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2 weeks self-driving and photographing in Namibia - May 2014


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xelas

@@FlyTraveler Thank You! There will be a couple more posted. That had to be one low flying plane :) Namibia is much better looking from the ground!

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Dolomite Camp … expect the unexpected (continued) We have had 3 nights at Dolomite Camp thus giving us 2 full days to explore the waterholes. First day we went left side, checking Klippan (desert

"​And further there was a Lilac breasted roller practicing its Cirque de Soleil act with an unidentified critter. This session last about 20 minutes before the critter was finally exhausted … and eate

Ameib Ranch … the magic of rocks Ameib Ranch is not on an average Namibian itinerary. Not many trip reports mentioned it; however the folks that have been there have wrote about this place in supe

pedro maia

Stunning pictures, self driving in Namibia is definitely on my list.

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xelas

Dolomite Camp … expect the unexpected

(continued)

 

The waterholes accessible from Dolomite Camp are positioned in a way of an elongated circle. Starting from Dolomite Camp one can do a clockwise or counter-clockwise tour. Each game drive should be started as early as possible, so we were first at the breakfast and also first out of the parking lot. Driving very slowly photo opportunities will reveal almost behind each bush.

 

A young steenbok lurking out of the bushes

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Double-banded sandgrouse

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The waterholes were much fuller with wildlife this day. And animals were much more active also.

 

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After Renostervlei we went to Jakalswater. Here it was time for our first “elephant has always right of way” moment. A lone bull was marching down the road just as we were leaving the place. He was a wise old man so he waited for me to do about 500 m of reverse driving; as a reward we have watched him drinking and dust showering.

 

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And when he finished a couple of giraffes came; that is funny how they bent to reach water, and how the water spills out of its mouth while raising the head.

 

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And lastly the whole commando of zebras, like an army echelon. They surely enjoyed their time at the water.

 

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Back the same way, we stopped at Rateldraf (which was devoid of any wildlife a day before). Today we saw two herds of elephants; first one already leaving the waterhole while the second still at it.

 

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And as a cherry on a cake (for me) on our return to the lodge we have not one, not two but three hornbills one a tree just by the road!

 

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

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We stayed on the road all day long; the excitement of seeing so many animals for the first time in their natural habitat was more important than having a midday break. Tired again but happy we returned to the lodge, for another “slow food” dinner.

 

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The best part of our 2 days at western Etosha was seeing so many animals just from the road; there were no need to drive to the waterholes itself to see many zebras, springboks, kudus, gemsboks, giraffes, elephants, etc. The weather was cooperating, first storm has cooled the air and washed the dust off the air and off the roads. The whole experience was much better than we expected.

One from a previous day

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A bit less great, or to express better, unexpected was the overall service at Dolomite Camp. The lodge itself is nice, positioned extremely well on a hill that dominates the plains and offers the unrestricted views in almost 360 degrees. However it is already showing the signs of wear and tear. One glass on our door was broken, the shower head needed to be changed a year ago, and several zippers on “windows” did not worked anymore which prevents the tented cabin to be ventilated properly. The most inconvenient “unexpected” is related to their delivery/escort service. On the day of our arrival it was a Toyota Landcruiser, the one used for game drives, that took us and the luggage to the cabin (whoever was there already knows about “the hill”, for others just a notice that we are still young but hated the walk to the cabin and back on our second day already). On the second day also this vehicle was out of order. Unexpectedly, the evening after dinner must be escorted walk back to the cabin suddenly was not anymore “must be escorted”. I do understand that the staff (2 guys) have been tired by transporting all that luggage from morning till afternoon, but all brochures are advertising Dolomite Camp as “in the middle of animal territory, unfenced and potentially dangerous”. OK, two golf carts and one Land Cruiser down and it is not any more dangerous to walk in the night to the cabin?! At least they should provide each cabin with a powerful torchlight, the same as staff members were using when they still escorted folks to their cabins.

