The Perfect First Day in Namibia


Lake at Ovita Wildlife Restcamp

I don’t know what I’d been expecting from Namibia, but it wasn’t that it would be so easy.

I felt as though I had rocked up at an airport in Germany rather than a lesser-known country in Southern Africa. Windhoek’s Airport was clean and modern; everybody spoke English; we bought a SIM card and exchanged our money with zero hassle; picked up our rental car within a few minutes.

“Damn,” I commented to Dave. “I feel like we’re in the U.S. or something.”

We threw our backpacks in the boot of the car, loaded up Google Maps on our phone, high-fived for good luck, and made our way out into the wildness.

Just 12% of the roads in Namibia are tarred, and we were fortunate to be kicking off our road trip on one of the best of them. Less fortunately, our 2,500 mile road trip would be spent driving along 2,400 miles of gravel.

I just hoped our tyres would manage to stay inflated over that time.

Sandy road in Namibia

There isn’t much information about travelling around Namibia online, so this was one of the few countries where I’d meticulously researched every aspect of our trip.

And from my research, I’d come to the conclusion that I’d rather spend my first night in Namibia anywhere but Windhoek.

It wasn’t that Windhoek sounded terrible, but I’d learned it was one of the most dangerous parts of the country (although really not that dangerous overall), and I had a feeling the highlights of Namibia would be outside of the cities and inside of, well, anywhere else.

Turns out I was correct.

The only problem with this plan was that the majority of flights into Windhoek land in the afternoon, so we wouldn’t be able to make it to our first major destination, Etosha National Park, before nightfall. Fun fact: you should never drive at night in Namibia. There’s no light and animals hang out on the warm roads, so it’s easy to hit something. Your travel insurance won’t cover you if you’re driving after sunset here.

I chose Ovita Wildlife Restcamp as our first stop because it was two hours north of Windhoek, had amazing reviews, and looked like the perfect spot to kick off our time in Namibia. It was a game farm filled with hippos, crocodiles, oryx, and more, and a viewing platform overlooking a lake.

The only downside was that we’d need to arrive before 6 p.m. and it was currently just past 4. Google Maps had us due to arrive at 5:30, but I had a feeling Google Maps was vastly underestimating the time it would take our car to handle the D-roads we’d have to take on the way.

Namibia green countryside

But before that: snacks.

We needed to hit up a local supermarket before we thought about anything else. Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country after Mongolia, so we’d need a plentiful supply of snacks for our long drives — both due to the lack of towns and because of the high chance of a breakdown on the bad roads.

We turned off into the car park of a small grocery store and a local man in a high visibility vest rushed after our car.

“Sir,” he called out to Dave. “I will look after your car for you while you’re inside.”

Dave looked at me and I looked at Dave, and we shrugged.

“Sure,” Dave told him, and we wandered inside.

“Do you think he would break into our car if we said no?” I whispered.

“… No.”

We emerged half an hour later laden with bags of crisps, fruit, water, and wine. Because what else do you really need for a road trip? We tipped our car’s security guard seven times more than he was likely expecting and hit the open road.

And guys, it really was an open road.

Road in Namibia

We were half an hour outside of Windhoek at this point, and there were already few signs of human life. As we raced north on the smooth tarmac, I couldn’t see a single car, person, town, or even a building. Ahead of us was a long, straight road and very little else.

“These roads are fiiiiine,” I sung to Dave as we closed in on our destination for the night.

We were cruising along the B1 — the main highway in Namibia that sweeps from South Africa in the south to Angola in the north, and is one of only a couple of roads in the entire country that’s paved. At this point, though, I was still convinced we would have no problem road tripping around the country in our small saloon.

“Like we’d need a 4×4,” I scoffed.

Plenty of resources online had recommended a 4×4 for the rainy season, but Dave was an experienced driver on all things gravel, so we were confident we could make it around the country in the cheapest and smallest car we could find.

And then we turned onto our first D-road.

Sand road in Namibia

And then we lowered our speed from 75 mph to 25.

And then we started to slide.

Ah.

Our GPS was currently predicting we’d be able to make the 25 miles to our lodge in 50 minutes, but as Dave crawled his way along the sandy track, our estimated time of arrival began to climb and climb.

5:30.

5:45.

6:00.

6:15.

“Uh oh,” I murmured.

Hippo Crocodile Warning Sign Namibia

I’ve been travelling long enough to become one of the most blasé travellers on the planet. Or, at least, blasé when it comes to not arriving at my accommodation on time. I knew we’d be fine.

We pulled up at Ovita Wildlife RestCamp half an hour late to a locked reception area and a piece of paper listing a phone number to call.

While Dave phoned the owner to tell her we’d arrived, I dove into the back of the car and sneaked a handful of Crisps That Are Only For Emergencies, Lauren while he wasn’t looking.

Ovita Wildlife Restcamp Namibia

Several minutes later, an enormous four-wheel drive pulled up beside our tiny ride.

