Namibia safaris sate an appetite for adventure

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A black rhino at the Ongava Game Reserve in Namibia.Namibia will host an estimated 650 tourism professionals and media at the Adventure Travel Trade Association's (ATTA) annual summit this fall.

Set for Oct. 26 to 31 in two Namibian cities, Windhoek and Swakopmund, it will be the first ATTA summit held in Africa.

Tour operators offer a rich choice for pre- and post-meeting adventures in the country. My recent hosted press trip is indicative of the kinds of things delegates can experience for themselves. The ground operator was Wilderness Safaris, one of the firms operating tours for ATTA delegates.

I departed from the capital, Windhoek, after overnighting at the Olive Exclusive Hotel, an all-suite boutique property.

Wilderness Safaris took me overland to its Kulala Desert Lodge, set in the Namib Desert and minutes from the Sossusvlei dunes.

My dunes visit, in the early morning for the best light on the red sand, involved an arduous hike up the best-known peak, Big Daddy, and a careful saunter back down.

I left the desert sands for Swakopmund, a resort town that combines African ambience and colonial German architecture. I traveled aboard a small fishing boat from Walvis Bay to Sandwich Harbor to see schools of dolphins and seals.

The attentive boat crew spoiled passengers with white tablecloth service on the beach, serving succulent local oysters and crisp South African sparkling wine.

During my visit, I sampled other experiences, as follows:

• Damaraland Camp, where the valleys and soaring peaks of the Brandberg Mountains made for an idyllic setting.

Staffers' joyful singing at the start of each meal could bring guests to tears. The same could be said of a sunrise breakfast on a nearby mountaintop. However, the central attraction here was the small desert-adapted elephant.

• Desert Rhino Camp, an isolated oasis in the private Palmwag Reserve, where sighting the elusive black rhino is the goal. It's a long drive to the viewing area, and sightings are not guaranteed. But we succeeded, the silent chase on foot well worth the wait.

• Ongava Lodge, next to the Etosha National Park and inside the private Ongava Game Reserve. At Etosha, game-viewing was facilitated by parking near one of many water holes for a front-and-center view of bush theatrics. It was a nonstop parade of kudus, giraffes, wildebeests and zebras. We missed a leopard, which was sighted later in the day.

At dinner, a slow and seemingly choreographed stream of rhinos and lions appeared under the property's stage light beside the waterhole below.

Wilderness Safaris (www.wilderness-safaris.com) acted on behalf of my host, U.K.-based Aardvark Safaris (www.aardvarksafaris.com), which made all my ground arrangements. Aardvark's U.S. office is in Solana Beach, Calif.

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