weekend, especially at the beginning or end of the month.
Since it’s the biggest, actually the only, proper place to shop in the area, it gets very busy. And you can forget about drawing cash, unless you plan to queue for a long time.
We were sorted for supplies, so we headed to the resort.
Ideally located on the banks of the Orange River, Norotshama is a great starting point for exploring southern Namibia.
The resort lies in the heart of the Aussenkehr Grape Valley, home to some of the largest export table grape farms in the southern hemisphere. In fact, upon our arrival we heard that most of the self-catering accommodation was actually booked, since there was a big grape awards event scheduled for the weekend. Luckily, we were camping.
We also found out that Norotshama had new managers – a young couple who took over around mid-2022. From what I could see in action, they are going to do great for the resort, and had already started on renovations and menu improvements.
The camping area at Norotshama is behind the chalets, which face the Orange River.
The sites are grassed and under big trees, and each has a fantastic braai facility and electricity point. There are communal water points and ablution blocks with hot water, and dishwashing facilities.
There is also one private campsite that does have a river view, but it’s situated between the chalets.
With the grape event of the weekend, and since nobody else was camping, we decided to pitch up at the main camp area.
The sites are large and spaced well apart, so getting the little Tonga in place under a tree was as easy as pie.
Even though pitching camp takes only a couple of minutes with the camper trailer, it was already a Namibian scorcher of a day, and it was still well before noon! The shade from the trees and cool grass, helps, but by the time we were set up, there was only one thing on our mind: A dip in the pool and a nice cold drink!
Lounging at the swimming pool, situated near the restaurant, is a luxurious experience… you even have a view of the Orange River!
After cooling off and enjoying a mocktail, it was time for lunch. We ordered a pizza, and it was fantastic!
We spent the rest of the day next to the pool catching up on some work mail (and catching an afternoon nap), while planning our next destination. There is free wifi available at the pool and restaurant area.
Towards sunset we headed to the river for a canoe trip, available to rent from Norotshama (comes with life jackets). We spent about an hour on the water, paddling up-river, before floating back. At reception, we bought a freshly-baked bread for our evening meal. If you want to level up your braaibroodjie, then make it with Norotshama’s homebaked bread!
Sitting next to the braai that evening, we finalised the plans for our next stop…
C13 TO AUS
The road from Norotshama to Klein Aus Vista Desert Horse is one of the most beautiful routes in southern Namibia.
It’s a 280 kilometre journey along the C13, with the first half that shoulders the Orange River for kilometres. With river views on your left and dramatic desert landscape on your right, this route is one for the travel bucket list.
While digital map services telling you it’s a three hour drive, it will almost certainly take you longer. The first reason is that you’ll want to stop for a picnic along the way. The second reason is that for the last 100 kilometres or so, the road conditions worsen – at least, this was the case during our travel.
Some of the secondary (gravel) roads in Namibia are fantastic to drive… but beware, when the conditions worsen, it can get very rough!
KLEIN AUS VISTA DESERT HORSE CAMPSITE
We were in Aus on a Sunday, so it was a ghost town. We only stopped at the fuel station to top up the tank before tackling the last 5 km out to Klein Aus Vista Desert Horse Campsite.
This campsite is quite popular, and we were lucky to get the last open spot for the night!
After booking in at the reception at Desert Horse Inn, we drove the two kilometres to the campsite.
There are just 10 campsites at Klein Aus Vista, each with a large tree for some shade, a water point, and a wind shelter. The sites are quite large and you are allowed up to six people per stand.
The camp and shared ablution are kept in meticulous neat, including that sites are raked between bookings. The ablutions have showers with hot water (gas geyser), and there is a dishwashing area.
Even though we got the last camping spot, it was by no means the “least”. Any site here is amazing.
While ours was one of the farthest away from the ablutions, we still had a large tree with a massive weavers nest in it. Watching the little birds swooping in and out of their home will bring a smile to anyone’s face.
Each campsite also has a braai (in fact, ours had two).
We set up camp quickly because it looked like rain. Thankfully, the Tonga takes just a couple of minutes to pitch, because we were barely done when the first drops started to fall.
