Now that tourists aren’t required to have a permit to visit Oranjemund, this town has become the perfect gateway to Namibia. And there are dunes to play on, too.
The traditional route into the south of Namibia from the Cape is via the N7 and Springbok in the Northern Cape, straight through to the Vioolsdrif border post. On the other side of the border the B1 is the fastest way to Keetmanshoop, Mariental and Windhoek. You’re also able reach popular destinations such as Ai-Ais and the Fish River Canyon in a jiffy, thanks to roads running off the highway. But what about the area west of the C13 road, on the other side of the Fish River? Is there anything to see there? If you want to visit this area it will cost you driving time, and you’ll have to overnight somewhere. For the average traveller on holiday it used to be a headache, because your choices were either Rosh Pinah or Oranjemund – which, because of the Sperrgebiet, required visitor permits for foreigners. Two recent developments have made the south-western corner of Namibia much more enticing: a new tar road from Rosh Pinah to Aus, and the fact that Oranjemund is now open to visitors. What’s more, there’s a new 4x4 destination in the form of a dune field outside of town. And seeing as you’re visiting the most well-known diamond town in the country, what about a visit to a few of the Diamond Coast’s other towns south of the border?
Along the coast to the border
Instead of heading to Vioolsdrift, rather set off westwards from Springbok for 100 km on the R355, in the direction of Kleinzee. About 5 km before you reach this small diamond town, the dirt road to Port Nolloth turns off the R355 and shoots northwards, with the sea on your left. It’s worth visiting Kleinzee before going further, even if it is just to get a taste of what life is like here on this stretch of coastline. If you have half a day to spare, you can drive the 37 km-long Shipwreck 4x4 Trail along the coast between Koingnaas and Kleinzee with a guide, and see the wrecks of the Arosa, the Piratiny and the Border. You do have to book at least three days in advance with Rodville Adams, 076 642 0868. If you’ve taken it slowly you should arrive in Port Nolloth just before lunch, and there’s no better place for a seafood platter before driving on. But there’s something else in town you shouldn’t miss, and that’s a visit to the museum – the best place to get insight into the diamond industry, and the diggers and divers who dedicated their lives to these shiny stones. Be sure to have a chat with George Moyses, a bona fide diamond diver who will enthral you will tale after tale of the town and its people. From Port Nolloth it’s 84 km on the R382 to Alexander Bay. By this time you’ve seen Namibia on the other side of the Orange River; but before you cross the border, head to the river mouth. It’s not every day that you get to stand on the most northern point of the West Coast – right in the corner of the country.
An oasis in the desert
The border post between Alexander Bay and Oranjemund is so small and quiet, you actually want to keep it a secret. After getting your South African passport stamp on the south side of the river, you drive over the Ernst Oppenheimer bridge and get your Namibian stamp on the other side. After the border post you take the first left turn, and drive through the gates where years ago you would have been asked for a visitor’s permit to enter Oranjemund. From here, it’s 6 km into the town itself. Before driving into town you’ll see road signs warning you to keep your eyes peeled for gemsbokke, and you might even see a few of these Namibian icons
You can even arrange to have a braai afterwards among the dunes. There isn’t a better place for a sundowner in Namibia than on the top of a dune.
next to the road. What you don’t expect though is to see these animals wandering around town, without a care in the world! But you can’t really blame them, because Oranjemund is an oasis in the desert. You notice immediately how lush and green the town’s vegetation is, and how many giant shade trees there are on the sidewalks – something you don’t see often in small rural towns in Namibia. Of course, that’s thanks to the proximity of the river and the town management of the Namdeb mining company. You can easily spend a few days here, listening to the locals’ stories about life in a place that for decades, marched to the beat of its own drum. There’s a lovely public pool, a clay pigeon shooting club, and a swanky golf course. But there’s something else 4x4 enthusiasts will be thankful for, now that the town’s doors are open to the outside world: you can drive on a strip of dunes at the very bottom of the Namib Desert. “It’s still a concession area that you need permission for,” explains Fanie Smit, one of the operators who offers day trips in the dunes about 6 km outside of town. The Oranjemund Off Road Club has permission to do guided excursions in certain parts of the dunes. “And believe me, you need to know your story here,” he adds. “If the sand is soft, you need to hang on, because you will get thrown around.” This dune area is a smaller version of what you’ll find further north in the Namib, and therefore the perfect training ground for amateurs and a great place for more experienced drivers to play. It’s a mix of steep inclines, sharp turns around deceptive ditches, and even a handful of slip faces to get the adrenaline going. In between there are a few beautiful views over the desert, the river and Oranjemund. You can even arrange to have a braai afterwards among the dunes. There isn’t a better place for a sundowner in Namibia than on the top of a dune.
