Namibia is a rock-star road trip destination with its open plains, long uninterrupted gravel roads and diverse landscapes. Melanie van Zyl shares her top 10 unmissable pitstops to break the journey.
Distances in Namibia are almost always enormous. This big sky county is made for slow travel. It’s the sort of place where you’d likely land a punctured tyre when in a rush. Rather pace yourself and spread out the enjoyment of the beautiful road unspooling before you. Here are 10 top pitstops – great reasons to pull over and take a break from the wheel.
1. Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon
Sitting on a dusty gravel road and littered with Chevy pickups and forlorn Fords, tractors, windmills and more, the Canyon Roadhouse simply can’t be missed when visiting the Fish River Canyon. Burgers, Amarula cheesecake and milkshakes in every delectable hue are served in true diner style. Any guest will surely appreciate the treasure trove of antique decor that surrounds the tables.
Travel tip: The Canyon Roadhouse is a delightful stay that gives upcycled a whole new meaning. Farmstyle interiors take on a stylish side, and the swimming pool is an old water reservoir. Get the SADC Gondwana Card (R300; buy it online) and qualify for a 40% discount at all Gondwana properties.
2. Wild Horses, Aus
The Namib has harboured wild horses in harsh habitat since 1915. A viewing hide was built overlooking the waterhole at Garub, between Aus and Lüderitz. The nearby Klein-Aus Vista Desert Horse Inn acts as their guardian in the area. You can find a wealth of information on the horses and their story of strife and survival here.
3. McGregor’s Bakery, Solitaire
Pockmarked with rusted classic cars and perched on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, this Solitaire stop has fed travellers for over 60 years. The decades mark the entry to this desert (or should that be dessert?) depot with plenty of photogenic character. However, the biggest drawcard for pulling in here is Moose’s famous apple pie, which is baked fresh every single day at McGregor’s Bakery. Follow your nose to the cafe located beside the old trading store and fuel station.
4. Lüderitz Oysters
Although not native to Namibia, oysters flourish in the cold ocean currents that court the shores. Affectionately dubbed ‘Namoysters’, this seafood is affordable in coastal towns such as Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Lüderitz. Head to Diaz Coffee Shop in Lüderitz to dine on the local delicacy without breaking your bank balance. Oysters cost R12 a pop, and the quaint town makes for a pretty afternoon stop.
5. Lagoon, Walvis Bay
Pack the coffee flask and binoculars. The Walvis Bay Lagoon is a Ramsar site and home to a wide variety of waterbirds and waders – including pretty flocks of pink flamingoes. The best time for birders is between October and April when the visiting migrants are around.
6. Swakop Vellies, Swakopmund
Swakopmund is a colonial porthole back into its German history, and Bavarian-style buildings with wood-framed windows line the streets. There are loads of adventure activities on offer, but I leave with a pair of soft velskoen every time I visit this seaside town. For over 75 years, the Schier family has produced Vellies made from genuine Kudu leather here.
7. German Bakery, Outjo
Heading further north to Etosha? Don’t miss a stop at this bustling Outjo bakery for hearty German-inspired pastries and bread, plus good coffee.
8. Stone Men, Kaokoland
Going further north still? Keep an eye peeled for the small stone men roaming the veld between Van Zyl’s Pass and Damaraland. Left by a Namibian Banksy, no one knows who created the sculptures, collectively called The Lone Men of Kaokoland. You’ll want to pulll over for a photo op.
9. Twyfelfontein Rock Engravings, Twyfelfontein
There’s no doubt about it: art rocks in Namibia. Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes has one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Africa. Commonly known as rock engravings, these etchings document the stories of the San, the country’s first hunter-gatherer inhabitants. There are over 5,000 individual figures at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the most striking have to be the Dancing Kudu and the Lion Man. There are also depictions of penguins and flamingos – none of which reside in the immediate vicinity. How curious!
10. Epupa Falls, Epupa
Epupa Falls has to be one of the mostly wildly underrated stops in Namibia. Here, noble baobabs watch the Kunene River roaring in its plunge down the rocky gorge. The wide Kunene is the only permanently running river in the Kaokoveld desert, and the rambling waterfall stretches a couple of hundred metres in a jumble of pretty rock pools and whirling rapids. The site is free to enter without any pesky modern-day barriers, so you’re at liberty to wander between the boulders and baobabs to find a prime perspective.