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Going … going … Gondwana

Words: Duane Stacey & Dale Barrow | Photos: Lauren Barrow & Kim Konings

As a travel destination, Namibia is an absolute pleasure for South Africans. Not only does the South African rand hold its value against the Namibian dollar but it is also one of the easier countries to access from down south. Yet, for some unknown reason, we had not explored this country beyond the rapids of the Orange River.

Photo credit: Lauren Barrow & Kim Konings

Fortunately that all changed when we came across the Gondwana Collection, a cluster of lodges scattered throughout Namibia that offer a home-away-from-home type feel and some real motivation to travel north. Armed with a map of 'Gondwana's Classic Routes', we soon had an itinerary that would leave any tourist breathless.

With Namibia’s vast open landscapes and dirt roads vibrating below us, we spent a fair few hours in the car as we journeyed from one lodge to the next. Whilst all the lodges provided the comforts a weary traveller appreciates after a long day on the road, each had a unique charisma that introduced us to the various regions of Namibia. Not only did the buffet dinners and breakfasts provide a taste sensation of delicious local cuisine but the friendly welcome from a knowledgeable and competent staff facilitated a pleasurable stay at every one of the lodges we visited.

Canyon Lodge

Camouflaged amongst giant granite boulders, Canyon Lodge's chalets are neatly tucked away between the rugged environment that plays home to the Fish River Canyon. The bathroom and shower are carved into the rounded rocks to create a wonderful natural setting. After a good night’s rest, we were off to explore Africa’s largest canyon.

As the heat hissed through the serpent-like twists and turns in the canyon, we spent many hours revelling in the splendour that lay below our feet. We chose to appreciate the views from the rim of the canyon, but the lodge also offers guests the opportunity to explore it on foot. Mules carry all the essentials for a four-day expedition, thus removing the load from one’s shoulders and allowing for a pleasant adventure beside the meandering river. Wishing a group of hikers well as they started off on their trek, we headed back to the lodge to enjoy an icy swim in the pool that overlooked the beautiful vistas of the great plains of Namibia.

Klein Aus-Vista - Desert Horse Inn

Surrounded by the rocky Aus hills, the Desert Horse Inn is situated on the Klein Aus Vista Nature Reserve, 2 km from the small town of Aus, in southern Namibia, and borders the Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park. On arrival, we were handed an activities booklet that outlined some fantastic hiking and mountain bike trials. There are a few mountain bikes available for rent, which far exceed the average rental bike specs as they are more than capable of handling the rugged terrain. The lodge also plays host to the annual Klein Aus-Vista Mountain Bike Challenge, with next year's event taking place on 2 and 3 May.

Wild horses of the Namib roam the hills and plains near the lodge and we were fortunate to spot them on our drive out to Kolmanskop, a small but booming mining town that is now an iconic ghost town. After we purchased our permits (R75 per person), we were taken on a tour. Incredibly, much of Kolmanskop, although weathered, remains intact and includes a functional 'kegelbahn' (nine-pin bowling arena). The eerie sense of emptiness is emphasised as the local tour guides explain the fascinating history of this once diamond-rich town.

The coastal town of Lüderitz is not far away and Diaz Point offers some exquisite views over the lighthouse and marshlands, where flamingos and some game can be spotted.

Photo credit: Lauren Barrow & Kim Konings

Namib Desert Lodge

Dwarfed beneath an imposing backdrop of petrified dunes, the lodge's dinner and entertainment area opens up onto a waterhole, which is frequented by a variety of wild animals throughout the day. As we sat down to indulge in another delicious buffet dinner, we enjoyed the 'bush TV' activity playing out below us.

However, it is the natural beauty of Sossusvlei National Park that is the region's main attraction. Armed with a packed breakfast, we made our way along the dusty roads and eagerly awaited the opening of the park’s gates. Time passed quickly as golden streams of sunlight started to add colour to the silhouettes of mountains and dunes lining the horizon. As we clamoured our way to the peak of 'Big Daddy', the tallest dune in the area, we were greeted by some of the most picturesque views of our trip yet: the striking red dunes, blue sky, white salted pans and early morning shadows seemed to have been photoshopped and left us in awe of one of Namibia’s most popular destinations. The lodge offers a sundowner drive to the top of these petrified dunes and it was here that we bid our farewells to the region while overlooking the collage of landscapes consisting of mountains, dunes, grasslands fossilised dunes and riverbeds.

Treated to some of Namibia’s finest hospitality, our tour of Southern Namibia drew to a close. But as the Gondwana staff helped us map our way further north, the excitement of what lay ahead began to set in. Be sure to read the next issue for more of our adventures.

Travel tips

• Visa: If you own a South African passport, a visa is not required for tourism purposes.
• Water: Whilst you need to be careful about the water you source in Namibia, all the lodges mentioned in this article had drinkable tap water.
• Park fees: These are standard throughout Namibia and vary depending on your nationality. South Africans pay R60 per person and R10 for the vehicle.
• Gondwana card: Anyone with a permanent or temporary residence permit for a SADC (Southern African Development Communities) country may apply for a Gondwana card at a cost of R100*, which entitles the holder to 40% discount on accommodation and 25% discount on dinners or activities booked through the lodge.
• Booking ahead: Whilst booking is not essential, it is advisable. All Gondwana Collection lodges and campsites can be booked online at www.gondwana-collection.com. They also have some suggested routes to help you plan your stay.
* Price correct at time of publication