Cape Town to Namibia – the best road trip itinerary

Cape Town to Namibia – the best road trip itinerary

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Cape Town – Namibia road trip was our first long road trip outside of South Africa. We’d driven before the Garden Route and the West Coast and had some camping gear and a bit of experience. The main difference between this road trip was extremely long distances between attractions, towns and even petrol stations. You always have to plan in advance and check if you have enough petrol, water, and food supplies to last you till the next inhabitable place on the route. This road trip was an exciting adventure with many amazing places to see in Namibia.

Alya sitting in an old rusted car with planted cacti in Namibia
Alya in an old car at Chamietes food stop at the beginning of the Cape Town – Namibia road trip

The best time for the Cape Town – Namibia road trip

July to September, the end of the dry season, are the best months for watching animals in Etosha National Park. There is not much water inside the park; all animals including big cats come to a couple of waterholes to drink. You can just sit in your car next to one of the water holes and see a lot of different animals. We visited Etosha in February and it was a total disaster. It was extremely muddy and the entire dried pan turned into one big lake. We did see a lot of deer and birds but that’s pretty much it. The rainy season is a great time for birdwatching in Etosha.

June to September are the coldest months which means no scorching heat during the day though night temperatures can be quite chilly even in the south of the country. If you’re planning to camp then make sure to bring warm clothes and sleeping bags.

To see the famous Namaqualand (West Coast of South Africa) during the flower season July – September are again the best months. After winter rains usually, bare fields are covered in colorful flowers. 

The same months (July-September) are great for visiting Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park though it’s a bit of a detour from the route it’s an amazing place to see wildlife. 

For Southern Namibia (Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Spitzkope) season doesn’t make a big difference except it’s significantly hotter during summer months (October – April) and cooler in the winter. 

If you want to see thousands of seal cubs at Cape Cross north of Swakopmund then the summer months of January and February are the best time for the road trip. 

Stunning red sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namibia
Impressive sand dunes of the Namib desert are one of the highlights of the Cape Town to Namibia road trip

Travel insurance for your road trip

It’s always recommended to have travel insurance when you go overseas especially if you’re planning to do a long road trip or tackle some adventure activities. When choosing an insurance company make sure they work with your selected destination and their coverage policy so you know you’ll be fully covered in case something happens. If you don’t have a company that you use on a regular basis we can recommend our partners World Nomads. They have a lot of experience covering tourists from all over the world in hundreds of destinations. Their insurance policy is very flexible it can cover your entire trip or just a part of it. You can buy it inline at any time before or during your trip, it takes a couple of minutes. Get your instant quote now!

What car to choose for the Cape Town – Namibia drive?

If you’re planning on staying on the main tourist route without going off-road you won’t need a 4×4 vehicle but this road trip is not for a small car either. You need a biggish car most of the route is on gravel roads that are often very bumpy. We drove with our Daihatsu Terios all the way and never had any problems except one flat tire on the way back. Even in deep mud in Etosha, it never got stuck. The only place it was really difficult to drive was the last 7 km to Deadvlei in Sossusvlei which were on soft sand but there you can take a shuttle to and back if you are worried about getting stuck.

Where to rent a car for the trip?

If you’re planning to start your trip in Cape Town it will be the most logical to rent a car there. Make sure you’re allowed to drive with your rental car across the border and that it has all the necessary paperwork for taking it to Namibia. If you come back to Cape Town after the trip you can drop it at the same place. If you’re not coming back you have to find out if it’s possible to drop off the car in Windhoek. The second option will be more expensive.

Doing the trip with a tour

If renting a car and planning the trip sounds like too much of a mission or if you’re traveling solo consider joining an organized tour that includes transport, guide, accommodation, and meals. There are some tours with a very similar to our itinerary and route.

Prepare for the trip

One of our main Namibia travel tips is to make sure you have at least one spare tire you might be lucky and have no flats at all or very unlucky and get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere which is pretty much most of Southern Namibia.

Pack a tire repair kit with you in case you get more than one flat tire in one day.

Bring a canister with petrol, gas stations are far apart in Namibia. Always fill your car when you see a gas station on the way.

Always have a big bottle of drinking water in the car you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without any water.

