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Dave Williams

Self driving Namibia...the way to go!

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Ever fancied a safari holiday ? Like so many I have done so for a long time but always been frightened by the cost. My only experience of an African safari was a three night trip to Tsavo East and West in Kenya and that cost £765 6 years ago. Prices have risen considerably in many places since.

Why are safaris so expensive? Good question and one I can't answer but they do have to reflect the cost of park entry fees and they alone are now $75 US pp per day in places such as Kenya. Add in accommodation, transport , guides, food and drink and you can soon be looking at a re-mortgage or in my case selling off the family silver by dipping in to the pension pot again.

Fancy Gorilla trekking ? You need to be minted! The licence to enter the park costs $750 US pp . Yes, that's right no decimal points missing. For that you get an allowance of 1.5 hours in which to see the Gorillas. Tough luck if it's a no show I suppose. I can understand the need to restrict numbers and it's good news that the money raised helps to protect the wildlife but it's a bit sad that safari trips can be very much for the rich ( but there again I suppose it always was).

I made some enquiries about a guided Botswana trip and was quoted £8k for a 7 night tented trip for Claire and myself. The cost would reduce if we increased numbers to 4. You still had flights to add as well as any extended stay costs. Out of my league I decided.

Then I discovered Namibia!

Actually I was recommended by a friend who has worked out there as a geologist and he had nothing but good to say about the country.

The decision was sealed when I spotted an advert by Qatar Airways offering discounted prices for the next 5 days to celebrate their new direct route to the capital city , Windhoek.

£480pp economy. Only slightly dearer than travelling from the UK to The Gambia, an African favourite of mine. It was a no brainer. On impulse the tickets booked for a 25 night trip.

I had been told self drive was the best option, the roads were good and it was safe.

Car booked via Rentalcars.com. Pick up at the airport from Avis, an Hyundai Tucson or similar was a reasonable £880 including the extra insurance to reduce the excess from sky high to nothing.

All I had left to do was decide were to go when I got there!

I did a fair bit of research online... discovered it was the rainy season and the pitfalls...hey ho, too late now ! The good news was it was peak season for birds so I was fine with that. Besides, Namibia is a desert country and the rains are not very heavy anyway.

My plan put together I published it on Trip Advisor asked for advice on anything that was missing. Most of my accommodation was sorted. I use Booking.com for most as you can check availability and reserve rooms without paying a deposit for most places so you can tweek your plans later if need be. Accommodation which is run by the National Parks isn't as flexible. You pay up front and loose a fair chunk if you cancel so the 4 nights I had booked were now tablets of stone.

I got some good feedback, some a bit negative, some positive ideas though. I was missing out on Damaraland were Rhino and desert adapted Elephant tracking are specialities so I added a two night stay at Grootberg Lodge. This made my journey plan a little odd as it didn't quite run in the order that you'd expect but I wasn't too bothered about the criticism. I couldn't afford to cancel.

My final plan including some idea of estimated mileage and travel time looked like this.

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If you don't have any knowledge of Namibia it won't mean too much but there again, much of my blog is aimed at those who have never been to help them decide if this is the trip for them.

From previous experience we have learnt that trying to take in too much of a country in too little time is a big mistake. We had three and a half weeks but we decided to skip on all of the southern half of the country as well as the major tourist destinations of Sossusvlei ( big sand dunes and dead trees) and Caprivi ( leading in to a visit to the Victoria Falls).

No Namibia is nearly as big as Germany and France put together and you wouldn't contemplate trying to see everything there in one go would you? We were still looking at driving 3500 kilometres and moving to new accommodation 11 times. I was already concerned that we were not making enough longer stay stop overs. Too much packing and unpacking, checking in, checking out. Living out of a suitcase. I suppose a camper van might be an alternative but I didn't even consider that. A tent was out of the question.

How would it pan out ? Only time would tell and you are about to find out!

I had 6 months to contemplate and savour the prospects. I bought "The Photographers Guide to Etosha National Park" and took in all the details of each waterhole and what I might see. Took note of equipment used etc , read every blog I could find.

As a passionate and avid wildlife photographer I had some big decisions on what gear to take. The more you have the worse it makes it. Decisions made, guide books bought, plans printed we were ready for the off. February 6th 2017.

T.B.C

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Hi Dave

I am really looking forward to reading this report; I have followed all your earlier trip reports to Cuba, Gambia et al and you may recall that we spoke on the telephone last January just before my trip to Sri Lanka, prompted by your own trips the previous year.

 

I am sure that your photography will be up to your usual high standard and please keep including the helpful hints and tips about the logistics that you always include that prove invaluable to your readers.

 

Thanks in advance

Ian

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An impressive start, @@Dave Williams ! Please, do me a favour and describe in details the flight with Qatar: the good, the bad and the ugly of the "cattle class", also details about transfer in Doha (time, what to do, etc.). I have no fears this will be another spectacular trip report, both in words and in photos :) !

