Hamish & Vicky Howe
3-16 October 2010
Day 1 – Sunday 3 October – Arrival at Johannesburg and on to Windhoek
As to be expected with long overnights it is difficult to sleep all that well, and in fact it proves to be quite a bumpy ride for much of the journey from Heathrow – the fasten seatbelt signs were on much of the time. Arrival at Johannesburg is a few minutes early, and we step off the plane feeling as if we are still at sea due to the motion. Bracing ourselves for a lengthy wait to get through transit and security we are very pleasantly surprised to find that it is all new since our last time 5 years before and we are through with virtually no delay – the impact of the improvements made for this year’s World Cup is astonishing. There are almost 3 hours to wait before our final leg – but it’s much warmer here than back home and always plenty of exotica to see in the airport shops. If these pots weren’t so expensive (and so large) one or two might be going home with us on our return. Whilst waiting at the departure gate we get talking to a lady who is a teacher in Windhoek – she and 3 colleagues are returning home after their half term break. On learning that our younger son is currently training to be a Maths teacher she tells us that there would always be a job for him in Namibia – it appears that Maths teachers are in demand everywhere. Unfortunately Fergus hates really hot weather, so the idea of having a permanent family representative in the country is sadly unlikely.
Our final connection is off a little late but arrives 15 minutes early and after a smooth passage through immigration, our bags have made it too, and John from Safari Drive is there to meet us. On arrival at Safari Drive HQ in Windhoek we are met by Duane and our very comprehensive briefing commences – route, vouchers etc from Duane, then vehicle, equipment and inventory from John. This all takes about an hour and a half, but we are then able to get on the road and head for our bed & breakfast stop, The Elegant. Very nice set up, but one is immediately struck by the massive increase in security since our last visit – everything seems to be gated.
Since the Elegant doesn’t do evening meals, obviously we have to go out to eat – the advice is not to take our own vehicle, and certainly not to walk after dark, so Matilda kindly arranges a table at the nearest eatery, Joe’s Beer House, and for a taxi to take us there. The guidebook indicates that Joe’s is definitely for meat eaters, and certainly vegetarians would not be comfortable here at all! Unfortunately our long sleepless journey hasn’t helped our appetite much, so our preference is for the smallest steak in the house – very tasty, but still massive. There is always room, of course, for pudding – both the crepes and the ‘treasure parcel’ are delectable. On return to The Elegant we are more than ready to get a really early night and recharge the batteries for tomorrow.
Day 2 – Monday 4 October – Windhoek to Mariental
Breakfast is delicious, and then it’s off into town to do our shopping before we get going properly. It could have been done on Sunday, but it was decided to leave it to the morning, then return to the B & B to finally load up and get on the road. A quick visit to Checkers for fresh produce, and then back to The Elegant, rearrange the vehicle and load up finally, and we are on our way south. Although we could go all the way to our first destination near Mariental on the tar, Duane has recommended that turning off onto the C21 at Kalkrand and then following the D1268 south is very scenic and has an interesting section passing through red dunes. At Kalkrand we stop for fuel for the first time, and then can’t start the car again! A quick phone call to Duane solves the problem – the vehicle has immobilised and for some reason won’t remobilise unless the car is completely locked and then unlocked again. This remains an occasional problem throughout our journey; all a bit puzzling – sometimes the key won’t turn easily at all in the cylinder and requires a bit of manipulation to turn the ignition on, so perhaps there is some wear that has led to inconsistent operation of the electrical circuits. Once we know how to deal with it, however, it is only a minor irritant thereafter.
And so the tar road is left behind and it’s onto gravel – the first 1-2 Km of the C21 are absolutely awful, worse than we remembered at any time from the last visit, but happily the corrugations ease before long and the drive settles down to a more normal Namibian bumpiness!
We get into the area of red dunes running across the road at regular intervals, and then turn south again down the D road towards our destination.Fairly uneventful run, with a stop for lunch under quite a large weavers’ nest; it’s only later we read that cobras often raid these nests, so it isn’t a good idea to stand underneath them! Talking of snakes, there is a dead one on the road soon after lunch. As we progress further south the weather is changing – it is becoming overcast, in fact it looks suspiciously as if it might rain, which is not something we had anticipated. Eventually we rejoin the tar road east of Mariental for the last few kilometres to our overnight stop, Kalahari Anib Lodge.
Arriving at the Lodge at 1530 there is a very nice welcome with a glass of chilled guava juice. Having booked a table for dinner in the Lodge, it’s off to set up camp – we are in campsite No 1. All the campsites are very separate from one another, each with their own personal loo and shower and shady braii area – never seen an ensuite campsite before! Dinner is at 1930, so there is plenty of time to explore the local area and enjoy a nice cold beer before dark. The vehicle’s fridge is very efficient! It is just a few hundred metres to the Lodge for a drink at the bar before dinner is served. Extremely good four course set meal, including Oryx stroganoff. There are two coach parties of German tourists staying at Lunch Stop near Bagatelle Sociable Weavers’ Nest Dead Snake – we think a black Mole Snake
Campsite No 1
Dinner at Kalahari Anib Lodge so they are catering for about 120 in all – the service is impeccable, all the Lodge staff are involved in a very slick operation. The wind is increasing all the time but fortunately it is still warm. After dinner it’s back to our campsite and a cup of cappuccino – it was an excellent suggestion from Safari Drive to take sachets of this.
There is thunder and lightning some way to the north and it really looks as if there might be a downpour. And so to our first experience of the rooftop tent. We had wondered how comfortable it would actually turn out to be, but find that it is remarkably comfortable and cosy. Still feeling a little bit as if we are at sea following our bumpy flight, and in fact there is a fair bit of movement and a lot of noise, as during the night the wind becomes very strong and it does rain from time to time, although not heavily. We have to get up in the middle of the night to do a bit of sorting out as the wind has blown some of the metal poles that support the flysheet away – luckily they are easily found.