Buy a local SIM card. It might be useful for navigation and in case you need some help.

Keep some local cash in your wallet, some campsites, food stops, or even petrol stations might not accept credit cards.

Bring a cooler box especially if you’re planning to camp every once in a while you get to a place with a supermarket where you can stock for the next couple of days.

Pink flamingos in Walvis Bay, Namibia
Hundreds of flamingos on the beach in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Useful items for pack for the trip

  • Travel adaptor – most of the power outlets in South Africa and Namibia are Type M. If you’re coming from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, or Europe you’ll definitely need an adaptor.
  • Sunglasses – it’s sunny every day in Namibia.
  • Sunscreen – apply it every time you get out of your car for a walk.
  • Mosquito repellent – if you’re planning to do safari drives and visit northern parts of Namibia.

Accommodation on the road trip

There are plenty of lodges, guesthouses, and campsites along the route. Camping with your own tent is the cheapest option though it takes time to pitch your tent in the evening and break it down and pack everything in the morning. It’s a bit of work especially if you’re moving every day from place to place.

Budget-friendly indoor accommodation on the Cape Town – Namibia road trip can be found in bigger towns like Luderitz or Swakopmund. Once there you can have a break from pitching and breaking your campsite every day. For camping, it’s not necessary to have a roof-top tent or a motorhome unless you’re planning on camping at unfenced campsites in Kgalagadi National Park. A normal tent will work just fine though roof-top tents are quicker to pack and unpack. 

If you prefer comfort and don’t mind paying for it you will be able to find some incredible lodges but most of them are quite pricey. If you’re going to stay indoors you don’t need to bring camping or cooking gear with you on the trip.

Books and guidebooks for your Cape Town to Namibia trip

Cape Town – Namibia road trip itinerary

The first part of the road trip from Cape Town to Fish River Canyon is quite long, 800km. It’s possible to drive in one day as we did when we went hiking Fish River Canyon but you have to start your trip early. There are many amazing coffee shops in Cape Town that will give a perfect start to your adventure. If you happen to do this road trip in the spring, between July and September, it’s worth spending some time in Namaqualand to see wildflowers. If you drive outside of the flower season and have done the West Coast before you can drive all the way from Cape Town to Ai-Ais in one day. 

Before heading to Namibia make sure you haven’t missed anything there are many amazing things to do in Cape Town!

Day 1. Cape Town – Vredendal

  • Distance – 325 km (along the coast)
  • Driving time – 3h40min.
  • Petrol stations – at every town along the way

Highlights

  • West Coast National Park where you can see spring flowers in August – September
  • Langebaan
  • Paternoster

If you want to visit a couple of places along the way it’s better to start the drive early. Depending on what time of the year you’re going to Namibia the highlights of the trip will vary. If you do this trip between July and September you’ll be lucky to see Namaqualand in blossom. In July beginning of August, you have better chances of seeing wildflowers from Vredendal up north. In September visit West Coast National Park in Langebaan to see spring flowers.

The West Coast itself even outside the flower season is a beautiful and unique place to visit. If you have a couple of extra days you can stop in Langebaan and enjoy its long white-sand beaches and turquoise color lagoon. For seafood and fish lover Paternoster is highly recommended. There are a couple of nice restaurants that serve local daily catch.

Places to stay near Vredendal

Namaqualand during the flower season in South Africa
Flowers in Namaqualand during the spring is something not to miss

Day 2. Vredendal – Ai-Ais (Fish River Canyon)

  • Distance – 522 km
  • Driving time – 5 hours
  • Petrol stations – at 400 km (after the border), at 522 km in Ai-Ais 

Highlights 

  • Namaqua National Park it’s a nice place to stop for wildflowers in July-August 
  • Orange River 
  • Bizarre rock formations on the stretch from the border to Ai-Ais

In Vredendal make sure to buy some supplies there will be no big supermarkets in the next couple of days. 

From Vredendal we drove to Noordoewer border control. It’s a very easy border, took us about 20 min. to finish all formalities. To enter Namibia with a car you pay N$320/US$21 road fee. Keep the receipt until you exit the country sometimes at roadblocks police can ask for it. Noordoewer border is open 24 hours so you can cross it any time. There are two petrol stations after the border cross; one has a shop and a Wimpy, both accept cards. The next petrol station is at Ai-Ais, 118 km away, it accepts only cash. Petrol is cheaper in Namibia than in South Africa. 

