touring | namibia & botswana - 4x4 odyssey into the unknown
'3 countries, 6,000 km's & a few breakdowns. we made it'
our road trip of namibia, botswana & angola was my first epic road trip in a 4x4. i have done motorcycle trips many times in india & vietnam but this time around it was five (then 4) of us taking this epic journey travelling over 6,000km in less than 30 days. it was a journey of good & bad times but mostly good, from the deserts of namibia to the grand plains of the okavango delta its truly one of the most exhilarating ways to travel. so lets get into it...
namibia (country no: 80)
we started in the capital of namibia, windhoek. namibia is a country of only around 2.5 million & is generally seen as a much safer country than it neighbour south africa. after a journey of nearly 20 hours by bus from cape town we arrived in the early morning to the hot dry almost desert-like air, this country has mostly desert like landscapes as i was soon to find out.
we picked up our car at camping carhire cc this was definitely one of the most affordable places to rent from. they are professional & trustworthy & got back to all my emails. (on a side note make sure that you either take excess insurance with them or you buy it before leaving home its a necessity as we were soon to find out when we returned that car with over a $1000 in damage). as the roads in namibia & especially botswana are unforgiving.
back on to the journey... after leaving windhoek we headed to what has to be the most famous place in all namibia, the deadvlei. i have seen countless posts about the petrified trees in this desert its truly a surreal place, it like you have entered a 'dali' painting. the colours of the landscape are so vivid from the sky to the dunes its an unforgettable place. whilst on our way here we thought we could rely on maps.me gps but we soon found out the driving times were way off even google maps was off to. my advice is to use google maps as a guide but add 50% to the time it suggests.
it is legal to camp anywhere on public land in your car in namibia as long as you are at least 100 meters from the road. we decided that we would not do this & took campsites each night this gave us all the facilities that we needed but be warned it's not cheap around (usd$15) pppn at most camps. so if you doing a month-long trip the expenses can rack up.
after our journey to the deadvlei we headed to the coast to the mostly german town of swakopmund yes germany had a tumultuous history in the past here & there still remains pockets of the descendants from those settlers & this is the largest of them. swakopmund is in all respects the king of the vacation getaway in namibia its one of only a hand full of advanced places on the coast here, you will find most holiday homes are located between swakopmund & walvis bay but when we got there it was out of season, a little bit of a ghost town but there were still some things to do. it was so nice to see the coast again so we headed the pier where you can watch the sunset & after arriving at our place to stay for a few nights desert sky backpackers it was so nice to have a city style accommodation that offered all the comforts of home, its a great option for those travelling by 4x4.
most travellers come here for the adventure tourism it famous for all things extreme from water sports to atv rides in the desert so thats exactly what we did we went out in the dunes with desert explorers for an hour of exhilaration speeding up & down the dunes, it was like mario kart we had so much fun on the huge dunes at top speed it was an amazing experience that i hope to repeat in the future.
another 1000km's flashed by as we travelled up the coast & then onto the northern interior of the country this is where it starts to get a little more green. etosha nation park is the jewel in the crown of namibia's animal encounter parks it had such a vast array of animals it was hard to not be impressed.
one of the best places to stay around the south of the park is the etosha village camp & lodge for around ($15) you get to use all of the facilities like the pool & lounge area, they have super fast wifi for the area & i have to say one of best close animal encounters i had as they have kudu roaming that site that came within a meter of us when we where at the pool. if your a meat eater then this is the perfect place for you for around ($20) you can tuck into their game buffet that has a wide variety of game meats that cannot be found outside africa. from kudu, eland & impala to wildebeest you are sure to have your fill here.
i would recommend staying at the lodges & camps that surround the park as they are half the price & have much better facilities.
after a few days of surreal safari experiences in etosha we departed to waterberg plateau national park. this lesser-known nation park a few hours south of etosha is famous for it's table mountain esque plateau oh... and the five rhino that they brought here a few years back.
a few must do's here are the trek to the top of the plateau with a guide unfortunately, its not possible alone due to potential poaching in the area. a trip to see the rhino's this is unlike a safari as you are guaranteed to see them and have a close encounter as you walk among them as my friend carlos did.
the night sky was something special here as there is no light pollution for hundreds of km's so this is where i tried
my first foray into the star photography universe. under the tutelage of carlos we took some awesome images of the milky way with this acacia tree in the foreground i was really surprised how good the shot came out & super happy with the results.
the camp area is basic with no electricity but the showers have hot water & they have a restaurant on site if your sick of the camping food.
as the journey goes we had to move on to the next spot on our way to botswana to pick up a friend. this took us to the caprivi area a small sliver of namibian land sandwiched between botswana & angola. here we decided to rest for a few days from driving before heading to botswana. we stumbled across a beautiful lodge & camping resort nkwazi. this magnificent campsite set on the banks of cubango river is a super serene environment to relax & chill. i actually did a few special things here as they offer a few cool excursions.
it's not always easy when travelling in africa to truly have an intimate experience with locals in their village but one of the staff took us to his village nearby to meet a grandmother who lives there. this is extremely basic living with shacks make with mud & straw rooftops but she seemed quite content & it was a pleasure getting to know her taking some photographs of her & her granddaughter.
my next trip actually was a huge surprise as i thought i would never get there but the sunset cruise they do every evening actually takes you over to angola. now angola is no the easiest place to visit due to visa issues but we mored the boat on the angolan side & climbed up the bank to a beautiful vista of the sun setting in my 81st country. now i have to say we were technically there illegally but it still counts for me as a new country as i stepped in the soil of this vast nation.
