Planning a Self Drive Safari in Namibia

A Namibian self-drive safari was a long time dream of mine which became reality when Qantas held a sale on flights in February 2017. On a muggy Tuesday evening in February, I secured two tickets for myself and my partner from Melbourne to Windhoek via Johannesburg in Namibia’s peak travel season – August.

I'm a traveller who likes adventure interspersed with luxury. I'm happy to camp for a couple of days, then be able to sleep in a real bed and wash my hair properly for a couple of days. I would never, ever go more than three days without a proper shower! 

So on this trip, I had grand plans to book a kitted up camper truck, and stay at a combination of campsites, AirBnBs and lodges on a three week self-driving journey around the country. Easy, right? As it turns out, not so - here are some things I learned when planning my trip:

Book everything early, like a year in advance early! 

Namibia was then - and probably still is now - a country that is booming as a tourist destination. I started booking in February for travel in August (peak season) and spent hours begging operators on the phone and by email for cars and accommodation. Staff at car hire companies actually laughed at me, saying “you’re crazy to think you can get car in August at this late date!”. Save yourself the pain and book early. Like 12 months before early.

To make things more complex, I had a couple more friends want to come along. At that stage I had just secured a 4WD camper - I booked another ute to afford us more personal space and that was a great decision!

Get some South African rand before you arrive in Windhoek

Flying to Windhoek is arduous if coming from anywhere in Australia due to the lack of direct connections. From Melbourne, you have to get into Sydney early. Then you get onto the 1055 to Jo'burg, layover for about three hours before boarding a SAA plane to Windhoek. It’s over 20 hours of travel in total and you're going to arrive late in the evening .

In Namibia, particularly if you need a taxi to your accommodation, you're going to need cash and the money changer at Hosea Kutako Airport isn't open at night.  We found that South African rand (ZAR) is perfectly acceptable throughout the country at a 1:1 conversion rate. At the time of my trip in August 2017, the exchange rate was roughly 10NAD or ZAR to 1AUD. 

If you want to be super super prepared, bring along at least one adaptor that fits these kinds of sockets. Namibia was a former German colony so British and Australian electrical plugs don't fit! 

Can't get one beforehand? Don't stress - adaptors are available cheaply at local Windhoek supermarkets - no need to pay double or triple for one at the airport. 

Tip your taxi driver and the wait staff

When we arrived at Namibia's Hosea Kutako Airport late in the evening, we were approached by a gentleman asking if we would like a taxi. Initially, we brushed him off as a tout but it turned out he was the only ticket into town! 

We'd booked a modern apartment on Airbnb located near the city centre but our host had withheld the complex name (for security maybe?). As such, we had a little trouble finding it. Our taxi driver very kindly let us use his mobile data to contact our host for specific directions. He also waited with us until we got inside, which was really nice as it was pitch dark by the time we arrived.

To give you an idea of cost,  our private taxi cost us NAD350 from the airport to Windhoek, a trip of around 40 minutes one-way.

I know it's not customary to tip at home, but so many of the guides, drivers and waitstaff on our trip went above and beyond, plus they work such long hours it's criminal - so tip generously if you feel they did their job well.  At servos, if you tip the person who fills up your car, they'll clean your windscreen and wing mirrors - well worth the change as there is just so much dust!   

Dust is everywhere.

Wi-Fi is patchy, so buy a local SIM

At the time we visited, we found the Wi-Fi is largely unreliable throughout Namibia even after we bought an MTC local SIM. Having local mobile service though was really handy - calls and texts were cheap so we used it to keep in touch with our friends in the second vehicle throughout our journey. We found MTC to have the best overall coverage and we used the Aweh Gig plan (1GB for a week), which costs a paltry 32NAR.

Beware of potholes in the road 

If you've read my article about driving in Namibia, you'll have an idea of how bad the roads are outside of Windhoek. We got a few flat tyres and spent a bit of time on repairs! 

The bitumen roads within the capital aren't fantastic either. 

Given there were no footpaths, I fell into a pretty big pothole about 5 minutes' walk outside our apartment and was lucky all I got was a grazed knee. I had to go to a pharmacy for gauze and antiseptic - and fortunately, there was a great one next to the quirky Joe’s Beerhouse which has a toilet seats for bar stools. 

Namibian supermarkets are well stocked

There is plenty of variety in Windhoek’s supermarkets but by all means bring "luxury" foods such as coffee and your favourite snacks from home if you can’t live without them! Don't expect as big a selection as Oz but there are plenty of interesting local flavours and foods to try.  Also, outside of the capital, food is easily traded with locals who understandably prefer goods to cash as there's simply nowhere to spend money! 

After we picked up our vehicles, we drove to a Shop Rite in downtown Windhoek, a really authentic local supermarket where many women in traditional Herero garb shopped. This is where we got our mobile SIM card, a proper adaptor that fit the most common socket plus plenty of drinking water (10 litres each to supplement our 80L camping car tank).

Really awesome garlic butter - you'll find it among the cheeses and spreads.

Local snacks for our road trip

Plan to stop often

Every trip took more time than expected due to roadworks and/or poor quality of road, so plan your journey with a view to stopping often. We were also jetlagged but you can use this to your advantage. Gameviewing activities usually start before sunrise while after dark, there's scant little to do so you can turn in early without any FOMO. 

In many places throughout the trip, I wished we had organised to stay longer despite being generally anti-camping. For one, the standard of camping in Namibia is way higher than in Australia despite being very affordable. You get your own private campsite with your own bathroom/shower block, braai (barbecue) and tap for washing/drinking. I've reviewed all the campsites we stayed at here.

Secondly, every place had a pool despite being in the middle of nowhere, plus there were often a wealth of activities on offer. At Waterberg, we tracked the reserve's two rhino on foot, while at Palmwag we went on game drives and experienced a sleepout. There were so many other places we wished we had more time to explore such as the Klip River Valley, Twyfelfontein and Mount Brandberg.

Namibian water is mostly safe to drink

Only in one place – Uis – did we come across non-potable tap water. Everywhere else, tap water was safe to drink although taste varied greatly. As a general rule, places with a natural spring such as Palmwag and Waterberg had great tasting water. Etosha and Hoada had quite salty water, whilst Uis offered something akin to seawater!

Eating out is reasonable and drinks are cheap

The quality of food in Namibia is high and very meat-centric, which is true about most of southern Africa! As vegetarians, we often had delicious and oftentimes very large cheese toasties - sometimes served with a slice of tomato or onion. 

Alcoholic drinks are very reasonably priced so save yourself carting sundowners around the country and just buy them from the campsite/lodge bar. At the time we visited, beers and ciders were about 30-40NAD with G&Ts around 50.

Read our review of the Ford Ranger Bushcamper we hired in Namibia here. For Namibia driving tips, read this post.

We rented a slightly different 4WD camper on our trip to Botswana - the Avis Safari Group L. You can watch a comprehensive video review of that vehicle below and read this post for driving tips in Botswana.