Self Drive Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls – Wild Trails, Wild Animals, Wild Water
My police escort was nodding off in the passenger seat. Her head kept dropping then jerking back, the way it does when you’re falling asleep while sitting up. Each drop was a little deeper than the last.
I didn’t know how she could sleep with the 4×4 bouncing and squirming over the gravel as we raced through the wildlife reserve at double the speed limit, a rooster tail of white dust hanging in the air behind us.
Her hand relaxed its grip on the AK47 assault rifle that was leaning against her leg and the next bump caused the weapon to slide down into the footwell with a clatter. Woken, she stretched out and yawned. I still couldn’t quite believe I had an armed policewoman in my car.
I often take a drone on my travels. They’re great for photography from a completely new perspective. Unfortunately they’re banned from Namibia’s Etosha national park so mine had been handed in to the police at the western gate.
They had promised to have it delivered to the eastern gate ready for my onward journey, but they forgot. A very friendly man called Moses, who was the head of the park rangers, had arranged for me to be allowed to drive the 150km across rough gravel trails all the way through the park to collect my drone, and 150km back again.
The condition was that I could only do this with the young policewoman armed with pistol and rifle accompanying me in order to comply with park rules.
300km is a long way and so she had pretty much ordered me to drive well over the speed limit so that we would make it back and out of the park before nightfall.
It’s the time like that when things haven’t gone according to plan that you get the best stories, but it was about to get better. We still had about 80 miles to go when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
I eased off the throttle as I looked again, trying to see what had caught my attention.
Something in the distance across the grass…
And then another!
I stopped the car and grabbed the camera. All the other animals on the plain — a couple of elephants, a lone zebra, and countless antelope and ostriches — stood motionless and watching intently as what I could now see were both lionesses just strolled about like they owned the place.
When I’d decided to have an adventure and self drive Namibia and Botswana, one of the biggest bucket-list dreams was to see big cats in the wild.
While planning, I spotted a place on the map called “Elephant Dance Village (abandoned due to lions)”. It’s hard not be excited by things like that.
The last couple of days in Etosha I’d had no luck, but there they were, just when I least expected it. It was thrilling and captivating. It was all too brief because I still had to return my policewoman to her home, but still… What a day!
We made it back and I continued to my next safari camp where you need staff escorts after dark because of the cheetahs and leopards… There’s no doubt Africa is thrilling, and if you really want a thrill then try driving through it in your own 4×4 and sleeping under the stars.
Self Drive South Africa
Arriving at Cape Town airport I was met by a rep from the car hire firm. This was not an ordinary hire car though.
A Ford Ranger 4×4 pickup, with rooftop tents, a long-range fuel tank, and fully equipped with water tank, fridge/freezer, gas cooker, camp chairs and table, solar panel, and even an awning to sit under on a sunny day.
With space inside for four adults, and two tents each with a double bed, I was going to have plenty of room to enjoy living in it for the next month.
Perfect to self drive Namibia, Botswana, onto Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, and back through South Africa. You can find safari camper rental in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.
Namibia is the biggest draw, and if you only have a couple of weeks you might choose to base yourself there. If you do want to self drive Namibia, you can fly into Windhoek and rent a safari camper there.
If you want to self drive Botswana and Victoria Falls as well, then you can start in Cape Town or Windhoek, and travel overland.
The border crossings can be intimidating and time consuming, especially in Zimbabwe, but in Southern Africa they are well-used to tourists passing through in rented safari campers, and it’s actually quite easy to do.
It’s certainly nothing like the corrupt, aggressive, confusing, and expensive procedures you sometimes encounter if you’re travelling by motorcycle in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Russia.
In Cape Town I quickly discovered that the outdoor lifestyle is extremely popular and had no trouble finding enormous shops full of every imaginable piece of camping gear.
I stocked the camper with a couple of boxes of South African red wine and enough Biltong to feed an army, filled the fridge with Kudu sausages and Ostrich burgers, then set off north into Namaqua, hoping to find some off-road trails and bush camping.
I was starting to get used to the 4×4, which I had nicknamed “The Beast”, but was a little nervous at the thought of making my way into the wilderness.
I left town early, knowing that the first day on the road in a strange vehicle with unfamiliar equipment was going to keep me busy. City suburbs had already given way to rolling hills and farmland by sunrise, and the next three hundred miles passed easily with little traffic.
I soon found my way onto some exhilarating trails through the bush and began to learn what off-road driving is all about, before finding an easy camping spot and throwing a Boerewors sausage on the stove.
The camp-fire would have to wait for another day because I had to get to grips with erecting the tent (it was up in under two minutes!) and operating the gas and the all the other bits and pieces.
Darkness came on very quickly leaving just me and The Beast and a million freaky noises. On that first night, every distant animal noise had me jumping like watching a horror film, but the tent was so very comfortable.
The total absence of artificial light gave me an ink black sky with the milky way and a zillion stars interrupted only by the silhouette of the mountains surrounding my own personal campsite.
Self Drive Namibia
Border crossings in some parts of the world can be an intimidating, time-consuming, and sometimes very expensive hassle.
I’ve done a lot of overland travel, and I’ve seen it all. Bribes. Threats. Scams. Guns. The crossing from South Africa into Namibia was better organised and more friendly than any other I’d seen.
I’m always anxious on the approach but pulling away on the other side is a joyful blast of freedom, especially when you’re faced with the empty desert of Namibia.
I made my way to the Fish River Canyon. It can’t compete with the Grand Canyon when it comes to take-your-breath-away spectacle, but it wins hands down when it comes to atmosphere, thanks to the Martian landscape you have to pass through to get there.
That night’s campsite would be at the Canyon Roadhouse with its unique diner full of old vehicles. With country and western on the stereo, I enjoyed a glass of Namibian Erongo Mountain Shiraz and an Oryx steak.
Apparently in Namibia service is always with a smile and a “glass” of the house red is half a bottle of sensational wine. I don’t know what on Oryx is but judging by that steak it must be the size of an elephant.
Delicious, in great surroundings which looked even better as darkness fell and candles were lit, and it cost me about a tenner.