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Rob self-drives through northern Namibia – November, 2017

 

‘It will beep if you go over 80kms an hour on the gravel’ said the representative at Caprivi Hire Car, as she showed me around my travel companion in Namibia, a Toyota Hilux Double Cab with 148,000 dusty kms under its belt. Thinking of my family back home, and remembering a couple of less sedate gravel road journeys from my younger days, I thought to myself ‘I’m fine with that’. But when they told me the limit on tar roads was 100kms per hour, I did pull a face and plead for a little leeway. ‘You’ll be fine’ she said, ‘it won’t beep until you go above 120’. Nine days and 2800 kms later, I was incredibly grateful for that leeway, though more importantly, I was grateful to have covered so much ground without incident, and perhaps the occasional ‘beeeeeep’ was even a good thing!

And so I set off into the northern Namibia wilderness, occasionally taking my eyes off the speedometer to admire the scenery or watch the road ahead for signs of life. Leaving the city of Windhoek and the main tar roads behind, I quickly found myself on a gravel road towards the Erongo Mountains. All of sudden, and seemingly from nowhere, a large animal landed on the roadside just ahead and proceeded to bound across the road just yards in front of me. I recognised the thin white stripes and swirling horns of a large male kudu and slowed to watch its short fluffy white tail disappear into the bushes. Despite Namibia being a country known for its epic desert scenery and vast landscapes, for the time being at least I was definitely ‘back in the bush’. Always a good feeling.

Having spent my arrival night in Windhoek, my first day was a long one, taking me through the Erongo Mountains to the Brandberg Mountain (Namibia’s highest), the Ugab River Valley and on to the Twyfelfontein area. I visited various properties en route including the lovely and highly recommended (for birders and walkers) Erongo Wilderness Lodge and a new eco-camp called Ozondjou Trails, where you can enjoy some friendly hospitality and search for desert elephants in the Ugab River Valley. The day ended at the wonderful Mowani Mountain Camp, with beautiful sunset drinks from their mountain top al fresco bar.

The next day I had to leave my car for 24 hours as I flew into the magnificent north-west corner of the vast Palmwag Concession, which borders the Skeleton Coast National Park to the west and stunning Hoanib River to the north. My destination was the exclusive Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, run by Wilderness Safaris, and this camp and area do deserve special mention. For anyone who enjoys real wilderness, this is an epic place. The landscapes are jaw-dropping, and feel almost ‘other worldly’, and the feeling of remoteness is almost palpable. In the Hoanib Valley we encountered springbok, oryx, giraffe, lion, cheetah and desert elephants – a decent amount of game for most regions – but out here in the harsh wilderness every sighting seemed all the more special. Most of the footage in my new Desert Elephants of Namibia video was taken in the Hoanib Valley just 20 minutes from camp. The camp itself was very comfortable, making it somewhere you can relax as well as enjoying the incredible natural environment.

Safely back in my Hilux, I continued north into the red and rugged Etendeka Mountains, spending a night at Grootberg Lodge on top of the high plateau and the next morning visiting old favourite Etendeka Mountain Camp. I was sad to hear that black rhino numbers in the area had been depleted since my last visit, due to poaching, but I met guests who had been out that morning and enjoyed two separate sightings. Heading back south I spent a night at Damaraland Camp and was able to explore the beautiful Huab Valley, one of Namibia’s ephemeral rivers which is home to desert elephants. After a good search we located the herd and watched as they climbed quietly out of the river valley and crossed the boulder strewn plains to visit a distant water source. To see them in this environment was something special.

Heading East, I called in briefly at the Waterberg Plateau before skirting back round to the north east to reach the Otavi Mountains. Here, the Mundulea Private Game Reserve is a very exciting and authentic conservation initiative in progress, run by expert guide Bruno Nebe. Mundulea offers very exclusive walking safaris, guided by Bruno or one of his excellent partner guides, and a stay at his traditional camp is well suited to anyone who enjoys conservation, in-depth guiding, personal hosting, walking and exclusivity.

It was then a relative stone’s throw (2 hours) north-west to the Von Lindquist gate on the eastern edge of Etosha National Park. Here I spent a night with the excellent Mushara Lodges and enjoyed a change of perspective as I joined a guided afternoon game drive into this famous park. Etosha itself is beautiful, especially around the pan itself, but to do it justice you do need time – something I was a little short on! I did however have a lovely half hour watching lions stalking oryx in the distance, and later witnessed a wonderful mini-migration of zebra and springbok en route to a waterhole. My second night in the Etosha area was on the Ongava Game Reserve, which borders the southern boundary of the park to the west of the Andersson Gate into the park. Ongava Tented Camp was as cosy as ever, well-run and friendly, and we were lucky to have good lion and rhino sightings on the afternoon guided drive around the property.

My last night in Namibia was spent on the carefully managed Erindi Game Reserve, a huge private reserve to the north-east of Omaruru. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this very commercial operation, and there were definitely elements that matched my expectations, but overall I enjoyed the experience. The scenery is gorgeous, the game-viewing is productive and if you are lucky, like I was, you’ll get up early to film the sunrise and be rewarded with your first ever brown hyaena sighting!

To reach Namibia I flew with Ethiopian Airlines which worked very well. Ethiopian have made great strides in recent years and they now service many different African countries via their hub in Addis Ababa.



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