For all of Swakopmund’s charming German architecture and persistent European undertones, it couldn’t be farther from its colonial past just a few blocks off the main street. Standing in a sea of golden sand and catching glimpses of the sparkling Atlantic over the dunes as camels wander past, this town is distinctly African, yet still unlike anywhere else on the continent. To really explore this expansive desert, we took to quad bikes this afternoon, roving around at high speeds and snapping a hundred photos along the way.
All the details: Namib Desert quadbiking
Cost: Quadbiking tours are around $N800 through Desert Explorers.
Getting there: The nearest airport is Walvis Bay, about 30 minutes away. Although it’s not necessary to have a car to enjoy Swakopmund, it is probably still much cheaper to drive here on your way through the country (3 hours west of Windhoek).
Top tip: Don’t bring an expensive camera on this excursion, because you’ll end up positively covered in sand!
I wake up delightfully late in my comfy bed in Swakopmund this morning and lazily work on my photo editing while most of the group gets ready for their sandboarding. The real reason I’m not going is that I’m terrified of board sports, but staying behind also provides an excellent opportunity to do absolutely nothing (just lay around, take a long shower, and catch up on my blog). As always, my relaxation time flies by far too quickly, though, and I’m only just leaving the room and nibbling on last night’s leftovers for brunch when the group returns, sandy and tired, from their boarding.
We have only a little time to exchange stories about our days before everyone is hustled into another bus to travel the short distance to our quadbiking place. After the usual signing and paying, we get taken over to our bikes and my nerves really set in. Surprisingly, I am about 10x more scared about biking than I was about skydiving, just because I am not a great driver and I’m terrified that I’ll flip the bike on myself. Our safety briefing definitely doesn’t help, as the guide lists all of the ways we might tip and end up under the bike, so I’m pretty sweaty when we peel away from the office and start driving out into the sand.
Thankfully, the quadbikes are automatic so at least I don’t have to think about that as I try to get used to the feeling of driving (I am a lifetime passenger in all of these activities, where is Callum when you need him!?). As everyone gets more comfortable, the group pace increases and we start to take long, semi-circular routes up the sand dunes (“roller coasters”) that are particularly terrifying. I can picture myself rolling the bike far too vividly, so I stick to some smaller curves at the beginning. Plus, I get fairly distracted trying to take 5,000 photos of the beautiful landscape and take videos of the group, so I routinely end up missing turns..
Over the course of our two hour tour, I finally start to gain confidence and take on the bigger, sweeping roller coasters. It feels like I am just starting to get really good when we have to start our drive back. Sliding over a few near-vertical dunes and taking in a few final roller coasters, we cruise back in a line towards the quadbiking office. Other than almost running into a wild camel, I am actually feeling pretty good about myself (even after I nearly fall over the edge of an alarmingly close ledge) just because I did something today that really terrified me and still managed to come out smiling. Perhaps I’m not quite the horrible driver that I think I am, or maybe I’m just getting a bit more brave. Who knows, but Africa is bringing out the best in me, for sure.
Back at our room, the whole group has to fight for shower time to get all the sand off before we go to dinner. Kate, Tess, Nicole, and I power walk down to the jetty to watch the sunset over the water and then treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at the waterfront restaurant, The Tug, where we run into Kerri, Melina, Emelie, Lucas, and Franco. Over several glasses of wine, a garlic and cheese prawn starter that will truly haunt my dreams, a traditional Namibian main course, and a crème brulee for dessert, we discuss our travels onward and reflect on an amazing time in Swakopmund that will be sadly coming to an end tomorrow around midday. I was incredibly slack with photos in Swakopmund, so I can’t really show too much of this adorable seaside town and its German buildings, but suffice to say that I will definitely be back someday.