Raise your hand if the quarantine turned you into a bread-making, dessert-baking master chef wannabe too! I might as well make this travel blog of mine a temporary food blog at this point. I’ve never spent so much time in the kitchen before or ate as much sugar! Not proud of that second part, but what else is going to get us through these insane times, right?! If you’re looking for a dose of happiness, these seriously delicious brownies are super easy and quick to make. Special thanks to my sister’s friend for the recipe – I’ll send you a bill for my personal trainer after all this is over, haha.
250 g butter
250 g chocolate
250 g sugar
1 vanilla sugar
180 g all-purpose flour
50 g cocoa powder
Mix all ingredients together, pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake on 180ºC for 20 minutes. Yes, it’s THAT easy.
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Namibia is an absolute dream to visit and perfect for first-time visitors to Africa! It’s extraordinarily beautiful in its scenery, wildlife and culture, but also completely safe to explore on your own. Having said that, it’s so vast, with so many captivating places to see, that planning a self-organised trip can be slightly overwhelming. To make it easy for you, I’ve put together an optimal 2 week Namibia self drive itinerary with plenty of useful tips and once-in-a-lifetime experiences you definitely shouldn’t skip!
DAY 1: WINDHOEK
First things first – after landing at Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, exchange your money and pick up your rent-a-car. Make sure you book it months ahead (the sooner the better) and opt for a 4×4 like a Toyota Hilux, otherwise you might end up being in trouble. There’s mostly gravel roads running through the country and the trip involves some off-road driving too! If you’ll be camping rather than staying in hotels, getting camping gear is another thing to keep in mind. You can bring it with you or buy it, of course, but the best way is to rent it through your car company like we did (if that’s an option). P.S. I’ve listed EVERYTHING you need to put in your suitcase or get upon arrival in my What to Pack for Namibia article.
Since you’ll most likely be knackered after your flight and the the long drive ahead will require your full concentration, I would suggest you to spend your first night in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. There isn’t much to see in the city, and roaming around the streets as a tourist isn’t advisable either (especially at night), so just get to your hotel/campsite and have a much needed rest.
If you do want to head out for some food, use a taxi, or better yet, have a restaurant organise your transfer. Also, never let your valuables visible or your car doors unlocked, even mid-driving or when sitting inside the car. Fear not – Namibia is safe to travel around and you won’t have to be on high alert all the time. It’s just big cities that are problematic, like many others around the world. I actually never felt unsafe in Namibia, but thefts do happen and tourists are the prime targets.
DAY 2: SESRIEM
Our second day started with a trip to the supermarket, as we had to buy some food for camping, then continued with a long drive to Sesriem, a starting point for the famous Sossusvlei and Deadvlei in the Namib Desert. The 300 km or so long journey takes over four hours and consists of poor gravel roads that are difficult to drive on, so allow yourself plenty of time. There’s no major sights on the way, but you’ll see the changing landscape and most likely some monkeys jumping around!
Before you hit the road just make sure you have spare tires and know how to change them! You’ll most likely blow at least a few during the trip (this is a normal part of the Namibian adventure) and if you can’t get it sorted yourself, you might be out of luck. The phone signal is often non-existent and the distances between populated places are so vast you sometimes don’t come across a single soul.
Our final destination of the day was Sesriem Campsite, our home for the next 3 days. It’s conveniently located right next to the Sesriem Canyon and the entrance gate to Sossusvlei, within the Namib Naukluft Park. This gives you the advantage of reaching Sossusvlei before sunrise, an hour ahead of everyone else. A major bonus point if you want to avoid the crowds and snap some amazing photos!
If you aren’t keen on camping and would rather stay in a hotel room, The Dead Valley Lodge and Sossusvlei Lodge around the corner also have this advantage. I spent a few afternoons at the latter, as their lovely buffet restaurant and a pool bar with comfy lounge chairs were open to non-guests as well. Not to mention there was very decent wi-fi, haha! In comparison, Sesriem Campsite is obviously more simple, but there’s a bar, a little shop, a restaurant serving a few basic meals and even a pool. Not bad at all, especially when you throw the night view in as well. I’d never seen so many stars in my life! The milky way was unreal!!
