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Central Namibia Self-drive: beauty in a harsh land

Peter Connan

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Peter Connan

Day 8:


The plan: Today we were heading for Palmwag. However, instead of going back the way we had came and taking the main road, we were taking the scenic route: West to Galton Gate, then via the Khowarib Schluscht 4x4 trail (basically, the Khowarib river bed).


This route is also the shortest, at 344km, but the GPS reckoned it would take us upwards of 10 hours. Normally, 8 hours is the limit of what one should plan for a day, as the GPS doesn't take stops into account. So the plan was, we would drive until around 5pm, and then start looking for a place to camp.





While Gerrit and I were busy filling the trailer's water tanks, the girls climbed the tower.





And off we went.



Tawny eagle?



It was clear that the road to the west does not get much of either traffic or maintenance.



Our first Lilac-breasted Roller since Botswana



Between Okaukaujo and Galton, we saw very little game, and the further west we went, the less game we saw. It does get more and more hilly, and the environment is completely different from the area around Okaukeujo, in places almost proper bushveld.


At Galton Gate, we were subjected to a pretty thorough search. A chinese couple arrived at roughly the same time as we did. Again, we were asked if we had camera drones, and also red meat.


There was great excitement when they found a drone in the Chinese' vehicle, and it seemed like they would arrest us all on the spot, until we proved that we were not with them.


From here we took a little "tweespoor" dirt road. At first, it seemed like there was some sort of mistake. After an hour or so, this lead us through another vetirinary checkpoint and then into the Khowarib riverbed. Here we stopped for brunch, deflated tires to 1 Bar, and off we went, down the river-bed.


Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah:



The river bed was (is?) beautiful. A wide expanse of sand and large trees al along the sides and sometimes even in the middle. Since the last time it had flown, just one other person had driven it, but this gave us a set of tracks to follow (which would show up any soft spots before we hit them), and thus we made good time.






We saw several sets of elephant tracks, but never actually saw the elephant, but we did find a Giraffe.



For me, this section was probably the highlight of the whole trip, and I would gladly live here.


We then exited the river-bed and drove through an area called Klein (little) Serengeti. Pretty much immediately, we saw our first Hartmann's Zebra





This is a beautiful area of grassy plains bordered by large hills.






And there were quite a lot of Zebra and Springbuck around.


Soon,we were driving through the hills themselves. The track got pretty rough, with fist-sized stones strewn everywere. At one stage we came down a sort of a mini pass, where we even used low range.














A Ruppell's Korhaan:





Whe had made very good time, and when 17h00 came along, we were just 500m from the main road, so we decided to carry on to Palmwag.






Which turned out to be a very nice camp with great facilities and friendly staff.


Despite being a hard day, it had been very enjoyable. Gerrit used the word Epic several times, until I asked him to stop reminding me of mountain bike races.

Edited by Peter Connan
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" There was great excitement when they found a drone in the Chinese' vehicle, and it seemed like they would arrest us all on the spot, ... "! - according to local environmental authorities, Chinese people are the reason for the surge of the poaching in Etosha, and drones are used to track the animals ...


Not only epic, Peter!!

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Peter Connan

Day 9:


The original intention was to go to Grootberg Lodge for lunch, and spoil the ladies to a spa treatment. But Grootberg were not interested in accomodating day visitors, so we just lazed around the pools.


That is, except for me. I used the day to stalk birds.


House Sparrow:



I could use some help with all the Swallows/Martins that follow:










Pale-winged Starling:








More Pale-winged Starlings:



And some very colourful lizards:





Then somebody told me about the location of a bird bath and feeder setup.


Rosy-faced Lovebird:





Pale-winged Starling:



Glossy Starling:



Acacia Pied Barbet:





Speckled Pigeon:






Laughing Dove:



Another lizard:



Another afternoon rainstorm:





At one point, a whole bunch of Starlings and Bulbuls got very excited about something in a bush. I suspect it was a snake, but could not see it.








And time for bed.






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@@Peter Connan


Stunning set of pictures. Particularly like the first Love bird picture and the sunset with the palm trees.

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Whe had made very good time, and when 17h00 came along, we were just 500m from the main road, so we decided to carry on to Palmwag.




Love this picture and the one of the butterfly. Really enjoying your trip report!

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Peter Connan

Thank you for your kind comments @@Zim Girl and @@Ladouce.

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Peter Connan

Day 10:



The plan: drive to Aba Huab and set up camp. A short day, just 107km and roughly 2 hours expected time. Once there, possibly visit Twyfelvontein (an area with a vast number of Bushman/San paintings) and the Organ-pipes (interesting rock formations).


Because we had plenty of time, we packed up camp and sent the girls off to the pool while Gerrit and I went to the garage and filled the tanks.

