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A Self-Drive Adventure around Namibia


JulieM
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Hey all! This is the first trip report I have posted on SafariTalk. I always enjoy reading other people's reports so try to return the favour when I can. This trip was in December 2012 and followed an 8 day photographic safari we had done with Andy Biggs in Botswana. I haven't written a trip report for that safari as yet but can do if/when I get some time! Summary = fabulous, and highly recommended.

I organised this trip from Australia via The Cardboard Box Travel Shop in Namibia and all went very smoothly and without any hitches or unexpected surprises.

So travelling were myself and my husband. After our 8 days in Botswana we were looking forward to forging out on our own, without being in a tour group situation ( we aren't really tour group kind of people!). Our introduction to Namibia was a little unfortunate - customs took forever and when we finally got through to collect our bags we found them on the floor having been opened. Fortunately nothing had been taken, so I'm not sure what they were looking for as there were certainly items in there worth stealing! Air Namibia staff weren't interested or concerned, however, as nothing had been taken. It left us a little shaken, and it took us a while to relax and "trust" the place.

We were met at the airport by the representative from Namibia Car Rental and also by the representative from the satellite phone rental company, which I had organised. We never used the phone, but knowing that we had it gave us good peace of mind. We were driven to the car rental agency in Windhoek where we collected our Toyota Landcruiser, with two spare tyres, a fridge and dual fuel tanks. Now, you're probably starting to understand that I am a little risk-averse by nature, so I had all bases covered!! Again, we didn't needed the spare tyres but we were glad we had them, and we never came close to running out of fuel.

Our first night was at the Olive Grove Guest House, which we enjoyed. The manager Kobbus was very friendly and helpful and we can recommend it as a place to stay. We didn't venture into Windhoek - we were bushed from our travels to date, so we just had dinner in house and had an early night.

We set off quite early next morning, heading to Etosha. The trip was uneventful and the roads good. We checked in to Okaukeujo resort, in one of their waterfront chalets. The service was everything we had read about - unmotivated and unfriendly - but as we were expecting it, we weren't too concerned. In fact when someone did smile we were excited!! We had planned to just sit at the waterhole watching, but curiosity got the better of us so we headed out into Etosha in the last part of the afternoon. We didn't spot too much game, but enjoyed watching a jackal with her puppies playing around their den near the road. Dinner was okay - again, rather as expected. We then definitely planned to stay on the balcony watching the waterhole, but unfortunately we fell asleep! I was woken by some bird calls around 4am, raised my head off the pillow to see a rhino at the waterhole. How lucky was I!! He was gone before I could take a picture of him though.

The next morning we headed out into the park nice and early, and meandered our way towards Halali, spotting a large number of giraffe at one of the waterholes as well as the "usual suspects" (eg zebra, impala, oryx). We came across a large flock of quellias - the little birds who fly in a large pack. It was incredible and I got some lovely video footage of them flying, which unfortunately somehow didn't download to my computer - grrr! It was quite a sight!

By early afternoon we headed to our next stop which was the Ongava Tented Camp, where we had three nights booked. I'll just say at the outset, that this place was the highlight of our trip. It is a small lodge just outside of Etosha, with only 8 tents and a floodlit waterhole out the front of the dining area. The management couple had just started there and were very friendly and enthusiastic. Rio the guide has been there for 8 years, and knew the place like the back of his hand! He could spot wildlife from miles away - hubby reckons he could spot a freckle on a fly! Our first night there was one other couple there, but for the next two nights we were their only guests and we felt like royalty!! We did a game drive around Ongava on the first afternoon, and for both drives the next day and saw lots of lions, including the pride that live close to the camp, lots of rhinos with babies, as well as waterbuck, kudus, zebra and impala. The sundowners in the golden light were gorgeous! Our last full day there we asked to go into Etosha for the day. We left at 6am, and didn't get back until 5pm and were on the go the whole time. The truck broke down quite early in the day, but the rescue vehicle was there very quickly, and we even got to see a cheetah with 4 cubs while we were waiting!! Rio was able to chat with other guides in the area and we saw two different prides of lions, as well as a large breeding elephant herd who were having a mud bath - gorgeous! We covered most of the park from Okaukeujo to Halali, and I feel we saw more with Rio than we would have on our own. After a quick stop for a shower, we were then taken back out into the Ongava reserve, where the whole staff and management had prepared a bush dinner for us, just us two. They set it all up with a laid table, camp fire and candles all around. After dinner the staff sang for us. It was fantastic, and probably the highlight, of the highlight! I can thoroughly recommend a stay at Ongava, complete with the roars of the lions waking you at night and the armed escort to your room! Being close to Etosha means you can do drives in there, with assistance from a guide, yet have fantastic service and food.

