Here’s one adventure that will empty out your wish list in one go: an off-road safari through Namibia

By Sonja Piontek, Photography by Carolyn Strover and Sonja Piontek

Posted on 20 May 2022.

When I think of my last trip to Namibia, I feel like I completed a whole bucket list in only one trip: spending the night in the Namib desert under millions of twinkling stars, driving my 4×4 on the beach along the roaring Atlantic coast, riding horses with a herd of wild giraffes, enjoying a sundowner as the golden sun sets over the African bush, visiting the remote villages of the Himba tribe and spending a day in their traditional kraal, going on a bushwalk with the old medicine man of the San (formerly known as Bushmen) and trying some of the roots that build the base of their sparse diet, feeding a rescued lion, being stuck in a ‘traffic jam’ among 70-odd elephants in the mighty Etosha National Park, watching a herd of zebras at the waterhole from our luxury villa’s private pool, going on an early morning cheetah walk and riding a hot air balloon with a glass of champagne in our hands as the sun heralds another beautiful day in paradise.

I know this might all sound like the stuff dreams, but it is not. Namibia, the safari paradise in the southwest of Africa, is among the most spectacular, most diverse, and luckily, one of the safest countries on the black continent. Namibia won my heart many years ago; I’ve already travelled to this hidden treasure over 12 times and I’m surely going back.

Allow me to share some details about the spectacular off-road excursion we did into the endless sea of dunes in the Namib, the world’s oldest sand desert, a place totally different from the world we live in. To get into the Namib, we drive our Land Rover Discovery along the rough beach past the sleepy fishing town of Walvis Bay to a place known as Old Sandwich Harbour. To me it is simply the place where two mighty giants meet: the rolling Namib Desert and the roaring Atlantic Ocean—as different as Yin and Yang—yet so similar at heart. Vast. Powerful. Hard to conquer. And forever free.

Driving on sand takes some getting used to and it is not easy to read the dunes and know where it is safe to go, yet I am soon having an absolute blast. Our local friend Herman is guiding the way and it is great to just follow his tracks and fly over the dunes at incredible speeds. Occasionally, we stop for a photo. Occasionally, we stop to dig out my car. Occasionally, we stop to admire the vastness of the Namib as it seems to stretch past the horizon.

When the day slowly comes to an end, we stop our cars to set up camp. I have no idea where we are – all I know is that we are in the heart of the desert, far from civilisation, emails, schedules and stress.

Dinner is a traditional African braai with lots of game meat, local sausages and just a bit of bread. A cup of tea in our hands, we listen closely as Herman and his friend Duan share tales about ‘their’ desert. How it is actually alive. How there are numerous plants. How there are even animals like oryx, springbok, snakes or chameleons in this seemingly inhospitable place. It is hard to imagine, but the desert is alive.

People often think it is important to stay in five star hotels. But what are five stars when you can experience a night under millions of stars? With no light pollution around us, stargazing in the desert takes us into a universe far from what most of us have experienced in the past. The sparkling milky way watches above us as we calmly drift into the land of dreams.

The mornings are colder than expected but it is refreshing to take in the cool, crystal clear desert air. After a cup of coffee, some fruits and yogurt and the famous local rusk biscuits, we pack up camp and slowly make our way home. We still have hours to go, play in the sand, push the throttle and enjoy the incredible thrill of driving off-road in the desert.

Halfway back we stop for another unique experience: sandboarding. Our cars are parked at the top of a huge, steep dune. We unpack the sandboards and Herman helps prepare them with polish for a better ride. Anticipation fills the air. The ride will be fast. How fast, I had no idea. As I launch my board over the edge I scream from the top of my lungs. What an incredible, amazing, awesome ride! I want to go again. My friend Audrey wants to go again. We carry our boards back up to the top of the dune—‘desert treadmill’, it is called. But for that experience we’re happy to put in the work.

After two unforgettable days in the desert we are welcomed back at the coast by a flock of flamingos. Followed by a whole group of seals, pelicans and a sole bat-eared fox. As we take our sundowner that evening we reminisce about the many incredible moments we were blesses to experience. Thank you Namib! We will be back.

An acclaimed keynote speaker and business mentor, Sonja Piontek is a National Geographic author. Her award winning agency, Sonnenkind Pte Ltd, arranges exclusive journeys to Namibia. Follow her adventures on www.sonjapiontek.com and www.sonnenkind.com.sg.