The first 40km after the border to Ai-Ais you drive on a tar road then you turn off to an okayish gravel road. There are two places in the canyon where you can stay; Ai-Ais Hot Springs and Hobas campsite. We always stay at Ai-Ais, it has better facilities; grassy campsite, electricity, power socket, a kitchen with gas stoves and sinks. Inside the hotel, there are a restaurant and swimming pools with hot spring water. If you stay at Ai-Ais (camping or indoor) you get free access to the thermal pools. You can book a room if you don’t want to camp. Price for camping N$400/US$ per site (up to 4 people), rooms from N$550 per person including breakfast.

The best views of the canyon are from the viewpoints near Hobas campsite where the entrance to the canyon is. At Ai-Ais you are at the end of the canyon you can walk upstream following the river just make sure to take enough water on the hike. Hobas and the viewpoints will be one the way to Luderitz you don’t have to drive to and back from Ai-Ais. Whichever place you choose to stay, always watch for baboons. There are many of them at both campsites.

Ai-Ais campsite facilities

  • Hot shower – Yes
  • Flushing toilets – Yes
  • Electricity – Yes
  • Outlets – Yes
  • Running water – Yes
  • Wi-fi – No
  • Braai place – Yes
  • Drinking water – Yes
  • Other – electric stoves, roofed area for cooking and washing, hot springs.

The alternative Cape Town – Namibia route

If you have a bit more time and would like to visit some amazing attractions in the Northern Cape and do a safari drive in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park instead of driving along the West Coast you can go more inland toward Upington. Visit some off-the-beaten-track places on the way and enter Namibia through the Kgalagadi. If you decide on this option make sure to do all border crossing formalities at the Twee Rivieren entrance there will be no further border controls in the park. In this case, if you want to visit Fish River Canyon you’ll have to drive back south or keep it for the return trip (if you’re driving back to South Africa).

Alya in a rustic car with a tree in its boot at Canyon Roadhouse, Namibia
Alya in one of the old cars with a quiver tree at Canyon Roadhouse, Namibia

Day 3. Ai-Ais Hot Springs – Luderitz

  • Distance – 480 km
  • Driving time – 5h30min.
  • Petrol stations – at 83 km at Canyon Roadhouse; at 355 km in Aus; at 480 km in Luderitz

Highlights

  • Fish River Canyon
  • Old rusted cars at Canyon Roadhouse, many great spots for taking photos
  • Chamietes about 125 km from Ai-Ais, a small shop and another stop for taking photos with old cars
  • Wild horses near Aus
  • Kolmanskop, a ghost town but by the time you arrive there, it’ll be closed. It’s close to Luderitz and you can visit it the next day.

The road is gravel all the way from Ai-Ais to Luderitz. Luckily there are several interesting and entertaining stops on the route. 

Hobas Campsite is a must-stop on the way. It’s a gateway to the best views of Fish River Canyon. The viewpoints are a couple of kilometers away from the gate. The view of the canyon from the top is spectacular. You can walk around a bit taking photos. To get to the viewpoint you pay N$160/US$11 per person and N$20/US$1,5 per car. 

The next stop is Canyon Roadhouse, about 27 km from the viewpoint, an oasis in the desert with green grass, quiver trees, and a swimming pool. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or coffee. There are a bar/restaurant and a shop. If you don’t feel like driving anymore or really like this place you can stay here for the night. You can camp here or book one of the rooms

About 100 km on there is a food stop/guest house Chamieites (Chamaites) where you can find more nice old cars for photos. They sell homemade pies, biltong, and droewors in case you get hungry and need some snacks. 

Driving towards Aus watch for wild horses, gemsboks, and zebras. These horses live in the wild though not all over them look good and healthy. We saw a couple of them in the town at the petrol station searching for food. If you happened to have an apple or a carrot it’ll be highly appreciated.

12 km before Luderitz you’ll see the famous Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the desert. You can stop there for some photos but you’ll probably be too late to visit it, the gate closes at 1pm. 

