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Namibia - Over 3,000 kilometre road trip [Part 1]


Mutema
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This is my first trip report and I must confess to being a bit of a lurker in the community having started to read of other people’s experiences in assembling an itinerary for our own. I’m not sure what readers would appreciate in terms of a level of detail so I’ve covered the first few days of our Namibia trip with some commentary and photographs. I’m happy to adjust the structure based on feedback and similarly, answer any questions or offer advice as needed.



Namibia - April/May 2015


Namibia had been on our list of places to go for quite some time but being from Zimbabwe, it was always a much simpler affair to return to places like Mana, Hwange, the Eastern Highlands and Gona-re-Zhou.



We finally made the trip in April this year and elected to self drive and broke the route up with breaks in managed camps to cut back on the logistics of arranging provisions and hiring camping equipment.



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After arriving at Hosea Kutako and the relief of seeing that our bags survived Oliver Tamper (Tambo) airport, we proceeded to Bidvest to pick up our 4x4. A standard white Hilux twin cab which I later realised marked us as tourists - they are everywhere. Having inspected the vehicle and been familiarised with all features (including the hooter in case I’d never encountered one before), I discovered there was a problem with the spare tyre release mechanism. After a committee of Bidvest staff all took turns to release the tyre, they eventually conceded and we were provided with another vehicle - the ubiquitous white Hilux. Testing the spare tyre release was provident as we had a puncture later in the trip in the middle of Etosha, less than a mile from a pride of Lions.



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Our journey started in earnest once we had the vehicle whereupon we drove into Windhoek to overnight at the Olive Tree Guest House. Our drive to the guest house while short still presented us with some fine examples of African driving - most notably when we were undertaken on a blind rise on solid white lines at around 130km/hr as the road merged into a single lane a few kilometres from the airport. The undertake only happened as the driver didn’t expect to find a cattle truck labouring up the hill in the oncoming lane. On a blind rise. Still, he got stuck behind slow moving traffic about 200m ahead and we caught up and I couldn't help but reward him with a cheery wave every time he looked in his mirrors. We arrived at the Olive Grove without further event and I had just about acclimatised myself to the fact that this was a Japanese not German car and that the indicator was on the wrong side of the steering column.



The Olive Grove was a pleasant, well maintained guest house with a bath that felt more like an indoor swimming pool of Olympic standard. It was just what we needed after a Virgin flight where I couldn’t actually sit forwards there was so little leg room. My wife who travels closer to the ground was presented with no such problem and later when I returned from the car, I found her in the bath surrounded by enough candles to start a seance.



An early start saw a bacon, boerie (boerewors) and egg breakfast washed down with tea and coffee before heading to a local supermarket to stock up on a cooler box, Liquifruit and 10KG of rice to fill the bean bag for the car door camera support. We then headed south to Sossusvlei and our destination of Kulala Desert Lodge, operated by Wilderness Safaris. The journey was circa 400km which was peppered with innumerable stops as I took photographs of the beautiful landscape.



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I found the roads were as described but you do need to remain alert as surface changes can provoke under or over steer and countering this too quickly can be dangerous in a vehicle with a high centre of gravity and leaf springs. We drove with our lights on most of the time for increased visibility particularly where we were seeing more regular traffic. There were several stretches where it was necessary to fall back quite some way to allow the dust trail to fall off from the car in front and allow reasonable visibility to react. I did gain an appreciation for the different grades of dust, their density and their ability to conceal large vehicles over the trip. We encountered quite a few road crews on the C14 and a large grader was at work on a particular stretch where the surface had deteriorated to potholes. I was grateful for the ground clearance and gauge of tyre on this stretch, a standard saloon would have laboured and no doubt been sprayed in a lot of gravel being that much lower. Dust tended to get sucked into the back of the truck's load bed but also into the lock mechanisms of the canopy. I bought a small can of WD-40 although any silicone based lubricant will work just fine to keep the mechanism freely moving. The keys to the canopy locks felt fragile and I didn’t fancy breaking them on a seized lock, particularly as one was already at a jaunty angle due to the attentions of someone who had hired before us.



