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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents - Text and pho­tos Evan Naude

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.

Head­ing north

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.

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