After Sossusvlei, we had decided we wanted to check out Kolmanskop (an abandoned mining town) on our way to Fish River Canyon. In addition to breaking up the drive, it also sounded super cool! We stayed near Aus, which is an hour from Kolmanskop on the main highway that we’d be taking to FRC.
I found Klein-Aus Vista after reading a few blogs, and we booked in 2 nights at the campsite there. The area is beautiful – you’re surrounded by boulders and rock – and the campsite was one of the best we’ve stayed at so far: scenic and relatively private, with good facilities. After checking in and setting up camp, we drove the 5kms back to the main reception where they have WiFi, a pool, and a bar (campsites that are part of lodges are always a great value for money because you get to enjoy the lodge facilities too!). It was November 11th which, in addition to being Remembrance Day, is also James’ birthday and he was the big 3-0! I felt badly that we couldn’t do much to really mark the occasion, being out in the middle of the desert and all (particularly since he surprised me with a weekend away and proposed on my birthday, throwing a party the following weekend!). But we did order Gin & Tonics from the bar to enjoy while we used the WiFi.
They also have a restaurant at the lodge, and I thought maybe we could go there so at least James would have a nice birthday dinner – but upon hearing that it was buffet we figured we would enjoy the steak we could make back at the campsite better 😉
The following day we had breakfast and headed toward Kolmanskop. The road to Kolamskop was one of the nicest roads we’ve seen in Namibia – it was paved which was a huge plus in our books! We pulled onto the small gravel road toward the reception which couldn’t have been more than 500m and parked, ready to explore. As we walked by two guides chatting we said our hellos and the man informed us that we had a flat tire. We were flabbergasted! We hadn’t felt anything, and how in the world did we get a flat on the driveway?! He said it was a slow puncture and as we walked back to our car sure enough we saw it was deflated. At least we were in a parking lot and not a national park this time! We decided to walk around and explore first, delaying the inevitable if only for an hour.
Kolmanskop has an interesting backstory. In the early 1900s, upon discovering the area was rich in diamonds, German miners began a settlement. The residents built the settlement in a German architectural style which included the comforts from home, such as a ballroom, casino, theatre and sport-hall (in addition to a hospital and school). After WWI, the diamond field started to deplete leading to a decline in the 1930’s. When the discovery of a rich diamond-bearing area to the south was made, many abandoned their homes to go south. The town was ultimately abandoned by 1954 and is now a popular tourist destination as people wander around the sand-engulfed homes. To me, there has always been something a little creepy about walking around an empty house (even my own when we have moved in the past), but these buildings were next level! Wallpaper half torn, exposed beams, doors falling off their hinges and the fact that these homes are slowly drowning in sand.
We headed back to the parking lot to change the tire (James is getting really fast!) and then went to the town of Luderitz nearby to see if any tire repair centres were open. Being Sunday, it looked like we were out of luck but we went to a Shell to re-fuel and the attendant told us they sell tire repair kits and he’d be happy to fix it for us. So for $150 NAD, our tire was good as new (according to him) with the small hole plugged. Better than the $2000 we paid for the replacement tire! After, we went to Garden Cafe for a bite to eat. They offer brotchen delicious sandwiches and their baked goods looked/smelled incredible (though we didn’t indulge).
We made our way back to Desert Horse and decided to go for a late afternoon hike. One thing I loved about this place is that there are multiple hikes directly from the site! We wanted to get back before dark, and opted for the 5km route that took us to a beautiful lookout.
The next day we took our time packing up and started the drive to our final destination in Namibia – Fish River Canyon. It is the largest canyon in Africa and one of the most visited places in Namibia. And, handily, it was also en route to South Africa! We arrived, ready to spend 2 nights at the Hobas campsite – figuring we could do an organized day hike the following day with one of the lodges. Unfortunately, as we soon learned, the canyon is only open for hiking during the months of May – September. Oops! At reception they informed us that the only thing you can really do is drive to the lookouts. There is also a circular drive, but it’s a 4×4 track and after the luck we had, we weren’t sure we wanted to risk it. So we quickly decided to stay for just one night – the campsite was paid for in advance, but we were able to recoup one day of park fees.
We set up camp and relaxed a bit before driving over to the two lookouts – starting with Hiker’s Point. This is where hikers depart for the popular 4-5 day hike and it’s a beautiful lookout. The sun was bright, so we didn’t take any pictures (knowing they were unlikely to turn out) but we enjoyed the view before heading to the main viewpoint (2 minutes down the road). We arrived and marveled at the size. I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was pretty awe inspiring! It was still an hour or so before the sun would set, and we decided to grab our kindles and stick around for it. There are benches and tables at the viewpoint, and as we approached sunset more people arrived including an overland tour or two. For our last sunset in Namibia, it was pretty spectacular. We decided we’d come back the next morning, as the sunrise would shine directly on the canyon and it was likely to be less busy.
The next morning we were up before 6 and quickly packed the car to head out. I pulled out our portable stove, oatmeal, tea and coffee and we made breakfast at the viewpoint as the sun came up. I may need to buy a portable stove in every location we visit because dang, it was a great way to have breakfast! And, though it was a cloudy morning, the pictures were slightly better than the night before.
We were on the road to the South African border by 7, not even sure where we would stay that night (oh, exciting!). We had booked an Airbnb in Stellenbosch the following night for a few days, but that was nearly a 9 hour drive. Once we crossed the border and bought some data, I started looking up places. There was a campsite right off the highway called Highlanders that looked interesting, and it broke up the drive so we would only be 3 hours to Stellenbosch. We decided to drop in and see what it was like.
We arrived at the gate and a young guy came over to see how he could help. He let us know it was $200 Rand (less than $20 AUD) for the night and told us to go and park at the last campsite and he’d come check on us later. Easy! We were clearly the only ones there and so headed for the campsite he’d recommended – which was also the largest and most private. It was the best campsite we’ve stayed at yet! Super private, large, a washing area and powerpoint and all for less than $20!
Our host came over an hour or two later and let us know there was an overland tour coming for the evening and he was planning to do a wine tasting with them if we wanted to join, for $100 Rand each. We said sure and wondered what kind of group we were going to be sharing the campsite with. We heard the truck arrive, but didn’t see anyone until we headed up to the bar for the tasting. After seeing a lot of Gadventures and Intrepid trucks in Namibia with 20-30 year olds, we were surprised to find this group of adventurous 55-70 year olds! It was the first night of their tour and they were heading into Namibia the next day so we had a great time sampling wine and sharing our experiences with them. There were even a few Canucks thrown in with the bunch of Brits! After the wine tasting we headed back to our campsite to make one of my favourite dinners – warm kale salad with steak, blue cheese and shallots! For a day/stop that wasn’t planned at all, it turned out to be pretty awesome. And since we were leaving for wine country the next day, it was sure to get better!