We made a last minute decision on a Friday to travel on Monday to Namibia to visit some of my favourite places, and a few new ones, here is a picture story of our journey - what an amazing place!
We collected a double cab pickup from the airport, fully equipped with roof top tents and camping gear - and headed into Windhoek for the first night for some meetings and a quick dinner at the famous Joe's Beerhouse, highly recommended!
An early morning departure, driving south west to Sossusvlei, we chose the scenic route via Gamsberg Pass, which was truly spectacular. Roadside landscapes are amazing and a major part of any Namibian self drive journey. It is not only about the destination, but the journey itself!
Wilderness Safaris Little Kulala camp was our first destination, on a private reserve neighbouring the Namib Naukluft National Park, where Sossusvlei is located. After settling in we went out for a late afternoon game drive and sunset drinks on the Kulala Reserve - an incredible sunset got us into the Namibian swing... One of the amazing things to do here is sleep on the roof of your unit, under the milky way, the rooms have a star deck permanently set up!
For most going to this region it's all about the famous red dunes, and we wanted to get into Deadvlei and Sossusvlei nice and early for a good photo session - fortunately Kulala has a private gate, which gives you a 30 minute head start on the tourists entering from the main Sesriem Gate. It was a fabulous morning...and afternoon that day.
Deadvlei is a clay pan characterized by dark, dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white pan floor. The pan was formed when the Tsauchab River flooded and the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. However, the climate changed and the sand dunes encroached on the pan, blocking the river from reaching the area. The trees are estimated to be approximately 900 years old, however they have not decomposed due to the dry climate.
Deadvlei is a paradise for photographers as the contrast between the pitch-black trees and bleached-white pans, and the rusty-red dunes and deep blue sky make for incredible images.
We stayed at Kulala Desert Lodge on our second night there, highly recommended for its casual, welcoming atmosphere, very nice rooms and great activities - you must try the e-bike up into the mountains...
From Sossusvlei you would normally drive up to Swakopmund but we decided to go to Spitzkoppe, a famous mountain feature standing alone in the flat desert landscape. It has been called the Matterhorn of Africa, which may be a bit of a grand description but it is another photographer's destination - a bit off the beaten track for some but well worth it for us. The camping sites around the rocks are truly wonderful so we had our rooftop tents out and enjoyed a night under the stars and photographing the 'stone bridge' or rock arch...
From Spitzkoppe to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay is not far, so we spent some time around Swakopmund - very pretty little town with a charming atmosphere, and later we went on to Walvis Bay where we met up with our colleagues who took us down the coast to Sandwich Harbour. It is an interesting drive, passing the Walvis Bay lagoon with lots of flamingoes, then on past the salt works and onto a flat section of beach which we drove for at least 30 minutes before we got to the dunes. At that point you choose which way you go, along the beach or up onto the dunes. Being high tide, with the waves washing up against the dunes, this is a little more than adventurous but we did it. Waiting for the waves to recede before we could drive on firm sand, and eventually we got to Sandwich Harbour - formerly a whaling, seal culling and fishing station, the lagoon was built to promote nesting birds for guano collection - but the jackals would raid at low tide so the whole plan fell apart. We climbed the dunes for some amazing views over the bay and beyond. We then went back and drove up onto the dunes with a view over the Kuiseb Delta. We were the only people there, it felt truly magical...
From Swakopmund our next destination was Damaraland, we followed the coast up to the holiday town of Hentiesbay before heading inland and into the mountains. En-route is the shipwreck of the Zeila - The Zeila got stranded on 25 August 2008 in the early morning hours near “Die Walle”, a popular fishing spot about 14km south of Henties Bay. The fishing trawler that was sold as scrap metal to an Indian company by Hangana Fishing of Walvis Bay got stranded after it came loose from its towing line while on its way to Bombay, India shortly after it left Walvis Bay. I did some slow shutter speed photos, with a neutral density filter, to create some blurry ocean and make the wreck stand out.
