I booked a tour with a company called Namibia Tours and Safaris, whom I found online. They were really helpful. It was a full day tour to a national park area just south of Walvis Bay, called Sandwich Harbour. Sandwich Harbour is a natural anchorage named after a man called Sandwich who landed there. The whole area is a haven for wildlife, particularly birds and seals and the huge sand dunes of the desert run right down to the water’s edge.
We were picked up from the ship at 9 by our guide, Jaan. We hadn’t booked a private tour, but as it happens, it was just us, which was fantastic. We found out later that some friends who went on a similar Cunard tour, travelled in a massive convoy which would not be so nice. We were taken by a four wheel drive vehicle along the road heading south of Walvis Bay. Our first stop was at a lagoon which was filled with flamingos, both Great Flamingos and Lesser Flamingos. There were loads of them. After that we drove out into the Namib Desert, a vast, vast area of sand dunes, endless, stretching as far as you could see. There are odd patches of green where there are underground water sources, but not many. There is a large salt industry around Walvis Bay and the first miles were spent driving through salt flats and pans.
I saw a black backed jackal running along the road, bold as brass! About the size of a large fox. They are very common apparently, as common as foxes are becoming in the UK. We left the road and drove down to the sea and along the beach. As we neared the National Park, the dunes came right down to the water’ edge. In fact, at high tide you can’t drive all the way along, as the water cuts off the beach access. It was spectacular. Just miles of gold and blue…. There are lots of Cape Fur Seals in this area, apparently millions of them, more seals than there are humans in Namibia. They have to cull them every year. We saw lots of them jumping in the waves and also just lying on the sand resting.
At first, it was quite misty along the sealine and we ran into several banks of sea mist, which just added to the atmosphere really. There were groups of fishermen sea fishing and they seemed to be catching well. We drove along for about an hour and a half till we reached Sandwich Harbour itself. There were more flamingos there. We walked up one of the high dunes to get a view over the harbour. It was quite hard. Apart from the steepness of the incline, the sand was only solid on the surface and you sort of fell through that into soft sand underneath. We found a jackal’s skull on the slope. We saw quite a few skeletons of various animals along the way. No wonder they call it the Skeleton Coast!
Jaan had set up lunch for us on the tailgate of the car. Delicious bbq chicken, cheeses, vegetables and potato salad. Most enjoyable. Jaan then said he would show us a special sort of gecko which lives in the desert there and has no pigment in its skin. It lives in a little burrow in the sand. He dug down having spotted something on the surface that indicated to him that it was there, and found the little chap quite quickly. A really beautiful little gecko with bright eyes and transparent skin. You could see the spine and everything. He just sat there on Jaan’s hand. We made him a new little tunnel and he continued digging himself in at the back of it and was soon buried again.
Of course Namibia is the world’s largest source of diamonds and in some areas they are on the surface or very close to the surface. Unfortunately we didn’t find any 😊 although there are large areas known to be very rich in diamonds which are as yet unmined, some within the NP.
After lunch we explored the beach and dunes some more. There is a red form of samphire growing in large patches there which is eaten locally. It was brought over by the French sailors in the 1700s as a remedy against scurvy and has really flourished. I tried a bit and it tasted just like Kentish samphire except it was bigger and of course, red.
We then got in the vehicle and went wadi bashing and driving up and down the dunes running along behind the beach. This is quite an art and you have to know what you are doing or there could be disaster. Quite apart from the technique of how to drive up and down incredibly steep sand slopes, it is very difficult to actually spot the dune edge. We would be driving along and Jaan would slow down and stop and we would realise we were on the edge of an absolute precipice. There was nothing we could see that would warn you and the optical illusion of being surrounded on all sides by sand totally hid it from view. Anyway, it was very exciting and the views were stupendous. We’d done this before in Dubai years ago and the driving and slopes there were much bigger but even so, it was a thrill. We stopped on top of several dunes and looked down over the golden sand to the blue sea. Absolutely gorgeous. We saw quite a few mirages along the way – very deceptive, quite large ones, not just shimmering on the road which I’ve seen before.
Coming back, we dropped down a little to areas where there was bushy greenery among the dunes and there we found some more wildlife: oryx, the large horned cattle of Africa, springbok, the national animal of Namibia and ostrich. They were all very tame and just stood there as we drove up and took our pictures. We also saw a goshawk sitting on a bush.
We drove back to Walvis Bay along the beach again, this time in brilliant sunshine. Lots more seals, cormorants and sea birds. Hardly anyone else to be seen. The odd fisherman, just miles of empty beach. We stopped and paddled and the sea was very clear and not a big surf or anything, but the water was icy cold. Oysters are big business here and they are farmed in the lagoons. Wish we’d had time to sample them. I did see another jackal as we drove along! Jaan gave us a fossilised oyster shell that he found which he said was millions of years old. It was very large and coloured.
Our final stop was at some of the salt pans which have brightly coloured water due to algae and mineral deposits. One was bright pink, another blue. Made nice pictures in contrast with each other.
Got back to the ship at about 4. A wonderful day in a beautiful country. Would love to see more one day. It is clearly a wealthy place, we saw no poverty at all. Nice houses, really nice houses. Very clean streets. No begging or loitering. Jaan was telling us that the government are quite old fashioned in some ways but that they fiercely protect the well being of the people of Namibia and that in comparison to nearly every other African country, there is very little corruption. It was noticeable that houses had low walls, not high security fencing like in South Africa and he said that crime was pretty low. Good to hear.
We sailed at around 530 out through a whole load of ships at anchor and round a huge sandbank with a lighthouse on it. Because of a large current that runs off the coast and prevailing winds, Namibia is growing at around 6-8m per year due to sand being dumped offshore by the wind. That’s a heck of a lot!
I have over 80 pictures taken today but the wifi on the ship is just not adequate to upload them so most will have to wait till we are ashore in South Africa.
Dinner tonight and then we’re going to see Eddie the Eagle at the cinema! One more sea day before we arrive in Cape Town on Friday morning.
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