I would have loved to have started this trip with the words: “At the crack of dawn” but it was more like “just after midnight”. We left our house at 02h15 after managing to get a couple of hours of sleep after a good Christmas family lunch and headed off to pick up Trevor and Mags. As has now become the rule – Sion was packing the car in the rain. In fact the rain lasted through most of our journey through South Africa with some sections reduced to about 20m visibility. One quaint stop worth a mention was the book store/memorabilia/gem stone/restaurant in Springbok – not what you’d expect from the outside – we needed to find a book on tortoises in Namibia in the local café, so after driving up and down the main road found the little entrance to a memorabilia store of note with an incredible collection of precious stones and car number plates. We finally reached the border at 10am and passed through easily within 30min with a cost of R160 for the car. Now relieved to be in a new country it proved to still be a very long and hot drive to our first destination and seven hours later reached Mariental and the Anandi Guesthouse. This is definitely the right choice for overnight accommodation – lovely neat and spacious rooms with Tea/Coffee and fridge in the room and an amazing Jacuzzi type bath – bring your own bubbles!!
Birds for the day included ticks for Sociable Weaver and Pygmy Falcon plus Bradfield’s Swift
Other birds seen and or photographed were Kori Bustard, House Sparrow ……
Not such an early start, but again before dawn – in fact the sun seems to rise rather late in Namibia which is a relief for some of us as it is now noted that we don’t have to wake up too early to get the dawn chorus! Trevor and Mags turn to drive so we were relegated to the back seats which were great - not having the pressure of driving and having more space to relax in, just a bit more difficult for two people to swing a camera out of one window. Of course it was quite an experience with Trevor driving 2 k’s forward and 1 k back every time he saw a glimse of a bird. Tip for driving through Rehoboth – ignore the first sign that points to the Shell and 24 hour take aways, unless you want to drive off the main road for a few blocks, rather be patient and drive another km to the BP which would probably have had quicker service on the coffee order.
Our stop over was at Waterberg Plateau Park. We had what was referred to as a double room x 2 and were in numbers 6 & 7. First problem noted was that there are no braai facilities next to your room. So even though it was a nice newly redone bathroom, lovely rolling green lawns in front and woodland behind, we had to pack our car and drive down to the campsite where we stood around a braai place which was rather uncomfortable. Also to note was that there is a fridge in the room and a kettle on a tray, but no cups, tea, coffee, etc. Sion and I dipped on a couple of birds that evening (but found later in the trip) as we drove back to where I had left the Leica camera on the back bumper of the car when taking scenery shots of the Waterberg mountains. I sincerely hope the lucky fellow to pick it up puts it to good use and would be very nice if they could email me the pics that were on the memory stick.
Birds for the day included ticks for me: the Crimson Breasted Shrike, Rosey Faced Lovebird. Plus photo’s of both Monteiro’s and Damara Hornbills.
Next morning was an early hike up the mountain side where we fortunately eventually got good shots of the rockrunner and managed to at least see the Hautlaub’s francolin before having to almost run back to get to the camp restaurant for breakfast – which was great!! Then it was back to packing the car (which is getting tiring to say the least) and a long dirt road trip to start off our trip to Shamvura. Quite interesting going through various cattle enclosures, glad Trevor took it upon himself to jump out and open and close all those gates.
A few more traffic control points to stop at on route. And the trip time was also extended a bit by having to drop speed to 90km/h everytime we went through a “little town” – there must be about 8 or 10 of these leading up to Rundu, quite quaint little settlements with clusters of about 4 to 6 reed huts enclosed by fences made either from tree stumps or more reeds – some even had patterns of various yellows and browns running through them. There are also lots of local crafts being sold on the sides of the road, and at a better price here than in the stores or other markets.