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We stopped at Solitaire en route to refuel and I spent some time crawling around in the dirt photographing the resident African Ground Squirrels. I spend a lot of time doing this with my wildlife photography and fortunately, common sense preceeded enthusiasm and I put my knee/elbow pads on. I look a bit ridiculous (a lot if you ask my wife) but the ground was peppered with viciously sharp quartzite and was incredibly hot. Despite the heat, the squirrels were moving around and feeding using their tails as parasols to thermoregulate their body temperature. Lacking this coping mechanism, I was forced to retire to find a cold drink from the cooler box. Walking back to the vehicle, it became clear that I had assumed a starring role as lunch time entertainment for the locals lazily drinking their Cokes under the shade of the neighbouring Camel Thorns.



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As is customary, we investigated the delights of Solitaire Bakery or Moose McGregors’ Desert Bakery to give the place its correct name. We duly sampled the Apple Pie along with a Chicken and a Steak pie which made up our lunch. It was all very good but there is a bakery in Berlin which does Apple Cake that I have undertaken some ridiculous detours to get to in the past and that remains my gold standard. I’m sorry Moose. Large flocks of Sociable Weavers exist around Solitaire and I am confident that many have sampled the delights of the bakery, there was a knowing enthusiasm when they descended upon the crumbs that many diners threw out for them. Be warned, the portions are gargantuan - we had to share an Apple Pie between two and I am confident that a happy symbiosis exists between bakery and birds. It’s true that nothing ever goes to waste in Africa.



Refuelled, we continued onward to the Kulala concession area and I was grateful for the ice cold hand towel and drink that met our arrival at Kuala Desert Lodge. Our quarters (Kulala) were very pleasant and our room had the facility to sleep on the roof at night so we could take in the expansive African heavens. I’ve never been much of a star gazer but taking an iPad (with stargazer app) up to the roof with a gin and tonic to plot the stars could be habit forming. Relative to the other camps we stayed at, the food was a bit disappointing but the staff were incredibly accommodating and friendly. Temperatures around lunch were peaking at 42 degrees so dangling our legs in the swimming pool turned into a habit. I’m still amazed at the lengths that lodges go to in providing western tourists with ridiculous levels of comfort and luxury that would not be out of place in Europe.



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We rose early on our first morning in Sossusvlei for a balloon flight which we had arranged through the camp. You don’t actually fly into the dunes but in close proximity and our pilot was keen to share the story of a Belgian pilot who had ditched in the dunes having flown in too far and it took three days to carry the balloon out. Apparently he left the company - being known as ‘King of the Dunes’ must have been too much to live down.



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The balloon we were in accommodated 12 people so the basket was substantial and was very comfortable. We were in the air for a little over an hour by which time the light had become very flat so wasn’t ideal for photography. We landed to a superb breakfast whose breadth and depth of food defied the location in which it was served. A skilled landing on to the back of the waiting trailer saw all passengers having to dismount the wicker basket and then negotiate the remaining drop to the trailer. An American guest in an act of bravado attempted to disembark the basket in a manner best left to Hollywood action movies and predictably, it all went horribly wrong and he suffered the indignity of having to be fished out the basket by the ground crew. The girly sound he made gave us a clue as to exactly which part of his anatomy made contact with the frame of the basket. He was a bit subdued during breakfast.



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Next instalment to follow...



[it's not about the equipment but for those who want to know, photographs taken on an iPhone 6, Nikon D4/S/810 with Nikkor 14-24/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 200-400/4, Zeiss Otus 55/1.4, Otus 85/1.4 + B+W + LEE filters with post production in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom]


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@@Mutema thank you so much for taking the step from lurker to poster! I can see that as you live in Zimbabwe you are spoilt for holiday choice, however from your first post it seems that you are enjoying Namibia.

