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2 weeks self-driving and photographing in Namibia - May 2014

Namibia self-drive May

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#1 xelas

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Posted 19 June 2014 - 07:27 PM

From Windhoek to Walvis Bay … with a lunch

 

This was our first trip to "black Africa". Namibia seemed to be a perfect destination as we love to do things on our own, driving et all. Easy driving and taking a lot of photos was our main goal of this trip.

Therefore it will be more photos than words in this trip report; most of the sites and lodges are well known to readers here so I will spare you with too many details. Hopefully photos will be able to tell the story better than me.

 

That is me, driver and second shooter/assistant:

 

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And here is the photographer:

 

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Arrived in the afternoon at WDH airport where a driver from ACR was waiting for us. Our first night we slept at Villa Violet. A small, 5 room, very nice b&b with great hosts. Early to bed early out of it. That will be the standard of this trip. Cloudless morning, great breakfast and off to Advanced Rental Car to pick up our car for next 2 weeks. A new Toyota Hilux Double cab with diesel engine. So new it still has only its original fuel tank, 80 litres. The procedure was meticuluose, every aspect of the car showed, and it lasted 60 minutes. Next stop petrol station. We filled the tank with 57,50 litres for 750,00 N$, withdraw some more cash from the ATM, and filled the Engel fridge with water bottles and juices. It was 10:00 am when we left the gas station (Shell, if anybody interested; and 1 l of regular diesel cost 13,50 N$).

 

​C26, first of many gravel roads, just out of Windhoek

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We took C26 out of the city and towards Gamsberg pass. The road turned gravel soon after the police check point (just waved through) and the scenery started to attract our attention. The speed was kept around 60 km/h as advised by Allison from Advanced. Soon we started to climb and then to drive downhill. But where was the Gamsberg Pass?! We might have overlooked the sign for it, yet I somehow doubt it. 

 

This must have been Gamsberg Pass

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We travelled about 160 km in 3 hours, and it was time for our lunch stop. Back home my quick research of option pointed me to Corona Guest Farm, and it was excellent decision. From C26 it is 18 km on a scenic D road. The guest farm lies inside a natural amphitheatre; there are walking trails and we saw also the modified Landy for transporting persons. On site manager Janus greeted us and invited us to nice outside patio. The lunch itself, a gourmet delight. Main course was kudu steak local style; and we were told that it cannot get more local then this steak. Not only Janus is a great cook, he is also a great host, sharing many useful informations with us.

 

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The hour past fast and we have to say hello and to continue our drive towards Walvis Bay. 

 

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The road offers some great scenery all the way to Kuiseb Pass and also an hour after it, then it is a flat monotonous drive.

 

Bridge over Kuiseb River

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We reached Walvis Bay in time to see the sun sinking into the Atlantic Ocean, and parked our car at Spindrift B&B at 18:00 sharp.

 

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We were on road for 8 hours, out of which 1hr 45 min was used for detour and lunch stop. We maintained a steady speed of 60 km/h until after Kuiseb Pass, then the road allowed us to drive up to 80 km/h (all based on speedometer in the car). What we appreciate on this drive is the car. Yes it is big. And more expensive than a regular car. And one can do the drive in a regular sedan. But we have just loved to be in Hilda (yes, you need to give a name if you want it will serve you well). Its robust tyres were just “eating” all the gravel and corrugation and stones. We came to Walvis Bay not tired, no back problems, just normal wear and tear after 6 hours on the road.

 


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#2 xelas

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 09:12 AM

Walvis Bay … sand, sea, sand

 

Decision to stay in Walvis Bay and not in Swakopmund based on my intention to do some birding around the Walvis Bay lagoon. So I woke up really early, 5:45, just to throw one only view through the window, and went back to bed. It was a foggy, grey morning. And my car was also parked, so I could not exit even if I would need. So breakfast at normal hour, and then to the lagoon. At 9:30 the fog cleared and we start taking photos of local flamingos. Yet the light was off, and the tide was low so flamingos were searching for their food a bit too far from the walkway.

