The plan was that following on from our South Africa / Cape Town stint, we head to Namibia, prep a few days in Windhoek and then start our 3-4 week camping safari all across Namibia. I am writing this blog from Windhoek again, so something didn’t go according to plan, and this is the Coronavirus of course. But this blog post is about our (short) time we had and I will give an update on our Corona situation next.
We had three days in Windhoek and our small apartment was well located to explore the rather small city centre by foot. I think it is fair to say that Windhoek is not the prettiest of towns, most tourists come here to get organised and start their safari trips. Good thing is that there are plenty of good shops where you can stock up on food and other supplies. So after a day of visiting the highlights of Windhoek, we were ready to go. The plan was to catch up with an old school mate for a BBQ and a few beers to meet the families but in the current situation we all thought that we better park this until we come back to Windhoek in a few weeks.
A day before our tour start, we headed to our car rental company to have a look at our 4×4 camper and decided to upgrade to a pretty cool family camper based on a Toyota Hilux. These cars are pretty cool and I wonder if there is an opportunity back home in NZ, well after all that Corona crap of course. You have a roof tent, fridge/freezer, solar panels, two spare wheels, two tank system, all kitchen equipment, table, chairs, plenty of storage room for food and supplies… pretty much everything you need but a shower and a toilet. Our model had the roof tent where Jennifer and I slept and a side bed which the kids shared. Works pretty well, but the kids can’t be much older/taller or it wouldn’t fit.
Our first stop was near Mariental, South of Windhoek and our campsite was so nice that we stayed there for two nights. The campsites here are a bit different to what I am used to. You usually have your own small house with shower, toilet, power and water, hopefully also under a tree or so for some shade. And every campsite we have seen so far has their own BBQ or Braai as they call it here I think. On top of that most campsites also have other accommodations like chalets or lodges and they have a pool. So not too shabby really. On the other hand it is not cheap either. Instead of charging by campsite, it is usually charged by person. Kids are half priced and it adds up to around NZ$80 per night, on top of the cost for the rental car. So no, Namibia is not a cheap country to travel around!
Our first campsite near Mariental had all of this plus a nice restaurant & bar, and there were several walking tracks. After a surprisingly easily set up of our camper without any shouting or fighting, we used the pool and just relaxed a bit. We had plenty of time after all, didn’t we?! The first night in the camper was good, we all got a good sleep, so that was a good start. You go to bed early and get up early. Not much to do without any daylight. So we were starting to feel ready for 3-4 weeks in the camper! The next day we started a bit lazy (again?) and when we got going and wanted to visit the Hardap dam nearby, also got reminded that it was Namibia Independence Day with everything closing early. So that didn’t work and we headed back to camp to do an evening safari walk.
That’s when our Africa holiday really started I guess, as we started to see some of the animals we came to see. Springboks, Ostriches, and then out of nowhere – our first giraffe. Very cool, but still quite far in the distance. Made for a rewarding fast pace walk and we just made it back to camp by sunset. And every sunset in Africa has been pretty spectacular so far, they must get bored here but for us it is very cool. Well, we thought that’s it for the day and we deserve a beer shandy at the bar (yes I know… but no IPA to be found here!), only to then find out that the place has two waterholes with feeding stations and animals started to appear. First a group (flock, herd, bunch?) of Zebras and then Elands. So we decided to have another beer shandy and watch the show.
Then it was time to head to our next stop, but not before stopping and taking pictures of some Oryx and also a couple of Marabou Storks. The Oryx are beautiful and probably my favourite animal so far in Africa but the Marabou Stork… not such a nice bird, not to say ugly. Next to the big animals, we of course came to see some new birds. And so far we have come across a few very cool ones indeed, e.g. the African Hoopoe, the various kingfishers, shaft tailed widow bird just to name a few. The other birds you encounter a lot are the weaver birds. One type of weaver birds build impressive nest where 100 or more birds live together. The nests are getting so big and heavy over time that the branches they are build on break off.
Our journey took us across parts of the Kalahari desert to reach our destination campsite – Mesosaurus. We took the scenic drive which added a couple of hours at least and in hindsight, was not worth it. We had to drive on gravel instead of tar seal for a start and the first few hours were a pretty boring drive. The last 50 or so KMs towards camp were very nice though and our gravel road passed straight through the red sand dunes of the Kalahari desert. Well, for us the Kalahari was more green actually as we are here in the rainy season which actually happened this year – so lots of grass and even yellow flowers everywhere. Usually this part looks very different we were told.
