ASPIRE Pick of the Week: Spectacular NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

Namibia, like every other country that depends heavily on tourism, has suffered huge losses due to the pandemic. However, with a decreased rate of new cases, the Southwestern African country has thrown open its gates to tourists, requesting only that everyone masks up and visitors present with a negative Covid-19 PCR test no more than 72 hours old (or a full week old if you are willing to quarantine in your hotel for seven days).

A cessna aircraft arriving at the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Namibia is now open to tourists, but, as this lone aircraft in NamibRand Nature Reserve shows, there are not many visitors yet. Image courtesy of Andrew Thompson via Business Insider South Africa
Getting to isolation

There are not so many countries on earth that can deliver isolation as quickly, conveniently, and beautifully as Namibia.

From Hosea Kutako International Airport, tourists may depart for any number of iconic destinations – famous mostly for their serene, stark landscapes, spectacular coastlines, populous wildlife, and limited human interactions. But there are few that better serve as a rapid introduction to the country as the vast NamibRand Nature Reserve.

This private conservation initiative has seen farmland turned into a celebrated natural attraction. Vast sandy plains, populated with oryx, springbok, mountain zebra, and several elusive predators like leopard, jackal, and brown hyena, are fringed by rugged mountains and red dunes. In the summer months, the big skies are dotted with cotton candy clouds which drift slowly overhead; by sunset, they cycle through various shades of magenta before making way for an astronomical extravaganza.

Sunset in NamibRand Nature Reserve
NamibRand Nature Reserve Namibia boasts of truly spectacular sunsets. Image courtesy of Andrew Thompson via Business Insider South Africa

To reach Kwessi Dunes, one of the newest lodges in the reserve, you can choose a roughly six-hour-long scenic drive almost due south of Windhoek. But by far the fastest and most exhilarating option is a one-hour flight over the desert from Windhoek’s Eros Airport aboard a tiny Cessna that sounds – and at times feels – more like a vintage lawnmower with wings than an accomplished plane.

Not a person or building in sight

If it’s a dose of post-pandemic isolation you’re after, there are few better places to choose than the brand new 12 room lodge that was ironically open for just one week before Covid-19 lockdowns forced it to close back up.

“From this vantage point,” explains NamibRand warden Murray Tindall, “you can see between 10 and 15 thousand hectares of land – and there’s not another person or building in sight.”

There are, of course, several strategically located lodges throughout the reserve, but from the communal areas and private decks of Kwessi Dunes, you wouldn’t know it.

The view at NamibRand Namibia
The ongoing pandemic means that there are fewer people to contend with at tourist locations. Image courtesy of Andrew Thompson via Business Insider South Africa

During the day you’re more likely to spot a herd of skittish oryx, or the odd ostrich or springbok, moving across the landscape in the far distance, growing ever bigger as they approach the small watering hole in front of the lodge than you are a vehicle or any other sign of human life.

The same is true as dusk falls. The NamibRand Nature Reserve Namibia is a Designated Dark Sky Reserve, the only of its kind in Africa. This means it has “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

To retain this status, lodges in the NamibRand commit to a comprehensive lighting management agreement and annual light emission audits. Indoor lighting must be below a specified wattage and positioned so as not to affect the outside environment. In its strictest iteration, which Kwessi Dunes observes, game drive vehicles must return from sundowners without headlights – a blind navigational skill that the team of guides at the lodge has miraculously mastered.

To fully appreciate the dark night skies in true luxury, Kwessi Dunes have built star-gazing beds in a luxury tent.

NamibRand stargazing beds
NamibRand provides guests with luxury stargazing beds. Image courtesy of Andrew Thompson via Business Insider South Africa

Tempting as it might be to relish in the sheer isolation of the reserve, the NamibRand is perfectly positioned for exploration of many of Namibia’s famous natural attractions.

A thrilling hot air balloon ride, led by Namib Sky Balloon Safari will take you over natural wonders, which can include herds of unassuming oryx, the setting full moon, and the famous and unexplained ‘fairy circles’

Afternoons and evenings are best spent exploring the surrounds of Kwessi Dunes – either astride a quad bike or aboard an open Land Cruiser that delivers you to the ultimate sundowner location.

Deadvlei Namibia
Deadvlei Namibia is a picturesque forest of dead trees. Image courtesy of Andrew Thompson via Business Insider South Africa

If it’s a more sedate afternoon you’re after, then this desert oasis isn’t short of options, either – including an idyllic pool overlooking the waterhole. You can also visit Sossusvlei, famous for its towering red dunes and forest of painfully photogenic dead trees set before them. There, you will encounter Deadvlei – an otherworldly location usually overridden by Instagrammers striking awkward poses before cameras. But due to Covid, this famous attraction is now almost devoid of tourists.

While travelling internationally in the midst of a pandemic is a privilege, and slightly more complex than before, living in the parallel world of the Namibian desert, far from crowds and newspaper headlines and Covid-19 case counts, may just be the ultimate way for you to recharge.

Source: Business Insider South Africa

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