Sundowners are a must at Desert Rhino Camp.

Namibia | Big Skies, Desert Rhino & Safari Fort | 9 Nights NamibRand Nature Reserve, Damaraland & Etosha National Park

A luxury Namibia safari is a study in contrasts. This remarkable desert nation will likely be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, with its key areas presenting a complete landscape portfolio: curvaceous dunes at Sossusvlei, the jagged silhouettes of Damaraland and Etosha’s broad pans.

Three nights at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our luxury Namibian safari than Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Nestled among the sand dunes and mountains of the Namib Desert, it’s a lodge that’s entirely in tune with its surroundings. The stone walls echo the landscape, and the sliding glass doors of our suite ensure we can see great swathes of it. Our first night coincides with our wedding anniversary, and the friendly staff all seem to know this. Not that we mind, as they laid on a wonderfully romantic private dinner for us in the well-stocked wine cellar. On the morning of our second day we leapt aboard quad bikes and headed off into the dunes for a real desert adventure. It was somewhere between Mad Max and The English Patient – lots of horsepower combined with the refinement of a picnic with a white, linen tablecloth. We noticed that our guide led us on a route designed to minimise the impact on the dunes, and he also took time to explain how they were formed. Later, we spent time with the resident astronomer in the lodge planetarium and fell in love with stargazing. I’d never seen Saturn’s famous rings before!For our day trip to Sossusvlei, our guide swapped his open 4×4 vehicle for a closed one with air conditioning. We left very early to be there for the best of the day’s light, and noticed a new, bright orange star in the east. It was, of course, the burners in a hot-air balloon, rising over the slumbering dunes; drifting over the Namib Desert was something we’d save for our next trip to Namibia. Scrambling up Dune 45 was only one of many Sossusvlei moments that left us breathless – the sea of red sand was surpassed only by the stark, retina-searing beauty of Deadvlei. 

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our luxury Namibian safari than Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Nestled among the sand dunes and mountains of the Namib Desert, it’s a lodge that’s entirely in tune with its surroundings. The stone walls echo the landscape, and the sliding glass doors of our suite ensure we can see great swathes of it. Our first night coincides with our wedding anniversary, and the friendly staff all seem to know this. Not that we mind, as they laid on a wonderfully romantic private dinner for us in the well-stocked wine cellar.

On the morning of our second day we leapt aboard quad bikes and headed off into the dunes for a real desert adventure. It was somewhere between Mad Max and The English Patient – lots of horsepower combined with the refinement of a picnic with a white, linen tablecloth. We noticed that our guide led us on a route designed to minimise the impact on the dunes, and he also took time to explain how they were formed. Later, we spent time with the resident astronomer in the lodge planetarium and fell in love with stargazing. I’d never seen Saturn’s famous rings before!

For our day trip to Sossusvlei, our guide swapped his open 4×4 vehicle for a closed one with air conditioning. We left very early to be there for the best of the day’s light, and noticed a new, bright orange star in the east. It was, of course, the burners in a hot-air balloon, rising over the slumbering dunes; drifting over the Namib Desert was something we’d save for our next trip to Namibia. Scrambling up Dune 45 was only one of many Sossusvlei moments that left us breathless – the sea of red sand was surpassed only by the stark, retina-searing beauty of Deadvlei.

 

Three nights at Desert Rhino Camp

Our light-aircraft flight ran roughly parallel to the Atlantic coast, but all we saw of it was a band of white mist. The pilot explained how important this is as a source of moisture, and we focused instead on the astonishing desert landscapes unfurling below us. On arrival at Desert Rhino Camp, we took in the valley and mountain views from our private verandah, before we eating lunch in the open-sided dining tent. We’d included this lodge in our luxury safari specifically for the chance to track desert black rhino on foot, but decided to spend the first afternoon on game drive, getting a feel for the dramatic landscapes of Damaraland. A highlight was spotting an elephant feeding in an incongruous reed bed – our guide explained that this was where an underground spring bubbled to the surface. We were still getting used to seeing familiar animals in more arid settings.We linked up with the expert trackers from the Save the Rhino Trust over breakfast on our second day here, which we cut short in our enthusiasm to begin our quest. Our luck held, and within an hour they were leading us across stony ground on tracks from earlier that morning. It did not seem to be long at all before we were crouching behind a euphorbia, looking through our binoculars at a large bull black rhino, standing stock still in an open area. He was the star of the hour, but that night we saw thousands more stars as we ate dinner around the campfire.A change of pace and focus saw us try and hone our birding skills on a morning guided nature walk from the lodge. It proved to be quite challenging, with many desert species sporting plumage that exactly matched their surroundings. We did get the chance to marvel at a Verreaux’s eagle as it flew around a nearby peak, intent on hunting for hyrax. Our guide also spent time introducing us to the bizarre welwitschia plant – straggling leaves and a collection of red cones. He explained that this was a female plant, and likely over 1,000 years old. 