“That’s your car?” the owner uttered in disbelief, obviously not used to seeing such puny cars even attempting to make it to the lodge.

My eyes widened as Dave nodded with pride. “Yep,” he told her.

“You’re brave,” she laughed.

“I’m from New Zealand,” he said, and she nodded knowingly. “I grew up driving bad roads so this is no big deal for me.”

“That’s alright then.”

Satisfied that we weren’t going to die on our road trip, everyone let their shoulders relax and I took in our surroundings.

As I did so, the owner ran to her refrigerator to grab us a couple of Windhoek Lagers. I don’t usually drink beer when I travel, but Namibia used to be a German colony, so the beers here are excellent.

“Sundowner?” she asked.

“Always,” we chorused in response.

And what a sundowner it was.

Ovita Wildlife Camp

As we were shown around the property, I couldn’t take my eyes off the gorgeous lake, complete with a viewing platform overlooking the water.

“Do you want to go up?” the owner asked.

I was racing up the stairs before you could say be careful on those steps, Lauren! 

Safely at the top of the narrow set of stairs, I walked to the platform edge and surveyed the land around us. As the owner waved us goodbye and announced we were the only people staying in the lodge that night, I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face.

“We’re so isolated!” I squealed at Dave.

Hashtag introvert.

But we really were. We were almost a two-hour drive from the nearest town and the only sounds were the occasional splashing of a hippo in the lake below. There was no Wi-Fi, which always makes everything better.

As the sun began to set, I took a seat beside Dave on the platform and soaked up the atmosphere.

Ovita Namibia Sunset

Namibia sunset at Ovita

Sunset at Ovita Wildlife Lodge Namibia

Several hours later, we wandered down a sandy track to the dining hall. Crickets chorused around us and I wondered what the odds were that we’d accidentally walk into the path of a hippo and be killed before our trip could really start.

Warthog fillets were on the menu that evening, which immediately became one of my favourite meats, and the standout game meat from our time in Namibia. As Dave and I filled our stomachs and sipped on our icy cold beers, I looked around the empty dining hall and grinned. If this is what every night in Namibia was going to be like, this could end up easily being one of the best trips of my life.

That night, before I fell asleep, I wandered outside of our room and gazed up at the Milky Way above us. Namibia has some of the darkest skies on the planet and it was the first night of many that I’d stand and gaze up at the stars in awe.

Warthog fillets

I awoke the following morning to sunlight streaming in through the window. I rolled onto my back and exhaled, watching the steam rise from my mouth. My back was sore from the bumpy roads of the day before, my face was sunburnt, and I was covered in a thin film of sand and dust.

It was a bittersweet feeling. I was itching to explore more of Namibia — and especially our next destination — but I’d fallen hard for this first stop. Ovita was my new happy place, and I dread leaving the places that fill me with so much joy.

I reached under my pillow for my phone and checked the time. It was 7 a.m., which meant we’d be hitting the road within a couple of hours and reaching Etosha by mid-afternoon.

We got dressed and had breakfast, then I rushed around the camp taking photos of everything so I wouldn’t forget a single moment. These past 12 hours had been one of the highlights of my travels and I wanted to remember them forever.

Lake at Ovita Wildlife Restcamp

When Dave and I had sat up on Ovita’s viewing platform the night before, watching the sunset with a Windhoek Beer in hand, I’d believed that moment would end up ranking as one of the highlights of my time in Namibia. It was one of the highlights of my life

But by the end of my trip? I’d practically forgotten that first night.

Namibia is a country full of mind-blowing landscapes, incredible experiences, and spectacular lodges, and Ovita had been just a taster of what was to come.

Next up: Etosha National Park!

 

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34 Comments

  1. Natalie
    May 22, 2017
    Reply

    I never would’ve guessed it’s so easy to travel within Namibia. That’s pretty cool and now I want to go! Even though wild hippos are so dangerous, I want to see one.

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      I was surprised by just how safe I felt in the country! And aside from the roads, it’s just as easy to travel there than it is in U.S.!

  2. Henry
    May 22, 2017
    Reply

    Namibia is definitely one of Africa’s underrated gems! You’re bringing back some fond memories of my travels there…looking forward to the next installment in Etosha!

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      SO underrated! I couldn’t believe how many people had never even heard of it before.

  3. Stafaine
    May 22, 2017
    Reply

    Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards
    Stefanie

    • Lauren
      May 23, 2017
      Reply

      Hope you make it there, Stafaine! :-)

  4. Becky
    May 22, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing. It sounds lovely and in a perfect world, I’d be all about it. Curious if you met anyone who stayed in Windhoek, though. I’m planning on going next year and I know for a fact that I’ll be too much of a wreck after an 18-hour flight to drive 5 minutes, let alone 2 hours so my only realistic option is to taxi to Windhoek. That said, this looks like a great ending spot, too and close enough to the airport to get to a midday flight before heading home!

