Dunes & X3s: riding high in the desert on BMW's Namibia tour
Offering scenery straight out of a coffee-table book, Namibia is a rare jewel waiting to be explored by 4x4
We're navigating a rather tight bend in the road when a magnificent bull elephant partially blocks our path. Standing proud, he stops feeding from the tall, succulent Kobas trees for just a moment and offers us a nonchalant glance. After all, it's his home, his rules.
It was a fitting goodbye to an overnight stay at the Erindi Private Game Reserve in central Namibia. The name is from the Herero language meaning "place of water".
Just 12 hours earlier there had been a downpour of biblical proportions, turning dry beds into flowing rivers.
This morning there was barely a trickle, with just a slight mist rising from the soaked soil and this majestic animal reminding one of the beauty of Africa.
Having a population of just 2.5 million people, Namibia is the second-most sparsely populated country per square kilometre in the world (after Mongolia) and provides scenery straight out of a coffee-table book.
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With an abundance of natural beauty it is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination (contributing 14.5% to the country's GDP), particularly with Germans.Namibia fell under German rule in 1884 and gained independence from SA in 1990."Bespoke holidays" is a buzz phrase in the tourism industry with individuals and families looking for holidays catering for diverse needs.
In fact, according to Virtuoso - a US-based travel network of 8,900 agents - travellers who spend at least $100,000 a year on trips have increased their spending by two to three times the rate of the regular traveller over the past seven years.
It is a statistic global motoring conglomerate BMW is tapping into. While the car maker has been organising private tours through Namibia for 10 years via its head office in Munich, Germany, from the beginning of this year the responsibility has been passed to the SA division.
It's a significant move and one that offers many possibilities, with the company operating in seven countries in Africa.
The X5s previously used have been replaced by the locally-built X3 xDrive30d - fitted with special off-road features to overcome the challenging and often unpredictable driving conditions Namibia throws up.
These modifications include an additional raised ride height of almost 50mm (providing a wading depth of 300mm); full aluminium underbody protection with increased departure angle; larger all-terrain tyres for added grip and durability; a pre-air filter with protective mesh grille to prevent sand entering the engine and a full-size spare wheel.
While the full tour offered is over eight days, a group of journalists last week experienced a condensed four-day version as we travelled over 1,200km through what the locals simply call "Nam".
Departing the 70,000-hectare reserve of Erindi - which provided the best game drive I have ever experienced - it was a case of winding our way through the Erongo mountains to the sea-side town of Swakopmund.
With an hour or two to while away, it's a lovely town for a bit of window shopping and perhaps popping into one of the many cafés for a traditional German snack of bratwurst or kartoffelkloesse (potato dumplings).
Surprisingly, despite the city receiving an average rainfall of only 20mm a year, vegetation is quite lush thanks to a regular fog in the mornings which supplies sufficient moisture.
On day three we travelled a relatively short distance along the Skeleton Coast to the dunes of the Namib desert adjacent to Walvis Bay and a bit of off-road fun in the rust-red sand.
The landscape is surreal and constantly changing due to the forces of nature - primarily a wind that whips in off the cold water of the Atlantic, making the formation of the dunes unpredictable.
Throw in a backdrop of a deep blue sky, shimmering white salt pans, thousands of pink flamingos, and it's an intoxicating mixture of natural beauty.
The last day of our travels saw us navigating the gravel roads through the Tsaobis Nature Park to Hosea Kutako International Airport via the modern-looking - and impeccably clean - capital of Windhoek.
Struggle figures are remembered by Nelson Mandela Avenue, Robert Mugabe Avenue or perhaps Fidel Castro Street.
It is always difficult to judge a country in just a few days without knowing its complexities, but I left neighbouring Namibia with a feeling that here is a country looking more to its future than its past.
PLAN YOUR TRIPAn eight-day trip through Namibia in the new BMW X3 will cost you R75,000. Here's what that gets you:
Seven nights' accommodation with full board.
Admission to various attractions.
Support by a BMW driving instructor and local tour guide.
Memories that will last a lifetime.