One day the coastal road between Oranjemund and Luderitz may open; but for now, you must drive 92 km north-east along the Orange River’s twists and turns before you can continue your trip further north. At the junction with the C13 – a decent tar road, these days – you can head north via Rosh Pina to Aus. Here you’ll come to another crossroads: to the west is Luderitz, north is Sesriem, and if you head east, the road will take you to Keetmans. It’s like a menu of Namibian holidays. If, however, you ignore the C13 north and continue along the Orange River, the road will take you past the Sendelingsdrift border post and south-east through the Namibian section of the Richtersveld/AiAis Transfrontier Park. Slowly but surely the landscape around you gets higher, and before long the road is surrounded by the iconic pastel-coloured rock mountains of the Richtersveld. In places, the dirt road runs so close to the river that if you look carefully, you might spot a giant cormorant flying above the water, or hear the call of the fish eagle. About 43 km from Sendelingsdrift you cross the Fish River, and 32 km on the other side of the river is the Aussenkehr gate of the park. You can continue with the road, and 8 km further, turn on to the C37 that goes to Ai-Ais; but there’s a shortcut that’s definitely worth taking. Look out for a turn-off to the left about 500 m after the Aussenkehr gate. This road follows the dry course of the Gamchab River for 12 km before connecting with the C37. All along the flat rivercourse are dramatically high cliffs; so high that you have to strain your neck out of the window to see the top. It’s one of the many places in Namibia where the landscape makes you feel like a tiny speck in a big universe. It’s also a great place to stop for a picnic, if you can find a shady spot underneath one of the cliffs.
Slowly but surely the landscape around you gets higher, and before long the road is surrounded by pastel-coloured rock mountains.
Africa’s largest canyon
For years Ai-Ais has been a popular holiday destination for South Africans, thanks to its location on the banks of the Fish River. There is also a hot spring, a big open-air pool, and loads of space for the little ones to run around. Keep this last in mind if you’re planning on visiting during school holidays. Ai-Ais is also the last stop of the popular Fish River Canyon hiking trail, and when you camp here you’ll definitely see a few sweating, dust-covered hikers emerging from the ravine ( Like Annami Mailovich on p.136. – Ed). The 85 km trail requires five days to complete, but if you leave Ai-Ais early enough you can be at the trail’s starting point, Hobas, by sunrise.
Hobas is the lookout point over the most dramatic section of the canyon, and when you stand on the edge you can easily imagine seeing cowboys from those old Westerns riding down in the valley below. And once you’ve seen the cliffs slowly change colour at sunrise, you can tick Africa’s largest canyon off your bucket list. When you leave Hobas you have to decide how much holiday time you still have left, because the road to the north of Namibia is long, and full of must-see destinations. But if you’re heading home, at least it’s with the knowledge that your bakkie has a few grains of sand under its wheels from a secluded town in the corner of this beautiful country.
Hobas is the lookout point over the most dramatic section of the canyon, and when you stand there you can almost see cowboys from old Westerns riding below.
THROUGH DIAMOND TOWNS The R355 from Springbok takes you over the Spektakelpas (above and below) to the little down of Kleinsee. About 5km before town a gravel road swings northwards (below left) that takes you into Port Nolloth. Port Nolloth (middle left and bottom right) is the largest of the diamand towns on this part of the coastline, and is the ideal place for a delicious plate of fish and chips before you head for the border.
Ann and Kallie van den Berg. The couple from Milnerton first visited Etosha before heading home. They camped at the Oranjemund Riding Club. We had a great time camping here. It’s safe and clean, with decent showers – especially coming from the Cape, where you can’t shower.
CAMP ON THE BANKS OF THE FISH RIVER. Ai-Ais is one of the most popular camping destinations in Namibia, due to its location alongide the Fish River. There are also a few other niceties here, such as swimming pools, a restaurant and a filling station.