The red dunes of Sossusvlei receded in our rearview mirror and we drove on through the empty landscape towards Solitaire. It may be marked on all the maps, but Solitaire is little more that a ramshackle scattering of buildings at a crossroad in the desert. Blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t miss it though, it’s likely you will need to refuel here as it’s the only rest stop for miles in any direction.
There are impressive cacti, rusting vehicle carcasses, a tiny, time-frozen general store and a famous bakery. The bakery looks like nothing. Outside there are a few plastic chairs and tables under a thatched lapa. The service isn’t fancy and their famed apple pie was presented in a simple small foil tray, but by golly it was delicious.
Refreshed by the apple pie, we carried on and then detoured up the Spreetshoogte Pass where we broke our journey overnight at a farm. The farm was clean and basic. The food home-cooked and plentiful. Facilities included little more than a postage stamp swimming pool and yet this was our son’s favourite part of the entire trip. He roamed the gardens barefoot with a giant stick worrying the two resident ridgeback dogs. Happy as a pig in muck is the phrase that springs to mind.
As we’d driven up the pass we’d noticed an amazing viewpoint so we bolted our babotie* dinner so that we could race back there in time for sunset. We’re truly glad we did as it was spectacular.
From here we drove back down the pass the following morning and west towards the coast.
The drive from the Spreetshoogte pass to Swakopmund was visually amazing, encompassing rocky terrain, oases and mirages, lunar sand-scapes, endless mountains and the occasional beautiful quiver tree. There are plenty of places to pull over by the roadside en route. It’s worth doing so to take photographs along the way, otherwise, by the time you get home again, you might not quite believe all the beauty that you saw.
Swakopmund is Namibia’s Adventure Capital. Sandwiched between the harsh Atlantic, and the mighty Namib desert temperatures were cooler, a relief after the baking heat of the desert. The apparently sleepy town, peppered with pretty German architecture, belies the adrenalin activities all around.
We took a half day sand boarding trip. First of we tried the standing up version on an adapted snow board. Then we flew down the dunes on a flimsy piece of plyboard clocking speeds in excess of 50k (they had a speed gun). The rules were keep the front of the board up off the ground, keep your mouth closed and when you want to slow down, stick your feet in the sand. In terms of steering, you couldn’t, you were at the mercy of the dunes.
I wanted to slow down, but I didn’t want to slow down. I resisted the urge to break with my feet until I actually needed to stop and my foolhardiness was rewarded with the days’ top speed. Yep, that little dot disappearing down into a sea of sand dunes is me!
Be prepared to end your day with sand in every nook, crevice and cranny and plastered all over your sweat streaked face. It’s totally worth it.
There are plenty of other activities on offer, we quad-biked through the dunes and the kids rode camels. We also took what we expected to be a pleasant, but fairly tame boat trip from nearby Walvis Bay. As we set of I was desperately trying to take a photograph of a giant pelican perched on the quay before our boat was too far away for my zoom, when four of them swooped in from seemingly nowhere and landed ON THE BOAT. Enormous WILD pelicans.
The crew had buckets of fish at the ready and the enormous birds proceeded to explore the boat, leaving small unpleasant deposits which the crew kept mopping up as they snapped their giant beaks all around us. We were then also joined by seal. A tolerant seal, but wild and unpredictable nevertheless with sharp teeth. We learned a little about oyster farming, got up close to a vast portable oil rig, saw pink flamingoes flying by and stretch of sand home to a noisy barking seal colony.
Had we had more time or should be we ever have the opportunity to visit Namibia again, we would want to explore the Etosha National Park with its’ enormous salt pan and resident wildlife, the abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop, slowly being consumed by the sands of the Namib, the Fish River Canyon (Africa’s largest) and of course the treacherous Skeleton coast, graveyard of many a whale and many a ship.
*babotie is a spice mince meat dish with a creamy eggy topping found in South and Southern Africa. It’s delicious.