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Saturday 24th June The road from Mowani once we leave the sandy D2612 and head towards Khorixas is dreadfully pitted and lumpy gravel. It's horrible, poor Beryl is being battered around, but we motor onwards. We've got an easier travelling day today, around 120km/70 miles to Sophienhof Lodge, just outside Outjo, which is about halfway to our main destination of Etosha. We needed somewhere a reasonable distance as you have to be inside the Etosha National Park gates before sunset and sometimes things unexpected happen and it's impossible to predict road journeys here in Namibia. So much so we have quite a shock having driven on this ghastly road for 50km, literally outside Khorixas we see Tarmac!!! A beautiful, smooth, flat, drivable Tarmac road. It extends all the way to Sophienhof, I cannot tell you how wonderful a smooth journey is after being bounced around on gravel and dust. Sophienhof Lodge pool Restaurant We pull into Sophienhof at 1pm a couple of hours earlier than the requested time. I booked this Lodge through booking.com as apposed to all the other places that were decided by Peter, myself and Marie at Trailfinders. It was difficult to find somewhere suitable in the location we wanted that was available at this time of year. Etosha is always popular and most folks book up to a year in advance if they want certain times after the rains when the waterholes are full and therefore the wildlife is plentiful. The Waterhole at night Sophienhof is a pretty place, perfectly painted reception area, clipped deep green lawns and rust red sand surround the trees and shrubs. A pretty thatched roofed dining room/lounge with heavy wooden tables and chairs. Beyond a stone and slate Brai (bar-b-que area to non Africans) and fire pit with a circle of stone bench seats. Also a lovely pool which I'd love to try, again surrounded by gorgeous grass, it looks very English or German maybe. With the connections of Colonial days past, I think quite a majority of visitors to Namibia are German. As well as the main house which is used as a Guest house during the busy times, a camping area, also there are 10 semi-detached chalets, again all built of stone and number 4 is ours with its own wooden table and chairs outside. We meet the Manager and he informs us of a game drive in a couple of hours so we agree to go and in the meantime enjoy a picnic on our own raised patio overlooking the beautiful surroundings. Chalet No. 4 The one thing when I was looking for somewhere to stay, that made me notice Sophienhof Lodge was the waterhole. It's just opposite their dining area and it's lit up in the evenings but I've found it fascinating and have seen various animals. They have a webcam on it that updates every 30 seconds. I've watched it day and night for months, I copied pictures of Wildebeest, birds, Antelope and in December last year I saw 4 Giraffe and by the time I copied them there was just one, but it's been a wonderful thing to watch and for me to be here and actually see the waterhole is brilliant. I love it. 3.30pm arrives and our German guide - Sorry I didn't get his name - drives us off with only an African helper to join us. Five minutes later we pull up along the perimeter fence where there are half a dozen Ostriches all scampering about as they know it's food time. They are superb, so funny as we take it in turn to give them hands full of pellets, they peck away madly. Im having so much fun, but it's time to go to the next stop, five minutes down the fencing. We stop and I don't think Peter or I are prepared for what happens next. Evidently a local farmer last year shot dead a mother Cheetah for causing havoc to his livestock and in front of us are her two orphans. If any wildlife farms or Lodges take in Cheetahs they must have at least 1 hectare of scrub/grassland to be in. Our two young orphans have six, but are at the moment in a smaller pen until the end of the month when the vet has agreed when they will be free to roam. They are enjoying dinner, a bit ‘meals on wheels’ Cheetah style. They look well and are very happy, thankfully. We leave them to it. We then drive off into the game park to see various animals as we go. Giraffe, Ostrich, Dik Dik, warthogs, Wildebeest, Impala, Kudu and Waterbuck. The views everywhere are fabulous, the wide open Savannahs are just so stunning. I know I've said this before but as the sun goes down you can see why people fall madly in love with this place. As we look at one more beautiful vistas our driver sighs “Aah, Africa!” That says it all. Back at base we have a few minutes to change before we are expected at the Brai area as there is a huge fire going and soon the boss will be cooking us Steaks for dinner. It's a lovely warm evening and in the open air dining room we have the largest