Camping in the Central Kalahari

Tsodilo Hills

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 Botswana camping
Tsodilo Hills

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.

Guma Lagoon

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.

camping africa landrover
Driving to the campsite on Goma Lagoon

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!

campsite Botswana Landrover
Beware of Hippos. The walk to our campsite on Goma Lagoon

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.

Okavango panhandle botswana
Fishing in Goma Lagoon

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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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Sossusvlei and the remote Namib Nakluft

The road to Sossusvlei

7 June. We are heading for one of the largest National Parks in Africa, a mere 50,000km² of sand and rock as well as being home to the famous sand dunes of Sossusvlei.

Our route takes us along some pretty spectacular scenery and we pass through the private Namibrand Nature Reserve which covers 2100km² and has some seriously nice lodges. Keith says “no” so we drive on, but if you are feeling flush do take a look. http://wolwedans.com.na.

Not everyone makes it on the road to Sossusvlei
Not everyone makes it on the road to Sossusvlei

The wildlife in this area is amazing. We have mixed herds of oryx, springbok and zebra running alongside the Land Rover, galloping, leaping and dodging around each other.  We are so busy watching them, especially the pronking springboks, that we don’t think to video any. However, we took a conscious decision to “live in the moment” on this trip and to enjoy everything we see around us, without seeing it through a lens, so, sorry, no video of this – you will just have to imagine it or come and see for yourself.

In Sesriem we have been recommended a campsite right outside the entrance to the park, where we will head tomorrow to see the dune fields of Sossusvlei. This site has everything, including some wonderful private pitches which are, sadly full tonight but we have booked one for the next two nights. Mind you, the public site has its own highlight – we have the place to ourselves and the views are stunning. We even have an oryx wandering about the place.

Sossus Oasis campsite. Shared ablutions
Sossus Oasis
campsite. Shared ablutions
Julie with our new Camp oryx in Sossusvlei
Julie with our new Camp oryx in Sossusvlei

Beautiful dunes in Sossusvlei

The early start is a bit of a shock to the system. But it should be worth it as early morning light is at its best and hopefully there will be less people around too.

We drive the 60kms from Sesriem to Sossusvlei, huge dunes rising above us on either side. As the sun rises over the sand dunes the shadows slowly lift to reveal varying shades of red and orange. We watch a hot air balloon slowly rise and wonder what the view is like from up there. Maybe another time.

Hot air balloon over Sossusvlei
Hot air balloon over Sossusvlei, early morning

The corridor along which we are driving gradually narrows and the dunes are closing in on us on either side. It is truly astonishing that this corridor has been created over millennia, by a very seldom flowing river. We can see the present course of the river because the green camelthorn trees make it clear for us. But, enough looking from the comfort of the car, we need to climb a dune.

Landy at Sossusvlei
Landy at Sossusvlei
Oryx at Sossusvlei
Oryx at Sossusvlei

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Lüderitz and the D707 to a German castle

Straight Road to Lüderitz

The B4 to Lüderitz is long, straight and remote. The intense sun causes the road to shimmer ahead of us and the flat, arid land offers no protection from the wind. We were thrilled to witness sand blowing across the tarmac in front of us, offering a good opportunity for a classic desert photo.

B4 Namibia sand
B4 to Lüderitz complete with windswept sand.

We step out of Landy in Lüderitz into a wind in which we can barely stand up. After a brief visit to a campsite on the coast we concede defeat and seek out a guest house instead. Kratzplatz is a funky little place. The yard is filled with all sorts of quirky objects, including lots of vehicle parts and “up-cycled” objects used as plant containers. The rooms are comfortable and they even have a busy attached bar and restaurant. It is the perfect place to catch up on clothes washing and internet use. http://www.kratzplatz.info

4×4 tracks and flamingoes

After a quick lunch we set off along the peninsula to the west of the town which has abundant tracks for the adventurous off-road enthusiast. Some of them are extremely tricky and although Keith enjoys himself I am a little nervous as Landy tips precariously to one side or slides down a particularly rocky part of the track. The views are worth the trouble though, as we find lovely isolated bays, sandy beaches with skeletal boat remains poking out, and beautiful pink flamingoes around every corner. The various beaches and bays have lovely names, such as Sturvogel Bucht, Guano Bay, Halifax Island (which has African penguins) and Diaz Point.

Lüderitz Peninsula 4x4 tracks
Lüderitz Peninsula 4×4 tracks
Lüderitz
Flamingoes in Lüderitz

Reaching Diaz Point involves a careful walk over a rickety bridge and lots of rock scrambling but we are rewarded with the sight of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Also here is a cross, a replica of the one placed here by Bartholomeu Diaz, the first European explorer to enter the bay. He sheltered here in the late 14th century. It must have been a pretty lonely desolate place back then.

Lüderitz
Decayed boat on Luderitz Peninsula

As we make our way back to town we pass a few signs on fences and at the start of tracks, warning us not to proceed further. This is the Sperrgebiet National Park, previously a diamond mining area, covering 26,000 square kilometres. This park, however, cannot be visited independently and the signs warning of fines and imprisonment are apparently very serious. We duly take them seriously.

Lüderitz is a fascinating old German town with impressive buildings from the early 20th century. It became a supply base for the German Schutztruppe during the war with the Nama people in 1904-07. However, it was the diamonds, first discovered nearby in 1908, that enabled the town to prosper as a centre of supplies for the diamond mines, and the communities that grew up around them. The Consolidated Diamond Mines  company moved to Oranjemund in 1943 and the town slid into decline. It still looks a bit tired but the tourist industry is helping build it back up again and we found that the locals were friendly and keen to chat (without too much of an ulterior motive).

Lüderitz
The waterfront in Lüderitz

A diamond ghost town

The next day we set off to Kolmanskop, once the main town for the diamond industry, but now deserted and slowly being reclaimed by the sand. This place is absolutely fascinating and, although we are not generally fans of guided tours, this one is extremely well conducted. Some of the buildings, including the impressive concert hall, have been restored but most have been left exactly as they were when the workers and their families left them. Amongst sand dunes inside the houses we find bath tubs, rickety stairs and wonky doors and it is all very eerie. We throughly enjoy exploring all the houses and clambering up sand dunes in what used to be someone’s living room. This booming little town had comfortable staff quarters and very beautiful homes for the managers as well as a school, swimming pool, several shops and a hospital. They even had an ice factory and water and fresh food were transported in from Lüderitz. The restored buildings, together with the information provided by our guide, really brought the place to life for us and it is a real insight into the diamond industry and the workers’ way of life.  http://www.kolmanskop.net

Lüderitz
Inside a house in Kolmanskop
Lüderitz
Kolmanskop Ghost Town

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