You will drive a lot of gravel roads in Namibia, that’s for sure. It is a big country and you have to drive long distances from one place to the next. Only the very big, main roads are tar sealed, everything else is gravel road of all types – from well maintained to full of potholes and slow progress. The main road South from Windhoek all the way to Luederitz is tar sealed, and that’s it pretty much in the South. Our car upgrade including the off-road tires and lifted suspension really paid off for us here!
Just before we reached our new campsite, we saw our first Kudus, one of them being a pretty decent bull. We really started to tick of the big animals here. Mesosaurus is known for its dinosaur fossil site and for its Quiver Trees. We didn’t visit the fossil site as we were too late but we had an amazing sunset and then sunrise in between the quiver trees, very cool. We did the 4×4 track around the farm the campsite is located on and saw lots of rock hyraxes in between the trees. After enjoying the sunset we had dinner and then started to watch the night sky. We have very good stargazing in New Zealand around Tekapo but this is equally impressive here. The kids saw lot of shooting stars and went happy to bed.
The next day we had another decent drive ahead of us, through Keetmanshoop to the Fish River Canyon. The drive was nice which made the 4-5h long drive quite enjoyable. Our first stop was at the Naute dam, and it was hot! Quite surreal to see a large lake in the middle of the desert and at temperatures hovering above 35 degrees. Still we saw a few nice, new birds birds like the African Fish Eagle or the yellow billed stork, and even a few pelicans. After a quick lunch we gave up though, just too hot. Back into the car with air condition and heading further South to the Fish River Canyon.
After entering the National Park, the scenery once again changed and we saw our first savannah type landscape, the typical Africa scenery we only knew from movies. It looked very promising and sure enough, not much later we saw a single giraffe, this time much closer at only about 100m from the road. Very exciting! Driving along we started to see Oryx, Zebras, Red Hartebees and others. Now we are talking, that’s what we came for! A group of Zebras and later some Oryx even ran in front of the car, but no harm done and we got some nice pictures.
So the question is, did we see these animals in the wild as we came to do? This is not an easy one and I am not quite sure yet, but overall Namibia is pretty much split up into National Parks, game reserves and farms – and all of them are usually fenced in. So in a way the animals are fenced in. Even Etosha, probably the most famous of the National Parks is fenced in. But the areas for the parks, game reserves and farms are huge, like massive. Not that I have been here for long but I haven’t seen anything below 40 square Kilometer. So, if we see an animal in any of these environments – are they in the wild. I think they are but I am sure there are different opinions and maybe only a National Park is in the wild? Anyway, moving on.
The good thing about being here in the off season (and the Corona thingy of course contributed…) is, that we didn’t have to book in advance. We either called in a day early or most of the time just turned up as a walk in. And most of the time it was just us or one other camper. In the peak season you have to book certain campsites one year ahead… So we picked our campsite around the Fish River Canyon by visiting a few options and following local advice, found another excellent site right at the entry to the Canyon. After a quick dip into the pool we headed out to enjoy the sunset over the Canyon. We decided to have dinner while we are at it, very much to the delight of a few quite nice but very naughty red winged starlings trying to steal it. Pretty nice spot really, not as deep as Colca Canyon but still very nice.
Again following local advice, the next morning we made our way towards the border to South Africa and drove along the Oranje River to Rosh Pinah and then North to Aus, indeed a very scenic drive. We again saw the African Fish Eagle hunting along the river, saw Kudus and Zebras and drove through the ever changing Namibian landscape. One area looked liked a few table mountains from Cape Town had been cloned over here. One police inspection and of course some desert jump photos later, we arrived in Aus and found a nice campsite for the night just outside of town. We bought some meat on the way and had a great BBQ and did some more stargazing. The next morning we saw Kudus and horses from our camper, not a bad spot!
The plan was to head to Luederitz that day, return to the same campsite, have a dip in the pool and then to make our way up to the famous dunes of the Namib desert and further along to Swakopmund from there – but that’s where things changed. In the evening I got a message and then had a call with my old school mate saying that things (Corona-things of course) are starting to get more serious in Namibia. The government started to talk about lock downs in certain regions. No details as of yet but it became clear that finally Corona caught up with us. But that’s the topic for the next post.