Day 3 – Tuesday 5 October – Mariental to Mata Mata
Following a reasonably leisurely breakfast, we are away from the camp at 0840. The first 50 Km or so of today’s journey is on tar, but at Stampriet it’s back on the gravel again and some 250 Km to go to the border. The road follows the line of the Auob River all the way, so is most of the time in a defile between rocky bluffs on either side – no water in the river at this time of year of course.
This is cattle country, and from time to time we pass the various homesteads of the ranchers, but well spaced out, so each ranch is clearly massive. These oases can be spotted from miles away because they always have tall cypress trees and other greenery around the house.
Wildlife is beginning to be more apparent – ostriches are seen occasionally, but there is still a lot of road kill as well – during the journey we pass genet, polecat, porcupine and a cobra, all very dead; all animals one is less likely to see alive in the wild.
Having made very good progress, we reach the border with South Africa at about 1245. A full departure procedure is required through Namibian immigration, and then we have to report to the local police as well. The policeman only wants to know two things, do we have any guns (No) and do we have any wood – I say ‘yes’ to this because there is the bag of firewood provided by Safari Drive as part of the vehicle’s equipment. This doesn’t seem to bother the Policeman in the least, but having been cleared to proceed into South Africa we realise that there is a large sign stating that it is absolutely forbidden to take any wood across the border. On entry to South Africa the procedure is less convoluted – since we will be leaving the country by the same border post it is not necessary to complete any immigration process. The local South African policeman merely notes our vehicle details – whilst talking to him I come clean about the wood, so he walks over to the car, peers in and says “I do not see any wood!”
Having checked in and paid the fees for our 3 days in the park, it is just about time for lunch, so we drive on down to the Mata Mata campsite, bag a nice spot, get the awning out and have a nice cold drink (very welcome, it is really hot here) and a bite to eat. Unlike other campers who can pitch a tent and leave it whilst they go on a game drive, our tent has to go with us, so we leave our table and chairs behind to mark our territory and set off into the park for a couple of hours.
There is a bet as to which will be the first wild animal we see – Vicky goes for black-backed jackal, I say baboon, but we are both wrong, it’s a Wildebeest. Interesting to note that I really guessed very badly – we saw no baboons at all during our visit. Some good wildlife sightings, particularly birds; including Secretary Birds, Lappet faced Vulture, Crimson Breasted Shrikes, Bee-eaters, but best of all, Hoopoes. Other animals included Springbok (just a few!!), Ostrich, Hartebeest and Black-backed Jackal. Having gone about 3 waterholes down the track it’s eventually time to return and set up camp properly.
Since this is the first evening of cooking for ourselves we heed the advice to get it started before dark, which will be about 1900. Earlier in the day we had been given some very nice cold beef by some South Africans who were leaving the camp – left over from their braii the previous night. This is incorporated in a dish with rice, stock and vegetables – whilst cooking we have a starter of avo, and then finish the meal off with fresh melon. Our next door neighbours are from Kimberley, and were recently camped at Nossob – very chatty, and they give us the low down on where all the lions are likely to be seen near Nossob. We are whacked and climb into the tent at 2045. A much calmer night – both sleep reasonably well (only one of us was woken by the crying baby!) so by the morning are definitely feeling much more the thing – the travel tiredness has just about gone.
Day 4 – Wednesday 6 October – Mata Mata to Nossob
In the morning a visit to the shower block is not for the faint hearted – there has been an invasion of caterpillars overnight (attracted by the lights), and it is impossible to avoid walking on them. Up at 0600, breakfast before 0700 and on the road by 0800.
The drive between Mata Mata and Nossob is about 150 Km but the roads are not good at all, and it is 7 hours of fairly bone-shaking driving before the camp is reached at 1500. A fair bit of game to be seen on the way (mainly Oryx) and we are able to stop for lunch at a very nice picnic site where the track over the dunes joins the main track again at the Nossob River, near Dikbaardskolk. Joined for our meal by a yellow mongoose briefly – he doesn’t stick around long enough to allow a photo, but the starlings pose very willingly. Having checked in at the camp and bought a cold drink in the shop, we decide to go out again immediately, just as far as the next waterhole north (Quap) and just sit and see what comes. On arrival there is one other car there who tell us that there are 5 lions resting in the long grass just off the road. We park up and during the next hour or so see quite a bit of them as they occasionally get up and move around – but mostly they just lie there!
A thoroughly satisfactory day’s game viewing, and so we drive back to the rest camp, check in and bag ourselves a pitch for the night. Right next door is a family from Johannesburg who are extremely friendly – Granny is with them, and one of her sons lives and works in Edinburgh! Another excellent supper (much along the lines of the previous evening’s) and then to bed. Sudden very strong wind in the middle of the night, so we leap out and roll up the awning and put our tables and chairs away – we aren’t the only ones, others in the camp seem to be taking precautions as well. Probably a good idea in future to strike the awning before turning in each night – it’s one less thing to do in the mornings, and not really necessary first thing anyway. After that, of course, the wind dies away completely.
Day 5 – Thursday 7 October – Nossob to Twee Rivieren
Early to rise again and on the road before 0800 heading south for Twee Rivieren. We take the loop by Marie Se Draii waterhole and are rewarded by the sight of a magnificent lion. Initially he is drinking, but then comes and flops down in the shade right by our car – lots of very close up shots, and then he decides to move off into the bush, pausing right in front of us to urinate! Presumably just to let us know what he thought of us.
