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On the road (and sometimes off it) in Namibia


Soukous
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Soukous

Not counting the formality of a passport stamp needed to stay on a houseboat on the Chobe river, I have not visited Namibia since the last Century; 1999 to be exact.

So a return visit was well overdue.

 

Our Route

I’m not a big fan of dust, so the timing of our trip was an attempt to find a time between the end of the rains and the dust of the dry season. As we discovered, there is not much of a window of opportunity here, if it exists at all.

Aware of the distances involved and the hours of driving that would entail, our route was not overly ambitious; allowing ample time for exploration along the way; 18 days in all. The target, if you could call it that, was the Kunene river, the border between northern Namibia and Angola.

 

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Flights

To our dismay, there was quite an increase in flight prices between the time we booked the ground arrangements and the time we finally got around to booking the flights. Our choice was between Ethiopian & Lufthansa. The timings of the Lufthansa flight were much better, even though it was quite a bit more expensive. In the end, we opted for Lufthansa, based on the fact that my better half is German and we really did not fancy hours at Addis Ababa airport on our return flight. We’d endured that before and it was pretty grim.

 

Flying Lufthansa meant a change of planes in Frankfurt. That sounds simple enough, but Frankfurt airport is one of the worst laid out airports I’ve ever encountered. It is massive, signs are sparse and staff ever more scarcer.

Although we had booked with Lufthansa, we discovered when doing check-in that the flight from Frankfurt to Windhoek was actually being operated by Eurowings Discover. A bit like booking British Airways and finding yourself on Ryanair (although the difference is becoming less and less noticeable)

Consequently, we had significantly les legroom for our 10 hour flight than we’d had for the 1 hour flight from Heathrow to Frankfurt.

The cabin crew were very good though and the temperature on board was well regulated so that we did not need to pay the Euro 9.50 they demanded for a thin blanket. If we wanted to watch a movie the headphones were also extra, Euro 3.50. Thankfully the selection of films was so bad that there was little temptation to watch one.

 

Windhoek

Our departure from Frankfurt has been delayed by an hour or so, which meant that we arrived late into Windhoek; coinciding almost perfectly with the arrival of flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town. This meant the arrivals hall was busy and the queues were long.

Armed with an array of forms – immigration, health declarations, Covid declarations, vaccination certificates – we joined the various lines and eventually emerged to reclaim our baggage.

 

We then had to go through one more x-ray of all our bags to get out into the Arrivals hall, where we were very happy to see Joseph waiting to meet us.

None of the 3 ATMs were working and the queues for the currency exchange were very long, so we opted to just get going.

 

The drive into Windhoek took about half an hour and occasional animals seen browsing close to the road confirmed we were in Africa.

(OK, the immigration chaos, non-functioning ATMs and general melee at the airport had already done that.)

 

Before going to our hotel, we had to take collection of our vehicle, which, as it turned out, was the one we had been picked up with; a very fine and comfortable Toyota Fortuner.

 

Being me, I’d made sure to bring all the things I thought we might need; Medical Kit, sat nav, maps.

I didn’t need any of them. The car was very well equipped. We had a sat nav with the excellent Tracks4Africa app, a medical kit, 2 spare tyres, a mobile phone with emergency numbers programmed in, tyre pressure gauge & fire extinguisher.

 

After a quick briefing we were on our way.

 

We’d planned that, because of the long flight, our first night was to be in Windhoek. As we did not have far to drive we decided to take a tour of the city, to get our bearings and get used to our vehicle.

Our accommodation in Windhoek was the Am Weinberg Boutique Hotel. It had been recommended to us and turned out to be much (much) nicer than we’d expected.

 

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Kitsafari

Namibia seems to be a choice option! look forward to more. (even if there are no birds, you can still enjoy the....Namibia's desert) 

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wilddog

loving your wry, writing style.

looking forward to the rest of your adventures. Lets face it simply getting there currently is a bit of obstacle/adventure course.

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Soukous
Posted (edited)

The Am Weinberg really was a lovely place to stay, especially after a long and uncomfortable flight.

The restaurants in the hotel itself were OK, but just a few minutes walk away were a really nice coffee shop and a restaurant specialising in meaty meals.

 

It was as we were walking back from the coffee shop that I heard the familiar squawk of Lovebirds and eventually found a pair fidgeting about on the clock tower. My first photo of the trip.

 

Rosy-faced Lovebird

 

The accommodation for our journey did not conform to any particular standard; some we thought was terrific and some we thought was shite. Some we’d happily stay at again and others we wouldn’t go near.

I’ve given each place a rating based on our experience. These are just our opinions without any scientific methodology and with no attempt to be politically correct.

 

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Our first stop after leaving Windhoek was to be Ai Aiba Rock Painting Lodge; for no particular reason other than it looked like a nice place to visit. And so it was.

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The drive was easy and, with a brief stop in Omaruru for some basic supplies, we arrived around midday.

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We had very quickly came to love our Fortuner. It was a smooth ride with the most comfortable seats we’ve ever had in a car. Seriously, despite the many hours we spent sitting in the car driving, it was never ever uncomfortable.

 

The location was even better than we’d expected and the whole place had a really nice vibe, with good spaces to relax and lots of opportunities for nature walks or birding walks; even if the rock paintings themselves were underwhelming.

 

Ai Aiba

 

ai-aiba

 

If the remainder of the accommodation was going to be this good, we were in for a super trip. Don't worry, it wasn't.

 

There was a good variety of birdlife - including a few local rareties -  in and around the camp to keep me happy as well.

This was in fact the only place we stayed that had anything resembling a manager and the only one where I could get decent information about birds in the area.

Emanuel, the manager here was a delightful man who was himself a birding enthusiast and gave me some excellent tips about what I might find - even if I didn't succeed as often as I'd have liked.

 

One bird in particular I sought out was the White-tailed Shrike. I didn't find it, only a poor look alike

 

Ashy Tit

Ashy Tit

 

lots of Rock Martins in the air close to sunset - occasionally sitting still enough for me to photograph

Rock Martin

 

A pair of Monteiro's Hornbills that had claimed the camp & surrounds as their territory

Monteiro's Hornbill

 

and a very grey Mountain Wheatear, that had also seen off all the competition

Mountain Wheatear


and most days we found plenty of Agama lizards sunning themselves on the rocks

Agama

 

Given its middle-of-nowhere location, we were very surprised to find that on our first night the Lodge was about 80% full. On the second night it was 95% full. Not only that, everyone seemed to really like the place.

It was (is) a real gem, with Emanuel working all day every day to keep things running. Every evening he put on a face mask and stopped to chat at every table with the guests having dinner, then next morning we'd see him gathering used towels from by the pool. His team was not large, but they all multi-tasked and seemed to work very well together. Even the guide from the nature drives would help out re-arranging the pool furniture or clearing tables.

 

ai-aiba-rating.jpg.a9cd61664046e2314cedc54c052a64c2.jpg

 

 

Edited by Soukous
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Soukous
Posted (edited)

After another excellent breakfast we were back on the road. This morning we found that we were sharing the road with hundreds, nay thousands, of long-legged beetles. They were crawling all over the road and it was impossible to avoid driving over them.

They weren’t dung beetles and they were not locusts. We discovered they were Koringkrieks. Not related at all to the crickets we know (which are Gryllidae), though called Armoured Bush Crickets, Armoured Crickets or Corn Crickets, these are a sub-species of Katydid.

