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The crimson deserts, dramatic dunes and stark mountain ranges of Namibia make a magnificent film set.
A cavalcade of monster trucks thunder through a fiery red desert. A woman kneels in anguish on the ridge of a towering dune as the sand flows and ripples away all around. A vehicle explodes into a ball of flame as it smashes into a spectacular mountainside.
The long-awaited movie Mad Max: Fury Road delivers a bellyful of incredible action sequences on the big screen, but one of its major stars will be the landscape against which it was filmed.
Unlike the first three Mad Max films, which were filmed in various locations around Australia, Fury Road's shoot happened in the southern African country of Namibia. Originally planned to be filmed around Broken Hill, unusual rainfall saw the normally barren landscape bloom into life - not a great look for a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The production moved as a result.
The crimson deserts, dramatic dunes, magnificent mountain ranges and breathtakingly stark horizons of the country dazzle just as much as anything Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult smash, grab and destroy.
"Our world is fire and blood," says one of the characters in director Dr George Miller's post-apocalyptic epic where everyone is battling everyone else – and their surroundings – to survive. If only they knew: refuge is actually always very close to hand.
Every day spent exploring Namibia is like stepping on to a different movie set.
Namibia has some of the most incredible scenery in the world, with such little rainfall helping create a geography as dry and as seemingly barren as anything you could ever imagine, but visitors to the country can experience the place in extraordinary luxury.
Namibia might only just be emerging as a tourism destination for people outside Africa, but it already has a sophisticated accommodation network. In addition, a series of beautiful lodges in comparatively isolated locations allow their guests to completely immerse themselves in those landscapes.
Some people choose to drive themselves around the country, but more visitors select itineraries with flights in small planes between the most stunning sights. Although Namibia, bordering South Africa to the south, Botswana to the east and Angola to the north, is Africa's eighth largest country, and the world's second least populated – behind Mongolia – travel is extremely well-organised.
There was no need for Max to go so mad in that desert. Had he driven a little further south from where most of his action was set, he would have been greeted on the steps of the boutique lodge at Little Kulala with chilled face cloths on a silver tray and the clink of ice in a ready-made cocktail.
If he'd chosen north, he could have checked into the Doro Nawas Camp in Damaraland and had his own private cottage, where he could have wheeled his bed on to his terrace to sleep under the stars between crisp white sheets. He would only have needed to sit up in bed to gaze across the vast plains to see any enemy approach.
For the rest of us, every day spent exploring Namibia is like stepping on to a different movie set.
All along the Atlantic coastline is a sea of red sand, the Namib Desert, the world's oldest desert and, without doubt, among the most beautiful.
Where it flows into the ocean, around the Skeleton Coast, there are endless kilometres of deserted beach, interrupted only by massive colonies of barking seals and the brilliant blush of flamingos. That coastline was named after the bones of whales and seals that once lay on the sands stripped bare by other animals, whalers, sealers and the sun. Over the past 100 years, the name has also come to refer to the rusting hulks of vessels that have been shipwrecked on the treacherous rocks off the coast.
Inland, up and down the country, are some of the largest sand dunes in the world, rolling as far as the eye can see. Craggy mountain ranges often pull focus, while to the west lie the vast scrubby plains of the Kalahari Desert.
There is no shortage of wildlife either, with oryx, elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras and every other kind of animal regularly wandering into shot in search of water.
To the north is the most fertile region, watered by rivers and with legions of wildlife dawdling around easily accessible waterholes. The landscape there is no less spectacular either, with granite mountains and soaring passes, burnished ochre dunes and bleached white plains.
Mad Max, filmed halfway up the coast outside Namibia's second city of Swakopmund, makes good use of the empty desert lands of Henties Bay, the dunes inland from Walvis Bay, the dry beds of the Swakop River, the Rossing mountain massif nearby and the salt farm at Paaltjies on a spit stretching over the ocean.
Most of the film crew simply could not believe so many astonishingly filmic locations lay so close to each other. But they were not the first to discover the wonders of the country as a glorious movie setting.
