Namibia 2018 Trip Report

By John Shaw on Jun 22, 2018

I've just returned home from leading the 2018 Joseph Van Os Photo Safari to Namibia.  This is an unique tour in that it is split into two distinct parts, with the first half of the trip all about landscape photography, while the second half is all wildlife work.  In case you don't know where Namibia is located (and, yes, it's Namibia and not Nambia as someone mistakenly said) it lies on the southwestern coast of Africa.  The country was known as South West Africa until 1990 when it gained its independence from South Africa.  It's about four times the size of the UK, but with only about 2.5 million people spread across the land.

Quiver trees in NamibiaOur trip started in Windhoek, the capital city, which lies in roughly the geographical center of the country.  All but one of our group were Americans, so arriving a day early allowed for resting up from the long flights and adjusting a bit to the time zone changes (nine hours for those of us from the Pacific Northwest—we all envied our fellow traveler from Denmark who only had a one hour time shift).  After a first night dinner at our hotel we headed out early the next morning for the long drive to our first destination, the "quiver tree forest" near the town of Keetmanshoop.  Quiver trees, the national plant of Namibia, are not trees at all, but rather giant succulent aloes.  The name comes from the Bushmen who hollowed out branches to make quivers to hold their arrows.  The "trees" are especially striking when photographed in the low light of dawn and twilight, with shades of pink and purple in the sky.

Kolmanskop NamibiaOur second stop was at Kolmanskop, the famous ghost town in the coastal dunes.  When diamonds were discovered in the early 1900s the town sprang up almost overnight.  At its peak in the 1920s it was one of the richest towns in southern Africa and had roughly 1200 residents.  When an even richer diamond area was discovered, people quickly left and by the mid-1950s the town was deserted.  Abandoned to the shifting sands of the desert many of the building were preserved—well, at least partially preserved after all these years—by the extremely arid conditions.  We stayed in nearby Luderitz, a town on the coast which certainly shows its German heritage in the architecture of many of the older buildings.

After an early morning shoot at Kolmanskop, and some photos of the older section of Luderitz, we headed toward the red dunes at Sossusvlei, one of the most iconic locations in Namibia.  Sossusvlei is actually just one area within the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which encompasses much of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world.  (Just in passing, the Namib-Naukleff Park is in turn part of the Namib Skeleton Coast National Park which stretches from the border of Angola in the north to the border of South Africa in the south, a length of 1570 kilometers.)

Desert dunes in NamibiaThe dunes of Sossusvlei are a photographer's delight, with highlight and shadow patterns ever changing in the morning and evening light.  Some of the tallest dunes are well over 300 meters in height (over 1000 feet), which makes them the tallest dunes in the world.

When we arrived at Sossusvlei a very unusual event happened:  it rained.  Well, it more than rained…for several hours it deluged, inundated, downpoured, or whatever other descriptive words you might want.  Rain at this time of year is just not expected at all, and heavy rain is extremely unusual.  Early the next morning we drove to the parking area for our short hike into Deadvlei, the famous pan nestled in the dunes with the skeletal remains of desiccated camel thorn trees.  The final five kilometers or so of the drive, which normally would be through a soft sand area, had now turned into a swiftly flowing river the entire way.  Thanks to four-wheel-drive, and some very careful scouting—our trucks being the very first to attempt the drive after the rain—we made it all the way.  Later in the morning, on our return trip out, we passed several vehicles which were stuck deep in the mud and water.

We spent three nights at Sossusvlei, thankfully with no more rain, and then drove to the coastal town of Swakopmund, the self-proclaimed adventure sports capital of Namibia.  The following morning we took a special tour into the Dorob area of the nearby sand dunes, searching for the unique desert dwelling creatures found there.  Our guides found perfectly camouflaged adders and chameleons for us to photograph, while explaining the desert environment web of life.

Elephants in NamibiaFrom Swakopmund we flew via two chartered aircraft to our final photographic destination, Etosha National Park, where we would spend a total of five nights at two lodges about 150 kilometers apart.  Etosha is immense, covering more than 20,000 square kilometers.  It's often referred to as the "Great White Place" as about half of the park is the vast Etosha Pan, an immense, flat, saline desert.  Due to the arid conditions, much of the wildlife concentrates at or near the water holes.  Lions, elephants, giraffe, zebra, springboks, oryx, jackals, hyenas, black-faced impala…all come to drink.  Black rhino, seldom seen in daylight any more, often visit the water holes at night.

On our final morning we flew to Windhoek via chartered aircraft to catch our connecting flights back to our hometowns.  On this final leg of the trip I took an informal inventory of just how many images had been taken during the tour: the answer was roughly 6000 per person.  Namibia is an extremely productive photo destination!

Related Tags:  etosha, komanskop, namibia, sossusvlei