 

koringkriek.jpg.ffa18e77149d1c72ea6b759d13821c08.jpg

 

There were a lot of Crowned Lapwings loitering on the road as well and we though they might have been drawn to feed on these bugs, but they did not seem to be eating them. We later learned that the bugs have a defence mechanism which allows them to eject/project a poisonous secretion.

 

Our next planned stop was to be Twyfelfontein and we were rapidly learning that place names on the map did not mean there would be a settlement of any substance to go with the name.

 

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A case in point was Uis, where we planned to stop for fuel.

Originally established as a settlement for workers in the local tin mines it had fallen on hard times, with the tin mines seemingly long since closed.

There was a fuel station, where we were descended upon by half a dozen men trying to persuade us to buy bits of rock. I think they knew that no-one really wanted their bits of rock but pride dictated that if they gave something in exchange for money they were not begging.

 

As well as the fuel station there was a sad looking supermarket with an ATM that worked, and gave out South African Rand.

The Namibian Dollar is directly equivalent (N$1=ZAR1) to the South African Rand and both currencies are used.

 

The road heading north was actually far better than we expected, with few rough patches. Graders were visible in several places smoothing the surface after the rainy season damage. Given that Namibia had just experienced the best (heaviest) rains for several years, it was surprising how dry everything was.

 

As we neared Twyfelfontein, we were sent on a detour to ensure that we did not drive on a stretch of brand new tarmac. The Aba Huab river is one of the largest in the area – it too was bone dry – and it seems that the road is being upgraded for about 15km on either side of the river to provide all weather access. With nice new tar leading to the river on both sides, I presume that a concrete bridge will be built over the river in the next few months.

 

Once we’d stopped looking enviously at the nice smooth tar, we noticed that on our left side (west) there was a camp sitting at the based of the large granite outcrop.

Our first thought was ‘that’s very close to the road’ followed swiftly by ‘oh dear, that might be where we are staying’.

It is close the road and it was where we were staying, but actually it did not matter. Although we could see the camp from the road, you couldn’t really see the road from the camp.

 

It was instantly obvious that Twyfelfontein Adventure Camp we a pretty budget operation. The communal area was small and consisted of the dining area plus a couch and 2 chairs. We were invited to make use of the swimming pool, but we’d probably have had to get in one at a time, it was so small.

 

The tents were very small inside, with little room around the bed and nowhere, except on the bed, to put bags and open them.

Worst of all though was the fact that the bathroom, which was decent, was accessed via zipped mesh doorway. A pain to use at the best of times but during the night we could hear when the people in neighbouring tents used their bathrooms.

 

Twfelfontein Adventure camp

 

It was so hot in the tents that we literally dropped off our bags and left again. The camp bar was also way too hot for comfort, as was the nearby Damara Living Museum, so we drove about 7km to Twyfelfontein Country Lodge (TCL) where we could sit in comfort and have a cold drink.

TCL has a great location, constructed right into the rock face, and the bar was a nice place to spend a couple of hours when it was too hot to do much else.

Like everyone else, we did take the – very short – walk to look at the rock engravings in the lodge grounds.

 

twyfelfontein-rock-art

 

The guy selling game drives by the entrance told us they had found a group of 13 desert adapted elephants on their morning drive, so at about 4pm we decided to head out and see what we could find.

Near the lodge is a large dam and, being clever, I thought it was a cert that the elephants would come there at around sunset for a drink and to bathe. While we waited I prowled up and down the water’s edge looking for birds.

There were plenty of them, although it seemed that about 90% of them were Namaqua Doves. I’m not a big fan of pigeons & doves, but I am very fond of Namaqua Doves. Even so, there is a limit to how many I want to see and photograph. This was over my limit.

 

Namaqua Dove

 

We did see 2 Secretarybirds flying high overhead, a Coot and some Sparrow Larks, but not a lot else.

 

Secretarybird

 

 

Secretarybird

 

After about an hour at the dam, we began to think that the elephants had not received the memo and may not be coming after all, so we got back in the car and headed back to our camp – which thankfully was now a much more bearable temperature.

 

A refreshing shower and a cold drink made us feel much better.

As people trickled in for dinner we saw that the camp was pretty much full.

 

The BBQ/Braai dinner was not bad at all although I was rather concerned that the chef was wearing a disposible plastic apron as he sttod in front of the coals. I suggested to him that this was not the most sensible thing to wear while standing in front of hot coals but he said it was all he had.

 

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In addition to the current accommodation, 12 new units are under construction and, compared to what is there now, they look pretty swish and will, no doubt, cost a lot more to stay in.

 

 

Twfelfontein Adventure camp

 

The beds were comfortable and the temperature dropped sufficiently for a very comfortable night’s sleep; with not too many interruptions from nighttime zippers.

The Wi-Fi was surprisingly good, being the only place where the signal actually reached the rooms - speed was slow though.

 

Breakfast was basic, with a cold buffet, including cold scrambled eggs and cold bacon.

 

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Onwards and upwards. Our next 2 nights would be at Khowarib Lodge, with a stop for re-fuelling at Palmwag; another name on the map that turned out to have little reason to stop, other than a petrol station.

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Actually that’s not strictly true. There was another reason we – and everyone else - had to stop at Palmwag; a police checkpoint.

For some reason – known to others no doubt, but not to me – the stop sign here was yellow and did not have the word ‘STOP’ written on it. It was on an open gate that was part of a fence across the road.

I slowed as we approached and came to a stop as a man with no uniform wandered out to the car.

In what I thought was a polite tone I commented “I was not sure if we needed to stop.”

(Yes, I can be grouchy, but on this occasion I was not)

 

The man replied, “Anyone who knows how to drive knows that you must stop at a STOP sign.”

I glanced at the yellow sign that did not have ‘STOP’ on it and bit my tongue.

I could see the fuel stop about 70 metres away and that would be my only reason for stopping in Palmwag.

We had seen a couple of game vehicles, and there was at least one lodge nearby and, being Damaraland, this was a place where desert adapted elephants could be found. But even so, we felt no desire to linger in this barren, unappealing place.

Edited by Soukous
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Soukous
Posted (edited)

After Palmwag, we did actually see some wildlife, a small group of zebras about 100 metres from the road.

 

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We also saw A LOT of very recent elephant tracks and spoor; a number of them had walked along the road for about 5km just a short while earlier, no-one had yet driven over their footprints. Sadly we didn’t see them.

 

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The drive was pretty easy, through undulating hills with only minor corrugations,

 

the-road-ahead

 

The Road Ahead

 

We arrived at Khowarib Lodge around midday. Too early to check in apparently.

I really don’t get this. The lodge was not full. It had not been full the previous day, so it was not as though we had to wait for rooms to be cleaned after departing guests, but listed check-in time was 2pm, so we were made to wait.

We used the time to enquire about excursions and activities we might do during our stay. Apparently we could do a game drive in search of elephants, but the lady at reception admitted that they had only been seeing a single elephant for the past few days and now that too was not showing itself. No game drive then.

 

Madame was interested in visiting a Himba village but we decided to wait until other guests arrived to see how many people might be wanting the same excursion. There were 4 other guests due in we were told.

 

The lodge itself is lovely; nice and airy with well marked and well lit paths to the chalets that overlooked the Hoanib river.

 

I had been told that Caesar, the manager was a good person to talk to about birding in the area. Unfortunately Caesar was not here. He was out leading a safari and would not be back for a couple of days. I could not find anyone else who might help me. In fact, every person we spoke to seemed to give us a different answer to the same question. They were all very friendly about it though.