 

I laughed at your Oliver Tamper comment as I haven't heard that one before. Talking of bakeries, I was very sorry to hear that Carstensen's in Otjiwarongo had closed as they did a mean apple slice. Too much competition from supermarket-based bakers I heard.

 

Looking forward to more when you have time.

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Welcome to Safaritalk, no better way to introduce oneself than with a splendid trip report! Level of Detail is absolutely right, since you were asking. The balloon experience looks very beautiful indeed - but OUCH to that poor Hollywood-star wannabe. :)

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@@Mutema

 

Welcome also from fellow Safaritalk newbie! This is one great community, and your trip report, it started in great style (just do it slowly, otherwise I will lost all my audience :P )!

 

"It's not about equipment" ... yeah, right, and I am still looking for my jawbone somewhere under the table :D - Otus, my man :wub: . Would love to see a photo of your photo backpack :blink: ; definitively outside the carry-on weight limits.

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@@Mutema thank you so much for taking the step from lurker to poster! I can see that as you live in Zimbabwe you are spoilt for holiday choice, however from your first post it seems that you are enjoying Namibia.

 

I laughed at your Oliver Tamper comment as I haven't heard that one before. Talking of bakeries, I was very sorry to hear that Carstensen's in Otjiwarongo had closed as they did a mean apple slice. Too much competition from supermarket-based bakers I heard.

 

Looking forward to more when you have time.

 

No problem, I will probably add a second instalment this weekend as I've just gotten back from Portland and am suffering horrible jet lag which could also have something to do with then undertaking a 28h return drive to Scotland to attend a wedding. I'm actually based in London (UK) but have a place in Harare. I didn't get to experience Carstensen's but if you're in Berlin, I have a recommendation. Competition from the supermarket based bakers can only be on price, the quality is traditionally never as good.

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Welcome to Safaritalk, no better way to introduce oneself than with a splendid trip report! Level of Detail is absolutely right, since you were asking. The balloon experience looks very beautiful indeed - but OUCH to that poor Hollywood-star wannabe. :)

Thanks for taking the time to comment. The balloon experience I'd highly recommended although if I'm being honest, I would have liked to have taken a light aircraft across the dunes as well. We were lucky with the weather but if we hadn't have been, I think I might have felt differently about the experience.

 

I'm sure Bob has recovered from his limp by now and the only bruises that remain are to his ego. :)

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@@Mutema

 

Welcome also from fellow Safaritalk newbie! This is one great community, and your trip report, it started in great style (just do it slowly, otherwise I will lost all my audience :P )!

 

"It's not about equipment" ... yeah, right, and I am still looking for my jawbone somewhere under the table :D - Otus, my man :wub: . Would love to see a photo of your photo backpack :blink: ; definitively outside the carry-on weight limits.

 

Carry on? I gave up on that years ago and opt for fragile hand loading with the Peli cases disguised in cheap bags. I use Think Tank International for flight deck and various Peli cases and PRRC cases for the hold. First time I travelled with the PRRC - I kept getting stopped as every border official wanted to check that it wasn't a weapon. Major inconvenience but I got the bag in under my weight allowance as I claimed they were golf clubs.

 

I worked out of the Peli above when I was at Sossuvlei - regretted not having a backpack but I did sit on it and slid around 100m down Big Daddy on a separate occasion in an attempt to win a bet. There is probably some footage on the Internet where I came off. Was still fun and the cases are indestructible.

 

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Welcome to Safaritalk! Now that's some pretty impressive looking camera equipment that looks like it means business!

 

Looking forward to your next installments.

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Welcome @@Mutema

 

Loving this TR so far, thank you.

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Excellent entree as a poster.

 

"there is a bakery in Berlin which does Apple Cake that I have undertaken some ridiculous detours to get to in the past and that remains my gold standard."

 

I'll have to work something out around your bakery.

 

Your landscapes are other-world. Your combo of photographic skill, equipment in all those neatly arranged pouches, and post-production is a winner. And I can't recall luggage being such a focal point and integral part of the trip (except maybe the recent Lipault Ladies report). The Peli people owe you something. Is sliding down the dunes commonplace?

