Namibia in a Motorhome – a survival guide

This guide should be considered accurate and valid as of January 2017.

We booked our Mercedes Benz 4-berth motorhome back in June 2016, after a long deliberation. I initially wanted to go for the 4×4 option with tents on the roof, which would have been cool too, but we decided against it for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that it was the wet season during our visit, which meant frequent heavy downpours in the afternoons and evenings, so putting up tents and cooking food outside would be somewhat more complicated than if we had a motorhome. The second reason being that it would be easier to keep nasty infectious disease bearing mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies out of a motorhome than a tent. The third reason was that it was supposed to be very hot in Namibia at that time of year, so having air-conditioning would help us sleep better at night. The final deciding factor was that by looking at a road map of Namibia, it appeared that in order to visit the sites that interested us, we would not really need to leave the main road network all that much. So, the decision seemed to be made for us, and we went ahead and booked our motorhome.

Fast-forward six months to January 2nd, 2017 in Cape Town. We were waiting at the airport for someone from the rental agency to come and pick us up to take us to the depot. We had arranged this and reconfirmed by email. After 15 minutes of nobody showing up, I called the depot. They had no idea we were waiting. This is off to a bad start, I thought to myself. So we eventually get picked up and taken to the depot. We are shown to the waiting area, and made to fill in a few forms, and then wait for someone to complete the paperwork. We waited, and waited, and waited… An hour and a half later we are finally seen by the agent, who then proceeds to give us the hard sell for the “Super Cover” insurance, a mere $600 on top of the $3000 we had already paid for the rental. He was told in polite terms where to stick his “Super Cover”. We were shown around the camper by a lady who had obviously never driven or slept in one in her entire life. Her main aim seemed to be to get us out of the door ASAP. She had pre-ticked all the boxes in the handover sheet and asked me to sign, despite having covered about only half the items on the list. I’m still not really quite sure where the jack is located, so heaven forbid we get a flat tire… I mentioned that a rear-tire looked a bit under-inflated, and a mechanic came over and checked it. He shook his head and swore in Afrikaans, then disappeared into the store room to emerge a few seconds later with a different wheel entirely. The tire that was fitted was apparently not up to spec. Just as well I asked eh?

Eventually, over 2 hours later, we drove out of the depot and were free to roam southern Africa at will! Halleluyah! Although the motorhome is quite compact, it still took some getting used to driving (I had just spent a week driving a Hyundai i10, which is about as small a car as you can get). As my dear father will tell anyone who will listen, a Mercedes-Benz won’t let you down. As I tried to navigate out of the airport business park, I prayed that he was right. The vehicle was indeed quite easy to drive and with a 2.5 l turbodiesel engine, it had adequate power. The 6-speed gearbox was nice on the highway too. Enough of the geeky car-talk. On to the trip!

Once we had found a supermarket that had suitable parking for the motorhome in the suburbs of Cape Town, gotten supplies, had lunch,and found our way north out of town, it was past 2pm. We had aimed to do only a few hundred km on the first day, so we were sort of still on schedule. Once you get out of the northern suburbs of Cape Town, you quickly find yourself in dry srcubland and pastural farmland as far as the eye can see. The mountains on your right are constantly present, and eventually the road takes you up and over a pass, and down into the valley on the other side. This is the citrus-growing region of South Africa, and it’s center is the aptly-named town of Citrusdal. The contrast with the dry scrub-land we had been travelling through for the previous few hours was striking – neat rows of green-leafed citrus trees spread out across the valley, as far as the eye could see. We discovered the source of all this green-ness a few tens of kilometers further north along the road: the Clamwilliam Dam. The damming of the river had created a long and narrow lake along the valley, allowing farmers both north and south of the river to grow huge quantities of citrus fruit, as well as grapes and other fruit and vegetables. They must use some powerful fertilizers, because the soil looks pretty barren to me…