 

The river itself was now down to a trickle so we decided to take a walk upstream to the ‘waterfall’.

Hoanib River

It was hot in the river bed but the water was lovely and cool. Then, all of a sudden, I sank to my knees in soft sand. Moments later, as she came to see why I was laughing, the same thing happened to Rena. We decided that it might be better to walk on firmer ground.

 

The 4 guests that we had been waiting for had still not arrived when we sat down to dinner. So, after gin & tonics at the bar, we watched a variety of birds flitting around in the evening light before we dined alone, on a lovely paved terrace.

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The food was excellent.

 

That night was not one of our best. We had sprayed the room before we left for dinner and dropped the mosquito netting, but somehow they still managed to find their way in. We woke after a restless night to find our bedding smeared with streaks of blood where we’d been bitten or squashed engorged mosquitoes.

 

Breakfast was very good.

Having had little sleep, madame did not feel like a Himba village visit on her own and spent much of the day relaxing by the pool while I wandered around in search of birds to photograph.

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At least today we were joined by 5 other guests; a German couple on a 2 month self drive in Namibia & Botswana and a French couple with a private driver/guide.

We saw 3 or 4 French couples or families with private guides – all other nationalities seemed happy to drive themselves.

 

Another excellent dinner and a much better night’s sleep, after we’d sprayed enough RAID in our room to wipe out a small village.

At Ai Aiba I had been frustrated by the Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters refusing to take up a perch in good light. They were much more accommodating here.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters

 

As were a pair of Crimson-breasted Shrikes

Crimson-breasted Shrike

 

Khowarib Lodge was the only place we stayed that had no wi-fi at all.

Other places claimed to provide it but inmost ofthem it was so slow as to be unworkable. The fact that it was not offered at all here was actually not a problem and a lot less frustrating than if it had been offered and been useless.

 

Overall we really liked Khowarib Lodge

khowarib-rating.jpg.7dfaad4538f9f8174f01f170bff66968.jpg

Edited by Soukous
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mtanenbaum

Your bird photos are so gorgeous! Thanks for sharing. And I love the way you organized your report with the maps and all the details on the lodges. Looking forward to reading more.

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Soukous
Posted (edited)

One of the places I was most looking forward to on our trip was the Kunene river and today we would reach it.

 

khowarib---epupa.jpg.66caa5912eff9895af0059cdb777983d.jpg

 

Leaving Khowarib the road was decent. In fact it stayed pretty good until we reached Opuwo, by a considerable large margin the biggest and busiest town we had seen since leaving Windhoek.

Driving into town on roads lined with fields of wheat it was clear that this was a large, and no doubt important, agricultural centre.

 

Stopping for fuel, it was also the first place that we were surrounded by Himba women trying to sell us tat. A lone Himba woman had approached the car while we were fuelling at Palmwag, but she had kept a distance. Here they were right in our faces. Sadly, the jewellery they were offering for sale was not nearly as appealing as that which they wore themselves – and which they would not sell.

On the way out of town we passed the turning to Opuwo Country Lodge, where we’d be staying in 4 nights time, and said goodbye to the tarmac roads of Opuwo.

 

Small farms lined the road for quite a few miles out of town, although it was not easy to see them as this was one of the dustiest stretches of road we had driven and there was more traffic than we had experienced on previous days.

The livestock we saw, cattle, goats and sheep, looked to be in good condition. So soon after the rains I guess this is when it looks most healthy.

As we drove north, the road deteriorated; becoming stretches of corrugations interspersed with steep little dongas, so that just when we thought we might start to travel a bit more quickly it was time to slam on the brakes again. It was very tiring.

 

Our original plan had been to spend 3 nights at Kunene River Lodge, but we had been advised it was currently closed for refurbishment and had been recommended to stay in Epupa Falls instead. Never having been to either place before we made the assumption (with all the stupidity and pitfalls that brings with it) that they would be similar. After all, they didn’t look that far apart on the map.

 

Epupa Falls is not an attractive place. Maybe it was just that the heat and dust was getting to us after 2 years of Covid captivity but from the moment we arrived it was clear this was not the place we had hoped for. For me it was like being in Satan’s sauna.

 

We were booked into Omarunga camp/Lodge (the names seem to change depending on which sign you are looking at, even the signs within hotel grounds are not consistent.).

The woman at looked at us in surprise “you want to check in?” Well, why else would we be standing at Reception with our bags?

It didn’t improve.

The chalets look OK, but there are too many of them, crammed into a small space. They are basically tents with a concrete bathroom tacked on at the back, which means that noises in one tent carry easily to those nearby.

 

Omarunga lodge

 

The location is as good as it could be, right on the riverbank but, IMO, very poor use has been made of the location, with no communal areas giving space to sit and relax with river views. In fact the only communal area was the dining room area, which had dining tables and chairs, and a small bar with no river view.

The adjacent camping area actually had much better river views.

 

Just to satisfy my curiosity I walked next door to Epupa Falls Lodge and it was very similar, with slightly larger chalets and a bar area on a raised deck overlooking the falls. Again there was an attached campsite.

Neither lodge was full, but both had a decent number of self drive campers in residence. Once again, the French travellers we saw were accompanied by a driver/guide. We almost felt sorry for them having to drive in a closed safari vehicle over those roads only to reach this place.

 

Even though the river was still pretty full and fast flowing, the whole area around Epupa Falls was barren and birding was very disappointing.

 

I went in search of some birding assistance, but found no-one in either our own lodge or the one next door that could help me with nearby locations or perhaps guide me.

I then ventured to the edge of the settlement to Epupa Camp, where I had been told they operated boat trips. Just getting there was an adventure with even the trusty Garmin struggling to find a way.

Epupa Camp is considerably downmarket from the 2 I had seen so far. They did offer boat trips, white water rafting! Good fun I am sure, but not the trip for me and my cameras.

 

Back at Omarunga Camp/Lodge I prowled the grounds in search of inspiration.

I should mention here that the impression we got from the woman on Reception was reinforced by every (almost) other member of staff we met. They all moved in some kind of trance and were completely disinterested in the guests.

 

Having driven this far we thought we should at least take a look at the falls. We’d spotted a sign on the way in that promised a panoramic viewpoint so we went for a look.

There was indeed a panoramic view of Epupa Falls, but though the river still looked very full in front of our lodge, just a trickle was flowing over the falls. I am sure, and have been told, that when it is in flood the falls is very impressive.

 

Epupa Falls

 

All around the viewpoint were the skeletal remains of craft stalls, which would presumably be full of local artefacts in peak season. Right now there was no-one there, except one person to collect the fee of N$40 per person for the privilege of using the viewpoint.

 

Epupa Falls

 

On the plus side, I did manage to get photos of the Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, a local species I wouldn’t find anywhere else on our trip.

 

Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush

 

The lodge also got daily visits from some Gymnogenes, adult & juvenile, that flew across from Angole to chow on the palm nuts. The trees on the other side had none left.

They stayed high in the foliage and always had the sun behind them, so photos were not easy to get.

 

Gymnogene

 

We were booked to stay here for 3 nights but both hated it so much we decided to leave after 2. Hard to believe this was part of the same Gondwana Collection as thre Am Weinberg

 

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We didn’t see any point in going back to Opuwo a day early so we decided to drive along the river (you know what I mean, following the course of the river) to take a look at Kunene River Lodge and spend the night in Ruacana.

Google maps told me we’d have to drive back as far as Opuwo and then take the tar road. Not about to do that.

