Shifting sands of the endless desert.


 As I labour up the ridge of the sand dune, in the middle of the vast Namib Desert. I am so engrossed in reaching the top before sunrise that I fail to realise the beauty of what lies around me.

  On the crest of the giant sand dune, our tour group sits quietly after the arduous climb to witness the changing colours of a sunrise that emerges from an undulating range of distant hills.

  The rewards for our efforts are immense: the desert colours change dramatically in the space of 20 minutes - from dark mountain shadows to brilliant hues of yellow and orange, with the steep peaks of the dunes highlighted in the cool morning shadows.

  The diversity and colour of the desert landscape makes it a photographer's dream location.

  A visit to the Sossusvlei and Sesriem area in the immense Namib Desert, which stretches 2 000 kilometers along the west coast , is among many highlights of a visit to Namibia.

  It has the highest sand dunes in the world, and they are the easiest to access, being a day's drive from the capital city, Windhoek.

  But one of the prize secrets of Namibia is its abundance of wildlife, especially inside Etosha National Park, known for its concentrations of big game, including elephants, black rhino, lions and cheetahs. 

  Surprisingly, there is life in the Namib Desert too; we catch sight of herd of springboks, some ostriches and a solitary oryx. There are also plenty of black beetles and other little creatures in the sand dunes if you really want to search. 

  Blessed with rich natural resources, the country is Africa's second wealthiest. 

  Its modern infrastructure and modest population of two million, combined with its traditional cultures and stark desert environment, makes it one of the most unspoiled and beautiful of all African countries.    

  While walking along the sandy floor of the desert for a few kilometres or sitting in a shaded spot at the exquisite Deadvlei (a dry pan surrounded by sand dunes and now cut off from any water supply) and hearing nothing but your own breathing in this incredibly peaceful environment, is something you will find hard to replicate.

  From the dunes fields we head to Swakopmund, a pretty seaside town which is Namibia's tourist playground.

  Perched on the edge of the desert, it hosts a number of adventure companies which offer quad-biking, dune boarding, scenic flights over the dunes, sea kayaking, seals watching and fishing. 

  We choose to do the two-hour quad-biking guided tour over the nearby dunes, an exhilarating experience for just US $ 50.

  A stopover back in Windhoek, then we head off to the remarkable Etosha National Park - 22 000 square kilometers - an easy five-hour drive north of capital city, Windhoek.

  The abundance of birds and wildlife in this immense arid park, combined with the extremely depleted food and water supplies for much of the year, means viewing of animals in the wild here is undoubtedly the best in the world. 

  Wildlife congregates  en masse around the waterholes in  the dry season (May to October) and to witness the arrival of a family of elephants, mixed with springbok, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, oryx and even black rhino - all sharing a waterhole - can only be described as magnificent. 

  Compared with many African game parks where the best viewing is often from your car window, the establishment of waterholes right next to the three major rest camps - Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo - in Etosha means you can spend the entire day and night (waterholes are floodlit) sitting comfortably and safely in the open air, watching the arrival and departure of hundreds of game for a drink. 

  During our stay at the Okaukuejo Rest Camp - it has excellent facilities - a highlight is witnessing the night arrival of a dozen of black rhino. 

  Hours pass as we will this rare and shy species to come closer to the water and us - and they eventually did. Later, in our beds, the haunting roar of a distant lion temporarily wakes us to remind us of its presence. 

  Having a good system of tarred and dirt roads, the easiest way to get around Namibia is to drive, although car hire, insurance and the cost of fuel is on the expensive side. 

  An easier and cheaper way to see the country's main attractions, which are spread out in all directions from the capital city, is to join an organised tour starting from Windhoek. 

  Most tours are simple, low cost, camping or accommodation style tours and in small non-air conditioned mini buses and trucks, although more companies are beginning to cater to the higher end of the market, offering more comfort. 

  We toured Namibia with Wild Dog Safaris, a quality budget-style tour operator, used by Australia's Peregrine Adventures, which incorporates a combination of camping, chalet and hotel accommodation. 

  Travelling in a hot, dusty minibus with nine others, mostly along bumpy dirt roads, can be somewhat uncomfortable but it would not be Africa if you did not rough it a little. 

  The all-inclusive tour provided tents, comfortable mattresses and most meals, which were prepared and cooked to perfection by our guide, Rosta.

    

 Sunday's Telegraph Article, Travel Section, 08 December 2002.


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