loaf of freshly baked bread to cut and a delicious bowl of potato salad also swirls of garlic butter to add to our cooked steaks. Bliss, with a bottle of red what more could you want? We enjoy another relaxing evening under the African night sky. Giraffes at sunset Sunset is beautiful on a Sophienhof Game drive Sunday 25th June. Another day, another venue. Today it's the pinnacle of our Namibian trip, we head to Etosha. After a lovely relaxing breakfast looking over the waterhole, we watch the Hornbill birds messing about and making a silly racket as usual. We wave goodbye and drive towards Outjo the next small town 10km away to fill up with fuel before driving the 100 km to Etosha. ( Be warned if you follow our footsteps, the Petrol stations around Namibia tell you they don't take Credit cards, then the Big Lie, they tell you the other Petrol stations don't, when actually they do - a great sales technique - if you want to pay by card in places like Outjo, Okakuego, drive round first, it takes five minutes and find out for yourselves!) Some do take credit cards, June 2017! We are still on Tarmac roads when we slow down to join the queue of now 3 at the Anderson Gate one of the few gates into the national park which started as almost 100,000 squ km in 1907 It's size has altered but since the 1970s it's stayed at its reduced size. It's mainly an enormous salt pan at its centre but with a multitude of vegetation around what is a desert in the main. Through the winter months from May to September it holds the major number of animals in the world around its waterholes. The rains come to Angola during December to March and slowly filter down to Namibia making it a hive of activity for all these wonderful creatures. We pay our fees just over £10 a day for 2 adults and a car. There are very strict rules in the park. But the only way in is by vehicle, of which you can't get out of unless you are within the boundaries of one of the few Rest Camps. Animals roam, similar to Dartmoor but here you see Zebra, Giraffe, Elephants, Antelopes and what you don't see are Lions, Leopards and Cheetah but they are about, as well as a myriad of others. You can only drive in the park between sunrise and sunset, so our timings are 6.20am to 5.28pm today. You can only sleep in a designated rest camp in either a chalet as we are, or tent, some of which are perched high above vehicles, for safety when normally camping out in the bush. At Halali where we are staying for the next 3 nights, there is a floodlit waterhole on the outskirts of the camp where you can sit and watch the animals come to drink and is particularly nice as the sun goes down and the sky turns from blue to orange and then black. Halali wasn't our first choice in the park as it's a large camp and really isn't given a great write up. But it's central for all the waterholes and as long as we get something to eat each day we will survive for our three nights before we move on to Onkoshi. We unload our gear into our chalet (Peter says it reminds him of Butlins circa 1965!) and head off to do our own mini game drive before curfew. We are told of a waterhole just 10 miles away and it will be a good learning curve as there aren't any good maps of the park and we have a time limit to keep to as they close the gates at 5.28pm whether we are in or not. The thought of sleeping in our vehicle without a loo until morning is not my idea of heaven! First we see a Giraffe munching away at some leaves, a few Impala as usual, they are always around. Then we see an unusual bird called a Bataleur, it's large and black with a red face and a yellow hooked beak. Wow, that's one for the twitchers! A Bataleur We get back to Halali in time for curfew and park immediately as it's time to get to the waterhole for sunset and we are a bit late. When we get there we are told the Elephants have already left but as we take our seats, from stage right comes a huge Ellie, waving his trunk as to start his performance and walks forward to have a drink. He's so beautiful. We enjoy watching him for three quarters of an hour and when he decides to wander back into the bush, we depart for dinner. Monday 26th June. After a really good sleep in our Butlins chalet we go to breakfast, but like everything at Halali it's nothing to write home about. We load our stuff into Beryl and drive off to see some waterholes. After an aborted attempt because a road was closed (if you saw the state of the good roads, you wouldn't try a bad one) we decide to return to Halali as we forgot to connect our on board fridge and there's no way you can stop on these roads to wander about, a Lion was seen just outside the Camp yesterday. Finally we restart our mornings Safari and at the first waterhole we are at the Salt Pan for the first time, gosh it's barren. At its widest it's 110 km x 60 