 

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After about an hour we drove toward Pelican Point, passing by the salt fields. Huge salt pans they have, and unlike in Slovenia, they used big machines to harvest the salt. There were several smaller birds wading the shallow waters looking for the food, and some other fellow photographers were cruising the road alongside the lagoon trying to get an usable photo.

 

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In the afternoon, at 12:30 due to tide, we started a tour to Sandwich Harbour with Sandwich Harbour 4x4. Ben the Barefoot was our driver; another family with two young kids joined and we were off into the dunes. Ben really makes for an unforgettable day; not only the kids, my wife also loved the daredevil driving skills of Ben, much to my (positive) surprise.

 

Sandwich Harbour is located inside of Namib Naukluft Park

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Walking on the sand dunes

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Driving on the sand dunes

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Then, at Sandwich Harbour, I realised that all my good luck was consume on arrival events. Not only we have 20 min short stop, there was not a bird in sight. And the lagoon itself, well, did not looked like a lagoon. Ben told us that shifting sand dunes are rearranging the shape almost weekly, and that the lagoon will slowly disappeared. For birding, one should come in March, early April when there were many migratory birds, which all leave already.

 

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At least we have seen a black back jackal and a springbok in the dunes. Seeing them in that vast sand dune landscape comes as a surprise to me.

 

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On return we stopped for an informal lunch, good tasty sea food with cold drinks. That gave us energy for some outdoor activity.

 

Boys having fun in the sandbox

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Tired and not very happy (that was me) we ended our tour quite late. Ben’s Landrover had problems with ignition coil, so we stopped several times. Good enough for my wife to take more sunset photos.

 

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Edited by xelas, 20 June 2014 - 09:13 AM.

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#3 wilddog

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 11:50 AM

Some lovely images. Thanks for sharing.



#4 Marks

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 12:38 PM

I like the perspective on the pelican shot; it makes it look nearly as tall as the people!


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#5 xelas

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 12:39 PM

Swakopmund … the living desert

 

 

Second day in this area we were scheduled for a Living Desert Tour with Steve from Batis Birding Safaris. We needed to be at his home at 7:45; we went behind the large dune belt that lies between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, on ex D 1984 gravel road, now paved and renamed to C34. It goes alongside the railway and we even saw one train passing by. The views over the dunes were spectacular in the morning light. Yes, this morning was one with a clear sky, no fog! 

 

Dunes from east side at sunrise

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West side of dune belt

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The Eco Dune Tour (Living Desert) was at the protected part of dunes. The 30 km section of coastline from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA). This is also the most important breeding area for rare endemic Damara Tern. None was spotted. Easy to find were white bones from WWI horses graveyard. Shifting sand has exposed a couple of trenches.

 

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The tour has more than fulfilled our expectations. Steve is an expert; and he kept our attention all 5 hours with excellent details and knowledge.Some history first then he started to look for dune inhabitants.

 

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First Steve showed us a web-footed gecko. This little fella lives deep in the sand dunes. He gave us a nice photo session, and was rewarded by what probably was his monthly supply of water from a spray can.

 

Well moisturized happy gecko

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The highlights were Namaqua chameleons; not one but we found three of them along the way.

 

Baby chameleon being hand-feed

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His (her?) big brother/sister

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Chameleons do change colours

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To the relief of all ladies in our group, snakes were not home this day. No four legged animal either. A couple of birds but too far away to get a decent photo. After 4 hours and a “schnell kurs” in flat tyre exchange (at the local gas station) we were back at our car, and on the way to Ameib Lodge.

 

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After 433 km we have filled the tank with 35 l of diesel fuel at 13,06 N$ per litre. Average consumption of 8,1 l/100 km really positively surprised me. Very low for such a big car and such a difficult roads. However, most of the time engine was working around 2000 revs/min; must be the green zone for this engine.