With the rain coming down, we were not going to light a fire to make a potjie as planned, so we zipped up the tent and headed back to the Inn, where there is a restaurant and bar.
There is also wifi (1GB per person per day), which we really needed since our travel plans were changing again… because while we were setting up camp I realised that we had lost our jockey wheel! It must have shaken loose during a heavily corrugated section of road.
Lounging in the bar area and on the sundeck, we enjoyed some drinks and a lekker lunch from the restaurant while watching the rain pour down.
In the end, we also had dinner at the Desert Horse, because as it was raining, many of the travelers who were camping also came in, and we made some new friends – a couple who we’d be seeing again and again by chance over the following days.
Our new travel acquaintances also caused us to change our travel plans (again) when they told us about where they had stayed two days earlier, a place called Mount D’Urban.
Originally, I wanted to spend a night in Luderitz – we wanted to visit Kolmanskoppe, needed a new jockey wheel, and I had such good memories from staying there years ago.
Camping in Ludertiz is always a gamble, since the chances of it being windy is quite high. And with our new friends also informing us they were in town earlier that day and saw the campsites are looking a bit worse for wear, we decided to skip it.
So, the new plan: Head to Luderitz for a new jockey wheel, visit Kolmanskoppe, and then head to Helmeringhausen and camp at Mount D’Urban.
GARUB WILD HORSES
An attraction in the southern part of the Namib are the Feral Horses.
One of the best places to hopefully see them is at the Garub Waterhole, situated about 20k from Aus along the B4 heading to Lüderitz. While the main road is tarred, the short 5km gravel road you turn off on is heavily corrugated.
A shelter has been built close to the waterhole, so you can sit peacefully in the shade, watching the wildlife… if you are lucky.
We arrived just as a couple of the wild horses was around!
LUDERITZ & KOLMANSKOP
Luderitz was windy. And we took a drive through one of the campsites – it did not look appealing. So all we did was buy a new jockey wheel and got out to Kolmanskop, probably the most famous town in Namibia
During the diamond boom in the early 1910’s it became one of the richest towns in Africa.
In 1912, over a million carats of diamonds were mined, and it is said that waitresses at the casino and bar were often tipped with uncut gems if the patrons did not have cash on hand!
The town was abandoned by all inhabitants when the gems ran dry, and today, Kolmanskop is a ghost town in the desert.
The town was built in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, and ice factory.
Kolmanskop started to decline during World War I when the diamond field began to deplete, and by the early 1920s, and was ultimately abandoned in 1956.
In 2002, a local private company called Ghost Town Tours was awarded the concession to manage Kolmanskop as a tourist attraction. Allowing travellers to visit the forbidden zone to explore and photograph the sand-covered ruins.
Today, as many as 35 000 tourists visit the site every year.
The Namib desert has invaded the town, leaving it half-buried beneath a sea of sand.
I’m not going to write too much about the magic and beauty of Kolmanskop, as the pictures will to the talking for me!
Let me just say, if you are planning to visit in the Spring or Summer months, the earlier you get there, the better. This is desert country, and it gets blazing hot around noon.
After exploring the ghost town for a few hours, we hopped back in the double cab (thank goodness for the powerful airconditioner) and set course in the direction of Helmeringhausen.
MOUNT D’URBAN CAMPSITE
It was about 50km before Helmeringhausen when I heard the fwap-fwap-fwap sound that we all know means trouble… a flat.
I have to applaud the D-Max. I barely felt the loss of the tyre. The Isuzu stayed as steady as can be despite cruising at about 70km per hour on only three tyres and a caravan in tow.
We pulled to the side or the road, stopped, unhitched the Tonga, and got to changing the tyre.
I was pretty sure we’d lose at least one tyre during our trip, and you should be prepared as well. The gravel roads in Namibia can get pretty rough and corrugated. And even on the good ones there’s danger: The scrapers.
The giant tractors that scrape the roads throughout Namibia are a contentious issue: On the one hand they improve road conditions, on the other hand there are pieces of metal that break off the scraper and these are often the main culprit when it comes to flat tyres.