Places to stay in Luderitz

Fish River Canyon from the viewpoint, Namibia
Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. The view from Hobas

Day 4. Luderitz & Kolmanskop

Luderitz is not the most beautiful town in Namibia but there are some interesting things to do here, worth stopping for a day. The main things to see in Luderitz are the ghost town of Kolmanskop, Diaz point with the lighthouse and a seal colony, Grosse Bucht where you can see flamingos and pelicans, and Shark Island, an ex-concentration camp. You can find more information about the town in our things to do in Luderitz post. The town has a couple of nice coffee shops and restaurants where you can have lunch, dinner or breakfast.

Kolmanskop is probably the main sight that attracts tourists to Luderitz. If you come this way it’s definitely worth visiting. I’d recommend going there in the morning before it gets too hot. Entrance fee N$75/US$5.

There are a couple of supermarkets in Luderitz where you can stock food and water for the next couple of days. Don’t forget to stock your food and water supplies here.

The alternative route

If you don’t have enough time or just don’t feel like driving several hundred kilometers extra to see the ghost town you can skip Luderitz and from Fish River canyon drive straight to Sossusvlei. It’ll save you 2 days. 

A house in the ghost town near Luderitz on the Cape Town - Namibia road trip
One of the buildings in Kolmanskop, a ghost town near Luderitz

Day 5. Luderitz – Sesriem (Sossusvlei)

  • Distance – 465 km 
  • Driving time – 6 hours
  • Petrol stations – at 125 km in Aus; at 330 km at Betta campsite and the next one at 465 km in Sesriem

Highlights

  • Wild horses and gemsboks near Aus.
  • Massive nests of social weavers, these birds build them on trees, poles, and even road signs.
  • A lot of nothing sometimes it feels like you’re driving on Mars rather than Earth.

It’s a gravel road all the way from Luderitz to Sesriem with some pretty bad stretches. There are only two places to stop along the way; Aus and Betta Campsite. Betta Campsite is a nice place to stop to stretch your legs, drink a cup of coffee or eat lunch. There are a small food/curiosity shop and a coffee shop at the campsite. 

Sossusvlei Oasis Campsite is the only place to stay inside the par. It’s a spacious campsite with good facilities right at the entrance to the famous desert. A big advantage of camping here is that you can start driving to Sossusvlei about 1 hour before the gate opening time because you’re already inside the park. If you want to be in time for the sunrise at Dune 45 you have to stay at the campsite otherwise you’ll be too late. Because of the location, the campsite is quite popular with tourists. I’d suggest making an advanced booking to ensure you get a spot. 

Oasis Sossusvlei campsite facilities

  • Hot shower (private) – Yes
  • Flushing toilets (private) – Yes
  • Electricity – Yes
  • Outlets – Yes
  • Running water – Yes
  • Wi-fi – No
  • Braai place – Yes
  • Drinking water – No
  • Other – roofed area for pitching a tent or putting chairs and tables

If you prefer staying indoors to camping there is a very nice lodge just 3 km from the entrance gate that offers cozy bungalows with AC. Desert Quiver Camp is a great place to stay in luxury and comfort in the middle of the Namib desert. You can book your bungalow online.

The entrance fee to the park is N$80/US$5 for South Africans, N$100/$7 for tourists from other countries.

Day 6. Sesriem – Swakopmund

  • Distance – 343 km + about 120 km driving to Sossusvlei and sand dunes and back to Sesriem
  • Driving time – 4 hours + 3-4 hours in Sossusvlei
  • Petrol stations – 2 stations at Sesriem; at 82 km at Solitaire; at 343 km in Swakopmund

Highlights

  • Sunrise at Dune 45
  • The stunning Sossusvlei 
  • Dead Vlei, probably the most impressive dried pan in the Namib desert
  • Tropic of Capricorn
  • Dune 7, the highest dune in the Namib desert

Visiting Sossusvlei

This place is one of the highlights of any Namibia road trip. Start your day early to make it in time for the sunset at Dune 45. The dune is about 45 km from the entrance, a 45-minutes drive. You’ll need 15-20 min. to get to the top of the dune. The entrance gate opens at 6.30 in the morning if you don’t stay inside the park you’ll be at the dune between 7.30 and 7.45. The sunrise is somewhere between 6.45 and 7.15 which means you’ll miss it. Check for sunrise times here.