On to the next waterhole (Cheleka) where there are 4 more lions snoozing in the shade; this place is lion heaven. A stop for a mid-morning snack at the picnic site, hoping to see the yellow mongoose again, but no luck. Further south we pass 2 ‘dozers moving north regrading the road;once past them the road surface is like a billiard table – beautiful to drive on for a while, but then there is a diversion – the main road to Twee Rivieren is closed for 10 maintenance, so we have to go west to join the main road running down from Mata Mata. A happy diversion, however, because at the next waterhole, Tierkop, there are yet 3 more lions. This sighting we are particularly happy with because, unlike the others where someone else was already there, this is all ours. After watching for a while, a VW people carrier stops a little way behind us. We then move forward a bit, and are about to leave when we realise that the driver of the VW is out of the vehicle and trying to attract our attention – we back up to find that their front wheels are hopelessly bogged down in sand – they only have 2 wheel drive. The lions are only about 40-50 m away, so this is not a very comfortable situation. In fact they do show some interest in us once we leave our cars to begin with, one even rising to his feet, so a very close eye is kept on them by all. The young South African driver instructs those in the VW to watch the lions and toot the horn if they show any signs of moving whilst Vicky turns the Land Rover around so that our tow rope can be attached to the rear of the VW to pull them out.
This is duly achieved without further incident – it is with a lot of relief that everybody regains the safety of the cars again. They thank us profusely and speed off – they said they were on their way out of the Park, and I suspect by the reaction of the girls in the VW that they probably didn’t stop again until they reached the gate – we certainly never saw them again!
Our next pause is at Auchterlonie where there is a picnic site, and a museum centred around an old settler’s cottage that has been restored. It is all
startlingly like an old fashioned croft in the Highlands, and in fact the whole area was surveyed by a Scot in the early 20th Century (there are many Scottish place names in the Park to this day) – one wonders if the original settler here was a Scot.
Having arrived at Twee Rivieren just before 1600, it doesn’t seem worth going out into the Park again – both pretty weary after a very hot, bumpy and full-on couple of days. We pick our site, make camp and since Twee Rivieren is the only camp in the Park with a restaurant our plan was always to eat there rather than cook for ourselves. A very good decision – the meal is excellent, washed down with a couple of very cold draught beers – just perfect.
The campsite at Twee Rivieren is not quite as nice as the previous two – it is rather bigger and slightly more impersonal, and being by the main gate into the Park passing traffic has rather more of an impact on the experience. We therefore decide that in the morning it will be preferable to leave as soon as the gate reopens and make our way back up the road to the Auchterlonie picnic area and breakfast there. Not such a good night’s sleep – next door to us there is a large group of (we think) Italians who are all having a wonderful time, and are a little slower to pipe down at the end of the evening than the other more considerate campers.
Day 6 – Friday 8 October – Twee Rivieren to Keetmanshoop
We do indeed make an early departure, leaving the camp not long after the gate has opened and are at Auchterlonie by 0745 for breakfast. Great place for breakfast; slight drawback in that we discover most of our eggs have broken, the plastic container supplied has not protected them from all the vibration – so part of the time is spent cleaning out the fridge as best as we can. The remaining intact eggs are hard boiled to prevent any
Our decision to return to the Mata Mata gate to go back into Namibia was based largely on the fact that it would maximise our time in the Game Park. It certainly pays off – we are once again very lucky with big cats, seeing a very large male lion on a ridge above a water hole, and then a group of 5 cheetahs nearer to Mata Mata. By the time we reach Mata Mata in the late morning it has been a fantastic 3 days or so of game viewing – a lot of different animals seen, ranging from large mammals like giraffe, some very interesting birds, and small but fascinating insects.
Exit from South Africa very easy (same very pleasant policeman) and then the full procedure going back into Namibia. Wood is not mentioned this time, although the on duty policewoman does examine one or two items in the vehicle.
Now there is a drive of some 250 Km to our next stop near Keetmans. Much of the drive is on dead straight roads that cross a succession of dunes – a lot of switchback up and down, and each time one reaches the furthest visible ridge, all that can be seen are 4 or 5 more ridges stretching out in the distance in the same seemingly never ending line. More road kill, including a bat-eared fox and a spitting cobra. Eventually the scenery does change, becoming flatter for a while, until in the distance hills appear rising from the plain again – these turn out to be close to our destination, and before long we pass the ‘giants playground’, an area of strange shaped basalt rocks resulting from eroded volcanic magma resembling large piles of children’s building bricks. Our next overnight is the Quivertree Forest Rest Camp, and we arrive at about 1630. After the past few days camping it is very nice to have a chalet (actually a rather modernist ‘igloo’) with all mod cons.
We have timed our arrival perfectly as it turns out, since our host is about to feed his cheetahs. All the guests go into their enclosure to watch them eat, initially with two older cats, but 12 then into another enclosure where a younger mother has two cubs. Fascinating to be able to get so close, but apparently it isn’t a good idea to turn one’s back on them! Following this rather unexpected treat, we have a turn around the Quivertree Forest itself as the sun is going down, most spectacular scenery and crawling with rock hyrax. Dinner is served at 1930 – everything is excellent, especially the springbok stir fry with rice and salad (help yourself!) and our host permits us to bring our own wine. We chat with the farm’s owner, Coenie Nolte, and learn that he is principally a sheep farmer – the land is very poor, so about 30 acres is needed to support just one cow, but only 5 acres for each sheep – he has 3000 sheep, so his farm is presumably at least 15,000 acres, about 5,000 hectares. This is actually very small compared to most of the cattle ranches in the region, which is what we have spent a lot of the day driving through.
Day 7 – Saturday 9 October – Keetmanshoop to Fish River Canyon
After breakfast the farm’s family of meerkats arrive en masse just as breakfast is finishing – they get the leftover scrambled eggs! Absolutely charming little creatures – they and the weavers are in competition for the breakfast scraps. We get on the road just after 0900 – rather later than the last few days, but then it isn’t nearly so far to go today. On our way into Keetmanshoop we hit a very poor patch of road, and the near side wing mirror nearly falls off! The top screw’s thread has stripped apparently – it looks as if it would need a door removal and retapping of the hole to fix it and we don’t have the right tools, so while Vicky replenishes our fresh food stocks (including more eggs!) in the local Spar, I attempt to effect a suitable repair by wedging it against the bodywork to ensure we don’t lose it altogether.
Very scenic journey along the B4 (lovely tar) for almost 50 Km far as Seeheim, and then it’s back to the gravel as the road heads south towards the canyon. En route we overtake a very long and very slow goods train – it is easily overhauled despite the fact that our own speed is not much to write home about. We reach our next camp by midday, the Cañon Road House. Having checked in and been allocated our campsite, we have a 13 very refreshing cold drink at the bar, and then set off for Fish River Canyon itself, about another 30 Km down the road. Lunch is taken at the main lookout point, a delightful concoction of avo and hard boiled egg, plus fruit and more cold drink. And what a stunning backdrop – it is hard to describe the canyon itself save to say that the views are quite breathtaking – photographs can give an impression but really don’t do justice to the real thing. After lunch we drive to various different lookout points along the rim of the canyon – the point where the 85 Km hiking trail starts is a pretty jaw-dropping descent into the canyon – this is the first river we have seen in Namibia that actually has water in it, although there is no through flow at the moment. Having had our fill eventually of awe-inspiring scenery we stop at the Park gates for postcards, and then go back to the Lodge.
The campsite, which is a little way behind the Lodge is very good indeed – the best yet we think. We have booked a table in the Lodge for dinner, so are able to set up camp, do some washing, have a cold beer etc. before showering and walking across for dinner. Dinner is again delicious – the cooking we have encountered so far is often quite simple, but absolutely hits the spot every time. The surroundings are somewhat bizarre – the whole Road House is a monument to the motor vehicle; there are old (and I do mean very old) cars and other contraptions all over the place – our table is right alongside an old steam tractor which looks as if it was made well over 100 years ago. Jeremy Clarkson should visit! We wind down from our meal back at the campsite and take the washing in – it is of course quite dry by now. There has been a change in the temperature. Although Canon Roadhouse 14 still hot by day it is now much cooler at night; fleeces are being worn and it is noticeably colder under the duvet. Some time after drifting off to sleep (not far short of midnight) we become aware that there is a very loud sing song going on in the Lodge – although some distance away it can be heard quite clearly. There is a coach party staying so presumably it is them – I suddenly don’t feel quite so bad towards the rather exuberant Italians of a couple of nights before.
Day 8 – Sunday 10 October – Fish River Canyon to Aus
Again up with the sun. Today there is the option of going back the way we came to rejoin the B4 and then on to Aus, or to take the long way round to the south via the Orange River. Being a lot further, that would be an all day drive and there was a warning that part of the road was washed away a while ago anyway – since it seems preferable not to have another very long day on the road I’m afraid we forgo the scenic route in favour of the shorter option. So it’s back to the north retracing the tracks of yesterday initially, and then back onto the tar. Before we reach the main road the wing mirror comes adrift once more – my repair has proved only temporary and Vicky’s much simpler solution is simply to tie it on with a piece of string – not only does it stay in place for the rest of the trip, but it is perfectly usable as well.
Once back at Seeheim we rejoin the B4 and turn west towards Aus. Being a tar road all the way we make excellent time and arrive at Klein Aus Vista just after 1200. This is a little early and our lodge is not quite ready, but the staff give us a nice cool welcome drink, and invite us to relax in the main Lodge area for a while. Fairly soon our accommodation is ready – it is a 7 Km drive along a narrow track to get to the Eagle’s Nest, into ever more grand and remote scenery. The Eagle’s Nest is spectacularly situated, with the individual chalets built around giant boulders. Ours is called Mountain View, and not only does it live up to that name, but it has a pretty good view over the plain as well. This is marvellous – fully self catering if we wish so we could either braii outside, or cook inside on a more conventional stove if we prefer. The dining table is set and there is a fully stocked fridge. However, we have opted to eat in the main Lodge tonight – our stay here is for two nights, and perhaps one of their braii packs would be a good idea tomorrow.
It is great to be able to unpack, put our clothes in a wardrobe and drawers for a change and generally sort things out after quite a few days mainly camping. By this time the dust has been getting more and more – it seems to get everywhere! Actually, not seems, it does get everywhere! There is plenty of time to do some walking, so having lunched on our stoep and let the sun’s heat lessen a little we set off on one of the Lodge’s signposted walks, the Mountain Trail. This is advertised as being about 6 Km and should take about 2 hours. The route takes us round the edge to the rear of the mountain that forms the backdrop to the Eagle’s Nest, then up onto the saddle of the mountain to just above our chalet, finishing with a steep descent back home again. Very hot still, so just a light rucksack with water and a couple of apples. Ever on the lookout for snakes among the rocks, but no luck I’m afraid. The walk was magnificent – halfway round there is an old Hudson full of bullet holes. Reputedly a diamond smuggler was shot dead in it back in the 1950s – the Eagle’s Nest is right on the edge of the Sperrgebiet, the forbidden diamond area. This was a terrific walk – it was great to be able to get right out into the wild and almost get swallowed up by the vast landscape.
