There are moments when your jaw just drops in amazement at what you see before you and a surprise expletive seems more appropriate than any other words. That's how I felt upon arriving at Twyfelfontein Country Lodge in the heart of the red-rock region of Damaraland, Namibia.
The immense thatched lodge is dwarfed by the giant glowing rocks that crowd around this building, which is as well camouflaged as the geckos that climb its stony walls. Such powerful scenery fills the soul and inspires creativity, which could explain why there is an abundance of Bushman artwork here. The sandstone engraves to an everlasting white, which means this rock art will be visible for a good few thousand years.
Of course, this means you have to go to the art, rather than the art coming to a gallery near you. And since Twyfelfontein Lodge is in the middle of nowhere - which is very much its charm - you need either a private plane or a set of good wheels. True, it's far, but think of the journey as being the experience and the destination as an added bonus.
The Twyfelfontain area is particularly fascinating because of its awe-inspiring giant rock features like Burnt Mountain and the organ pipes. Hey, that's not a bad name for heavy metal band - what a grand concert arena Twyfelfontain would make. Perhaps the sound would bounce of the boulders or just get absorbed by them in much the same way as they suck up the heat from the sun and radiate it out into the dark night.
In such an arid area, the banks of the dry Aba Haub river are surprisingly well vegetated and a nearby plateau of golden prairie grass is totally unexpected. Nothing is what is seems around here and if you see a rhino or elephant, it is probably not a mirage. These creatures, most unsuited to arid sparsely vegetate areas, have for some reason, chosen to live here.
By the time you have reached Twyfelfontain, you will have adapted to dirt road driving and the timelessness of Namibia. The stretch to Swakopmund from here will seem easy and a salty sea-breeze will replace the desert dust. Embrace the difference as you arrive in Namibia's second city, but don't get complacent, as the desert is right on your doorstep.
One way to explore Swakopmund is by quad bike. Follow your guide and roar up to the crest of a 50-metre high dune, then turn at 90 degrees and plunge downwards through the soft sand, picking up speed to go again. It's brilliant fun and the landing is soft.
No less exciting is a boat trip in Walvis Bay, where you can expect very close-encounters with marine life. Over-friendly seals leap right into the boat and occupy the entire bench seat or even your lap. But it's not only these bad-breathed gatecrashers that visit the boat. A few whistles from the Skipper bring a whole flock of airborne missiles in the form of Kelp gulls, who squabble for the fish thrown into the air.
Then along come the 747's of the bird world - the pelicans. Clumsy on land and absurd on the water, in flight they glide gracefully, rarely needing to flap their 1,8 metre wings. Half the Skipper's arm disappeared into one pelican's mouth, and came out with a deep scratch inflicted from the downward tipped beak. Then on queue the dolphins arrive and cavort and leap around the boat. Dr Doolittle could not have conjured up a better show of friendly wildlife.
Swakopmund can easily keep a family busy with new adventures for days, but whichever direction you go next, it's desert again. So why not get right into the heart of it and go climb the highest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei? Geologists say that this supreme desert could be the oldest in the world, and its curves and crests invite closer inspection.
It is said, the older the dune the brighter the colour, from iron oxidisation and a zillion minute fragments of garnets. As the sun traces its path across an unscathed blue sky, the dunes change colour from burnt umber to brooding mauve in the shadows. Although scorching on the surface, the sand gets cooler as your feet sink in, so discard shoes and see who can get to the top first.
Sossusvlei cannot be mentioned without touching on the one-tree town of Solitaire 83km before the Namib Naukluft park gates. It is worth investigating, if only for its apple pie and the larger-than-life bearded chef called Moose who bakes it. He has a good a few stories to tell, which has attracted over 20 film crews over the past four years. You will have to go there yourself to hear his tales or watch more TV.
You are sure to need fuel too, because this is the only petrol station for many sandy miles around. This one-horse, blink-and-you-miss-it, hillbilly town pumps an average of five thousand litres of fuel per day and serves about 480 portions of apple pie every day.
If you make is as far as Solitaire the fine orange dust will have got into your hair, your clothes and even have snuck through the zips of your bags inside the boot of your car. The desert will also have ingrained itself into you psyche and you will feel it calling you back to it in years to come.
You will of course have no choice but to listen to that beckoning call, and when it gets too much, the sand lover in you won't be able to resist a return trip to Namibia.
© Carrie Hampton email@example.com