A Guide to Namibia Self Drive Safari in Etosha National Park

Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa may be the most popular African safari locations for first-timers, but a Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park isn’t anything less magnificent! Namibia alone is a destination you HAVE to put on your radar. Breathtaking red sand dunes of the Namib Desert in Sossusvlei, dramatic landscapes of Spitzkoppe and Fish River Canyon, as well as the rich culture of the semi-nomadic Himba people are reasons enough to visit, but when you throw safari into the mix as well, you get yourself a trip of a lifetime! I certainly had one.

Elephant at Okaukuejo Waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

The best place to see The Lion King’s cast in real life is the famous Etosha national park, a wildlife reserve spread over 22,270 square kilometres, with a massive salt pan in the middle. This unique backdrop and the ability to explore the place independently make it especially perfect for wildlife photography. In the four days I spent there I managed to see (and snap) everything from giraffes, zebras, warthogs and elephants to lions, hyenas, endangered black rhinos and even a leopard! Not to mention the blue wildebeest, springbok, oryx, kudu… They were everywhere and so close to the road you could almost touch them! For all the details you need to know to plan your own Namibia self drive safari in Etosha, check out my ultimate guide below.

Lion at Okondeka Waterhole on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

THE BEST TIME TO GO ON SAFARI IN NAMIBIA

Namibia has a wet season during its summer, between November and May, and a dry season during the winter, from June to October. Technically speaking, an optimal visit for a safari is at the end of the dry season, in September and October. This is when the animals are forced to gather around Etosha’s waterholes due to the lack of water elsewhere, so it’s the easiest to spot them. Almost every waterhole in Etosha has a designated viewing point big enough for several cars to stop and observe the wildlife, making the conditions absolutely perfect! You just have to sit back in your vehicle and await their arrival with a camera in your hands, of course.

A group of giraffes on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

The lack of bushy, lush vegetation in the dry season also makes it easier to spot the wildlife out and about, however, that doesn’t mean you’ll be completely out of luck if you’re heading over some other time. I went in the off season, so to speak, at the beginning of May, and the land was completely dry. Probably due to severe droughts Namibia has been facing over the last few years. While they aren’t great for the population or the nature by any means, I guess they do extend the “safari season”…

While muddy roads are a massive drawback of the wet season safari, the rainy months do come with some rewards too. You have thousands of flamingos and white pelicans making an appearance on the Etosha Pan, plus there’s fewer crowds, which makes finding accommodation much easier. If you’re planning a trip during peak times (dry season), beware the costs are higher and last-minute accommodation is extremely difficult to find. It’s recommended to make reservations about a year ahead! Yes, a year.

A giraffe eating leaves in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Baby elephant Elephant in Etosha National Park, Namibia

GETTING TO ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK

Etosha National Park is just a 4-hour drive away from Windhoek, the capital of Namibia with an international airport you’ll most likely be flying into. The road leading up is one of the best in the country (a.k.a. one of the few paved), so the drive’s pretty straightforward, but there’s one thing to note if you’re coming from another direction – vet check points.

They’re basically car inspections set up to prevent the foot-and-mouth disease, which can affect the local cattle. Raw meat and animal products are prohibited to be taken in and out of certain areas, so make sure to plan your pre-safari shopping accordingly and have your car fridge ready for inspection. Check out THIS, THIS and THIS website for detailed information.

Zebra portrait from Etosha National Park, Namibia

You can enter Etosha National Park via four different gates, the most popular being the Anderson’s Gate in the south of the park – ideal if you’re coming from Windhoek, Swakopmund or Damaraland and heading to camp Okaukuejo or Halali. If you’re coming in from the east and heading to Namutoni Camp, Von Lindequist Gate is a better option. Nehale Iya Mpingana Gate is a bit further up north, while the Galton Gate on the west is open for the Dolomite Camp residents only, I believe.

Upon entering you’ll also have to pay your entrance to the park (it’s not included in accommodation, which you pay for separately). There’s a fee of 80 NAD (5.60 USD) per person per day, and a fee of 10 NAD (0.70 USD) per vehicle with 10 seats or less per day. Also, note you can only enter and exit the park between sunrise and sunset, and there’s some waiting time before you get let through, depending on the queue.

Gnu on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
Gazelle on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

WHERE TO STAY IN ETOSHA?

For the best safari experience, definitely choose accommodation located inside the park. Mornings and evenings are when the animals are way more active, so you’ll want to start driving around as early as possible, which you won’t be able to do unless you’re staying in one of the camps inside. There’s 6 to choose from. The Dolomite Camp and the Onkoshi Camp are more exclusive, with luxury tents/chalets, but far away from the public self-drive routes for game viewing, so if you want to drive around yourself, they’re the two to avoid.

Zebra on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
Gazelle on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

The three best options are Okaukuejo Camp in the west, Namutoni Camp in the east, and Halali Camp, which is located halfway between the two. They all offer a wide range of accommodation (camping sites, chalets and double rooms), and have all the facilities you may need – a petrol station, a restaurant, a pool with a bar nearby, and a shop with souvenirs, drinks, snacks and (mainly canned) food. If you’re camping and want to prepare your own meals rather than eat at a restaurant, you can, but make sure to head to a supermarket in a city nearby before you enter the park.

One of the best features all three camps have in common as well is a floodlit waterhole with a sit-down viewing area. It’s the perfect way to observe the wildlife without even having to leave the camp. I stayed at Halali and swang by its waterhole every night after the camp’s closing time. The elephants threw a show for us every single evening!