In view of this major glitch, the slow service at dinner time and the even slower (if existing) internet access were just minor obstacles. However, the real value of Dolomite Camp is in its position. The nature is great, both the flora and the fauna. The views from the top of the hill glorious, and if lucky guy like me, you can even enjoy a true Etosha rain storm. Do visit this place. Just be prepared to walk the hill (if the carts will not be repaired yet) and to take a book with you to the dinner, instead of the laptop!

There are cabins on the west side of the hill (no. 1 to no.12) and on the east side (no. 13 to no.20). Do yourself a favour and book one on the east side. No.20 is the closest to the dining area, and no.18 is not too far either. The east side cabins are much fresher when you return from your afternoon game drive; and you can always took the sunset photos or from the path or from the pool area, before dinner starts. Special ones are no.13 and no.14, as you can see the Dolomietpunt waterhole from their porches. But if you are going to take any photos better be equipped with real heavy artillery as the waterhole is about 250 m away.

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Marks

The animals have certainly arrived! Also, good detail on that steenbok (look at those ears). Your wife has a lot of photos to be proud of. Eagerly awaiting more.

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FlyTraveler

@@FlyTraveler Thank You! There will be a couple more posted. That had to be one low flying plane :) Namibia is much better looking from the ground!

 

Well, it was a normally flying 747, but still the photos turned out quite nice - you can see them in my Trip Report. I am sure that Namibia is much nicer from the ground, it is on the list, next trip is to Tanzania, perhaps after that... I am just thinking about a good timing for Namibian trip - May is very fresh, wildlife in Etosha must be better in August, September, though... on the other hand temperatures are kind of high then... I might bother you with some practical questions if I start planning a trip to Namibia :)

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FlyTraveler

Great wildlife and landscape photography! What kind of lenses were you using?

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xelas

@@FlyTraveler Wow. Just wow. Your report and photos! Any time, pal, I will be honored to give you any advice I can. In exchange for some tips about Cape Town?!

 

My wife used some Nikon prosumer equipment; the main camera is D7100, the wide shots were taken with 16-85VR and the wildlife mostly with 300F4 + TC14, and as a second camera D90 with 70-200f4.

Postprocessing was very basic, cropping and a bit of tweaking with D-lightning and some very tame sharpening, all done in ViewNX2. I am very incapable at PP.

 

Ah, yes, landscapes were all done with C-PL filter on, while only UV on the 300 mm. Of course back button focusing for wildlife shots (AF-C 9 points).

 

You have seen plenty of wildlife already; we loved May as it was fresh during the nights and much of the mornings, and the sky has that fantastic white puffy clouds and it was so clear. Personally, I will come again in the same period, even a bit earlier (last 2 weeks of April). For any additional technical stuff just PM me.

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FlyTraveler

@@FlyTraveler Wow. Just wow. Your report and photos! Any time, pal, I will be honored to give you any advice I can. In exchange for some tips about Cape Town?!

 

My wife used some Nikon prosumer equipment; the main camera is D7100, the wide shots were taken with 16-85VR and the wildlife mostly with 300F4 + TC14, and as a second camera D90 with 70-200f4.

Postprocessing was very basic, cropping and a bit of tweaking with D-lightning and some very tame sharpening, all done in ViewNX2. I am very incapable at PP.

 

Ah, yes, landscapes were all done with C-PL filter on, while only UV on the 300 mm. Of course back button focusing for wildlife shots (AF-C 9 points).

 

You have seen plenty of wildlife already; we loved May as it was fresh during the nights and much of the mornings, and the sky has that fantastic white puffy clouds and it was so clear. Personally, I will come again in the same period, even a bit earlier (last 2 weeks of April). For any additional technical stuff just PM me.

 

Thanks for the detailed reply and for the desire to help @@xelas! I am really enjoying your report and your wife's photography. I switched to back button focusing, as well (just a couple of months before our last trip). Regarding Cape Town, in regards to the very limited time we had there, we hired a local pro-photographer (with a car) for a day and a half, so he took us to all the places that you see on the photos (except the shark safari) plus he gave me useful photography tips. Money really well spent, in my opinion. If you are interested, I can provide contacts at any time. Cheers!