 

Weather is an important factor in Walvis Bay; if morning is sunny, wake up early and drive first towards Pelican Point, or at least pass by the salt works. Then turn back and drive slowly. Your co-pilot / photographer will have the lagoon on her/his side of the car, and sun will be behind the car.

 

Swakopmund is definitively much nicer little town than Walvis Bay. It is obvious that it must be a huge holiday destination. Many shops, restaurants, accommodations of all styles. However it is 1 hour from Walvis Bay; so if planning to do some early morning birding in Walvis Bay, stay there at least one night.


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#6 xelas

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 01:04 PM

@ wilddog: thank you!

 

@ Marks: those pelicans are indeed huge birds.



#7 xelas

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 12:31 PM

Ameib Ranch … the magic of rocks

 

Ameib Ranch is not on an average Namibian itinerary. Not many trip reports mentioned it; however the folks that have been there have wrote about this place in superlatives. The photos I have seen reminded me of Devil’s Marbles and King's Canyon in Australia. So decision to go there was easy. Specially after finding some fantastic photos posted online. Only quirk was that there were not many reviews on trip advisor; and those that were a bit older mentioned some problems, like abundance of cats, and related hygienic problems. Luckily I found also one more recent, mentioning a new ownership. And I do love cats, of all colors and sizes.

 

We started from Swakopmund and it was paved road all the way to Usakos. Here we stopped at Khan Village Cafe just after the bridge for a quick lunch. The usual place to stop just before the bridge was full of cars and people so we continued to a new coffee shop next to the gas station. The food was good and we were served fast. From Usakos it was gravel road to the lodge. Very soon we were treated to a glimpse of what lies ahead.

 

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At the reception Sabine (daughter of new owners) was quick in explaining the basic informations, and we have still time to drive to Elephant’s Head and Bull’s party before sunset. 

Photos cannot lie. This is really a magical place. The amphiteater at Bull’s party was already in shade but the Elephant’s Head was shining in full glory.

 

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No dinner for us but a cold beer and a gin tonic at the bar were welcomed. Early to bed to be prepared for the next day.

 

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Apart of the above two mentioned places there are other locations to be visited. In the same directions there are Philip’s Cave with rock engravings, and Hidden Valley. In the opposite direction two trails leads to Paradise and to Rhino viewpoint. Since my wife decided to relax a bit, it was my decision to walk about 60 min to the place named Paradise. On the way I have seen a couple of birds, and a hornbill in flight, but took no photos.

 

The dam was full testifying about abundance of rain this summer

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Paradise is an oasis below the rocky wall; in drier times birds and animals tend to congregate here as this is where they will always find water. As the rains were abundant this year, birds were hidden in lush foliage. Yet another magic of rocks and this time water. With a couple from Germany (Germans are the majority of guests here, followed by French) we exchanged some info and small talks. It was theirs 22nd visit to Namibia! Lucky couple indeed.

 

A lonesome bird at Paradise

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As I was still fresh I decide to hike also to the Rhino viewpoint. The trail goes upward, it was much hotter than in the shade of the trees around Paradise, but the hike was short, about 20 min. From this vantage point one can appreciate the sweeping views over the lower lying flats. The ranch is about 14.000 hectares; if not for the hills bordering two sides I would not even be able to imagine how big of a territory that is. Ameib Ranch is part of the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary Trust and I believe that in a few years time, there will be rhinos roaming that plains.

 

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For the afternoon we both went back towards Bull’s Party. First we stopped at Hidden Valley; we missed the best part of walking up the big rocky hill (easy hike) to have some glorious views. Yet we were happy campers at Elephant’s head first. What a place, what an artist a nature can be! Then to the Bull’s Party for the second time. We were there alone; we walked around both sides, and just breath in the beauty. And took a ton of photos. Lovely and magical, this place.

 

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Landscape views are different each way you look.

 

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And birding was a lot of fun also.

