In this thread (sooner or later); a trip report of a self-drive through Namibia.
But a self drive with a twist; we drove from one location to another, but once there always used the services of the lodge or of specialized companies. You'll see what I mean. The purpose was to use our time in the best possible way, and to get the most out of every day.
- The coast
I composed this trip myself, but with the help of Sun Safaris. In some places I had a fairly good idea what lodge to pick. But in other places I had absolutely no idea. Sun Safaris proposed some lodges, we agreed, and then they made all the bookings for us. We pre-booked almost all activities, and the car as well.
Posted 18 November 2012 - 12:58 PM
In this thread (sooner or later); a trip report of a self-drive through Namibia.
Posted 18 November 2012 - 01:13 PM
After a red eye flight with Air France we arrived in Jo'burg early morning. I managed to get some sleep, which is just as well as I needed to do quite a bit of driving later that day. First time we tried "Premium Voyageur", a class between business and cattle class. I'm a fan!
Over noon; connecting flight with Air Namibia to Windhoek. Then straight to the rental company (Budget Car) where our car was waiting for us. It was a Nissan X-Trail. Nothing special, but very roomy for two people (easy photography) and high on it's wheels (good to avoid the stones that fly about on the gravel roads). We also asked for a 2nd spare wheel. The thought being; if I get a flat tire, at least I don't need to find a garage asap and in the mean time worry about getting another flat.
On the road!
My first time driving in a car with the steering wheel on the right, and on the "wrong" side of the streets. Nothing special really, and you get a bit of time getting adjusted to the gear shift being on the other side, as the airport is 30kms+ away from Windhoek.
But in Windhoek; better not drop your guard. Traffic lights. Pedestrians. Traffic signs. And lots of them. You should know; I arrived without a map and without GPS. All I had was a txt file on the iPad with some general directions written out. The thought being; Namibia's got 10 roads, how on earth could I ever get lost?
Well, what I thought was correct; you can't really get lost in Namibia. But in the city, you must keep your eyes open for signs pointing you in the right direction. And if that fails, use plan B: orient yourself by means of the sun, and drive in the general direction of where you want to go. After all, I thought, there's only one main road going out of town in a southerly direction. And I thought correctly. The signs wouldn't have helped me anyway, as I failed to write down any names of en-route towns. So we followed signs saying "Rohoboth", or rather "Robocop" as we named it, and would you know it? After a while Hardap was mentioned as well.
We didn't need to go as far as Hardap though. After a few hours of asphalt we saw a sigh directing us to Bagatelle Lodge. So we took a right onto a gravel road. It was a different road as the one I had noted down in my txt file, so I hoped the signs further on would be just as clear.
About the roads;
- tar is no fun in Namibia, as it's all as straight as an arrow. Which makes you let your guard down. But you can't do that as everyone is going 120km/h and the lanes are rather narrow, with little margin for error. In comparison; a 2-lane tar road like in Namibia would have a"max 90" sign in Belgium. And roads where we drive 120 have at least 4 lanes, which are about 1,5 times as wide as in Namibia. So for those who think driving on tar in Namibia is more relaxing than on gravel; think again.
- gravel roads have signs saying "max 80" and at first you think "are they nuts? Who drives more than 20km/h on such roads?" But soon you realize that, while gravel roads may be full of potholes in your own country, in Namibia they are very flat and smooth. Plus, they are as wide as a 4-lane roads here in Belgium. So you learn to drive them how it's supposed to be done; you keep to the middle, and only slow down and move to the side to avoid the car coming from the opposite direction. And to avoid any stone that this car might throw in your direction. Driving on gravel is like driving on ice/snow. So the goal is to avoid abrupt movements. So; accelerate slowly, brake with moderation, and don't do crazy stuff with your steering wheel. And keep your RPM low. At 80 I was in 6th gear.
