We don't often take tours. But kayaking with seals at Pelican Point and exploring Sandwich Harbour sand dunes in a 4x4 was too much to resist. Here's the low-down on two excellent tours.


When I think back to our travels in Namibia, my enduring memory is of Sandwich Harbour. A place where the golden dunes of the Namib desert crash into the rough Atlantic surf. It’s wild, desolate and dramatic. A place like nowhere I’d seen before. Unique and mesmerising in equal portions.

Just a few miles north are the wetlands of Walvis Bay. Here, swathes of flamingos bask in pink waters and black jackals scout the area for food. It’s also home to Pelican Point, a breeding ground for a large colony of Cape Fur Seals. Protected from the rough Atlantic Ocean, it offers the perfect spot to kayak with these playful creatures.

We don’t often take organised tours when we travel, but with the Sandwich Harbour dunes inaccessible to only the most skilled drivers, and the kayaking too good to pass up, it had to be done. So we joined the locally run Pelican Point kayaking and Sandwich Harbour 4×4 combo tour and did not regret it.

Here’s our experience so you can decide whether these tours are for you, some tips for what to take with you and how to book.


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PELICAN POINT KAYAKING TOUR

We set off early in the morning when the waters around Pelican Point were most still. The road out from Walvis Bay was a typical Namibian invention. Made from local salt and gypsum, it softens when wet, then gets compacted by the weight of cars. A no-maintenance Namibian road that cures its own potholes.

The Cape Fur Seals have established a large colony at Pelican Point, 30 km from Walvis Bay harbour. As we pulled up beside the lighthouse, masses of seals were either squabbling with each other, heading for the water or just basking in the sun.

Slightly awkwardly we bundled ourselves in our kayak listening to the instructions from our guide: keep the seals entertained but don’t put your fingers into the water. Got it.

With instructions duly noted, we fumbled with oars trying to get started. Cold water lashed our legs as we set off towards the seals, cameras and phones tucked under one arm.

After hitting our stride, our strokes were synchronised like a well-oiled machine. We looked back to check our progress and discovered we’d made it absolutely nowhere. The strong winds at Pelican Point kept us firmly nestled along the beach.

Clearly accustomed to incompetence, the seals came to us – about 5 metres from the shore. Following our instructions to engage them as much as possible, we offered an oar – a kind of olive branch for making them travel out to see us. They took it with gusto, nibbling at it for a while before rolling over on their backs, a clear indication they’re expecting a belly rub.

Some nudged at our kayak trying to get in, obviously not aware that it would be quicker to swim themselves. Others were content to follow along beside us, chasing our oars and splashing us with clumsy flippers. The less adventuress simply eyed us cautiously.

Cold and wet but thoroughly satisfied we arrived back on shore. On the beach, the team from the tour provided sandwiches and hot drinks while we debriefed on a fantastic adventure. After a quick change into dry clothes, our Pelican Point kayaking tour was over and we were whisked back to Walvis Bay.


SANDWICH HARBOUR 4x4 TOUR

After lunch, we were being whisked off to our afternoon activity, the Sandwich Harbour 4×4 Tour. Our driver is Joost. He came to Namibia as a kid from Germany in 1953 and after working for Rio Tinto for 27 years, embraced tourism. Burly and imposing in his seat, he was out of breath just changing gears.

Soon we were driving fast along flat sand. Ocean surf on one side; dunes, shrubs and salt pan on the other. It’s a challenging environment. Interspersed with some well-rehearsed one-liners, Joost educated us on life in the desert.

We learnt that this part of Namibia has almost no rain, a mere 15 mm per year. That jackals know where to dig for fresh water, that springboks aren’t eaten because the plants here make their meat taste bad and dunes are formed by the windbreak created by small plants. We learnt, using a magnet, how iron colours the sand and how insects and lizards find water to drink.

But our main goal was Sandwich Harbour; a place where dunes crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

There are two ways to get there, one is a narrow path carved between the dunes and the ocean, the other is over the top. The wind was blowing onshore, the tide was high, and the surf was rough. So, it was the high road for us.

Joost turned inland and joined a convoy of 3 jeeps from another tour group.

“It’s safer in large numbers,” he declared.

“Will they stop if we get stuck,” we asked.

“Who knows?”