 

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And what about cats? No more cats around, they were all relocated. The place is clean, gardens are well maintained, the pool area is inviting. The old diesel generator make way to a solar panels so no more noise and it seems that many birds appreciate the new calmness of this lodge. The cabin we had was spacious, clean, we slept well. The food is good. In one word, I was more than happy with my choice. Oh yes there is also a camping site. In fact we were the only guests in the rooms as all others were campers.


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#8 Peter Connan

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 01:44 PM

Thanks. Excellent photography and good info!
Ek oefen skelm.

#9 xelas

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 03:52 PM

Thank you, Peter! It is difficult to find a right balance between words or photos, even more so when English is not one's first language.



#10 SafariChick

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 05:41 PM

Hi @xelas - you're doing a great job! I'm really enjoying both the words and the photos.  Look forward to more!  



#11 xelas

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 07:15 PM

​From Ameib Ranch to Grootberg Lodge … and gravel roads in between

 

Our drive from Ameib Ranch first took us north, on more D type gravel roads. We shared the road with few others, mostly locals. Like this family.

 

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The scenery changed to flatland after we passed by Brandberg. Roads were straight and flat, and this kind of machinery keeps them in good condition.

 

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A grader, specially designed for "grading" the gravel roads.

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There was no need for such a sign, as speed limit posted was way above what I was comfortable to drive. And my comfort limit was 80 km/h. Saying that, a driver needs to be focused on the road all the time. Gravel can accumulate on sides of the "tracks" and once wheels get into it, the steering wheel become "flimsy". Luckily we came from the land of snow so that feeling was nothing new for me. What you need to do is keep your foot off the accelerator pedal, and wait till the wheels gets the grip again. DO NOT BRAKE! I think that braking is the major cause of accidents when the heavy bakkie starts to move sideways and finally overturn.

 

For fuel and quick snack we stopped at Uis. There is a gas station and a market, where we bought some drinks and also used its ATM machine. There were many street vendors of local minerals outside on the parking lot. Did not buy from them. They have nice samples but I have no idea if exporting minerals is allowed. For example, in many Caribbean countries you cannot bring shells out of the country. So we looked for a place to have a coffee break. Following the sign I found interesting we ended at Cactus & Coffee. Very cool place. There is a coffee shop and a large cactus garden. My wife took a brief tour while I have had a nice conversation with a local patron of this place. BTW, coffee was good, as was the chocolate cake.

 

Not in Uis but looks like a typical back country gas station

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Continuing our way towards Khorixas where we have overnight we passed another bridge with almost dry riverbed. On the second thought this one has the most water we saw so far.

 

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Then we passed by this sign which excited us. That is what we came to see in Namibia. 

 

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Well, our first sighting of elephant was a bit different than one we expect. However good sign of great things to come.

 

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The overnight stop was at iGowati Lodge in the centre of Khorixas. Nice one, looks like a motel type where you park your car in front of your room. The courtyard was green, and the restaurant/bar area welcoming. There is a smallish pool yet inviting enough for some folks were enjoying its refreshing cool water. Dinner is buffet style, tasty, and barman was friendly and quick. All in all we did not regret using this place as our one night stop. Opposite of the lodge is a new modern gas station, and one block away Standard Bank with guarded ATM, which we used twice. For photos of this and other places we were staying at, I will post a review on Tripadvisor with photos.

 

We have skipped all attractions of the area but the Petrified Forest, the original one. It is well signposted just off the C39 road, nice facilities and with entrance ticket you get also a guide. It was short (about 30 min) and very interesting walk along the remains of petrified logs. The on-site craft market is supplied by local artists. Each item bears the price and the name of the artist, and after deducting the shop commission the revenue goes back to local community.

 

Welwitschia mirabilis can be found also here

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280 million years old and still in perfect shape

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Some of this logs are very long

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As we entered into Damaraland territory, the scenery definitively changed, it becomes more hilly, more interesting.