    • Lauren
      May 23, 2017
      Reply

      I didn’t meet anyone who stayed in Windhoek on this trip, but plenty of people opt to do so! I’m sure most of the people we met stayed there for at least one night actually, but it didn’t come up in conversation.

    • LG
      May 23, 2017
      Reply

      I stayed a couple of nights in Windhoek (9 years ago) and it’s not that bad at all. I wouldn’t go wandering around at night on your own but during the day I felt ok walking around the central area and to/from my guesthouse. It’s not the most fascinating city in the world but worth spending a day in. I took a half day tour which really helped educate me about the history of Namibia, which is a relatively young country, and took me to some places I wouldn’t have been able to go to otherwise.

      • Lauren
        June 3, 2017
        Reply

        Thanks for sharing, LG! I’d definitely add Windhoek to my itinerary on my next visit to see what it’s like, but when we were so short on time, it didn’t make sense to spend a day there when I could have been spending it climbing over sand dunes in awe.

  5. nic
    May 24, 2017
    Reply

    Do the hippos and crocodiles ever come out of the lake and walk around the property?

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      Yes! Not while we were there, but we had to be careful at night because you wouldn’t want to accidentally walk into them!

  6. anjci
    May 25, 2017
    Reply

    I didn’t think Windhoek was that bad, either : ) I stayed in the embassy area (the British one was just around the corner), and it was wonderfully green and peaceful. I walked around without any problem during the day and jumped into taxis (which locals told me I could do). I guess it is all relative – the rest of Namibia is decidedly even more safe.

    • Lauren
      May 25, 2017
      Reply

      Oh, I didn’t mean for it to sound like Windhoek isn’t nice; just that compared to the rest of the country, I doubt it would have been a highlight.

  7. Kate
    May 25, 2017
    Reply

    Your photos are absolutely gorgeous in this post!

    • Lauren
      June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you! :-)

  8. Maddy
    May 25, 2017
    Reply

    This post Lauren! I visited Namibia on my honeymoon in 2007 and this is bringing back all of my treasured memories. I had fogotten how bad the roads had been until reading this article (how could I forget?!!) but I will always remember the feelings of pure isolation. I always felt like I was the only person for miles around in Namibia.

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, amazing! I’m so glad you’re enjoying my posts :-)

  9. Laila
    May 26, 2017
    Reply

    Do you reckon they’d offer a vegetarian option for food at this lodge? PLanning a holiday to Namibia and unsure whether I’ll struggle to find places to eat. Thankx.

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      I’d email in advance to ask, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t. A lot of places in Namibia offered vegetarian options, although they were often greek salads! If you’re concerned about it, be sure to grab some snacks from supermarkets you pass in case of emergencies.

  10. Candice
    May 28, 2017
    Reply

    Looks fabulous! I’ll keep it on the list if I decide to visit Namibia.

    • Lauren
      June 9, 2017
      Reply

      It’s definitely worth checking out if you make it there :-)

  11. Lilly
    May 28, 2017
    Reply

    Did you get any vaccines for Namibia before going or was it just the anti malaria tablets that you took?

    • Lauren
      June 4, 2017
      Reply

      Nope! You don’t need yellow fever or anything. Check with your doctor if you’re worried about it. If you haven’t had vaccines for typhoid or hepatitis already, you’ll probably want to get those before you go.

  12. Robert
    May 31, 2017
    Reply

    This looks incredible. I can only imagine how peaceful it was to actually be there.

    • Lauren
      June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Especially as we were the only people staying at the lodge that night — the silence was magical!

  13. Cami
    May 31, 2017
    Reply

    Namibia is on my bucket list, and this post helped move it further up the list. I love being in nature and Namibia looks like one of the best places to experience it. Can’t wait to read about the rest of your trip.

    • Lauren
      June 3, 2017
      Reply

      I’m so happy to hear that! It’s such a spectacular country and deserves to be right at the top of everyone’s bucket list! it’s really that wonderful.

  14. joy
    June 2, 2017
    Reply

    This sounds like a beautiful experience but then to find out that this wasn’t anywhere close to your favorite experience in Namibia is amazing. Can’t wait to find out what else you got up to there.

    • Lauren
      June 3, 2017
      Reply

      That was Namibia for me: an incredible experience that I thought I wouldn’t be able to beat, but then is immediately bettered the following day. Such a great country.

  15. Olivia
    July 7, 2017
    Reply

    Wow! Memories! I’ve actually stayed at Ovita Lodge but for the last night of my time in Namibia. Loved it x

    • Lauren
      November 17, 2017
      Reply

      Oh, no way! It was such a peaceful place, and I’d imagine it’d be great for the final day of a Namibia trip too :-)

  16. Eli
    May 12, 2018
    Reply

    Hi Lauren

    Do you by any chance have a phone contact for the Ovita wildlife resort (provided by booking)? We’d like to camp and book dinner, however they don’t respond to our emails…

    Eli

    • Lauren
      May 13, 2018
      Reply

      Google has their phone number as +264 62 500 760 — did you try that? Or this number is on my booking: +264 61 2857149

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