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xelas

Halali … searching for the cats

Okakuejo is well known for its big cats population but Halali have them also. As Halali was suggested as less touristy, we have stayed 2 nights there.

It was all day driving from Dolomite Camp to Halali. 170 km / 4 hrs till Okakuejo; of course we stopped at most waterholes on the way there. Soon after leaving Dolomite we have seen but not photographed a dim dim (or it was a young steenbok?). It was just by the road yet we have passed him, and then I have no will to reverse. A big mistake. So we put this little nice fella on the list for next visit. We were luckier with this Burchell's sandgrouse.

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There were springboks hiding in the tall grass ...

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… and blue wildebeest running around ...

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… and driving was not dull or boring at all. Somewhere near the Pan's Edge this giant land monitor showed us its free climbing skills. There was a nest high in the branches.

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Of course, no end to ever changing and always amazing African landscapes:

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The midday light is hard in Etosha (and elsewhere in Namibia). Therefore we have always used CP-L filter between 10 am and 3 pm.

Crowned lapwing

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Ground squirrel using its tail to get some shade

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Okakuejo is a big lodge, almost like a town. All the folks that we have seen were carrying some serious looking photo gear around the camp. I was asking myself why are they "babysitting" their gear instead of using it outside the camp. Must be that they were all pros, shooting only at sunrise and sunset hours.

In local post we bought stamps and also dropped the postcards (of which none has yet arrived), and refuel the car. After an ice cream we continued toward Halali. We took the road that passes by Gemsbokvlakte, Olifantsbad and Aus waterholes. These were all pretty natural springs but we saw no wildlife here, unlike in Western Etosha.

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And the road was horrific. Huge potholes, sections of heavily corrugated road, several mud holes, luckily dried but difficult to navigate. Our Hilda again proved the investment we made in hrentng her. Back on the main road driving was smoother. Sueda, Salvadora and Charitsaub are trio of all-year natural spring waterholes already part of Halali game drives.

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They were as devoid of larger wildlife as the ones around Okakuejo; at least the roads were much better. Birds came to the rescue.

Blacksmith

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And trees. They all look so photogenic.

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And the evening light. Yes, we have found our dream light, one of our goals while touring Namibia.

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Got keys of bush chalet, dropped the bags and head to local floodlit waterhole, Moringa. Just in time to see a herd of noisy elephants making their way to the waterhole. Old ones and many small babies, which were so cute. The show for us lasted only half an hour; the light went down quickly. The artificial light was not enough (but it must be like that, because of the animals). The lights were very dim; as the waterhole is very close to the sitting area, a medium telephoto zoom, like 70-200 is best to use. With a tripod, and pushing the ISO to each camera's limit (way up to what we used). And shoot RAW; WB is very difficult to nail properly in such mixed light.

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Dinner was next on menu. Buffet one, at 180 N$ per person. Very tasty, as quick as one wanted (as you are your own server), steaks were prepared before your eyes to your liking, … in few words, for me, much better experience then formal dinners at Dolomite Camp. One draft beer and I was ready for bed. It was early wake-up call ordered for next day. Searching for the big cats!!

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Edited by xelas
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SafariChick

That monitor in the tree is really cool!

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michael-ibk

Love the Monitor as well. Looking huge.

And yes, a Dim Dim really would have been an exceptional sighting. ;):P

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xelas

I do apologise for above mistake. Yet since there is no photo evidence, who knows for sure ... :blink:

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michael-ibk

Sorry xelas, hope you took no offence. Just really liked the name "dimdim", sounds like a very interesting animal. ;-)

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xelas

Halali … searching for the cats

(continued)

 

 

5:30 up, quick shower, quick breakfast and we were out of gates at 6:15 (officially the gates opens at 6:00 am and closes at 5:30 pm). First we went to Salvadora, Sueda and Charitsub as they are known for its own pride of lions. On the way there we took the 8 km detour road, as Zvezda found out from a book we bought on-line that this can have nice views, great light and sometimes even surprises. Early by the road there was a steenbok mommy feeding her baby.