 

Fascinating start!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Welcome to Safaritalk! Now that's some pretty impressive looking camera equipment that looks like it means business!

 

Looking forward to your next installments.

 

Thank you for commenting, working on the next instalment at the moment. I'm missing most of my vital organs after having had to ebay them to fund the purchases of all my equipment. :D

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Welcome @@Mutema

 

Loving this TR so far, thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to comment Peter, I appreciate it.

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Excellent entree as a poster.

 

"there is a bakery in Berlin which does Apple Cake that I have undertaken some ridiculous detours to get to in the past and that remains my gold standard."

 

I'll have to work something out around your bakery.

 

Your landscapes are other-world. Your combo of photographic skill, equipment in all those neatly arranged pouches, and post-production is a winner. And I can't recall luggage being such a focal point and integral part of the trip (except maybe the recent Lipault Ladies report). The Peli people owe you something. Is sliding down the dunes commonplace?

 

Fascinating start!

I'm in Hamburg in a couple of weeks, I was quite tempted to detour to Berlin. That Berliner Apple Cake is just fabulous - I have found a recipe very close to the bakery that I frequent and with some tweaking, I'm sure I can match it. I might just need to have a few more reference slices. All in the name of research of course.

 

Thank you for the kind comments but I've always been about having the right tool for the job and getting equipment around the world, particularly expensive equipment is always a nervous experience. It's all insured but if my equipment got lost or stolen on the outbound leg, it disrupts and odds are, what I've lost will be what I need most. I try and pack in such a way as to mitigate for this. Our luggage on this trip was about 90KG, clothing and personal effects was around 20KG for the both of us. Good glass weighs more than concrete. It's iniquitous how airlines charge photographers for their equipment though.

 

Edit: Not sure about sliding down the dunes but it was a pretty heavy case and just a bit of fun.

Edited by Mutema
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Fantastic, otherwordly landscapes.

 

I love the shot from under the balloon.

 

You may have entertained the locals by crawling around on the ground photographing the squirrels, but I think the results speak for themselves!

 

Welcome to ST. This trip report makes a great introduction.

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Welcome to Safari Talk. I am looking forward to reading more, especially as we leave for Namibia in 7 weeks, it will help make the time pass more quickly. Pen

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Fantastic, otherwordly landscapes.

 

I love the shot from under the balloon.

 

You may have entertained the locals by crawling around on the ground photographing the squirrels, but I think the results speak for themselves!

 

Welcome to ST. This trip report makes a great introduction.

Thanks for commenting. I'm a cheap ticket when it comes to entertaining the animals with my antics as well. :)

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Welcome to Safari Talk. I am looking forward to reading more, especially as we leave for Namibia in 7 weeks, it will help make the time pass more quickly. Pen

Thank you, appreciate it. Who have you arranged your trip through?

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Welcome to Safari Talk. I am looking forward to reading more, especially as we leave for Namibia in 7 weeks, it will help make the time pass more quickly. Pen

 

Thank you, appreciate it. Who have you arranged your trip through?

@@Mutema I arranged it myself although we are going on a camping trip with Kunene Tours and Safari to the north west as we didn't want to tackle Van Zyls Pass etc on our own. We then go onto Etosha for a week. Self driving all the way. Pen

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iPhone panorama shot from the hot air balloon.



We drove back to the lodge after our balloon flight and the early start coupled with high midday temperatures dissuaded us from doing much. I setup my laptop on the verandah outside and daisy chained my drives to backup images from the camera - increased resolution and a little video quickly results in huge volumes of data. A Windhoek lager shandy kept me company as the file transfer status bar inched forward and my wife napped through the heat.



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iPhone pano from the verandah where I was editing whilst at Kulala Desert Lodge.