So we left Ongava Tented Camp (reluctantly!) and headed towards Grootberg Lodge. The team at Ongava recommended a shortcut to take, rather than having to drive back to Outjo. We needed petrol and cash, but they assured us we could get both at Kamanjab. Unfortunately the ATM there is Visa only and we only had Mastercards! Fortunately we had enough cash for fuel, but we were then stuck without cash for the next 3 nights!! We were able to convince the lodge at Grootberg to forward us a small sum off our credit cards (they were happy to forward us N$1000) but Cape Cross Lodge were only happy to forward us N$100. It was quite stressful not having cash, but we managed to get by! We would have tipped more had we had more though...

Grootberg Lodge has a lovely setting, on top of the plateau and with a lovely view over the valley. The road up is certainly challenging, but it wasn't a problem in our big Landcruiser so we were able to drive ourselves up. We were there in the early afternoon, giving us time to settle in before the afternoon drive along the top of the plateau. There is some game up there - mainly impala and oryx but we did see some of the rarer mountain zebras as well. The scenery is certainly interesting - a bit stark but definitely unique. The food at the Lodge was tasty, and the staff friendly. It was nice to know we were helping out the local conservancy by staying there too.

The next day we took the trip to visit the Himba people. There were 4 of us, with the guide who was well known to the tribe. They had moved since he had last been there due to a lack of food for their animals and they were staying in a temporary village. The Grootberg lodge is the only group that visit this particular group of Himba and they did seem happy to see us. I found the visit quite challenging in a lot of ways. Firstly there is the whole "is it the right thing to do to even visit them" question - am I being voyeuristic, or just interested in how other people live?? Then I had trouble with the obvious poverty and health issues I could see. I work in primary health care, and could see evidence of malnutrition in some of the children, as well as a few other health issues. Part of the arrangement with the lodge is that we take in some food supplies for them, which made me feel a little better for going along. It looked like they needed it. The people set up a small market for us to purchase items - there were so many people selling the same type of things - a lot of which we couldn't take back to Australia with it's strict quarantine laws - and we only had that small amount of cash, so that was a challenge too. I think though, between us and the other couple we spread the cash around as much as we could. Overall a challenging day, and I'm sure others will have their thoughts around the ethics of these visits.

After another nice night's sleep, we headed for our next destination - the Cape Cross Lodge on the Skeleton Coast. Our travel agent had advised us that the road was bad, and recommended quite a long drive to avoid C43 but we asked the locals who felt the road was okay and took the chance. I had wanted to see the Skeleton Coast, so we drove to Palmwag where we were able to top up our petrol and then took the C39 towards Torra Bay and the coast. The road was fine - it must have recently been graded. The changing scenery along that route was worth the drive - from the mountains, to the desert and then finally to the stark sand of the Skeleton Coast. Along the way, just after having stopped behind a bush for a "bush wee", we spotted something on the road. Initially we thought it was an impala, then maybe a dog, before finally realising it was a lion! As we got closer, another lion, and then another and another crossed the road in front of us and then we saw what they were doing there. A giraffe had become entangled in the wire fence by the side of the road (probably having been chased there by the lions) and they had killed it and were eating it! There were 9 lions in total. Our approach caused them to hide in the bushes on the other side of the road (making us re-think the whole "let's find a bush to pee behind" idea!!) but as we just sat with the motor off a few of them returned to their meal. It was quite an amazing sight and quite a thrill to be so close to these predators without the guides we were used to!! We probably watched them for about 45minutes before moving on and leaving them to it.

We arrived at Cape Cross Lodge mid-afternoon, and soon headed out to see the seal colony - the reason I had wanted to stay there. We had to beg the cash out of the lodge as we didn't have enough to pay the park fees! Fortunately they let us have the N$100 to cover the fees. Now we had read about and we prepared for the noise and the smell of the colony but what we witnessed we had not prepared for! It is the time of the year when the seal pups are born and there were 1000s of them, only about 50% of which survive. Our first seal sighting was a dead pup in the carpark. There were a lot of dead bodies. The sound of the pups calling for their mothers sounded like a lamb crying, and over the top of that is the sound of their mothers calling back. Mix that mournful crying, with the sight and smell of the dead bodies and I reckon that's what hell is like!! The experience was a mix of fascination and horror and it was quite overwhelming! Add to that the male seals who were busily trying to mate with the females who had given birth a few days prior, and fight off their rivals. Amazing. We only lasted around an hour before having to move on to quieter surrounds!

