Namibia is a majestic place distinguished by the ever-changing Namib Desert, which kisses the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Namibia is a home away from home for many of us. For some, though, some, even those who have travelled the world, Namibia can become a whole new experience. Internationally renowned rugby player and South African sporting legend Victor Matfield recently experienced this breathtakingly beautiful country like never before.
Now one might think that a celebrity such as Victor Matfield might be challenging to get in touch with. Well, as it turns out, he’s not, as Corinna Howard found out. Howard specialises in PR and Media relations and owns a company called Outlook Africa. Apart from creating publicity for clients, Corinna provides tour operation services, and the company creates beautiful holidays for clients in Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.
One of her clients happens to be O & L Leisure in Namibia, who owns and operates the stunning Strand Hotel in Swakopmund and Mokuti Etosha Lodge (a stone’s throw from the iconic Etosha Park). This outfit’s other prime destinations include the Midgard Country Estate (56km outside of Windhoek) and the five star Chobe Water Villas in Chobe.
During her career, Corinna has dealt with a host of TV personalities, print media, and radio personalities, but what she has never done was host a South African legend in the class of Victor Matfield. Corinna contacted Matfield via his Instagram profile. Her message was short and sweet and read something like this: “Hi, my name is Corinna Howard and I am the PR and media consultant for O & L Leisure in Namibia. I would love to host you and your wife, on a five day trip through Namibia. Here are my contact details for further information”.
Not expecting much, Corinna put her phone down thinking nothing of it. Low and behold: Victor called her within minutes and told her that he would love to explore Namibia with O & L Leisure. “Can I bring my kids?” he asked. And, in typical Corinna fashion, a family holiday of a lifetime was organised.
The day arrives, and off we jet to Windhoek. The first day entails a very early start as the two-hour, direct flight to Windhoek, departs from ORT at 06:30. Victor’s beautiful wife Monja, and two of their three daughters (aged 7 and 12) join us. I have done this route many times. Yet, I never get bored. Monja is excited and tells me that she had never considered Namibia as a family holiday destination. They usually travel to Europe, but she is open-minded and excited about what lies ahead. On arrival, we collect our rental car, a Volkswagen Minibus, and head out on what promises to be an exciting adventure.
Hosea International airport is 45 minutes outside of Windhoek. As we enter Windhoek, we quickly meet up with the O & L Leisure marketing team members to collect our padkos and enjoy a quick coffee. Everyone in the coffee shop grins and smiles at Victor, and you can see that they admiration in their eyes. You can’t miss Victor – he is at 2m tall after all!
As intimidating as he might seem, he is a true gentle giant and one of the kindest human beings I have ever dealt with. He enjoys the attention and has time for every person that wants to take a selfie with him or get his autograph. So our quick coffee stop wasn’t so quick after all! Our 15-minute pitstop had turned into a bit of a mini-event, but we left the patrons happy and smiling. Time to hit the road, and we head to Mokuti Etosha Lodge. It is a long drive (about 550 km), but the well-kept roads are tarred and in perfect condition, better than many of ours in South Africa. The speed limit is the same as in South Africa at 120km/h, and speeding is not an option here as you will be fine quite heavily.
We drove through various little towns en route to Mokuti Etosha lodge, commenting on how clean the towns are. The kids are behaving well and even nodded off every now and then. Victor is the near-perfect passenger and, much to my surprise, only asked once where I had hidden the beer.
I drove the entire route, as I am pretty used to this stretch of never-ending tarmac. I tried to figure my famous passenger out during the road trip, but he is just a down-to-earth, solid guy. There is nothing much to figure out, if I’m honest. He is easy-going and a downright caring and attentive husband and father. Victor and his wife were both very chatty in the car and shared what most other normal couples would share – love, life and everything in-between. They loved their time in France and went into detail about their time spent in London. They told me that they enjoyed Japan and how Monja, during the first years of motherhood, was often a single parent when Victor was touring with the Springboks. Mid-sentence, both Victor and his wife stop to look up, saying that the sky in Namibia is a bit bigger than anywhere else.
When we got to Mokuti, the resident buck, hoards of naughty little squirrels, and a flock of mongoose welcomed us. Ready to start this holiday in all seriousness. Victor cracked open an ice-cold Tafel, and the kids jump into the pool, located in the very lush green gardens of the lodge. The lodge – boasting over 100 modern, luxurious rooms – is family-friendly and lies directly at the Namutoni Gate, the entrance to Etosha Park.
Before dinner, the hotel staff took us to an extraordinary spot for sundowners. Again, we noticed that the sky in Namibia must be bigger than anywhere else on this planet. Drinks and snacks were set up, and Etienne, the general manager at Mokuti, enjoyed a couple of drinks with Victor while Monja and I enjoyed some good old Gin and Tonics.