None of the campers I spoke to had arrived by that route although one German said he had been told that it was a full day drive because the rod had been washed away in places.

I phoned Carlo in Windhoek, figuring that he would know more. A short while later he called back to say that some friends of his had done the drive a week earlier and it had taken them 3 hours; albeit on very rough roads.

Eventually we settled on a compromise that saw us backtracking as far as Okongwati and then driving up to re-join the Kunene at Swartbooisdrift

 

Armed with the knowledge that it was possible we set out the next morning.

I won’t pretend it was a fun drive, but the riverside scenery was often beautiful.

 

epupa---ruacana.jpg.088f03f6251c0b0b5e0091531f9ccf29.jpg

We stopped in at Kunene River Lodge to seek more accurate information about what was going on there.

It turns out that with tourism strangled by Covid, the management contracted out all their chalets to a local mining company.

New chalets were being built but they were unlikely to be ready before 2023 at the earliest.

What a shame; it look lovely. If only we’d been able to stay here.

 

The remaining 60km to Ruacana was uneventful, with gravel giving way to tar when we reached Hippo Pools and the Ruacana dam.

Ruacana Falls was once magnificent. Now though, with the Namibian dam, and an Angolan one 20km further upstream, the falls was a sad sight.

Birding guides suggest that Hippo Pools, just below the dam, is a worthwhile spot for findinglocal specialities so we went for a look.

The area is actually a community campsite, though no-one was staying there, and - to be frank - it did not look like much of a fun place to stay. Even in the late afternoon we were being savaged by mosquitoes.

I did see some Little Bee-eaters and a couple of Paradise Flycatchers, but overall it was disappointing.

 

We wanted to try and get a view of the falls, but according to local sources, and Google, to get the best views we had to cross into Angola and approach from that side. Looking at the amount of water flowing over the falls we decided that it really wasn’t worth the effort.

 

Ruacana is another one of those places that looks significant on the map, but is actually nothing more than a collection of houses. 1 petrol station and 2 guest houses. It’s main significance is the power station and also the fact that it is a border crossing point to/from Angola.

 

We stayed the night at Ruacana Eha Lodge. Pretty basic, but the room was clean, the shower worked and the wi-fi was OK.

The website is very misleading. It shows pictures of little cottages that make it look as though the place has a bit of character.

The 'traditional cottages' however, and an adjunct to the camping area and do not have private bathrooms.  We did consider staying in one of them but the bathroom facilities made it upappealing and we opted for a much more boring, but functional room.

 

Staff were friendly and the food was awful. My fallback dish in unknown areas is spaghetti bolognese; can’t go wrong. Except in Ruacana.

The pasta had been covered with meat sauce which had then been covered with layer of tasteless cheese and grilled. I could live with that. What made it almost inedible was that the sauce had so much sugar in it hat it could have been served with custard and called a dessert.

Breakfast was dreadful too. Let's face it, you wouldn't plan to stay in Ruacana.

 

Just for consistency I suppose I should give it a rating.

 

ruacana-rating.jpg.cef93f8b7467de85fdf68148eac6d6e8.jpg

Edited by Soukous
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Soukous
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So, now back to Opuwo.

We’d included a night in Opuwo simply because the drive from Epupa Falls to Etosha would have been too much for a single day’s travel.

Now that we were driving down from Ruacana we could easily have made it to Galton Gate; ho hum.

ruacana---epuwo.jpg.5eeb255b4365b4fedacf32c2ef5daca7.jpg

 

As it was the drive from Ruacana to Opuwo was very easy; tarmac all the way. It took us less than 2 hours.

 

As we approached Opuwo, it looked different from 4 days earlier – no, not just because we were coming in from the other side.

As we reached the outskirts of town we saw armed soldiers by the side of the road; not just small arms either, there were a couple of heavy jeeps with large calibre machine guns mounted.

It was very busy in town too with people everywhere and a small livestock market underway; but surely that was not what the soldiers/police were here to safeguard.

 

We wound our way through the traffic and the crowds and up the hill to Opuwo Country Lodge. Driving up the rough rutted track we were not sure what to expect, but the lodge building was impressive.

Once again we were too early for check-in, so we went out and sat by the pool, overlooking a wide valley.

 

The guest rooms are all fairly modern, built in units of 4, with TV and air conditioning. The a/c worked fine, but the TV was less cooperative. I thought it was just that the batteries in the remote had died and set off to reception for replacements.

The first person I asked told me that none of the TVs worked. When I asked why he said to ask at reception. The lady at reception also said that none of the TVs worked. “why?” because the bill has not been paid. Oh well.

I had hoped to catch up on some news, but I’d have to use phone and the wi-fi, which didn’t reach much further than the dining room.

These setbacks aside, it is a lovely place to stay, although why anyone would want to stay in Opuwo is a mystery.

 

Chatting to a bloke in the bar, as one does, I found out that there was a trade fair on in town today, which accounted for the crowds, and the policy were out in force because government ministers were attending, maybe even the President. Shortly afterwards 2 helicopters flew overhead. Ministers in one, El Presidente in the other.

 

The pool was the best of any we had seen. Not that we were going to give it much use.

 

Opuwo Lodge

 

The dinner menu looked good and we ordered. However before our food arrived the power went off. It didn’t come on again until almost exactly 12 hours later, as we sat down for breakfast.

Eating dinner by candlelight was not nearly as difficult for us as preparing our meals by candlelight was for the cooks. Management appeared and flapped around. Eventually, unable to bring back the power they decided to give everyone a free drink.

Service was slower than it might otherwise have been but other than that, dinner was excellent, one of the best we had anywhere.

 

The loss of power was a bit of a mystery, as we could see that other properties around us still had the lights on. Even more of a mystery was why the lodge did not have, or did not use, a generator.

Maybe this was another bill that had not been paid.

 

Without power, we had the choice of sleeping with windows closed and being too hot, or sleeping with windows open and being eaten by mosquitoes. We chose the former; a chocie that was validated next morning by someone who had taken the other option.

 

We were already up, showered and packed before the power resumed.

 

Opuwo Country Lodge had one more surprise for me.

As we were taking our bags to the car, I heard a bird making noises in one of the thorn bushes. I could not see it clearly but it was at least 12 hours since I’d taken a photo so my shutter finger was itchy.

I grabbed my camera and walked back.

I was very glad I did, the bird in question was one that I had hoped to see a week ago but which I had failed to find at Ai Aiba. The White-tailed Shrike.

 

White-tailed Shrike

It seemed very at home in the lodge grounds and was surprisingly confiding. Woo Hoo!

 

 

From Opuwo we back-tracked to the C35 and turned south towards Etosha's Galton Gate and our next stop which was to be Dolomite Resort. An easy drive on smooth tar.

 

epuwo---dolomite.jpg.78340aaf12a9b67dbfaa68a9c6f89c51.jpg

 

We had not seen much wildlife so far – giraffes, zebras, mongooses - and had high hopes for our 5 days in Etosha.

 

One of the things that had surprised me as we drove through Namibia was the lack of raptors. In almost 10 days we had not seen a single raptor sitting on a telegraph pole or fence post.

This was the first we saw.

 

Pale Chanting Goshawk

 

opuwo-rating.jpg

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Soukous
Posted (edited)

and so to Etosha, Namibia’s wildlife honeypot.

 

We arrived at Galton Gate and were directed to an office where forms were filled in, then told to take the forms to the office on the other side of the gate to pay our park fees.