As we finished filling, we could already see a que forming at the vetiranary control post.


Before we started the trip, we had done a lot of research into what would be allowed through these control posts (the general rule is, un-cooked red meat and any dairy products can be transported north, but not south. However, these rules are subject to change.


Since there were no real shops on our route between Okaukeujo and Swakopmund (5 days), we had laid in pre-cooked meals for two nights and chicken for the other three nights, as well as chicken pattys for two brunches and Bully beef and tinned ham for the other days, and some extra for emergencies.


After collecting the girls, we joined the que, which was now about 7 cars long.


When they got to us, we were subjected to an even more thorough inspection than at Galton. And suddenly, they played their trump card: "there is an outbreak of Newcastle Disease, we have to confiscate all chicken". We could either cook and eat it right there, or dispose of it.


Just 20 yards away, there is a Himba art stall. We gave our chicken to them, but Gerrit wanted to trade them for a keepsake. They were not interested in a trade, so he lost his sense of humour and walked the 500 yards back to the garage and gave his share to the attendants.


Just as an aside, in Swakopmund i made enquiries about this outbreak of Newcastle disease, but nobody there had heard about it. Not even the offices of the Ministry of Environmentand Tourism...






The scenery around here is fairly arrid (although still apparently survivable, as we passed a number of farms, and quite hilly.














Arriving at Aba Huab at around 12h00, we hit our next snag:

We had payed for accomodation at the MET offices in Windhoek, but this permit covered a number of places we would be staying at, and the permit did not specify which places.


As a result, the staff at Aba Huab did not want to accept that this covered us staying there, and insisted that we pay them directly. This resulted in about an hour's argument and a number of phone calls, with us eventually promising to pay a slightly reduced amount via EFT on our return to SA. In hindsight, we should have gotten back in our cars and moved on.


The campsite is actually very pretty, with a great location against the river, but (as seems common among community camps) the staff are not doing much maintenence. Rubbish bins were overflowing and very smelly, there were open electrical connections on the ground and at least one leaking drain (which was heaven for the birds).


Yellow-billed Hornbill







Cape Turtle Dove



Red-billed Spurfowl



Grey Hornbill



Once it had cooled down, Sonja and I took a drive up the river-bed (which seemed to be a road). The GPS showed a filling station in the river, and I really had to see this.




Well, it's not in the river, and it's primary purpose is to serve the Twyfelfontein Lodge. It is mostly a vehicle workshop, but there is a fuel pump. And some nesting Red-billed Buffalo-weavers.




During the late afternoon, the staff had a party, with locals arriving to help them. Some even slept on the pool table. Fortunately, it did not go on late, and the noise ended by 20h00.







Edited by Peter Connan
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This trip report is fascinating, the logistics, the work involved, the uncertainty, the photos.....well done Peter.

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Peter Connan

Thanks @@PCNW, i appreciate your kind comment.

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Peter Connan

Day 11:




The (original) plan: Drive to the Messum Crater, have a look around and find a camping spot. In terms off distance, a relatively short day, but the fact that the GPS had calculated that it woiuld be a 4 1/2 hour drive gives some indication of how bad the roads are.


But, since the urgency was not so great, I had awalk around first.


Groundscraper Thrush:



Grey Go-away bird:



Glossy Starling (in perhaps the best light I have ever seen one in):



Just some rocks:



But soon it was time to go.








A nice surprise was this Chameleon crossing the road. First one I saw in years.



Because of the confiscation of our food a couple of days previously, we decided to take a short (in distance at least) detour into the town of Uis, to see what we could find in the line of food.


(Taken from the bridge just outside of town)


Because of something somebody (I think it was @@Dave Williams, forgive me if I am wrong) had said in a previous trip report, I was not expecting too much. Indeed the shop looked rather uninviting from the outside and (probably because of the closure of the mine) there were a lot of beggars/street vendors around.


However, the shop is quite well stocked. By the time we had finished shopping and packing away the groceries, it was nearly mid-day, and we decided to try out the local restaurant. What a pleasant surprise! Beautifully apointed, nice and cool, very friendly (although not particularly fast) service and excellent food at surprisingly low prices.


The area certainly has interesting geology, and since it is so dry and barren, this is layd open for all to see.







Suddenly, my tire pressure monitor started screaming at me. The left rear tire was losing air at an alarming rate.

Visual inspection soon turned up a hole in the tread far too large for fixing on the car (the first time in many years that I have not been able to simply plug a puncture), so I had to evict everybody from the car to be able to reach the jack, wheel spanner etc. Some of these tools are stored under the rear seat. So while Gerrit and I changed the puncture, the girls explored.








But soon we were back on the road.


