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Namibia by car


savoche
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This is a sorry excuse for a trip report from our self-drive in Namibia Oct/Nov last year, just my response to some questions from another STer... But better than nothing, I hope, and maybe even somewhat useful to some.

 

 

We had a very good time in Namibia, although with a few incidents with the car. Nothing too serious, just a few things you have to be prepared for when driving. One thing was another car backing into ours. Not a lot of damage, but we still thought it best to go to a police station an file a report (must be done if you should have any hope of getting the insurance companies involved). The problem with this is that the police stations are few and far between, so it involved quite a detour to get to one. The other incident was a blown tyre - and I mean completely blown to pieces. We had two spares, so again no big deal, but we had to buy a new tyre anyway. And getting the same make involved going to Swakopmund - again a fair detour for us, but we combined it with the filing of that police report.

The good thing is that people are generally very friendly and helpful, so you will never be stuck on your own when something like this happens to you.

But to the trip; we organised our trip around a few key things we wanted to do and let the rest float a bit. This time we picked 5 main targets - the big sand dunes around Sossus vlei, the Namib Rand (Tok Tokkie), the petrified forest (and Damaraland), Etosha, and the Africat Foundation.

We find the dunescapes around Sossus endlessly fascinating, and a sunrise trip in there was just beautiful. And the driving through the deep sand the last few kilometres was quite good fun - just never let the wheels stop, and keep your revs up!

 

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The Namib Rand also has beautiful landscapes, and getting to walk through them was really enjoyable. I wouldn't have minded a faster pace, but then I guess it would have been harder for the guide to find the interesting plants and animals for us - and I suppose not all groups are as fit as the one we went with. The guide was good and knowledgable and made the walk very interesting. All in all, the Tok Tokkie trails is a good choice for anyone enjoying being outdoors but still appreciating good food and drink, and a shower in the afternoon :)

 

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The drive north from Namib Rand through Sesriem to Damaraland is quite long to do in one day. We had planned to make a shortcut through Namin Naukluft National Park, but due to that blown tyre we had to go all the way to Swakopmund instead. Fairly good roads, but it still took us some 6 hours of driving.

From Swakop we went via Brandberg to Warmkelle (Ongongo) and Opuwo, stopping by the petrified forest on the way. Note that there are several places with petrified trees, but only one "official". We didn't visit any of the others, but I suspect not all of them are worth a visit anyway... Coming from the east the official one was the first we encountered, so no problem for us there.

The road to Ongongo is very bad and sometimes hard to follow - I wouldn't go there in a sedan car. We had a GPS with maps from Tracks4Africa, and they actually had that track mapped, which helped us a lot. The GPS was a big help on several occasions, really, as the maps we had (from Globetrotter) weren't always very accurate. The Ongongo camp was a nice place, though, but very basic. It has a natural spring fed pool, and primitive showers. No drinking water, however, so bring your own if you go there (or use purifier tablets). The water at the camps we stayed at in Brandberg and Palmwag was drinkable but not very good (a bit brackish). Again, be sure to have a good supply of water at all times.

From Opuwo we went east to Ondongwa. The new road is very good (and not on our maps). We found the Nakambale camp very nice, out in the countryside, run by friendly ladies. Don't try to follows Lonely Planet's directions to get there, though. They are nowhere near correct!

Entering Etosha through the north gate was not a bad idea. Very few cars in that part of the park. We hit a rush hour traffic of animals at the Tsumcor waterhole a bit after 11 o'clock, though. You never know when is a good time around a waterhole. We stayed one night each at Namutoni, Halali, and Okaukuejo. That worked out quite good. I found Namutoni to be the nicest camp, but Okaukuejo to have the best waterhole for the evenings/mornings. We always got up early and were among the first to get out the gates as soon as they opened. The beautiful light alone is worth it, even if you shouldn't see a lot of wildlife. We did see both rhino and lion just as they left the waterholes just because we were there early, though. As soon as we had settled by a waterhole we had our breakfast in the car.

