Cape Town to Namibia
Our 90-day visas were about to expire in South Africa. We had two options, either return to the US or do a border crossing to renew it. I chose the latter, so a trip from Cape Town to Namibia was the best option. This is an overview of the 7-day trip I took with my 4-year-old son to Windhoek and beyond.
Day 1: Paarl, South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia
I highly underestimated the length of this trip, according to Google, it is about a 14-hour drive (1450 km/900 miles). It ended up being closer to 17 hours with normal breaks. Everything was going great until we stopped to fuel up the car the first time, the attendant broke the fuel door on the car after it wouldn’t open. At least we were on our way.
After a brief stop in Springbok, South Africa for snacks, drinks, and fuel we headed towards the Namibian border. After about 8 hours of driving, we reached Namibia at the Vioolsdrift border crossing.
We pulled into a store in the Grootplaas, Namibia area. Expecting to hear Afrikaans or English being spoken, I was pleasantly surprised to hear German as the primary language. That explained why the radio also had German, along with Afrikaans, English, and African languages.
More of the usual, food, drink and bathroom stops and about 9 hours later we entered Windhoek. Upon nearing the city limits, we were confronted by the military to provide identification and our final destination.
I had not booked any reservations as I was unsure if I would drive the full distance to Windhoek on the first day. So, I had no valid destination and my only response was to ask for a recommendation. They recommended a campground about 5 miles ahead.
We arrived at the location and checked into the last room. It had a sink and a couple of twin beds in the room and a shared bathroom in another building. At that point, I was happy it had a bed.
Day 2: Etosha Bound
After a great night of sleep, we cleaned up and headed for breakfast. It was an all you can eat buffet for around ZAR50 each (about $8-10 at the time). Stomach full, we headed to a phone shop as my South African pre-paid phone did not work in Namibia and had to buy a new SIM.
About 2 hours later we were on the road to Etosha National Park. Twenty minutes after leaving Windhoek, there is absolutely nothing out there except long stretches of road. We arrived at Etosha about 4.5 hours later (420 km/260 miles) and received our accommodation for the night. It was a nice little hut for 2 next to a small lake for the wildlife to drink from. Since there were several hours of daylight remaining, we went for a drive to see the wildlife and to get a feel for the area.
Day 3: Our first full day in Etosha
After having breakfast we set out to see the wildlife. We drove around for about 8 hours with several stops for normal reasons. We saw zebra, wildebeest, elephants, kudu, and of course springbok. Due to the size of Etosha and wanting to see as much as possible, we moved to another camp for the night.
Day 4: More wildlife viewing
Along the road crossing the Etosha Pan, we encountered an elephant that was not very keen on sharing the road with us. We had to drive along the shoulder to prevent being a trunk toy. Luckily, we saw more wildlife than we had the previous day. We made it to the area near the North Gate of Etosha where we saw several dozen Giraffe in a field.
Day 5: Etosha to Swakopmund
This is another long drive across the country at about 5 hours (500 km/300 miles). You will see very lush areas of green, desert, and areas that look like the lunar surface that stretch as far as you can see. There are a few small towns along the way, but not much other than wide-open spaces.
We arrived in Swakopmund and went to the visitor center for a hotel recommendation. Again we encountered German being the preferred language, so I had to flashback to 1989 to get a room in a local Gasthaus. They even have a Bahnhof in Swakopmund.
Idiot on Board
After checking into the Gasthaus, we set off to explore the area along the coast. That is when it became embarrassing. I pulled off into a parking area by the dunes to go explore the area. As I reached the parking area and prepared to make a U-turn to face the car towards the road (we were the only people at the parking lot) I realized I had just made a terrible mistake. The parking area was firm sand/gravel and I had veered off of the parking area (still within the chained off parking area) into soft sand and came to a sudden stop.
Needless to say, this was not what I had planned. So, after several attempts to get the car out of the sandbox, I resorted to sucking up my pride and walked back to the main road about a ¼ mile away to get assistance. Luckily, the people of Namibia are extremely friendly and helpful. A guy stopped and asked if he could help and drove his truck down to the parking area. I could see him laughing inside, along with his friends in the truck, but they connected a chain to the car and we were out in under 5 minutes. At this time, we were ready to eat and hit the bed for a good night of sleep.
Day 6: Walvis Bay and Dunes
We traveled down the coast to Walvis Bay and bought tickets for a 4-wheeler tour of the sand dunes. This should be on your bucket list, it was so peaceful being the only 3 people in the area. Namibia has the largest sand dunes in the world with Dune 7 reaching over 1300’ (395 meters) tall. However, we were on the smaller versions at about 200-300’ (60-80 meters).
Day 7: Time to head back to Cape Town
The trip was on schedule, we planned to spend the night close to the South African border and we were making excellent time. Well, until about 9 PM (on a Friday) when we stopped in Keetmanshoop for the usual pit stop.
I tried to start the car and it was dead. It wouldn’t turn over, it would do nothing, nada. So, contemplating my fate, I went into the store and asked if anyone had jumper cables, they did, but nothing to jump the car off with except for a large truck with a 24v battery. He said he would call a tow truck to provide assistance, I was feeling much better since I was not stranded in the middle of Namibia.
No Help in Sight
He tried several tow truck companies and they were all unable to help due to a tow truck convention (or something like that) in Windhoek. Finally, he was able to reach a guy that could help, they came out and the car would not even start with a jump.
We had no other choice, we were spending the night in Keetmanshoop. The tow truck driver took us to the Canyon Hotel and Casino for the night. His shop was across the street from the hotel, great. We were checked in and it became obvious that we were their only guests, no operating casino, nothing.
Day 8: Cape Town bound – part deaux
Early in the morning, the mechanic came to get the keys for the car as we had forgotten about them the night before. He said he would let us know in an hour. So, while we had breakfast, the mechanic came back with a running car, it was a dead battery. Being stranded sucked, but it could have been in a much worse place and nobody to help, we were lucky.
We hit the road and after about 10 hours of driving, we made it to Paarl after a very quick detour through Garies, South Africa.