This area is truly very barren and unforbidding, yet majestic and impressive. The road though is absolutely terrible. The worst corrugations I have ever experienced. It obviously started when somebody just drove across the desert, but as more and more people drove this route, the corrugations started. Obviously, the next step was that people started driving next to the existing tracks. This has continued, to the extent that the road is now a band of corrugated earth that is up to 30m wide in places.


We were driving along, staring at the scenery (even the kids, who are usually buried in their technology, were taking an interest), when Gerrit called me over the radio: "My car is getting hot, should I switch it off or let it idle for a while". Now the answer to this question depends on the reason for the rise in temperature, and either answer can cause damage, so I turned around and raced back.


What I discovered when I got there was that there was no water in the radiator. Since we had checked that just a couple of days ago, the reason was obviously not a lack of maintenance, but it was difficult to concentrate on the problem due to the weather around us.




We decided to remove the radiator as we thought (judging by where the anti-freeze had splattered) the leak was on the top tank of the radiator. At this point, it started raining lightly (just the edge of the storm on Brandberg shown above. This had the advantage that the temperature dropped from 37C down to 15C, but also the disadvantage that it became a lot more difficult to find a leak. We filled the radiator with water, and held it at weird angles while trying to keep all the pipe connections closed and at the same time trying to see where the water came out.




And, seeing no leak, decided that it was fine, and so put it back, concluding that the leak had to be in one of the pipes.


Filling it with water again, we still couldn't see any leak, so we started the engine to get water circulating. Eventually we saw some water running out the bottom of the radiator, and so we removed the fan shroud (which we should have done before), and the leak was immediately obvious. Something had obviously gotten to the fan, and the fan had then thrown it with some force against the radiator, tearing one of the cooling tubes open.


So, out came the radiator again. Fortunately, it now stopped raining, and we set about closiung the leak with Pratley Steel epoxy (any self-driver should have this stuff in his toolbox).


In the hour that it takes to set, I tried unsuccesfully to capture the lightning still playing among the hills around Messum, and we generally tried to relax.








As it was getting late by now, we discussed camping right there, but decided to go a little bit further, mostly in order to check the repair.


Soon, I saw my first Welwitschia Mirabilis.





This remarkable desert plants consists of just two broad leaves, yet is one of the plants that live the longest, rivalling the baobab tree.


As the sun set, we just stopped on opposite sides of the "road", and made our fire right in the middle of the road between the cars. We had not seen anybody else since leaving Uis.






Although there were still some storms in the far distance, the weather where we were was perfect, dead calm and a comfortable temperature.








Some time around 23h00, after we had all gone to bed, the wind came up to such an extent that it was about to rip away Gerrit's flysheet. The two of us wrestled it off and managed to fold it up and shove it under his car without getting ourselves blown across the desert. We then noticed that his tent was leaning alarmingly, so he evacuated his family from the tent, installed them in the car and then wrestled the tent closed.


My tent seemed to be fine, so I simply got back in and went to sleep.


At some point the wind dropped away again, and when I awoke the next morning, I discovered that Gerrit had re-erected his tent and re-installed his family...


Well, it had been a hard and stressfull day, but Louis Lamour always said that adventure is just another word for trouble, and it is such experiences that remain in our memories forever.

Edited by Peter Connan
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KaingU Lodge

Fantastic stuff Peter. Takes me right back. I must have camped very near to your spot a good few years ago. I love the picture of your GQ and the welwetschia.


We did 4 months total s/drive in Namibia in our HZJ78 and absolutely loved it.


Great pictures from your trip as always. And yep, Pratley steel.... my water tank bears a leaking seam patched with the stuff. That was 7 yeas ago!

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Dave Williams

Only just found this report Peter as you (mis) quoted me but glad you did! It seems the rains have continued way beyond their normal time range. We were told April and May were the perfect months in Namibia, maybe not this year. That said you found a multitude of Lions with ease which was something we failed in and you Elephant sightings was better too.

I'm most envious of your Rosy-faced Lovebird shots but for me so far the lightening and Chameleon images are outstanding.

When it comes to self driving I think I'll stick to the roads. It was a struggle to discover how to open the petrol cap never mind fixing anything on our hired car.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your adventure, a most enjoyable read even during the rough times you describe!

As for drones... they should be banned everywhere They are an intrusion in to privacy, like having a pesky wasp constantly buzzing around the place.One shouldn't jump to conclusions but Chinese and Drones in Etosha mean just one thing to me. Poaching.

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"Pratley Steel epoxy (any self-driver should have this stuff in his toolbox)." - advice taken, but what on Earth could I do with it?! Even in an unlikely situation that I could dismantle the radiator, no way I could ever put it back again :( . The only useful stuff I can use is duct tape :)


​The night skies are beautiful; the night winds are horrible. The welwitschia photos are gorgeous. Sadly we have missed them completely so your photos are even more appreciated.

