Namibia July 2016
As an avid fan of Africa, the real challenge is how do I manage to take two children (11 and 15) plus my wife on a two week vacation and still get plenty of photo opportunities. Well Namibia is so natural, safe and raw - it is perfect. With the constantly changing light over the diverse ever changing landscapes and massively diverse wildlife there is plenty to keep everyone thrilled. Safari365 helped with the planning and booking and did a great job, making it so much easier for us. Self-driving - Self-exploring was our goal. Our agenda, ourselves as guidles, our schedule for the freedom to self discover this beautful part of the world.
Namibia will make everyone a landscape photographer. The most introvert - an outgoing explorer. It will feel like being part of a David Attenborough documentary and the life lessons are amazing. Adding to this an extremely safe and the friendliest people on the planet.
A total of 15 day, 3500 Km and some of the most spectacular scenery and places were waiting for us to explore. This was my second visit to Namibia with the family, following a successful introduction back in 2013.
Day 1 - Everything Starts From The Beginning
After a night in the Capital City of Windhoek, at the Hilton hotel we were refreshed from the long journey from Scotland, via Heathrow and Johannesburg, and ready to go. A quick stock up from a local petrol station of snack, drinks and water (plus a full tank) ensured we were prepared. Opting for the more scenic C26 - D1265 - D1261 route proved to be worthwhile. No traffic - not one car on the slippery but well maintained gravel road made a perfect route. A slow drive, enjoying the scenery and wildlife: Goshawks, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, Grey Hornbills, Warthog, baboons were frequent sightings through to Solitaire. The Spreetshoogte Pass offers fantastic views and makes for a great rest stop, Before hitting the town of Solitaire. Note: If they have fuel fill up here...
Solitaire consists of a bakery, café, petrol station and small store. Not much else, but take your time here. Social weavers, cape sparrows, glossy starlings, fork-tailed drongos, southern masked weavers, Ground squirrels will not be easier to photograph anywhere else...
Onwards to Sossusvlie and keep your eyes well open for the endangered Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, Oryx and Springbuck as you experience the wonderful scenery of the Naukluft National Park. Arrival at the Sossusvlie lodge and amazing sightings of oryx and springbuck galore in the lodge grounds. Time to relax and watch the late sun set and dinner ends a perfectly paced day.
Day 2 - Best Views On Earth. Heart of the Namib Desert
Up at 5.45am (yes I know this is not everybodys idea of a vacation) and through the lodge, arranged an excursion to Deadvlei. The gates open at sunrise, and Sossulvlei lodge is the closest to the park entrance directly outside the lodge. The 60km drive on tarmac was broken up watching the sun rises over the mountains, stops at some of the most iconic dunes on Earth - Dune 45 and Dune 50, and some endemic sightings of Dune Larks - only found here and nowhere else. The last 4km is four-wheel drive only and gave us giggles watching others dig their trucks and cars out of the deep sand - maybe you now know why I opted for the excursion vs self drive. From here was a short 1km hike over the sands to be presented with Deadvlei. This was my second visit - and just as powerful to see as the first. Despite groups of people already there it is still a very quiet and desolate place, and able to take lots if images without seeing people. I could spend hours here - but after a while the sun becomes to harsh for photos. A hike back to our driver and had a wonderful breakfast in the desert before heading back to the lodge for midday. We could have opted for a short trip to Sesriem canyon, but having visited this before we wanted to enjoy the lodge and surroundings.
The rest of the day we spent relaxing watching the springbuck, oryx, dusky sunbirds and guinea fowl doing their things. Another amazing sunset, another amazing meal and ready for another well deserved nights rest.
Day 3 Lesson in fuel management
The first lesson of the day...Leaving Sossuslvlei we should have filled up the tank here at the local petrol station, but decided as we were heading via solitaire that it would make sense to do so there....oops!
Early breakfast - and we checked out heading back through the scenic roads. Almost straight away a herd of mountain zebras were sighted, a few goshawks and plenty of Oryx. On reaching Solitaire we discovered they had run out of fuel - with option 1 heading to Walvis bay (347km) or option 2 driving back to Sossusvlei (100km) we chose the later having only a range of 300km in the tank...oops that will add a 3 hour round trip...Good job we set off early.
Three hours later and with a full tank we were back at Solitaire. Snacks, drinks at the ready we watched the desert squirrels before embarking north to Walvis Bay and our destination Swakopmond. The first two hours drive the road was poor corrugated gravel - and the landscape very flat and open. Lots of Ostrich. A pit stop for the classic tourist photo of the boys standing on the Tropic of Capricorn, and the road took us back in to the Naukluft Park. Here the scenery changes massively small rolling hills canyons and passes. A beautiful and very different landscape, as the road improved. The last rest stop at the end of the park gave sightings of the amazing desert Quiver Trees. here the secenery flattened again - and for the best part of an hour was quite desolate - gravel plains and very little else. Finally the gravel started to turn to yellow sand, small dunes, green dollar bushes, and then bigger dunes of the Dorab Desert.