Again we enjoyed (and felt we had really earned) our sundowner before dinner. Absolutely beautiful sunset just as we are driving off to the main Lodge for dinner. They have reserved a corner table for us (the best) from where we are able to enjoy the last of the sunset, and dinner is a set 3 course meal. Again it is quite unpretentious but very nicely cooked and presented, and of course delicious. So good, in fact, that it is an easy decision that it is worth repeating the experience the following night rather than doing our own cooking.
Day 9 – Monday 11 October – Around the Luderitz area
Today the first objective is a visit to Kolmanskop (a ghost town). The first guided tour of the day is at 0930, and since it is more than 100 Km away we have to get going early. Breakfast at 0720 in the Lodge, then we are on the road west towards Luderitz just after 0800. On the way the road parallels what must be a rather unusual sight these days, the building of a new railway. Actually it is the rebuilding of an old line – because the tracks were constantly being covered by drifting sand, it was decided to dismantle about 60 Km of the existing track, raise the level of the embankment and then build a new track several metres higher than the original. This was started in 2003 and will not be complete until 2013. We are told the first railway only took about 10 months to build when it was constructed more than 100 years ago – a staggering achievement given the conditions they must have had the endure, but then apparently more than 1300 workers died during its construction, so obviously there was scant regard for health and safety then. Having made it to Kolmanskop in good time, there are about 50 people waiting for the guided tours, one of which will be in German, the other in English. It appears that apart from us, there are only a couple of other English speakers (from South Africa) so it seems we are onto a good thing. However, quite a few of the German Dinner at Klein Aus Vista Sunset at The Eagle’s Nest tourists opt to join the English tour since they understand the language. Fine in principle, but regrettably one rather rude lady, on discovering that our guide also speaks German, proceeds to almost monopolise the guide, asking questions and receiving answers in German – talk about having your cake and eating it!
That said, it was merely an irritation – the town itself is fascinating. Once a major centre of diamond mining, It was eventually abandoned in the 1950s and is slowly being taken over by the desert again, but many of the houses are still in remarkably good condition. It was well worth the visit, and cheap – only N$50 each including the guided tour, which was very good value in comparison to some other entry charges. By going for the early tour of the day we are done with Kolmanskop by shortly after 1100 – plenty of the day left, and so off into Luderitz. We find the post office and buy stamps for our postcards, and then fill up with diesel – at the garage there are two diesel pumps and two attendants, both apparently competing for us to use their pump. This confuses Vicky since both men look very similar in their uniform, and she can’t understand why one moment he wants her to draw up to one pump, and the next he’s on the other side of the forecourt urging her to move over to that pump – this causes a huge amount of amusement all round. A quick store visit is also made for ice and one or two other essentials. Our main interest in the Luderitz area is the sea, and to the south of the town there is a circular coastal route around the Diamond Coast peninsula. First stop is at Grosse Bucht for a clamber over the rocks; very breezy with a chill wind – but marvellous views of the coastline and some pretty serious breakers coming in – quite a selection of seashells on the beach. After this we move on to a stop looking across to Halifax Island; there are plenty of penguins on the Island, seen quite well through binoculars but too far away for decent photos. Near Point Diaz there are a couple of groups of flamingos on the salt flats which are close enough to photograph. Our visit to view the cross at the Point is brief – the wind is very fierce.
On our way round the loop back to the main road we stop for lunch and watch parasurfers in the bay – the wind is obviously perfect for them and they are extremely good at it; later, on discovering that this was some sort of international competition, it is no wonder they were so good. By mid afternoon we are back on the road for Aus, next stop the desert horses. The problems with drifting sand are very evident – for the first 20-30 Km inland from Luderitz the strong wind is drifting it across the road, at times so thickly that one can hardly see the tar we are driving on. Further inland however the wind drops and by the time we pull off to see the horses it is just a light breeze.
Luckily there is a large herd of wild horses at the viewing point – being the end of the dry season they are all looking a bit undernourished but seem quite healthy on the whole. Back at the Eagle’s Nest by 1645, it is very nice as usual to sit down with a cold beer and enjoy the bird life. There are also baboons about but they don’t come near the chalets. Another spectacular sunset as we are driving across for dinner – same table, another memorable meal. Piet Swiegers, one of the brothers who own the farm, stops by each table for a chat. He admits that he put the bullet holes in the old Hudson! Piet also tells us of his experience of Scotland; he and a friend were on a cycling holiday some years ago, which came to a premature end when their bikes were stolen at Inverness – something for us to feel suitably embarrassed about – apparently when they reported the theft it was blamed on English visitors! The fact that British visitors to Namibia don’t seem very plentiful comes up, whilst there are obviously many from Germany – Piet has the figures at his fingertips. Last year there were 67,000 German visitors and, surprisingly, 22,000 British; however, the Brits are in the main young overlanders/backpackers passing through as part of a wider journey through Africa – thus the smarter lodges only see about 2% of the British market. He comes back later to say he has just met two other new guests who are English – they had also remarked that they had not seen any other Brits! We have a brief chat with them – they are from London and, like us, are returners who have visited the country before. Namibia has that effect on people.
Day 10 – Tuesday 12 October – Aus to Namtib
Today it will be quite a short journey once again, so since breakfast goes on until 0930, a slightly lazier start to the day is in order. Not that lazy, though, since it gives us the opportunity to remove the fridge from the Land Rover and thoroughly clean out the remaining traces of egg. The whole vehicle gets as good a spring clean as can be managed at the same time; this is about the third time we have had a thorough go at it. An effort does have to be made to keep it under some sort of control, but it’s a losing battle!