While I liked driving on gravel roads, I must admit this first drive was rather tiring. Because I had no regular bed to sleep in the night before. And because it was all uphill-downhill (so at every hill, since I could not see what was coming, I had to slow down). We were still driving while the sun went down. And I wasn't too keen on driving on gravel at night, certainly not on my first day. It was a bit cloudy that day, and right after sunset the clouds produced the most stunning sunset I've ever seen. But because I wanted to get off the road asap, I said "not gonna stop, we'll take pictures of the sky tomorrow evening"
* FACEPALM *
Needless to say but of course the sky was completely devoid of clouds after that evening (except… well you'll see).
We came at the gate of Bagatelle Lodge (which you have to open & close yourself) and after two more kilometers arrived at the lodge itself. Here we were going to spend our first three nights.
The houses on the dunes are the nicest here (yes the pic was taken the day afterwards) but we got a regular room, as those were fully booked at the dates we wanted, even though we booked way in advance. So if you want these; be sure to book way in advance! And by that I mean; 6 to 9 months in advance.
Not that our room was bad. OK, not much of a view, but the room was big and airy, and the beds were comfy. Behind that red wall in the back; a bathroom with sink and walk-in shower. We liked it.
The lodge has a few fun inhabitants. Most fun are the black headed weavers. But then there's Rusty the cat as well, and Skunky the springbok. He's got pieces of garden hose over his horns, as he starts play-fihting with guests when they go for a walk (there's paths you can follow if you want to go walking, and Skunky often follows you). And there's an oryx as well, with idem don to her horns. But I forgot the name.
Dinner is in a boma with a firepit in the middle;
Now, as I said this whole trip was pre-arranged and pre-booked, and I crammed in as much activities as possible. Which, in retrospect was perhaps a bit silly - but more on that later. This means that we had plenty of things to do at Bagatelle. But we found out very quick that they are not used to getting customers like us. Most people stay for one night, just "en route" to other places, or at most two nights. This means they only do an afternoon activity, or sometimes morning + afternoon activities. But never the same thing twice (like; two morning game drives). So, the lodge started explaining what activity they were planning to give us, but mentioning every activity just once, even though we booked (for example) multiple game drives. If I'd let them do what they wanted, we'd be sitting on our bums for 7 hours the first day we were there! So it took a bit of effort but we made them understand right away that we were not there to sit at the bar or at the pool and that we wanted to be "out there" as much as possible. They got the message, and threw things around so that we got what we paid for.
Our guide was Pedro, a guy from Angola. He was very knowledgeable, but he came across a bit "stiff". I assumed it was just because we came across as "tough customers" when discussing our shedule. And that must have been it because after half a day or so he clearly relaxed.
The lodge is on one end of the road, on a big plot that not only harbors the lodge, but also lots of springbok and oryx, and camping spots for self-drivers. But a much bigger plot (30000Ha if I remember correctly) is on the other side of the road. Both sides are fenced. You'll find that in Namibia everything is fenced. As to keep their own animals in, and keeping other animals out. Of course, it doesn't really work. Kudu go over the fence, warthogs go under it. Elephants trample fences with ease; most are not even electrified.
The Kalahari, or at least the part owned by Bagatelle, is flat, but there's "waves" of dunes, each about 200 to 300m apart. The flat areas contain lots of grass, and sometimes bushy areas and even trees. But the dunes themselves are not completely covered in vegetation, so often the red sand underneath the vegetation is showing. Water is provided with pumps. There's also a big pan on the property. But unless you come within two months after the rainy season, you'll find it completely empty. At least three other neighboring properties provide the same services as Bagatelle, on similar plots. But strangely enough there's fences between every property. At one point we found giraffe on either side of a fence, clearly wondering why they could not get to each other, and looking for a way around the fence.