Dinner was nice at the lodge and again the staff were friendly and helpful. The room was huge - especially after the bush tents and we enjoyed our sleep after a long day.

We left Cape Cross very early as we knew we had a big driving day ahead of us. The scenery from Cape Cross through to Swakopmund was quite bizarre. It was cloudy, bleak and a little chilly and the vista is flat land, mostly sand with scattered rocks throughout. Add to that a more "industrialised" and inhabited part of Namibia and it felt like we had landed on the moon! Interesting to have seen, but not what I would call attractive!

We stopped in at Swakopmund to collect the much needed cash and to fill up the petrol tank again. What a relief to finally have sufficient cash!! In planning the trip I deliberately avoided staying in Swakopmund. We were in Africa for wildlife and scenery, not for townships and the "adventure" activities didn't appeal either. Our short stop in the town didn't make me regret my decision. We did a little bit of shopping, had morning tea and then carried on.

It is amazing how quickly the scenery and the weather changed as soon as we started heading inland again. The clouds cleared, the sun was shining and we were back on our now familiar gravel roads all by ourselves! We had been warned that the Kuisess Pass was a high accident zone so we drove particularly carefully but it really didn't seem to be a problem. Heading towards Solitaire I was looking forward to the famous apple pie, but I'm sorry to buck the trend but it really wasn't that fabulous. Tasty enough, but my mum makes better! (Don't we all say that??!). We finally made it to the Sossus Dune Lodge at around 3pm. It was quite a long drive, but being from Australia it really wasn't that far and we enjoyed it.

Staying at Sossus Dune Lodge was a deliberate decision as I am a keen amateur photographer and I wanted the ability to go to the dunes early in the morning and to stay after sunset. If you are also a keen photographer, this lodge or the campsite within the park is really the only place to go. The lodge's tour leaves at 4.30am, but as guests you are free to leave whenever you like, and nobody blinked when we returned close to 9pm after sunset. The lodge provides breakfast packs for you to take with you too which, while not exactly gourmet, filled the hole!

Despite our long drive, after settling in we took the drive down to the end of the road for sunset (it's 60km and takes about 45mins). We had been advised not to drive the sand road right down Sossusvlei and Deadvlei so we decided to check it out and ask people who were emerging from the road to see what they say. We had the big Landcruiser so we were confident in the car, and when we were told the road was in good condition, and what pressures to drop the tyres to, we decided to go in the next morning. We headed back for a nice dinner on the balcony of the lodge and then had an early night ready for our 4am wakeup.

For our first sunrise we chose Big Mamma as the place to photograph first. The road in was fine and we didn't have any trouble getting through. I was lining up a great shot, waiting for the sun, when some campers arrived to climb on "my" pristine dune. Thankfully they let me fire off a few shots before choosing a viewpoint and then they became my "people in the landscape" for perspective. Got some quite nice shots. Then we went over the Deadvlei but the sun was already down the dunes making for quite harsh light and difficult photography. We spent the next few hours cruising up the highway towards the lodge, stopping whenever the photographic urge hit and we were back at the lodge around 10.30am. It was hot, damn hot, so we lay on our beds with the pedestal fan running and slept for around 2 hours. A lazy afternoon downloading images and reading books was a welcome rest, before we headed out for another sunset photography session. That was the pattern for the next day as well but we chose to head into Deadvlei first thing the next morning to try to catch the nice light. I suffered "photographic stage fright" - a self-created term for the feeling I get when standing in a famous landscape knowing that I wasn't going to get "the shot"! And, I didn't really get the shot I was after as I chose the "wrong tree" to try to get a particular shot. Never mind - I'm sure there's something okay in there (and yes I am a perfectionist and way too hard on myself!).

We had three nights at the dunes, which if you aren't photographers is probably a night longer than you would need, but if you are then it's the minimum to work out the light. If I had had another day I would have nailed that shot!! The lodge was very nice but larger than others we had stayed in so lacking that "intimacy" that other smaller lodges had. The food was nice, the staff friendly and the rooms were lovely.