Elephants at Halali Waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Clumsy baby elephant on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

Speaking of Halali Camp, I camped there all four days and truly believe it’s the best option. It’s next to some of the most popular waterholes, smack in the middle of the park, making it easy to explore the east and the west without having to drive 3 hours one way. Not to mention the Halali restaurant had the best buffet food in my opinion, plus has the cheapest accommodation options out of the three! One night in a room or a chalet will cost you:

999-1998 NAD (70-140 USD) per person in Halali;
1332-1943 NAD (93-136 USD) per person in Namutoni;
1332-4163 NAD (93-292 USD) per person in Okaukuejo.

Black rhino on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

The newest addition to the park is Olifantsrus Camp, which offers a camping-only experience for 389 NAD (27 USD) per person per night. It’s located west of Okaukuejo and has more basic amenities such as a kiosk selling drinks and light meals, a communal kitchen and ablutions blocks. No petrol station in this one, unfortunately!

Throughout the day all camps (apart from the Dolomite and the Onkoshi camps) are open to the visitors of the national park, so you can stop for a toilet break or a warm lunch mid-safari. Oh, and the camp waterholes are accessible too!

P.S. Okaukuejo Camp is the administrative centre of Etosha, so you’ll might have to stop there on your way in/out.

Baby hyena on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
African wild boar on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED FOR ETOSHA SAFARI?

Different people have different needs, but I’d say three to four days for a safari in Etosha National Park is perfect. It gives you enough time to check out all the busiest waterholes, some even twice, three times. Of course, you can stay longer, but by the end of day four, the people I travelled with and I were all absolutely exhausted. Driving around and stopping to observe the wildlife doesn’t sound hard on paper, but when you’re doing it all day long, day after day after day, while trying to stay concentrated to spot harder to find animals at all times, you eventually need a break.

Etosha National Park self drive safari in Namibia
Game at Halali Waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

TIPS FOR DRIVING IN ETOSHA

Etosha has bumpy, gravel roads you need to stick to at all time (no off-road driving is allowed), and while a 4×4 like a double cab Toyota Hilux isn’t officially required, I would certainly recommend it for your self drive safari. Especially for the rainy season! Not only will it prevent you from getting stuck in a ditch, but you’ll also need it for the rest of your Namibia adventures regardless. Plus, sitting up higher is a huge bonus for the safari!

Speaking of gravel roads, you’ll probably have to deal with a flat tyre sooner or later. Make sure you always have a spare one with you and get the damaged one fixed as soon as possible at your nearest petrol station. If you don’t know how to change a tyre yet, you should definitely learn before you go to Namibia.

You aren’t allowed to exit the car at any point on a safari in Etosha, so if – or should I say when – you get a flat tyre, make your way to the closest campsite or at least a designated fenced-off picnic/toilet spot to change it. Well, unless it’s impossible like in our case. One of our tyres literally exploded in the middle of nowhere, so we had to crawl out of the car and change it then and there. With a leopard nearby and lions around the corner. Fun times!

Leopard on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
Zebras on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

The speed limit throughout the park is 60 km/h, though you’ll want to drive even slower to be able to spot the animals. Also, keep in mind the distances are vast. When you throw all the spontaneous stops into the mix, you can quickly lose track of time and find yourself further away from where you’d like to be. Once the sunset starts approaching, make sure you don’t drive too far away from your camp, as you HAVE to be back before the gates close at sunset. Otherwise you’ll get fined (and possibly eaten by wild animals, haha). Speed limits, directions and mileages between the camps and the waterholes are indicated on painted cement blocks along the roads.

As far as the fuel goes, I’ve already mentioned there’s petrol stations in all three main camps. As are toilets, restaurants and basic convenience stores.

Lioness at Okondeka Waterhole on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park
Giraffe drinking on Namibia self drive safari in Etosha National Park

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND FOR NAMIBIA SELF DRIVE SAFARI

  • Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in your car without a shop nearby, keep plenty of water and some snacks in the front seats of your car.
  • Don’t feed or disturb the wildlife. When you reach a waterhole or stop in the middle of the road to observe the animals (that’s allowed), turn the engine off and keep quiet.
  • Don’t pick any plants.
  • Flying a drone is not allowed.
  • No littering is allowed – obviously.
  • You can’t drive around at night, but you can join an organised night safari tour. Ask about it in the camp you’re staying at. Camps also do morning and evening safari tours in case you don’t want to drive around yourself. but I didn’t join any of them, so I sadly can’t report whether they’re worth it or not.
  • Etosha National Park is completely malaria free during the dry season, however most international health organisations do advise taking prophylaxis if you’re coming over in wetter months. There’s a very slim chance you’ll catch malaria, though. I decided not to take any and had zero health problems.
  • Don’t forget to bring a telephoto lens for your camera. The 18-300mm one I had was great! I never needed a larger zoom, as the animals were always close by.
  • Your safari kit should also include plenty of memory cards, camera batteries and possibly a set of binoculars. Check out my packing list for Namibia over HERE to see what else to pack for your Namibian adventure.
  • Wi-fi is available for purchase in camps, but I haven’t had much luck with it. The speed was so slow it wouldn’t even load social media.
  • Patience is key. Don’t drive away if a waterhole you approach is empty. Wait for a bit, and you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised quick enough.
  • For the best lion sightings, head over to the Okondeka waterhole. You’re welcome. 😉
My video from Etosha National Park safari!

Things to Do in Queenstown If You’re NOT an Adrenaline Junkie

They don’t call Queenstown the adventure capital of the world for no reason. The birthplace of bungee jumping and the home of the most famous swing in the world is THE place to be for all thrill-seekers. Whether you want to take a leap of faith, brave the river rapids or scream your heart out on the Nevis Swing, you’re in for a treat. But what if you’re one of those people (like me) who break out in cold sweat just reading this? Should you skip Queenstown altogether? Definitely not. There’s so much more the city has to offer! Here’s the Sandra-approved list of things to do in Queenstown if you’re NOT an adrenaline junkie.

Things to do in Queenstown if you're not an adrenaline junkie

TAKE THE SKYLINE GONDOLA

Seeing Queenstown from Bob’s Peak is an absolute must. The view of the city and Lake Wakatipu with The Remarkables in the background will take your breath away – I promise! If you feel like hiking up the hill and saving a little bit of money in the process, you totally can. It shouldn’t take you more than two hours to reach the top, but you can also simply take the Skyline Gondola. The return ticket costs 44 NZD for adults and 26 NZD for children.

Once at the top, make sure to enjoy the spectacular 220-degree panorama from the viewing platform and have a drink, buffet lunch or dinner with the best view in town at Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar. If you’re in for a thrill, you can also take a ride or two on the Luge. Don’t worry, it’s a kid-approved activity!

View of Queenstown from Bob's Peak
Queenstown Skyline Gondola - Things to Do in Queenstown If You’re NOT an Adrenaline Junkie
View of Lake Wakatipu from Bob's Peak

TRY THE BEST BURGER IN THE WORLD

Allegedly. Fergburger is an attraction in itself these days. There’s a mile-long queue winding down the road from this iconic gourmet burger joint AT ALL TIMES, so you really can’t miss it. I wasn’t planning on participating in the craze, but after the locals AND my foreign friends who had visited before told me it’s worth the wait, I gave in.

So, was it worth the wait? Hell yeah. While it wasn’t the absolute best burger I’ve ever had (Five Guys is still a winner in my eyes), it was a close second. Big, fresh and juicy. There’s about 20 burgers to choose from, ranging from those prepared with beef, lamb and cod to falafel, pork and venison. The long menu made the 20-minute wait quite convenient for this miss indecisive over here to be completely honest…

The only real downside for me is that you have to be truly lucky to be able to sit down and enjoy the meal. Unexpectedly, Fergburger is still a very small burger joint with ultra limited seating available, so your best bet is to just walk down to the nearby lake and have a picnic-style lunch/dinner.

P.S. If you have a New Zealand SIM card in your phone, you can totally avoid the infamous queue. Just call and pre-order, then skip past the queue to collect your order straight away!

Fergburger Queenstown - the best burger in the world
Fergburger menu - Things to Do in Queenstown If You’re NOT an Adrenaline Junkie

BRAVE THE SHOTOVER JET

I know I said this was an adrenaline-free guide to Queenstown, but I can’t not mention Shotover Jet, a thrilling jet boat ride that takes you along the Shotover River, deep into the spectacular Shotover Canyon. Even though you think you’re going to crash into the rocks any second while you’re speeding at 90 km per hour, over water as shallow as 10 cm (while making 360° spins to top it all off), it’s so much fun! Even for the faint-hearted. I would do it over and over and over again, and that’s coming from a person who screams on the kiddie ‘roller coasters’. Ask my friends.

Shotover Jet is a great entry-level adventure combined with pristine natural beauty and a quick dive (not literal, don’t worry) into the history. Every ride is about half an hour long, during which you stop a few times to wait for the other boat to pass, and learn a bit about the place as well as the boat itself. If I’m ever coming back to Queenstown, I’m definitely going for another spin. Watch this video to see if this is something for you too – I filmed it all!

Shotover Jet Queenstown

EXPLORE BOB’S COVE

Secluded Bob’s Cove is only a 15-minute drive from the centre, but feels like a world away from the lively streets of Queenstown. It’s the place where the locals go to relax, take a swim in crystal clear turquoise water, do water sports, or hike up the hill above the stunning lake beaches for a scenic lookout over Lake Wakatipu and the lush green native forest. There are several walks you can take there, the most popular being the longer Twelve Mile Delta and the shorter Bob’s Cove Track, which is the one I went for. You can read all about Bob’s Cove Track in this article.

Bob's Cove Track - Things to Do in Queenstown If You’re NOT an Adrenaline Junkie

GO BACK IN TIME IN ARROWTOWN

Arrowtown is a quaint little town 20 km out of Queenstown. With its preserved colonial buildings it almost looks like an Old Western movie set, but it’s a living historical gold mining settlement from the 19th century Otago gold rush. The main street (Buckingham Street) is now boasting with sophisticated boutiques and cafes, while across the road you can find picturesque miners’ cottages and the remains of the Chinese miners’ village a bit further down, by the gold-bearing Arrow river.

Arrowtown New Zealand
Arrowtown church
Arrowtown gold shop
Arrowtown Buckingham Street

SEE THE WORLD-FAMOUS WANAKA TREE

Another place you might want to add to your list is Wanaka, a popular resort town an hour away from Queenstown. It’s the perfect getaway to Mount Aspiring National Park and its Blue Pools Track, but what made the place even more famous in the recent years is the #ThatWanakaTree, an Instagram-famous lone tree growing out of Lake Wanaka.

You might think I’m completely bonkers for driving an hour to see a tree and you might not want to do it yourself, but it’s a unique sight and if you’re a photographer yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand why it landed on my bucket-list. I just wish I caught it in better lighting, without a horde of tourists trying to do the same thing as me – I underestimated just how popular the spot really is.

