Olly's Namibia Self-Drive Adventure

Oliver Greenfield

03 Nov 2016

Day 1: Arriving in Namibia in style

Looking out the window of the plane on arrival in Windhoek, I noticed a KLM plane with flags out of the cockpit window and a welcoming party on the Tarmac. As it turned out this wasn't a celebration of my arrival, but the new direct flight from Amsterdam to Windhoek, something that will only increase the fast growing popularity of Namibia for an outstanding safari. 

As I got through arrivals I was met by Martin and whisked away into Windhoek and the Olive Exclusive Guesthouse where I would be staying for the night. A lovely place in a quite area of town, with spacious and extremely comfortable rooms, offering everything you would want after your flight.

Later that afternoon my car was delivered and I had a thorough briefing of this and my itinerary for the next two weeks. With my itinerary, maps and new wheels I was more than ready for my self drive adventure. But first was an enjoyable dinner at Joe's, famed for its bushmeat sosaties (kebabs) and steaks.

In the morning it was time to hit the road. I set off North with about a 2 and a half to three hour drive to Okonjima Plains Camp, my destination for the night. Arriving in time for lunch and the opportunity to head out on a game drive in search of some of their radio collared leopards. We were lucky to see two separate females, both very relaxed and offering us all the chance of getting some great photos. Our guide explained the importance of the reserve and how it moved from a cattle ranch to this haven for these big cats. Plenty of general game was seen, with oryx, springbok, warthogs, Hartman's Mountain zebra and a pair of bat-eared foxes. 

This was all finished off with the unmissable sundowner on top of a ridge overlooking the reserve with gin and tonics in hand it was a happy group all round.

Discover Namibia

Day 2: Africat Foundation

Whilst staying at Okonjima a visit to the Africat Foundation is not to be missed. After all, this is what the whole reserve is about. So that's what I did this morning. This is something you can do as a guest from one of the camps or even if you are just a day visitor. The tour takes you around some of the large enclosures where they are rehabilitating the rescued cheetah, most of which were orphaned too young to survive on their own.

You also take a visit to the clinic where they, treat and do regular health checks on all the cats. While here I was lucky enough to be there at the right time to see them bring in a young cheetah who had injured her eye. 

The vet took the time out to explain what had happened and what he was going to do to treat it - not something you get to see everyday!

It was then time to hit the road again and continue my journey north. The journey was about 4.5 - 5 hours and consisted of some seemingly endless straight roads all interspersed with the occasional rise of hills. I was heading towards Mushara Lodge, which is ideally located just 8km from the eastern gate of the Etosha National Park, Namutoni.

Day 3: Exploring Etosha National Park

With the prospect of driving through Etosha National Park I was up early and eager to get on the road. Entering through the Namutoni gate in the east I planned to meander my way across to the central section, around Okaukuejo, from waterhole to waterhole to see what I could find. As there has been very little to no rain in this region for the past few years, the remaining waterholes are like gold dust to the animals in Etosha. This does make game viewing a lot easier, you just need time and patience to sit at a waterhole and see what comes along. The park is dominated by the massive Etosha salt pan, a vast expanse of nothingness broken up by the occasional wandering ostrich or oryx. 

On reaching Okaukuejo it was time for me to leave the national park and head into the neighbouring private Ongava reserve. Here there are a few different camp/lodges with mine for the night being Ongava Tented Camp. This is a lovely traditional safari camp with a very active waterhole in front of the main area. After a brief respite from the heat and dust I went out on a guided drive from camp, on which we managed to find the three rogue elephant bulls which have broken in from Etosha. 

Back at camp and after a delicious dinner and just I was going to bed one last look at the waterhole provided a brilliant sighting of a black rhino as it tentatively came to quench its thirst only metres away from us. Needless to say I went to bed happy.

Read more about Etosha National Park

Day 4: Etosha to Damaraland

Before starting today's journey I took the opportunity of visiting the other camps/lodges in Ongava, being Ongava Lodge with its stunning views, Little Ongava with only three suites offering complete privacy and luxury and finally Andersson's Camp, great for families and also with an underground hide for watching wildlife at the waterhole. 

My drive today would take me away from Etosha and towards the heart of Damaraland. It was a fascinating drive to see the scenery change and I also left the tar road behind as it turned to gravel. Damaraland is home to Namibia's only UNESCO world heritage site known as Twyfelfontein. Here you will see rock engravings that are thought to be over 6,000 years old. The engravings mostly depict animals such as oryx, giraffe and springbok but there a couple which also are of seals and what is believed to be a penguin, which show just how far these bushmen must have travelled. 