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Looking forward to your report! I just got back from Namibia a couple of days ago and stayed in some in the same places as you so it will be interesting to compare notes.

:-)

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Flying Qatar isn't the route a migrating bird would choose, you veer a long way south east before heading south west again when you are flying from the UK. 7 hours to Doha, a stopover ( around 2 hours for our flights) then another 9 hours to Windhoek. The big advantage is that we can fly from Manchester in the north of the UK, a mere 75 minutes drive away. KLM also fly to Windhoek but that would mean travelling to London. No thanks.

The outward journey was OK and we managed some sleep on the second leg. Flying in to the international airport I was ready to go. First impressions from the air are that I have never seen a capital city's airport quite like it. There is hardly any sign of human habitation for miles around. Interesting!

The airport itself is small and getting through immigration quick. The only slight problem was that the car wasn't ready for my given time as we were so much quicker than I thought it would be as the flight was early too. No problem, time to purchase a mobile phone sim card " just in case it was needed" and to exchange some money. TIP. The Western Union is actually better than the bank and in fact we later discovered that credit card spending was by far the best exchange rate providing of course that places accept credit cards. Not everyone does.

Our car turned out to be a Nissan X-trail automatic which was OK. We had decided an SUV would be better than a standard saloon and in hindsight, that was a good decision as you will find out. More comfortable on rough surfaces as well as 4x4 ability.

Anyway, the 30 minute drive from the airport to Windhoek is on an excellent tarmac road. We headed for our overnight stop, the Sunshine Guest House.

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Our room was 800NR (£50) which is considerably cheaper than lots of places and offered a very decent standard, lovely hosts and a super breakfast! You could even self cater if you wanted to.

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With an afternoon to spare we decided on a visit to the National Botanical Gardens. Claire is very much in to her gardens and although my interest is limited I know that a) they usually have a few birds and B) I will get more than my fair share of places visited that don't necessarily come top of Claire's wish list. In fact I had made sure that nearly all our proposed stopping places had a swimming pool and sunbeds so she could opt out of my non stop photographic pursuit of the wildlife!

Anyway, as it happened the Botanical Gardens were not particularly wonderful for either of us. Can't complain, there wasn't a charge to enter but they are not like most we have visited. They did however have lots of native plants we would see on our travels and gave an indication on where to see them and which animals would eat them.

Bird wise I snapped a couple.

A juvenile Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

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A Laughing Dove

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and a pair of White-browed Sparrow-weavers

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Nothing exceptional, the ones I really wanted got away without a photo record. Still I had a few weeks to find some more.

A very pleasant evening was spent at Joe's Beerhouse, probably the best known and most popular restaurant in town. You need to book online well in advance to get a table as it seems everyone makes it a must visit on their stay as well as being very popular with the locals. The latter wouldn't choose the specials I don't suppose, more a tourist thing but the kebab of Springbok, Kudu,Zebra and Crocodile was something I just had to try!

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I didn't know it at the time but it would be a few days before I saw that many species that were still alive!

Anyway, next day we were heading in to the country and I couldn't wait!

T.B.C.

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Posted (edited)

An impressive start, @@Dave Williams ! Please, do me a favour and describe in details the flight with Qatar: the good, the bad and the ugly of the "cattle class", also details about transfer in Doha (time, what to do, etc.). I have no fears this will be another spectacular trip report, both in words and in photos :) !

@@xelas Qatar are no longer the airline they were in my opinion.They are too big and probably less interested in economy class customers now. I only chose them on price for this trip and next time would look at alternatives. Doha is a huge airport now, can take 20 minutes from gate to gate with a longlong walk. We have missed quite a few flights as they don't have sufficient time between transfers so any delay and you can find yourself with a 12 hour stop you hadn't envisaged. We always got compensated so used the credits on another flight.

The airport is full of duty free shops, the prices are not competitive but the best bit is you can spend your air miles, accumulated by being a member of their club, in the duty free shop. We picked up 2 litres of free gin on the way out and the way back again!

Hand luggage is restricted to 7kgs but they didn't weigh my bags either in Manchester or Windhoek. I had my photo waistcoat and a few tricks for the outward journey, didn't bother for the return and wasn't challenged. Not showing the strain and holding the bag with a couple of fingers while they stick a tag on it probably means they don't think it weighs 11 kgs!

On the plane, a Dreamliner, the window seat is a row of three so there is a chance that as a couple you might have a stranger sat next to you. OK during the day but not if they snore at night! Inflight entertainment is average. Food disgusting, especially breakfast and the inedible "sandwich" snack meal.

Good point is they are liberal with the drinks!

Look at them as a means to an end and it's not such a problem. Their business class wins awards but it's an expense I prefer not to make, better spending the money at my destination IMO.

cheers

Dave

Edited by Dave Williams
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Posted (edited)

Hi Dave

I am really looking forward to reading this report; I have followed all your earlier trip reports to Cuba, Gambia et al and you may recall that we spoke on the telephone last January just before my trip to Sri Lanka, prompted by your own trips the previous year.