After Henties Bay the road is wide and flat and appears to disappear with the heat haze...As you get closer and into Damaraland the rocky surfaces become prevalent as do the mountainous features which characterise Damaraland - the Brandberg is one of the most notable.
We stayed at a 5 star lodge with some really great food. In the Twyfelfontein area of Damaraland there are a number of good options to stay for all budgets. The afternoon was spent in the swimming pool and then watching the sun set over the distant mountains. I spent much of it trying to photograph this 'ghost tree' on the rocky hillside.
One of the main attractions in Damaraland is to view the desert adapted elephant. They move up and down the dry riverbeds that characterise this area - in summer the Acacia Albida and Erioloba trees had plenty of leaf cover so there appears to be good food, water is in fact supplied by the local villages. The hardy people who live out here have cattle and goats and to provide their stock with water, they have boreholes and small dams - perfect for elephant too. Driving up and down the Aba Huab river was very pretty and rewarding viewing the elephants.
Aside from elephants, Twyfelfontein is a World Heritage Site, famous for its petroglyphs, or rock engravings, done by the Bushmen thousands of years ago, a must see in this area, and then there are also 'living museums' for the Damara and Himba people - which is basically a staged village where you can view the lifestyles of some of Namibia's most well known tribes. I had seen Twyfelfontein on a previous trip but these are some of my images.
Another rocky destination, just a bit further north in Damaraland from Twyfelfontein is Palmwag and home to the Desert Rhino, and that was the name of our next destination, Desert Rhino Camp, run by Wilderness Safaris. It was another bone rattling drive (you can fly in here) in baking hot summer temperatures to the gate and from there another two hour drive through the valleys and hillsides.
This is a harsh place - but not devoid of characters! The Ash Bush, Ostrich lettuce, Poison Bush, the Hoodia and Welwitschia plant all make this there home. The Welwitschia thrives here, scattered amongst the rocks, living for up to 2000 years and reaching 30 metres underground to find water with its roots. It is pollinated by wind and the Welwitschia bug.
The staff here need to be tough too, operating in such a remote and disconnected place is not for everyone, I can imagine that many had been weeded out and a tight-knit bunch remain, it showed, they laughed amongst each other, chatted and generally got on with things to make our stay truly wonderful and our favourite camp during our trip. The main character here though is the Desert Black Rhino, so next morning we set off early on a drive while the Save The Rhino Trust trackers had set out even earlier - to search for evidence of who might be where in this vast landscape. The tiny springs where, like a miracle, water oozes out from the sand and rocks in an apparently dry riverbed, is where the rhino pass each day, so that is where they go and start looking for tracks to follow. Some hours later we get called to say they are following one rhino and then it joins another rhino - a male and a female together.
Viewing such a rare creature, in a totally wild and inaccessible part of Africa, gave me a chill down my spine, it was an experience to savour, and definitely something to put on our bucket list of rare experiences for our clients. There's more here too though, we saw a pair of lions mating and other general game too. In fact the lions here are probably less frequently seen than rhino!
From Palmwag to Etosha was a bit of a rush, since we only got back to the gate at lunchtime but more interesting scenery on the way to Kamanjab before getting back onto level roads and more savannah habitat near Etosha. Throughout northern Namibia, you see small roadside villages and you can get an idea of what life is like. Many of the local people have collected gemstones, or made small items, which they sell.
Etosha is best know for its dry season game viewing around waterholes, but I love landscapes and the summer scenes with clouds building up and a few rain showers was very attractive. I took the chance to. have a look at each camp inside the park, and one or two outside the park. Staying inside the park, in national park accommodation, has its advantages - each has floodlit waterholes where you can view animals drinking at night or during the day (when it is dry). Park accommodation and food is really average though, so most clients would stay outside the park, in private reserves - from there you can drive inside the park or do guided drives with the lodges vehicles.
From Etosha it is quite a drive back to Windhoek, especially to have enough time to hand back the vehicle and check-in - we were on the latest flight back to Johannesburg at 17.30 and that would be the only flight I would choose alternatively you could stay in Windhoek or somewhere between Etosha and Windhoek for another night.