Walvis bay was our first real pit stop. Three years ago we had a fantastic lunch at the Lemon Tree Café, and was eager to try again. This fantastic and quirky café / Restaurant was exactly as we left it three years ago. Great food, simple and such a quiet little place. Stuffed with fish and chips (and burgers for the boys) we headed across to Swakupmond - choosing to drive behind the dunes rather than the coastal route. An erie drive as strong winds blew sand across the road. A stop at a bridge and the River Swakop still had some water collected that gave home to black-winged stilts, pied Avocets, various plovers and lesser flamingos. Onwards and arrival at the beach lodge hotel. hear we had an outstanding meal at the wreck restaurant, and dosed up on Wifi and TV lol.
Day 4 - Desert Adventures
This was to be a special day - a repeat of an experience we did last time. A living desert tour with Chris Nel. Again second time around was as fantastic as the first.
A five hour tour that began with Chis, a local and conservationist, picking us up from our hotel and a short drive to the Dorob national Park - The northern part of the Namib Desert between Swakopmund and Walvis bay. Here we were introduced to the desert, the eco system, the stories of evolution and what to expect. First sighting a rare cape hare resting in one of the dollar bushes. Onwards the tour went, with the "Little Five" being the dream sightings. First up the Dancing Lady Spider, or Cartwheeling Spider. Here Zoom Lenses are not needed. I used a 60mm Macro, and the opportunity to be 6 inches from the wildlife when taking shots - the guy next to me got too close and the spider jumped on his lens, suffice to say he then jumped away dropping the camera in the sand. After this The Palmato gecko - a translucent nocturnal web footed gecko with the most amazing colouring...Next the Fitzsimmons burrowing skink. A small legless lizard that has the shine and finish of mirrored glass to aid its movement in the sands. This technically is not one of the little five - so was a bonus.
The next sighting was very special As previously I had photographed the fantastic and slightly scary Sidewinder Snake, but Chris excelled by locating the Horned Viper - a small venomous adder. Yes I was shaking as I got on my belly and allowed the snake to slither towards the camera...but where else will you get to do this in the wild. Wow.
Onwards we went to the dunes and a place where you can't imaging anything really can survive and, well....the Namaqua Chameleon...
...this big boy about 8-10 inches long was in a small two foot high dune, and about to feed on a small grub. Well camera set to high speed mode to get the little guys tongue in action...fantastic. It got better as the Chameleon moved of the mound to the open sands and promptly changed from almost black to almost white. Again very close up photography. Wow. The last of the little five - the shovel-snouted lizard was sighted halfway up one of the larger dunes shortly afterwards. From here Chris took the pleasure of showing us his off road skills as he treated us to a roller coaster ride over the 100 foot dunes, and drinks and rest admiring the views of the Atlantic meeting the desert. I could do this tour every day of my life and not get bored.
like all good things they come to and end, and mid afternoon we were dropped off back at our hotel.
From here we all voted for the Lemon Tree café again so dove to Walvis Bay for a late lunch, then we spent the remain daylight watching the pelicans, flamingos. herons, plovers and other waders at the lagoons and sea edges. before heading back to Town. a relaxing evening in the hotel and the end of another wonderful and long day
Day 5 & 6 - And Relax...
A slow and deliberately relaxing day. A late breakfast in the Beach Lodge Hotel and a saunter to the towns waters edge. Here we walked along the pier and the boys ran of some of their energy at the sea front while I was taking photos of pelicans, flamingos, cormorants, plovers and storks. A visit to the Slow Town Coffee Shop is highly recommended and a kick from some great coffee got us all going. We headed to the Kristal Gallery for some really cool collection of gems, rocks and other natural features found in Namibia.
A little gift shopping (but not too much lol) and dinner in a wonderful little pizzeria in the town.
Ahh....ready for some action again!...
Day 7 - Hitting the Road again....
This was not a gruelling days drive and just a few hours north in to the Skeleton Coast. As we left Swakopmund, a large salt works was home to plenty of bird life, so a short stop and onwards. The tarmac stopped and the salt road up the Skeleton Coast began. Fortunately the road was dry - in the wet it can be very slippery.
After Henties Bay life and everything seemed to stop, and the first shipwreck (famous for the areas name) was visible. A slight morning fog was present, so we didn't spend too long here before heading up to Cape Cross.
