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Awesome Africa

Which was the first African country to include environmental conservation in its constitution? That would be Namibia, a nation of hauntingly empty landscapes and geological superlatives.

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It’s home to the world’s oldest desert, the 80-million-year-old Namib, meaning “vast place”, which stretches for almost 1000 miles. It has some of the world’s tallest sand dunes, including the prosaically named Dune 7, which rises 383 metres above the scorched earth. And Africa’s largest cheetah population stalks Etosha National Park.

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Namibia is a country of extremes — from the flatlands of the Kalahari in the east to Fish River Canyon in the deep south, second in size only to the Grand Canyon, and one of Africa’s most unforgettable hiking trails. The stark Skeleton Coast, littered with the rusting hulls of 18th-century shipwrecks, is where the roaring swell of the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the vast emptiness of the Namib desert. In the coastal city of Swakopmund, you can experience the best extreme sports in southern Africa, from skydiving to sandboarding.

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You won’t have to share this mind-blowing scenery with hordes of tourists. Namibia is one of the least crowded destinations on the planet. The arid desert may seem lifeless; but follow tracks with local bushmen and you’ll discover incredible biodiversity, from elephants and lions to leaping herds of springbok. More than 40 percent of the country is a protected conservation area. Local communities are entrusted to protect the flora and fauna that sustains a carefully managed tourism industry, with safari camps and eco-lodges that leave the lightest of footprints in the shifting sands.

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Wolwedans is one of our favourite escapes — a collection of luxury but low-impact camps and lodges, scattered around the 170,000-hectare NamibRand Nature Reserve. Strict regulations mean you won't see another vehicle while game-spotting in the golden savannahs or another person while you camp out in the desert on a two-day walking safari led by Khoisan bushmen.

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An even more dramatic way to immerse yourself in the magnitude of this wilderness is from a hot air balloon, soaring above the rippling dunes in silence, interrupted only by the pounding hooves of a dazzle of galloping zebra, sending wisps of dust into the wide-open skies.

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Selected images courtesy of Wolvedans