 

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By starting that early we could comfortably reach the next camp by lunch time, relax a few hours and then set out for another drive in the afternoon. The last afternoon we went to the Okondeka waterhole on the western end of the pan, and we found the lion pride to be at home. We counted 14 of them, and we arrived just as they started to get up from their afternoon nap.

And the morning we left, we dropped by Gemsbokvlakte and found five hyenas gnawing on a springbok - and trying to chase away some jackals. When a male lion came trotting they all fled, though. Other people arriving later probably thought the lion had made the kill, but again, we knew better by being there early!

 

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The visit to Africat was nice. They have some short hiking trails, and we went along on a cheetah tracking. The cheetahs have been raised in captivity, but now mostly catch their own food in the biggest enclosure on the property (about 200 sq km). Quite fun to track them on foot (the last bit) even though they were "half tame".

All in all we had a very good time, but there are always a few things we could/should have done differently. Mainly I wish we had stayed more than one night more often, just to get a break from all the driving. The hard part is to know beforehand where it is worth staying longer. Also, it might be worth considering to pay a bit extra to have the tyres covered by the insurance, and maybe even to go for the quite expensive "0 excess" option just to avoid having a long detour to the police if anything should happen.

The usefulness of the GPS (and Tracks4Africa's map!) was a bit of a surprise, but I will never go on a self-drive without a GPS after this trip! It was a big help in the towns and cities, as well as in the countryside and in Etosha.

 

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You have posted a couple of really great photographs, impressed! We did the same route last year . Pen

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That 2nd shot has to be a painting!

 

The animal shots you shared are not sorry at all.

 

Would you mind showing a day by day itineray along with estimated drive times?

 

Thank you!

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That 2nd shot has to be a painting!

 

The animal shots you shared are not sorry at all.

 

Would you mind showing a day by day itineray along with estimated drive times?

 

Thank you!

 

Agreed.

 

I would definitely use "brief" rather than "sorry excuse for..." I could even say "concise" as it still contains a lot of useful information.

 

You said the difficulty was knowing where to stay more than one night having never been there. Just in your opinion, what would you have done differently with hindsight?

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Thanks all!

 

Went through my notes and made a quick day-by-day, the estimated drive times most often include all breaks on the way:

 

Oct 25 Windhoek - Lake Oanob, 90 km, 1h

Oct 26 Lake Oanob - Sesriem, 250 km, 6h

Oct 26-29 Sesriem and Sossusvlei

Oct 29 Sesriem - Namib Rand (TokTokkie), 80 km, 2h

Oct 29-31 TokTokkie Trails

Oct 31 Namib Rand - Sesriem, 80 km, 2h

Nov 1 Sesriem - Swakopmund, 350 km, 6h

Nov 2 Swakopmund - Brandberg, 220 km, 4h

Nov 3 Brandberg - Palmwag (via the petrified forest), 220 km, 4h

Nov 4 Palmwag - Ongongo, 100 km, 2h

Nov 5 Ongongo - Opuwo, 150 km, 2.5h

Nov 6 Opuwo - Ondangwa, 270 km, 4h

Nov 7 Ondangwa - Namutoni, 150 km++, 1h to the park, several hours getting to the camp...

Nov 8 Namutoni - Halali, 70 km + game drives

Nov 9 Halali - Okaukuejo, 70 km + game drives

Nov 10 Okaukuejo - Okonjima, 250 km (+morning game drive), 2.5h from the gate to Okonjima

Nov 10-12 Okonjima

Nov 12 Okonjima - Windhoek, 220 km, 2.5

 

This itinerary worked quite well for us. We wanted to avoid too long days on the road and succeeded for the most part. We did plan a couple of days slack, and needed them, for those unforeseen incidents.

 

Had we not had the blown tyre we wouldn't have stopped in Sesriem on the way north, neither have gone to Swakop. So don't destroy your tyres ;) Punctures can be fixed at any garage, so that's less of a problem.