Early morning is the best time for driving in the dunes. The rising sun creates shades that outline the edges of the dunes. 

The drive inside the park was on a hard sort of a tar road almost all the way to the end except the last 7 km to the pan that you drive on a very bad and sandy road. For this part, you’ll need a 4×4 car. Our Terios made it to and back but a couple of times we were really worried that we’d get stuck there. If you’re not sure about your car or your off-road driving skills it’s better to park your car there and take a shuttle to the pan. The return shuttle costs NAD 150/US$ 12 per person. 

More details on the highlights of the Namib desert you can find in our detailed guide to Sossusvlei

Deadvlei in Sossusvlei a great place for photos
Sossusvlei is one of the highlights of the Cape Town – Namibia road trip

Sesriem – Swakopmund drive

The drive is on the gravel road almost all the way to Swakopmund, except the last 30 km on the tar road. The drive to Swakopmund is quite beautiful. The landscape changes from small canyon-like rock formations to dry flats and sand dunes.

Before you start driving towards Swakopmund check your tires and petrol. If you need any help there is a tire repair place at Sesriem and a petrol station.

If you spend a lot of time driving around the Sossusvlei and don’t feel like driving all the way to Swakopmund you can stop at Solitaire, which is about 80 km from Sesriem. There are a couple of lodges, campsites, and restaurants in the area. The Solitaire lodge offers comfortable AC cabins with stunning views of the Namib desert that can be booked online. For a more budget option, you can rent a cabin at Soft Adventure Camp, 20 km before Solitaire. 

Solitaire is a great place to stop for lunch or coffee. There is a bakery that makes fresh bread and pastry. Solitaire is another old car spot on the road trip. There are several rusted cars for taking photos. 

50 km after Solitaire you’ll cross the Tropic of Capricorn or the Southern Tropic. You won’t miss it. There is a sign next to the road with many stickers on it.  

About 40 km before Swakopmund you’ll reach Dune 7, the highest dune in Namibia. If you have time we’d recommend stopping there. You can walk to the top of it. It’s quite tiresome. You’ll probably reach Dune 7 somewhere close to the sunset which is the best time for getting spectacular sundown views. 

Places to stay in Swakopmund

Campbell and Alya next to the Tropic of Capricorn sign in Namibia
Campbell & Alya at the Tropic of Capricorn sign in Namibia

Day 7. Swakopmund

Swakopmund is a beautiful town and has enough to keep you busy for a couple of days. A nice place for chilling, meeting people, walking on the beach, and just resting from packing and driving every day, can be exhausting. I’d suggest staying here for two nights but if you have extra time you can easily stay here longer. There are many amazing things to do in Swakopmund and its surroundings including some adventure activities. 

There are many activities and interesting places in and around Swakopmund. For us, a visit to Cape Cross Seal Colony, 130 km north of Swakopmund was one of the highlights of our Cape Town – Namibia road trip. It’s quite a long trip to the colony and back but it’s worth it. You can drive that way on the way to Spitzkoppe, it’s a bit of a loop but still less driving than from Swakopmund and back.

At Cape Cross, you get a chance to see tens of thousands of seals. If you come there between January and March you’ll see many cute cubs. It’s a great place for wildlife photographers and animal lovers. If you travel with children they’ll for sure love Cape Cross. Entrance fee N$80/US$5.

The drive from Swakopmund to Cape Cross is along the Skeleton Coast with a couple of interesting shipwrecks. If you don’t feel like driving to Cape Cross and back you can include the place in your itinerary and instead of driving to Spitzkoppe from Swakopmund rather go do Cape Cross camp there and from there continue driving towards Etosha. The campsite/lodge at Cape Cross is one of our favorites campsites in Namibia. It’s a nice place and quiet place with good facilities.

Another place to see wildlife is Walvis Bay, 40 km south of Swakopmund. There you can see hundreds of pink flamingos parading along the beach. Another great spot for amazing wildlife photos. 

For adventure lovers there are plenty of thrilling activities here; from skydiving in the desert to sandboarding and driving in a buggy over the dunes. 