P.S. All three of these accommodation options are in high demand, especially during the high season, so make sure to book them well in advance.
DAY 3-4: SOSSUSVLEI & DEADVLEI
My number one advice for visiting the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, the iconic white clay pan with dead camel thorn trees, would be to head over as early in the morning as you can. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but the scorching sun too. It gets incredibly hot in the desert, as you can imagine.
As mentioned, it’s best to stay the night at the camp or hotels located inside the Namib Naukluft Park, as this gets you an exclusive access to Sossusvlei an hour ahead of the sunrise, before the gate opens for the rest of the public. It takes an additional hour (65 km) to then drive off-road all the way to the two biggest attractions. Do note that you are not allowed to drive on the last portion of the “road” unless you have a 4×4. You have to be quite a skilled driver to make it over without getting stuck in thick sand, plus let some air out of your tires beforehand! Alternatively, you can also leave your car at the car park next to the dunes and pay for a shuttle to take you to the final point.
If you want to check out Deadvlei as well as climb Big Daddy, one of the tallest sand dunes in the world, I’d suggest you to do so over two mornings. Both sights take too much time to enjoy them both in one day, as the sand get scorching hot and there’s no shade or water nearby. It would be pure torture trying to reach either at midday.
I have to say – Big Daddy and especially Deadvlei are not the easiest to find. There’s no signs whatsoever, so if you don’t come prepared (or can follow the people who know how to find it), you might get lost or give up in the process. When you arrive to the final car park, Big Daddy can be seen straight on, towards left, while Deadvlei is on the right, besides/behind Big Daddy. It’s not visible from the carpark at all. You actually need to walk a few kilometres on sand to spot the pan! It’s well worth it, though. The place is truly mesmerising.
To reach the top of Big Daddy you’ll need about two hours, however, if you’re not up for the challenge, you can try climbing Dune 45, which is half the height and way easier to reach! It’s located closer to the gate (about 45 km away), and is right next to a small car park.
Again, the climate in the Namib Desert is as extreme as it gets! A pair of sunglasses, a sunhat, a tube of sunscreen, a long-sleeved shirt and at least a few litres of water are essential to have with you at all times while you’re roaming around. I’d also recommend you to wear running shoes. Hiking boots per se are not needed, but don’t wear sandals. Your feet will get BURNED once the sun goes up!
If you follow my itinerary, you’ll probably be heading back to your hotel or camp by about 1 pm. You can always just spend the afternoon chilling by the pool or do another exciting activity – take a scenic helicopter ride! I decided to splurge and I definitely wasn’t sorry. It was beyond incredible seeing the never-ending dunes, the Sesriem Canyon and the fairy circles (one of the unexplained mysteries of the world) from above. I booked my flight at the Sossusvlei Lodge Adventure Centre.
DAY 5: SOLITAIRE, VOGELFEDERBERG, WALVIS BAY, SWAKOPMUND
Time to leave the desert and head towards Swakopmund, Namibia’s biggest coastal town with German architecture and palm trees! The whole journey takes about 4 and a half hours (340 km), but it’s not just driving this time around. There’s quite a few interesting spots to see on the way!
The first one is Solitaire, the tiniest little settlement, which looks straight out of a Western movie. There’s a gas station, a lodge, a cafe with allegedly the best apple pie in the world (good for Namibia, but far from the best in my opinion) and lots of old, abandoned rusty cars scattered around – perfect for photos!
Vogelfederberg, a rock formation in the middle of nowhere, is another place you can stop at, but what lies ahead is way more interesting! Walvis Bay isn’t only a harbour with a lovely promenade, but also a home to pelicans and flamingos! There’s plenty to see on the waterfront, however you can also drive to the Salt Works, which – fun fact – supply over 90% of South Africa’s salt.
To finish off the day, finally head over to Swakopmund, treat yourself to a nice dinner and crash at a hotel. After all those freezing nights in the desert, you’ll appreciate it on a whole another level.