Then it’s off to have a leisurely late breakfast at about 0900, settle our account (very reasonable) for the dinners and drinks we have had, and head off again. Having stopped briefly in Aus itself to fill up with diesel and post a few more cards, our next destination takes us towards the Tiras mountains. The C13 heading north stretches out before us right up to the mountains; when we get to the mountain range our road goes west along the line of the hills. Since the road is visible all the way it doesn’t look that far, but we know from the map that it is about 50 Km before the turn off and it takes about an hour to get there! Once onto the D707 the road is mostly sand, in places very soft and quite deep.
At the turn off for Namtib Lodge it is a 12 Km run up a narrow track going ever deeper into the mountains to get to the Lodge itself. The mountains form a vast amphitheatre and as the foot of the hills comes closer we are kept guessing until the very last minute as to precisely where the lodge will be – it only comes into view at the last moment, nestling right up against the base of the mountains.
Once again the day’s journey has been reasonably quick. The farm’s owner is up to his elbows in grease working on a generator; having checked in he directs us to the Namtib campsite – we had actually passed it on the way up the valley but would not have known – everything blends in so well with the surroundings here. He tells us that a couple have already arrived at the campsite before us “in a very little car”! Once there we see why he was so amazed – they are driving something that looks hardly bigger than a Smart Car: how on earth did they make it through some of the deeper sand in such a small two wheel drive? Being second to arrive we have the pick of the remaining four sites – this is a really marvellous setting in which to camp. Having set up under a camelthorn tree and had a very pleasant lunch it looks like a great place to go for a walk, so it’s off along the foot of the hills, climbing up from time to time and hoping to see snakes or lizards.
No luck yet again as far as snakes go (probably just as well) but we do manage to find a nice big rock agama with a blue head who proceeds to play peek-a boo with us around a very large boulder. This goes on for quite a while and by operating a pincer movement on him he allows us both some quite good pictures.
It is very warm, and having walked quite a way along the edge of the valley we turn back towards the camp. Having followed a small group of goats back to the car, just after we return a very large herd goes past us being driven towards the farmstead by two goatherds – they have come from the same direction and must have been close behind us, but there had been no sign of them in what seemed a vast empty landscape!
As evening approaches the wind gets up a bit and starts lifting the ladder end of the tent – quite light I suppose without our weight in it –the ladder has to be lashed down to the bull bar with the washing line! An interesting meal this evening! Our rice and vegetables are accompanied by opening the tin of corned meat provided as part of Rock Agama the vehicle’s catering pack – not recommended, I’m afraid, the corned meat proves very poor quality and quite inedible. Possibly better omitted in future. Sunset however is once again memorable, particularly in such a magnificent setting.
Day 11 – Wednesday 13 October – Namtib to Agama
A cool morning. Leaving camp at 0830 with quite a long trip ahead of us today, north to Agama River Camp, midway between Sesriem and Solitaire, the scenery continues to be very spectacular, particularly through the mountains. However a lot of the journey is a fairly unrelenting flog over quite poor roads; the ‘tiny car’ left camp before us and despite the fact that we half expected to find them stuck in the sand somewhere they aren’t seen again – perhaps they went the other way! Sightings of bat-eared foxes and first sighting of mountain zebra (very far away) as the road skirts the true desert which lies to the west.
The plan is to stop for diesel at Betta, but on pulling up to the pump there is a notice stating that they don’t accept SA 200 Rand notes; naturally we have almost nothing but – never mind, next stop will be Sesriem. About 12 Km south of Sesriem, however, the Land Rover starts to misbehave. At first I think it is just that the vehicle is occasionally hitting the odd very soft patch in the road – the vehicle slows down sharply and pulls off line to the right a couple of times. We are not unduly concerned at first, but when the vehicle suddenly swerves hard right across the road and into the path of a large lorry coming towards us it gives us a tremendous fright. Fortunately I manage to get it back to our side of the road in time – it would happen just when the only lorry we have seen in a couple of days happens to be coming the other way! Naturally we stop, thinking it must be a puncture, but no, nothing is obviously wrong. Setting off again, the problem is steadily getting worse – it is hard to get up to any decent speed as the car is constantly slowing and pulling right. The effect feels as if it is the engine that is ‘braking’ the car, but it improves every time I take my foot off the accelerator pedal – it becomes apparent that every time the problem occurs, the orange ‘traction control’ warning light illuminates briefly. After another inspection of the vehicle that doesn’t throw any more light on the problem, at least Sesriem isn’t too far away now so let’s see if we can get there before taking any further action. So, rather later than anticipated, the Land Rover limps slowly into the filling station there – I feel a bit like a bunny-hopping learner driver as the car jerks onto the forecourt. Still nothing obvious, so I get on the phone to Duane to advise him of the problem and then go in search of a mechanic. There isn’t one at the garage, apparently he is based across the road at Sossusvlei Lodge. At the Lodge I learn that their mechanic has taken a party of visitors up to Sossusvlei and won’t be back for quite a while, however the Operations Manager, Andries Herbert offers to see what he can do. He at first appears nonplussed, but having driven it some way up the road he thinks that the best option is to disable the traction control by removing the fuse and see what happens. So having done that we go out to try it again, and it appears to have cured the problem – but as we drive back towards the Lodge a grating noise becomes apparent, which he thinks might be a wheel bearing! Oh dear! Andries takes the car up to the local airfield where there is a ramp – once he can get under the car he immediately finds the cause of the problem – a circular metal plate inside the rear nearside wheel has become partly detached and damaged. There is a sensor on it and that was presumably what had been operating the traction control to try to correct the perceived fault – if so, funny way of doing it! Once Andries is able to remove the plate that is the end of the problem. He has disabled both traction control and the ABS by removing the fuses, and it looks as if we are going to be OK now. What a great fellow – although extremely grateful for his help, he refuses even to accept a beer by way of thanks. Having let Duane know the latest, we’ll tell him once Agama is safely reached. No further alarms up the final 40 Km or so – it looks as if the problem is well and truly sorted. Agama is not quite what we had thought from their website – much closer to the road than expected. But although the individual campsites are all pretty close together, they are quite well screened from each other by fencing, and ours is very well laid out with everything, including the kitchen sink! The shower/toilet blocks are open to the skies and really very well thought out. Dinner here is not an option (has to be reserved at the same time as booking) but we do go up to the main lodge area to have a cold beer and join our fellow campers in watching the sunset – not, I’m afraid nearly as spectacular as the previous few nights – it is fairly understated and gone very quickly.