 

I am sure that your photography will be up to your usual high standard and please keep including the helpful hints and tips about the logistics that you always include that prove invaluable to your readers.

 

Thanks in advance

Ian

@@wagtail Well, well! Surprise to find out who is really who Ian! Nice to hear from you and I'm waiting on the phone call about Namibia!!!

Edited by Dave Williams

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Looking forward to your report! I just got back from Namibia a couple of days ago and stayed in some in the same places as you so it will be interesting to compare notes.

:-)

Certainly will be interesting to compare notes @@Robjwilli

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Well Dave, if this report continues as I suspect it will, you might just get that call about Namibia!!

Ian

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First photos already pawed the way! Tip for Joe's Beerhouse without reservation?! Arrive early! Not so good news about Qatar. It surely was very affordable at 550 EUR (450 GBP) yet Turkish have spoiled us, economy class flyers.

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First photos already pawed the way! Tip for Joe's Beerhouse without reservation?! Arrive early! Not so good news about Qatar. It surely was very affordable at 550 EUR (450 GBP) yet Turkish have spoiled us, economy class flyers.

 

I was staggered to see Joe's main car park was already full at 7.00pm last Thursday. The place was heaving. It also started to rain, in fact it absolutely hammered. All those covered but outdoor tables were not the place to be as the ground around them became flooded.

Food there is reasonably priced. We only had a main course and two large beers each on both visits ( the starters and sweets didn't appeal) and the cost both times was around 450NR . My T-bone steak was not a good choice compared to the rump I saw served!

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Posted (edited)

We awoke for our first full day in Namibia to the welcoming sight of the sun beaming through a gap in the curtains. Well, it was welcoming to us anyway. Our host at the guest house explained that they had had no proper rains for 7 years and they were desperate for rainfall. The lack of water of course would be an advantage for us when we got to Etosha N.P. as the animals would be much easier to find as they head to the waterholes to drink. Despite warnings to the contrary the "wet" season might be every bit as good as the "dry" season from a game viewing point of view to say nothing of being far less expensive.

Anyway, following an excellent breakfast we were on our way to our next stop in the Erongo reserve.

Before leaving Windhoek we had been tipped off to where the best shopping centre is ( just off the B1 on Hosea Kutako drive) and we duly visited to stock up on essentials. Water,wine,beer and a few snacks for lunch time consumption. Most places we stayed had a fridge in the room so that offered convenience as well as a small saving on bar prices. Water in the car is essential, just in case it's needed. On that first day it was. The car dash recorded a temperature of 43º at one point. It was blisteringly hot to say the least.

Leaving Windhoek I was at the wheel and Claire was navigating. I had already experienced the embarrassment of stalling the car twice in the middle of Windhoek by mistakenly trying to change gear in an automatic car but at least I had the advantage of driving on the "usual" side of the road. Having driven on the "wrong" side quite a few times in Europe and the USA I found the car way more challenging for the first 24 hours! I had to think whilst driving !

Once you are out of Windhoek which isn't very big anyway, you soon find yourself on virtually traffic free roads, even the main north-south B1 was a breeze. In town though I had noticed driving standards were poor. Jumping the lights on red was commonplace, ignoring speed limits likewise.

Whilst Claire had been in the supermarket buying the supplies I killed time by reading the pamphlet on driving in Namibia that I had been given the previous day.

Sobering literature indeed and one to take serious note of.

You are 50x more likely to have an accident in Namibia than when driving in Europe.

10% of hirers have an accident.

10 rental cars per month are written off.

From what I'd seen of driving standards so far I could see why! However, the really interesting fact is that the majority of accidents don't involve a third party. They are purely down to driver error. We were to see an example with our own eyes a few days later but in the meantime we took in all the warnings about speed and driving on gravel roads.

To be honest, as long as you don't try to travel too far in any given day you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. Tip. Think carefully and remember the roads in Namibia are much slower than elsewhere you might have been. You are often travelling at 60 kph and an average of 40kph on a journey isn't unusual by the time you have stopped for photos, slowed down for poor road surfaces etc, etc.

That said, if you are aware of the pitfalls driving in Namibia is an absolute breeze and in my opinion the way to go.

Anyway, back on the road to Erongo here's a typical scene.

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I think I recorded it as there was actually some traffic ! We took the B1 north then headed west on the B2 before taking our first gravel road towards Omaruru, the C36. At some stage Claire had taken over the driving

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and I was grateful as I was having a problem with one eye watering badly. I came to the conclusion it was the dust.

This is typical of the gravel roads as we travelled and you can see, a breeze to drive on provided you respect the road surface and your speed limitations.

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According to my plan this route should have taken around 2 hrs 30mins. Most of it was on tar roads. With a stop or two thrown in it took us over 4hrs, well who could resist an opportunity like this?

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or this!

