After 3 months in South Africa, it was time to head west, to Namibia, and then north, to Etosha… We set off with great excitement, eager to see the iconic landscapes about which we had heard so much. After 2 mega long days driving, crossing the border (as with many African countries) was typically underwhelming and bureaucratic, but, at last, we were through!
The Namibian landscape is very varied; however the south-eastern part of the country was our least favourite: it’s harsh and quite bleak, with furnace-like heat, miles and miles of white sand and stones, a mostly flat landscape and endlessly straight roads. With the intense heat we experienced the desert mirage: shimmering areas ahead that looked invitingly like water! We also understood the requirement to use your headlights at all times of day – cars with lights are definitely easier to distinguish from formless black shapes in the hazy distance. It’s an attempt to cut the very high death rate on the Namibian roads… Why, we’re unsure, as traffic is scarce indeed! Our guess is speed and boredom, as it’s easy to be less focused when the driving is so easy.
We had a brief stopover at Erindi, a private game reserve north of Windhoek, where we were fortunate to see some very cute bat-eared foxes; a first for both of us! We also experienced a deluge of rain, bringing large bullfrogs out of their holes and heralding (we hope), the end of the drought in Namibia. There was so much rain that roads were washed away; dam walls burst; and our previously sparkling blue swimming pool ended up looking like a muddy waterhole! At least our tent was thoroughly tested – and, we’re pleased to say, it survived. We, however, had several very scary moments on clay-like sections of the muddy roads and trying to traverse the pools of water that had collected across most roads. Rich called on his wet weather driving skills and Heath Robinson-like tactics to clear the deeper pools that blocked our path home on several occasions!
A highlight of our stay in Erindi was seeing elephants up close and watching the wonderfully entertaining antics of the hippos in the waterhole, which formed the central feature of the site. There was a hippo family resident there; it seemed as though the younger hippo was trying to assert himself, so we had much bellowing and open-jawed displays, as he took on his significantly larger mother! Hippos are very aggressive (including towards one another) and are known as one of Africa’s most dangerous animals; fortunately, though, these challenges seemed to be in jest.
And then for the highlight of Etosha… Our excitement mounted as we drove north to this well-renowned Namibian national park: we hypothesised about what we might see and experience; at the same time, keen not to have our expectations raised too high – to avoid any possible disappointment!
Our first camp was Okaukuejo: dry, stony and very busy, as it’s on the main travellers’ overland route through southern Africa. However, the waterhole at Okaukuejo is justifiably famous: it’s the only waterhole for miles, so is a favourite of the animals during the dry season and there is a wide variety of shaded benches from which you can watch the game come to drink and cool off. Floodlights enable night-time viewing too – with just rewards for those willing to stay up late!
We also encountered the persistent jackals and ground squirrels who roam the campsite, in search of titbits from visitors. They look very cute, and it’s wonderful to see wild animals up close; the downside is that the naivety of travellers who feed the animals can lead to them being shot as they can become aggressive if they lose their fear of humans. We were vigilant about not leaving food out… However, the jackals ‘won’ one night, as they chewed through the strap of Karyn’s trusty walking sandals!
The game viewing in this middle section of the park is hard work, because of the scarcity of water and food across the vast, seemingly endless plains and the huge dry pan. If patient, though, and willing to drive slowly in order to spot the well-camouflaged birds, reptiles and mammals, there are rewards to be had. It’s just that the days in the car are long, and the rewards are few and far between! The exception is the melee at the waterholes, as animals desperate for water crowd the available space.
Viewing a pride of somnolent lions, resting in the limited midday shade, was a real treat! The cubs were restless and playful; watching their interactions with the adults – especially the regal male – gave us several hours of pleasure. The other viewing that sustained our spirits was the range of birds, especially predators. We had some superb sightings of several birds that were new to us, alongside previously seen favourites.
From Okaukuejo we drove west, through Halali Camp, to Namutomi. Halali was a little oasis for a lunchtime stop: we saw our first owl in the park near the waterhole, an ever-so-cute Pearl-spotted owlet which was very tolerant of us photographing him, and a gorgeous chameleon whose exploring got the better of him! He fell off his tree as he tried to move to another branch, turning white as he landed on the white sand below, and then changing back to green as he sought refuge in the next tree.
East of Halali we also passed a flock of flamingos (both greater flamingos and lesser) amassed in a waterhole near the road where they were feeding. Simply stunning!
Namutoni Camp was delightful! It was far greener than the other camps (there was actually grass in the campsite, rather than stones and rocks!) and there were several waterholes within a 15 kilometre radius of the camp, which meant that game was far more prolific and our game drives were consequently significantly more rewarding. It was frustrating to drive towards a feature marked as a waterhole on the map, only to find it dried up… However, once we got to know the area, we quickly developed favourite spots where sightings were more-or-less guaranteed.
One of our favourite spots was the Okevi (Groot – or big – and Klein – or small) waterholes. It was here that we first saw a black rhino pair attempting to mate. Well, the male was, but for most of the time the female was having none of it! (Some interesting reflections here for the males of our species… sex seems so much easier for men than the poor rhino male!) This male was clearly highly frustrated: he could smell the female was in oestrus, and she seemed to be keen for him to approach – only to then bellow aggressively and charge towards him, to fend him off. He then beat a hasty retreat to the shade of a nearby tree, before trying again…
It was also in this area that we saw our first glimpse of a cheetah family: a mother and her two teenage cubs (probably about a year old). They were moving off from the waterhole, into the thick bush, as we approached. We then spent a frustrating couple of hours of our own, trying to second-guess where they were headed! When we finally saw them later they had clearly chosen the path we hadn’t taken, and by then they were mere ‘blobs’ in the middle of the pan as a dust storm obliterated our view.
Two days later our patience was rewarded: we saw the same cheetah family feasting on a recent kill. It was completely absorbing watching them devour an entire springbuck (apart from the innards) while the vultures maintained a respectful distance, waiting for their turn to feed. The interactions between the two cubs and between the mother and her cubs were very tender, as they carefully groomed one another after their feeding frenzy!
Another favourite was the Klein Namutomi waterhole. It was here that we regularly saw animals come to drink – and we were also very lucky to see three young male lions resting nearby, and, a real treat, a leopard up a tree!
So, for us, Namutomi delivered. We loved our time there and would certainly return again… We are keen to go back after the rainy season, to explore a very different landscape when the pans have water in them. More about that if (or hopefully when) we manage to return!
It’s been an interesting learning experience for both of us spending 24 hours a day together 7 days a week as we’ve both re-learned tolerance and the importance of down-time, good food and some luxuries in-between the long days in the car… The campsite swimming pools have been a god-send; our fan has enabled us to sleep at night (an electric fan, to create wind – not a keen supporter following us!); and our potjie pot has given us much pleasure as we create some magical slow-cooked meals over the coals.
We now head to the Caprivi Strip, from where our next update will hopefully follow, and then further north into Zambia as our adventure continues… We thank you all for your support, as your messages and interest sustain and nurture us, and wish you well as you go about your daily lives and follow your dreams.
Karyn and Richard