Ironically, while I was changing the tyre, a scraper came rolling up from the road ahead. The workers just sat there in their tractor cabin, watching as we sweated on the side of the road.
Tyre changed, we headed on.
Located on the C14 about 25 km north of Helmeringhausen on the way to Maltahöhe, and bordered by the Swartrand mountain range, Mount D’Urban offers a unique and intimate reverie in nature.
The campsite has 10 camping areas that are spaced out to provide guests with privacy.
Each campsites has it’s own private ablution facility with a flush toilet, basin, and hot-water shower (gas geyser).
The shower even has a small window that allows you to enjoy the view across the plain.
I recommend having a wash at the end of the day, because you’ll have a spectacular sight as the sun sets!
Each camping area also has an outside kitchenette with a washbasin, bench, braai grill, and fire pit.
Next to the bathroom/kitchenette area is ample space to set up a tent, or park your overlanding vehicle with roof-top tent. This area is paved and under shade.
Mount D’Urban is powered by solar energy, and although you can’t run your power appliances (the electricity can trip), each campsite has USB charging points for phones and other devices.
We had our fridge/freezer plugged in the whole time and had no problems.
Mount D’Urban has a communal swimming pool for guests to enjoy.
Owners Boeta and Mariette also sell delicious homemade bread, jams and butter as well as amazing fruit and lamb chops
There are hiking trails and 4×4 routes on the farm.
The weather was absolutely perfect during our stay at this impeccably neat campsite, and we sat late into the night next to the fire.
In the dark, the field mice come out to play, and ran right up to our campsite… it’s very cute, but just remember to make sure you pack your food containers where they can’t reach it.
It was tough to leave Mount D’Urban, and looking back I would say it was the best campsite we stayed at during our entire trip.
A LITTLE SOSSUS CAMPSITE
Sossusvlei is surely in the top 3 destinations on anyone’s Namibia bucket list, and that’s where we were headed next.
But first, I needed to get a new tyre – you don’t want to risk driving around the gravel roads of Namibia without at least one spare.
Luckily, Maltahöhe was just a quick detour on the way to our next stop. The Maltahöhe Service Station in the main road has a Tyre Repair section – a very busy and profitable business, one can assume.
Even though Maltahöhe is a very small town, the tyre centre is surprisingly well stocked, and we could get an exact replacement (our tyre was ripped right around the sidewall, so no change of a repair). At a price, of course.
The staff at the service station are super helpful and very friendly, which does help take the edge off the bill of a new tyre and full tank of diesel (which during our visit was around R27 per litre).
With the spare in the back of the bakkie, we headed out the C19 towards Sossusvlei.
There are tons of accommodation options in the area around Sesriem, one of the entrances to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and the road that leads to Sossusvlei, Dead Vlei, Dune 45, Big Daddy, and the Sesriem Canyon.
A couple of these campsites are located inside the gates of the National Park, which will enable you to head to Sossusvlei an hour earlier than when the park gates open. For me, the campsites inside the park gates come in two categories: The cheaper options with the minimum facilities (so no electricity), and the expensive option with power, wifi, private ablutions, etc.
We opted for something in the middle, which is to be found a short distance outside Sesriem. A Little Sossus Campsite describe themselves as “one of the best equipped camping sites in Nambia”. Now I won’t say this is not true, but there are a lot of amazing campsites in Namibia… maybe “one of the best in Sesriem” would be more accurate.
Little Sossus has seven camping sites and three larger family sites, each with electricity and its own en-suite bathroom and kitchen. Hot water is available if you fire up the traditional donkey. The campsite owners come around each evening around 5pm to light your donkey, or you can do it yourself.
In front of the open-air kitchen/bathroom building is a roofed area where you can park your caravan, set up our tent or park your overlanding vehicle – the roof is high enough to allow for roof-top tents.
Little Sossus has a shop where you could find all the basic, plus some! From wood and firelighters, to canned goods, dishwashing liquid, ice, cooldrinks, beer, flour, sugar, and more. You can also order a variety of fresh meats and homemade bread.
What does tick the “best equipped” box is the swimming pool area with free wifi. It was the perfect way to relax after a day spent on bumpy dusty roads.