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We still arrived before the check in time of 3.00pm so we headed back to the sign we had passed five minutes earlier for the Erongo Wilderness camp. I had heard great things about this place but at over £300 per night for half board it was way more expensive than it's near neighbour, Otjohotozu Guest farm and our choice. At around £70 per night for B&B it was considerably cheaper even when you add in another 440NR or roughly £28 for dinner for two.

The private road to Erongo Wilderness clearly stated that day visitors were not allowed so I never got to see what that extra cost would buy but we were more than happy with our choice of residence.

Our room might be a bit dated but it was comfortable and spotlessly clean, typical of everywhere we went on the latter points.

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What we really enjoyed was the communal family dining in the covered dining area.

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Well in the evenings anyway! On our second morning we were the only ones for breakfast but on the first night it was a full house of 14 for dinner, a BBQ featuring Kudu steaks.


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Sitting under the stars we were treated to our hostess performing a few songs accompanied by her guitar. She was so good my suspicions she had been a pro were confirmed!

Besides excellent value in the accommodation, the guest farm is set in thousands of acres and the land holds lots of game. Once upon a time it was haunting lodge but now it's purely a farm.

I was free to wander wherever but first I explored the gardens and to my delight I was shown a African Paradise Flycatcher nest complete with chick.

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The adults were constantly on the go looking for food and i was able to get some shots of what is one of my favourite birds.

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Both the female and long tailed male posed nicely whilst contemplating returning to the nest.

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With great care it was possible to view the nest from a hidden position fairly close although making sure not to disturb the birds was of course paramount.

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In the two days we stayed we saw the chick appear to grow in size.

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I wondered if the chick would have fledged by the time we returned for a second stay on our way south two weeks or so later. Hopefully it would still be there!

In the meantime other garden birds were a challenge, Bearded Woodpecker was a first for me.

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Hand holding my 600mm lens and using slow shutter speeds isn't a good combination but I was hoping the bird might stay still for just a fraction of a second.

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Trouble was, when it did it was partially obscured by foliage!

Ah well, there might be another chance.

Wandering a short distance from the walled garden I found a couple of other interesting species too.

My first ever Great Spotted Cuckoo.

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and the much desired and fairly uncommon Ruppell's Parrot.

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No, I went to bed on the first night thinking I had found a gem of a place to stay and that opinion still remains today. Tomorrow I would step further outside the walled property and see what was on offer a bit further afield. Andreas, the owner had told me where to look for Rockrunner, a species that was way up my wish list.

Sweet dreams and expectations accompanied me in to slumberland!

T.B.C.

Edited by Dave Williams
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I just knew that this was going to be a great read! :)

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lovely flycatcher pictures @@Dave Williams

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Posted (edited)

I have been to lots of holiday locations where there is a possibility of coming across a rather non user friendly critter but in the majority of occasions they are no threat. Here in the African bush I wasn't quite as confident. I had been given due warning to keep a lookout for Puff Adders particularly as they are so well camouflaged against the sandy soil. They tend not to move when you approach and will strike out if they feel threatened. Although they are not the most venomous they are responsible for the most human fatalities in Africa as a result of snake bite. Never given them a thought in The Gambia though, think again Dave!

Anyway, with one eye on the ground the other up in the air I set off first thing to see what I could find.

The Omaruru river flows alongside the property at Otjohotozu so first place was to check that out, with recent rains virtually non existent the wide river bed was dry save a few damp patches. In the distance though I spotted a new bird for me, a Groundscraper Thrush.

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Unfortunately it had spotted me too and was in no mood to let me get any closer than about 50 metres, still a good start as it was another "lifer".

A dead tree gave me views of a Bearded Woodpecker which turned out to be the best I'd get.

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Another "lifer" in the form of a Damara Hornbill but again the view wasn't anywhere near perfect.

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and so it continued. Some great new birds, Crimson-breasted Shrike

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More frustration as a photographer! Dideric Cuckoo.

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I suppose as the vegetation is as it is it's hardly surprising you get lots of branches in your images. Ashy Tit.

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When I wasn't grumbling to myself about the twigs it was the height of the subject from the ground!

This Rock Martin was on top of a flag pole.

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The Cardinals Woodpecker up a tree.

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as was the Red-billed Buffalo-weaver

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Even the Cape Turtle Dove was a new species for me but one I was ignoring totally by the end of the holiday as they are so numeric.

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After breakfast I decided to explore a gravel pit not far from the house. Better luck here as the two Blacksmith's Plover were showing well once they accepted my being present, however, there was a new challenge now. The sun was beaming down and the heat so intense I was soon getting distortion from the hot air in my images.

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Earlier images proved a bit better.

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and it also helps to try and get closer.

To my delight I spotted a single Three-banded Plover and that too allowed fairly close approach

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A smart little bird.