 

I think the private camp just outside the park gates at Sesriem is probably better value for money than the NWR one. The downside is a later start in the morning heading for the dunes at Sossusvlei.

 

It would have been nice having more time and have an extra day of rest some places (say at Brandberg, Ongongo, and Namutoni just to pick a few). But then, we would probably just have added more to the itinerary instead...

 

 

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The photos are fantastic, @@savoche.

 

The drive time info is very useful as well. Thanks!

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Might as well add some more pictures of some critters and landscapes we saw :)

 

A chameleon in Namib Rand:

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A striped mouse right next to our bed under the stars:

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A springbok road block in Etosha:

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The road going to the dunes at Sossusvlei:

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The big boys (or mostly girls, really) coming to the waterhole, Etosha:

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Slow going in Etosha:

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Interrupted!

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Chicken for dinner:

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Getting some air:

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Namib Rand landscape:

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Sand snake (not hungry!):

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Typical Namib road:

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More Namib Rand:

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...and even more:

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Rock agama, Namib Rand:

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...and you're not the only one getting tired of this :D

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urologysteve

Great posts. Etosha is one of my favorite places in the world. I am headed back in 6 days. I hope I can get maybe one picture as good as yours. You have some beautiful photographs. Thanks for sharing.

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Thanks @@urologysteve - getting decent pictures isn't that hard, even for us amateurs.

 

  • Point number one: Get up early! The soft light just after sunrise is perfect for photography - and you'll often see different animals from later in the day.
  • Be patient. Take the time to look around. Wait for something interesting to happen.
  • Apart from that, look for what you want to include in the picture
  • ...and just as importantly, what you don't want in your frame (like lots of empty space, or stuff in the background that distracts the viewer from the intended motive).
  • Try not to always place animals bang smack in the middle of the frame. It really helps if they have some space "in front" of them, so that they walk/look into the picture, if you will.

This one doesn't have the best lighting, but I think the composition works quite well. Uncluttered background, and more space in front than behind - sort of gives a sense of direction. That he comes towards the camera also helps. (Oryx trivia: the females have longer and thinner horns than the males.)

 

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Hmm, I think I have gone rather off-topic here... :)

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Thanks Savoche, great thread. Brings back good memories of my visit to Namibia in 2009. I did an overland truck tour from Cape Town to Victoria falls for a month and absolutely loved the place. Southern Africa was the first leg of a year off that my girlfriend i took travelling around the world. Went to quite a few different countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia and South America and i have to say Namibia I think edged it for beauty.

 

Have always dreamed of going back on a self drive one day, so your trip report is very useful. Do you have experience with driving on gravel roads? (saw a few crashed cars where some drivers clearly didnt). Did you drive a 4x4?

 

A few poor quality photos, but that bring back good memories for me.

 

The truck - about 20 of us on the trip from memory.

 

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Setting up camp for the night and cooking the evening meal.

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Took a little boat trip by a seal colony and a few seals peridocally jumped up onto the boat as we were moving along to say hello and take a fish off the captain.

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Etosha

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Black rhino i think at the Okaukuejo waterhole showing their social side at night.

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Same waterhole by day - agree with you, seemed to be the best Etosha waterhole. Want to go back and stay in the room with a verandah overlooking this waterhole.

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@@Eagle Owl, yes, Namibia has its special beauty. Looks like you had a great trip! The Spitzkoppe at sunset is just magical. Didn't go there this time, but have fond memories.

 

I don't have a lot of experience with driving on gravel, but some. And I have done a lot of driving on snow, which isn't that different. But the key is really just to keep your speed down, even if it's sometimes tempting to go faster. I find 80 km/h too fast on most roads with a heavy car. The danger is in rolling the car, quite easily done on gravel.

 

We drove a 4x4 Nissan NP300 double cab loaded with camping equipment and a roof tent, and an extended fuel tank. That doesn't make for fast driving :)

 

It's not necessary to have a 4x4 most places, but the extra ground clearance and spacious cabin make life more comfortable sometimes.

