As we moved further south we crossed into desert and rocky mountains. Spitzkoppe is known for its granite mountains that turn bright red in the sun. This area really resembled the rock formations of Arizona and Utah.
We saw 4,000 year old bushman paintings on the rock face of various animals. The bushmen across the Kalahari Desert area of Botswana and Namibia lived in the same traditional way for thousands of years until the 20th century. We also hiked up the solid granite domes to watch the sunset. That night, we slept outside on the rocks to ensure a prime location as the sun rose and changed colors on the mountain peaks.
Located on the Atlantic Ocean is a lovely seaside town called Swakopmund. This area is just south of famous Skeleton Coast, named for the plethora of ship wrecks whose iron remains litter the beaches. With foggy, windy weather similar to San Francisco, you can quickly see why so many ships go aground, as the waves crash mercilessly along the rocky coast.
The third largest city in Namibia, it is the gateway to the dune areas. There are many activities available here including sandboarding, sky driving, nature walks and harbor trips. We decided to take a 4x4 nature safari to Sandwich Harbor to see where the dunes meet the sea.
We got much more than we bargained for here and had a fun-filled day driving up and down, forward, and even backward, over the dunes. It was like a rollercoaster that lasted for an entire day. The coast is a beautiful sight, as the dunes rise from the water lit by the sun while the gray-green water remains lightly covered in a cloudy mist.
Our grizzled old guide, John, made our journey such a blast, including showing us various animals who call the dry desert home and digging out a transparent gecko from its home deep in the sand. He tricked us into getting stuck in a quicksand-like mud on the beach. The ground appeared firm, but after a few stomps, the tough top layer gave way to a sinking, knee-deep, wet sand. We had fun stomping around the sand for half an hour getting stuck and unstuck like little kids at the beach.
Swakopmund is also home to incredible fresh seafood and we enjoyed some of the best oysters of our entire life here. They were absolutely gigantic and without a hint of "fishy" taste to them. We nearly made an entire meal out of them.
Near this little "town" in the middle of the desert is what Namibia is renowned for: Sand Dune 45, the most photographed dune in the world.
Not wanting to miss a chance to beat the rush of hikers, we woke up at 4:30 AM to quickly pack our camp and hit the road as soon as the gates to the park opened at 5:30. We succeeded in being the first group to arrive at the dune, but blazing a trail up a sand dune is tough work. Brian and another guy on our trip, Sean, took turns leading the growing pack of hundreds of people behind us. We looked back a few times at the line of people slowly making their way up the ridge of the dune, like ants marching.
We arrived at the top, short of breath and noses running in the cold air, but to an impressive view as the sun peaked over the dunes surrounding us.
Dune 45's lesser known, but much more impressive, big brother is called Big Daddy. Big Daddy is further into the park and is not a hike for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. The dune's ridge runs in a near perfect circle with many portions a near-vertical climb. On one side of the dune is the strange and much-photographed Dry Pan or Deadvlei, known for its haunting dead trees and contrasting sand colors. If you've ever seen a picture of Namibia, it is likely of this Dry Pan.
The lake has been dry for ages and the land now resembles the Salt Flats of Bolivia, but with these strange dead trees scattered throughout.
The only way to get down to the Dry Pan is to slide your way down. Don't worry about getting sand in your shoes, that's unavoidable. Just lean back a bit and step out as the sand moves like water under your feet. Down nearly 200 feet, you finally reach the base of the dune.
Big Daddy was one of our highlights of the Namibian Desert, and we were glad we took the extra time to hike around the whole dune.
Fish River Canyon
Having experienced so many surreal sights in Namibia, we couldn't imagine another spectacular sight. Then came Fish River Canyon.
The canyon is billed as the largest canyon in Africa and the second biggest canyon in the world, closely behind the Grand Canyon (this statement has not been fact checked!) Fish River Canyon is actually a canyon within a canyon and the brittle rocks ensure the landscape is constantly changing. We hiked around a portion of the rim, taking in the twists of the river below and the many layers of rocks.
That evening, we spent the night camping between the walls of the canyon, where the natural hot springs and river water meet at an oasis resort called Ai Ais. The rocks rose around us, craggy walls of many different colors.
The ten days we spent in Namibia were full of totally unexpected wonders and some of our favorite during our 25-day safari, as well as on our entire round-the-world adventure. It holds many unknown natural beauties. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, it is the first place we would recommend to friends and family to experience in Southern Africa.