What are you missing the most during the long days of lockdown? Convivial dinners with beloveds? The pleasure of browsing your favourite wine boutique? The solitude of an early-morning jog?
For me it’s quite simple: the horizon, and the simple ocular pleasure of staring; eyes going soft-focus as the earth curves tantalisingly out of sight. No, during these weeks the four walls of my suburban home have never quite cut it. So I know where I’ll be heading as soon as the coast is clear: Namibia, and the wide-open spaces of the NamibRand Private Nature Reserve.
It’s a 200,000ha conservation success story; of degraded farmland rehabilitated into one of southern Africa’s most remarkable conservation areas. Don’t come in search of ticking off the Big Five though. While you’ll certainly admire herds of antelope and the occasional journey of giraffe, it’s the landscapes that are the star attraction here. Expect scimitars of red dunes and the alchemy of grassy plains turning into gold come sunset. Spend a morning discovering the mystery of the region’s famed “fairy circles” that polka dot the landscape, or marvel at ancient rock art. It’s an unforgettable corner of Africa, and with just a handful of luxe lodges sharing these empty plains it’s paradise for a post-corona escape.
Here’s where to unpack your bags…
KWESSI DUNE LODGE
The latest addition to the NamibRand’s menu of eco-minded lodges is the charming Kwessi Dune Lodge, by boutique safari company Natural Selection. Fitting the Natural Selection ethos, the main lodge is a homely space: sink into the deep-buttoned couches in the cosy library, pull up a chair at the well-stocked bar, or settle in on the wide terrace looking out over the eye-catching emptiness of the NamibRand.
While Kwessi offers similar activities to the other outfits in the NamibRand — game drives, dune walks, and daylong excursions to the dunes of Sossusvlei — it’s Kwessi’s dozen idiosyncratic suites that you’ll particularly fall for.
Strung out in seclusion from the lodge, the suites offer oodles of charm and character. Think vintage maps framing romantic four-poster beds, striped canvas walls and indoor-outdoor showers. And after sunset you’ll want to be nowhere else. Attached to each canvas-and-thatch suite is an outdoor “Stargazer” room, with a separate double bed laid out beneath the southern skies. Kwessi is also entirely solar-powered, so your conscience can sleep easy.
&BEYOND SOSSUSVLEI DESERT LODGE
Aside from those horizons, the crystal skies above are another drawcard of the NamibRand, which was certified as Africa’s first International Dark-Sky Reserve in 2012. If heavenly bodies are your thing, you’ll want to head for Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.
Set within its own 12,000ha concession bordering the NamibRand, the lodge is the only one in the region with a dedicated on-site observatory. Equipped with a state-of-the-art telescope and star-tracking technology, nightly stargazing talks are led by the lodge’s resident astronomer. Sustainability is as important as stargazing here. While a major rebuild of the lodge in 2019 added layers of luxury — private plunge pools at each suite, to start — the eco-credentials are impeccable. Solar arrays cover the roof of each room to power everything from the aircon to grey-water systems, while intuitive architecture turns to perforated steel sails and natural materials to minimise the ecological footprint of the lodge.
&Beyond also boasts some of the best guides in the business, who will lead you on daytime adventures ranging from extended dune walks to e-biking across the desert plains.
Stephan Brückner, owner of the Wolwedans Collection, has good reason to feel a deep connection to the NamibRand. It was his father, Albi, who laid the foundations for the reserve and since Wolwedans’ Dune Camp first opened in 1994 it has put Namibia on the map for sustainable tourism. From that single camp, today the Wolwedans Collection offers a string of upscale lodges across the reserve.
Alongside Dune Camp, the nine-bed Dunes Lodge is the icon; its classic canvas suites perched atop ochre-red sands to offer endless Namib views. The Private Camp is rented on an exclusive-use basis, while Boulders Safari Camp is the most remote option, sheltered by granite outcrops in the far southern reaches of the reserve. Whichever you choose, you’ll be blown away by the service, the serenity, and the utterly unique landscape.
• From the May edition of Wanted, 2020.