Shamvura was an experience for us brick and mortar people – we each had a tented camp, ours with the bathroom about 5 metres away from the tent!! I always wondered what it would be like to shower in the bush! They have a sign in the bathroom warning of the presence of mice and gecko’s, but really the closest we came to see one at our tent was at about 5am (still pitch dark inside) when “something” tried stealing an empty packet of niknaks out of our tent through a gap on the side. Of course this was quite mild compared to the snake outside Trevor and Mags’ tent (or the one that was found 2 weeks prior in the shower)
The best thing about Shamvura has to be the Otter – a Cape Clawless Otter – known as Otty!! Wow, how cool is that to have an otter as a pet – he even sleeps in their bed and baths with them. Of course I did get out of the pool when Otty got in, just in case and we sat on the side while he tried biting our fingers and toes. He is really a cool dude and so playful and soft – except for those teeth! Then too they have a goat – named Goaty – how original! This too is a friendly pet, however just watch out for those horns. So it’s rather amusing watching their dogs, otter and goat play together. Oh yes and they have a horse roaming around – no, his name is actually not horsey.
As for the birding we didn’t get any of the owls that I was hoping for, but at least we saw a nightjar and of course got the Souza’s Shrike –the main reason for Trevor going on this trip as this is a full lifer for him. We got this on the first morning to get it out of the way. We didn’t get too much else, but I suppose that’s because our focus was on the shrike although we did stumble across a nightjar and a harlequin quail. Fortunately we took it upon ourselves to skip the expense of the boat trip and rather continue birding on our own which was quite fruitful as we saw about 30 new birds and even Mags got a bunch of lifers. We spent quite a bit of time walking through beautiful woodlands as well as at the Mahango Game Park.
Packed the car early morning and waiting anxiously for our bill. Made use of this time to photograph some more of the scenery and the little birds coming to the bird feeder and of course a few more shots of Otty! Then it was a stop at Rundu sewerage works for a few more birds, plus a very pleasant stop at Roy’s Camp for the Black faced babbler and saw some really nice Chestnut weavers and also got great shots of the Rosey faced love birds.
Then a quick stop at the Engen in Tsumeb and coffee to tick the Wimpy. Warning they trap about 30km further on, what can I say, the traffic officials were very happy to get a few ice cold cooldrinks!
On to Etosha National Park Birds and Halali camp – which turned out to be quite a rush to get in at the gate on time. But we were still looking for another 3 birds so I could reach 600 before the New Year!
Well close enough found 2 more before midnight (and thought I had 600, but the nightjar is suspected to be a Rufous cheeked and not a new one). After a nice buffet dinner Sion and I brought the new year in watching the activity at Halali’s waterhole, which just got busier with every passing hour, but knowing we had an early morning next we finally forced ourselves to leave at 3am.
In this camp look out for the Scops Owls around chalet no 34 and the White-faced Owl outside no 25. Ask the helpful gardener or one of the security officers to help you.
We took the drive to Okakeujo camp and were fortunate to stop at one of the waterhole which seemed to have two lions resident. Firstly we noticed how ALL the animals (there were literally hundreds ranging from zebra’s to springbok, gemsbok to wildebeest) were queuing up almost single file on their journey to the water. Once there they seemed very skittish and rightfully so as from the shade of the bush above the water came the distinctive roar of a lion. The male and female lion just hanging about patiently taking a look at the day’s menu. But with a lot of driving still to be done it was onwards we went. A “quick” lunch at Okakeujo – which let me add was an extremely pricey N$40 club sandwich which looked more like a toasted bacon, egg and cheese with a dash of tomato. So after wasting 45 minutes waiting for this sad meal there was not much else to do here but rush on back to Halali.
Our return saw 5 large desert elephants where previously there had only been one. It is fascinating to watch the pecking order at these spots. The lions still near their waterhole, but rather more interested in each other than anyone else.