DAY 6: SKELETON COAST, CAPE CROSS, SPITZKOPPE
We left Swakopmund first thing in the morning, so I unfortunately couldn’t take a proper look at the city. I walked down to the pier at sunrise to take some long-exposure shots, then headed towards the mysterious Skeleton Coast. The violent seas full of crosscurrents, thick fogs, strong winds and sand dunes stretching into the ocean made this stretch of the Atlantic coast a treacherous grounds for ships passing by. The Portuguese sailors named it ‘The Gates of Hell’ and the local Bushmen refer to it as ‘The Land God Made in Anger’. It’s easy to understand why! Many ships ran aground over the years and the shipwrecks can still be found scattered all over the Skeleton Coast.
The easiest one to see is ‘Zeila’, which lies 16 km south of Hentiesbaai, less than 45 minutes away from Swakopmund. You can reach it by following the sign off the C34 road. There’s a free car park right by the shipwreck, so it’s worth a quick stop. Just a heads-up – you will be greeted by hawkers trying to sell you gemstones, but they’re not overly pushy. If you strike up a conversation with them, you may even learn a few interesting bits about their culture! We had a guy telling us all about his Khoisan click language, which to me was even more interesting than the shipwreck itself.
Our day continued with a trip to Cape Cross, not more than half an hour north. If you set your GPS to Kreuzap, you’ll reach one of the world’s largest fur seal colonies! There’s literally thousands of seals almost laying on top of each other, running around, swimming… You can walk right up to them, so it’s quite an experience! The smell of the poo and rotting bodies, and the noises they make (think sheep and grumpy old men) also add to it, haha! To enter the reserve you’ll have to pay an entrance fee of 80 NAD (5.40 USD) per person and 10 NAD (0,70 USD) per car. There’s water and toilet facilities available at the entrance.
Our final stop of the day and home for the night was Spitzkoppe, a breath-taking group of rounded granite peaks about 160 km or 2 hours and a half inland. The campsite’s reception isn’t the easiest to find, especially at night, so if you want to use the shower and (flush) toilet facilities, make it easy for you and pick a campground near the reception (the scenic ones are not within walking distance). There’s also a little bar/restaurant next to the reception, while the campgrounds themselves have no water or electricity.
DAY 7: SPITZKOPPE, KAMANJAB
We spent the whole day and another night at Spitzkoppe, however, since there isn’t anything to do apart from checking out the photogenic rock arch and the Bushman cave paintings (unless you’re climbing), I’d suggest you to enjoy the beautiful sunrise, then move on to Kamanjab. The ride will take you over 4 hours, since it’s 300 km up north.
Why Kamanjab? For the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park, where you can get up close and personal with these captivating creatures. Just to be clear, this is not a zoo or some sort of an inhumane animal attraction, but a non-profit establishment. The sad reality is that in Namibia most wild cheetahs get killed by farmers, because they present a threat to their livestock. This 7000 hectare big farm takes in the ones they manage to save (by paying other farmers to hand them over) for conservation reasons.
There’s three cheetahs that the owners have cared for since they were cubs and those actually stay at their house. At 4 pm the owner takes you to the garden, where you can meet them and watch them being fed. It feels terrifying when they walk up to you at first, but they basically behave like domestic cats.You can walk around freely and take photos, but you aren’t allowed to touch them due to the law in place. However, it’s okay if they’re the ones to approach you – they like to lick people!
After meeting the tamed cheetahs, we went to our campground (there’s a campsite as well as a lodge nearby) and then got picked up by the owner and got taken to the wild cheetahs on the back of a pick-up truck at 5 pm. They live in an massive natural enclosure you drive through for about an hour and watch them being fed.They leap for the meat that gets thrown to them, then run away with their “catch”.
DAY 8-9: OPUWO AND STAYING WITH THE TRIBES
This authentic cultural experience may not end up on everyone’s itinerary, but it was such a major highlight of the trip for me I can’t not include it for those of you interested in the details. To give you a bit of a backstory – I’d been fascinated by the Himba tribe ever since I read a travelogue by a known Slovenian adventure traveller as a little girl. It was what first sparked my interest for Namibia and from then on, I’ve been dreaming of meeting and photographing them. 15 years later my dream finally came true!