botswana (country no: 82)
i thought namibian road where bad i was in for a surprise.... we crossed the border at ngoma bridge, it's very simple & most european residents get a 90 visa on arrival at no cost. it took around one hour to cross then we made our way to the town of kasane, this is the northern gateway town to chobe national park. kasane is nothing special but it's on the banks of the river where you have the opportunity to take a boat trip & see a vast array of wildlife from hippos to crocodiles & elephants. after a disastrous night in a terrible hostel we stumbled across an absolute bargain in terms of accommodation. the chobe safari lodge is a beautiful hotel located in the banks of the chobe river with fantastic views & a swimming pool. this place would normally set you back $200 a night if staying at the lodge but since we had a camping car we stayed at their campsite just next to the lodge for $9 pppn but had use of all facilities the hotel guest had access to, needless to say, we enjoyed the pool for a few days.
chobe national park has to be one of the most famous parks on the planet to see wildlife. we decided to stay at two campsites inside the park as we made our way to the south. linyati & savuti camps are extremely remote camps inside the park & a little pricey at $50 pppn but it was only for 2 nights so we decided to do it as it would save us a 1000km detour, (was it the right decision??) the campsites are beautiful but i was disappointed in chobe as our few days on safari there i seen the fewest number of animals that i have seen in any park in africa. now that being said it's all about luck & our trip through chobe was fraught with bad luck from not seeing many animals to getting stuck in the sand roads, damaging the car ($2000) to getting pulled out of the sand once again before we finally had decent roads. if you thinking about taking the tracks from kasane to maun through chobe then bear in mind that most people got stuck & had to be pulled out, looking back in hindsight we should have taken the road around.
after our few days of tirelessly digging ourselves out of the sand, we finally arrived in maun. this is the gateway to the okavango delta. maun is nothing special as a town but they have a huge array of accommodation & excursions leaving from here. we stayed at one of the most popular places old bridge backpackers & camping. we all decided to take a few days here after our turbulent time in chobe.
one of the main reasons why i stayed here for a few days was the fact that i had the opportunity for a flight over the okavango delta with air shakawe. arriving for my afternoon flight over the okavango delta the staff took us straight to our single-engine cessna aeroplane. the pilot greeted us & after a short safety briefing, we were in the air.
there are no words to describe the majesty of this place i can see why it's so famous. viewing it from the air was something extra special. our one hour flight seem to last hours my breath was taken away the whole trip its was an amazing opportunity to practice my aerial photography. this is a once in a lifetime trip & if you have the chance it is something that cannot be missed.
the kalahari desert is one of the most famous deserts of the planet it stretches from south africa through botswana & into namibia. we decided to visit the national park area in botswana. the central kalahari game reserve is a far more arid area than the okavango delta but it still has a lot of wildlife from elephants to big cats.
from maun, we took a drive for over four hours to the matswere gate as we planned to go from east to west of the reserve staying over for two nights. the problem was that we never booked any of the campsites inside the park as they get booked up around 12 months in advance because of the price around ($3) pppn. so we decided to wing it and see if we could do anything when we got to the gates as trying to speak with anyone in the office was impossible due to the easter weekend.
we arrived at the gate & the lovely ladies told us that nothing of the main camps were available as they were all fully booked but we could stay at the staff camp as a favour to us. this was great news as the other alternative was ($30) a night. after we got into the park we planned to stay at the staff camp but soon realised that the main camp, kori camp was empty & although if someone came to the campsite it was big enough for more than ten cars. the next morning we set out to see the big 5, unfortunately, we had no luck again, mainly oryx & impala coming back for lunch a little dejected we decided to move to another camp near the exit gate we were taking the next day. we decided to risk it. it actually worked out as no-one was staying there that night so we had the whole place to ourselves.
we left early the next day as we decided to try & make it to the namibian border before the sunset. (i would advise not to drive at night here as it can be super dangerous with all the animals). after a 1o hour drive & only minutes from the border we came across a police checkpoint they immediately pointed out that the two passengers in the back did not have their seatbelts on & would have to pay a fine, it was definitely a ploy to make money but after an hour of bureaucracy we got back on the road & finally made it to the border just before sunset.
safe public transport in Africa is extremely hard to come by as i found out while in south africa but i did manage to find a reputable company that travels to the most southerly african countries. intercape is an affordable, safe and reliable company that even takes online payments which is a rarity in africa. i travelled from cape town to winhoek on their sleepliner, it was super comfortable & very smooth. my next destination was zimbabwe & this is the only direct way to get to victoria falls for a reasonable price from windhoek. i would highly recommend that if your using public transport around the most southerly parts of africa then make this the only company you use.
to sum up...
would i do it again? well the answer is yes & while spending 24 hours a day with the same four people can be tedious & the fact that we destroyed the underside of the car & had to pay a huge amount i got to experience these countries in the only way possible so sitting here writing this article i am very content as i seen some of the most exciting landscapes i have seen in quite some time.
⦿ car hire: $2400 total cost for a month
⦿ fuel: $200 each
⦿ accommodation: $450 each
⦿ food: $300 each
⦿ excursions & park fee's: $400 each
⦿ they use namibian $ & pula, budget ($40-50) a day.
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country travel tips
atm: nedbank offers free withdrawals. make sure not to select the on screen conversion.
sim card: mtc is the best data provider. 3GB is ($4) for 7 days.
transport: car rental for long distance & intercape bus
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here