So it’s back to our camp and supper – we are beginning to get very much into ‘eating up what’s left’ mode, and have quite a variety of things – rice, tuna, and toast cooked on the fire feature in a very varied meal. Most of the other campers are youngsters in a couple of overland vehicles who are flying home the following day, so quite understandably the last night of their holiday is a bit of a noisy event! By settling down with our MP3 players turned up a bit louder it is easy to drift off to sleep – especially after the tension and excitement of the day.
Day 12 – Thursday 14 October – Agama to Bloedkoppie
Good breakfast at Agama, and away by 0750. A stop for diesel at Solitaire – this is the last chance for fuel before the end of our journey. Five years ago we stopped here and it was a very quiet little outpost – today it is crawling with people; a couple of coaches have stopped and their passengers are as thick as ants as they stroll around getting in everyone’s way. After this the journey north is thankfully uneventful, but with quite Agama view at sunset
The Gaub Pass dramatic scenery and driving as the route transits both the Gaub and Kuiseb passes. West of Kuiseb we turn off the main road and head north on a minor road that traverses the Namib Naukluft Park. These tracks are limited access since a permit is required to use them, and the remaining 55 Km or so of the journey is completed without seeing anyone else, arriving at Bloedkoppie just after midday. We are the first here today, and are able to bag what seems to be the best site at the western end of the area. Later a large coach rolls up, much to our surprise in such an isolated area. It is full of tourists who all get out, stroll around for about half an hour and then depart. They were possibly one of the groups we saw earlier at Solitaire. Meanwhile we are able to have lunch, and then have a wander, initially at low level, but later up to the top of the kopje to have a good look at the surrounding views – it is an amazing place with stunning vistas, and this has to be the best campsite we have visited, despite the minimal facilities (only two long drop loos shared by the six campsites here) and the sites are all very well spread out. In fact, one other vehicle did arrive later in the day and briefly looked at our end of the site, but they moved away round the kopje to the east and although they probably were there overnight we didn’t see or hear any more of them. This is a fantastic place – a variety of interesting birds who are pretty tame (they obviously get a lot of scraps), including Guinea Fowl and Starlings. A very dramatic lizard with a yellow head appears who is most cooperative with the camera. There are just two cans of Windhoek Lager left for our sundowner – beautifully cool still and most welcome after a very hot scramble all over the rocks.
It is our last night of camping and cooking for ourselves so this really is the final eat up. Actually a quite delightful meal – the rest of our bread toasted, tomatoes/onion and cheesy beans, and all the remaining eggs made into a herb omelette which we both agreed was probably the best omelette ever. Last of our melon to follow, all washed down with wine – fantastic.
This is probably the best campsite of all because of its situation, although Namtib runs it a close second for the same reason. Ultimately we have been most fortunate to effectively have it all to ourselves – that put the icing on the cake. In bed quite soon after dark and no difficulty in sleeping, although it does get pretty cold later on.
Day 13 – Friday 15 October – Bloedkoppie to Hochland Nest
A bitterly cold morning – the wind is blowing down from the kopje quite strongly and, being in a gully on the western side, the campsite is in the shade until shortly before our departure, so breakfast is a pretty chilly affair! Just as well it hasn’t been like this all the time! A little bit later getting going this morning, but the temperature encourages us not to hang around any longer than necessary, so we are on the road by 0815. For the first bit of today’s journey the route is still in the Namib Naukluft Park, but ironically it is only after we have left the park and are further to the east that significant wildlife appears. This is great because at last there are two species that have eluded us so far this trip, kudu and warthog, as well as more zebra, bat-eared Foxes and baboons – and all not in a game park.