We decided on another buffet dinner given what it was like the night before, however we would have been better off with our own braai and relaxing time at our chalet. (I do suppose the new year eve’s buffet was extraordinary). But at least the accommodation was of a luxury style and a far cry from the previous tented camp. Though with the rates being so exorbitant, you do tend to want to nit pick at everything. For example, we did not hand in our key when we left for the day and ask for the room to be serviced. Which is generally not much of a problem if you’re just there for two nights, however they only gave us a half a roll of toilet paper to start with so was very glad we had packed in our own. Another bathroom problem was that to start off with our shower was blocked so you basically had a foot bath at the same time. Still in the bathroom which does not have outside windows – the lights went off at 6am which leaves you in the dark. Yet another bathroom issue – Mags’ toilet was leaking. Yet another issue is that we had the minutest of fridges which basically was the height of a 1.5l water bottle. Fortunately Mags had a slightly bigger one to fit more of the cooldrinks.
Also we requested chalets next to each other on the fence line, but only one was there and the other was 3 chalets away.
After checking out the resident owls again we are on our way out of the park via Namoutoni camp and exiting at the top gate. Must stops on route are the Goas waterhole – fabulous sightings here, be sure to drive all the way around to the back of the waterhole. Unfortunately time did not allow us to travel around Fischer’s Pan, but we did do a quick stop at Andoni waterhole – here there was a young zebra which given it’s position and the heat we assumed was dead, as assumed the two vultures lurking about, after about 5 minutes it jumped up and walked away as did the vultures.
Now as for the exit gate on this end – BEWARE, the guard there tried telling us that we had short paid at the entrance and he wanted more money from us as he must now correct their mistake. Now personally if it’s their fault I don’t see why we as the customers must be disadvantaged for it, however this was not the real issue here. The problem was that he did not have any form of receipt book or anything to give us proof of paying the additional R240 and he wanted to keep our permit and receipt from the first gate.
So after being ripped off by the whole Etosha experience costing us over R1000 per person per day we were on our way dodging goats, horses, donkeys and cattle. Another word of warning – when travelling around Namibia and especially up north, you need to add at least an extra hour on to your travel time as you have to stop for the animals – seems they were well training not to run across the road…..they run up to the side and then take a casual stroll across with a breather in the middle and then idle off.
We were taken aback at Ruacana thinking it was our last stop for petrol before Kunene, well they were out of petrol, but we were fortunately travelling with 2 full jerry cans so had an extra 40 litres which sufficed. We rushed on with only a quick stop to look for the Grey Kestrel which did not turn up at the designated stop. With speed drastically reduced by the terrain we forged ahead to Kunene River Lodge were we were met with a warm welcome by Peter and Hillary Morgan. What a wonderful couple, they gave us their full attention for the entire time we spent there.
Dinner on their deck over-looking the river is a must and having received our dinner order earlier by phone was ready and waiting for us upon our arrival. The luxury rooms were wonderfully spacious and relaxing – in comparison to the fortune we had paid for Etosha, this was heaven.
Woke up this morning to find the Cinderella Waxbill’s outside our room as well as the Rufous-Tailed Palm Thrush – WOW! This was followed by a delicious breakfast on the deck. We were planning on pottering around the gardens until Peter would take us out to find the kestrel later in the afternoon, when low and behold he came rushing in to tell us to follow him. He had found the grey kestrel a few kilometers away and left two of his guys standing there watching over it. Now this was just amazing to have found all three specials by 10.30am on the first morning there. Peter gave us a few more hot spots and whilst continuing with this route, he kept popping up to show us what he’d found and point it out for us. Then possibly for the first time ever on a birding trip we could have some relaxing time around the pool – so after booking many wonderful holidays this was one beauty where we could actually enjoy our splendid surroundings.
We ended our day with Peter’s Sundowner boat trip, which was spectacular to say the least. And again our dinner was ready on our return – it was like living in a 5 star hotel and restaurant!