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Further down the road, Flappet Lark was doing morning gymnastic.

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​And further there was a Lilac breasted roller practicing its Circue de Soleil act with an unidentified critter. This session last about 20 minutes before the critter was finally exhausted … and eaten.

The holes itself were pretty much minimalistic; just some geese and other birds were flying around.

Charitsaub spring-fed waterhole

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So we did also Rietfontein, with better luck, seeing giraffe couple drinking. Then we drove towards next cluster of waterholes, Nuamses, Goas and Nuniams. Found this Northern Black Koorhan along the road.

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And a Kori Bustard couple having fun in the tall grass.

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First we stopped at Etosha lookout. A road is made over the pan, and the bareness of the pan is mind bogging. Would not like to be stranded in the middle of this nothingness. So we lust for some colour green which we found above mentioned three natural spring waterholes. These are very pretty, very different from man-made waterholes in Western Etosha.

Nuamses waterhole

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At Goas we saw a large ellie feeding on the abundance of grass.

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And a herd of about 6 just near the junction of Eland drive and Rhino drive. Good enough for us, and as it was already noon and we need a pit stop, the lodge was next.

After much needed refreshment we were back on the road, searching for that elusive big cat. Zvezda suggested to take the scenic detour road again. We drove slowly, trying to photograph every bird ready to be still long enough, and enjoying the peacefulness and the smells of the place.

Familiar Chat

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As we passed by a low tree next to the road, my brains sent an alert to my foot. Have I noticed something lying below in the shade? Maybe a small lion cub? In reverse and alerting Zvezda to be ready. And there it was. Not a lion, much better, a leopard was having his (or her?) midday siesta in the shade of the tree. Not more than 2 meters away!! Adrenaline pumping, camera clicking, video filming (that was me, and mostly it is excellent video … of the tree). Luckily Zvezda was more composed so we have our big cat on the SD card. Just about 5 shots as the cat decided to silently and slowly “evaporate” in the shrubs. Wow! It is now officially, I am a lucky guy indeed.

Calmly enjoying the shade

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Slowly evaporating into the thin air

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Went ahead with that sweet feeling of satisfaction, to scan the “lion trio” waterholes, without result. OK, there is always a tree standing somewhere and posing for us, hobby photographers ...

 

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… or a grand vista ...

 

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… or a cooperative bird.

 

Double-banded Courser

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Last for the day, and last for Halali, was Rietfontein. As we arrived a group of about 7 giraffes were approaching the waterhole slowly and carefully, stopping many times. About 30 minutes of slow progress then they stopped completely. As we were taking photos of them, the folks in the next car start waving to us signalling in the opposite direction. We turned our heads, and there were two lionesses, not more than 50 meters away, drinking. What?! Another big cat? Will not bother you with more details. The white rhino that decided to have his “happy hour” was an added bonus, and the golden light makes everything even more beautiful.

 

Giraffes looking suspiciously over our car

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A lioness approaching the waterhole

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Are they not on top of the food chain?

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Even the mighty white rhino has taken a safe approach

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A smile or a … ?

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Those giraffes never approached the waterhole

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We raced back to the lodge full of positive emotions. I know that Etosha is a wildlife paradise, but my experiences also told me that seeing wildlife depends much more on luck than anything else. This afternoon the goddess of luck definitively rode with us.

Just in time we arrived at the gate of the lodge. The sun was setting down west side and full moon was rising on the east. Africa dreamin’.

 

Sunset at Moringa waterhole

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xelas

@@michael-ibk None taken! Just the opposite. It makes me lough; my first thought was about famous Dim Sum chinese dumplings :). I was in a bit of hurry, it was Suarez and his now famous "Mike Tyson" act on TV.

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twaffle

@@xelas that leopard was a very excellent spot indeed. Just a note that the rhino you saw was a black rhino not a white (much more interesting in my view).

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xelas

@@twaffle There are plenty of excellent clear leopard photos on this forum; but spotting one on our own we will remember forever. And thank you for rhino ID. I have someone to help me with birds; should got one also for mammals.