Night 1 – Clanwilliam municipal campground

We had a good idea to head into the town of Clamwilliam to ask for information on local campsites. We got a bit of a shock rolling down the high street, but that’s to be expected after coming straight from Kalk Bay. The place had definitely seen better days. Lots of stores were closed or just empty, except the hotel and the grocery store. We went into the hotel / information office to ask for camping info. The lady gave us some vauge directions to a nice place, and also told us to avoid the municipal campsite that was just in town. So, off we went looking for the campground, but after a while we ended up on a dirt road, and our progress slowed dramatically. For anyone looking to rent a campervan, please be warned that the tires are inflated to a high pressure, and this makes driving on any bumpy surface at speed quite uncomfortable. This particular gravel road, as we now know, was fairly typical of Namibian gravel roads, i.e. corrugations are omnipresent. Depending on the amplitude, the corrugations can be a mild nuisance, or a complete bone-shaking nightmare! Anyway, we got a good taste of things to come, as we went from 100 km/h down to about 20-30 km/h. After a few kilometers of driving down this track, we gave up and made a u-turn. So we ended up back in town nearly an hour later, and it was now getting dark. This brings me to an important point – if you are ever tempted to drive at night in Africa, please don’t. Bad things happen on the roads here at night, and you don’t want to take that risk. Even if you have to pull into a farm, do whatever it takes to find a place before night falls, or you may end up regretting it. We decided to try the municipal campsite, which was conveniently located by the lake, and not far from town. The campsite was fairly bleak, but there were quite a few campers about, and it was cheap. It would do for the night. (As an aside, we were the only whites staying there. The boat club which was located adjacent to the campsite, but completely fenced in, was where the whites took their huge speedboats into and out of the dam).

Night 2 – Amanqui River Camp

The next day we continued heading northwards on the N7 towards the Namibian border. We had an idea of where we were aiming for – Amanqui River Camp, just over the border on the Namibian side. We passed through the bustling town of Springbok, literally the last outpost of civilization until…. Windhoek probably! North of Springbok, the terrain takes on a very rocky, rugged look. Huge domes of granite rise up from the surroundings, followed by smaller, weathered piles of rock that look as though they were deposited there by giant children at play. Then you begin the long descent down to the Orange river, the official border between the two countries. The border crossing is fairly long-winded, but without any difficulties. A short drive along the paved C-13 road, followed by a few klicks of dirt roads leads to the river camp. This camp sits in a spectacular site along the Orange river, looking over at the red sandstone cliffs on the opposite bank (in South Africa!). We didn’t have a booking, but were able to get a campsite right on the edge of the river, and right next to a boat ramp where you can go for a dip in the river. A nice swim in the river at 6am sets you up for the day, believe me! The proprietors were very friendly and accommodating, and the beer at the bar was cold and cheap. What more could you ask for? I would highly recommend this campsite to anyone!

As an aside, Namibian roads are classified using an alphabetical system: A is Motorway (A-1 through Windhoek only), B is highway, C is secondary road, D is a minor road, etc.. All A and B roads are sealed, but C roads are mostly graded gravel, and D is invariably gravel or a track.

Top tip: get a copy of the most recent quality road map you can find. We bought ours (MapStudio Southern & East Africa Road Atlas 2012) in South Africa only to find it was way out of date and full of errors! Michelin folding maps may be your best bet.

Night 3 – Hobas Camp

It was a shame to leave Amanqui, but we knew we had a lot of distance to cover. We hit the road and backtracked to the B1, the main highway and then headed north for a while, then turned west onto the C-10, which is a decent gravel road. We were able to average 60 km/h along the fist section, but then the road condition deteriorated (severe corrugated sections). When we got to the junction with the C-37, we decided to skip Ai-Ais and head directly to Hobas camp. The idea of wallowing in 60 degree water when it is 40 degrees in the shade is not that appealing for some reason. The C-37 is an awful road for a motorhome, so be warned! You will not be able to average more than 30 km/h, and most of the time you will need to be in 2nd gear, as it’s hilly. If your camper’s cooling system has a weakness, it will definitely show up here. We eventually rolled into Hobas camp mid-afternoon, after having our bones severely rattled by the road. Hobas camp was almost deserted, so we had our choice of spots. There are lots of shady trees about and a small pool, as well as a well-stocked (with beer) kiosk, friendly staff, and immaculate new shower blocks. They even let our kids stay for free! What’s not to like? We got an early night, as we wanted to catch the sunrise over the Fish River Canyon in the morning.

