Descending through the clouds into a sunny Windhoek airport, my excitement was reaching distinctly heighted levels. Not only because this was my first visit to Namibia, but because we were rendezvousing with dear friends and long-time clients of The Big 5 Safari Company who were waiting somewhere in the small terminal building below!
All experienced with safari holidays in the rest of Africa, we were now about to embark on a Namibian trip of exploration. So kitted out with sat phone, local sim card and satnav, we collected our pre-booked Ford Ranger 4×4 and headed off on the 30-minute drive to overnight at the quirky Olive Exclusive Boutique Hotel.
Believe me – worth it for the scrumptious breakfast alone!
Windhoek Christus Kirche
Departing Windhoek we took the excellent B1 tarred road north, heading for the AfriCat Foundation at Okonjima. If you like local crafts, then it’s worth stopping in Okahandja to browse in one of Namibia’s best craft markets. The last 10km is on gravel and it felt like we were finally heading into the bush. We stayed at Okonjima Bush Camp, a step up from Okonjima Plains Camp and worth the extra cost. With Jonas, our guide we explored the 20,000 hectares of wilderness that now contains 37 leopards and 3 cheetahs. A highlight was a morning walk with the cheetahs as they pondered a hunting expedition.
Cheetah at Okonjima
The leopards were more difficult to find, even using radio telemetry. Exceptional rains had produced beautiful flowered meadows and long swaying grasslands that concealed the cats perfectly. Then finally on our last evening, whilst tracking rhino spoor, what should pop up on top of a termite mound but this beautiful feline.
Leopard in Okonjima
Other Okonjima highlights included watching the camp’s brightly coloured Southern Masked Weavers build their intricate nests and a night time excursion to Okonjima’s hide to watch porcupines appear through the darkness to enjoy an easy meal of kitchen scraps.
After two enlightening days at the AfriCat sanctuary we were on the road again. Having four drivers makes a Namibia self-drive journey a very relaxed affair. It’s a good idea to drop into a supermarket in Windhoek and equip yourself with a cool box, we were never short of a refreshing drink. Less than 4 hours driving and we were on the outskirts of Etosha National Park and resting up for the night at the stylish Mushara Outpost
Delicious cuisine and peaceful surroundings left us feeling pampered and refreshed as we took a leisurely departure to enter Etosha through the Von Lindquist and Namatoni Gates.
Zebra, Springbok, Gemsbok and Ostrich clustered at the Eastern side of the park, whilst closer to Okaukuejo we were treated to breeding displays by raucous male northern black korhaans.
A Namibia safari holiday is ideal for wildlife enthusiasts, because as well as being a Big 5 safari location, it is also a birder’s paradise and in Etosha we enjoyed great sightings of two rare blue cranes. Nobody quite understands how these cranes continue to survive in such a dry, hot and predator rich environment. Surveys report that there may only be 30-odd individuals in Namibia, so worthy of a picture here.
Eager for our guided game viewing experience on the southern boundary of Etosha in the Ongava Private Reserve, we exited via Okaukuejo through Andersson’s Gate and were soon ensconced at Ongava Lodge.
Ongava land was formerly unprofitable cattle ranch country but is now a 31,000 hectare wildlife reserve with a choice of 4 different styles of property. Ongava Lodge and Little Ongava are set on a steep ridge with views down onto a floodlit waterhole which was visited by a black rhino on our first evening. Ongava Tented Camp is perfect for safari officionados, who like their camps small and intimate and sits deeper into the bush than Ongava Lodge.
It’s possible to track rhino on foot in Ongava and we were lucky enough to see both black and white rhino.
Ongava white rhino
From Ongava we drove west to reach Damaraland, now known as the Kunene province. In the town of Kamanjeb we stopped for lunch, watching Rosy-Faced Lovebirds in the courtyard at the excellent, but comically named Oppi Koppi Bar Restaurant. With bodies and vehicle refuelled, we took to the gravel road that lead us into the dramatic mountainscapes of Damaraland. Driving through the spectacular Grootberg Pass and passing through the veterinary fence we soon arrived at the Twee Palms meeting point.
Damaraland or Kunene Province as it is now known
Leaving our vehicle behind, our guide from Desert Rhino Camp negotiated the boulder strewn tracks through the Palmwag Conservancy for more than 2 hours, before we eventually reached camp. (PS: There is a fly-in option too!)
Home of desert-adapted elephants, rhinos and lions as well as oryx, springbok and hundreds of bird species, there are epic views over wide valleys and the Etendeka (it means flat topped) mountain ranges. Unique Welwitschia plants and poisonous Euphorbia Damarana punctuate the extruded basalt rock that litters the ground.
The highlight here is the ability to see desert adapted black rhino and meet the rangers of the Save The Rhino Trust who protect them. We walked within metres of a courting couple. He was laid back; she was on her guard and ready to charge. Thankfully the call of a bokmakierie (it’s a bird!) distracted her and we were left to creep away and leave them in peace.
Black Rhinos in Damaraland
And there is other wildlife here too – Gemsbok, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra and elusive big cats.
Gemsbok in the Palmwag Conservancy
Sundowners in these mountain ranges are very special indeed. Another delight was to meet the friendly camp staff and learn about their click language or Damara Nama.
Look out for Part 2 of the Namibia Journey coming soon..
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