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The Plovers were more disturbed by the arrival of a Yellow-billed Kite than by me

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but as they had all flown from the pool I decided to call it a morning and retreated back to base to check out the images on my latest pice of kit..a laptop ! Is there any end to what I carry on holiday, even I acknowledge cuts need to be made as I'm getting too old to manage the weight!

Anyway, I kept out of the sun for several hours before deciding to venture out again in the afternoon when the heat wasn't anywhere near as bad. In fact the sky had clouded over so it was fairly dull. Still so far I had had a reasonable day and so had Claire soaking up the sun at Gas Mark 8 .

I decided to venture all the way to some distant rocks in search of the Rockrunner.

It was a long walk and for the first time I considered the wisdom of bringing my 600mm f4 lens and not the lighter weight 500 version. Too late now I should have taken the advice offered by some but not all who commented on a couple forums.

The reach is nullified when it gets too hot ( distortion) and it's a damn site more exhausting carrying it because I take a fairly heavy tripod and head too.

I saw a couple of things but nothing of note on the way and it looked like I was going to draw a blank. I was even spending a lot of time on the Adoma Lizard population now, always a good fall back solution.

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That's when I heard it.

And it wasn't a bird.

There was a presence nearby but I didn't know what.

I heard a rustle in the bushes.

I was along way from the farmhouse and all alone.

Eeeks !

I'm in the bush and I know that this is Leopard country. Perfect terrain and they are most certainly about. Pad marks had been seen by the staff only that morning.

I took refuge on top of a boulder and wondered what fate would deal me and then it suddenly made an appearance.

Phew!

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Zebras don't harm you do they?

This one gave me a long hard look before vanishing, probably more scared of me I'm sure. Ironically they don't realise in unarmed combat I wouldn't stand a chance with one! Good job they don't know it.

Anyway, I stayed on the boulder until it had chance to get a long way from me!

That was it then for this visit to Erongo.

I returned for dinner, a few beers and bed.

I didn't consider going out with the camera the following morning. It was breakfast and away.

We were heading for Grootberg Lodge, by "Google" calculations about 380 kms away and a five and a half hour journey away.

Another exciting prospect ahead then !

T.B.C.

Edited by Dave Williams
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Keeping on eye on the ground and the other eye on the trees, no wonder they were watering ! Luckily you have used 600 as now we can enjoy its superb IQ. Staying at the guest farm is the way to go in Namibia, IMO.

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Keeping on eye on the ground and the other eye on the trees, no wonder they were watering ! Luckily you have used 600 as now we can enjoy its superb IQ. Staying at the guest farm is the way to go in Namibia, IMO.

 

@@xelas This farm offered game drives at a reasonable price, 300NR pp I think, but I didn't want to go on one as we were keeping that experience for Etosha and I decided to make birds my priority instead. I was itching to get to seeing some game though!

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I was particularly looking forward to the stay at Grootberg Lodge for several reasons not least as it seemed to be held in very high regard by all who visit . The pictures I'd seen seemed to back that up too and it was after all, along with Dolomite Camp in Etosha, the most expensive place we planned to stay. 6330NR or £365 for two nights half board. The expense didn't end there either, the following day we were booked in for an on foot Rhino tracking expedition which turned out to cost us £250 for the two of us. My biggest concern was that this would be a hard act to follow so early in the trip.

Still we could worry about that later.

We left Otjohotozu Farm with no regret whatsoever. Not that we hadn't enjoyed it, we had, but there was so much ahead to look forward to and not only that we were booked for another two nights on our way south again! I'd be back. A second crack at the Rockrunner, Ruppell's Parrot and everything else then!

We weren't in too big a rush to leave though, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast first.

I think I might have been driving for the first five minutes but Claire took over when, having not gone far, I leapt out of the car in pursuit of a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill , another lifer!

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It wasn't having me getting close though and took off flying past me in the process.


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As it turned out it was the only avian photograph I took all day. Driving through Erongo there was a dearth of wildlife but it was getting hotter.

When I say the only photos I took I do mean of birds. The scenery was quite simply stunning along the D2315 and we couldn't resist stopping for snaps here

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there

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everywhere!

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What made it so special was the contrast of stunning blue sky and fluffy white clouds

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I'm no landscape photographer but I couldn't resist trying although I was just using my Olympus Tough point and shoot whilst Claire was using the iPad.

As well as the sky and terrain there was the odd interesting road sign too!

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You don't see those around where I live!

The only problem was that we stopped so often it took us an hour just to cover the first 30 kms!

Aware it was time moving on we refrained from stopping and I took more shots from the moving car .

That's were the Tough in Olympus came in handy!

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We headed first westwards towards the mining town of Uis ( an ugly blot on the landscape) then northwards towards Khorixas on the C35.

We'd made a conscious decision to take the scenic route on gravel roads but now the reality of travel in Namibia was starting to dawn on us.

Remember my advice on driving ? It was based on this experience!

You can be driving along happily when you can suddenly encounter this.

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Your beautiful day is about to vanish in a cloud of dust !