SOSSUSVLEI & SESRIEM
Sossusvlei is the top attraction in the Namib-Nakluft National Park, the largest conservation area in Namibia which covers almost 50 000 square kilometres.
After a good night’s rest, we left Little Sossus before the crack of dawn to reach the Sesriem entrance gates as soon as they open.
Once you enter the national park, a pleasant surprise awaits: a tarred road that extends all the way to the main parking area near Sossusvlei.
This is a scenic road that should will take you about an hour to reach the end, but in reality you’ll probably take two (or even three) hours due to all the stops for photographs and climbing of dunes.
We knew it was going to be a hot day, and because we planned on climbing the Big Daddy dune, we headed straight to the parking area in order to start hiking as soon as possible.
From the parking area for Sossusvlei, only 4×4 vehicles can continue on to the Dead vlei parking area on a sandy track for about 5 km. If you do not have a 4×4 vehicle, you can continue by a shuttle run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts for NAM$150. Even if you have a 4×4 but are not experienced in sand driving, please take the shuttle – you might make it through on the trip out, but the way back will be more difficult once the sand gets hot. There’s a stiff fine for getting stuck and having to be towed out.
If you do tackle the sand track yourself, remember to deflate your tires to about 1.5 bar and try to drive without stopping. All in 4×4, of course.
There are two ways to get to Dead vlei, the large white-floored clay pan characterized by dead camel thorn trees, surrounded by the huge rusty red dunes.
Your first option is to walk the kilometre pathway next to the dune, the other is to climb the highest dune in the park and then come down its face into the pan. We did the climb.
Big Daddy is the highest dune in the park about 325m high. It is about a 15-minute walk to the base of the dune from the parking lot. And then the hard work begins.
Hiking “uphill” in loose sand requires a good level of fitness. The hike to the top takes about 40 minutes if you have some stamina, and you’ll definitely be sweating by the time you get to the top, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Deadvlei and the Namib Desert.
Remember, this is the desert, so it can get extremely hot, very early in the day. Try and scale the dune as early as possible, and remember to take enough water.
After chilling at the top of Big Daddy, it’s time for some fun: running down the dune, all the way to the amazing Dead vlei.
Crossing the pan, you get to the petrified trees set in the cracked clay pan. It’s a beautiful sight, and makes for fantastic photography.
By this time it was already about mid day, and the sun was beating down. There are large trees with lots of shades at the parking area and at Sossus vlei, so we decided to head back for some well-deserved lunch. The short hike back to the parking lot is surprisingly more taxing than you’d expect… it is a sand track, after all.
Back at the parking lot, we drove the 4km from Dead vlei to Sossus vlei, where there are some cement picnic tables and seats set under trees. Here we sat in peace and quiet, enjoying a packed lunch.
Be on the lookout for the wildlife in the area. It is astounding that the animals of the Namib Desert have adapted to survive in this extreme environment.
Around Sossusvlei you can spot ostrich, springbok, gemsbok, hyena, bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, porcupine and aardwolf.
While we were having lunch, the tree above us was full of little weavers. A couple of crows also came to look for a free meal. And just before we left, a jackal also trotted over!
With Big Daddy conquered and Dead vlei explored, we headed back to Sesriem to take a look at the canyon, located 4.5 km from the park entrance.
Sesriem, which is Afrikaans for “six belts”, got it’s name from settlers who had to attach six oryx hide belts together in order to reach buckets down into the canyon to scoop up water.
The beautiful and relatively small canyon was formed by the Tsauchab River over millions of years and is one of the few places in the area that holds water all year round.
The canyon is just one kilometre long, but gets up to 30 meters deep. It is very narrow, with some areas only 2 meters wide.
By the time we were out of the canyon, back in the Isuzu (thanks again aircon) and had drove the 40km back to A Little Sossus Campsite, we were tired and dusty. But after a dip in the pool and with a cold drink in hand, we felt rejuvenated and ready for more adventure.
And more adventure is exactly what we had in mind. Our next destination of Swakopmund was already confirmed, and after that we planned to visit Spitzkoppe before starting to head back home.
But this was all about to change…