There's plenty of game on the plains. Oryx, springbok, kudu, steenbok, zebra, eland, blue wildebeest, giraffe, red hartebeest, and so on. No elephants. Predators; cheetah and leopard, but they are rarely seen. There's also meerkats, in fact one of the major reasons I wanted to visit the place as I had never seen these before. Game is a bit skittish. We thought it was because the vehicle has to roar up the dunes every time, to get into the next valley, and that the engine noise scares the animals. But according to Pedro because there's simply not enough game drives being done yet (most people barely have time for one drive in the afternoon). Now, this all doesn't mean however, that you can't have good sightings. As always, the key is to spend enough time. We certainly never got bored. And in retrospect; the best place to get your "oryx on red dune" shot is right there in the Kalahari. A couple of pics:
Eland right after dawn:
Some oryx shots:
And some more inhabitants:
Bagatelle also has three cheetah from CCF. Specimens that cannot be re-wilded unfortunately. They are kept in an 2Ha enclosure next to the lodge, and are fed every evening. You can join at that time. They drive the game vehicle into the enclosure, and then drive around a bit as to give the cheetahs some exercise. Apart from the very good photo opportunities you also get plenty of good knowledge on cheetahs and their behavior, which is great certainly for people who have never seen cheetah before.
It's not "the wild" but at least the animals are given a place to live and are in good shape. It was a lot of fun photographing them running. But a word of warning; it is over in no time so make sure you have the right zoom lens mounted (preferably not too much tele but rather a 70-200mm). Luckily we were there 3 nights and could do this thing twice, as the first time I only managed to photograph tails. And out of focus.
Apart from the self-guided walks the lodge can also provide guided walks. I assume these are not requested a lot, as most people probably think "why pay for something that I can do myself, for free?" Well, we found out they make something special out of it; we had three san accompanying us. It was extremely funny hearing their clicking language and watching them mimic animals and human behavior. At one point I nearly lost it when one of the San guys decided to explain that some bush caused constipation when you ate too much of it, but that the same bush also contains something that makes you empty your bowels in a rather exploding fashion. The guy mimicked it all, and is hilarious. Our guide Pedro translated for us, but strangely enough I understood most of it just by watching the San guys.
We found Bagatelle to be quite fun, and a perfect start for our holiday. Food was incredible too. We'd certainly recommend it to other people. But to appreciate what it has to offer, please stay at least two nights.
Funny anecdote; we had to leave at noon, and after our walk with the San, were saying our goodbyes, when Pedro asked "what did you think of Bagatelle". I said all had been great but just too bad we had only seen meerkats only once, and from rather far away. To which he answered "oh you want to see meerkats? Follow me then!" We followed him through a gate at the back of the lodge and came into a yard containing chickens etc and two horses as well. Guess what; meerkats had decided to make their burrow right there, next to the fence. So just before leaving I got good pics of the species I came here for. No close-ups, as these were animals were not used to animals that much. But good pics nonetheless. Maybe I'll clone the fence poles out.
Posted 18 November 2012 - 04:09 PM
Posted 18 November 2012 - 04:20 PM
Posted 18 November 2012 - 04:29 PM
Posted 19 November 2012 - 01:02 AM
Your San lecture was a lively one.
Can you give me an outline of your 3 days at Bagatelle?
I just looked at your itinerary again and it is exactly what I want to do. I was working on a Namibia itinerary for this past Aug but it fell through. It was just what you had without Bagatelle, which I'd now like to add.
Edited by Atravelynn, 19 November 2012 - 01:13 AM.
Posted 19 November 2012 - 02:59 AM
Posted 19 November 2012 - 04:20 AM
Posted 19 November 2012 - 05:20 AM
Edited by A&M, 20 November 2012 - 07:46 AM.
Posted 19 November 2012 - 08:06 AM
@Lynn, I think it took us 20mins from the airport to Windhoek. There we stopped for some drinks and to draw some money. Then on to Bagatelle; about 3h30mins if I remember correctly.
Ican already tell you now; our drive time from Bagetelle to Sossusvlei was about the same. Well perhaps a bit longer. 4 to 5 hours? I remember we left Bagatelle at about 10AM, we stopped for gas in Mariental and then took the road to Sesriem via Maltahohe. There's other ways to get there but we took this road as then you have tar until Maltahohe. We also stopped for lunch (a lunch pack from Bagatelle) somewhere en route to Sossusvlei, so we "lost" at least 30 mins there as well. Plus you have to count all the photo stops. I remember stopping at least twice to photograph the landscape.
