The vastness of the southern Kalahari and the far south of Namibia is daunting, as is the absence of people: only a fraction of the population lives here. The long, lonely road east out of Windhoek passes through sparse thornveld to the Botswana border, while the road south from the capital stretches for hundreds of kilometres to the South Africa border and the southern Kalahari. But the foray south is well worth the effort. Those who persist with the journey are rewarded with hugely enjoyable canoeing and birdwatching along the Orange River, unrivalled hiking opportunities in the vast Fish River Canyon, and rippling red dunes in the southern Kalahari.
Taking on the main road south from Windhoek promises some of the country’s greatest sights and spectacles. The tarred highway speeds through the unremarkable towns of Rehoboth – home to one of Namibia’s proudest peoples – and Mariental, before dividing at Keetmanshoop, the region’s bustling administrative capital, and a good place to fill up with petrol and stock up with supplies. Northwest of the town, the Brukkaros “false volcano” rewards hikers with wonderful views from the crater rim. And to the northeast of Keetmanshoop, the scenic Quiver Tree Forest is well worth the diversion.
Southern Namibia’s great attraction is the spectacular Fish River Canyon. A 160km-long serpentine ravine, it hosts a challenging five-day hiking trail that ends in the popular hot-springs resort of |Ai-|Ais. The canyon lies within the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park; extending into South Africa, this remote and rugged area has limited infrastructure but boasts extraordinary plant biodiversity. It’s bisected by the scenic Orange River, whose meandering progress towards the Atlantic provides great opportunities for birdwatching and canoeing.
East of the B1, around Mariental, and along the picturesque “back road” from Stampriet to the Mata Mata gate of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the rippling, red dunes that gain in height and colour as you move further inland supply the attractive backdrop to a sprinkling of delightful lodges and campgrounds.
Truth be told, there’s not a great deal to lure visitors to the sparse land beyond the Eros Mountains east of Windhoek, unless they’re heading for the Botswana border or interested in visiting the bat-riddled Arnhem Cave.