My home for the night was Camp Kipwe, situated in the Abu Haub river valley around a rocky outcrop. 

As you walk into the camp you feel like you are on the set of Star Wars on one of their desert planets.

Each room incorporates the surrounding granite boulders and takes advantage of the views down the valley. At around 6pm guests are invited to climb to the top of the outcrop where cocktails and snacks are served as you relax on beanbags and watch the sun go down. 

Discover Camp Kipwe

Day 5: Abu Huab Elephants

With a short drive to my next camp later in the day I was lucky enough to be able to head out on a nature drive in search of the desert-adapted elephants found in this area. We departed camp at 7am and headed along the dry riverbed of the Abu Huab river. The elephants were rumoured to be approximately 40kms away. En-route we stopped atop a small hill to see the Namibian fairy circles from above. These are circles of bare earth fringed by tall grass where nothing will grow in the centre. The reason for this is still unclear but the most likely reason is the presence of a certain species of termite. 

As we drove we were looking out for any signs of recent elephant activity, broken branches, dung and footprints, and eventually we came across some tracks crossing the road in front of us. We followed these tracks for a short while as they crossed the riverbed and there on the banks was a small group of 4 elephants feeding on the trees. As we approached they were all very relaxed and paid us no attention and so we happily sat and watched them, although this wasn't to last. A young bull in the group was in a bit of a boisterous mood and the other elephants would not play along so he turned to the next best thing, our vehicle. With a shake of his head and some ear flapping he came right to the front of the vehicles and flung his trunk onto the bonnet. Just like the other elephants, my guide Taffy did not react to this behaviour and the young bull soon got bored and moved off to sulk away from the others. 

Not long after this another group emerged from down river, in this group was a female with a lovely 10 month old calf and an older bull. It didn't take long for the young bull to come back over to the now larger group and start trying to push around the older bull, who was having none of it and swiftly sent him packing away again. Just as this had finished one female decided the front of the car looked like a good itching post! 

We then decided it was time to leave them before any of the others had a bright idea of what our vehicle could be used for. Before heading back to camp we stopped for coffee up the top of a small mountain and enjoyed the stunning views all around.

Day 6: Stunning Serra Cafema 

Leaving my trusty set of wheels behind this morning I took to the skies and flew to the far north of the country right along the border with Angola and the remote Serra Cafema camp. The plane landed in the Hartmann River valley which was a complete opposite of the area I had come from, with wide open grasslands that actually had a tinge of green to them. My guide was ready and waiting at the airstrip and we got going on the drive to camp that was about an hour away. I really cannot think of the right words to describe the stunning scenery of this area, the craggy mountains rise out of the grasslands and then drop down to the Kunene river, much as our vehicle did as we descended down a dune that had built up the side of the mountain.

Reaching the base of the mountains the Kunene river presented itself as an emerald green oasis.

The camp is situated right on the banks of the river amongst the lush trees and bushes. I had some time to settle in before heading out on a quad bike to explore the surrounding area and visit a Himba village. The Himba are a nomadic tribe who are herders and live off the land in a very traditional way. It was a fascinating experience to meet them and learn about their culture and also take some photos. I am not usually a fan of these types of cultural interactions as they can be rather contrived, however, I really felt this was a completely genuine experience and if the camp were not to be there their lives would be unchanged. On the way back to camp we spent some time messing around on the quads in the dunes which was needless to say great fun!

Discover Serra Cafema

Day 7: Skeleton Coast

Another flight today but before this I had time for a quick boat trip up the river in search of the resident crocodiles. Unfortunately with it being an overcast day the crocs were not warming themselves on the rocks as they usually would. 

Being so close to the Angolan border I also took the opportunity to take 5 minutes on the Angolan side of the river.

Back on dry land in Namibia it was time to head back to the airstrip for my flight to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. Another remote camp this time set overlooking the dry Hoanib river close to the Skeleton Coast National Park. The afternoon was occupied with a drive out along the riverbed and looking at some of the more unusual flora and fauna such as the welwitschia plant, the national plant of Namibia, which is an extremely slow growing plant and also known as the underground tree. Just before sunset we drove to the top of one of the surrounding hills overlooking the river. Just as we did this a sting wind was coming up river from the coast which certainly cooled the temperature down and the gin and tonics were quickly drunk before jumping back into the vehicle and heading back to camp to warm up round the fire.

