On Safari in Namibia

With Pipistrelle safely moored in the False Bay YC marina at Simon’s Town, the opportunity presented itself to fly from Cape Town to Namibia and collect a 4×4 at Windhoek airport.  Elaine made all the arrangements through Namibia Tours and Safaris while still in the UK, and Bob booked us into the Cape Grace Hotel for 2 nights to celebrate Elaine’s birthday before we set off.

We had stayed at the Cape Grace in March 2007, and in 2008 it had had an interior revamp, and the service and comfort was just as good if not better!  Located on the V&A waterfront, this part of Cape Town is safe, so after the welcome, bubbly on ice and petits fours waiting for us in our room, a swim in their lovely pool, we walked to the Beltezhar for dinner on the first night. Our menu choice – South African game washed down with a great pinotage.  Panama Jack’s in the docks area on the second night was a taxi ride away, and we would never have found it had it not come highly recommended by our good friends Jackie and Adrian.  Another delicious repast – fish this time.  Thank you Cape Grace for a marvellous stay in 5* surroundings.  When we feel rich again, we hope to return!

It is a 2 hour flight to Windhoek where we were met and taken to our overnight accommodation in town, admittedly not the luxury of the Cape Grace!!  After a meeting with our travel rep we set off northwards for the five hour drive to the Etosha National Park and the Okaukuejo Resort, where we stayed for 3 nights.  The park was created in 1907, and was originally 80,000 sq. km.  It has now been reduced in size to 22,912 sq. km, too big an area to cover in 5 days!

The difference in this safari was that it was self-drive, so we could decide when and where to go and explore, how long to gaze at rhinos, giraffes or elephants, when to stop dead in the road to photograph that bird, tortoise, ostrich, or kudu. We were not sure to start with, but by the end we had seen more spectacular wildlife, species of bird and flora than ever before.

At Okaukuejo we had room W9, overlooking the waterhole, which would attract various animals at different times.  Witnessing the unexpected spectacle of two rhinos jousting has to have been the highlight.  It was just as though the scene had been orchestrated for a TV documentary..

After dark sodium floodlights bathe the waterhole in orange light and as if by magic a rhino was there right in front of us, drinking leisurely.  Then a second rhino appeared walking down towards the other.  Now watch what happened next!!

The jousting match continued for about an hour, at which point they disappeared into the darkness and the curtain came down on that particular performance.

The following are pictures taken whilst staying at Okaukuejo – focus on animals.

We then headed west to the Dolomite Camp, and little did we know what spectacular views were in store for us from this tented ‘resort’ constructed on both sides of a rocky hill in 2011 complete with two small restaurants, bar and infinity pool overlooking the plain.  Like Okaukuejo it is run by the NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts) and extremely carefully thought out, but is let down by poor maintenance, when so many staff try hard to make the stay enjoyable.

We spent a full day visiting the accessible water holes, and the following is a selection of wildlife we enjoyed watching – focus on birdlife.

We then had a long drive to Damaraland, and the remote Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, constructed by a Namibian business man we understand, who has his own aircraft and we guess enjoys good food!  So after choosing the location set against a rocky backdrop with its own petroglyphs, the airstrip was high on his list of priorities, followed by an excellent bar, restaurant and small pool.  But we guess he has never stayed overnight, so probably hasn’t understood what is essential for his guests’ comfort in what is a very hot environment.  To be fair all the accommodation is currently being upgraded to provide better air circulation, fans and mosquito nets.  When complete, it will certainly be a destination of choice.  Interestingly, neither air-conditioning nor fridges can be provided due to the power supply and size of generator required should the supply fail – as it does frequently.

The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its rock engravings – petroglyphs – dating back to between 2 and 6,000 years ago.  The following are pictures of the area.

We also briefly visited the Organ Pipes, which are slightly disappointing when compared to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.  The Burnt Mountain is yet another phenomenon in this country of such geological diversity.

From Twyfelfontein we took the road south to overnight at very teutonic Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast where we noticed this trawler had run aground we guess in fog, for which this coast is notorious along with its strong currents.

Our final sightseeing stop was at the Sossus Dune Lodge, located within the Sossusvlei Park in the Namib Desert, an area renowned for its incredible red sand dunes.  We took a tour – a far safer option than risking getting stuck in the sand even with a 4×4.  Not famous for being early risers unless for something special, an alarm at 0400 was followed by coffee at 0420, before being driven by our excellent guide Sammy, to the sand dunes where we arrived shortly before 0600, to then climb with difficulty a ridge towards Big Papa to see the sunrise.

These dunes, the highest in the world are remarkable for their formation and shapes, carved by the wind.  After climbing about halfway to the peak it was then a steep and rapid descent (slide) to marvel at the limestone base created by flooding, and the shapes of other dunes in the vicinity.  Breakfast with our group, laid out in the shade and prepared by Sammy, before returning to the lodge by 1030.

Apart from the intense dry heat during the day, almost like being in an oven, and far hotter than anything we have endured before, the staff at the lodge do an excellent job, the best of our stays to date.  Fortunately the pool area was comfortable and shady – a great place to retreat, cool off and linger.

A road less travelled …

In two weeks we covered a total of 2,700 km, mostly on unmade gravel roads of varying quality taking us across vast plains, through mountain passes, across river beds, admiring the diverse and ever changing landscape.  Besides the wildlife, whirlwinds, spectacular displays of fork lightning (just glad we were nowhere near on Pipistrelle!), buying from Himba women, driving through settlements in the remotest of locations have all been part of our unforgettable Namibian experience.

As to driving, though 2×4 rental is available, we were so glad we hired a decent 4×4 with aircon.  The ride was reasonably comfortable but often bumpy over uneven and rutted surfaces – still challenging for the main driver (Bob).  The vehicle from Desert Car Hire came with a Garmin satnav but we found it unreliable, so to navigate we used maps.me backed up by the paper map of Namibia.

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