December 2, 2015
Noel Josephides, Chair of Sunvil and Expert Africa, and Chairman of ABTA, is passionate about Namibia, having visited the country just after it gained Independence, 25 years ago, with his four young children in tow.
As the time drew nearer to Namibia announcing its independence, 25 years ago, an old friend, Richard Dowden (then Africa Editor of The Independent) increasingly pressed me to visit Namibia. I was reluctant. Richard had been in war zones across Africa and I was concerned that Namibia might follow suit, seeing the news regarding SWAPO guerillas moving from war-torn Angola through German South West Africa to fight for independence for the region soon to become Namibia.
Richard was very persuasive, telling me that the infrastructure was better than in Greece, Sunvil’s traditional destination. Finally, I gave in. I would book a family trip for Richard/his family and, if his wife felt it was a good holiday destination, I would visit. In spite of overturning their car, they had a fantastic time and Penny, his wife, told me enthusiastically that it was ‘like a religious experience’.
So, in late December 1991, I hired a minibus and, with my wife and four children aged between 4 and 8, we set off to tour Namibia, aiming to set up a holiday programme there. I had never been to Africa. I did not know what to expect and felt completely unprepared. However, having been in travel now for 45 years, I still consider that three-week trip to be the highlight of my career. We drove 3,000 km through desert, through National Parks, through towns that looked like Tyrolean villages, and we stayed in some amazing farms and lodges. The children (now in their early 30s) will never forget it. This was no sanitised Disney Wonderland – it was the real thing.
The legendary Skeleton Coast National Park runs up the north-west coast of Namibia and is one of the most fragile ecosystems in Africa. After a six-hour drive north from the coastal town of Swakopmund, you reach what was then a tiny, primitive lodge called Terrace Bay (now modernised, with private bathrooms – in 1991, that was certainly not the case!). This is as far as you can go up the coast by car.
I had driven all day; it was getting dark. We had booked two rooms but, when we reached the lodge entrance, it was blocked by the army/armoured vehicles. We were refused entry. I pointed out that I had four young children in the minibus, that I had had problems with one of the vehicle’s wheels, that we had booked rooms, that the children were tired and that we had nowhere else to go.
After some discussion we were allowed in and were allocated two rooms. Apparently, the new President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, had decided to spend Christmas sea fishing and had taken over the camp. He invited us for Christmas lunch, an experience none of us will ever forget – we shared the table with the President and his bodyguards.
He was very excited to hear that we were planning to organise holidays in his country and promised me that we would never have any security problems – a promise kept to this day.
From those small beginnings, Expert Africa (formerly Sunvil Africa) has become the most successful part of our group; it sends hundreds of visitors a year to Namibia on self-drive holidays. It remains a superb experience – akin in many ways, as Penny Dowden told me 25 years ago, to a religious experience. The mix includes wonderful wildlife, fascinating tribal people, enormous sand dunes, the Skeleton Coast, Fish River Canyon (second in size only to the Grand Canyon), abandoned diamond mines, shooting stars galore and fine food and wine/beer. It is still like nothing else you will have experienced before – take a look at www.expertafrica.com to find out more.