Once thoroughly advised on tyre replacement charges, puncture procedures, and wheel-changing ways, I hit the road in a lucratively lime green Suzuki Jimny 4WD rental car from Namibia2Go. As if a solo female traveller wasn’t unusual enough in this harsh environment, my drive drew even more attention in these contradictory beige surroundings. Perhaps all the better, then, that I arrived at my destination in the dark?
I cruised past Rehoboth, swapped tar roads for gravel tracks and never looked back. Steering through switchbacks, I sang at the top of my voice to Hotel California (you know, “on a dark desert highway”) and spotted both kudu and warthog on the drive south to my delightful desert destination. Reigning as Africa’s least-populated country (then third in the world after Greenland and Mongolia), Namibia is an exemplary pandemic-era address divvying up some stupefying statistic like seven people to every square mile.
We were but two in the safari-style chauffeur vehicle that chugged up a gravel-strewn hill in the dark to my private designer desert pod, the Desert Whisper. Much like a Mad Max spaceship landing, I was dropped off, left alone at a glittering ochre oval delicately perched on the rim of an expansive plain.
This remote villa is one of five different accommodation options available inside the private Gondwana Namib Park. Operated by a proudly Namibian travel portfolio, the Gondwana Collection,(one of the biggest tourism employers in the country with a network of over 20 stays spread across the country and 1100 staff) it lies an hour’s drive from the country’s most iconic neighbourhood, Sossusvlei. These surrounds are best-known for stark dune terrain and picturesque plodding oryx.
The Desert Whisper pod was devised by architect Sven-Erik Staby and is modelled on the Namib’s endemic !Nara plant, a hardy leafless and thorny botanical, bearing succulent melon fruits that feed and water the desert’s wildlife. This robust eco-engineering spawned Staby’s innovative construction, given that the eco-friendly pod would likewise need to endure harsh living conditions. Sun, heat, wind, and sand were all considered when crafting the building’s curved carapace shell.
Echoing the !Nara plant’s tough exterior, the rounded pod successfully deflects wild winds while punched holes in the shapes of its seeds welcome the breeze for gentle ventilation. In the morning, I relished how these orbicular peepholes also artistically let the velvety light in to dance shadow puppet circles on the wooden floors and walls as the sun shifted outside.
Like plant, like pod, the insides are softer with nourishment in mind. I bounced between the immaculate pool and plush reading lounge, come cocktail nook, stopping to refuel at the kitchen’s cellar for flutes of sparkling wine. An open-plan apartment, the Desert Whisper is contemporarily furnished in biscuit tones of buttermilk, gingerbread, and caramel, then iced with gold accessories (right down to the responsibly-sourced toiletries) and a broad bed nuzzles enormous glass windows.
The view – and everything besides – was mine with nobody else for miles around. Enjoying solitude at its sweetest, I left the whispy cotton curtains open throughout my stay. Much like the structural light show, it ensured the scenery always seeped straight in. A flick through the guestbook revealed similar sparks of genuine joy: stories of wedding elopements (by none other than South African Instagram couple. @HowFarFromHome), engagements, celebrations.
Intended for couples as a one-of-a-kind honeymoon hideaway, being here solo only heightened its seclusion. Still, I easily experienced that same unadulterated elation scrawled in the reviews. For me, however, the luxury lay in being left unchaperoned to my own devices.
Many people don’t realise that you can’t actually stay at Sossusvlei. Sesriem is the closest outpost.
The actual Sossusvlei is a typically dry pan (though it filled like a glorious mirage with healthy rains in February 2021), which sits near the more famous and photogenic Deadvlei inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park – both are a good 110km drive away from the Gondwana Namib Park.