On the sandy outskirts of Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, we climbed up into our formidable expedition truck and set off into the scrub. Almost immediately we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, with arid plains stretching on and on until the dusty horizon blended with the hazy sky above.
Our first destination was the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest game park in Africa, and the perfect spot for a safari. There’s no better way to get to know a landscape than to hike through it, so we stepped on to the Olive Trail and at once began to fall in love with the rugged beauty that revealed itself.
At the end of the trail was an unexpected psychological hurdle – a via ferrata-like conclusion to the 10km hike with required the group to use fixed chains to progress. It had some of the group in two minds about turning around and re-doing the whole trail back the way instead. But we all made it to the end as a team – after all, what is an adventure without challenge?
Journeying deeper into the National Park, we reached Sossusvlei, 'the land that time forgot', where the sudden appearance of towering red sand dunes marked the beginning of the sand sea. We waded up the soft sand to greet the sunset, beers in hand, and as the sky turned every shade of red, orange, pink and violet the beauty stunned us into silence.
Sitting on a dune at the edge of one of Earth’s greatest deserts, strangers becoming friends, the question of 'why travel?' didn’t need to be asked.
Known as 'Big Daddy', the tallest sand dune in Sossusvlei rises 325m from the desert floor. We spent an hour fighting gravity to reach the top, beyond which there is nothing but the seemingly endless sea of sand – dunes that stretch all the way to the Atlantic.
Every evening was a cinematic sunset, every night a million stars, every morning a perfect sunrise, and every day a new landscape.
Despite the immediate sense of inhospitality, the desert is an alluring and enchanting landscape to find yourself in. Perhaps because it is so otherworldly it has a dreamlike quality, bringing one peace in spite of its physical hostility.
Swakopmund is the adventure capital of Namibia, a historic colonial city nestled amongst the dunes. A somewhat stomach-turning flight in a bush plane took us along the Skeleton Coast where the sand meets the sea, passing over shipwrecks half-concealed in sea fog, immeasurable seal colonies and miles and miles of dunes.
We switched air transport for a boat to take a closer look at breaching whales, hordes of honking Cape Fur Seals and too close a look at inquisitive pelicans. The pelicans were very keen to land on the boat's railings or right next to us on the deck, and with their long beaks they were very good at getting in our personal space!
Road-tripping on, we approached our next campsite amongst the Spitzkoppe mountains. The immense granite peaks loomed above our tents, and we had a debate over which of the summit-able rocks would offer the best views for that day’s post-hike sundowner – a nice problem to have. Once more we settled down for the show that could never get old, as the scorching African sun melted into a fiery sky, then into the milky way.
Namibia’s splendour continued to overwhelm the senses as the sun rose again, bathing the landscape in a pink glow as we hiked up the mountain the next morning. We were guided around an area of huge historical significance for the San Bushmen, where cave paintings up to 4000 years old tell the story of the wildlife that has long gone from this area of Damaraland.
On day seven, we reached the place I was most excited for – Etosha. Centred on the immense Etosha salt pan, the 8600 square miles of veldt are home to the awe-inspiring megafauna that defines the continent of Africa for so many.
From our campsite we watched over a waterhole, and had the luck of an unforgettable first visit. As the sky once again filled with surreal orange light, a herd of 30 elephants lazily marched over to drink and bathe right before us. Their immense silhouetted forms emerging from the dust was an almost overwhelming sight, impossible to truly portray on film.
We spent a couple of days driving around Etosha, craning our necks to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that finds sanctuary in this scorched, dusty wilderness.
"You guys must have been born on a Sunday!" claimed our guide Samora, as we came across species after species. From a feisty honey badger fighting an eagle to dazzling herds of zebra, and critically-endangered black rhinos to majestic lions, we were lucky indeed.
Namibia is a staggeringly beautiful country in so many ways. It's one of the most incredible places I've ever been, another former faraway sandy patch on a map that is now bursting with life and colour. Every evening was a cinematic sunset, every night a million stars, every morning a perfect sunrise, and every day a new landscape, another of this country's epic secrets revealed.