After half an hour of languishing in the shade, high winds started to pick up and due to the level of sand they were carrying, I had to quickly get my equipment under cover. The mosquito net on the tent windows was doing an effective job of sieving and grading the sand so fine dust and particulates were being distributed across the tent. In about ten minutes, it was over as quickly as it started, the only evidence of its passing being the uniformly gritty floor of our accommodation.



Dusted off and recharged (camera batteries and humans), we departed for a drive up to Sesriem Canyon mid-afternoon. The road was particularly rutted and poor, probably one of the worst roads we experienced on the entire trip in fact. We didn’t stay long at the canyon as I wanted to explore more of the landscape above ground and we made our way to the monument marking out the Namib Land Sea. I think that’s one of my regrets in that I could have spent a lot of time in some of the places shooting and catching light at different times of the day but our schedule meant I was never able to do so.



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Entry/exit road to Kulala Desert Lodge



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We finished our afternoon with gin and tonics at Dune 45 watching towering cumulonimbus clouds building on the horizon before giving way to slanting rain showers on the far horizon. When I am away from Africa, I realise just how much I miss the expansive skies and simple pleasure of watching a dramatic thunderstorm.



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As night fell, we made our way down for dinner but high temperatures and a very rowdy tour party put us off lingering in the communal area so we elected to take our dessert and a coffee out to the pool. The seating by the swimming pool was considerably cooler and afforded us views of the canopy of stars above. A welcome breeze picked up the coolness from the water and carried it on the night air. We were sitting in companionable silence when a shape emerged by the gate on the far side of the pool area. As it neared where we were sitting, we realised it was an African Wild Cat kitten. We remained still and the kitten boldly approached such was its curiosity. It was only when it was under my chair that Its mother who had been cautiously watching at a safe distance revealed herself by jumping down from the wall bordering the pool. The kitten moved to follow her and they both disappeared into the night almost as quickly as they had come.



The following morning saw a pre-dawn start to catch first light at Dead Vlei and one of the reasons we chose Kulala Desert Lodge was the proximity to Seisrem Gate. It is a fair drive of approximately an hour to Dead Vlei (observing park speed limits) and I was frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t leave earlier to be there well in advance of dawn to allow time to setup and work out lighting angles. As Wilderness operates in a concession, we were time limited to enter the Namib-Naukluft Park and could not clear the gate before 6am. In future, I would camp in the park to avoid this restriction. This limitation was something that was not communicated in advance and is worth noting.



The drive up to Dead Vlei was largely uneventful bar the fleeting appearance of a Brown Hyaena who seemed to be in a considerable hurry having run at full speed across the landscape in front of us. I was hoping that as we passed, he might have stopped and turned to look back at our hulking Land Cruiser but he maintained a constant pace toward the dunes in the west depriving me of a photograph. Sometimes you have to know when to put the camera down and appreciate the moment.



The last few kilometres were on soft sand which slowed our progress. It was a foot or two deep but did shallow for short stretches where we gained better purchase and the vehicle lunged forward enthusiastically. We continued to slither and slalom the prehistoric beige mass of our Land Cruiser along until finally reaching the car park. Had I been driving, I would have let some more air out the tyres but we made reasonable progress and our guide’s familiarity with the best lines was evident. There was a tractor on hand to extract any stricken vehicles and for those in 2WD vehicles or lacking the confidence or ground clearance to tackle the sand, there was a ‘tractor ferry’ doing brisk business. I don’t know if it was a paid service or included as part of the entrance fee to the park though.



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The sun was already quite high and beads of perspiration formed quickly along the peak of my cap as we made our way over the dunes to Dead Vlei. Due to the joy of luggage restrictions, I had to carry a hard-shell Peli case versus having the space to pack a photo back pack. I had long arms by the time we reached the vlei area and my thoughts on the walk there were given to the contradiction of how quality and weight translates in photographic terms. The best lenses involve high quantities of low dispersion glass which due to the density of glass, tend to weigh more than concrete. By contrast, the best tripods are constructed of magnesium and carbon fibre and their very nature makes them lightweight. That said, purchasing either is guaranteed to lighten your wallet.