The Wanaka Tree is located on the left side of the southern end of the lake, with a car parking nearby, so it’s very convenient to get to even if you’re only passing by.

Wanaka Tree
Queenstown to Wanaka

Watch more of my Queenstown adventures below and click HERE to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more travel videos!

8 Best Short and Easy Hikes in New Zealand (South Island)

Being Slovenian means that I was born with hiking shoes on and spent my childhood being DRAGGED up the local hills. As a teenager, binge-watching Gossip Girl was just way more appealing than getting the sweat on with my parents every weekend, you know? Back then a hiking-heavy holiday would make me pull my hair out, but my move to London has left me with a newfound appreciation of the rugged landscapes of my old stomping ground – and beyond. After four years in the big smoke, a trip to New Zealand couldn’t have come at a better time. Its scenery is absolutely breathtaking, but just as with anything else in life, the best views come after the climb. If you’re short on time, or simply don’t have the will or the fitness level to do one of the challenging day(s)-long treks, I’m here with my 8 best short and easy hikes you can do on the South Island of New Zealand. Some of these could even be described as walks, and can easily be done with kids or a dodgy knee – I can vouch myself for that one!

8 best short and easy hikes in new zealand Mount Cook New Zealand Hikes

HOOKER VALLEY TRACK IN AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

The first on the list of my 8 best short and easy hikes in New Zealand is the Hooker Valley Track, one of the most popular hiking trails and the longest of the bunch I’m going to mention today. The 10 km return walk takes about 4 hours to complete, however, the terrain is mostly flat (apart from the steps at the start) and requires the lowest fitness level.

Once you make it past the first viewpoint at Mueller Lake and cross the first of the three suspension bridges, there’s a nice wooden walkway leading you to the views of Mount Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand), snow-capped Mueller Glacier and Hooker Lake with floating bits of icebergs.

Don’t let all this ice talk fool you, though! If you’re visiting during the summer months, have your hat, your sunscreen, your sunglasses and your water bottle ready! I’m serious. I’ve learned what the New Zealand sun can do to you the hard way, right on this track. It can get scorching hot, and unfortunately, there’s no shade you can escape to – I found that to be the hardest part of the hike.

P.S. To reach the start of the trail, make sure you drive past Mount Cook Village to the White Horse Hill Campground. There’s quite a lot of parking space there, as well as toilets and drinkable water – super convenient to fill your water bottle before and after your hike.

8 best short and easy hikes in new zealand Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook New Zealand Hikes
Mueller Lake Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook New Zealand Hikes
8 best short and easy hikes in new zealand Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook New Zealand Hiking

PUNAKAIKI PANCAKE ROCKS AND BLOWHOLES WALK

This easy 1.1 km coastal loop walk beings right across the Punakaiki visitor centre and takes you around some of the most unique limestone formations – the rocks stacked like pancakes and blowholes, which put on quite a show when the tide is high! Trust me, you’ll be hanging around for more than 20 minutes the paved path officially takes you. The information panels will keep you busy reading all the interesting geological facts, and the views itself are worth slowing down your step too. Oh, and don’t forget to look across the ocean – you might spot a dolphin or two!

Punakaiki Pancase Rocks and Blowholes Walk New Zealand

FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER WALK

There’s not a lot of places in the world that will let you walk through a lush rainforest, only to find yourself right underneath a terminal face of a glacier 45 minutes later! The Franz Josef and the nearby Fox Glacier are most known for heli hikes on the glaciers themselves, but since they’re not the cheapest and often get cancelled due to bad weather, you might be better off doing one of the valley walks below the glaciers.

The Franz Josef Glacier Walk is a two-hour, 5.4 km long round-trip that will take you within 750 m of the glacier’s terminal face. It gets a bit ‘rocky’ at the end, but the first viewpoint at the end of the Forest Walk is super easy to reach within 15 minutes, with practically no incline. It takes you past streams and you get to see a nice waterfall too!

This is actually where I ended my mini hike, as it was raining and the glacier was dressed in fog, but if you do continue yourself, just make sure to follow the rules and stick to the track, as there are dangers of landslides and flash floods even in moderate rain.

Franz Josef Glacier Walk New Zealand

BLUE POOLS TRACK

The Blue Pools of Haast is where you’ll find some of the clearest fresh water in New Zealand, looking almost neon turquoise on a sunny day. A boardwalk takes you through an ancient forest, over Makarora River via a swing bridge, right up to the second bridge with the best views of the blue pools. If you’re brave enough, you can even go down to the beach area and take a dip in the freezing cold water!

Once again, the walk is completely flat and with only 1.5 km each way takes less than an hour from start to finish. It does get quite busy during the peak season, though, and since some parts of the path are quite narrow and the bridges only allow a limited amount of people to cross at the same time, allow some extra time to wait around for other people to pass you by.

One more piece of advice – cover every inch of your skin with an insect repellent before you head into the forest. The sandfly situation is crazy out there! If you don’t know what being bitten by a sandfly feels like, imagine being bitten by dozens of mosquitoes on steroids at the same time.

Another thing to note is that there are no facilities nearby, so if you need a toilet, you’ll have to hop in a car and drive a few kilometres down the road. Speaking of driving down the road, 20 km up north are also Thunder Creek Falls, which you definitely shouldn’t skip! The waterfall is truly majestic and only a 5-minute walk from the road.

Blue Pools Track New Zealand Hike
Blue Pools New Zealand Hikes
Thunder Creek Falls New Zealand

CAPE FOULWIND WALKWAY

The Cape Foulwind Walkway takes you along the rocky coastline, a spectacular sandy beach and a lighthouse, all the way to a seal colony at the end! The whole panoramic walkway is 3.4 km long and takes you an hour and a half to complete, but if you’re only coming for the seals, there’s also a shorter, 15-minute walk uphill to the viewing point, starting from the Tauranga Bay car park.

Cape Foulwind Walkway New Zealand
Cape Foulwind Lighthouse New Zealand
Tauranga Bay New Zealand
Cape Foulwind Seal Colony New Zealand

PITT HEAD WALK AT ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

The Abel Tasman National Park is located on the north of the South Island and couldn’t be more different from the glacial landscapes of the southern end. The turquoise sandy beaches make you feel like you’re on a tropical island – until you actually dip your toes into the cold Tasman Sea.

The 51 km long Coastal Track, which can be done in 3-5 days, is the main star of the show, but you don’t have to commit to the whole thing. The Pitt Head Loop Track gives you a nice taste of what the park has to offer in only an hour and a half/4 km.

To reach the track, you’ll have to catch a water taxi from either Marahau or Kaiteriteri to Anchorage. I suggest the latter, as you get to see the Split Apple Rock, New Zealand’s most famous rock formation, on the way too.

P.S. You will be hopping on and off the boat in water, so I suggest you to wear flip-flops, but have your running shoes in your backpack, as the track does go uphill a bit and can be slightly slippery.

Pitt Head Walk Abel Tasman National Park New Zealand Anchorage
Split Apple Rock Abel Tasman National Park New Zealand

HOKITIKA GORGE WALK

For even more bright blue waters, head to Hokitika Gorge. The return walk is just as short (1.3 km to be exact), but a bit more ‘foresty’ compared to the Blue Pools of Haast. After the first viewing platform, there’s a swing bridge to cross over the Hokitika River, but for the best views, you’ll have to go to the very end of the trail. You can also climb the rocks there, which makes for the perfect Insta shot, but do be careful. I don’t think falling in would end well…

The Hokitika Gorge Walk and the Blue Pools Track are quite similar, so if my vote for the list of 8 best short and easy hikes in New Zealand could only go to one, I would go for Hokitika Gorge – simply due to the fact that the water is more blue (though milkier) even when it’s overcast.

Hokitika Gorge Walk New Zealand
Hokitika Gorge Walk New Zealand

BOB’S COVE TRACK

For the best views of Queenstown, taking a gondola up to the Sky Centre is well worth the money, but if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists for a day and see the area from a completely different perspective, head over to Bob’s Cove, just 15 minutes outside the city. It’s on turquoise fresh water Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the forest and the mountains, where you can just sit down and relax or hike up to the viewpoint on the top of the hill.

Bob’s Cove Track, the last of my 8 best short and easy hikes in New Zealand, starts right at the parking lot and first leads you to the cove. There you then turn left and continue your way past a historic lime kiln and a jetty, after which the track starts going uphill. It doesn’t take more than 50 minutes to reach the top, but unlike the previous tracks I’ve mentioned, it does get quite steep and there’s a lot of slippery gravel on the path nearing the end too.

If you can, I’d suggest you to do the hike in the morning for two reasons – the parking lot is tiny and gets full very quickly, plus a good part of the track doesn’t have proper shade, despite being surrounded by trees, and we all know how strong the sun gets later on.

Bob's Cove New Zealand Queenstown
8 best short and easy hikes in new zealand Bob's Cove Track New Zealand Queenstown Hikes

For more information and the video footage of the hikes take a look at my New Zealand vlogs below!

Have you already been to the country? Are there any more trails I should add to the list of my 8 best short and easy hikes in New Zealand?

What to Pack for Namibia: Camping in the Desert

Considering how many times I’ve packed my suitcase in the last year alone, I may very well put ‘pro packer’ on my CV. Wake me up in the middle of the night, and I can throw together my stuff in a matter of minutes, with the light still off. Well, most often. When I was wondering what to pack for my trip to Namibia, the situation was slightly different. Not only had I never been to Africa before, but I’d also never been camping. My childhood summers spent in a caravan on the Croatian coast don’t count. This is sleeping in a tent in the middle of the desert we’re talking about. Now throw in limiting baggage allowance as well, and you’ve got yourself one very stressed out Sandra.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia sesriem

Just when I did tons of research, bought every never-owned-before item on my to-pack list, and thought I finally had everything under control, the reality set it. I put my sleeping bag and my sleeping mat in my suitcase, and there was about 5 centimetres of space left for the rest of the hundred items I was supposed to take with me. Luckily, four meltdowns and a genius idea later, I somehow managed to squeeze almost everything in. Who would have thought you could turn a hole of the sleeping mat into a snack drawer, a closet AND a beauty cabinet?! With my suitcase full to the bream (although as light as ever at only 15 kilos), I hopped on the plane and hoped for the best.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia spitzkoppe

Here’s what I ended up taking with me. Turns out, I did quite alright! I only had to buy a couple of extra items in Namibia, so I can now confidently say, below is the list of things you’ll need to survive three weeks of camping and traveling around one of the most magical places on planet Earth.

WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON

  • Passport
  • ID
  • Plane tickets
  • Accommodation confirmations
  • Driver’s license
  • International driver’s license
  • Travel insurance
  • 2x copies of all your important documents in case your documents get lost or stolen. Upon arrival, I always keep one copy in my backpack and one in my suitcase.
  • Wallet with at least two credit cards and cash to exchange into local currency.
  • Pen to fill in the customs declaration form on the plane.
  • Notebook that carries all your important travel information and passwords, plus you can use it to jot down your memories.
  • Mobile phone + charger
  • Power bank + charger
  • Camera equipment, which in my case includes two cameras (Nikon Z6 and Canon G7X Mark II), extra lenses, extra SD/XQD cards, extra batteries (take as many as you have), battery chargers, a microphone, card readers, etc.
  • Laptop if you’ll need it to transfer photos, otherwise don’t bother. Also note that the sand gets everywhere, so I would avoid any laptops on the expensive side. I wasn’t brave enough to take my MacBook Pro with me, so I bought a cheap, basic Asus Notebook for this trip.
  • External drive to transfer photos (if you wish).
  • Charger with 3 usb slots is my favourite to travel with, as I can charge several devices at the same time, without occupying extra sockets. There’s never enough sockets! Especially when you’re camping – one per camp site is the standard.
  • Car charger to charge your phone and camera batteries while driving. We didn’t have access to electricity for three days in a row, so it came in very handy.
  • Travel adaptor is of course a must, just make sure it’s the right one – Namibia has unusual sockets. If you can’t find it in your homeland, you can just get one from a supermarket in Namibia. They’re not hard to find.
  • Headlight to be able to function once the sun goes down. Making your way to the toilet, setting up a tent or cooking dinner is mission impossible if you don’t have one. The reason you should put it in your hand luggage is because batteries of any kind aren’t allowed in hold luggage.
  • A few days worth of clothes just in case your luggage gets lost. Unfortunately, you can’t just pop into Primark and quickly gather some clothing essentials in Namibia, so pack a few pairs of underwear, socks, two T-shirts, a pair of shorts, and a pair of long, comfy pants.
  • Jumper and a warm (winter) jacket, as it gets absolutely FREEZING at night in the desert. You can wear both on the plane.
  • High protection sunglasses
  • Contact lenses (if you wear them)
  • Multi-purpose cream/balm that can treat chapped lips and dry skin – the desert climate really wreaks havoc to your skin. I took a tube of Paw Paw Cream, which is also great for bites and hair finishing. Love a good multi-tasker!

P.S. For my carry-on I always use the Herschel’s Retreat Backpack, which doubles as my day-to-day backpack on pretty much all my travels. I take a considerate amount of camera gear with me, so I need something spacious, but small enough to fit under my seat if I’m flying with a low-cost airline. I can squeeze A LOT into it. It’s almost like the Mary Poppins bag!

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

CLOTHES & FOOTWEAR

  • Underwear for as many days you’re going.
  • Socks
  • T-shirts
  • Jumpers
  • Shorts
  • Long travel pants
  • Leggings or sportswear
  • Swimsuit (some camping sites have pools)
  • Fluffy socks to sleep in when it gets super cold.
  • Beanie to sleep in when your ears are freezing at night.
  • Summer scarf mainly for sun protection in the car.
  • Sun hat/cap to wear in the desert during the day.
  • PJs
  • Towel that dries fast. If you take a shower at night and leave in the early morning hours (which you probably will all the time), you won’t be able to dry a big, fluffy one properly. I went for a microfibre towel that not only dries fast but also takes a lot less space in the suitcase.
  • Small towel to wash your face/hair. I just took a normal one.
  • Bag for dirty clothes, which also comes in super handy for taking your clothes to wash at the campsite and to put them away when you’re in the shower.
  • Sneakers – you don’t need proper hiking shoes, just something comfy to walk in, with a closed front (the sand is HOT). I had my Nike Free Runs.
  • Flip-flops is what I wore most of the time, and they’re essential for taking a shower in the shared camp site bathrooms too.

How many pieces of clothing you’re going to take with you obviously depends on the length of your stay and whether you’ll have the opportunity (or the will) to wash them. I took a week’s worth, as I didn’t have space for more in my suitcase, and hand washed them at every opportunity. One piece of advice, though – don’t pack anything nice. The sand goes everywhere and all your clothes will get dirty and turn orange at one point or another. Basically, take the things you’re okay with being ruined.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia deadvlei

COSMETICS AND TOILETRIES

  • Tissues for nose blowing (dry air ain’t kind to nasal passages) and toilet going needs.
  • Anti-bacterial wipes
  • Sunscreen with SPF 50
  • Aloe vera gel in case you get a nasty sunburn.
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hair brush
  • Dry shampoo in case you won’t have time to wash (and dry) your hair.
  • Hair ties
  • Shampoo + conditioner
  • Shower gel
  • Deodorant
  • Razors
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby wipes to come to the rescue when you don’t have access to water and can’t shower.
  • Super hydrating cream (desert dry skin alert)
  • Travel laundry detergent
  • Medicine – whatever you can think of, as I haven’t seen a single pharmacy. Some of the things I took are plasters, pain relief pills, allergy pills, cold/flu medicine, rehydration salts, probiotic powder, active carbon, nasal spray, insect repellent, eye drops, tea tree cream…
  • Makeup and tools – I didn’t end up wearing/needing any, but I had tweezers, a nail file, nail scissors, CC cream, a brow pencil, mascara, concealer, makeup brushes, an eyelash curler, and a little mirror.
  • Micellar water that you can use as a makeup remover. I just used it to clean the dirt off of my face. Lol.
  • Cotton pads
  • Face wash
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

