Three Namibian camping escapes that will quench your thirst for adventure
Instead of making a bee-line for well-known tourist destinations like Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park, why not suss out these more secretive spots while self-driving Namibia?
1. Puros Conservancy, Kunene Region
Namibia is the perfect place to escape a global pandemic – with just over two million people in a country of 800 000 square kilometres, the country has the world’s second-lowest concentration of people after Mongolia. And no other place in the country is as sparsely populated as Northern Namibia’s remote Kunene Province. About 100 000 people live in isolated settlements across a desert of about 115 000 square kilometres, an area bigger than Portugal.
The Kunene region stretches about 450 kilometres north from the Ugab River to the Kunene River, which forms the Angolan Border. It was formerly split into the territories of Damaraland in the south and Kaokoland in the north, which is where the Puros Conservancy is located. Puros Conservancy is a community-owned area without fences or gates, and is defined by dry riverbeds dotted with camel thorns and mountains that are devoid of vegetation, shade or water. It’s a harsh, dry, and empty landscape where the sun rules supreme. And yet, even the world’s largest terrestrial mammal has found a way to thrive here, the desert-adapted elephants of Namibia. There are no genetic differences between desert elephants and savannah elephants. However, they can often appear taller as a result of their small body mass (they have a lean diet of scattered grass and shrubs) and have developed extended footpads, which prevent them from sinking into the desert’s sandy surface.
Desert-adapted elephants are only found in two places in the world: Namibia and Angola. And the Puros Conservancy in Namibia is one of the most accessible places to see these sand-specialists. While the Ugab River at the boundary of the region is dry for most of the year, the elephants like to roam along the river course, creating temporary waterholes by digging beneath the surface as they go.
Image credits: Scott Ramsay
Park off at Puros Campsite
GPS: S18.73435°, E12.942583°
Puros Campsite is a remote, unfenced campsite on the banks of the Hoarusib River. Each site is shaded, and equipped with a rustic, but clean, shower and flush toilet. Hot water is provided through ‘donkey’ wood-burners and fresh water from a borehole is available. Arguably, the most attractive feature of this Puros Campsite is its desert-elephant visitors, who like to meander in and around the different campsites.
“We were alone – there was only one other group of 4x4ers at the campsite and a few Himba – with elephants, in the middle the empty wilderness that is the oldest desert on Earth. Yes, I was awake, but as dreams go, it was hard to beat.” – Scott Ramsay
2. Klein-Aus Vista, Desert Horse Campsite
Image credit: Teagan Cunniffe
The landscape around the little town of Aus in southern Namibia is hot, parched and dusty, and is known for two things: the site of a prisoner-of-war camp during WWI, and its nearby herd of feral horses. Where the horses came from is still up for debate. One theory suggests that the horses are the scattered remnants of the South African cavalry stationed at Garub during WWI, while another believes that they are descendants of Lüderitz mayor Emil Kreplin’s farm at Kabub, where he bred horses for racing and mine work.
Regardless of their origin, the horses gathered in the restricted Sperrgebiet II diamond area where there was good grazing and a permanent waterhole, and very few people. By 1986, when Sperrgebiet II was incorporated into the Namib-Naukluft National park, the horses had reached a genetic point where they could be classified as a distinct breed, now known as the Namibs. It’s luck of the draw whether you get to see the horses at Garub, especially in the dry season when they need to travel long distances for grazing. However, they tend to hang out at the Garub waterhole between 11:00 and 16:00, only 20km away from the Desert Horse Campsite at Klein-Aus Vista.
With some luck, you might spot them slurping up the refreshing water along side other desert adapted mammals, like gemsbok.
Set up at Desert Horse Campsite
Image credit: Roxanne Reid
Image credit: Roxanne Reid
Klein Aus Vista (part of the Gondwana Collection) is a great stopover on your way to the coastal town of Lüderitz and the diamond ghost town of Kolmanskop. Its Desert Horse Campsite is tucked away in an amphitheatre of rock and offers great views of the surrounds. There are a total of 10 campsites to choose from, all positioned under the shade of giant camel trees. Each is equipped with a tap, table and benches, and a grill. Hot water showers and flushing toilets are available.
There are no power point outlets at the campsite, but you can charge your devices at the reception of the Desert Horse Inn, a mere 2km away. Barbecue packs are also readily available at reception, and meals can be purchased from the Inn’s restaurant (subject to availability).
3. NamibRand Nature Reserve
Image credit: NamibRand Nature Reserve
Image credit: NamibRand Nature Reserve
It’s easy to feel like the only person in the desert in NamibRand Nature Reserve. Located in southern Namibia, the 200,000ha private reserve is restricted to one bed per 1000 hectares, and a limit of 25 guest-beds in any one location. NamibRand Nature Reserve was initially established in 1984 to help protect and conserve the unique ecology and wildlife of the south-west Namib desert, and is one of just 12 Dark Sky Reserves in the world.
NamibRand Nature Reserve is a fantastic destination to see desert wildlife. A game census conducted in 2018 indicated around 3200 oryx and 12 400 springbok on the reserve. You will also stand a good change of sighting mammals like giraffe, kudu, Hartmann’s and Burchell’s zebra, hartebeest, and klipspringers and steenbok. While predators will take a keen eye and a bit of luck to spot, the reserve also provides sanctuary to leopard, cheetah, hyaena, jackal, aardwolf and bat-eared fox.
The reserve is well kitted for adventure. First and foremost, you don’t need a self-drive permit to self-drive the park, and the circular 4X4 route can be traversed at no extra charge. NamibRand recommends that you deflate your tyres to prevent getting stuck in the sand, and that you do not drive off the demarcated route. Visitors can also opt for activities like dune-boarding, fat biking, and guided desert walks.
Hangout at Family HideOut
Image credit: Family HideOut
There are several concessions that operate within the NamibRand Nature Reserve, offering a range of experiences amid one of Namibia’s most stunning and colourful landscapes. However, Family Hideout is probably the most affordable way to experience the exquisite private reserve. Here, you can set up camp in the dip of a low dune beneath a camelthorn tree, and enjoy the isolation of your own private campsite (caters for eight people and 2 vehicles max). Choose to stay at one of the three campsites, all of which are ideal for self-drivers with fully-equipped vehicles.
The camp has a strong eco-friendly policy that includes solar lighting and geysers, and a recycling station in the outdoor kitchen. A private and well-appointed ablution block and flush toilets are available. Make sure to bring your own firewood.
Family Hideout is offering 25% discount on accommodation if booked online, three months in advance, for arrival from mid-November to mid-February 2021.
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