As I emerged a convoy of 5 vehicles pulled in and we were very grateful to have beaten them by a matter of minutes.

 

The cost of of 5 days in Etosha, for 2 people and a vehicle was N$1750.

The woman behind the desk told me that their card machine was not working and so I would have to pay cash. I asked her if I could pay in USD or GBP as I did not have that much in Namibian Dollars. She told me they could only accept Namibian Dollars. “Oh dear” said I, “then it looks as though I will just have to stay here until the machine works.”

 

“Let me try it again” she suggested. She did, and it worked first time.

 

The first thing to say about Etosha is that it is a very big park, the size of Wales apparently. Not sure why Wales is always used as a reference point when comparing size as I am sure most people have no idea how big Wales is – apart from @Dave Williamsof course.

 

The next thing is that you are not allowed off the road, nor are you allowed to get out of your vehicle, except for at designated points.

The main roads within the park are, for the most part, broad and in good condition; which means that a lot of people travel much too fast and create a lot of dust.

 

56c42fd4dfb14541b3f8ab4284494247.jpg.63a3f1105b10f601680a233a314a22d5.jpg

 

We did not see a lot of wildlife on our drive from the gate to Dolomite; until we turned off the main track and drove to Klip Pan.

There was plenty of wildlife to be seen along this track; zebras, ostriches, Oryx (Gemsbok), Springbok and, at the pan itself, elephants, Hartebeest and Wildebeest.

All very encouraging.

 

zebras Etosha

 

zebras Etosha

 

Elaphants, Etosha

 

 

Woolly-necked Storks

 

We dallied at Klip Pan for an hour or so before continuing to Dolomite Resort.

 

Dolomite resort is easily spotted long before you reach it, perched on a rocky ridge.

dolomite

 

The car parking area is at the bottom of the hill and a large sign says something along the lines of “We are aware of your arrival, wait until the buggy comes to collect you. If no-one comes within 10 minutes you can either ‘ignate’ your horn twice or walk up to Reception.”

 

We waited and then ignated.

 

The buggy eventually rattled its way down the path and brought us to Reception where we were welcomed by a charming young lady; a student on a 3 month internship.

She told us all we needed to know, including the fact that lions had been seen that morning at a waterhole very close to camp. In fact, had we been in room 13, we could have seen them from our balconey.

Check-in completed we were then taken by buggy to our chalet. The chalets are strung out along the ridge with the posh ones on the east side, each with their own plunge pool.

We were on the west side.

The chalets were a decent size and well fitted out, although the bed was very low.

 

With a few hours of daylight left we decided to take a wee excursion.

Of course the first place we looked at was the waterhole where the lions had been seen. No lions at the moment, but we did see elephants, a giraffe, wildebeest, oryx, zebras and springbok.

 

Elephant Etosha

 

Zebras, Etosha

 

 

Oryx, Etosha

 

 

Giraffe drinking, Etosha

 

We then made a return visit to Klip Pan. It was not as busy as our first visit, but still entertaining.

 

Back in camp it was time for sundowners, and to enjoy the views out over the plains. The less said about dinner the better. It was decidedly mediocre.

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ExtraordinaryAlex

Martin this is a CRACKING report and wonderful photos, thank you!

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mtanenbaum

I love the beautiful colors in your Etosha photos! Can't wait to see what else you saw there...maybe the lions showed up at the waterhole???

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Soukous
11 hours ago, mtanenbaum said:

I love the beautiful colors in your Etosha photos! Can't wait to see what else you saw there...maybe the lions showed up at the waterhole???

 

Maybe :ph34r:

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Soukous
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That night we could hear lions roaring almost as soon as we got to our chalet. They continued to make a noise on & off all through the night.

 

Next morning, just before sunrise (we were on the east side of the ridge, so we got the sun a bit later than those on the east side) we awoke to a terrible racket. It was Hartlaub’s Spurfowl screeching from the top of the rocks. I looked out but all I could see was a silhouette.

 

Today’s plan was to do a loop from the lodge, staring out in a south easterly direction and then turning north east towards Olifantsrus, before driving westwards back to camp.

 

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For the first hour of so we saw very little wildlife. We did see some Black-backed Jackals at a pan called, appropriately, Jakkalswater, but that was about it.

 

Black Backed Jackals

 

As we approached Olifantsrus (Elephant’s Rest) we saw a lot of vultures; a few gathered on the ground and others in the air. It was impossible to tell exactly why they were there because of the long grass, but a few of them did have bloody heads, so our best guess was that they were finishing off a carcass. White-backed and Lappet-faced

 

Lappet-faced Vulture

 

Closer to Olifantsrus, we saw a lot of crows, which lent the whole site a rather sinister air.

Olifanstrus is the newest campsite in Etosha – camping only, no accommodation, and used to be the place where elephant carcasses were butchered.

Between 1983 and 1985, 525 elephants were culled and their bodies brought by low-bed truck to Olifantsrus (which means 'elephant's rest'). At the campsite today you can still see the huge steel structures that were used to hoist the animals for butchering.

 

There is a very nice hide there, overlooking a waterhole, but the game we saw was a fair distance from the waterhole & hide.

For a moment I thought I’d found another plover for my BY tally, but then realised it was actually a Blacksmith Lapwing chick.

 

blacksmith-lapwing-chick.jpg.be615f4632fbcff1b01c192d22e41066.jpg

 

On the way back to camp, we had some nice sightings of Greater Kestrel and, some way off, what I think is a Black-chested Snake Eagle.

 

Greater Kestrel

 

Black-chested Snake Eagle

 

We relaxed for a couple of hours in camp and then drove the short distance to the waterhole close to Dolomite Camp to see if there was any action.

 

Our timing was good as we found a herd of elephants enjoying a later afternoon drink and bathe. (as you can see, the waterhole really is close to Dolomite, maybe even worth paying extra for the East side chalets)

 

Dolomite camp with elephants at waterhole

 

 

They were very possessive of the waterhole and chased off any other animals that came close, like this poor wildebeest that kept trying to get a drink. Even the Egyptian Geese were sitting away from the water, waiting for the elephants to finish.

 

 

 I suggest you mute the sound as it is mostly just wind noise. 

 

Oryx

 

 

Elephants at Dolomite waterhole

 

Elephants at Dolomite waterhole

 

Sure enough, as soon as the elephants moved off, the geese ran to the water and zebras and other animals came to drink.

 

Back in camp, the sundowner drinks were much appreciated, but dinner was again very poor and one of our meals had to be sent back as it was just fat and gristle. It wasn't a question of not being able to chew it, the knife would not cut it.

 

That night, we were again treated to a lion serenade, with a backing chorus from hyaenas. Wonderful.

 

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Soukous
Posted (edited)

Overall there was a lot to like about Dolomite Resort.

The accommodations were very good and location was impressive. It was let down , significantly, by the standard of catering and by a general lack of management and staff competence.

 

dolomite-rating.jpg.a5dee327c36a25a75085bc1a8fb5c76e.jpg

 

When we drew attention to the very poor food we were served for dinner, Covid was used as an excuse. No so much a lack of staff as the fact that business had been slow so they had cut back on costs.

Business was no longer slow and, in my opinion, if a property is going to accept guests and charge them the full rate then they have an obligation to provide an appropriate level of service.

 

There was a sign in the reception area stating ‘to keep them safe, please do not put rhino sightings in the book’. We had a look at the sightings book and saw that the last entry had been in October 2021. Clearly none of the ‘guides’ on the game drives offered by the lodge bothered to put their sightings in the book and nor did any of the guests.