I cannot express if the wind is coming from the sea inland, just how much this can smell... but 140,000 cape fur seals will present you with the rather strong odours of seal poop, fish guts and rotting carcasses...in fact Brett at one point went rather green. Get over it and you will see and hear the wonderful and amusing cape fur seals close up. everywhere you look. Occasionally you may see black-backed jackals or brown hyena if you are lucky.
We headed to our home for the night. 4km north, and out of smell shot is a fantastic lodge. the only lodge actually. A breeze of check-in shower and a fantastic lunch. guests have free coffee in the bar and cake in the morning and afternoons. The beach front rooms are fantastic. One of the best sunsets ever was seen here. the boys played on the beach whilst from out of no where a couple of black-backed jackals sauntered passed. Footprints of brown hyena proved their existence, and small plovers and wagtails ran over the sands.
Cape Cross Lodge was a very pleasant lodge, and very friendly staff, with a great four course dinner provided. We could have happily stayed another night here.
Day 8 - Sandstorms and desert elephants....
Waking on the skeleton coast, such a peaceful place, I spent an hour watching sunrise and waiting for jackal to pass (to which they did only when I came in to have a shower and the boys took great pleasure telling me)...urgh.
Surprisingly a warm morning, 27deg C which was unusual for July and the wind was blowing from inland...Little did we know what was heading our way. A healthy breakfast and we set off stopping again to see the seals with good light at 8am, and some great shots.
Heading inland towards the Brandenburgs the wind picked up and with it a full on sand storm. At points we had to just stop and wait it out as the visibility was literally zero. This went on for two hours but eventually subsided. It was pretty fierce as the windscreen of our now rather dirty and dusty car was pitted with micro-chips. I do have to thank Safari365 for ensuring I had full insurance including windscreen damage...Anyway onwards...
...Plenty of Ostrich but as we approached Twyfelontein, Four desert elephants were spotted at a farmer's well. with only 180 desert elephants in Namibia this was a great sighting....for an hour we watched them drinking, socialising and generally well being elephants.
Arrival at Twyfelfontein Country lodge we were greated with iced tea and checked in - showing from the sand storms earlier, the boys went to play in the pool, while janet and I watched Black chested Prinia, wagtails and pale-winged starligs flit around us. Rock Hyrax and agama lizards, as well as grey hornbills. Blackmsith plovers and three-banded plovers were sighted nearby as the sun lit the burnt rocks and mountains around us.
Day 9 - Rock Carvings and Rockier Roads....
Waking shortly before sunrise, a few photos and wonderful sighting of a desert rat we ate a quick breakfast and we headed out - only 10km to Twyfelfontein. This world heritage site is home to hundreds of rock carvings some 6,000 years old, maps and stories of bushmen over the millennia.
The site has a small entrance fee, but you are guided around ensureing you get good and private views of the carvings and interesting information and facts about the area and details. A great few hours spent hear before the midday sun warms too much.
From here we had a 3 hour drive north to Palmwag. A very interesting drive, Baobab trees growing on the high rocky hills, kilspringers darting by, but damn the rockiest road I have ever driven on. We stopped to provide a family assistance from a puncture, but as we did a tower of giraffe were spotted at the side of the road, so worked out well.
Onwards to Palmwag and arrived to a real oasis. An underground stream provided lush palm trees and long green grass in the middle of a baron looking landscape. A bull elephant is a common resident, and the grounds are a birders paradise. To name some - White-backed mousebird, Olive bee-eater, bulbul and glossy starlings, Canaries and drongos, groundscraper thrushes and cape wagtails. weaverbirds and bokmakierie...Slender mongoose, striped tree squirrels, Kudu and mountain zebra were all seen at the lodge.
The boys played in one of the two pools, while I explored the wildlife and surrounds. We had an amazing and private family unit and loved this lodge. Dinners were fantastic affairs as were the breakfasts. Really is an oasis.
Day 10 - The heart of Damaraland
Woken in the night by clonking noises outside our room, I pulled back the curtains to be face to face with a startled kudu in the moon-light...cool.
We set off after an early breakfast on a private game drive - this was an all day affair that included lunch in the reserve. We had hoped for black rhino - but we can't get everything (not through trying though). Oryx, giraffe, pronking springbuck, steenbuck, ostrich, elephant and Hartmann's mountain zebra were plentiful, as was he landscape, again so different here that other parts of Namibia. A great day and lots of great information from our guide and driver.
Back to the Lodge mid afternoon another chance to photograph wildlife big and small, while the boys went to play in the pools and relax.
