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Central Namibia Self-drive: beauty in a harsh land

Peter Connan

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Peter Connan

About 10 months ago, we were discussing holiday destinations with a family of friends.


The men wanted to go to the Central Kalahari or Mabuasehube. The ladies (who are in the majority in this specefic group) demanded to go to the sea. The only place we could come up with where we could visit proper game reserves, and the ladies could also get their fix of salty water was to drive all the way to the west coast of Namibia, passing through Etosha on the way there, and Kgalagadi on the way back.


We then discovered that, in the period between the 8th of April and the 1st of May, we could get three weeks at a cost of only 12 days leave. The die was cast...


We are both somewhat experienced at 4x4ing and camping, and we both own capable 4x4s. And we both like peace and quiet. So we decided for this trip we would be towing trailers. But neither of us had one of those. Gerrit took the easy way out, and bought one. Me, being the nutty one, decided to build my own. This process is chronicled here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/16678-camping-trailer-build-thread/


In between building the trailer, I also had to plan the trip. As a part of the trip took place in South African school holidays, we decided we had to book accomodation in the more popular areas, but some places we were prepared to "wing it".


The basic plan that emerged sounded like this: from JHB "straight" to Okaukeujo, stopping "in the veld somewhere near Kang" and in a campsite in Windhoek. We would then spend one night just outside Etosha, so that we gould get into Okaukeujo early in the morning, and so have our pick of the campsites. We would then spend 5 nights there.


After Etosha, we would spend two nights in Palmwag, then a night at Aba Huab, a night in (or at) the Messum crater and a night at Mile 108. Two nights in Swakopmund to re-group, rest, repair and re-stock before heading for the Kgalagadi via Blutkuppe, Solitaire and Gochas. The only camp with room for us in the Kgalagadi was Twee Rivieren, which was a bit of a pity.




The expected trip distance was just 5602km (this included 80km/day of game drives in Etosha and Kgalagadi, which proved nowhere near enough).


The total accomodation bill came to just less than R20 000 (this is for five adults, a child of 14 and two toddlers). The fuel bill was expected to be R32 600 (both cars are large petrol-engined beasts that are heavy on fuel but cheap on maintenance).


We would be self-catering all the way. Thus the total trip cost was expected to be about R64 000. This includes everything except vehicle maintenance.

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Peter Connan

While I will be sharing a lot of photos in this report (I averaged about 1 photo per km travelled), one of the main purposes of this report will be to illustrate some of the pitfalls of self-driving and self-organizing, venturing into wild places without the backup of a large organization and of using one's own vehicle.


But at the outset, I also need to point out that these risks also come with a set of unique advantages. If you are driving your own vehicle and camping with your own equipment, you probably know it fairly well, and you (hopefully) know how everything works.


By planning your own trip, you can be far more flexible, and you can change plans at the drop of a hat (although this may incur additional costs).


So, without further preamble, meet the party (from left to right):



From left to right: Christiaan, Gerrit, Adri and Marizanne.



Megan and Carla



Sonja and me.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Peter Connan

The plan for day 1 was to find an acceptable spot somewhere on the other side of Kang. Using google Earth and local knowledge, a few alternatives had been mapped.




The trip got off to a flying start, and by the time we passed Brits it seemed we woulb be able to get quite far past Kang. But as we entered Zeerust (3 1/2 hours into the trip), I made a significant discovery:


People in Zeerust can't drive. The problem is so bad that, at the first stop upon entering the town, Gerrit, who had never made a significant accident in his life, drove into the back of my trailer.


At first glance, the damage looked quite severe. The trailer was lying with it's nose under my car, the surge tube (an important component in the coupling mechanism between the car and trailer) had sheared off completely, and there was significant damage to the rear end of the trailer. There was also some damage to Gerrit's bull bar, but fortunately nothing affecting the operation or road-worthiness of the vehicle apart from the number plate, which was in several pieces.


I considered going home to collect the normal ground tents and other camping gear, but Gerrit managed to find an engineering shop which somebody said may be able to help. We pushed and pulled the broken trailer out of the road (in the process pushing the jockey wheel over my big toe), dismantled the coupler and set off in Gerrit's car with the broken bits.


The engineering shop we arrived at seems to make a living keeping old earth-moving machinery alive, and obviously was not a particularly prosperous operation. It was untidy and dirty, and the machines were in a bad state, but the owner was helpful and it soon became obvious that he really knew what he was doing. With him busy turning a new surge tube, we went back to fetch the trailer and the rest of the party. We managed to tie the trailer to the car and get it back to the engineering shop, and then sent the ladies and the kids off in my car to go and get lunch at a Wimpy (and keep the little ones entertained) while Gerrit and I looked to getting as much of the trailer back in action as possible.


We managed to get the kitchen in a reasonably operable state (the box it fits in was broken and the door bent, se we knew we were in for some dust though), but the rear box was irreparably damaged, and I removed it and left it there. So was the washing table and sink arrangement.