Our final night was to be at Amani Lodge, just 18km out of Windhoek. We completely over-estimated the time it would take meaning we left quite early and were at the lodge way too soon 3 1/2 hours later. We took the C19 back to Solitaire then took the D1275 over the Spreetshoogte Pass. It was a lovely drive with again the ever-changing scenery but it really is quite a short-cut. The lodge accommodated us despite our arrival at around midday. The lodge is involved in big cat rehabilitation and they have a program to release orphaned cheetahs back to the wild. They currently have two "tame" cheetahs (who had been inappropriately hand-raised by humans as cubs and therefore unable to be released) and another 9 (I think) cheetahs in two groups who they are planning to release when they can find suitable territory for them. Olivier, one of the owners, took us out for a drive in the late afternoon and we visited the tame cheetahs, saw him feeding four of the other cheetahs, and then we saw their two lions being fed. Olivier is very passionate about his work and we really really enjoyed our experience. Again we were the only guests so felt very lucky. After the drive we had sparkling wine watching the sun go down on our last day in Africa. The lodge is the highest inhabited area in Namibia so we were literally at the top of the country for our last drink! Awesome, and a highly recommended lodge to stay in.

The next day saw our return home. The drive to Windhoek was only 1/2 an hour, we dropped the car back to Namibia car rental without any problem, were driven back to the airport, returned the unused satellite phone and then flew to Johannesburg. We flew Qantas back to Sydney, and I'm sure other Australians would agree that no matter how great the holiday, it is nice to hear the Australian accent on the flight back!

So, in summary, a great trip that was very well organised for us, that went down with only the minor hitch (being the cash situation). We feel we saw a good amount of Namibia and we don't think we would have changed any of our arrangements. With Africa being so far away for us, we most likely won't visit Namibia again, but that doesn't mean we didn't think it is a great destination - a place has to be super-superb for us to return, when there is so much of the world still left to visit!! We will definitely be back in Africa one day (hopefully 2014 to the Masai Mara region).

Things to pass on:

- always have cash (!!)

- always fill the car with petrol when you see a petrol station because sometimes it's a long drive between drinks

- while a 4x4 wasn't entirely necessary for our trip we were very happy we had it as it enabled us to drive ourselves everywhere including down to Sossusvlei, and we were very comfortable perched up so high

- I was glad I knew about the roadblocks before hand as I might have felt a bit intimidated if I wasn't expecting them!

- the "car guards" are really quite useful (especially when you have a car full of camera equipment!) and are obviously dressed in high-vis vests, or other identifiable uniforms. We paid a $5 tip which was what was recommended for us

- always stop to enjoy the sunset (preferably with a suitable beverage) as that will be one of your lasting memories of Africa.

Below is a link to my photos from the trip - I hope you have enjoyed the trip report and will enjoy the photos.

Cheers!

Julie

https://plus.google.com/photos/108320127713505631058/albums/5834009629591890401?banner=pwa&authkey=CLDtou_ureXtEQ

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Very interesting report with beautiful pics. Especially enjoyed the little jackal, the immense rhino horn, the running hartebeest, the giraffe feast and the nursing seal pup, of coures. Thank you for this! (Much more interesting to read than my stuff at work. ;) )

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I really enjoyed you report. Nice pics, where the ostrich on the dune was especially great!

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  • 3 weeks later...

What a nice complement to your Botswana trip.

 

I’ll take a vehicle breakdown any day if it is accompanied by 4 cheetah cubs!

 

Why did you choose December for Namibia?

 

Nursing jackals, such a find!

 

What other kind of tree shot were you hoping for? You have some great ones!

 

The video might not have worked, but your still of the queleas came out beautifully.

 

With 3 nights in the desert, did you make 6 trips during sunrise/sunset?

 

Nice ele activity throwing sand and mud around. That ele derriere should be you’re The End shot.

 

As a photographer, you have to be happy with what you shot in Nambia! Beautiful landscapes, people, animals, and even animal/landscape combos.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Hi Atravelynn!

Thanks for your kind comments on my photos!

To answer your questions:

- why December? There are only certain times of the year we can travel for child-related reasons, and this was when we could go. It followed on from the Botswana trip which also thankfully was timed when we could actually go

- the other tree shots I was after were to do with the shadows on the dunes and light on the trees, but I missed it. Still, as you say, I should be happy with the ones I got. I think I was just exhausted after 3 weeks of solid photography!

