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Namibia: four weeks, four people, four-wheel drive.


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To Sers   After a long, uneventful flight, we arrived in Windhoek at noon. A warm sun awaited us and felt good after the low temperatures we had left behind. The Namibian customs officials h

We had been thinking about Namibia before. In fact we had gone as far as venturing into the south last year, before heading into the Kgalagadi. Fish River Canyon gave us a taste for more and after stu

Our next destination was Swakopmund. From there we intended to do a boat trip in Walvis Bay and visit the salt works to do some birding. Our accommodation was ‘Alternative Space’, located in a quiet p

PeterHG

From Swakopmund we travelled north and then turned inland on the C35 to leave the coastal mist behind. This was the first leg of our trip to Kunene River and we had planned a stop-over in Madisa camp, a distance of some 300 kilometres. We had read mixed reviews of Madisa, but we quite liked the place. Okay, the swimming-pool, featuring prominently on the website was dry and could not be used, but the setting more than made up for that. The safari tents, with an outdoor toilet and shower, all had magnificent views of the desert and you can’t really beat having a braai with a backdrop like that in the evening. 

 

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The staff were friendly, though a bit embarrassed the next morning, when we decided to have breakfast with them and asked for some toast. They did not have any bread, but if we were to stay for another two nights they fully expected it would be available again. Well eggs without toast was fine with us and we set out towards Kunene, another 550 kilometres. That sounds like a lot, but it is tarred road all the way to Ruacana on the Kunene River, so we made good progress. The last 60 or so , along the river were a little more challenging, but nothing one could not manage even without a 4x4. At least in the dry weather we had. It may be more difficult in rainy conditions. I had been looking forward to our stay in Kunene River Lodge. The owner a birder, so perhaps some guiding  and boat trips on the river would surely deliver some sought-after species. What a disappointment when we were told no boat trips were possible as the owner and the guide were not there and there was nobody else who could (or was allowed to ) drive the boat. In fact the lodge is changing ownership so we’ll have to wait and see how things develop. A massive detour which had been done in vain. But we were going to be there for three nights so there was no point in crying over spilled milk. And to be fair, the place still had a lot going for it. The setting is beautiful and we made good use of the terrace/viewing platform overlooking the river.

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We had our meal there in the evening, too. There is a nice pool and the staff are very friendly. Exploring the sounds of the lodge and  little beyond I did manage to see a few of the birds I’d hoped for after all, like the Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush and the Bare-cheeked Babbler. And we had the most beautiful full/blue moon in the evening.

 

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Bare -cheeked Babbler

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African Harrier-Hawk

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Namib Rock Agama

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Spectacled Weaver

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Cattle Egret

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 All in all, in spite of the disappointment, we had a very nice and relaxing time there and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Would I make the detour again? I don’t know. A lot would depend on the new management and the availability of birding and boat trips. We'll see....

 
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Ritsgaai

Stunning, stunning photography!!! 

I am happy for you that you could still see some of the birds you were looking for at the Kunene.

I am looking forward to the rest. 

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Peter Connan

I agree. Beautiful photos! and the lodge looks very inviting!

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pomkiwi

@PeterHG Beautiful photos. However can I have a refund as the blue moon looks rather orange? :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Yes I do know the phrase relates to the second full moon in a calendar month)!

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xelas

No swimming in the river :unsure:??

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PeterHG
On 3/17/2018 at 9:59 PM, xelas said:

No swimming in the river :unsure:??

We did not like the company in the river...;)

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PeterHG

Time to go south again, but not before a visit to the hippo pool camping area on the way to Ruacana. I don’t think I would like to camp there as it appeared to be poorly maintained, but the pool itself with the reed bed was worth a visit. Darters, Little Bee-eaters, Olive Bee-eaters and a Malachite Kingfisher were some of the the birds we saw there.  