It's not just vehicles coming the opposite way, the same applies when you are overtaken but as that is likely to be a small vehicle the dust trail isn't too bad.

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Common sense applies and you just hang back for the vehicle to get well ahead however, if you look at that shot again you'll notice two things. We were in the shadow of a cloud so it was darker but in the distance there is a convoy of vehicles approaching.

They might be smallish cars but there were eight of them.

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I couldn't believe how close they followed each other.

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Suddenly it was lights out for us ! Why they would want to drive in such a hazardous formation is beyond me. They must love eating their own dust though.

If it wasn't other vehicles creating the hazard it was a turn in the weather.

We experienced some dramatic weather conditions the further north we travelled in to Damaraland.

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You could see rain clouds gathering and then dropping their load. We kept our fingers crossed we would skirt around them. The skies were fabulous though.

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One minute this

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The next minute this!

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Inevitably we got caught in the middle several times.

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This wasn't rain though, it was liquid gold!

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Sometimes we got caught in dust storms, usually just before the rain hit. The skies were so impressive.

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Was it dangerous driving in these conditions? Certainly not if you are sensible but you need to slow down. Our journey was taking longer and longer, the estimate of 5hrs 30mins long past.

Eventually we felt we were nearing Grootberg. The weather was still looking a bit grim.

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But as quickly as it starts raining it can stop.

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The landscape looks impressive in a totally different way.

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In some ways we didn't see the best of Damaraland as it was often obscured by the rain but we did experience some incredible weather.

Maybe I should drive there again on a day of brilliant blue skies and white fluffy clouds just to compare it properly with Erongo.

In the meantime my memories are more like this!

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Anyway, the rain eased off, we finally got to the turn off for the C40 and the Grootberg Pass and duly arrived at Grootberg Lodge. Well the car park at the bottom of the hill anyway.

Claire had driven all the way, a total of 8 hours. My eyes had kicked off again but were now starting to ease. We had heard so much about the terrors of driving up the steep track to the Lodge car park that we wondered just how bad it could be. Claire was all for leaving the car at the bottom and taking the Lodge's vehicle.

I wasn't!

I have never driven in 4x4 mode before and I wasn't going to miss out. Once the man on the gate showed me how to engage it I was off.

Piece of cake!

We finally had arrived in to the top car park and reception.

You know it's going to be impressive as you have seen the photos but the real deal is so much better!

Each room, a bungalow type hut, looks over the valley below.

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and what a view it is too!

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The rooms are nicely appointed, the beds comfortable. Well at the price they should be too.

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They don't have fridges in the rooms so it was off to the bar for a sundowner. The drinks are very reasonable (as they were everywhere we went) 30NR or less than £2 for a large Windhoek draught lager.

Yes, the weather had taken a turn for the better and there was a hint of sun as it disappeared for the night.

Could you really wish to end the day in better style?

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We had a few more too and were one of the last in to the restaurant where we had an enjoyable meal before an early bed ready for a 5.00am alarm to take us off Rhino tracking.

It was already the end of Day 4 and so far I had seen vey little game , a roadside baboon or two, an Oryx and my encounter with a Zebra.

Hopefully tomorrow all that would change. Bring it on!

Any regrets so far ?

Definitely. I wish we had arrived at Grootberg much earlier. So much to see, now one afternoon less to see it.

Remember that tip. don't plan to drive too far in a single day.

TBC.

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That's some trip report you're getting us in to @@Dave Williams! Wonderful to get so many details about travel,driving, lodges etc. We only saw one little part of Namibia last month, Fish River Canyon, but your description of the roads, driving times and scenery certainly matches ours. Except for the rain ;). We made a conscious decision to limit ourselves this time as we also wished to visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, but it is definitely a country we would like to explore further and your vivid tales do appeal to us. As do your excellent photographs!

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I'm thoroughly enjoying this...the story and the beautiful photography...thank you! Namibia is high on our list, and it seems that self driving is the way to do it. You are not the first ST to do it, and we are convinced now. Looking forward for more, keep those birds coming!

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From fluffy white to heavy black, clouds are always making the photos better!

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You are making me very excited about my own up-coming trip Dave! Great stuff already, and you've hardly started.

 

If an X-trail can manage the road to Grootberg it must be a lot easier than i had believed.

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You are making me very excited about my own up-coming trip Dave! Great stuff already, and you've hardly started.

 

If an X-trail can manage the road to Grootberg it must be a lot easier than i had believed

@PeterConnan The X-trail didn't even need the 4x4 anywhere else. If you are camping I can see the point of hiring a Hillux otherwise it's O.T.T for most people in my opinion. It seemed some people see them as a status symbol and you were more likely to see one of them speeding than any other vehicle although in fairness they were probably in the majority too. They are the White Van Man we see in the UK. They think they are invincible driving a tank and to a certain extent they are. I saw one on it's roof as a result of driver error though. Driving too fast on gravel and hitting the brakes. Result:Skid,hit side bank of gravel, flip over, write off the vehicle. The rear cab saved the occupants from injury, they were lucky.