- I think we did 5/6 sunrise/sunset shoots, I think we may have slept in for the last sunrise - my husband was a bit over it by then!

- I also love the elephant butt shot - "Africa from Behind". I posted it on Facebook on New Years Eve with a "Goodbye 2012" message!

Cheers,

Julie

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I loved your travelogue on Namibia. I have been planning a trip there for a while and this has given me the impetus to make it sooner rather than later.

 

Photos are really fabulous - loved you opened the album with the "road" - it's so evocative of any safari for me.

 

Look forward to your Bots one.....and thank you very much!

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Truly enjoyed this report.

Brings back memories from last year.

 

And... all of a sudden the world is a bit smaller:

 

Your pic (notice the woman on the right):

IMG_6015-Edit+copy.jpg

 

My pic (again on the right; same woman):

D059.jpg

 

 

"It's a small world after all!" :D

Edited by Jochen
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- I also love the elephant butt shot - "Africa from Behind". I posted it on Facebook on New Years Eve with a "Goodbye 2012" message!

A good ele derriere shot is so versatile.

 

Thanks for the additional answers. One more set of questions. Obviously some of your sunrise/set outings had perfect conditions. Were any of them cloudy or overcast? Did you have a preference for morning or evening?

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I'm glad my report has spurred your own plans for Namibia Kulkulbelle - go for it!!

Small world indeed Jochen! It was your trip report for Canada that lead me to this website, and helped shape my own trip to Canada coming up in June!

Atravelyn - we didn't have any overcast or cloudy days and I didn't have a preference for sunrise or sunset. The light was the same I felt, just coming from a different direction! Of course sunrise is really way too early in the day........:)

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  • 6 months later...

Hi JulieM, I'm planning a similar trip in 2015 (except I'll be alone unless I can find someone who wants to share the driving and lodging). Love your report and photos! I think my favorites are the nursing jackals, the lion with the cubs (and the cub rubbing his face against dad's face) and several of your dune shots.

 

Thank you for your tips above. Would you add anything if you knew someone was going to be a woman traveling alone? You mentioned your conflicted thoughts re the Himba visit...I feel the same way which is why I usually don't do those kinds of trips. I'm planning to do a couple of their other activities but I am undecided about the village. Now that it's been a while since you went, would you say it was something you'd recommend doing (knowing I feel the exact same way you do and since I only travel with a carry-on I won't be able to buy much of anything from them)? Also, I was wondering about the dunes and how you knew which dune was which? It sounds like there aren't any signs... Also, at the lodge you are behind a "gate" there, correct? Does that mean you can't drive out (to get to the airport) until the gate opens in the morning?

 

Thanks! I know it's been a while since you've looked at this post but if you have time to give some advice, I'd really appreciate it. I'm used to traveling alone but I've never done a trip like this solo (driving) and I'm just trying to be as prepared as possible before I leave....so even knowing silly things like what to expect at the grocery stores...would be a huge benefit for me to know and make me feel more comfortable.

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Hi CarrieT,

Thanks for your kind words. Happy to help with any questions!

Re being a woman travelling alone - I would recommend you have a satellite phone as we did - just in case you break down somewhere. You can go for reasonably long distances without seeing anyone.

Re visiting the Himba - I think I would only recommend a visit like we did from the Grootberg Lodge. Guests there are the only people who visit and so you avoid being just one of a large group of people visiting. I read this book by an Australian photographer about his experiences visiting the Himba, and would recommend you have a read and decide what you think:

http://www.benmcraephotography.com/content.html?page=8

Re the dunes - I didn't know which dune was which most of the time but that didn't bother me - I just photographed the ones I liked. There are maps of the region with names on but it doesn't really matter. At the lodge I think you are right - you have to go through the gates to get out but that wasn't an issue for us. I don't know what time the gate opens.

I think my main tips were in the post, eg making sure you have enough cash is really important. We felt like we stuck out like sore thumbs in some towns as the only tourists there but we never felt unsafe. I'd probably let your next accommodation know when to expect you in case you have any problems on the road so they can send someone to look for you.

Where abouts are you staying? Have you got an itinerary. Feel free to send me a private message if you like....

Cheers,

Julie

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  • 2 months later...

@@JulieM

A late visitor to your very enjoyable report

Lots of practical detail and you create a real feel for the trip - some great photos via the link also

Amazing landscape

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Thanks Tony - glad you enjoyed it!

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