 
Little Bee-eater
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African Darter
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Etosha was our next destination, staying in three camps for a total of six nights. Our first camp would be Okaukuejo, so we would enter the park through the Anderson Gate. When preparing our trip we had looked at the western option of Dolomite Camp, but it was much more expensive than the others (we were not camping…), so we decided to skip that. Anderson gate was quite a distance for one day so we had planned a stop-over in Kamanjab: Oppi Koppi Restcamp. The bungalows there were quite nice and the food was good and affordable. They even had a feeder atrracting birds like Great Sparrow and Southern Masked Weaver. A Monteiro’s Hornbill showed close to our unit. The only downside was that the music was always on rather loud in the restaurant/swimming-pool area. They had some ostriches there in an enclosure. The next morning four of those had escaped and were feeding among the bungalows. The camp owners’ tiny terriers soon picked up on that and started chasing the ostriches all over the camp. The birds were about 10 times the size of the dogs, but that did not deter the little dogs one bit. Quite a sight!

 

Great Sparrow

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On to Etosha. Right upon entering the park we saw a herd of some 12 elephants, followed by a majestic Martial Eagle and the inevitable Pale Chanting Goshawks.

Okaukuejo is a big camp and we had booked ourselves a family unit for the four of us. Plenty of space and even cooking facilities. In our bedroom, however, the AC unit did not work and, as temperatures were pretty high, this made the room rather uncomfortable. It turned out the staff already knew about is, but let us have the room anyway, without telling us. After an unpleasant argument they allowed the two of us to stay in another unit for the next night. Not a major problem, of course, but it would have helped if they had told us about it beforehand.

Other than that the stay was fine and we spent a very enjoyable first evening at the waterhole. Zebras, Springbok, Jackals, Giraffes and even two Black Rhinos came for a drink. Absolutely the best waterhole of the three camps.

 

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Before that we had already made a game drive on the 6305 north of Okaukuejo. Nice birding with African Hoopoe, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark and Burchell’s Courser. On the way back we met a Jackal family with 4 pups, that were both curious and playful.

 

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The day after we explored the tracks towards the Gemsbokvlakte and Olifantsbad waterholes. After a few kilometres we came across a lioness that was keeping an eye on some Gemsbok and Springbok. Every time one of those ventured closer to the lioness, she would enter a hunting mode, crouching low and slowly taking a few steps towards the antelope. No luck, however, she was spotted in time. Still nice to see this behaviour and stay with her for some time. We were the only car there the whole time and that is a special feeling. later on we were alerted to the fact hat there were three young male lions 8 kilometres south of Gemsbokvlakte. 

 

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At the Gemsbokvlakte we saw a large herd of Zebra, Springbok and Gemsbok. Some good birds, too: Booted Eagle, Abdim’s Stork and Spike-heeled Lark.

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We spent some time at the Olifantsbad picnic site and at the waterhole itself, which was rather empty except for Namaqua Sandgrouse that we landing and taking off all the time and a few Kudu. Two well-spent days at Okaukuejo and Etosha was more that living up to our expectations.

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Peter Connan

Lovely shot of the stalking lioness.

 

Such a pity Namibian national parks don't teach their employees the importance of good manners.

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xelas

That stalking lionesse is a remarkable shot!

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The Jackal pups are a treat and yes great shot of the lioness. Sounds like the water hole at camp is the place to be !!

Thanks

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Love the lioness pictures: the attention and the calm, then the stalking predator. Beautiful!

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Marks

Lovely little bee-eater.

Glad you got your room troubles sorted, and it looks like the Okaukuejo waterhole was ample reward. 

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PeterHG

After two nights we left Okaukuejo and followed the route east we had taken before, past Gemsbokvlakte and Olifantsbad waterhole. We stayed for a while with another lioness along the track.....

 

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....and also an impressive Lappet-faced Vulture made us stop. After some time it took to the air and that was hard work for a big bird like that.

 

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Plenty of zebra and springbok again at Gemsbokvlakte. Always on the alert...

 

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Also the Wildebeest provided some entertainment..

 

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At Aus waterhole we saw two hyenas at the water’s edge, later joined by a third one. The Black-faced Impalas kept a wary eye on them, but still ventured to the water.

