Wildlife encounters in Etosha National Park

Welcome to Etosha

30 June. After all that adventurous driving  and rafting we feel in need of some relaxing time just watching some wildlife. And Etosha is surely the place to go. It is Namibia’s premier park and its defining feature is Etosha  Pan, a vast salt pan, 110kms from east to west, and 60kms from north to south, covering about a quarter of the park. Both of us have wanted to visit Etosha for a long time and so we are very excited. We have, unfortunately, chosen to arrive in the South African school holiday time but, confident that we will find somewhere to stay, we set off anyway. As we approach the Galton Gate in the west of the park we start to come across road signs warning of elephants, a good opportunity for a Landy photo.

On the way to Etosha
On the way to Etosha

At the park gate we are relieved to find that are some spaces in a couple of the campsites but we will have one long day of driving and the last night we will have to find somewhere outside of the park at the east end. The west side has only recently opened up to to self-drivers so there is a new campsite, Olifantsrus, which is where we head.

Wonderful plains of Etosha
Wonderful plains of Etosha

A rare sighting

Sometimes you just get lucky. As we head through the park to the camp site we both spot something not far from the side of the road, but for a few seconds neither of us fully registers what is in front of us. It’s an aardwolf. Nocturnal, shy and very rarely seen, we are staggered when it just stands there, a few metres away, looking at us. A quick scramble for the camera and we just capture a nice shot before he slinks back through the grass and out of sight again. How lucky are we? These beautiful, animals, a member of the the hyena family, are true specialist feeders as they only eat termites, and a particular species of termite at that!

An aardwolf!!!!!
An aardwolf!!!!!

The water hole at Olifantsrus also provided us with a treat. It is floodlit with special a red light so that the animals are not disturbed and as darkness falls we take a walk down to the hide and wait patiently with a few other campers to see what would come down to drink. First up is a lovely herd of zebra who very obligingly drink in a row with the setting sun behind them creating a lovely reflection. Next comes a rhino whose appearance causes a flurry of camera shutters but it is a bit too dark for those of us with limited experience and by the time I have adjusted all the settings the rhino is gone and its practically sun rise! The best visitor to the waterhole comes along just after Keith decides to head back to sort out the camp (oops). A leopard, who is so quiet and careful in his approach that no-one even sees him arrive. But as I turn from watching the retreating zebra I see a shadow at the waters edge and it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and see it properly. But sure enough it is a leopard and it is so quiet here that I can hear him lapping up the water.

Lovely reflections of zebra at the waterhole
Lovely reflections of zebra at the waterhole

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A fun drive along the Kunene River

The wonderfully remote Kunene region

22nd June. We are driving up through northern Damaraland towards the extreme north of Namibia where the Kunene River forms the border with Angola. This area is Namibia’s least inhabited area and it is wild and rugged. There is a surprising amount of wildlife, due, in part, to a very successful project where where a community game guard is paid to ensure that no-one from the community harms any animal that they are not allowed to hunt. As well as the occasional game sighting we enjoy the scenery and the sense of isolation.

Giraffes on the side of the road
Giraffes on the side of the road

There are a few scattered villages, home to some of the Herero people, and we head to one of these, Khowarib, where we hope to find somewhere to camp. In Khowarib we find a lovely little community run campsite, situated on a cliff above the river (a lovely sight after such arid landscapes for weeks.) The pitches are huge, with private bathrooms, covered dining areas and excellent service. We have lots of firewood delivered to us and, after cleaning out Landy again and washing off layers of dust, we make ourselves at home. (We even take the cooker and kitchen equipment out of Landy and put it under the shelter to make a proper kitchen with a table and sink) As night falls we sit with a light on which attracts bats that swoop just inches from our faces to catch insects.

Campsite at Khowarib
Campsite at Khowarib

The next part of the drive to the Kunene River is through Kaokoland, home to Herero and Himba tribes. Clearly they get a bit more rain here because it is green in places and there are plenty of goats and cows. However, it is still remote and the road conditions deteriorate rapidly. In fact our intended route, Joubert Pass on the C43, is closed and the diversion is pretty bad. Huge dips into dry river beds and large sections of incredibly rocky rough going mean that it is a long and dusty day, albeit with great scenery to admire along the way.

The Herero and Himba tribes

Opuwo in the Kunene region is certainly different to the previous towns we have visited. Here the way of life is much more traditional. Herero ladies in wonderful Victorian style long dresses and strange horn-like hats stroll along the street, shopping at the little stalls and there is a community gathering on the local football pitch where music is blaring out. Members of the Himba tribe live here too. The ladies’ elaborate hair decoration and wonderful costumes are amazing.

After a quick stop to stock up on supplies we decide to keep driving and get to the campsite at Epupa Falls rather than camp in the slightly dodgy looking campsite in Opuwo

On the road to Epupa
On the road to Epupa

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Southern Damaraland 4×4 routes

Great 4×4 routes in Southern Damaraland

17 June. After a few days resting and reorganising in Swakopmund (including sweeping half the desert out of Landy) we decide to head a short way up the Skeleton Coast and then head inland on some 4×4 routes to southern Damaraland. We break the drive up with a night in Henties Bay which, during the summer, is rammed with fishermen but at the moment it is really quiet and not a place to linger. The drive along this part of the coast is on a good tar road with great views of the ocean and it even has a place to stop and walk onto the beach to see a shipwreck. However, even out here, miles from the town, we are bombarded with guys trying to sell us rocks of varying size and hue. The mineral rich environment here does mean that there are some beautiful rocks, particularly the varying hues of quartz, but the constant pushy salesmen do get very tiresome to say the least. We resist the temptation to load our already heavy Land Rover up with lumps of rock and head off inland to, hopefully deserted, southern Damaraland in the Kunene region.

Shipwreck just south of Henries Bay, Damaraland
Shipwreck just south of Henties Bay

Some serious Off roading 4×4 tracks

We are heading first to the Brandberg massif, Namibia’s highest mountain at 2573m and measuring about 30km by 23km at its base. To get from the coast to Brandberg we decide to go across country using the extensive network of 4×4 routes, starting out on the Mineral route and then joining up with the Brandberg one and hopefully managing this in one day. As we turn off the tar road we can see for miles all around us as the land is seriously flat, with only salt pans and occasional plants breaking the monotony of gravel and sand. This goes on for mile after mile and we are beginning to think we might never arrive at the mountain, surely we would see it from miles away? We take a small detour to take a look at an old quartz mine, known as the Dead Sea, which is now a deep saline pool with water so clear and still that it is difficult to see where the ground ends and the reflection begins.

Old quartz mine on mineral 4x4 track
Old quartz mine on mineral 4×4 track

The terrain is beginning to change and become a little more interesting. The track becomes rockier and more challenging and we are glad of our “tracks4africa” gps because in several places we just can’t see the “road.” There are other vehicle tracks around us but they all seem to be heading in different directions and so, in the end, we just key in the co-ordinates, point towards our destination and weave between rocks until we find another, more official looking, track. We hit a lot of deep sand on the way as well and we can see where people have had to take detours to avoid the worse bits. Once again we are pleased with Landy’s performance, she doesn’t let us down and eventually we find a good, well graded, gravel track and ahead of us we can see the looming lump of rock that is Brandberg, dominating the desert plains around it.

Landy on Brandberg 4x4 route
Landy on Brandberg 4×4 route

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