CAMPING GEAR

  • Sleeping bag for below zero temperatures – I was told the one for down to zero degrees Celsius was alright, but it was not enough to keep me warm whilst we were sleeping in the desert. My whole body was shaking from the cold despite putting on my winter jacket and my beanie as well! When we moved up north, a thinner sleeping bag was enough, though. I even slept in nothing but shorts and a T-shirt in the end.
  • Self-inflating mattress – I took a sleeping mat with me, which turned out to be the worst idea ever, as it did NOTHING. I felt every rock on the ground and every bone in my body! Luckily, my fellow travellers had a spare self-inflating mattress, and they’ve kindly let me borrow it. It saved my life!
  • Inflatable pillow
  • Reusable cutlery
  • Reusable cup
  • Reusable plate
  • Reusable bowl
  • Zip-lock bags to protect items like food and camera gear from the sand.
  • Massive bin bags to cover your suitcase with, again, to avoid the sand getting everywhere.
  • Rope and pegs for drying clothes.
  • Extension cord with several outlets.

We rented a tent and all cooking gear at the same company we rented a car from.

what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

  • Binoculars for safari
  • Food – I’d advise you to take some with you in case you have special dietary requirements. The big supermarkets have a decent selection, but special items are harder to find. The food can be brought into the country without a problem. There’s no need to declare anything.
  • Alcohol to ‘disinfect yourself’ – I had a bottle of vodka with me, but didn’t have a single sip. Potential dehydration freaked me out more than bacilli.
  • Reusable water bottle – we were buying the 5 litre water bottles to share for cooking and drinking, and gave the empty ones to the locals. They really appreciate it, as they use them to carry the water from the well/river to their home.
  • Pencils and candy for local kids
  • Tripod in case you want to do some astrophotography.
what to pack for camping in the desert in namibia milky way
Booking.com

Internet in New Zealand: Mobile Data & WiFi for Tourists

Even though I’ve been actively trying to spend less time online, staying connected whilst on the road is still essential for me. A career in social media means having to be available around-the-clock, holidays or not, and let’s face it – Google Maps is definitely the way to go when you’re trying to find your way around new cities.

Internet in New Zealand: Mobile Data & WiFi for Tourists - iVideo Portable Wifi Device

PORTABLE WI-FI DEVICE

In Europe, getting online is thankfully pretty fuss-free for us Europeans, but whenever I’m off to explore another continent, a portable Wi-Fi device is my go-to.

iVideo is the company I’ve been loyal to ever since my trip to Sri Lanka a few years ago. Their pocket Wi-Fi turned out to be a wonderful companion then, and has come in even more handy this time around for my New Zealand road trip.

I love that it lets me avoid buying and switching SIM cards all the time, allowing me keep my own phone number as well as cut down the cost I’d normally spend on data, especially if I’m hopping from one country to another – the Global WiFi with 4G speed and 500 MB of data per day I had with me doesn’t only work in New Zealand, but in 86 different countries across the globe! Plus, you can connect five devices at a time, cutting down the cost even more if you’re sharing it as a group. Speaking of savings, you can use the code ‘SANDRAPOTISEK’ at checkout and save 10% on your iVideo order.

While public wifi isn’t hard to find in bigger cities across the country (coffee shops, restaurants, museums and i-SITE Visitor Information Centres are always a good shot), I often found it very slow, even in hotels, so I ended up using my portable Wi-Fi almost exclusively.

Not to mention it was great for road emergencies too! Once we made our way to the North Island, we quickly discovered our rented GPS hadn’t been updated with any of the new roads (and by roads, I mean major highways) in quite a while, so being able to connect to the portable WiFi and use Google Maps for directions instead was godsent.

One thing to note, though! A pretty large portion of New Zealand has bad signal or no signal at all. Zero, none, niente. You can spend hours driving without being able to go online (or call for that matter), so naturally, the portable WiFi won’t work in those remote areas either.

Internet in New Zealand: Mobile Data & WiFi for Tourists - iVideo Portable Wifi Device

SIM CARDS

If you’re visitng New Zealand for a longer period of time (lucky you), getting a local SIM card might be a better option. Spark, Vodafone, 2Degrees and Skinny are the main providers, all offering travel SIM cards for tourists.

I ended up getting one from Vodafone for the second half of our trip, as I had a whole bunch of phone calls to make and their shop was the most convenient to find at a time. It got me 4 GB of data for $49, same as it would if I got one from Spark. Skinny (4.5 GB for $36) and 2 Degrees (10 GB for $49) are cheaper, but harder to get a hand on.

P.S. Do check if your SIM card works before you leave the shop. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in my iPhone even though it’s unlocked and has worked with foreign SIM cards before, but the unlocked Samsung we had with us saved the day.

Autumn Beauty: Oldies But Goldies

Autumn Beauty: Oldies But Goldies

Beauty-wise autumn has always been my favourite season. Earth-toned eyeshadows and dark bold lips are the two makeup trends I’ll never get tired of, not to mention my skin is totally loving the in-between stage of oily face central and dry patch galore. The products I’ve been loving this summer (and wrote about HERE) are still on my weekly agenda; however, there’s a few oldies but goldies that have come to play along for the time being.

Essence Need Your Love Nail Polish Review Swatch

Is it even autumn if you don’t whip out all the burgundy shades you own? I think not. Starting with nails, my go-to nail polish is either Essie’s ‘Bahama Mama’ or its cheaper, darker alternative – ‘Need Your Love’ by Essence. Both have a great thick consistency, are completely opaque with two coats and stay on more than just a couple of days. The only issue I have with darker shades in general is that they’re a mess to remove. Anyone else sporting burgundy fingers every Sunday night?