In 2002, Angelina Jolie visited the eastern region of Namibia, Gobabis, for her movie with Clive Owen, Beyond Borders, a story about a wealthy woman who is persuaded to visit Africa by a rebellious doctor doing relief work. For her, it began a passionate love affair, not with Owen, but with the country.
Jolie and Brad Pitt have holidayed in Namibia regularly ever since and in 2006, she gave birth there to the couple's first biological child, Shiloh, who is a Namibian citizen.
The Namibian government certainly helped the relationship with the country along by adopting an unprecedented level of security to stop journalists and paparazzi bothering its VIP visitors. As Pitt himself said: "Namibia is Africa's best-kept secret – this is, until we came here."
Other stars have visited Namibia to work on films: Rupert Graves and Jason Connery for The Sheltering Desert in 1992; Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn for The Cell in 2000; Dennis Quaid and our own Miranda Otto for Flight of the Phoenix in 2004; Ian McKellen and Ruth Wilson for The Prisoner miniseries in 2009; and director Ron Fricke for Samsara in 2011.
But the world's movie-goers saw Namibia on the screen way before then. TV wildlife expert David Attenborough has made numerous films about both the animals and the topography of the country, while in 1980 a modest little movie starring a Namibian bushman, or San, in the Kalahari Desert, The Gods Must Be Crazy, exploded into an incredible worldwide success.
A wacky comedy against a stunning panorama of sandy emptiness, it told the story of Xi and his tribe who were happy with their lot until a Coca-Cola bottle fell to earth from a plane, and they started to fight over it.
Some of the charm of Namibia is that life, in some ways, does not change much. A group of San living in a traditional village at Naankuse, just outside the nation's capital, Windhoek – at a foundation that Jolie and Pitt help support – take visitors on a bush walk, showing them the trees and berries of traditional medicines and weapons, and talking about how they live and hunt.
The star of that film, they eagerly confide, was an uncle of one of them. And when they were asked if they wanted a gift brought back to them, their request? Some Coca-Cola.
Namibia is still very much the ultimate get-away-from-it-all kind of place.
Yet, it is great to know it is possible to view, in real life, some of that amazing scenery from Mad Max by day, and then spend evenings sipping cocktails and eating sumptuously in stylish lodges, before sleeping in comfort every night.
Max, eat your heart out.
The writer was a guest in Namibia of The Classic Safari Company and South African Airways.
Fly to Namibia with South African Airways from Perth to Johannesburg, and then connect to Windhoek. See flysaa.com/au.
The lodges the company recommends – all luxury "tented" accommodation, where it is a shock to discover the walls of the free-standing suites are, actually, canvas – include Naankuse just outside Windhoek, Little Kulala at Sossusvlei, Doro Nawas Camp at Damaraland, Hoanib Skeleton Coast at Palmwag, Serra Cafema Camp at Kunene and the Ongava Tented Camp at Etosha. See classicsafaricompany.com.au.
SEE + DO
The Classic Safari Company has a range of itineraries to suit different interests and budgets. Phone 02 9327 0666, see classicsafaricompany.com.au.
FIVE MORE STARK AND REMOTE MOVIE LOCATIONS
Moab, Utah: 127 Hours, Hulk, Need for Speed, John Carter, The Lone Ranger, One Upon a Time in the West, Con Air, Thelma & Louise, Mission Impossible II, Octopussy, This Boy's Life, Breakdown, Rio Grande and Baraka.
Northern Iceland: Noah, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Interstellar, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Batman Begins, Independence Day, Prometheus, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Die Another Day, Dr Strangelove and the hit TV drama Game of Thrones.
Amman, Jordan: The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Fair Game, Redacted, The United, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy Returns and The Last Days on Mars.
Andalusia, Spain: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, Never Say Never Again, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Die Another Day, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Cleopatra.
Parachilna, Flinders Ranges, South Australia: Rabbit-Proof Fence, Gallipoli, One Night the Moon, The Lighthorsemen and Jane Campion's Holy Smoke with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel.