1 Aug. After a long day driving to the Xade gate of the Central Kalahari, we arrive at 2pm at the office to find no-one there. We look around for a while, but not a soul to be seen, so we sign out and head on to the small town of Ghanzi. This road consists of 160 kms of deep sand (what else?) and so it takes several hours to get to the tar road and civilisation. The lodge / campsite we decide to stay in has good facilities and so we stay a couple of days to clean everything and use the shop in town to stock up ready for another few days in the bush. (Also a nice lunch in the town’s only hotel for my birthday.) We are heading to to the Kgalagadi park which is a frontier park on the border of Botswana and South Africa.
It takes a couple of days long driving to get to Kgalagadi, and we pass through very traditional Kalahari villages, one of which, thankfully has a petrol station where we can fill up all the jerry cans and the car to bribing to make sure we have enough to get us to the gate on the South African side. The last part of the journey to the gate at Mabuasehube is through yet more deep sand but there are places where it is gravel and so we make it a shorter time than we were expecting.
We are staying at Monamodi Camp for the first two nights and after checking in at the gate we begin our adventure in the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. This park is a wild and harsh environment with a few waterholes drawn by bore holes in dry riverbeds which attract animals in the dry season. It is a true African landscape of shifting red and white sands, stands of thorn trees, big skies with stunning stars and it is home to a surmising amount of wildlife. The sunsets are stunning to watch whilst sitting around a camp fire.
The Kagalagadi is perfect for self driving and camping but you do need to be self sufficient and confident in your driving ability. We have heard a few stories about breakdowns and burnt out cars here so we are glad that we now feel confident and ready for any adventure that comes our way.
We are extremely excited to be heading back to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a beautiful, remote place that we visited a few years ago with friends when we drove from bottom to top of this huge National Park. This time though we are hoping to spend a few days in the northern section to find some lovely remote campsites and hopefully some wildlife.
First though we decide to head to a much less famous part of the Okavango Delta, the panhandle, where huge lagoons and papyrus reeds form lots of channels and and make it a brilliant place for bird watching. There are a couple of campsites en-route and we also head out to Tsodilo Hills for a day. This turns out to be quite an experience. The gate is locked when we arrive and a coach load of school children turns up soon after us, also wondering how to get in, they have even pre-booked. We all decide to try another gate further down and soon we are on our way to the hills, hurrying as much as possible so that we can walk around without all the kids!
Tsodilo Hills are beautiful but it is the ancient rock art and the feeling of being in a place of such history and importance to the people of this area that makes it a very special site. Despite a spectacularly unenthusiastic guide (compulsory) we enjoy the serene atmosphere and our guide books provide all the information that our guide seems unwilling to part with. This area is famous for the San people and their unique way of life. Read The Lost World of the Kalahari if you can before visiting this area, and the Bradt Guide to Botswana also has a good history section which will give you a good feel for this special place.
The villages along the Okavango Panhandle are all named Etsha, followed by a number. This bizarre naming stems from 1969 when refugees from the Caprivi during the war in Angola were received in Shakawe. They were due to be rehoused in a new village, Etsha, but they naturally split into 13 groups and wanted to do so when they were moved to Etsha, hence the 13 separate villages, unimaginatively named. We turn off at Etsha 13 and drive the sometimes very wet and always very deep sand track to Guma Lagoon Camp. The way in has lots of different routes depending on water levels and at certain times of the year it is virtually impassable. But, for us, now, it is just good fun.
The drive is worth it too. You couldn’t find a more perfect setting, beautiful spacious pitches with private bathroom are complimented by a stunning bar, restaurant and decking over the lagoon. http://www.guma-lagoon.com. The bird life is fantastic and we go for lovely walks to add to our ever growing list of sightings. We watch a bird of prey being mobbed by egrets and other water birds and also spend ages just watching kingfishers dive into the water and bee-eaters swooping to catch insects.
There are hippos here and they are often in camp at night so extreme care needs to be taken when walking back from the bar at night. On our second night we spot a hippo in the beam of our torch and so back up quietly to take a different path, only to hear him rushing through the bush towards us from the left. We run! Zig zagging as much as we can we arrive at Landy and rush up the ladder pretty damn quick. Well that makes the heart beat a bit quicker!
The fishing is great here, Keith catches several little ones and, of course, a big one just gets away. The owners of Guma are very knowledgeable and helpful. They run a few different trips from here (including helicopter rides over the delta) and we decide to do the night boat ride and our guide catches a baby crocodile for us to see! Equally impressive are the tiny malachite kingfishers sitting on the papyrus leaves.
Divundu, in the Caprivi Strip is a welcome sight; it has a fuel station and it seems that all roads lead here. Lots of opportunity to chat and also stock up on food and fuel. We have now been on the road for a few months and are beginning to learn how to deal with different situations and how to get information. One lesson in particular we have learned the hard way. Don’t ask closed questions! The African people, for the most part, love to help but will often say “yes”, as they think it is what you want to hear. Or maybe they are just saying it to get rid of you. But either way it is much more helpful to ask open, specific questions. Here in Divundu, however, Keith forgets this simple rule and asks the lady in the garage if they have an air pump for the tyres. “Yes”, she confirms. After a short delay it becomes apparent that no further information is going to be forthcoming so Keith asks, “Where is it?” (Always a very dangerous question – it is always “over there”, which can be 10 metres or 100kms “over there” ). But we duly drive round the back of the building and find the air pump. After shunting back and forth to get close enough, Keith finally jumps out and attaches the air pipe to the first of the wheels. Nothing. After much swearing and bashing of the machine he just can’t get it to work. Back in the shop he locates the same lady and informs her that the machine doesn’t appear to be working. “Oh, no, its not working at the moment”. Great! So, lesson learned – be specific. Ask if they have an air pump and then ask if it is working.