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xelas

CCF and REST … two perfect stops between Etosha and Windhoek

Our return to Windhoek, and back home, started with another now usual 6 am wake up call. First we headed to Moringa waterhole. What a difference from last evening. Just the two of us and another fellow photographer were soaking in the rising sunlight approaching the waterhole, the sounds of the silence, the early morning bush fragrances. One only very skittish red hartebeest lady tried to approach the hole then decided to leave. As we did also. Breakfast and on the road again.

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On the way toward Namutoni and Von Lindquist gate we first went to check if resident leopard of Nuamses waterhole was willing to make an appearance, but was stopped short from the parking place by a huge (to me) elephant bull who decided to allow some privacy to whoever of his animal friends were at the waterhole at that moment. He was unwilling to move from the road, taking a mean look toward us in between his dust showers, so finally we decided to back off.

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Next was Noniams, not very appealing this morning, and then Goas, lovely in the morning light but empty of visible mammals. Again birds came to rescue.

Another "flying banana" this time on the ground

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Of the waterholes around Namutoni we stopped at Batia (more like a swamp then a waterhole), Ngobib (a sunken waterfall, no view to the water level and Kalkheuwel. This one finally has animals, also viewing is excellent. There were black faced impalas, not shy at all, one could reach out of the window and touch their shinny fur, and a family of warthogs.

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We leave others to be explored on our next visit as it was already midday. Stopped for a while to admire secretary birds along the road

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From Namutoni to Otjiwarongo, the road is paved and straight. And I mean straight, like some roads we remembered from Australia. The cruising speed was fast at 100 km/h, after only rarely making above 60 km/h in last 10 days.

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Straight to Otjiwarongo and Hadassa Guesthouse where we were warmly greeted by Orlane and Emmanuel, the French couple that owns and manages the place. First impression was excellent, room smells of roses and the French twist was noticed. Emanuel gave us many useful informations; upon recommendation by mfuwe (thank you again!) and Emanuel we decided to go to the CCF to see the Cheetah Run. Emanuel booked it for us (and got us 10% discount). The dinner was at the guesthouse, tasty at 170 N$ per person.

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Last full day in Namibia. Left the guesthouse at 6:45 am, and after 60 minutes of slow driving we arrived at CCF. We were the only guests for the run, and as a bonus, there were 5 cheetah that have chased the rope for us; two cubs have lot of fun doing it while the three adults were already wiser. We put our cameras in “spray and pray” mode and the run was worth every single dollar. One cheetah even got behind our backs, close enough that the escorts were kind of nervous for a moment. Hey, what the fuss, I have signed the Disclaimer Note (that I did not read)!

Some running photos ...

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… and a couple of portraits

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About 45 minutes past like 1,2,3 and after the run we explore the museum and watched the video. While my wife was browsing through the store I was happy to notice several small birds of bright colours on the trees in the garden. So our bird collection increases for some new species, so far unidentified.

Driving back the 40 km dust road we took slowly as on arrival we have seen many animals next to it. Not so many on return but still, some more hornbill portraits, and more warthogs, and lastly, a group of baboons.

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For whoever is to visit the CCF from Otjiwarongo I suggest her/him to start early, like 6 am, as there will be plenty of photo stops on the way to the place.

As it was still early at noon (our return time was 5 pm) we made a well worth detour to REST, a small but important trust that takes care of magnificent but wrongly underestimated bird, the vulture.

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Not only they are an important part of nature but looking at them soaring on the sky is a view to behold. A young and enthusiastic lady which name I forgot, and I do apologize to her for that, gave us an extensive insight into the life and death of Namibian vultures. Then we have all the time to take photos of the rarest of them all, the Cape Griffon.

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Inside the large enclosure there were other birds of prey, some easier to spot and others not so.

Bataleuer Eagle

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Spotted Eagle Owl

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In the office and research centre, another surprise. The most unlikely creature I have seen, and being in Australia, that means something … a pangolin. First I thought it was a toy, a remote controlled one, because of its appearance and an antenna on its back. The antenna is for tracking him down when disappears into the woods. Do you know that this four legged animal walks mostly on his rear legs?! Like a living dinosaur.