 

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Suddenly we saw three slender shapes in the shade of the trees beside the road. Cheetahs! Our hearts skipped a beat and we slowly approached them. How wonderful to see these graceful big cats! One of them, unfortunately was limping, but apart from that all three of them seemed to be in good health. Definitely one of the highlights of our stay in Etosha.

 

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Our second camp was Halali, where we had a family unit again. No problems here and again quite  spacious and at some distance from the main area of the camp. Here the waterhole is viewed from above, which makes for a nice setting, although this means the water is further away that at Okaukuejo. A giraffe keep us entertained for a while when we visited the waterhole in the afternoon. 

 

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Our climb to the viewing platform in the evening, however,  failed to produce any sightings, as the fuse of the main spotlight had broken. A replacement would take several days to arrive. There were some French guests, who kept staring through their binoculars anyway, claiming there was a Black Rhino down by the waterhole. If there were any rhinos indeed, they were most certainly black, as was the whole scene ;)

 

The day after we did some game drives in the area around Halali, which yet again yielded some nice photo opportunities...

 

Black-shouldered Kite

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Lonely Wildebeest in the dry areas near Etosha Pan

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Lanner falcon, taking off

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Threatening skies

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An Etosha scene (the dot in the middle of the road is the Lanner Falcon of one of the previous photos.)

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Peter Connan

Lovely photos!

 

I don't know if you have ever tried it, but a good pair of (reasonably large) binoculars actually works surprisingly well in the dark.

My Leica 10x50's work(ed) better than the first-generation night-vision scopes my platoon was issued with during military service.

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xelas

The Afrika can sky is so fascinating, and your photo grabbed all the colours!

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PeterHG
12 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

Lovely photos!

 

I don't know if you have ever tried it, but a good pair of (reasonably large) binoculars actually works surprisingly well in the dark.

My Leica 10x50's work(ed) better than the first-generation night-vision scopes my platoon was issued with during military service.

You may well be right and my binoculars are excellent, though 8x42, but I really have my doubts if they could have seen anything in the dark. I’m getting old, so I may be completely wrong there....;)

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lmSA84

The Lanner Falcon, the Spike Heel with the Spike as visible as daylight, the stalking lioness and the scenery - brilliant report 

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michael-ibk

Great photography Peter, really enjoing this a lot. As Peter Connan said, I am often using my Swarovski binocs as "night vision gadgets", and that works quite well.

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Great animals and birds portraits, but the landscapes are amazing! You captured the real Africa, with its vastness and the big skies. I'm loving it!

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PeterHG

The last camp we visited in  Etosha was Namutoni, built around the white German Fort. The welcome here was decidedly more cordial than in the other two camps and also in the restaurant the staff appeared to more customer-friendly. The setting of the camp is quite nice and if you take the trouble of climbing one of the towers, the view is great.

 

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“The walls of the fort are also an excellent spot for sundowners” is the bold statement on the Etosha website. The viewing deck on the walls, however is in a state of complete disrepair, so it may well be your last sundowner if you follow their advice. Also the waterhole is not really something to spend a lot of time with. The extensive reedbeds take away most of the view, unfortunately. But apart from this the camp is really nice and offers some good drives to nearby waterholes, like Chump and Klein Namutoni and around Fischer’s pan. It was on that drive that we encountered another Black Rhino. The only car there and such a magnificent animal close by....

 

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The scenery, like everywhere in Etosha, is impressive with the vast open spaces and ever changing cloud formations.

 

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Especially in the evenings there can be a golden glow in the skies and you feel you’re never more truly in Africa that at those moments.

 

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A few of the sightings in and around the camp:

 

Grey-Go-away Birds

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Fork-tailed Drongo

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Marabou Stork

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Warthog

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Black-faced Impala

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LIlac-breasted Roller

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One of the most beautiful falcons of Etosha is the Red-necked Falcon. We'd seen it in the palm trees in the camp, but one one of our drives we got an even better view.

 

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michael-ibk

Beautiful Falcon indeed, and what a photo!