Right, hard hat on and I'll take shelter from replies to my opinion!

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Jip, that's me. The big 4x4's (mostly) feel very planted and serene on bad dirt roads, but if they start sliding and hit an obstruction, they are far more likely to roll.

 

Seriously though, the local farmers pride themselves on their dirt-road driving ability, and often do 120+ on these dirt roads, at the same time deriding the tourists for their ineptness.

But I suspect the local experts may be a big contributing factor, because a nervous tourist is likely to do the wrong thing in the cloud of dust kicked up by a speeding vehicle.

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This was the day I had been looking forward to for a long time. The excitement of getting close to one of these magnificent beasts was something I would treasure forever, well provided we found one!

There are no guarantees and we didn't expect one either, they are wild animals after all and unlike some places they don't have electronic tracking devices on them although if it gives them extra protection I wouldn't mind if they did.

Our alarm went of at 5.00am, we were due to leave at 6.00am. In fairness to the Lodge they lay on a full and proper breakfast from 5.00am onwards. As it happened there were only 4 of us taking the trip so plenty of space on the vehicle.

The early morning light was quite spectacular

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The outlook for the day looking very promising indeed!

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It was a fairly long drive from the Lodge to where we would begin searching so the first stop was an opportunity for a loo break.

This is it.

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You have been warned!

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Claire can't decide if she can hang on for what could be hours!

Anyway, after everyone has decided we move on and to my surprise suddenly come across a small settlement in the middle of nowhere.

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The anti-poaching unit have made camp here.We pick up a couple of the team who will accompany us so there are now 4 "guests". 2 trackers, 2 from the anti poaching unit and 1 driver. Not quite as much space in the vehicle now but it didn't last for long.

We stopped, flushing what I think was a Lanner Falcon in the process

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Two Black-backed Jackals soon made off from a nearby otherwise hidden location too. Another first for me!

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The trackers and the A-P team all got off and spread out to look for tracks, we carried on driving coming across a Zebra

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and a pair of Kudu as we went. ( Another first, things were looking up!)

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We went so far then the driver turned the vehicle around and headed back the way we had come. He had received a message that the trackers had found a Rhino.

This was great news. We were with them in minutes and we were ushered a short distance to a safe viewing point on top of some huge boulders.

There she was, she's called Elizabeth, and in my opinion she's beautiful.

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We had been warned to keep as quiet as possible as they have good hearing, they also have a good sense of smell but very poor eyesight.

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The wind was carrying our scent directly to her and she was obviously a bit nervous. She moved back a bit.

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Luckily not too far away though. I don't know how long we stayed to watch, probably no more than 5 minutes as we didn't want to disturb her and she was obviously not happy we were there. She moved behind a bush and just stood there and there was little point in staying longer. We had however had some terrific views and a chance to get very close to her too. Perhaps within 30 metres.

All this and it was only 9.30 a.m.

It was a very magical but also a very poignant experience. Isn't it tragic that these stunning animals are killed to satisfy an ignorant,stupid, inadequate somewhere in some far off place. Whoever creates the demand though cannot surely be uneducated. They have to be rich. What's the matter with these people. Words fail me.

Thankfully there are some who do their best to protect them.

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The guides wouldn't tell us how many Rhinos there were... for obvious reasons. They did tell us that they were relocated from Etosha to what was seen as a safe environment 13 years ago. Surrounded by mountains it was decided this place would be ideal to help protect them but the risk is always there and several Rhino's have met a grisly fate in this district.

To add to the risk from poaching, for the last 7 years there has been a critical lack of water which has created a food shortage for all the wildlife living there.

After we left Elizabeth we drove around for another 2 hours or so and found very few signs of life but quite a lot of dead carcasses, mainly Zebra.

Rhino can and do survive better than most as they can eat a wider variety of leaves and grasses, other species are less fortunate.

With mammals seemingly non existent we did spot a Skink, well the guide did.

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Up in the air a pair of very distant Verreaux's Eagles

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and the brilliant flash of colour on the other side of the valley caught my attention and I asked the driver to stop.

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With only a 100-400 lens a full frame camera, even with a 1.4TC added, it was along way off for anything more than a record shot.

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I must admit I was feeling frustrated at the lack of opportunities.

We picked up some fresh Rhino tracks but despite them telling us they were less than an hour or so old we didn't pursue them. Instead we headed away and found a spot for lunch which was way out of the valley and on the way back to the lodge.

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That was it then.

I have mixed feelings about the whole trip.

We actually saw more wildlife on the way back and much closer to the Lodge

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A small herd of Giraffe as well as a large troop of Baboons.

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We were back at base very early afternoon.

The morning's adventure had cost us £250. A fair amount and off the top of my head, probably the most I have ever spent on a single event ( topping the £90 it cost to watch Liverpool loose the League Cup final at Wembley last year!).