 

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urologysteve

@@savoche thanks for the tips. I am learning and trying to get better. Posted my alaska trip yesterday and put some Namibia pictures in the threads on specific animals. Your pics are very nice.

 

@@Eagle Owl don't underestimate the quality of your pictures. They are very good. I want to encourage you to go back and do self drive. I was very nervous before my first trip to Namibia. After doing it, I realized how easy it was. Leaving in a few days and not nervous at all. Very well marked roads and easy to get around. Yes, take it easy on the gravel. Follow the speed limits and DO NOT DRIVE AFTER DARK. We also have gotten a 4x4 each time, but it is not necessary in most places most of the year. The main roads are tar and the secondary roads are good gravel. However, if traveling in the rainy season and doing much on the "D" roads or worse, then yes get a 4x4. Also, if going to Caprivi or skeleton coast park, then get a 4x4. We like the 4x4 for the higher ground clearance. Better viewing of animals (especially if there is any height of grass). We get a Toyota Hilux 4 door with a cab on the bed. 2 extra tires. Plenty of room for 4. You can rent them with tents on top like mentioned by savoche. We stayed in lodges and tented lodges. We don't camp on the ground much.

 

I will admit that I have a lot of experience driving off road and on gravel, so that was not a big concern for me. Take it slow and no problems. In the park, everything is a game drive anyway. So, taking it slow is more enjoyable.

 

Thanks for this thread savoche!

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It's getting less "sorry." Did you have a tripod for the night rhino shots? That seal in the boat closeup is startling. You had a nice long holiday to truly savor Namibia.

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Excellent points from @@urologysteve! Also, the roads can get very slippery when wet, and parts of the north can get quite inaccessible by road in the rainy season.

 

@@Eagle Owl, as Steve says you don't do your "poor quality" pictures justice. The rhinos at Okaukuejo bring back memories of the unreal feeling when seeing these giants silently materialising out of the darkness like ghosts :)

 

And I agree with Lynn, was indeed startled by that seal on the boat!

 

Thanks to all for making this thread intersting!

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You are very kind, but my pictures were just taken with a near bottom of the range old, sub $300, Canon powershot or something like that bought in about 2006/7. I simply leaned it on the fence I think overlooking the waterhole for that shot. What was really annoying was that I had a video of those rhinos interacting with each other, but later in my year off someone decided to relieve me of it on a bus in Cambodia, with that memory card in the case. I had taken the photos off and saved, but not the video it turned out.

 

Those seals were amazing, propelling themselves out of the water as we were moving along and flopping up onto that cushioned sofa in the middle of the boat for 5 minutes or so, before turning around and diving back into the water again.

 

Yes will definitely do a self drive in Namibia at some point, especially if I ever manage to find a decently priced flight there. But, just booked my flights into Zanzibar and out of Kilimanjaro airport last night (for two and half weeks in Sept/Oct) so will have to wait for now. Despite going on three separate trips to the Kruger (the first for a month, the other two shorter self drive trips) as well as the Southern Africa trip mentioned above, as well as Galapagos, Amazon, Canadian polar bear trip, Sumatran and Borneo rainforest to see Orangutans etc etc I have never used an SLR, so will buy one before this autumn's trip and go on a camera course for a day; I wont ever get to the quality of many of the posters on this site, but something to aim for. The photos on this site are inspiring.

Edited by Eagle Owl
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Hi @@savoche thanks for report it brought back many memories. I particularly liked the giraffe shot at the waterhole with the water projecting away as it lifted it's head and the distinctive landscape shots - very evocative

 

@@Eagle Owl. The rhinos at night shot took me back too; spent an evening watching the same waterhole some 10+ years ago. Glad to see they are still doing well there in 2009. Hope this continues. I found it particularly interesting to see their behaviour when they come together like that, not something you see much in the daylight, in my experience anyway. They get quite playful.

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