Another great dinner hosted by the staff and guides and another great nights sleep - I think all that fresh air and outdoor activity was helping in that respect...
Day 11 -Road to Etosha
A fantastic drive through the mountains to Grootberg Pass with spectacular views. A number of klipspringers were seen, but too fast to photograph.
From here we hit the small town of Kamjanjab - an opportunity to refuel, and stock up on drinks and snacks, but more importantly say goodbye to the rocky roads and return to tarmac....oh sweet bliss.
The Etosha conservation area starts here, and plenty of giraffe are seen as we made our way towards Outjo - where we planned to have lunch at Etotongwe Lodge. A perfect respite and simple good cooked food - decent coffee and nice gardens where red breasted shrikes, love birds and amethyst sunbirds are frequently seen.
From here a few hours north and we reached Etosha Safari Lodge - A great lodge set in hills 10 mins from the Anderson gates and entrance to Etosha National Park.
Etosha Safari Lodge is surrounded by the autumnal colours of Mopana trees, and here you will see red and yellow billed hornbills as well as the endemic Monteiro and Damara hornbills. bare-cheeked babblers, Acacia pied barbets amongst others. Zebra, ostrich and impala are frequent visitors. The food and drinks were excellent as with most of Namibia, and again we went to bed stuffed.
Day 12 - Etosha National Park
Oh I had looked forward to this - we decided we would head out at sunrise and make the full day of Etosha - and planned our day to stick to the permanent water holes between Okaukuejo and Halali. This was an ambitious day, but well worth it. As we entered the park we met a curious black-backed Jackal that stopped and sniffed our car, almost too close to photograph. Then not far from here a female spotted hyena with a cub following. Probably heading back to their den after a night on the plains.
Some key highlights were elephants, lions, secretary birds, kori bustards, a fantastic Black Rhino really close, wildebeest, hartebeest - I could go on - but an excess of 40 mammals and 70 bird species.
We made it back to Okaukuejo, where we hoped to find something fun at the waterhole, and behold 5 bull elephants were there to greet us, along with giraffe, kudu about 50 zebra, impala and springbuck.
What a day.
Day 13 - This had to be Elephant Day
Being our last day we planned to shorten our time in Etosha to mid afternoon, and have a relaxing sundowners at our lodge. So A hearty breakfast and up to the Okaukuejo waterhole - again elephants were ready for us....some great sightings of goshawks, kestrels, northern black Korhaans, and plenty of game, a sleepy lion and so much more. This was such a relaxing self drive and the animals just seemed to be there for us at avery corner. Another big bull at another waterhole with ostrich and springbuck sharing the space. A large black rhino made a great appearance.
As we made our way back mid afternoon we stopped at the waterhole by the Anderson gate, and here we met one of the tallest bull elephants I have ever seen. He was a true giant and gave excellent photographic opportunities.
I so love Etosha, and it is so very different from any other game reserve in Africa...cannot wait to get back. The afternoon gave the opportunity to spot many of the red-billed, yellow-billed and Monterio's hornbills that frequent the area.
Day 14 - Back to the city - but first...Cheetahs :)
As we left Etosha to spend our final night in Windhoek, before our flights the next day back to the UK, the road supplied us with endless sightings of red and yellow-billed hornbills, warthogs, baboons, blesbuck and springbuck. Almost every 100 meters....
We found ourselves visiting the Africat Foundation. Here there are free roaming cheetahs, as well as some rescued and released cheetah, additionally leopard, hyena and wild dog. We hear the roar of a lion close by but never saw one, but we did see a leopard, and a number of cheetah. The foundation does a great job with cheetah conservation across Namibia, as as other cats and is so worth a visit. Educationally and environmentally this is worth the detour and stop off.
back in Windhoek - which is a lovely and small city, I was missing the raw and wild we had left behind. The variety and relative ease to navigate this country always amazes me, and rest assured I will be returning at the first opportunity....
There is probably nowhere close to Namibia for encouraging a sense of adventure and purpose. Can kids enjoy Africa - Absolutely!
Self drive puts you in charge of your own destiny, schedule and agenda. No country accommodates this better than Namibia
So safe, so diverse and so easy. every changing from place to place and so much life in what on the surface seems so baron. Unique colours, landscape and people. Namibia really is a must see (again and again).
Additional information and resource
Safari365: Based on the ground in Africa, they are experts creating luxury African safari and adventure travel experiences. Safari365 tailored this trip and managed all the bookings and logistics perfectly for us.
wheretostay.na: A fantastic online resource on sites, parks, accomodation, petrol stations, restaurants and planner. Go design your trip, help determine what to see on route, learn about the regions.