Our light-aircraft flight ran roughly parallel to the Atlantic coast, but all we saw of it was a band of white mist. The pilot explained how important this is as a source of moisture, and we focused instead on the astonishing desert landscapes unfurling below us.

On arrival at Desert Rhino Camp, we took in the valley and mountain views from our private verandah, before we eating lunch in the open-sided dining tent. We’d included this lodge in our luxury safari specifically for the chance to track desert black rhino on foot, but decided to spend the first afternoon on game drive, getting a feel for the dramatic landscapes of Damaraland. A highlight was spotting an elephant feeding in an incongruous reed bed – our guide explained that this was where an underground spring bubbled to the surface. We were still getting used to seeing familiar animals in more arid settings.

We linked up with the expert trackers from the Save the Rhino Trust over breakfast on our second day here, which we cut short in our enthusiasm to begin our quest. Our luck held, and within an hour they were leading us across stony ground on tracks from earlier that morning. It did not seem to be long at all before we were crouching behind a euphorbia, looking through our binoculars at a large bull black rhino, standing stock still in an open area. He was the star of the hour, but that night we saw thousands more stars as we ate dinner around the campfire.

A change of pace and focus saw us try and hone our birding skills on a morning guided nature walk from the lodge. It proved to be quite challenging, with many desert species sporting plumage that exactly matched their surroundings. We did get the chance to marvel at a Verreaux’s eagle as it flew around a nearby peak, intent on hunting for hyrax. Our guide also spent time introducing us to the bizarre welwitschia plant – straggling leaves and a collection of red cones. He explained that this was a female plant, and likely over 1,000 years old.

 

Three nights at Onguma The Fort

Perhaps there’s something quixotic about building a castle in the desert, but we loved the architecture of Onguma The Fort as soon as we spotted its main tower from the aircraft as we descended. Spending time in the Onguma Game Reserve gave us the opportunity to be almost a little lazy, and let the wildlife come to us. Excellent sightings soon convinced us to not feel at all guilty about this approach. After all, in Etosha – a place where waterholes exert a powerful hold – it’s the best possible safari tactic. As we set off on our first game drive, our guide joked with us that Etosha took safari to a whole new level, and it was certainly the flattest landscape either of us had ever seen … which only made Onguma The Fort even more of a landmark.On our second day, we really got into the whole Etosha waterhole hopping thing. It would be something of a lottery, if not for the knowledge and experience of the guides who showed time and again that they have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. We spent time watching herds of zebra, springbok and black-faced impala, and only one waterhole appeared to have no visitors at all. The reason for this became clear when our guide pointed out a pride of lion in the shade, and identified the scrubby tree they were under as an ‘ambush’!Onguma’s Onkolo Hide is a unique location that has launched a thousand video clips and remarkable wildlife images, and was therefore high on our list. Approaching the hide, we smiled at its zebra-stripe-painted walls, but once we were inside, we soon appreciated the genius of its design. Different openings let us set up all sorts of creative camera angles, without being observed. Our waterhole-level perspective resulted in some brilliant images, including reflections and elephant feet in the water. As the sun set, we sipped cold beers and snapped elephant bathed in rosy light as they stirred up the dust.

Perhaps there’s something quixotic about building a castle in the desert, but we loved the architecture of Onguma The Fort as soon as we spotted its main tower from the aircraft as we descended.

Spending time in the Onguma Game Reserve gave us the opportunity to be almost a little lazy, and let the wildlife come to us. Excellent sightings soon convinced us to not feel at all guilty about this approach. After all, in Etosha – a place where waterholes exert a powerful hold – it’s the best possible safari tactic. As we set off on our first game drive, our guide joked with us that Etosha took safari to a whole new level, and it was certainly the flattest landscape either of us had ever seen … which only made Onguma The Fort even more of a landmark.