Another burgundy gem I’ve dug out from the depths of my beauty drawer is Bourjois’ Rouge Edition Velvet in ’24 Dark Cherie’, one of the very few dark liquid lipsticks that doesn’t apply patchy. Even with high end brands I find bold shades to be ultra streaky more often than not, but this one layers very nicely (I put on two coats). The velvet consistency is also extremely comfortable to wear and doesn’t dry out your lips even a tiny bit, but it does have one downside – it takes ages to dry and doesn’t fully set like a proper matte normally would, so you do need to reapply it after meals. I do like the fact that I can remove it without scrubbing half of my face off, though!

 Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet in 24 Dark Cherie Review

 Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet in 24 Dark Cherie Swatch

Wearing Bourjois’ Rouge Edition Velvet in ’24 Dark Cherie’

I remember trying La Roche-Posay’s Effeclar Duo(+) Unifiant a couple of years back, but I had it in ‘Medium’, a shade too dark for my then pasty white skin, so even though I loved the product itself, I didn’t end up using it a whole lot. This time around I got it in the shade ‘Light’ and the story is completely different – one month on, I’m already running out! My sister and I are both all over it. I love it for the days I need some coverage but don’t necessarily want to wear a proper foundation, as it provides just enough to even out your skin tone, without feeling heavy on your skin. It’s basically a tinted cream with the benefits of La Roche Posay’s cult product Effeclar Duo(+), which works wonders on blemishes! Thanks to the fact it never clogs my pores and the simplicity of application (you only need a few seconds and a hand to blend it out) I find myself using it even on the days I would normally go for a ‘heavy duty’ product. To cover larger imperfections like spots and the annoying redness I get on my cheeks, I simply pair it with a concealer.

La Roche-Posay Effeclar Duo(+) Unifiant Review

La Roche-Posay Effeclar Duo(+) Unifiant Before After Swatch

La Roche-Posay Effeclar Duo(+) Unifiant Before & After

As soon as the temperatures drop below 15ºC, a hand cream gets a permanent place in my hand bag. Let’s just ignore the fact I always take it out and forget to put it back in… The one I keep returning back to year after year is L’Occitane’s hand cream for dry skin with shea butter. It’s quite thick and sinks in slightly slower than I would like, but at the end of the day, it always gets my sand paper hands back to normal, and that’s all that matters. Plus it smells amazing!

P.S. For those of you who can get your hands on Soap & Glory’s products and prefer more of a lightweight formula, their Hand Food is also a great option for the colder days.

L'Occitane Hand Cream for Dry Skin with Shea Butter Review

Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

By popular demand, I’m back with another recipe post today! Fear not, The Puzzle of Sandra’s Life isn’t turning into a food blog anytime soon, but not sharing the recipe for THE YUMMIEST Cinnabon inspired cinnamon rolls I’ve made last week would be the world’s biggest crime. Just don’t blame me for the extra pounds! I’ve warned you. Funny thing – I’d never actually made cinnamon rolls before, but my first attempt turned out so well I’m starting to believe opening a patisserie is my secret calling… Who knows? Maybe one day!

Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

INGREDIENTS

3 tsp of yeast

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup of white sugar

1 cup of brown sugar

1.5 cup of icing sugar

a pack of butter (250 g)

2 eggs

5 cups of all-purpose flour

3 tbsp of cinnamon

1/2 cup of cream cheese (Philadelphia)

1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

1 tbsp of salt

a few drops of oil

Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

INSTRUCTIONS

To make the dough from scratch, warm up 1 cup of milk, pour it in a bowl, and mix in 3 tsp of yeast as well as 1 tsp of white sugar before leaving the mixture stand for about half an hour, until it froths up.

In another bowl, first mix 1/2 cup of white sugar, 1/3 cup of butter, 2 eggs, 5 cups of all-purpose flour and a tsp of salt. Then pour in the yeast mixture and mix everything together with a dough hook until you get a compact ball of dough. Next, put the dough into a large oiled-up bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it to rise for about an hour, until it doubles in size.

When the dough is ready, roll it out (aim for 30×40 cm size) and spread it with 1/3 cup of butter. Then take a smaller bowl and mix 1 cup of brown sugar and 3 tbsp of cinnamon with a spoon. Sprinkle the mixture evenly on top of the buttered dough and start rolling the dough from one side to another (take the longer side). Then cut the rolled dough into 10-12 pieces, each approximately 4 cm wide, and place them in a buttered baking tray. Cover the tray with the kitchen towel and leave the rolls to rest for about an hour until they double in size.

Next put the tray in the oven on 180°C for about 20 minutes until the rolls are golden brown. In the meantime you can prepare the frosting by mixing 6 tbsp of butter, 1.5 cup of icing sugar, 1/2 of cream cheese, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer until you get a spread-like consistency.

Once the rolls are baked, cover them evenly with the frosting and leave them to cool off, so that the frosting really sinks in and hardens up a bit.

P.S. Make sure to book off the whole morning or afternoon for making these. The process is fairly simple, but there’s a lot of waiting around and a lot of mess to clean up afterwards.

P.P.S. The rolls can be kept in the fridge for a few days, but do pop them into a microwave for about 30 seconds before you take a bite – it makes them super fluffy and so, so good!

P.P.P.S. For the video version of the recipe, see below!