Dinner was a private set up at the swimming pool with Chef Brian and his team outdoing themselves trying to impress Mr Matfield, and impressed he was, commenting on how amiable the people of Namibia were.
The following day was another early one as we had planned a game drive into the Etosha National Park. We were greeted by antelopes, jackal, lion and many more animals, but this is not what captured the Matfields’ Instead, they could not stop talking about the area’s vast and open beauty. The pan is huge, about 110 km in length and 60 km in width. It is seldom that children are in awe of the scenery, but the girls were astounded.
When we returned to the lodge, Victor decided to go to the gym to work off the previous night’s delicious dinner. A good jog had him feeling refreshed but also a little stiff the next day. Cycling is his choice of sport at present, and he had not jogged in a while. When I asked him if he would play rugby again, he said that this had not crossed his mind recently and that not being fit for rugby could result unnecessary injuries.
That afternoon Victor and Monja took advantage of the newly built spa for a couple’s massage while the girls visited the exciting snake and reptile park, where we were privy to a live snake presentation. While both were courageous enough to hold the harmless snakes, their faces told a different story. They learnt a lot that afternoon and were fascinated by the reptiles.
For that evening, Mokuti had arranged a boma dinner where other guests could join a meet and greet with Victor. Evert the charming gentleman, he took the time to sit with elderly couples at their table, chatting and sharing rugby memories. Many a selfie with Victor was taken, and not once did he shy away from people wanting to meet him. We all enjoyed the performance by the bushmen dancers around a beautiful fire. Indeed a special night.
We started the day with breakfast before climbing back into our minivan, bidding a fond farewell to the fantastic staff at Mokuti. They were sad to see Victor leave, but he says that he will be back soon. By now Monja has already fallen in love with Namibia, stating that she is surprise how fast the country crept into her heart.
This time Victor is behind the wheel of our VW bus. Before us lay a seven-hour drive and again, the roads were in perfect condition with very little traffic. However, one does have to get used to overtaking many trucks on the narrow roads, but the drivers are friendly, and visibility is fantastic, allowing for safe driving at all times. One thing that I like about Namibia is that you can stop at any garage and find a clean toilet. However, it is not free and you have to cough up N$2. The South African Rand is equal to the Namibian Dollar, and they readily accept the South African currencyeverywhere. Change may be given in N$, and can’t be changed back into ZAR in South Africa. Thus, make sure you don’t have any Namibian dollars left upon your return unless you plan to return to Namibia.
Right, back to the action and chatting. After a few curious questions, I learnt that most rugby players are outstanding golf players as they spend plenty of free time on the golf course. Victor has sampled many courses in other countries while on rugby tours, often making his mark with a great handicap.
Victor also explained to me what he does now, highlighting there is indeed life after rugby. He is the CEO of Wildswinkel, a company that auctions game, farms, and other farm animals. They recently achieved a record price, on auction, for an Ankole Bull at the first-ever Ankole National Auction. President Cyril Ramaphosa was even a guest speaker at the event. We had to change the dates of our trip so that Victor could attend this important auction.
On arrival in Swakopmund, our first stop was a stunning venue, located directly on the beach. Tigers Reef sits directly over the ocean, and while rustic, it is a very special place. You can enjoy the view of the ocean, and the desert in the distance. Jaegermeister is a “must” here, a sort of a tradition. Once we have relaxed, stretched our legs and enjoyed the fresh air at Tigers Reef, we drove the short distance to our final destination, The Strand Hotel. Certainly the prime spot in town, it is situated on the promenade and within walking distance of this little town. It boasts three restaurants, the Ocean Cellar, which is a very modern and classy place, the Brewer and Butcher (yes, they brew their own beer and it is fantastic) and the Farm House Deli, where we would be enjoying our breakfasts for the next three days. The Farm House Deli is well known for their delicious food, but especially their cakes, which are in my opinion world-class.
After our friendly check-in, we meet up for an early dinner at the Ocean Cellar. I promised Victor and Monja that the oysters in Namibia are different from what they are used to, which they confirmed upon trying. I personally like them au Naturelle with tabasco, lemon and black pepper. Monja and Victor opted for the variety that included French style, Thai style, Vietnamese, and other interesting concoctions.
Our first full day in Swakopmund started with a scrumptious breakfast whereafter we drove to Walvis Bay, about 35 km for an exciting adventure. Catamaran Charters had invited us to join their Catamaran Dolphin Cruise. Not even 5 minutes after our departure, a seal joined us on a dead still Atlantic Ocean. The seals know the boats, swim alongside and then jump in, hoping to get some fresh fish titbits. Our guide, Oom Bill was excellent in sharing his years of knowledge about the harbour, the ocean and the habits of the whales and dolphins. The tour takes you to Pelican Point, where thousands of seals gather. We went past Pelican Point into the open sea and were treated to a boisterous school of dolphins. They jumped and performed and were most definitely the highlight of the day for all of us.
Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are generally shrouded in heavy mist or fog in the mornings, and this day had started no differently. Even in summer, the mornings are cold, and a good cup of Namibian coffee was served 10 minutes after departing the Walvis Bay Waterfront (Namibian coffee being a sip of OBS)
Walvis Bay Catamaran Charters spoilt us with more fresh Oysters, sparkling wine, and other delicious snacks on our way back. The trip took us past the Oyster Farms, and Oom Bill told us all about how they are cultivated, and they are even exported as far as Russia. All enjoyed the trip and the kids had a ball, Who wouldn’t love stroking a seal and having dolphins join us? Back at the hotel, we spent the day relaxing, each enjoying some free time.
The next day we headed off to explore the dunes in the heart of the Namibian desert with Desert Magic Tours. They are experienced operators based in Swakopmund that offer 4×4 excursions into the Namibian desert. They specialise in tailor-making overland tours and supply 4×4 vehicles to rent.
At 08:30, our chariots for the day, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Jeep, awaited us and off we went, heading into the desert and the famous Sandwich Harbour Bay. You drive between the ocean and towering dunes and through the large salt work. If you didn’t know any better, you may believe that the pinkish, white salt is snow.
The salt lakes are full of flamingos and a true delight to watch.
Kole, our driver and guide for the day have a great sense of humour, but most importantly, he is a very professional and skilled 4×4 driver who knows the dangers of the dunes and the desert. Kole and his colleague travel with radios, snatch ropes and all the must-have equipment to stay safe.
Our route to Sandwich Harbour Bay takes us past Walvis Bay and onto the beach. Here we take a break and let the tyres down to handle the soft sand. My VIP guests grabbed a refreshing Tafel, and off we went. Whilst driving on the beach, we encounter thousands (no, I am not exaggerating) of Cormorants.
We drove at a steady pace until we reached the gigantic dunes that drop into the Atlantic Ocean. We stop to take some photos at this truly magnificent scene, and a convoy of about ten 4×4’s passed us. They were driving all along the coastline, from Luderitz to Swakopmund, heavily laden with gear and bearing huge grins of happiness. We drive along the dunes through some small waves that we cannot miss en route to Sandwich Harbour Bay. What an experience!
Once there, we enter a private concession and drive up some of the tallest dunes in the area. Squeals of delight are heard, and many an oooh and an aaaah. Driving in those massive dunes can be quite daunting if one is not used to it. Victor and his family enjoy every second, and when we thought it was time to head back, our guides stop and unpack a delicious lunch, some sparkling wine and, of course, some frosty beers. Victor and Monja took a walk, watching their daughters play in the dunes. A special moment for them.
With lunch all done, it is time to leave this beautiful spot and head back to The Strand Hotel, where another meet and greet had been planned for the evening. Upon our return, we freshened up and meet Victor at the Brewer and Butcher. We did a quick beer tasting, which is fun, and the brewmaster proudly explains how to make a good beer.
The crowds slowly arrive to meet Victor. At first, many are shy, but always friendly. Everyone wanted to chat to Victor for a minute or two, and some even hand him tiny cute babies for photos of Victor with their children, mothers, grandparents and friends. It is lovely to watch, and Victor does this for hours on end, never getting upset. He is, after all, a true African legend.
The hotel had arranged for some stunning young talent to sing and entertain the crowds. I don’t know who was more mesmerised by whom, the singers by Victor or Victor by the talent before him. Livinge Dennis sings a Queen cover song in a way that has the crowd spellbound. The 18-year old Jessica Strydom, with her angelic voice, has Victor, Monja and the crowd wanting more and more.
The food, the Jaegermeister, the beers, but more than anything else, the people made this evening so special. The staff members were dancing in the kitchen, the waiters, the chefs, all were in a party mood. It was special and all because Victor Matfield came to visit the Brewer and Butcher in Namibia.
Our final day, the day we all wanted to avoid, arrived and we headed to the airport just outside Walvis Bay. The airport is a 45-minute drive, on a brand new tar road, past Dune 9. A short two-hour direct flight took us home to Johannesburg.
On the plane, I had time to recollect my thoughts. I felt blessed to have been able to bring Victor and his family to Namibia for a trip none of us will ever forget. The Matfield’s fell in love with Namibia an vowed to visit again. I again realise how special this neighbouring country of ours is, with adventure waits around every corner. Okay, to be fair, there are very few corners on the long stretches of road… So let’s say that adventure awaits, regardless of how many times you have been. There is always something new to experience.