On our second day, we really got into the whole Etosha waterhole hopping thing. It would be something of a lottery, if not for the knowledge and experience of the guides who showed time and again that they have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. We spent time watching herds of zebra, springbok and black-faced impala, and only one waterhole appeared to have no visitors at all. The reason for this became clear when our guide pointed out a pride of lion in the shade, and identified the scrubby tree they were under as an ‘ambush’!

Onguma’s Onkolo Hide is a unique location that has launched a thousand video clips and remarkable wildlife images, and was therefore high on our list. Approaching the hide, we smiled at its zebra-stripe-painted walls, but once we were inside, we soon appreciated the genius of its design. Different openings let us set up all sorts of creative camera angles, without being observed. Our waterhole-level perspective resulted in some brilliant images, including reflections and elephant feet in the water. As the sun set, we sipped cold beers and snapped elephant bathed in rosy light as they stirred up the dust.

What sets it apart

Our luxury safari contained many surprises, even with the research we’d done in advance. Not of course that we were complaining, as each surprise either delighted our senses or prompted interesting discussions, or both. The landscapes of Namibia seem unforgiving at first (although we also found that they are imbued with a sense of peace and stillness). On closer examination, it turned out that they support a wealth of wildlife, each species of which has adapted to survive despite the meagre rainfall and the sometimes-scorching temperatures.As keen photographers, we sometimes had to remind ourselves to put our cameras down and rather see the bigger picture. As the sun rises and sets, the sand and rocks seem to experience multiple transformations, as different colours wash over them. We both agreed that this was the most photogenic country we’ve ever visited, with Deadvlei being off the charts. The intense colours will linger long in our memories, as will the lone oryx who obligingly mounted a dune for my most memorable safari image.We greatly enjoyed the mixture of activities we experienced. At the more active end of the scale, we tracked black rhino on foot in Damaraland, and (with some trepidation) accompanied our guide on a starlit scorpion safari one night at Sossusvlei. The more passive activities were no less fascinating, whether stargazing (Namibia’s night skies are phenomenal) or hopping between waterholes in Etosha as we sought animals seeking water.

Our luxury safari contained many surprises, even with the research we’d done in advance. Not of course that we were complaining, as each surprise either delighted our senses or prompted interesting discussions, or both.

The landscapes of Namibia seem unforgiving at first (although we also found that they are imbued with a sense of peace and stillness). On closer examination, it turned out that they support a wealth of wildlife, each species of which has adapted to survive despite the meagre rainfall and the sometimes-scorching temperatures.

As keen photographers, we sometimes had to remind ourselves to put our cameras down and rather see the bigger picture. As the sun rises and sets, the sand and rocks seem to experience multiple transformations, as different colours wash over them. We both agreed that this was the most photogenic country we’ve ever visited, with Deadvlei being off the charts. The intense colours will linger long in our memories, as will the lone oryx who obligingly mounted a dune for my most memorable safari image.

We greatly enjoyed the mixture of activities we experienced. At the more active end of the scale, we tracked black rhino on foot in Damaraland, and (with some trepidation) accompanied our guide on a starlit scorpion safari one night at Sossusvlei. The more passive activities were no less fascinating, whether stargazing (Namibia’s night skies are phenomenal) or hopping between waterholes in Etosha as we sought animals seeking water.

 

Day 1–3

Enjoy the unique experience of having dinner inside a mysterious fairy circle when staying at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. © &Beyond

You’ll be met as you disembark from your international flight at Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, and assisted through customs and immigration. Following a scheduled light aircraft flight to Sossusvlei, a transfer will take you to Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 4–6

Sundowners are a must at Desert Rhino Camp. © Wilderness Safaris

After a transfer from Sossusvlei Desert Lodge to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled light aircraft flight to Damaraland. A transfer will take you to Desert Rhino Camp, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 7–9

The elusive leopard can sometimes be spotted near Onguma The Fort. © Onguma

After a transfer from Desert Rhino Camp to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled light aircraft flight to Etosha. A transfer will take you to Onguma The Fort, where you’ll spend three nights.

Day 10

Seeing a majestic oryx wandering the dunes is an iconic sight in Namibia.

After a transfer from Onguma The Fort to the airstrip, you’ll take a scheduled light aircraft flight Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, to connect with your international flight.

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