Recommended tours and activities in Swakopmund

Cape Cross Seal Colony on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia
Thousands of seals with cubs at Cape Cross Seal Colony north of Swakopmund

Day 8. Swakopmund – Spitzkoppe

  • Distance – 155 km 
  • Driving time – 1h50min.
  • Petrol stations – in Swakopmund; at 50 km in Arandis

Highlights

  • Impressive sand dunes
  • Bizarre rock formations of Spitzkoppe
  • Stunning night sky with bright stars

Whichever way you’re heading from Swakopmund before leaving don’t forget to stop at a supermarket to stock up your food and water supplies and fill your petrol. The next and the last petrol station for the day will be in Arandis, 50 km away. The next petrol station will be only the next day in Usakos, 60 km from Spitzkoppe.

Today is a very short drive compared to the previous days. If you didn’t have time to stop at Dune 7 or to do some activities in Swakopmund you have enough time for it in the morning. You can even drive to Cape Cross Seal Colony first and from there to Spitzkoppe. It’ll add 135 km extra to your total distance making it to about 300 km for the day.

Spitzkoppe is famous for its smooth granite rock formations and the incredible night sky. There are several hiking trails and places for rock climbing. You can explore the area on foot, enjoy the tranquility and soak in rock pools. Spitzkoppe is a good place for birdwatching though you’ll need a binocular. 

Camping there is the best way to experience the area. Campsites are quite isolated and far apart from each other and have basic facilities. Don’t get excited if you get a really remote one far from the gate toilets and showers are at the main ablution complex close to the gate. We had a dry toilet closer but it wasn’t very nice. Camping N$ 190/US$ 13 per person, N$ 130/US$ 9 children (2-12 yo), the entrance fee is included in the camping price.

Smooth rocky mountains of Spitzkoppe, Namibia
The view of the Spitzkoppe mountains from the road

Day 9. Spitzkoppe – Etosha National Park

  • Distance – 400 km 
  • Driving time – 4h30min.
  • Petrol stations – at 60 km in Usakos; at 95 km in Karibib; at 158 km in Omaruru; at 320 km in Outjo; at 400 km in Etosha (Okaukuejo campsite).

Highlights

  • Massive termite nests next to the road
  • Many social weavers nests
  • Omaruru, a small charming town that is considered to be the art capital of the region. 

An easy drive on a tar road all the way to Etosha with many small towns and lodges to stop for food and petrol along the way. Omaruru is the nicest town to stop, it’s about halfway to Etosha. There are a couple of coffee shops that serve good coffee, sandwiches, and freshly-baked pastry. 

Etosha National Park entrance fee for South Africans N$60/US$4, tourists from other countries N$80/US$5.

Alya next to a termite nest on the way to Etosha
Alya next to a gigantic termite nest on the Cape Town – Namibia road trip

Day 10. Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is one of the largest safari parks in Southern Africa. It’s definitely a must-include in your Namibia itinerary. If you have time I’d suggest staying here for a couple of days to make sure you get the most out of your visit.

Etosha National Park occupies a massive area of 4731 km². The big part of it is a dried salt pan that in the rainy season turns into a massive lake which makes it very difficult to see animals. During the dry season when water is scarce all animals come to waterholes to drink so visitors can easily spot them just waiting at one of the waterholes in the park. 

We did our Cape Town – Namibia road trip in January – February and when we reached Etosha it’d already rained a lot. There was a lot of water in the park. We saw a lot of deer, giraffes, elephants, zebras, really a lot of birds and one hyena. No really big cats or other predators. If you want to see mammals rather come here during the dry season (May to October).  

In Etosha, you can see 4 of the African Big 5 animals; lions, elephants, rhinos, and leopards. The buffalo is the one you can’t see in Etosha. Lions and elephants are in abundance in the park. There is a healthy population of black rhinos. Leopards are present in the park but they’re always difficult to spot. Besides the Big 5, you can see many mammals in Etosha such as giraffes, wildebeests, cheetahs, hyenas, zebras, jackals, foxes, and many others. In total more than 100 mammal species in the park. 

There are 6 campsites inside the park where you can camp with your own tent/caravan or stay at a bungalow. All campsites are fenced and have good facilities. 

Herds of springboks in Etosha National Park
We saw hundreds of springboks in Etosha but no predators.

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