Our 3 days at Bagatelle;
- day 1; eat & sleep, lol
- day 2: morning game drive, afternoon game drive & cheetah feeding
- day 3: idem
- day 4: morning walk & then on to Sossusvlei
@John; you should! Driving on gravel is actually quite fun, once you get the hang of it.
@André; the "blonde" is called pepper. He's one of the three cheetahs.
@Safarichick; you may be a bit disappointed as we're not into surfing at all so we didn't do that.
Posted 19 November 2012 - 08:53 AM
Is the owner still managing the place? he wasa really friendly and interesting guy.
Waiting again... for the next time again
Posted 19 November 2012 - 09:55 AM
I was delighted to find that you had started your TR and I saved it for this evening when I could relax with a cup of tea. You bring back happy memories of Bagatelle. Did you see the creche of young oryx? There was a group of around 15 in the care of 2 adults when we were there in early August - I've never seen such a large group of young oryx and I didn't know about the 'creching' - has anyone else heard of this?
I'm surprised that you had to chase activities - we booked a FB package with 2 activities per day and Charl or Enrico always checked what we wanted to do at breakfast. I did have a smile because the 'scenic drive' and 'game drive' seemed exactly the same to me, also the drive to sundowners was quite familiar. I agree with you when you say that most people only stay 1 night to see the cheetah before continuing south and this short stay may explain the lack of planned activities that you experienced.
Had the new owner arrived when you were there and did you have any idea of the number of new staff? I know that Charl the manager was leaving and also Enrico the office manager - not sure about the guides but I don't remember a Pedro. The game is skittish because they still 'hunt for the pot' and I think this happens in the area behind the lodge, rather than the larger land holding over the road. Charl told us that a game capture team had been working on Bagatelle in the previous couple of months and the animals were still nervous following that experience.
pault - Bagatelle has recently been sold, and the owners Fred and Onie Jacobs have moved to Swakopmund. The new owner is the guy from Intu Afrika which is a game farm down the road. The takeover had been delayed due to the new owner's ill health. The Jacobs were retaining part of Bagatelle on which to run a game farm and Charl, the Manager was going to work on the game farm. Enrico, the office manager was leaving to work on cruise boats. Fred Jacobs was returning to Bagatelle shortly after we left in early September to keep an eye on the place in the new owner's absence. Given these major changes, it is to be hoped that the high standard of accommodation and game viewing that we enjoyed are maintained.
Posted 19 November 2012 - 02:03 PM
Thanks for all that info!
Been discussing with Pault via PM; the hunting for the pot is still taking place but not on the plot where they drive on, as far as I understood.
The attempts to habituate meerkats were certainly stopped. Otherwise we would have been able to approach them much closer. Just as well, as I prefer nature to be as nature is supposed to be.
About the planning of activities; my wife came up with an alternative explanation; the day they tried to keep us in the lodge for 7 hours, there was already a game drive with a group of Germans, filling the game drive vehicle to the brim. Maybe they weren't too keen on sending out a 2nd vehicle. Well, that didn't work, so we ended up going out with a "private" vehicle . Here's another thought; we haven't seen anyone of management the whole time. Maybe they just tried this because management wasn't there? Maybe they just wanted a lazy afternoon? Well if so then I sure hope they don't try that anymore because management is sure to find out, and/or they're going to get more customers like us, that take no BS.
Posted 19 November 2012 - 07:37 PM
Posted 19 November 2012 - 08:05 PM
Agree with your points on the self-drive and the roads in Nam. Have to give it to the govt. of Namibia on maintaining even the smallest patch. We found a lot of road maintenance activities all along the way till Caprivi. The gravel roads of Etosha are superb, but its a different story in Damaraland - we had some bitter experiences with the potholes and the unpredictable depth of sand.
Thanks for sharing, and look forward to more.
Posted 20 November 2012 - 04:13 AM
Namibia is the only place really on my bucket list for a self drive and all the recent reports have increased its standings. Hopefully I have enough years in me.
… clarity in thought comes after challenge …
Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:09 AM
Posted 20 November 2012 - 07:38 AM
Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Trip report, Namibia
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