Actually, I am flattering them by calling them guides; they were drivers. The ones we spoke to, to try and get some tips about where to go and find wildlife were pretty useless and, I suspect, had no training at all in the skills of being a guide.

That said, the staff we encountered at Okaukueja and Halali were far worse.

The western side of Etosha we a pleasure to explore. Dolomite is a lot smaller than the other lodges in the park and consequently the amount of traffic on that side of the park was much less.

 

On our second, last, morning at Dolomite, before breakfast I spent half an hour looking through the bushes between the chalets and the restaurant in search of birds. It was time well spent as I found 3 species that eluded me elsewhere; Violet-eared Waxbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Violet-backed Starling.

 

Violet-eared Waxbill

 

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

 

At breakfast we were told that some of the guests had seen the lions from their balcony and it was thought they would be making their way to the waterhole.

 

Our route for the day, heading eastward to Halali, would take us past the waterhole anyway so we decided to stop for a look.

They were not doing a lot after a night of exertions, but at least they were not sleeping just yet.

This was worth a few photos as it has been quite a while since I've been able to see big cats.

 

Lions

 

Lioness

 

Lioness

 

Male Lion

 

Male Lion

 

Male Lion

 

Male Lion

 

Bidding the lions, and Dolomite, farewell, we continued our journey to Halali Lodge.

etosha.jpg.fdb0dfa00cb0ebd3ed1cc17fc4229163.jpg

 

Although Google Maps suggest the journey will take just over 4 hours, in fact with several stops along the way it took closer to 7 hours.

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I’m really enjoying your report. Lovely photos. And you did get the lions!

 

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Atravelynn

Doing well with the birds.  Had to laugh at the stop sign that wasn't.  I always find rock paintings or carvings fascinating.

Looking forward to Halali.

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The first part of our drive to Halali, as far as Olifantsrus, was a road we had driven before and we did not expect to see very much.

 

There were some Black-backed Jackals close to the road, but other than that, mammals were scarce.

Black-backed jackal

 

Lots of Kori Bustards (somehow we’d slipped into the habit of calling them Tory Bastards) and a very obliging Greater Kestrel.

 

Kori Bustard

 

Greater Kestrel

 

Not a lot else, until we reached the Ozonjuitji pan, which had plenty of wildlife. As there was no-one else there we picked a good position and parked. To make photography easier, I opened my door. Within 30 seconds a car had driven up and the woman (German, what else?) was shouting at us, lecturing us on park rules. It was as if that was the only reason they had driven in to the pan, as they did not stay to look at the wildlife. “Bloody German busybodies” as Madame put it. She’s allowed to make such comments as she is also German.

 

Ozonjuitji waterhole, Etosha

 

Ozonjuitji waterhole, Etosha

 

Ozonjuitji waterhole, Etosha

 

 

Ozonjuitji waterhole, Etosha

 

Something we’d noticed as we drove in Etosha was that there were not very many large trees; a lot of straggly Mopane shrubs and small trees, but nothing of any substance.

At one point, there were no trees at all.

Clouds

Then there was one, standing all alone.

The tree

 

We saw quite a few Sociable Weaver nests, but I never actually got a photo of the bird itself.

Sociable Weaver nests

 

About halfway between Dolomite & Halali is Okaukuejo, one of the park’s 6 lodges. I’d heard that the waterhole there was a good place to find Waxbills, so we pulled in.

Time to stretch legs, enjoy an ice cream and see what I could find.

It was a good half hour and I managed to add 5 species to my tally, including Green-winged Pytilia - but no Waxbills

Green-winged pytillia

 

The highlight of our drive across to Halali came a short while later, after we had left Okaukuejo. There were 2 cars stopped ahead of us so I slowed right down, and we saw that there were 2 Black Rhinoceros in the bushes by the side of the road.

I could pretend that I pulled back to allow them space, but the real reason was that I could not get an angle to photograph them. No sooner had I reversed 20 metres than they dashed across the road and disappeared in the bushes on the other side.

Black Rhino

 

Black Rhino

 

Most of the pans we had come across appeared to be pools of water that were pumped, surrounded by bare earth. The noticeable exception was Reitfontein, which had lush vegetation all around it.

There were quite a few cars pulled up there when we reached it, with plenty of zebras and a flock of Red-billed Queleas performing aerobatics.

 

 

 

Red Bill queleas

Without knowing quite how we managed it, we arrived at Halali within minutes of a German family that had been at Dolomite the previous night so we had to wait while they checked in first.

 

The check-in process was brusque; I think that’s a polite enough way to describe it. Our chalet was pointed out on the site map and a key was held out temptingly. It was not actually given to us until we had handed over a N$500 key deposit.

Our chalet was probably the most spacious room we’d had all trip, it even had air conditioning and an outside area.

 

Dinner, we had been told, would be served from 7pm; time for me to walk down to the waterhole and see what it was like.

I could hear the Queleas well before I saw them, as they swarmed between bushes and water’s edge.

 

Red Bill queleas

 

Red Bill queleas

 

While I was watching a small raptor swooped down into the midst of the Queleas and seized one. It was a Shikra, which proceeded to enjoy it’s meal among the foliage of a nearby tree. The light was poor by now, but I had a decent view.

 

Shikra

 

Shikra

 

By now, the viewing area overlooking the waterhole was getting busier, and a lot noisier, so I left for dinner.

 

Tonight’s dinner, we were told, was going to be a buffet. As, in fact, it was for the other 2 nights we were there.

A chef, in a thin plastic apron, was grilling various meats on a barbecue inside the dining room. There was no extractor fan and the smell inside the dining room was quite overpowering. The meat itself was pretty mediocre, but there were plenty of other things to eat so it was not a problem.

 

A word about Namibian Wildlife Resorts (NWR)

Namibian Wildlife Resorts is a State owned enterprise, mandated to run the tourism facilities within the protected areas of Namibia.

 

Basically, that means it runs all the lodges within Namibia’s National Parks. As a state owned enterprise NWR is not subject to the same commercial pressures that independently owned lodges would be and, consequently, there is little incentive for them to raise their game.

In Okaukuejo and Halali, the staff we met were slovenly and lacking motivation. Dolomite, being a newer, smaller resort, was noticeably better. It is a shame.

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Athene

@Soukous you were very lucky with your sightings at Etosha at this time of the year. Lovely photos, especially all the different birds. I had to ask my other half what a "busybody" is:rolleyes:

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Kitsafari

very cool shots of the queleas. 

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kilopascal

Fantastic and informative trip report. Thank you so much. I hope to do something similar someday.

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Soukous
Posted (edited)

With no reason to rush today, we were staying in Halali Resort for 3 nights, we went for a stroll to see what was happening at the waterhole before breakfast.

Once again, the Queleas were the main event, swarming between the water and the bushes. This morning though, the light was much much better.

 

Red-billed Queleas

this is less than half of them

Red-billed Queleas

 

and a close-up of thre melee

Red-billed Queleas

 

No Shikra this morning, but there were a couple of other raptors but they did not really seem to be taking their hunting all that seriously. They took to the air and then came crashing down among the Queleas, but seemed to have no idea how to hunt.

African Hawk Eagle - juv

 

African Hawk Eagle - juv

 

They looked like juveniles – in fact later confirmed as African Hawk Eagles.

 

A week before we arrived in Etosha, a friend had sent me a photo showing a lot of water still here. So far, we had not seen much water, apart from the pans, and these were mostly being pumped.