Apart from that, the drawbar was slightly bent, the towbar on the car was quite badly bent, and much later we discovered that the car's rear door was bent a little bit as well. But these issues did not really affect the operation of anything (although it made it more difficult to un-hitch the trailer, as the jockey wheel could not be folded down while the trailer was hitched to the car) and fortunately our accomodation was in-tact.


And so, 5 hours behind schedule, we were back on the road. After an uneventful border crossing, we reached Kang just as it got really dark, and decided to stop at the Kang Ultra Stop campsite and eat at their restaurant. The food was acceptable (pretty good actually), but the service was exceedingly slow.

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@@Peter Connan so looking forward to your TR. Did you travel thru' the Kaa areabefore arriving in Kang?


Sorry that you had such a shaky start, however its good to hear that you are back on the road the same day.

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Peter Connan

@@Treepol, thanks for the kind words. No, we stayed strictly on the Trans Kalahari Highway as we were pressed for time at this stage. What I forgot to mention is that there were several thunderstorms around, although we never actually got wet.

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Peter Connan



Plan: Drive to Windhoek and set up camp at Urban Camp. This campsite was chosen because it is in town, thus making it easy to get our shopping done the next morning.




Because we had stopped in Kang, instead of being a bit closer, we were under some pressure again. The border crossing went smoothly, and as we approached Windhoek I was surprised to see that the area is quite hilly (for some reason I had expected a flatter area), and Windhoek's setting is actually quite beautiful. This was enhanced by the rain falling at several points ahead of us.




As a nature lover and camper, I have an odd love/hate relationship with rain. I think it is beautiful, I absolutely love the results, I love being in the bush when it rains but I hate camping in the rain (in my experience all tents leak).


Shortly before reaching Windhoek, we reached the rain, and when we arrived at Urban Camp it was still raining slightly.

The camp had no record of my booking. Fortunately, I had brought my proof of payment, and even more fortunately, they did have room. In fact, they have quite nice facilities, and each campsite has a shade-net roof. We managed to fit our trailers under these, which helped to keep everything dry to some extent.


We had planned to go to a restaurant this evening, but since we had done that the previous evening, we heated our home-made Lasagne (which had been planned for the previous evening) and garlic bread. Surprisingly, it rained all night, and stopped only when we had completed packing up the next morning.

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So sorry to hear about your trailer and on day 1 too :( I bet the air was blue...and your friend must have felt so guilty.

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Peter Connan

His guilt trip, unfortunately, still continues, despite frequent requests to relax. After all, I built it, so I can fix it.

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I am going to enjoy this trip report @@Peter Connan as it will be about soemthing that I would never have the skills or competance to do myself. I was going to add the phrase "The other side of Kang" sounds like it should be in a Doctor Who or Startrek programme but reading about your poor trailer that I have enjoyed reading about and seemed like almost a friend-how you must have felt!!!

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Sorry to hear that you got off to a rocky start but great to see that you were able to repar and continue. I look forward to reading/seeing more!

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Peter Connan

@@Towlersonsafari, I was far less distraught than poor Gerrit. After my initial panic of seeing the trip go belly-up, once we were on our way again, it just became a minor irritation. I think it was a bit worse for my wife, who had been looking forward (for reasons I may never fully understand) to using her washing-up station, which is for all I know still lying in Zeerust somewhere....


Thank you @@PT123

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Peter Connan

Day 3:

The plan: Shop for groceries, get the necessary permits for later in the trip, and then drive to Eldorado B&B, just outside Anderson gate of the Etosha national park.




The first part took rather longer than I had expected, and we only got going properly at about 13h00. The consequence was that we were once again under the cosh and having to push on to get to our destination before dark.


Once again, there were a number of smallish thunderstorms about, but we were lucky enough to miss them for the most part.

And once again, we arrived in camp just as it was getting properly dark. This campsite is quite nice, with lawns to stand on and great ablutions. The down-side is that there is not much shade (not a problem for us this time) and there were a couple of dogs begging around, which caused some unhappiness among the youngsters.


Day 4:

At last, a short and relaxing day. We had a grand total of 28km to do, and what's more we needed to take until 11AM to do so, as that is check-in time.


Thus , for the first time this trip, I took my long lens out and scouted about for birds.


First, some Fork-tailed Drongos caught my attention. This is one of the species of which I am always dissapointed with the results of my photos. They make great candidates for in-flight photography due to their interesting shape, white wing-panels and hunting behaviour, but I always seem to mess it up.








While shooting a White-browed Sparrow-weaver and Red-billed Buffalo-weaver (in the same bush) a little later,




a dove suddenly came past, persued by something I didn't know. For once though, I managed to lock focus and get a couple of shots:




And was later able to identify it as an African Cuckoo, a new bird for me.


After leisurely packing up, we made our way to Anderson gate, where we were asked if we perhaps had a Dron Kameer. Took us a while to figure out they were looking for camera drones (which are illegal in Etosha).