We met up with a local Himba guide in Opuwo, a melting pot of all Namibian tribes, 260 km north of Kamanjab. The journey took us two hours and a half, and then another few hours to get to the remote Himba villages by the Angolan border. Before leaving Opuwo we also made a trip to a grocery store not only to stock up on food and water for ourselves, but to buy a few items for the tribes (flour, for example, as advised by our guide) as a thank you at the end for (hopefully) letting us stay.
The second half of the journey was interesting to say the least! We were driving off-road, over the biggest bumps and having branches hit us from all different directions. I’m pretty sure the path wasn’t made for cars to drive on. When we finally reached a remote Himba village, right before the sunset, our guide went to ask for our permission to stay over night and we got a yes!
The chief and other adult men weren’t there, as they had to take the cattle up the mountains due to drought (Himbas are semi-nomadic), but the women and the children eventually joined us after we finished setting up our tents. They sang and performed their traditional dance, while we made a massive bowl of pasta for us all!
In the morning it was our turn to visit them. We were invited inside the village to observe their usual routine – milking goats, making porridge for breakfast, applying ochre to their skin and braiding their hair. It was truly rewarding to observe them and learn about their culture first-hand!
After we said our goodbyes, our guide took us to see their traditional cemetery and told us even more interesting facts about their way of life before taking us to another village for the night. This time we were welcomed by the Zemba tribe. They were the most energetic, open people I’ve ever come across! Again, we were invited to their village to find out more about their everyday life and ended up hanging out by the fire all night long. There was singing, dancing, and the most fascinating intercultural dialogue! They were as curious about our way of life as we were about theirs! I’ll cherish this memory forever…
If for some reason or another you can’t have the immersive experience I had, but still want to learn about the Himba culture, there’s a few touristy Himba villages you can stop at for a few hours instead.
10. DAN: KAMANJAB
Since we spent the whole morning with the Zemba tribe and didn’t have enough time to head all the way to our next location (Etosha National Park) before sunset, we drove back to the Otjitotongwe Campsite in Kamanjab for the night.
DAY 11-14: ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
A safari in Etosha National Park is another bucket list adventure you simply can’t miss! It takes about two hours to reach the park from Kamanjab, and another hour or two to make it to your campsite if you’re staying inside the park (which I thoroughly recommend). We spent 4 days driving around the reserve, enjoying the company of elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, rhinos and more! Since I have about a million tips on how to have the best possible experience, I actually wrote a separate article all about it – here’s my complete guide to a self drive safari in Etosha National Park. I’ve covered everything from the best time to go, where and how long to stay, tips for driving and more!
DAY 15: WINDHOEK
I wish it wasn’t the case, but every trip must come to an end. We spent our last day driving over 400 km down to Windhoek again, where we returned our car, went out for a meal, spent the night at a hotel and left for the airport the following morning.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who can add a some extra days to your Namibian adventure, also look into:
Kolmanskop Ghost Town – an abandoned diamond mining town in Lüderitz overtaken by sand dunes;
Quiver Tree Forest – unique African succulents;
Epupa Falls – majestic waterfalls on the border between Namibia and Angola;
Fish River Canyon – an enormous canyon with epic views;
Victoria Falls – not in Namibia, but close enough to extend your trip.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. 😉
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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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Watch more of my Queenstown adventures below and click HERE to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more travel videos!
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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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
International driver’s license
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!
CLOTHES & FOOTWEAR
Underwear for as many days you’re going.
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.
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.
COSMETICS AND TOILETRIES
Tissues for nose blowing (dry air ain’t kind to nasal passages) and toilet going needs.
Sunscreen with SPF 50
Aloe vera gel in case you get a nasty sunburn.
Dry shampoo in case you won’t have time to wash (and dry) your hair.
Shampoo + conditioner
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.