Night 4 – Luderitz (Shark Island campground)

We were in for a real treat after the 5am wake up and 30 minute drive along the (corrugated) dirt road out to the main lookout point of the canyon. The place was deserted, and we could do as we pleased! We parked up the camper and after a short walk to take in the magnificence of the place, we had a nice relaxed breakfast while watching the sun slowly light up the depths of the canyon. A truly unforgettable experience! After breakfast we headed back to Hobas and then hit the road. We had 20 km of the C-37 to do, followed by a 77 km stretch of the C-12. The C-12 was a much better road, and we made decent time, however, after about 45 km, the C-12 was closed for some reason, and we were forced onto a D road via Naute Dam. This road was bumpier and slower than the C-12. Nonetheless, we mad it to the tarred B-4 in good time, and then sped westwards towards Luderitz, with a plan to overnight in the town of Aus. We were in for a surprise though as there is really nothing in Aus but a police station, hotel and gas station. We decided to plow on to Luderitz, a mere 130 km further west! Leaving Aus, you enter the real Namib desert, a mezmerizing landscape of sandy plains with towering granite mountains off in the distance. We got to Luderitz in good time and made our way to the scarily-named Shark Island campground. It’s a real misnomer, since it is a peninsula and not an island, and there were no sharks to be seen! The campground was almost deserted, so we picked a nice spot with the rear window of the camper looking out over the bay. We slept really well with the light cool sea breeze blowing into the windows.

Night 5 – Luderitz

We decided to spend another night in Luderitz to get some washing done, and to give the kids (and I) a break from the driving. Luderitz is a very sleepy little town, with a nice relaxed feel to it. Although it has obviously seen better days, it is definitely worth a visit. Needless to say, most of the visitors were Germans or South Africans. We visited Kolmanskop ghost town, Agate beach, and spent some time relaxing at the waterfront complex. We were recharged and ready to head back into the desert!

Night 6 – Maltahohe (Backpackers)

I slept rather badly due to worrying about how the following day’s driving was going to go. We had to decide between 250 km of C roads in unknown condition, or a 450 km detour around on B roads. We drove to Aus and stopped at the nice (and only) hotel for a break. I got chatting with a Namibian family, and they convinced me that the C-13, C-14 roads up to MaltaHohe were in good shape, and as long as we took it slowly we should be fine. And so, we took some deep breaths and turned onto the C-13. We managed to complete the 250 km in around 6 hours, including a quick lunch stop in Helmeringhausen. According to our map, once we hit the C-19 outside of Maltahohe, we would be on a nice sealed road. This, however, bears no resemblance to what’s really there: a rather horrible section of gravel until you get into town. Our map of this area is complete fiction. It was too late to carry on any further, and the only available option for a campsite was the backpackers in town. Very bare-bones, but at least it was safe (including a very alert watchdog!).

Night 7 – Sossousvlei campground (Sesriem)

We had a terrible night’s sleep, due to the dog barking at all hours of the night, plus a baby crying in the early hours. After breakfast, we wearily hit the road, knowing that we had to backtrack the crappy section we had done the day before, and then continue on the crappy C-19 for quite a few klicks. The road to Sesriem was as bad as we expected, and it took us a good few hours to reach the campground. One surprise was that once you are inside the national park, the road that leads out to the dunes is a nice tarred road! It was another early night as we had to be up at 5am again in the morning.

Night 8 – Rostock Ritz

We awoke at 5am, along with the entire rest of the camp, and a convoy formed at the gate, which opened at 5:25am. We respected the 60 km/h speed limit, but were overtaken by everyone else in a rush to get the the dunes. The hordes invariably stop at Dune 45 and begin the climb up. We decided to continue to the end of the road and go off exploring on our own. We were rewarded with having the Hidden Vlei all to ourselves all morning! Another incredible experience, climbing up the huge sand dunes and then sliding down. It was one of the most photogenic places I have ever seen. Not to be missed! We had breakfast in the car park, watching all the tour buses arrive filled with tourists of all descriptions carrying their huge coolers, and wearing boots and socks that would be full of sand in no time. We then returned to the main campground, had a nice coffee at the restaurant, and hit the road northwards towards Walvis bay. On our map there was no link road between the C-27 and the C-19, but we found it existed, which was great because we didn’t have to backtrack to get onto the C-19. We were soon to discover that the C-19 was in pretty bad shape, as was the C-14, the main back route to the coast. The going was painfully slow, and it was around 5pm that we reached our destination – Rostock Ritz resort (which was nowhere near it’s location on our map, by the way). It could not have come sooner! We were the first to arrive at the campsite (located 7 km from the main lodge), and there are only 4 sites. It was not long before all the sites were taken, and for good reason – it’s a lovely spot on the side of a kopje, with great views of the surrounding desert and mountains. You really had a sense of isolation here, which I loved. There was a communal kitchen / fire-pit above the campsite which we monopolized and had a pleasant evening by the fire, watching the stars. A very memorable night!