When we reach the point where our road (the C28) splits from the C32 there is a warning notice regarding the road ahead; no trucks, trailers or caravans. Our itinerary has warned us that this road is quite a serious drive, and so it proves. Not at first, but gradually the road develops sharp ups and downs, and then suddenly there is the Bosua Pass ahead of us, and yes it does look rather alarming – the gradient is 1:5 which is the sort of steepness that hardly exists anymore back at home. This is of course no problem for a Land Rover and slow but steady progress is made towards the top – it is not for the faint-hearted though, and Vicky admits that she found it quite scary at times. There is a stop at the top of the steepest climb with a dramatic view back to the west, but once we continue it is obvious that we weren’t at the top. The tortuous climb continues, but occasionally it goes down quite steeply to be followed again by even more up. The pass is very long, very bendy, with so much up and down that it is hard to work out where it comes to an end. It is only gradually that we realise that the pass has ended and the top of the escarpment has been reached, but the road itself continues to be a switchback ride for a long time – this is now the Khomas Hochland, which is a rolling hillscape, and it is often difficult to see where the road is going up ahead. It certainly makes a change from the arrow straight roads that go on for miles and miles in other parts of the country. The ride is also on the more bumpy than usual side much of the time, and with the wind behind us quite a lot of orange/brown dust is joining us inside the vehicle via the back door. So much for our latest clean up whilst at Bloedkoppie! When the turn off for the Lodge at last appears to the right we are quite relieved that this pretty demanding drive is nearly over. Hochland Nest is about 16 Km off the C28 and on the way to the Lodge the road passes the Friedenau Dam, the first significant body of fresh water in nearly two weeks. There is an electronically operated gate to access the property and then a few Km more to go before the Lodge appears. The main building is built, partly on stilts, overlooking a (dry at the moment) pan with artificial waterhole, with the various chalets nestling in the rocky hillside above and behind the Lodge itself – a very well designed little complex. The manager, Heidi, makes us welcome. There is still time for a light lunch which is prepared for us whilst we settle in to our chalet and have a quick shower – much needed since of course Bloedkoppie had no such facilities. After a delicious toasted sandwich with side salad there is still most of the afternoon left to explore. There are various routes laid out, mainly taking circles of different sizes from the lodge, out through the bush and then back again past the pan by the lodge. We elect to take an intermediate distance, called the Warthog trail, but despite the name it is only after our walk that warthogs actually appear. It is fiercely hot now, what a change from the chill of the early morning. After our walk there is a bit of sorting out to do – in the morning we will need to be packed and dressed ready for our journey back home, so everything that is ours comes out of the car and is repacked so all ur gear is much as when we arrived almost a fortnight before.
Now we can really relax and enjoy the surroundings – sitting on our stoep one of the Lodge’s Abyssinian cats flops down, and on the rocks right beside us rock hyrax are taking the late afternoon sun. They may look cute, but apparently the staff at the lodge find them quite a nuisance, as are the baboons who are also evident in the vicinity. Dinner is quite delightful – again I would say the food lacks the pretension of so called ‘sophisticated’ restaurants, but is well prepared, beautifully presented, and most important, tastes absolutely delicious. The starter is particularly memorable – can’t remember what they called it, but essentially it was a little heap of small pancakes, layered with tuna and covered in a sauce which was to die for – never had anything quite like it before, but it will stay in the memory for a long while. The food in all the Lodges has very much adhered to the same philosophy, and from our experience this is one of Africa’s hidden strengths. Perhaps not as much is made of it as should be. At this stage on a Friday there are only two other guests (who are from South Africa), but others will be arriving much later in the evening – this is obviously a handy and popular spot for Windhoek residents to enjoy a weekend break.
Day 14 – Saturday 16 October – Hochland Nest to Windhoek, then on to Johannesburg and the UK
Having already got organised, the morning is quite leisurely. Since our flight is at 1400, we should aim to return the vehicle between 1000-1030. Windhoek is only about an hour’s drive away so an 0900 departure should be about right. Very pleasant breakfast, watching the Lodge’s sole meerkat enjoying the sun just below us. Hochland Nest has been the perfect wind down from a superb couple of weeks. The drive into Windhoek is very straightforward, and we are actually slightly early back at Safari Drive’s base. The hand back and debrief goes without a hitch. The only slight snag comes when I get onto one of the office’s computers to check in for our flights online – the British Airways site will not let us check in for the first leg of our journey (seems to indicate that this facility is not available from Windhoek) and because the first stage of our journey hasn’t been processed no check in is available for the other stages either. So Duane drives us out to the airport – a slight wrench to say goodbye to the vehicle which has been more than just a means of transport for the past 13 days. We shall be missing it all (except perhaps the dust!) Not too long to wait before check in, and then a bit of a wait before the flight departs. Plenty of time to spend the remainder of our Namibian money on knick-knacks in one of the shops, which leaves us with 40c – rather less than 4 pence – we’ll keep that for next time! The flight back to Johannesburg is very pleasant – they give us a delicious sandwich. Sadly, on arrival at Johannesburg the only bad point in all our travels occurs. Because we couldn’t get our boarding passes earlier, it is necessary to check in at the British Airways desk on the way through transit. There is only one member of staff at the desk who is taking absolutely ages to process each passenger – when we join the queue there are probably no more than 30 people ahead of us but it takes an hour and a half before we are dealt with. The delay is not helped by the fact that the sole ground stewardess seems to be spending a lot of her time chatting with other colleagues rather than concentrating on the job in hand. If another person hadn’t joined in halfway through our ordeal to help it would have been even longer. Appalling inefficiency, and rather embarrassing in a way – none of the other airline’s desks have significant queues, and quite a few of the people suffering with us in our queue are actually from other EU countries who are merely using BA and Heathrow as their link to home. No doubt they weren’t too impressed with this performance – we certainly weren’t. This has used up all our spare time, in fact there are now only about 15 minutes left to browse around a very busy ‘Out Of Africa’ shop and use up the remainder of our loose change and smaller notes before we need to be at the departure gate. But which gate? Our boarding pass says Gate 30, the main information board says Gate 1, both at opposite ends of the terminal! Eventually it gets changed again to Gate 28 – all a bit strange because we have to be bussed to the aircraft anyway which turns out to be nowhere near the terminal.
Johannesburg Airport obviously still has some way to go, buton the whole is much improved.
After all that, however, the plane is airborne on time, and the overnight flight is quite peaceful and uneventful.The rest of our journey back home is very straightforward and just about exactly 15 days after walking out of our door we are home again.
In 13 days we have driven 3240 Km (just over 2010 miles), at a rough average of 26 mpg. It has been a fantastic experience with many memories which will stay with us for a very long time. Despite the fact that our visit has actually lasted slightly less than a fortnight it somehow seems to have been much longer. All we have to do now is sort through our hundreds, no, thousands of photographs. Still, that’ll be something to keep us in touch with our adventures during the long winter evenings to come, and also keep us thinking about the next time.