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Peter Connan

Thank you very much guys.


@@KaingU Lodge, i think 4 months would still be too short to truly discover all this fascinating country has to offer.


@@Dave Williams, I apologise again for mis-quoting you. I will need to go read up trip reports again!


Regarding drones, while i pretty much agree with you, i do realize that i do a lot of things that many others feel should be banned too, and i also believe that, used considerately, they must be an incredible tool for behavioural research and conservation. The bigger ones that can fly high enough are less of a nuisance.


@@xelas, it is useful for much more than radiator repairs. And removing and replacing a radiator from a Patrol is actually very easy. Three hoses and two bolts, and out it comes.

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Fantastic trip and pictures, thanks for sharing! Love the Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, the Lobebird, the lizzards, the nightscapes and sunsets...love it all :)

And quite an adventure...I don't know if a self drive is for us, we'd be lost if anything broke...

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OMGosh....I haven't turned the page yet but Lordy.....removed the radiator....twice?!?! Is there anything you can't do? Can you perform open heart surgery as well? I'm not positive I could even get the hood of my car up without printed instructions.

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Peter Connan

@@xyz99, with a little bit of planning, these things need not be such a problem.


Staying on slightly more travelled routes and making sure you have enough food and water for a few days can negate most of the risks.


Making sure a friend has your schedule and having a scheduled contact with him even more. That way, if you don't call, they will know where to start looking. Lastly, having a sat phone is the ultimate backstop.


@@PCNW, definately no open-heart surgery for me. I am quite squeemish.


Also, i am nowhere near as good at post processing as you are!

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You made very good use of the park bench for that enchanting night shot. Then I saw the Welwitschia Mirabilis and the night sky. How completely Namibia. Those feathers of the Double-banded Courser look very white to me. I'm going with albino!


You managed to get some gorgeous scenery and bird pictures despite a few car issues interrupting things.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Peter Connan

Thank you very much for your kind comments @@Atravelynn

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" There was great excitement when they found a drone in the Chinese' vehicle, and it seemed like they would arrest us all on the spot, ... "! - according to local environmental authorities, Chinese people are the reason for the surge of the poaching in Etosha, and drones are used to track the animals ...


Not only epic, Peter!!


i hope they did arrest and jail them with drones.


thank goodness you managed to convince the authorities you were not with that group. @@Peter Connan


tremendous shots of the birds and you gave me a few scares with your misadventures with the cars and the wind but as you said, these are the stuff that makes the journeys and make them unforgettable.

Edited by Kitsafari
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A lot of really beautiful photos Peter - I really love the Chameleon but the Welwitschia set is just outstanding.

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Peter Connan

Thank you very much @@Kitsafari and @@michael-ibk


My apologies for the current interruption. I am on a data contract which gives me a certaim amount of data, and the same amount again between midnight and 7am. The data for use during normal hours runs out around the middle of the month, so for the rest of the month i have about half an hour in the morning between getting up and leaving for work at 6. And today, i over-slept...


There'l be another episode tomorrow morning if all goes well.

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Peter Connan

Day 11:



The plan for this day was extremely short, just 47km and one hour of driving to Mile 108 campsite on the coast.

Having stopped 23km short the previous day, this became 70km and about two hours.


It seemed as if the Welwitschia may have survived the night.





Amazingly, in this arid and lifeless place, the cleaning crew arrived right at sunup.





We didn't have much packing up to do and were soon on the road.


The landscape became more and more forbidding.





With the odd stop to check the water level



We kept moving on



At the Messum crater, the only life we could find was some lichen on a rock.



But, exiting the crater, one goes through a little canion, and in this two cars were standing, blocking the road completely. We exchanged pleasantries and discovered that one of the guys was a geologist, and his wife was a botanist. And so we had a private briefing on both the Welwitschia, and on the Messum crater.


I had somehow assumed that the crater was a meteorite impact (there is a meteorite crater further south), but in fact it is one of the largest known volcanic craters in the world, at 22km diameter. The exlposion had been so vast that chunks of rock expelled by the explosion had been found right up to the coast. The mountain that had been there, had been 7 times higher than the formidable hills that are left.


From here, the road was graded and in reasonably good condition.





At Mile 108 campsite, we hit another small snag: there was nobody. I had read on the 4x4community forum that the concession had not been renewed, but after all, somebody had taken my money and sent me an invoice...


We went down to the beach and had brunch while considering our options.









Edited by Peter Connan
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Any idea what made the tracks on the beach (jackel)?

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Peter Connan

@@PT123, it was the right size.


But it could also be a domestic dog, as this is a popular fishing spot and quite a lot of people visit it.

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