Night 9 – Lagoon Chalets (Walvis Bay)

We were informed by the guy at the reception that the C-14 to Walvis was one of the worst roads in Namibia, and we still had 180 km to do! We got a reasonably early start, and took it slowly. We reached Walvis Bay in the early afternoon, which was not too bad really, considering the road. Walvis Bay is the largest port in Namibia, and hence quite industrial. But it was still nice to be back in civilization. We had lunch at a small restaurant and headed off in search of a campground. The Lagoon Chalets was the only place in town, very clean and tidy, with a restaurant and adjacent children’s play area. It was just what we needed! We did some washing here too (much needed). Apart from the pink flamingos in the lagoon, there is not much to see in Walvis. We did some grocery shopping, and that’s about it.

Night 10 – Tiger Reef Campsite (Swakopmund)

In the morning, we headed to see Dune 7, not far from town. It was already hot outside and only Nina was brave enough to climb to the top, well done! We then continued to Swakopmund, a short drive up the coast. Swakop (as they call it here) is a swanky resort town, full of local and foreign tourists, but without much of a soul. The sea is very cold and rough, so not much swimming can be done here. We had a wander about town, which was nice, but after a while the hawkers got the better of me and we retreated to the campground. Tiger Reef was the only place in town, next to the beach with a nice and popular beach bar and restaurant. We had dinner in the restaurant, along with half of Swakop, it seemed! A nice place to watch the sun go down.

Night 11 – Mount Etjo Lodge & Game Reserve (near Kalkfeld)

We had had enough of civilization after 2 days – time to head back into the bush. Our next main destination was Etosha National Park, via the B-2 and (hopefully) the C-33. The stretch on the B-2 was very fast and smooth, as expected. The C-33 was also a nice tarred road (as indicated on the map), so we made good time. We therefore decided to take a detour via the D-2414 to see the dinosaur tracks. This road slowed us down considerably, of course. The dinosaur tracks were not much to look at, but by the time we had been and gone, it was late and we had to find a campground. We headed for the Mount Etjo Lodge, another 15 km down a bad gravel road. We had to call into the lodge to enquire about camping, which was again located 3 km away from the main lodge. It was a beautifully manicured place, with a waterhole adjacent to the gardens and restaurant. It was so peaceful there that we could not bring ourselves to leave. We ended up having a few beers while watching a rhino have his dinner, as well as hippos and loads of antelope. We decided to have dinner there too, as well as go on a lion-feeding trip afterwards. It was quite pricey, but not extravagantly so, and we had been quite frugal up until then so we decided to treat ourselves. The dinner and lion feeding were great, of course! We were returned to our campsite late at night, and again had the whole place to ourselves, which was great.

Nights 12 & 13 – Okakuejo Camp – Etosha N.P.

We were woken by a bunch of baboons fighting in the nearby hills. After breakfast, we headed back to the main C-33 and continued north towards Etosha. We bypassed the M-63 due to it not being tarred (contrary to the map!). So we were forced to go through Otjiwarongo, the main town south of Etosha. We stocked up on groceries here, as there was supposed to be scant supplies in the park (true!). We then took the C-38, a nice tarred road all the way up to Okakuejo camp. Our Etosha safari gor off to a bad start as I was feeling sick on arrival, and had to get an early night. I had caught a stomach bug somewhere. We stayed two nights in Okakuejo, which according to me is the nicest of the three main camps. It was a nice waterhole, but the game viewing was scant due to it being the wet season. It had begun raining at Mount Etjo and was set to continue, but we were treated to a lovely sunset.

Night 14 – Halali Camp – Etosha N.P.

Halali Camp was totally deserted for some reason, apart from a few day visitors in a bus, and one or two other campers. We made the most of the huge pool and then had to retreat into our camper when the rain began in the afternoon. It did not let up until morning, so quite a miserable experience was had. We had wanted to stay one more night in Etosha, but the next camp (Namutoni) was also deserted, and all facilities were closed. Added to this was the fact that the game viewing had been very disappointing. Apart from giraffes, we saw no big game whatsoever. We exited the park as four unhappy campers, and headed back towards civilization.