You can't compare the two of course. Standing watching the Rhino, even if it was only for a few minutes was something very, very special. I had been humbled in it's presence to be honest, ashamed and hugely annoyed at what mankind can and has done to them.

I guess my expectations hadn't been met in other ways though. We had only walked 30-40 metres from the vehicle to see the Rhino, hardly a trek. We had seen very little wildlife at all and the whole trip was over pretty soon.

On the other hand, if there is little in the way of wildlife there is little point in carrying on looking. The aim to show us a Rhino had been met so why go looking for another and in turn disturbing it.

I reasoned with myself that if the £250 went towards Rhino conservation it was worth every penny. Hopefully it does.

A few days later I spoke to some people who made the trip after us. They were out until 6.00pm having not found a Rhino until late afternoon. They had also walked for miles to the point of exhaustion. They though felt satisfied with the experience.

I guess the more the effort the more the reward.

Anyway, the good news I guess was that I now had a free afternoon back at the Lodge for a bit of birding!

On our arrival we had been warned not to stray away from the paths that lead to the huts/rooms. Lions were present. A Zebra kill had taken place in front of one of the rooms only a few days ago, the lions had also been known to visit the swimming pool for a drink. Really?

Believe what you may. There were certainly Zebra very close to the rooms

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I felt that the hype about the dangers was more to do with the attempt to push us towards a guided walk. Anyway, I didn't bite and I didn't stray very far at all.

I spent an hour or two hanging around waiting to see what might turn up on two wings, especially hopeful of fly-by eagles but it was very quiet indeed.

The Rock Hyrax came out of their hiding places in the boulders below the restaurant balcony and despite their size managed to not only climb the trees but have thin branches support them.

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They seem to survive on a diet of these leaves

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I was using the 600mm and tripod to photograph them which was a total overkill as you could walk right up to one and use a phone camera if you wanted to. They are so used to people.

One or two of the birds seem likewise. The African Red-eyed Bulbul being one of them.

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While I'm trying and failing to get an unobscured shot whilst one is sat in the tree, Claire takes shots with her phone when it shares her table at the bar looking for crumbs !

The Pale-winged Starling co-operated a little better.

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Wandering off to the car park I had a brief encounter with a couple of birds, one escaped my camera, the other gave a very brief opportunity.

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I have decided it's a Carp's Tit but I might be mistaken. Could be Southern Black Tit. Either way it doesn't matter really. This was the only one I saw in Namibia as far as I was aware and it's a first!

Our next door neighbours chalet seemed to attract a Mountain Wheatear but it steadfastly refused me a better photo opportunity.

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I was beginning to get frustrated. I'd been in Namibia for nearly 5 days now and hardly taken a decent shot of anything.

If there wasn't anything about I would go and find something elsewhere so informing Claire I was taking the car off I went.

The lodge has a waterhole a few hundred metres from the buildings and to my delight there was a Kudu there taking a drink. Excellent!

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It was obviously malnourished poor thing. You only had to look around and see the total lack of vegetation. It was soon joined by a troop of Baboons, must have been 20 or 30. Probably the ones we saw earlier had come up out of the valley.

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The big male kept an eye on me whilst having a drink

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In terms of distance and view point this was probably the best waterhole we visited in the whole of Namibia. At last the photo opportunities were coming my way.

They must be eating enough to breed though as there was a very young one amongst them.

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The light was starting to deteriorate as the skies clouded. Although fitting the Kudu in the frame was tricky with a 600mm lens, for the Baboons it was perfect.

I decided I had to tell Claire what she was missing, besides it was no longer sunbathing weather so I popped back to the room to tell her. She decided to join me in the car.

By the time we got back the Baboons had moved away from the water but we were soon joined by the rest of the Kudu family.

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We now had three youngsters as well as two adults.

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One of the adults munched on a few leaves but for the youngsters they were probably out of reach.

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We noticed both adults visited and licked at a something on the ground. I presume it's a salt lick provided by the lodge.

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After all had had their fill of water they wandered off. We weren't quite done yet though!

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Both a Speckled Pigeon and a Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark made visits.

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Again, they would be the only ones I would see in Namibia so on a numbers game it was a success.

The dark skies started to drop a little rain so we decided to head back to the lodge and a pre-dinnorial drink.

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Once again we took in the stunning view but it was starting to look a bit menacing.

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Within a few minutes the views were almost totally obscured and the heavens opened.

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Mass panic as all the guests head towards shelter!

That evening instead of enjoying a sunset we stood around the wood fire by the bar but it gave us all a conversation point and once again we were one of the last in to dinner having spent time sharing our adventures with other guests.

With hindsight, again our late arrival the previous day and now rain meant that our time in Grootberg from a photo point of view had been more limited than expected. Getting up and out at 6.00am meant the morning had passed by there too.

The next day we were moving on heading towards Etosha N.P.

My luck would change there for sure.

TBC.

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