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I must confess to being surprised at the volume of people in the area (particularly tripod equipped photographers), a testament to the popularity of the attraction or perhaps the time of the year - it was Easter and I expect school holidays potentially played their part in contributing to the number of visitors in the area. I constantly had to deal with people walking across my shots or compromising a composition to exclude a fellow photographer with a tripod. In the case of one couple, they actually walked into the centre of my frame and stood ten feet in front of the camera, entirely oblivious to my presence. I just don’t understand how you can be that spatially oblivious. My ankles fear these people in a supermarket when they’re in command of a shopping trolley.



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There is a maxim that was shared by one of the wardens I knew in the Zimbabwe parks service - ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time’. I learned this at the age of seven as an impressionable youngster in the 1980’s when I was already harbouring an abiding and deep love of Africa, its wildlife and the outdoors. The maxim has never left me and I share it often and only wish that many of the visitors I encountered at Dead Vlei observed this simple code. I was sorry to see many tourists climbing all over the trees and hanging from the branches in pursuit of pictures. I’m not denying anyone their fun but it’s unnecessary and with this constant abuse, it's a matter of time before such a fragile and unique place is damaged. Erecting signs everywhere telling people not to climb on the trees is not really a solution either. This type of disrespectful behaviour and general ignorance angers and frustrates me. It’s a mentality which can only be a contributory factor to Zimbabwe National Parks withdrawing visitor freedoms at Mana Pools. Similarly, when people who behave like this get into vehicles, is it any wonder that encounters with animals like Elephants end badly when they don’t understand their behaviour and accord them the space and respect they deserve?



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To create exceptional photographs that don’t feel hackneyed, I think multiple visits to Dead Vlei are required and I treated this visit as a scouting trip. One of the shots that I had envisioned was compromised by our arrival time and as the sun draws its arc across the sky, the shadow from ‘Big Daddy’ retreats incredibly quickly. This limits the amount of time you have to realise shots unless you have a production assistant and meticulously plan in advance. I found it to be an inspiring place full of creative possibilities and in some ways, it reminded me of the petrified trees of Lake Kariba . Our schedule as I have said already was the greatest limitation. Seeing a full sunrise and sunset at Dead Vlei remains on my to do list.



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On our journey back, we parked up by Siesrem Gate to watch a large herd of about 20-25 Oryx who were taking full advantage of a leak from the header tank serving the gate house. The leak had pooled to form a mini water hole and the herd were slaking their thirst in the soaring midday temperatures. We left them in peace and continued back to camp to start the next leg of our journey to Swakopmund.









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"I was sorry to see many tourists climbing all over the trees and hanging from the branches in pursuit of pictures."

 

Couldn't agree more! It broke my heart to see that tourists had carved their names into 900 year old trees!!

 

A return to Deadvlei at sunset is a must but go in shoulder season - in May I had the whole place to mysself for about 45 minutes before the other 5 in our vehicle from Sossus Dune Lodge came down from Big Daddy.

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Very, very beautiful landscape photos, especially like the panos. Definitely don´t look like "scouting efforts" to me! :)

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@@Mutema

 

Nice photos from Deadvlei; now I am even happier to with our decision to stay at Sossus Dune Lodge; I do not know if they have sunset drives to Deadvlei but seeing sunrise from Big Daddy is a given fact.

 

Even more important was that the hordes of tourons have arrived after we have already leaved the place. I just could not be able not to comment, very loud, if seeing one of those monkeys hanging off the tree branch. How stupid! How unnecessary!!

On our visit all visitors were showing upmost respect to the place, and even observed the trees from a distance.

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@@Mutema wonderful photos of Dead Vlei and the dunes, I particularly like the tree shadow on the dune.

 

Your poolside wildcat sighting of a kitten and an adult was very special.

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Your panoramas are after my own heart. I see the captions say they are iPhone photos. Is that a specific app or a built-in option?

 

How lucky to see a wildcat kitten!

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