We then proceeded to Okaukeujo, almost withoput a single sighting, and thus arriving shortly after ten.


We were told to go and pick ourselves a campsite within a certain range of numbers. But we somehow missed the part about having to come back and report the number before being allowed to pitch camp, for which we were later berated by a rather irate gentlemen, and then again by the lady in reception.


The campsite we chose was on the edge of the camping area, approximately equidistant from the pool and the water-hole, and far enough from the ablution blocks to be out of the way of the bus tourists.

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Peter Connan

Time for an afternoon drive. My direction: Newbrowni.


My first nice sighting was a Gymnogene raiding a Communal Weaver's next., although it was far away and against the still-bright sun.






I expected that, in a waterhole-based game reserve like Etosha, in this situation of plenty, animal sightings would be sparse, and at first this did seem to be the case. I had also expected that the very same situations would also result in plentiful birdlife, but not having been there before, I have no idea whether that was accurate. But, I did see birds.



One notable behavioural trait for me was how tame the Northern Black Korhaan ws here. It was not uncommon for them to stay perched on the verge of the road while I stopped and took photos. In other places I have come across them, one hardly ever see them, only hearing their distinctive call.




Greater Kestrel was a common sighting.






The Blue Cranes were still around Newbrowni:



Kori Bustard:



Once more, afternoon thundershowers.



And lastly, more wildebees:





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Peter Connan

Day 4, morning drive:


I apologise for all the photos of rain in this report, but to my mind rain in the desert should be celebrated!




And then a Jackal:




Another very tame Korhaan:




A couple of double-banded Coursers:







Blue crane:




Some more weather:




And some more Jackal, with oldish cubs:





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A bumpy start but that surely cannot stop a group like yours! Rain and rainbows looks so refreshing. Glad to confirm blue cranes were still at Newbroni waterhole last week. Only 5k of photos?!

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Peter Connan

Thanks @@xelas!

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The last jackal profile pic is fantastic!


I'm taking notes for a future trip to Namibia. Not sure when, but definitely someday. Keep the story going...

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Peter Connan

Thanks @@xyz99


Back in camp, in the stand next to ours (which was currently un-occupied), there was a communal weaver's nest.










Then, I took a walk to the water-hole. At first, there wasn't much going on. Some swallows






And a few eagles, far away




There were a herd of Zebra on the edge of the clearing, who were slowly approaching the water-hole. It took about an hour and a half before they gathered up the courage to take a sip.








On the way back toi camp












The afternoon drive was very un-productive as far as game went. Just some Wildebeest and Springbuck near Newbrowni. But the weather was the most spectacular yet!






After this shot (which took about a hundred attempts to get), I had to race back to camp to meet gate time (again). There, I discovered that the rain I had been photographing had been falling on the camp. Fortunately, everything had held up to the accompanying winds.

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Peter Connan

Day 5:


The next morning, Sonja blessed me with her presence on the morning drive. We decided to head toward Olifantsbad.


Scaly-feathered Finch:



Then, we saw two Drongos badgering a Gymnogene:





Another pair of Greater Kestrels



And a Kori Bustard



And then a couple of lion, being just about as un-cooperative as possible.





A Capped Wheat-ear:



Our first actual sighting of sand grouse (we had heard them several times).





And our first Black-faced Impala











But no elephant at Olifantsbad. In fact, nothing but a few geese on the other side.


By now, it was time to head back. The only thing worth stopping for was the pan itself.




A Capped Wheat-ear:

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It must be that ellies does not like Olifantsbad at all. It is interesting to see big birds of prey beng pestered by smaller ones, like drongos and blacksmiths. Huge storm; this year Namibia will get above average rate of rain, to everyone relief.

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Peter Connan

@@xelas, indeed, Windhoek has had almost as much rain as JHB this year. But there ar still areas that have had very little or no rain, and later in the TR there will be some examples.


Birds of prey being pestered is actually quite common, and I saw it several times on this trip, although it is usually quite tricky to photograph acceptably.

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Thank you "Timon" for letting us enjoy your wonderful trip. I want to do a self drive in the future in Botswana and Namibia. I just need to find people to join me.

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Great lightning shot...who cares it took so many attempts? How did you do it? Pure luck, or is there any method to it?

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Peter Connan

Thank you @@Africalover and @@xyz99


The method is as follows: I have a home-made Molar-type sandbag with a cheap gimbal head on. I mount the camera on this, set it on aperture priority, then set minimum aperture and minimum ISO in order to get the longest possible shutter speed, then I connect a cable release, set the camera on continuous shooting mode, and lock down the cable release.


The rest is just luck (in choosing which direction to point the camera in) and patience.

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@@Peter Connan, thanks for the shooting details. I need to learn how to do it....I have no idea what "lock down the cable release" means.


I'll try to experiment this summer if we get some good storms.

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