Night 15 – Tsumeb

The tarred park access road leads directly to the B-1, and from there we headed southeast to the mining town of Tsumeb. I was quite surprised to find a modern, friendly little town, complete with air-conditioned shopping center! We visited the small museum, which was worth the small entrance fee. The lady in the museum gave us a thick accomodation guide for Namibia that we wished we had at the start of our trip. It came in handy for the few remaining days. She recommended the Kumpfer-quelle resort in town for somewhere to stay, and boy were we glad she did! This was the most amazing value for money campsite in all Namibia, probably! For N$300 we had a nice grassy and shady spot (we were the only campers), the shower block was comprised of several individual shower / toilet changing rooms that were spotless and very modern, with rainfall shower heads and piping hot water. After the somewhat shabby and run-down (and expensive!) Etosha campsites, this place was the ultimate in luxury glamping! Not only that, but there was an Olympic size swimming pool with an adjacent restaurant & bar that did good pizza. The kids were in heaven! This place was completely unexpected, but most welcome to all of us.

Night 16 – Waterberg Plateau Resort

We somewhat reluctantly left the wonderful campsite, and hit the road. We took the tarred and smooth C-42 towards Grootfontien, and then the B-8 towards Otavi. We made a quick detour to see the Hoba meteorite, which was worth a visit, and the roads were decent. We then carried on and joined the B-1 at Otavi, headed for Otjiwarongo again, and then the C-22 towards the Waterberg Game Park. The C-22 was, to our surprise, a nice tarred road, which we appreciated. After travelling about 50 km along here, you turn left onto the D-2512 to get to the Waterberg Plateau Resort. This section of about 20 km was among the worst roads we encountered – very slow going!!! Once you get to the resort though, all the roads are brick paved, wow! The campsite left a bit to be desired, it was deserted, but the showers worked and the water was hot. We got some good photos of the Milky Way at night here – no light pollution to speak of. There is a restaurant (which was empty, except for the staff) and a nice pool there too, plus 60 chalets higher up if you can afford it.

Night 17 – Acacia Campground – Otjiwarongo.

We went for a nice walk up the Waterberg in the morning, not too much of a stretch, but a lovely view from the top. We went back down and had a cup of coffee in the (deserted) huge restaurant before hitting the road again. We had decided to visit the Cheetah Conservancy Fund, which unfortunately for us, was the other side of the Waterberg, so we had to drive all the way back to Otjiwarongo and then hit the gravel for 44 km of hell to get there. We managed to get a tour of the cheetah enclosure by jeep, followed by seeing the feeding, which the kids loved. By the time we got back to Otjiwarongo, I was shattered from driving and we crashed at the first place we found – the run-down Acacia Bar & Grill campground. There’s not much to be said for it apart from if you like cats, you will be happy (Nina was happy).

Night 18 – Ondekaremba Camp – near Windhoek Airport.

An uneventful drive down to our last campsite. The main advantage is that it is only 10 km from the airport, so not long to go in the morning! The place is very tranquil, but the campsites are located a short walk away from the main lodge. We made the most of the pool and soaked up our last rays of Namibian sunshine before starting the mommoth job of packing up all our accumulated clutter of the last 19 days living in the motorhome.

All in all, we had a wonderful time visiting Namibia in this motorhome, despite its inconveniences, there were quite a few occasions when we were happy to have it and not be in a tent. Such as at Sesriem, where it was 40 degrees in the shade and the hot wind was howling and blowing dust everywhere, we had fun watching people try to pitch their tents from the air conditioned comfort of our motorhome. Also in Etosha during the rain, we were nice and snug while everyone else had to take shelter / cook / eat outdoors as best they could. Being in the motorhome forces you to slow down and really appreciate the natural beauty around you much more. So many of the 4X4 crowd, or “Britz Warriors” as we called them, were just belting along the roads far too fast to really take any of it in. Good luck to them, but they definitely missed out on something, as far as I’m concerned.

As I type this sitting in our hotel room in smoggy Doha, I already miss the huge open skies of Namibia. As Arnie would say, “I’ll be back!”.

 

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