Day 8: wonderful wildlife sightings

Another drive this morning and it was to be a pretty spectacular one. The plan was to go out and find some desert-adapted elephants that were last seen east of camp in the riverbed. Not too long into the drive and we came across a small group of three elephants, two females and a young calf, feeding in the riverbed. We spent a good twenty or so minutes with these gentle giants before the radio came to life as one of the other guides had just found a female cheetah just further up the river. A few last pictures of the elephants and we moved off towards the location of the cheetah.

The cheetah was relaxing in the shade of some bushes as we approached. The guide Ilias explained she hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks and did have a year old cub with her last time. We couldn't spot the cub nearby and so we all hoped it was safe somewhere close by. A couple of jackals were hanging around in the hope of scoring a free meal if the cheetah had a successful hunt. After a little while the cheetah decided she had had enough of our attention for the moment and moved off behind the bushes and then started to call. We were all hopeful that this meant the cub was alive and well and sure enough after about 5 minutes we spotted it as it darted out of one bush and up on top of a small dune where mum soon joined. We spent a good half an hour in the company of these two beautiful animals. 

This excitement was then followed by a bull elephant and lots of oryx, springbok, giraffe and some high speed ostrich.

We were running a bit late so it was a quick drive back to the airstrip for the flight back to Damaraland. Here I picked up my car and set off on the road again, the destination this time being the coastal town of Swakopmund. The drive took me past the Brandberg Mountains and down onto the endlessly flat coastal plains until I reached the Atlantic Coast.  

Day 9: Swaokpmund

Swakopmund offers a whole host of different activities from adrenaline-filled skydiving to the more sedate catamaran cruises, I opted for a living desert tour. My guide for the day was Tommy who started running these tours twenty years ago and I am sure still has the same enthusiasm he did then as he does now. Nothing escaped the eagle eyes of Tommy and Chantal who was also a guide, they know the area like the back of their hands.

The tour lasts upto about 5 hours and in this time we saw plenty of the small desert inhabitants you would have no idea were there such as the tube spider, the Namaqualand chameleon, Palmato gecko and shovel shouted lizard to name a few. The excitement and enthusiasm from the guides was definitely caching and everyone was taking great care in where they stepped so not to tred on some unseen animal and even when a snake was found, those with phobias soon forgot them and got in close to listen to Tommy.

All in all the tour was absolutely fascinating and an absolute must for anyone passing through Swakopmund.

Discover Swakopmund

Day 10: Namibrand Nature Reserve

A long drive today as I headed south from Swakopmund to the Namibrand nature reserve. Although all in all the drive was about 7 hours it actually seemed less as the scenery was ever changing and, as always in Namibia, absolutely breathtaking. For nearly two hours of the journey I think I counted about three other cars going in the other direction so it really was just me and some pretty vast spaces. The drive took me through some mountain and gorge passes so definitely kept me awake as I negotiated these windy parts.

I timed my morning well to arrive in Solitaire at around 11.30 the perfect time for a cup of coffee and slice of apple pie (which this tiny outpost is so famous for). I remember stopping here on my trip through Namibia some 8 years ago and having some of the apple pie and it tasted just the same today as it did then.

My destination was Wolwedans in the NamibRand nature reserve, which is a huge private nature reserve of some 220,000 hectares of this desert. My camp for the evening was perched on the edge of a huge red dune with stunning views out to the surrounding mountains. Another camp and another sundowner drive but this one was to prove pretty spectacular as we parked up on the edge of the dune and watched the sun disappear and the colours kept on changing. 

The sense of space here is staggering and makes you feel pretty small in comparison.

Days 11 & 12: Exploring Wolwedans and enjoying a braai

As I was only moving camps within the same reserve today it gave me the opportunity to head out on a full morning's drive to explore more of the reserve. The guide took us South of the camp to the acacia forest, a busy waterhole with a standoff happening between oryx and zebra over who was allowed to drink the oryx seemed to be winning. Then back through the open plains, that are dotted with different burrows of ground squirrels and gerbils, before climbing back to the top of the dune. 

It really is no exaggeration to say there is one jaw dropping view after another here.