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PeterHG

We leave Etosha with the feeling we could have easily spent another week here. It is definitely a place we’ll want to come back to. But now, other destinations await us. Originally we had thought of driving along the Caprivi strip in the north perhaps all the way to Katima Mulilo. That is a tour quite a few agencies offer, including a visit to the Victoria Falls, of course. In the end, however, we decided against that. We would have to drive a lot more kilometres in the four weeks we had where we always try and allow for enough time to properly explore the places we visit. Also, it seems that accommodation in Botswana and visiting some of the well-known parks there was rather expensive. So we had settled for the Okavango Panhandle, just across the border in Botswana as our furthest destination. Trotsky’s Cabins, to be more specific. Not as expensive as the actual Okavango Delta, but still offering many of the birding specialties of the region. To our surprise the road up to and following the Caprivi strip is tarred all the way, so we could make good progress. We stopped for the night in Rundu, Tambuti Lodge.

 

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A nice place, close to Rundu beach. As it was Saturday this meant cars were driving to and from the beach with radios blaring, but when it got dark it was quiet enough. The lodge even got me a lifer: Hartlaub’s Babbler.

 

The day after we continued our drive along the Okavango River on the B8, until Divundu, where we turned off to Shakawe, Botswana. For part of the way we followed the dirt road that runs closer to the river, but the number of spots with a clear view of the water is limited. Plenty of villages along this road, though.

 

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Before you reach the border post you pass through Mahango Game reserve. If you drive straight through, there’s no need to pay, but if you wish to do a game drive in the park, you buy a permit at the visitor’s centre. As we had plenty of time that is what we did and it is certainly worth it. We took the eastern loop, which is about 15 kilometres long and takes you close to the Okavango floodplains. Plenty of birds, but also antilopes like the Lechwe, which we had never seen before.

 

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A Buffalo finding some shade in the midday heat.

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The Hamerkop.

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The giant Boabab close to the loop.

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And one of my favourites: the Little Bee-eater

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PeterHG

Drotsky’s is a well-laid out camp with spacious accommodation in a beautiful setting on the Okavango river. It’s a family-run business, we were told that there will be new owners in the near future. A walk of about 15 minutes takes you to the campground. This was now completely empty, but in the tourist seasons it attracts many visitors from South Africa, mainly for the fishing.

 

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Birding, however is also one of the main attractions and Eileen, one of the owners, was adamant that I definitely wanted to see the Pel’s Fishing Owl, perhaps the most sought-after species of the area. She asked one of the staff to walk with me to the campsite as the owl had been spotted there in the morning. We searched for an hour, but in vain.

Fortunately boat-trips were available, so we booked one, downstream, taking us past Shakawe River Camp to Xaro Lodge, Drotsky’s sister camp. Again we looked for the owl, but again, we couldn’t find it. Well, we did find a feather.

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We did not see too many birds on the trip, apart from a beautiful Malachite Kingfisher, but it was very pleasant all the same.

 

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The next day we spent some relaxing hours near the pool. The chairs and tables sorely needed some maintenance, but the peak season was still months away, so obviously this was no priority. The pool was nice and there were no other guests present who might take offence at my playing the guitar for a while...

 

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I also walked round the extensive grounds and put my chair at the edge of the river to see what birds I could get there. Bee-eaters were always present: White fronted, Little and sometimes the Blue-cheeked variety.

 

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The next day we booked another boat trip, now upstream which produced more birds, like a magnificent African Fish Eagle, Long-toed Lapwings, Darter and others

 

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When we got back Eileen told me to get in the boat again and head for the campsite once more. The Owl had been seen only an hour earlier. Success at last. It was high up in a tree,  making it hard to get a decent shot, but careful manoeuvring resulted in one or two nice ones. It is an impressive bird, much larger that I’d thought. Eileen was probably even happier than I was, she would have considered missing it a failure on her part, which says a lot about her involvement with the visiting birders.

 

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michael-ibk

Very cool to see the Pel´s (really high on my list) - and such a good photo of it!

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