Namibia is hands down one of my favourite African destinations; the scenery, feeling of space and remoteness make it a completely different experience to the rest of the continent. However, most people who visit are self-driving, and you can spend a lot of time in the car – which is by far the easiest way to get around but it’s also good to get out of the 4×4 and stretch the legs. So when I got the chance on my latest jaunt to try out a new experience, the Etendeka Walking Trails, I was very excited.
Launched last year, this two-night trip across the vast Damaraland wilderness is pretty unique and turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. The views are, to put it mildly, incredible! And while it’s all about the walking, the actual hikes are not too strenuous – even older kids can enjoy it.
You start by being picked up at Palmwag Lodge and driven a short way by your guide (who is then with you for the next few days) into the Etendeka Reserve. The initial walk is pretty easy, a relaxed 4km across flat terrain to the River Camp for your first night under the stars – and what stars they are! I have been lucky to have seen some epic skies, but this really did take my breath away. With no towns or light pollution for 100s of kilometres, the Milky Way blazed above us, and I enjoyed my first dinner (and maybe a few drinks) around the camp fire watching shooting stars and goggling at the constellations above. I went to sleep in the open cabin just in awe…
You stay at two camps over the two nights – the first one, River Camp, as the name suggests, is along a dry river. There are four open cabins (although roofs can be closed if you want), and this first night is where they keep them open to the skies, so you can stargaze unrestricted from your bed. While open, you stay warm and cosy (Namibian nights in their winter can be surprisingly bitter) in your swag and all the ‘rooms’ have ensuite toilets. The bucket showers are communal but have plumbed hot water, much needed after a day of walking.
The second day is spent walking up to Hill Camp which is about 14km away, up on the plateau. This hike starts early so you avoid walking up the hill in the heat, and there are water stops along the way in case you need a refill (Etendeka provide both water canteens and back packs if required). There is about 2km which is slightly harder as you are walking uphill but nothing too difficult. It’s all worth it though as the views from the top are jaw dropping! Hill Camp is hands down one of the most beautiful locations I have ever been to – perched along the edge of the mountain, every room boasts a huge vista and the loo even has a view! After lunch (and the two-man camp team cook really delicious food) and a nap, the afternoon walk is easy and relaxed across the top of the mountain. Watch out for the sparkles by your feet! This area was once volcanic and the exposed rocks are often hiding pretty crystals inside, hard to resist for a magpie like me.
The guides are great, and they really bring to life what can sometimes appear to be a fairly barren but stunning landscape. You don’t come here for the wildlife, although it is certainly around and the evidence is everywhere; from the elephant dung by the river, to the leopard tracks up on the hills – and if you’re lucky you will see them. However, the experience is more about enjoying the quiet and remoteness this area offers. Not to say I didn’t see anything, we saw oryx and springbok, both desert adapted antelope, and plenty of small critters too including some quite interesting lizards and insects. For those looking for dedicated wildlife activities, this will not be for you! But if you like to get away from it all and admire a good view, then this is a real treat – and not one I will forget.