The Namib Desert Ride
The Namib Desert is one of the most spectacular deserts on Earth: ochre dunes combine with vast grassy plains to form the oldest of the world’s deserts; it contains a series of sand dunes built from sand that is red; this area is named “Sossusvlei” and the dunes are very nearly the highest dunes in the world. This ride celebrates the natural topography and amazing rock formations as well as the wildlife, and wildlife does live in this arid zone.
There is a surprisingly rich diversity and abundance of animals: the lions that live here are bigger than their “cousins” in other parts of Africa and probably better hunters; there are rhino and a range of antelope species that are all desert-adapted. The Namib holds surprises and unbelievable beauty for those who have eyes to see. The Namib Desert Ride invites you to ride across this ancient desert all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The ride starts near Sossusvlei and ends at Swakopmund on the Atlantic Coast. 11 days in Namibia; 8 riding days; 2 nights in lodges (the first and the last); 8 nights camping. Max 12 riders; ride between 20 and 60 Km per day; all paces; max 6 hrs per day; some sections of uneven ground which require dismount and leading.
Depart from London on the overnight flight to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
We will meet you upon arrival and drive you to our private lodge that sits on a 6,500 Ha private game reserve. Welcome to Africa! Here you’ll meet your guide and we’ll run through the logistics of the ride and how camp life ticks along, before sitting down for dinner, which is a great opportunity to informally discuss what’s coming!
The drive this morning is spectacular and is comparable to the drive from Nairobi into the Great Rift Valley in Kenya (comparable but not the same). We set off from Windhoek travelling southwest across a flat plateau. Before long we reach the edge of the escarpment and there below lies the Namib in all its multi-hued beauty! Very different from gazing into the Great Rift, but a comparable vantage point. We reach camp by lunchtime.
In the afternoon we’ll scramble up dune 45 at Sossusvlei (those who want to) and return to camp at the end of the day. Sossusvlei is a terminal pan, at the end of the Tsauchab River, where the dunes have cut off the river’s course; the river seldom flows but its course is still evident. It is quite a pull to climb dune 45, but the view at the top is out of this world.
Most people choose to sleep out, under the stars, rather than use a tent, but large two-man dome tents are available. Camp beds are supplied with an ingenious bed-roll system: this consists of a wind-proof canvas mummy-shaped bag containing an insulating mattress, down duvet and pillow. You are welcome to add a fleece liner to the sleeping role if you feel you might get cold, but it isn’t really needed. Hot bucket showers are available at most camps.
Days begin at sunrise and we aim to be in the saddle by 08:00. This is a genuine desert ride, so there is no trail to follow and no established path. We follow a compass bearing, always heading in a north-westerly direction, towards the Atlantic coast. The first morning’s ride begins amid the encircling Naukluft (German for ‘narrow gorge’) which is a short ride allowing you to get more acquainted with your horse before riding into the undulations and isolated hills which are a feature of this area.
We’ll ride for 4 or 5 hours before stopping for lunch which is a bit of a “moveable feast” and can last from an hour to two-and-a-half hours, depending on the requirements of the day. Some days the 4X4 can access the lunch stop and we’ll take a light lunch from the supplies carried. On other days we’ll carry a picnic in the saddle bags that each person is supplied with, and stop in a remoter location. The evening meal is freshly cooked over an open fire, Namibia-style: wild game, free-range beef or Karoo mutton served as braai (grilled over an open fire) or potjie (pot casserole) with vegetables and dessert also cooked on the open fire. The menu can easily be adjusted for vegetarians. Tea, coffee and juice are always available in camp; chilled drinks, beer and wine are available in the evenings. During the ride all drinks are included in the price. Only drinks on the first and last nights are not included.
Days 5 and 6: the canyons.
The rivers in Namibia tend to be subterranean for most of the time and their beds run through deep valleys etched at a time when Namibia was wetter and sea levels lower. We cross two river canyons on our way to the Namib plains: the Gaub and the much larger Kuiseb which forms a dramatic end to the 400 km long Namib Sand Sea. Following the tracks of mountain zebra which crisscross the steep sides of the canyon, a technical descent will require some walking/scrambling into and out of the canyon. The high, narrow canyon walls preserve an almost year-round supply of precious water for the game in this area.
The daily distances covered on this ride vary from 20 Km to nearly 60Km; journeying through the canyons is slow and careful work, so this is a low mileage day, but high on excitement.
Emerging from the Kuiseb canyon brings you onto the grassy Namib plain where the going is much better. The grassland is broken by long lines of acacia trees, indicating the presence of water in the dry riverbeds. These lightly wooded zones are favoured resting places for herbivores such as giraffe, springbok and oryx. Near here David Attenborough filmed the memorable sequence in the “Africa” series of two male giraffes fighting.
Day 8, 9 and 10
As the plains become more arid strange shapes form and then disappear in mirages; plants as old as the dinosaurs, the gnarled Welwitschia Mirabilis, tell of a land of great antiquity and tremendous solitude. The Swakop River basin has been eroding the rocks here for 600 million years exposing a bizarre moonscape-like geology. Curious black ridges of dolerite intrusions form whale-backs on the surrounding hills. And finally, after 7 days hard riding, the Atlantic Ocean appears. We ask the horses for one last canter along the soft white sand to reach Swakopmund and the end of a truly epic adventure.
An Early breakfast and return to Windhoek in time to catch the international flight back to London.
See also our blog about riding in Namibia.
This is a mixed herd of several breeds including Arab, Haflinger (from the Alps), Trakehner (from Prussia) and both Boerperd and Nooidgedacht ranch horses; these latter two breeds are similar and originate from the Cape Winelands of South Africa and are best described as “multi-use farmer’s horses”. They trace their roots back to early cavalry horses such as the Thoroughbred and Andalusian, but with other bloodlines added over the years, most notably the Basotho pony; manipulated and moulded by the environment they have become a resilient, multi-purpose horse. They are all raised on rough desert terrain; they’re sure-footed and tough. Most have done several trails over the years and are adept at looking after their riders. Each is a unique character and every one of them makes for a kind, reliable mount deserving of the very best consideration and care. Sizes 15.2 hh to 16.2 hh.
Skirted endurance type saddles are best-suited for the comfort of horse and rider. Each saddle is fitted with two specially made water bottle holders and water bottles will be supplied. If you like to ride with a sheepskin bumnah (or saddle-saver) you can bring one with you (western shaped). Each rider is responsible for grooming, regularly checking over and tacking up their own horse (assistance is given when required).
Max 20 Kg per person. All baggage is transported on the supply truck and catches up with you in the evening. It’s best to use a soft-sided hold-all, as we recommend for all our rides, rather than a suitcase. Excess baggage can be left at the lodge in Windhoek, if you plan to travel on after the ride.
It is best to wear several layers of clothing because temperatures vary so dramatically between nighttime and daytime. This ride takes places during the cooler months of the year, but the range is still from zero to over 30°C. A good hat is essential and a buff helps to keep the sun off your face and doubles up to keep the dust at bay. The glare from the sun is strong in the desert so sunglasses with a retaining string to keep them round your neck is a good idea. Sunblock, lip-balm and plenty of water are essential. Ladies may want to consider a loose-fitting long-sleeved men’s shirt for keeping the sun off too (not vice versa please!). Jodhpur boots are better than long boots (too hot) and the multi-purpose “H20” boot from Ariat is also good because they are comfortable when walking / leading.
Saddle horse and tack for the duration.
Full board throughout.
All camping equipment for 8 nights
2 nights hotel (first and last night)
Airport transfers from Windhoek to stable; return