The Caprivi is very different to the rest of Namibia, much more like Botswana and Zambia and it even has different time! The rest of Namibia changes its clocks by an hour in Spring and Autumn but Caprivi sticks to the same time as South Africa and Botswana. We only realise this after wondering for a few days why people kept giving us times with the caveat of “South Africa time”. Most bizarre.
Waterberg Plateau, a very surprising National Park.
7 July. On our way to Khaudom National Park in the north east corner of Namibia, we decide to take a short detour to a National Park that is small by southern Africa standards but which is pretty unique. Waterberg Plateau rises up ahead up us out of the bush, a huge outcrop with sheer walls and a flat top. It is certainly impressive.
The park campsite is fine. Not as secluded as some we have stayed in but perfectly clean and everything you would expect. We soon set off for a hike up the plateau. In this heat it is hard work but when we finally haul ourselves up the last few metres we decide that it is definitely worth the climb. What a view!
The next day we decide to do the evening game drive as you are not allowed to do self drives here and it seems a shame to come here and not go to the top and see what wildlife is up there. As the vehicle makes its way along the road to the main entrance we can see signs of wildlife already and we are not even in the park yet. The vehicle steadily climbs up to the top and we can see now how this flat area, with sheer sides for most of the way around it, is a naturally enclosed nature reserve. The animals can’t get out unless the one gate is open and this means that many of the species found here are unique and some, like the buffalo, are completely disease free.
Unbelievably the terrain is deep sand; we expected rock, but it is surprising how similar the land is up here to the land all around the plateau. And the wildlife is just the same too. We take a stroll along a little path, to a hide overlooking a waterhole, and after a short wait we see buffalo and giraffes come in for a drink.
Back in the car and bumping along the sandy tracks we also see klipspringers and sable antelope. All in all a very worthwhile and enjoyable drive.
Khaudom National Park, deep sand and elephants.
Next on our itinerary is Khaudom National Park but all the guidebooks, and the website for Namibias National Parks, all say that you can’t get in with only one vehicle. The sand is deep and it is very remote. In fact you have to be completely self sufficient and stocked up with plenty of jerry cans of fuel. Our only option is to head to a good campsite near Grootfontein, Roys Camp, where we can spend a few days and see if we can find someone else to tag along with. http://www.roysrestcamp.com
Roys Camp is a well run, quirky kind of a place and there are a few little walks around here, as well as a good bar and restaurant and a pool. Not a bad place to hang around for a while. We pass the time reading, bird watching and chilling out, and on day three we finally find two families that have been considering tackling Khaudom but are undecided.
We convince them. We set off in the morning in convoy through the area inhabited by the San tribes. We don’t have time to linger here but it is definitely an area we would like to come back to, it is a timeless landscape with ancient ways of life still in evidence. It is a long drive on a gravel road to Khaudom but there is a village, Tsumkwe, the main centre for the San, on the way where we hope to find fuel. Apparently the supply is a bit erratic but we are in luck and we top up again to hopefully see through the park, and all the way to the town of Divundu.
We really enjoy the drive and it is so lovely and remote here. We deflate the tyres before going into the park and it soon becomes clear why it’s recommend to have a minimum of two vehicles. It is deep sand and if you did get stuck it could be a while before anyone else comes along. We find the campsite, but head to a nearby waterhole first to see if we can find any of the elephants for which this park is famous. There is a great lookout structure here where we sit and wait. We don’t have to wait long – dozens of elephants come charging down to the water, with plenty of rough and tumble in their eagerness to get a drink. There are clearly several groups here as as one herd uses the waterhole there are others coming in all the time and some noisy and boisterous behaviour ensues as they sort out the pecking order. As the sun sets it creates the most wonderful colours as the dust is kicked up by the elephants. We are all totally in love with this place already.
We head back to the campsite before it gets too dark and begin our dinner preparations. We are so lucky that we have met these guys. They are on a three week trip from South Africa, taking in Namibia and Botswana but they are on a tighter schedule than us so when we leave the park they will go on ahead a bit quicker. We have a lovely evening sharing travel stories and enjoying a glass of wine or two. It is great to have some company and I think we will be catching up with them again later on in our trip, perhaps back in South Africa.
The next day we rise really early as we want to see if we can see anything at another of the waterholes. On the way we see elephants and some roan antelopes as well as little duikers and lots of birds. As we approach the water we see a cheetah dashing off into the distance, just a bit too late to get a good look, but exciting all the same. It is our first wedding anniversary today. What a great way to celebrate it, in the middle of nowhere, watching wildlife. On our way back to camp for breakfast we see some lions looking very beautiful in the early morning misty sunshine.
Today we are driving all the way through the park. It’s a long way but there is plenty of beautiful scenery and some waterholes to check out on the way. Even so the bouncing along in deep sand is tiring and it is hot too so we are pleased to find that the campsite at the northern end of the park is lovely, if a little pricey compared with other Namibian campsites. We manage to negotiate a deal and enjoy the facilities of a lovely private pitch with its own ablutions. Another lovely dinner and fun evening tonight. We really are going to miss these guys!
The next day is a very long, tiring drive of 60kms through deep sand to the main road. This has been an amazing few days in this remote National Park. If you get the chance to go, take it. You won’t regret it and although we didn’t have any problems we can see why it would be sensible not to go it alone here.
At the main road we say goodbye to our new friends. Its been fantastic and we will definitely stay in touch. But for us it is time to head to the Caprivi Strip and another adventure.