 

A photographers delight

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The landscapes came in different shapes and colors

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Our today’s lunch stop was at Palmwag. I thought this is a town, yet there is only one basic gas station and one lodge. So we enter the Palmwag Lodge for a coffee. This one is specialised in Desert Ellies tracking. It is in renovation, and they are building also new camp facilities.

 

No, this is not Palmwag Lodge

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Just before Grootberg Pass we stopped for yet another landscape photo.
 
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#12 xelas

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Posted 21 June 2014 - 07:47 PM

@SafariChick: thank you for your encouraging words!



#13 Treepol

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 06:52 AM

@xelas fantastic photos, thanks for sharing.

 

You have really captured the colours of Namibia from the soft pinks and yellows to the harsh blue of the sky and the red land. Lookng forward to more when you have time...


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#14 xelas

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 07:42 AM

@Treepol Thanks for kind words. The colors were fantastic; and much more greener than we anticipated.



#15 Treepol

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 07:45 AM

@xelas and more water than I would have expected too.

 

I think we will do the same drive Windhoek-Swakop that you did this year with our guide in August. We're staying at Erongo and Palmwag on our way north and hope to see desert eles, rhino, lion and even brown hyena. I can always hope!


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#16 xelas

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 08:41 AM

Grootberg Lodge … View with a Smile

 

After refuelling we continued our way on C40 toward Grootberg. The scenery becomes better and better. When we saw all that table top mountains around us we knew it will be a great place to stay.  

 

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Grootberg Pass is at 1540 m; from there a rocky narrow path leads to the lodge. Only for true 4x4 vehicles. Others can park at the bottom. Or if they do not have nerves to drive, they can ask the attendant to do it instead.

 

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I put my Hilda in L4 mode and engage also the diff lock. The climb was slow, but steady and after about 10 min we reached the plateau. Parked the car in line with other bakkies and entered the hallway … and my jaw just dropped.

 

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Although I have read many reports and saw a number of photos nothing prepares you for the real thing. Just awesome. No further description; come and see for yourself. Our room/cabin was no.8, first left of the main building.

 

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As it was early afternoon we opted for a scenic drive. Raymond was our driver/guide for the private tour that was as good as the lodge itself. It was a scenic/wildlife/sunset drive that gives us that ultimate perfect light for photographers that we were searching in Namibia.

 

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Tired but happy we slept like babies …

 

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… but for me the wake up was early as it was rhino tracking day. 5:00 sharp me and another couple were in the restaurant for breakfast; just overestimated a bit the Namibian time. Half an hour later we boarded brand new Land Cruiser that just arrived from Windhoek, and went down the steep path to the main road and then down into the valley. We stopped at Rhino Camp (a camp set up for those that wants to sleep before and after the tracking in the valley) for rest of the group in the second vehicle. I will not bother you with details of the tracking itself; it was a long half day with lot of bumpy driving, an hour of fast hiking over the hard terrain, and a sighting of a rhino mother with her D size baby. What on earth can beat that?!

 

A black backed jackal watching us

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Second vehicle with guests from Rhino camp

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Waiting for the trackers to find tracks

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And here they are, a mother and her baby

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Afternoon we spent on the terrace of the lodge, just staring at the views, and trying to memorize it, plus taking some photos of different wildlife. We are not much of birders so there might be some wrong ID and there surely are missing ID. Please help me with your knowledge! Of course valid for all photos not only of birds.

 

The best view we have ever had. Period.

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Rock hyrax a.k.a. rock dassie a.k.a. rock elephant

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Red-eyed bulbul

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Another deep sleep (no star photography as the moon was rising), more photos in glorious morning light and too soon we waved goodbye to always smiling staff.

 

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Down the path, this time less anxious. And off we went toward Etosha. This I have to add here. The staff in Grootberg Lodge was the most friendly, warm, smiling staff of any lodge we visited. It is a community owned lodge, and many locals found hard to get regular job here. They are doing great. It is (was) the most expensive lodging we had on this trip but definitively worth its price.

