Grace’s field notes from Namibia

Into the sand-soaked wilds of Namibia

We’re a restless bunch at Black Tomato. We always have to see – hear, smell, touch, and taste – a destination for ourselves. Uncovering tucked-away secrets, and unveiling new ways of experiencing it.

Put simply, research is everything to us. Long before we plan your bespoke trips into the beautiful, wide beyond, we embark on in-depth research trips so that each of our luxury experiences and hotels is tried, tested and loved by us. And subsequently by you, our travellers.
This Field Notes piece documents our very own Grace’s recent journey into Namibia, where she entered the serenely remote (and mesmerizingly wild) landscapes of this mystifying land – dusted with desert, scattered with shipwrecks.

This is the story of that journey. Let’s begin.

Namibrand Nature Reserve in Namibia

Namibrand Nature Reserve – a world of colour

There are moments that stay with you – pockets of time that sway and sculpt your memory of a trip. This was one such moment.

Rising whilst the darkness of night still settled on sand dunes, on our first morning at Kwessi Dunes we chose perhaps the best possible way to catch our first glimpse of the Namibrand Nature Reserve. By hot air balloon.

As the first rays of morning meld into deep orange and soft peach, the entire landscape transforms – a whole world unfurling beneath you. Below are sloping formations of lunar-like rock, the mystical spirals of ‘fairy circles’ and bold, sweeping folds of sand – ever-shifting grains of burnt orange caught between the wispy spikes of the grasslands. Rugged mountains – the shade of bruised plum – pierce crisp blue skies. Peaceful, mesmerising. We watch, silent from above, as a herd of Oryx (famed for their long, spear-like horns) make their daily commute to the watering hole.

Landing among the red-hued dunes, as tradition advises, we sit down for a pop-up champagne breakfast while marvelling at our incredible surroundings, now bathed in sunlight. Bold and bright. Vibrant yet tranquil. This was the most remarkable way to begin our day (and our trip).

skeleton coast in namibia

Skeleton Coast – of sands and songs

Known to the indigenous San people as ‘The Land God Made in Anger’, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is a hostile yet captivating strip of coastline that has claimed the lives of many sailors over the years. Here, rough seas are shrouded in fog, rocky shallows lie beneath the crash and rumble of waves, and immense sand dunes tower over the wild Atlantic. Shipwrecks lie scattered along the shore – great bulks of wood and rust partially smothered in sand. It’s spooky and surreal.

We head further into this vast desert. Arriving at the steepest of slopes, we descend by sandboard. Snaking our way along the surface, leaving twisting trails in our wake. Teetering and, at times, toppling, surfing on sand was something I’d never experienced before. And something I’ll be sure to turn my hand (or foot) to again.

As the sun begins to sink, the landscapes turn a deeper shade of yellow and orange. Richer, more vibrant. Time for our next adventure.

We cross countless dunes by quadbike – a sprawling ensemble of black-gold vehicles that growl with acceleration on our ascent before gliding in silence down the steep slopes. Causing small avalanches of sand as we descend, we can feel and hear the eery vibration and whistling of the ‘singing’ sand dunes – a musical phenomenon that resonates across the vastness of the desert.

elephant in hoanib valley in namibia

Hoanib Valley – into the land of gentle giants

Tucked away in Kaokoland – a region of cragged mountains and sweeping dunes – lies Hoanib Valley. Nourished by the ephemeral river that carves its way through the cracks and crevices of arid desert, clusters of flora and fauna line its banks. Elephant, lion, rhino, and giraffe all take refuge beneath the shade of the gallery forests, a lush corridor of green beside the riverbed.

When we arrive, we’re told the lions haven’t been seen since February, but there are rumours that they have returned. So, naturally, we set off on a game drive to seek them out for ourselves. With Mike – our expert tracking guide – you learn how to read the trail, looking out for the barely-there smudge of sand-dusted pawprints, a glimpse of movement between butterfly trees (so-called for their curved wing-like leaves).

Whilst seeking the ‘big cat’, we stumble upon another wild giant – this one of a gentler nature. The desert-dwelling elephant. As we pause on our quest, we watch as the herd (I count 11) carry on their daily rituals calmly, unperturbed by our arrival. A female sprays a cloud of sand over her head – a way to keep cool, I’m told. A couple of calves playfully roll about in the dust, no doubt doing the same.

While we linger here a while, Mike clocks fresh lion tracks. The quest continues. The next hour passes in a stop-start whirlwind, following the lion’s tracks only to lose them, then finding them again before losing them again. But with Mike’s excellent tracking skills – which he developed from his previous work at the renowned Kruger National Park (South Africa’s largest game reserve) – our (his) tracking is successful. Tucked away from the midday heat, we discover a pride of three lions bathing beneath the shade of camel thorn trees. They are still, almost statuesque, as they lie and slumber in their cool, resting spot. The first to see them in months, we are lucky to have spotted them. This was also my first time seeing lions in the wild, let alone tracking them, so it’s safe to say I was very happy with our success. Thanks, Mike.

shipwreck lodge hotel in skeleton coast in namibia

Our hotels in Namibia

Deep within the desert, with its vast remoteness and sweeping landscapes, we rested up at some of the best hotels in Namibia – each one blending harmoniously with its surrounds. This included the ingeniously designed Shipwreck Lodge and the luxurious tented Hoanib Valley Camp. The former, a cluster of wooden lodges designed to look like shipwrecks, offers ultimate seclusion and lies just steps away from the treacherous waters of the Skeleton Coast. This is for the curious, the adventurous. Equally as isolated, Hoanib Valley Camp is an idyllic base with just seven tents set between the mountains and dunes of Namibrand Nature Reserve. A beautifully intimate retreat from which to embark on an exhilarating game drive along the thriving riverbed nearby.

grace in namibia

Final thoughts

My journey into Namibia was spectacular and exhilarating. I heard the singing of sand dunes as I surfed along them, saw the plains awaken beneath the vivid colours of sunrise, and tracked (and spotted) desert-adapted elephants and lions in the wild. All by quadbike, sandboard, and hot air balloon. But, of course, there are other routes and ways to discover the secrets of Namibia’s deserts – and other hotels in Namibia from which to explore. Whenever you wish to embark on your luxury vacation to Namibia, we’ll start designing it for you. Today, if you like.

Discover your own Namibia

Amid the breath-taking wilderness of ancient desert, Namibia is a land of serene isolation and wonderful wildlife. Our luxury Travel Experts know it from top to bottom – and are on hand to curate your very own bespoke trip.

Take me to Namibia