 

WhatsApp-Image-2022-04-27-at-8_52.jpg.1583a56e503070a607b1e09fa8e3e944.jpg

 

Just north of Halali, on the edge of the Etosha Pan is a spot our map refers to as Etosha Lookout. This would be the place where we’d see water. Or not.

As far as the eye could see the pan was bone dry.

 

Salt Pan

 

Our route this morning brought us back to the edge of the pan several times, but it was always the same, no water.

 

Getting out of your vehicle is forbidden in Etosha, except in the designated rest areas. Needing to stretch legs, we pulled in to the one just near Springbokfontein. Simultaneously, another car pulled in from the other side.

As we arrived, a small female leopard hurried away from the picnic area. She had been resting on one of the concrete picnic tables; taking advantage of the shade and the breeze. It was just the briefest glimpse, and we could find no trace of where she had run off to.

Although we had arrived at exactly the same time, the driver of the other car made it clear he blamed us for scaring her off AND she was already moving when we spotted her, so we felt he was responsible. Of course it is irrelevant, as she was not going to stick around for anyone.

 

We drove on for a while, not seeing very much and then decided that as were going to visit Namutoni the next day, we did not need to go any further in that direction.

 

Our route back to Halali followed Rhino Drive, where we didn’t see any rhinos. We did see a very sad looking family of elephants, 13 of them I think, huddled together under the minimal shade of some small trees. As they were on both sides of the road, we waited a bit, letting them get used to our presence, before driving between them

 

A quick stop at Reitfontein where a steady stream of zebras was coming and going between the forest and the water. I couldn’t help thinking that if I was a lion in Etosha, this would be the best place to hang out; water, shade and a plentiful supply of prey.

We spotted a lone Black Rhino feeding in the bushes about 70 metres from the road as we drove back to Halali, but no photos this time.

 

That was about it for the day, apart from a sunset visit to the Halali waterhole, where we found 2 rhinos drinking. One left almost as soon as we arrived, the other stayed a little longer.

Horror of horrors, I did not have a camera with me, so had to use the phone.

Sunset rhino

 

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kilopascal

Wow. Unbelievable mass of Quela. I thought I had seen large flocks but nothing to compare to this.

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Posted (edited)

At breakfast the next morning we overheard someone saying there had been 8 rhinos at the waterhole at about 9:30 last night. Well, we missed that.

 

Today’s plan was to drive east to Namutoni and do bit of exploring around there.

As were leaving we saw the CNP (CNP are a specialist operator of photographic safaris, with their own specially designed vehcles and boats) mobile hide parked in camp. This is essentially a small van, equipped for photographers.

 

First stop for us was the rest area where we’d seen the leopard yesterday. Of course it was not there. Nor was there much other wildlife to see on our drive – in fact we reached Namutoni without taking a single photograph.

 

On the approach to Namutoni we had to stop as the road was pretty much blocked by a cluster of vehicles; some people just sitting and gazing into the distance, others manoeuvring for a better position. Without knowing what we were looking for, we too stopped for a short while. Then, as if a signal had been given, the cars all started moving off.

At the filling station in Namutoni we met the same family who had told us about the lions at Dolomite and who we’d also seen at Halali.

As theirs had been one of the vehicles stopped outside the resort we asked them what the fuss was about. Apparently, someone said they had seen a pair of cheetahs under a bush. They had raised their heads and then lain down again. No, he had not seen them himself.

Namutoni Resort is quite striking, with an old German fort, built in 1897, as the centrepiece. Compared to Okaukuejo and Halali it was much greener, with expansive lawns. This greenness extended to the waterhole, which was completely overgrown with reeds.

 

As we were wandering around, the CNP vehicle pulled in. No clients on board but the driver was someone I knew from Chobe, Kersey Blofield. We learned that he’d dropped off his clients at Halali and was now driving back to Kasane.

We chatted for a while about Etosha and how to get the best from it photographically. I had a lot to learn.

 

We mentioned where we were planning to go next and he suggested that we might not be very impressed, so we changed our plan. He told us where there was still a little bit of water left and where we should find flamingoes. So we went for a look.

There was water and there were flamingoes, but they were on the far side of the creek and the light was awfully harsh. Ideally we would have liked to wait for the sun to go down, but that was still a few hours away and we needed to be back at Halali for sunset.

flamingoes.jpg.49c53f074122c72a1f4a3e5117bb9294.jpg

 

The Knob-billed Ducks were much closer

Knob-billed Duck

 

We stopped again and scanned in hope of seeing cheetahs, but did not.

 

Perhaps, in the interests of fairness I should update my comments on NWR.

NWR is state run and has a monopoly on resorts within Namibia’s national parks. As such, if you want to stay inside the park you have no choice but to stay at an NWR resort. I suppose they are comparable to the rest camps found in South Africa’s Kruger NP; offering a choice of hard accommodation or camping.

I suppose also, that because almost all of those visiting Etosha are self-drivers and a large proportion of them are also self-catering, the demand for fine cuisine is not high. Indeed, during our stay we noticed that many of those in the dining room were using it as a break from self-catering.

It is therefore not fair to compare an NWR resort with a commercial establishment outside the park.

However, it is disappointing to see so many of the staff so disinterested.

It would be so simple to keep an up-to-date sightings board.

 

Halali did have wi-fi, and it worked OK. It was not free and to use it you needed to buy a voucher with a login code.

I bought one and logged in. Foolishly I then lost or discarded the slip with my code on it. I had assumed, wrongly, that once I had logged in I would not need to enter the code again. The lady at reception was not big on sympathy.

 

Looking back on the way we had planned our stay in Etosha, I would do it differently next time.

We’d split our 5 nights between 2 resorts that allowed us to cover the whole park with only one change of accommodation .

The 2 nights at Dolomite were definitely worthwhile. The resort is good and the area has some good waterholes and a lot of wildlife. It also has the added bonus of being a small resort which means there is not much traffic in that south west corner.

Etosha is very different from any other park I’ve visited. It is vast and arid, with broad 2 lane highways running through it. From what I could see, most of the game viewing is done at waterholes. Even though the wet season was just over, the wildlife was already prolific at many of the waterholes and I assume that as it gets drier they become even more of a focus.

 

If I’m honest, having game viewing limited to a waterhole surrounded by sun baked earth is not my ideal. It takes a lot of the fun out of game drives, it means everyone is drawn to the same places and it also limits the scope of photographic opportunities.

 

From Halali we could easily reach the eastern parts of the park, but it did mean a lot of driving with not much to see.

Next time around I’d probably stop at Halali for just 1 night and then spend the next 2 at Namutoni. Or maybe extend to 6 nights in the park and have 2 at Dolomite, 2 at Halali and 2 at Namutoni.

 

Key returned, deposit recovered, it was time to leave Etosha

 

Oops, almost forgot to add my Halali rating

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Edited by Soukous
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Soukous
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The last post. I can't say I'm sorry as this has been quite time consuming.

 

A drive of about 70km back to Okaukuejo, a police checkpoint, and then out onto the tar.

Outside the park gates the road is smooth and straight. The sensation of driving on smooth tar, with no dust, was marvellous.

 

For our time in Etosha, we had stayed inside the park, but there seemed to be quite a selection of lodges located close to the Andersson Gate. I am sure some of them offer a better standard of accommodation and hospitality than NWR, but as they say – location, location, location.

 

etosha-waterberg.jpg.e66b051d8a0798d68f808c4c496aa19a.jpg

 

Ignore what it states on the map, today’s drive was going to be about 300km, all of it tar except for the last 26km; easy.