 

 

From Walvis bay to Uis we did 400 km with 38 l, from Uis to Palmwag 285 km with 29 l. A bit higher consumption as on our first leg yet still comfortably below 10 l/100 km. The roads were well signed as were the lodges.


Edited by xelas, 22 June 2014 - 08:44 AM.

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#17 Marks

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 02:46 PM

Some unreal vistas in your photos. I think you have put Namibia on my radar.

Can't wait to see more.



#18 xelas

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 06:27 PM

Dolomite Camp … expect the unexpected

 

After another lengthy drive (but we did stopped often for taking photos) we arrived at Dolomite Camp in Western Etosha. At Galton Gate a construction of new park premises is in full swing, and they will be ready early next year.

 

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A permit was obtained, 850 N$ for 5 days 2 persons 1 car unlimited wildlife (that we did not know at the moment of paying). On the way we entered in what will be the drill for next 5 days: There’s an animal 10 o’clock left – Stop the car – Take photos – Start the car. About 20 times just between the gate and the camp. And we saw our first herd of elephants; too far far away for a decent photo but we were so excited. And a giraffe, much closer.

 

Being watched from above

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Since the Galton gate is now opened to all visitors there were this signs about distances to both camps

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More curious animals watching the watchers

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Arrived at Dolomite Camp at about 3 pm, got our tented cabin (no.8 again) and prepared for the afternoon drive. Which was flushed by the storm. So we were sitting inside the glass doors to the porch and watched the storm brewing in the distance coming closer, the lightnings and finally … the rain.

 

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The dinner is (was) included in the price. There are 2 dining rooms, you choose whichever table you want. The dinner itself is a slow food affair; not that the food is so gourmet but the service … 30 min for the soup, another 30 min for the main course, at least desert arrives sooner. We never finished before 7:30 pm. And the only thing slower than the service is internet access. There is the free internet access, but boy they do limit the bandwith and speed. It was like in good old time of dial-up modems, and I am not talking about 56K. So although we have plenty of time sending out a simple email was an impossible task.

 

However the views were again fantastic, and the storm has passed by and gave way to another spectacular sunset.

 

Namibia+2014_086.JPG


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#19 xelas

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 08:07 PM

Dolomite Camp … expect the unexpected

(continued)

 

We have had 3 nights at Dolomite Camp thus giving us 2 full days to explore the waterholes. First day we went left side, checking Klippan (deserted but 2 jackals), Renostervlei (zebras, springboks and ostriches) and Rateldraf (nothing here). In between by the road we have seen and photographed several Lilac breasted roller, more zebra, giraffe and blue wildebeest, all in numbers. In fact the wildlife was much more prolific outside the waterholes then around them. Which we liked a lot as it gives us more natural environment for our photos. It was also much greener then we expected. We returned to the lodge midday to have a light lunch and went right side in the afternoon to check Duineveld, Nomab and Olifantsrus waterholes. We added red hartebeest, southern goshawk, oryx, kudu, kori bustard, and another fantastic Namibian sunset to our collection.

 

Day started with beautiful morning light

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Lilac breasted roller … such an amazing bird

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Wearing its pyjama graciously

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​At the breakfast

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High-level bonding

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So cute

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​At the waterhole

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Looking after his harem

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Did you hear the latest chat?

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No, I didn't. Come back and tell me all about it!

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So, you know that common ostrich …?

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Deserted waterhole ...

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… and one a bit less deserted

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Traffic jam Etosha style

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Red haartebeest

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Kudu showing off

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Blue wildebeest

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Kori bustard

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Another storm in Etosha with a rainbow

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Pale chanting goshawk

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Dolomite Camp from the waterhole

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Typical African sunset

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#20 Pennyanne

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Posted 22 June 2014 - 08:34 PM

@xelas  Absolutely stunning landscapes.  Beautiful photos. Thanks so much for posting this report. We want to do a Namibia self drive ourselves so this is great information.







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