Heading deeper and deeper into the Namib desert, the shrubs, salt pan and sea were left behind. The dunes rose higher and higher. The landscape comprised only two elements: sand and sky. The 3 cars ahead appeared and disappeared as they traversed over the dunes.

Theoretically, you can drive these dunes yourself creating your own Sandwich Harbour 4×4 trip. But unless you are very experienced you would be a fool to try. Joost is no fool, although he pretends to be.

“It’s my first time” he declared as we speed to the top of a massive dune.

Everyone in the car held their breath. The silence was broken by the roar and rumble of the dune vibrating below us. The 4×4 can manage slopes of about 30 degrees but it felt much steeper as you plunge over the other side and race to the bottom.

Joost pretended to lose control for the benefit of group humour.

Before long we were at the highest point. In front of us was an ocean of rippling dunes beside an ocean of crashing water. It’s a spectacular sight. Mother nature at her finest.

But our tour is not finished. Finding a sheltered spot, Joost created a picnic in the back of the jeep. Local oysters and champagne, canapes, sandwiches and snacks.

Joost’s phone rang, apparently his wife wanted to clean his car, so it was time to head home. But as we go to leave, Joost tells us the car won’t start.

“Can you push?”


BOOKING YOUR PELICAN POINT & SANDWICH HARBOUR COMBO TOUR

KAYAKING TOURS / Kayaking tours leave from Waterfront at Walvis Bay. Check-in time is 7:45 am or 8:30 am May to August. The trip out to Pelican Point takes around 30 minutes in their minivan where you’ll hear some interesting facts about the local area. Life jackets are provided, as is hot chocolate, tea and sandwiches.

After the kayaking you’ll be dropped back at Walvis Bay where you can wait for the Sandwich Harbour 4×4 tour.

SANDWICH HARBOUR 4×4 TOUR / The Sandwich Harbour 4×4 tour leaves at around 13:00, giving you enough time to grab lunch at one of the many restaurants at the Waterfront in Walvis Bay. Keep in mind however, the tour includes a fantastic afternoon tea of fresh Namibian oysters and champagne. So don’t fill up on cheese sandwiches before you leave.

COMBO / If your short on time or only interested in one of them, you can book the kayaking tour or the 4×4 tour separately. However, combo tickets are available which give you a discount on both activities.

BOOK YOUR SANDWICH HARBOUR TOURS

KAYAKING TOUR4X4 TOURCOMBO TOUR

BOOK YOUR SANDWICH HARBOUR TOURS

KAYAKING TOUR4X4 TOURCOMBO TOUR

WHAT TO TAKE ON PELICAN POINT KAYAKING & SANDWICH HARBOUR 4X4 TOUR

Despite Namibia’s often searing heat, it can get pretty cold on the water when you’re kayaking so make sure you have a warm-ish top. You’ll also get pretty wet so a change of clothes and a towel is a good idea. You can get changed beside the bus while having lunch.

A dry pack for your camera or a waterproof holder for your phone is a good idea as the seals splash a lot of water into the kayaks.

You’re in the car most of the time for the Sandwich Harbour 4×4 tour, however, the wind at the top of the dunes can be blowing a gale, so a windbreaker and long trousers are a good idea.

There is also a lot of sand blowing around which is not friendly to cameras, so something to protect your camera between shots would be a good idea (i.e. a raincoat). Also, make sure you change lenses inside the car if necessary.

WHERE TO NEXT?

Namibia was one of our favourite travel destinations and Sandwich Harbour was a clear highlight. But, if you’re looking for more inspiration, read our self-drive guide to Etosha National Park with some of the most incredible game we’ve ever witnessed, or our experience touring the skeleton coast.

For practical advice on what it is like to self-drive in Namibia read our driving in Namibia post. It offers helpful tips, advice on hiring a 2WD or 4×4 and some money-saving recommendations.

Satisfied that Namibia is your next holiday? Then next


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Kayaking with seals and riding mighty dunes in a Sandwich Harbour 4x4, is a Namibian experience we highly recommend / Pelican Point / Sandwich Harbour Tours

Kayaking with seals and riding mighty dunes in a Sandwich Harbour 4x4, is a Namibian experience we highly recommend / Pelican Point / Sandwich Harbour Tours

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