km around 4700 square km We see Ostrich in the far distance, a few Oryx and Wildebeest. So we move on to Reitfontein a large area where we had seen a huge herd of Zebra yesterday. Again there are Zebra, also Wildebeest, Kudu and Impala all congregating around two large waterholes, surrounded with plenty of greenery. A large coach of Japanese tourists pull up next to us and a couple of 4x4s we all sit in the beautiful sunshine, snapping away out of our open windows when………….. whooooa!!!! What's this gently wandering towards us about 250 yards away at this moment. I feel like screaming at everyone, ITS A RHINO!!!!!! He eventually stops at the waterhole in front of us 100 yards away. Oh how amazing is that? We all just stare at him, whilst he nonchalantly sups water. We are mesmerised, such an amazing creature, so endangered and we have the pleasure of looking at him for half an hour until he wanders back into the bush and we move on to see what we can find. When finally back at Halali we dash up to see the sun setting at the Waterhole and guess what is supping water? Yes! Another Rhino, but even more fantastic, when this one moves away, another one pushes by her or him and takes their place. Can we believe it, we've been looking to see a Rhino for the past 3 weeks and now we see three within a few hours! What a terrific day. Haha, a Zebra crossing. Tuesday 27th June. The late risers manage to get to breakfast before there's nothing left at 8.30am for that's the sort of place Halali is and we're not in the mood for a 5am start. We've decided to drive eastwards today and visit the waterholes to see what's about and we have a brilliant time. We lost count when we got to two dozen Giraffes during our 5 hours out and about, as well as a dozen Elephants, some grazing, some standing fast asleep under the trees in the midday winter sun as it reached 27C. Down by the salt pan we realised the huge herd far in the distance but coming gradually towards us were Wildebeest and there were over a hundred. With the sun blazing down over the huge expanse of the pan, the shimmering heat shows mirages across the miles we can see. It's a stunning sight with Zebra and Ostriches meandering across the plains. We've decided to go on an organised night drive today at 7pm and are kitted out in extra warm gear of puffer jackets and woolly hats. It does get very cold after sunset here. There are eight of us and a guide Paulus who has a strange very dry sense of humour, but he's funny. We drive on the pitch black roads with just the help of an red filtered light that Paulus uses to scan the fields and bushes either side of the road. He manages to find plenty of Springbok, some Jackal, a prowling Lioness, a mother Rhino and baby, as well as herds of Zebra. Now as they say on the BBC news if you don't want to see the results of the Football, look away now! Well my story turns really nasty here, but it's nature in the raw, but I struggled with what happened next so please don't read on if you are of a delicate nature, it's truly very gruesome. By 9.15 we thought we'd seen everything and it was very cold so I was prepared that we would head back when we saw a Lioness going into a canter chasing a Springbok. I've never seen ‘a kill’ and even though I know the carnivores have to eat, as I've said in earlier blogs, seeing things live, is something I didn't particularly want to see. At that point, remember it's virtually pitch black except for the guides strong torch, straight in front of us, not 20 yards away is another Lioness lying on the road with its giant paws around a young Zebra. Within seconds there are three more Lionesses and a male Lion with just a little ring of mane showing him to be between 2-3 years old. They all want some of this food. Then to terrify everyone, a huge adult male Lion jumps from out of nowhere through the side hedging and claims the kill as his. This is all going on remember only yards from us (just nine humans sat in an open-sided Safari vehicle) and the growling and fighting was loud and horrendous. But the worst part as I was struggling at the beginning to cope with it all was the Zebra hadn't at that point died. But at last it was inevitable and they fought and ate and we were present. I've never been so terrified but also in awe of nature as it was happening live. Thankfully a funny moment lightened everyone's mood when a Jackal appeared and kept walking up and around the commotion like a Court Jester, every time he got close to the action, the growls got louder and the Lions more ferocious and he scooted away only to return seconds later and repeat the performance. Eventually Paulus said we should leave to get back to Camp and we drove by within 10 feet of the hungry mob. Oh what a night! The Lion Kill The extras
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