On arrival at Dunes Lodge I found out I was lucky enough to be staying in the mountain view suite which is set just apart from the other rooms and is as big, if not bigger than my flat. The idea is that it gives you an exclusive getaway with your own personal guide and chef, perfect for honeymooners, families, a celebration or just me. I spent the afternoon enjoying this space and touch of luxury and even had time to cool off in the plunge pool and soak up the view. As was now becoming the norm around 6, it was time to head out for a sundowner and enjoy another spectacular sunset.

The next morning it was time for me to move on from Wolwedans but not before a walk out the dunes with my bushman guide. During which we set about reading the morning bush newspaper to see what had been happening during the night. All sorts of nocturnal creatures had been active all around my suite such as hares, jackals, Cape foxes, barking geckos (I fell asleep listening to their chatter), golden moles and many more. My guide pointed out to me where two hares had been fighting, with clumps of fur scattered about, we saw where a golden mole had emerged from its tunnel to enjoy some fresh air and dine upon the beetles moving above ground.

My lodge for the night was The Desert Homestead Outpost, which is not far from Wolwedans just closer towards Sesriem and the gate to Sossusvlei. On the drive over there I took the opportunity to stop at a few of the other lodges and camps in the area to have a quick look around and enjoy some refreshments from the scorching heat of the desert. The rooms and main building at Desert Homestead Outpost are all positioned so you can enjoy the sunset from the comfort of the lodge if you wish. Dinner tonight was a braai (South African bbq) which I was very relieved about as I was beginning to fear I was going to spend two weeks in Southern Africa without enjoying a traditional braai, boerewors, chicken sosaties and oryx steak - delicious!

Day 13: Climbing the dunes 

Up early before sunrise, and even in time to see the moon set, not sure if that's thing but it was beautiful to watch (especially as this was the almost full supermoon). The reason for being up so early was so I could make my way to Sesriem in time for the Sossusvlei gates opening at sunrise. This is the most popular time to visit as the light is wi derail on the huge red sand dunes that you pass through and also best to be climbing said dunes before the temperature starts to soar through the day.

From the gate Sossusvlei itself is still over 60kms away, luckily there is a lovely tar road to speed up the drive a bit, not that you want to drive that fast past the towering dunes. The area does get busy at this time but it certainly didn't feel crowded as cars pulled over at different dunes along the way so spreading out and enabling everyone to enjoy the beauty without a horde of people around. Eventually you reach a parking area where only 4x4 vehicles can go further to reach Sossusvlei and Deadvlei which are a further 5km away. Fortunately the park authorities do provide a hop-on hop-off type service from the parking area to the Vleis, for an extra charge, which is what most people do as the sand is quite deep in places on the road and cars frequently get stuck.

Arriving at the end of the road you are presented with the option of climbing a dune to see Deadvlei from above and then descend down or the less strenuous option of a short walk over a small sand ridge. As I had, for the most part of the last two weeks been sat in a vehicle of some kind, I opted for the dune climb. The going was a little tough in places as every step you took forwards you slipped back but the view was worth it and even more so for the run down the side of the dune. Deadvlei is so named due to the petrified trees that scatter the almost concrete like floor. This area is well known for its stark beauty and is favoured by photographers and it's easy to see why. The floor is almost a bright white in the sun. Surrounded by the red dunes and topped by the bright blue skies the contrasts are stunning and make for some striking images.

This really marked the end of my Namibian adventure as the rest of my day would be spent driving part way back towards Windhoek before making the final journey the next day in time for my flight. Namibia has once again shown me it is a country of absolute beauty and quite unlike its neighbouring countries.

I DO FEEL LIKE I HAVE BEEN GOING AROUND WITH MY JAW DRAGGING ON THE GROUND DUE TO THE SPECTACULAR SCENERY AT EVERY TURN. LET ME NOT FORGET THE RICH WILDLIFE THAT IS STILL PRESENT AND HAS FOUND WAYS IN WHICH TO ADAPT ITSELF TO SURVIVE IN THE PREDOMINANTLY DESERT LIKE ENVIRONMENT.

There is without doubt something here for everyone to enjoy, for those looking for an adventure and to go at their own pace a self drive is the perfect option or for those who have a little less time or would rather not spend their time behind the wheel can always to take to the sky on a fly in safari.

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Comments

Margo

17/11/2016 11:52 AM

What a fantastic blog! Love the fuzzy photos of the fairy circles :)

Will Bolsover

10/11/2016 3:50 PM

Loving it - keep 'em coming!

Arabella @ Natural World Safaris

3/11/2016 5:23 PM

Not jealous at all ;-)

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