Driving Namibia

Palmwag Oasis

The hard-packed gravel road is deserted - a snaking sliver of insignificance in the great Namibian expanse of dusty scrubland and distant shimmering sand dunes. The only movement under the vast blue sky is the leisurely progress of the little car.

Inside the gold 1.4I Renault Modus, air-conditioning and Jarvis Cocker vie for airspace. Outside, time passes reluctantly in 40 degrees Celsius.

At the end of a 15-month trip around the world, a limited budget foisted the Little Gold Box on us in Cape Town, but she's a trooper and gaily zipped us up South Africa's west coast and across the border into hot, hot, hot Namibia.

It's February. A time when only mad dogs and Englishmen - and a fair few Germans in search of the Heimat's colonial past - venture into Namibia's mid-day sun. Apart from the fact that we have no choice - we are here now - the most compelling reason for visiting the country at this time is that a few tourists are silly enough to so, thus circumventing the need for advanced booking, and allowing for spontaneous route changes. As an added bonus, this time around the rainy season is a dry-ish one, making game viewing in the Etosha National Park that much more spectacular as the animals converge on the few water sources.

Aside from its incredible and varied desert landscape, friendly people and free-ranging wildlife, Namibia  is also blessed with an abundance of luxury lodges. But we're not here to do luxury lodging - we're doing research: in September 2008 we're inviting a few adventurous types to join us on a two-week 4WD and camping holiday. (Visit Travelyard if you'd like to come along.)

And camping is the best way to get close to the incredible nature offered by this spectacular country. In the Namib Naukluft National Park, Sossusvlei offers man-dwarfing dunes, sweeping views of the African plain and an eerily desolate, ancient salt pan. At Sesriem, a few kilometers away, each camping plot has a large tree for shade and is enclosed by a stone-packed wall. As the sun softens into dusk, jackals begin to hunt in the vast open plain that is our porch. A chilled glass of white wine has never tasted better as we light a fire for a dinner of lamb chops, baked sweet potatoes and roasted vegetables. Life is good.

At Swakopmund, the sea mist brings welcome relief from the heat; on the deserted Skeleton Coast, where the wild Atlantic Ocean rules supreme, a few hardened anglers are our only co-campers. In the hinterland of Damaraland, the Palmwag Lodge offers the ultimate in camping: each plot has its own beautiful, wicker-work bathroom, complete with open shower overlooking the rocky hills where elephants are wont to hang out.

And the Etosha National Park? Nothing beats the sense of freedom as you drive yourself in search of lions. At one watering hole, the game of life and death is over in minutes as a large male brings down a zebra while a giraffe family lollops to safety.

We forget to breathe.