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I wholeheartedly recommend you to visit this place and to support their hard but rewarding task of keeping highly endangered and often overlooked species like Cape Griffon Vulture, Dwarf Python, African Wild/Painted Dog, Cape/Ground Pangolin, Damara Dik Dik and Spotted Rubber Frog.

With one quick stop to refuel at Okahandja (we got the car with ¼ tank of fuel and I was unhappy with returning it with less fuel), we finished our 14 days self-drive of Northern Namibia, details of which you have read so far, and hopefully, enjoyed as much reading as I was enjoying writing.

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Farewell, Namibia, but not for long. We will be back soon!

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Edited by xelas
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twaffle

I had a lot of fun reading this, thank you for your efforts.

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xelas

After the first trip … some data and info

As already said it was our first trip to "black" Africa. At the end of it my wife statement was "Here I would love to come back." And we'll be back!

Arrived in Windhoek on May 2nd, 2014 and departed on May 17th, 2014. 15 nights, 14 days.

Rented a Toyota Hilux double cab from Advance Car Hire for 14 days, distance covered 2880 km, fuel consumed 252 l, average consumption 8,75 l / 100 km. No problems whatsoever. Did not rushed. Driving slowly, we stopped often for enjoying the scenery and taking photos. If traveling with a bakkie do take some road less traveled. The C26 over the Gamsberg Pass was fabulous.

Stayed at 8 different accommodations; all but one was excellent. Breakfast was the same everywhere, dinners different but tasty. Rooms clean, and all beds were comfortable and offered good night sleep.

16 days of great weather and one afternoon with rain storm. Not cold and not hot either. Perfect temperatures, and skies were clear and clouds were white ...

7000 photos taken; it did took me a while before sorting them out. Obligatory equipment for Namibia? A wide angle lens (24 mm or wider on FF), telephoto lens (400 mm or longer on FF), bean bag, C-PL filter.

All persons we were in contact with were very helpful and friendly. Staff at lodges also. Guides very knowledgeable and professional.

Self driving was easy, roads well maintained, directions and places very well signed. Easy to navigate by paper road map (an excellent Tracks4Africa one). Gas stations are close enough to each other that we were OK with only 80 lit fuel tank.

ATM machines are working with our VISA card, and have also Mastercard logo on (Bank Windhoek and Standard Bank). Max. withdrawal amount is 2000 N$.

And some special credits:

For the first time we have used a tour agent. Mrs.Gemma Dry from Discover Namibia showed us how a professional tour agent operates. From first emails (back in 2011) to final delivery of documents, all was flawless. Highly recommended!

Heidi & Ben from Villa Violet, Windhoek and Orlane & Emmanuel from Hadassa Guesthouse, Otjiwarongo were perfect ambassadors of Namibia, friendly, helpful, caring hosts.

All the staff from Grootberg Lodge for always having a smile on their faces

 

and to all the regulars here who were taking their time to follow our adventures. To be honest, I was not very sure if I would post it here. Being spoiled from so many great reports and fantastic photos, I recon, it is like offering a fast food to a gourmand used to 3-star Michelin food. Luckily I was wrong. And Thank You all for making me wrong. I will redeem myself with another report, about the same time in 2015. Safe trails to everyone till then! Alex & Zvezda

 

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michael-ibk

Thank you, xelas, this was hugely enjoyable report with very beautiful pics. All the practical detail was very useful. I definitely have Namibia on my radar for sometime in the future. :-)

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xelas

"​And further there was a Lilac breasted roller practicing its Cirque de Soleil act with an unidentified critter. This session last about 20 minutes before the critter was finally exhausted … and eaten."

 

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This photo was "lost in translation". I think it merits to be posted.

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Peter Connan

Thank you for a beautiful and excellent trip report!

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FlyTraveler

Thanks for the great TR and photos @@xelas! I will be coming back to it periodically (as I always do with the good ones). :)

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Marks

Glad you posted that LBR photo, I was going to ask about it!

Thanks for sharing this adventure with us.

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