And it was.

Outjo and Otjiwarongo were bigger towns than we’d seen for quite a while, real shops, bakeries and cafes.

 

The scenery was pleasant enough, without being breathtaking. We did notice though that there were a lot of game farms, more for hunting than for game viewing.

As we approached Waterberg we could see the massive rock formation s that dominate the area.

 

We were staying at Waterberg Valley Lodge, in a private nature reserve, Waterberg Wilderness.

The reserve is reached by a good sand road that passes the entrance to Waterberg Plateau Park. NWR have a resort there, which we were very happy not to stay at.

 

There are actually 3 lodges at Waterberg Wilderness, as well as 2 camping areas. The one we’d chosen was considered the economy option. After we’d had a good look at all 3 lodges we decided that we thought ours was by far the most appealing

Although the road outside the reserve was good, once we turned into the area where the accommodation was, the roads were in poor condition due to extensive water damage.

 

All 3 lodges share one reception area, which seems to make sense. Valley Lodge (or Econo Lodge as some of the staff called it) was closest to reception.

The rooms/tents were arranged on platforms looking down the valley and had everything we needed to be comfortable.

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Within the reserve it was possible to do a variety of walking/hiking trails and they offered a nature drive, the highlight of which was to see the White Rhinos they have. We were surprised that they did not offer game drives up onto the plateau itself.

 

After settling in, we went up to look at Plateau Lodge, stone chalets set high on the cliffs overlooking the plains below.

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Whilst the location was dramatic, there were a lot of steps to negotiate getting between rooms and the communal area. Each chalet had what is fondly referred to as a private plunge pool. More like a big footbath. Just a hazard when you’re walking around.

 

We then walked in the other direction to look at one of the camping areas. Rather than a wide open area, each site was well secluded among trees.

We continued following trails until we found ourselves looking up at the restaurant of our lodge. A climb of 400 metres brought us home.

 

Dinner was served from 7 onwards, so time for a shower and then up to the restaurant for a drink.

 

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The restaurant had a stunning location, looking up the valley, and the food was superb. In fact the goulash served to us on our first night was so good I asked if I could have more.

 

An excellent night’s sleep with a distinct, and unfamiliar, chill in the air.

 

At dinner several guests had been taking photos from the restaurant. It was a dramatic outlook, but I knew it would be even better in the morning as the rising sun hit the cliffs.

 

Waterberg dining

 

waterberg view

 

We’d seen Plateau Lodge, so after breakfast we went to check out Wilderness Lodge. It was about 2km down a rutted track, halfway along which we encountered a flock of lovebirds.

Though it was nicely secluded, and apparently more upmarket than where we were staying, we definitely preferred our place.

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There was some very impressive bamboo though.

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The second campsite was not nearly as nice as the one we seen yesterday.

 

As the day was warming up fast we thought we’d kill 2 birds with 1 stone and visit the NWR resort, it was only 9km down the road. Apparently they offered game drives up onto the plateau and they also had a fuel station.

Whatever I’d thought of the NWR resorts in Etosha, they were made to look wonderful by this place. Drab eastern bloc style architecture and zero atmosphere. We were both relieved we had not booked to stay here.

While Madame went into reception to enquire about game drives, I went in search of fuel.

The diesel pump was not working.

 

More luck with the game drives. They did have one departing at 3pm. It would be a 4 hour drive, maybe 5 hours. Looking at the game drive vehicle parked outside reception, the thought of spending 4, maybe 5, hours sitting in it was not a happy thought.

While we pondered this decision, we decided to drive to Okakarara and get fuel.

Although the shop at the filling station did not sell cigarettes, the charming lady followed Rena outside and offered to come with us and work for us, doing whatever we wanted. She was lovely, but we were not looking for staff.

 

In the course of the drive back we’d decided that although the game drive actually represented good value for money – twice as long and 30% cheaper than the nature drive offered in our reserve - we would not do it.

 

As the heat started to drop, I went for a wander with my camera to try and boost my tally, which I felt was rather paltry.

I didn’t get very far. I found a spot near a pool of water that seemed to have a good variety of birds and stayed there, willing them all to come closer and pose nicely.

I finally nailed one that had been playing hard to get for the past week

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah

 

Long-tailed Paradise Whydah

 

And with a wonderful symmetry, the very last bird I photographed in Namibia was the same species as the first - a Rosy-faced Lovebird

Rosy-faced Lovebird

 

Dinner was again lovely.

 

waterberg-rating.jpg.7433c436ea496b80f23f88f410c0ccec.jpg

 

Our last day in Namibia.

Drive back to Windhoek, hand over the car, transfer to airport and wait for flight.

 

It was pretty much as simple as that. A quick stop in Okahandja, where we were assailed by people trying to sell all sorts of things then onto a brand new stretch of motorway all the way to Windhoek.

 

Of course we arrived at the airport too early.

Apart from having to wait around for a while all went smoothly, apart from putting my bag through the scanner 3 times, and emptying it of all its contents, in search of a lighter I did not possess.

 

We still had one surprise in store.

As the time for boarding approached some security personnel started pulling barriers into place and then dragging tables into position.

They they told everyone to get up and queue for a secondary security screening - with a difference. There were to be 2 queues, 1 for men and 1 for women.

That took some working out. The screening wasn’t consistent or thorough. I watched as some people were asked to lift their shirts, other were scanned with a wand and one woman had her handbag scrutinised while her cabin bag stayed on the floor by her feet.

 

Apparently this was a special service requested by Eurowings. It may not be the real reason, but all I could think was that we were flying into Frankfurt and Locherbie was still a painful memory. Certainly the security checks within Frankfurt airport were more vigorous than those I’ve experienced anywhere else.

Eventually it was done though and we were invited to walk to our plane.

One uncomfortable night and we’d be home.

 

What will stick in my mind about Namibia?

 

Firstly the stark contrast between the arid deserts of the West and the much more developed East.

The quality of the roads. The tar roads were excellent and the gravel roads were as good as any I’ve experienced, with graders in evidence in lots of places repairing rainy season damage.

Some really lovely places to stay in the most unexpected locations.

 

I was also impressed that wherever we went there was very little variance in the price of fuel. When I think how fuel prices vary around UK & Europe, the difference between Windhoek and a remote place like Sesfontein was minimal. Even the fuel stations inside Etosha charged the same price as those outside. Between N$20.36 -N$20.86 per litre.

 

If you are someone who likes driving through remote areas and detests crowds then Namibia is a dream destination. The only busy roads we experienced were in Etosha.

 

I was disappointed with the fact that most of the places we stayed did not seem to have a manager. In almost all cases the staff were charming but, for me at least, it is nice to have someone as a focal point ask questions of and get information from. In several places the answers we got to the same question were so different we were worse off than when we started.

 

Although the resorts we stayed at in Etosha had ‘guides’ I would be surprised if they had any qualification other than a driving licence.

As a game viewing experience, Etosha was different to anywhere else I’ve been. Given that it is such a vast park, it is surprising how little of it you can actually traverse and how hard it is to get away from other drivers. The animals though were for the most part unconcerned about vehicles. I guess that's what comes from spending your whole life in a protected area.

I love waterholes at sunrise and sunset, but park regulations make such experiences almost impossible.

 

Would I go again? Absolutely. I’ve already got a rough itinerary planned and knowing what to expect means it will be an even better trip.

 

Edited by Soukous
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