From Mad Max to The Grand Tour in Namibia: What is a Namibian adventure really like?

POSTED ON 1st February 2017 BY

namibia safari

Namibia isn’t shy when it comes to being featured on the big screen. From the stunning vistas in Mad Max to the beautiful aerial shots recently seen on The Grand Tour, Namibia is a truly breath-taking country and one of our favourite self-drive destinations.

With a population of just 2.3 million scattered over an area six times larger than England, Namibia is vast, wild and rugged. An eclectic mix of impressive desert landscapes and a historic coastline combined with excellent road conditions, Namibia is the safest self-drive safari destination in Africa. Bleak yet beautiful, stark yet stunning, it brandishes one of the world’s most photogenic and innately cinematic landscapes.Unsurprisingly, it has caught the attention of film-makers and travellers alike for decades.

To celebrate the beauty of Namibia and to showcase why it is such a popular destination with the Hollywood elite, we’ve rounded-up a few highlights you can expect to experience on your Namibian adventure. You’ll soon discover it really is just as it seems on the big screen.

Etosha National Park

namibia wildlife

Considered the greatest wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, Etosha National Park is one of the biggest parks in Africa. Home to a myriad of mammals, birds and reptiles, Etosha offers some of the most impressive game viewing opportunities on the continent. With many of Africa’s national parks you can spend days looking for animals, during the dry season in Etosha you simply need to park up next to one of the many watering holes to witness a host of animals wandering down to the water’s edge. Visitors can expect to see many species of bucks, elephants, giraffes, rhinos and lions. Whilst sightings of leopards and cheetahs can often be difficult, without the crowds associated with a traditional safari, a self-drive safari makes it much more likely.

And whilst game viewing is exceptional, Etosha’s most famed characteristic is often considered to be the giant salt pan, so large it is visible from space. The salt pan is an impressive backdrop for a Namibian adventure. Covering an area of approximately 1,900 square miles, the enormous expanse of salt glimmers green in the dry season and is the largest of its kind in Africa.

The park is thriving with game viewing opportunities and unique landscapes, making it a must-see on any Namibian holiday.

Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast features kilometre after kilometre of deserted beach, with seal and flamingo colonies seen up and down the coast. The barren landscape is littered with rusting vessels, shipwrecked many years ago, and a vast expanse of beach and sand meets the Namib Desert further inland.

The landscape is truly breath-taking, dotted with sand dunes, all synonymous with Namibia, it’s not difficult to see why it has been selected as the backdrop for countless Hollywood blockbusters. Most recently as the setting for the Mad Max sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road. The original location in Australia had experienced an unusual level of rainfall meaning it resembled little of director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic vision. So, he ordered that everything be packed up and shipped to Namibia, including 150 hand-built motorbikes, trucks and cars.

Whilst offering an incredible filmic backdrop, the terrain is also home to a surprising array of animals. Desert Elephants trekking through the sands have been said to enjoy sliding down the dunes, while giraffes, lions, zebras, black rhinos, and hyena can also be found.

A visit to the Skeleton Coast may even feel as though you’ve stepped onto the set of Mad Max.

Namib Desert

Namiba desert - Namib

The Namib Desert is one of the oldest in the world and considered by many to be one of the most impressive. The dramatic landscape has inspired filmmakers for decades. With the contrasting colours of the towering deep-orange sand dunes,the bright-white mineral pans and the red, rocky outcrops, the Namib Desert is a natural film set. Driving through its barren landscape is an otherworldly experience, where you can travel for days and not come across another safari-traveller.

It is this that makes the environment so enigmatic. The sand dunes in Sossusvlei are the largest in the world, measuring up to 325 metres. These impressive natural phenomena’s have featured heavily in a number of television programmes and films. Most recently, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the team careered around in beach buggies whilst enjoying the large expanse on The Grand Tour’s Christmas special. We’ve been told that the crew made sure the landscape looked exactly as they found it, so despite the hair-raising driving shown in the programme, the desert’s natural beauty remains intact.

The Namib Desert is home to a large number of animals, making it an excellent game spotting destination. The rare Namibian Desert elephant has managed to survive despite the lack of regular rainfall. It has adapted to the arid landscape by evolving longer legs, broader feet and smaller bodies and can survive without water for up to three days. Other large animals that can be sighted include lions, oryx and giraffes, as well the largest population of black rhinos.


Sandwiched between the Atlantic Coast and the Namib Desert, Swakopmund is both a destination in its own right and a launch pad for explorations of the Skeleton Coast and Namib Desert.

With palm-lined streets, seaside promenades and beautiful half-timbered German architecture, the town is a stark contrast to the nearby expanse of the desert. The welcoming beaches and warm climate, make it a popular resort for Namibians throughout the year and it is also the perfect addition to a self-drive itinerary in Namibia.

The quaint image of the town was used as the setting for The Village in the 2008 production of The Prisoner (ITV) and it was also the main base for the Mad Max: Fury Road crew when filming on location in the nearby Namib Desert. When in town, a must-visit for any film enthusiast is the Wreck Restaurant, where Charlize Theron and Director George Miller were often seen dining here during the filming of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Swakopmund is also Namibia’s activity centre. There is a range of activities on offer, from quad biking and sandboarding on the desert sand dunes, to scenic flights up the Skeleton Coast and hot air balloon flights over the Namib Desert. For those on a self-drive, it is also a great stopover to refill on food and fuel.

Whilst Mad Max: Fury Road and The Grand Tour’s Christmas Special are the most recent productions to enjoy the incredible landscape in Namibia, they are by no means the only. Other stars who have visited Namibia to shoot on location  include Rupert Graves and Jason Connery​ for The Sheltering Desert in 1992; Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn for The Cell in 2000 and Ian McKellen​ and Ruth Wilson for The Prisoner mini-series in 2009.

TV wildlife expert David Attenborough wowed the world with lessons about the topography and wildlife that call Namibia home, showcasing its exquisite beauty long before its discovery as an incredible film set.

Are You Ready?

Namibia is an incredible safari destination with plenty to offer both the seasoned self-driver and those new to this type of holiday.

If you’ve been inspired by the big screen and would like to see what it’s all about for yourself, we’ve put together a fantastic itinerary to highlight the incredible location the featured so predominantly in films.

To learn more about safari holidays in Africa, download a free copy of the African Safari Field Guide – a useful 37-page book we wrote on the subject.

For more information on Namibia and our safari drive destinations contact our expert team. We offer free consultations, and would be happy to help you create a bespoke safari of your dreams.

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