Up early this morning to go with Peter on a walk up a dry river bed and short climb up a waterfall to a wonderfully peaceful spot where there were a host of birds arriving for their morning drink under the ever watchful eye of a Shikra. We could have spent hours there, however Peter warned us the rocks that you have to climb down get extremely hot in the middle of the day, making it difficult to hold on too. On the way back Peter showed us a few other stops that we could bird later on so after yet another scrumptious breakfast and bit of relaxation it was off to those and back to the lodge for another swim – note: no swimming allowed in the river due to the crocodiles, but they have a fabulously cozy pool fed continuously by refreshing river water. It was fascinating to hear Peter and Hillary’s life stories around the dinner table with a couple of nightjars whizzing by overhead.
Just for good measure on departure Peter shared yet more of his knowledge of the area and gave us a few more spots to look out for on route – he even showed up there to make sure we’d found all the necessaries!! Of course there was also a “town” meeting of the locals nearby – Peter is quite involved in building and assisting the communities around Kunene. Sad to have to drag ourselves away from this glorious spot in Namibia and such generous hosts, we will certainly return. This was undoubtedly one of the main highlights of our Namibian trip and I would highly recommend a stay at Kunene River Lodge for anyone travelling to Namibia.
So after all that excitement, the road to Uis was long – a gravel road with continuous dips – felt like we were on the biggest ever rollercoaster – and we were forced to take it a bit slower than usual.
Finally arriving in Uis to a lovely friendly host at the White Lady Guesthouse & Restaurant, we were relieved to have a good supper and clean room to retire to.
Out fairly early to find the Benguela’s Lark and Ruppel’s Korhaans nearby, and then back for breakfast before going on to Spitskoppe. We stopped a few times along the way to get the scenic shots of the koppe, as well as a brief stop at the gate where the guides were helpful in showing us the ……rat.
Then we took a “short” walk around the Spitskoppe in a vain search of the Herero Chat – only came out with lots of scenic shots of rock formations and trees – should probably have taken our 50mm lens with instead of lugging the 300mm. Also no chat to be found at the camp site areas, so back to the gate we went for the assistance of one of their guides, Frans. (why men can’t ask for directions in the first place I’ll never know). Frans took us on a much shorter circular pattern around the chat’s home successfully which was indeed a relief to find. On a drive around the Pondocks there weren’t any gray’s larks, but I did manage to spot a family of meerkat.
Then a bit of a race to get to Swakopmund before nightfall. Just as well the sun sets rather late here. We found our hosts Mark and Sandra easily and Mark had prepared a splendid butternut soup for dinner. One of the great things about travelling around a different country is the opportunity to meet super people – and their pets of course, apart from the two friendly dogs here, there were also 3 penguins being rehabilitated in the backyard!
Thankfully Mark believes that birding should be a pleasure, so we only had to leave the house at 7am in search of the Dune Lark – an easy find near the municipal nursery – just stopped on Mark’s instruction, jumped out and there it was in front of us! This little bit of “road” gave us a chance to test the Land Rovers true 4×4 ability – though I suppose that is pretty much proved, so I guess it was Sion’s ability to take on a sand dune that proved itself. Talking about dunes, what would a trip to this end of the world be without a stop at Dune 7. It’s impressive majesty was hopefully captured on camera from the bottom as we weren’t at all keen to climb it!
Much of the rest of the day was spent collecting a few more lifers around the salt pans – thanks Mark! Whilst Trevor and Mags opted to go in search of lizards and the like, Sion and I chose to look around town – Sion had spent 2 years doing his army service here and I was keen to see where he’d been. Of course the most spectacular sights were at the Walvis Bay lagoon with the arrival of the flamingoes and other waders as the tide was going out. We had a delectable dinner at The Raft – a must if you’d like to treat yourself. With a window seat it was like sitting in an airport watch tower at the busiest terminal ever. There were flamingoes flying in every direction with a pelican or two thrown in for good measure along with a few hundred sandlerlings and the like. It was an indescribable experience and though we tried video’ing the scene, I don’t think anything can do it justice, it’s just something you need to experience first hand.
The end of our “holiday” no more bird stops. Sion and I have both clocked 10 000 photo’s on this trip – so a lot of work still to be done in the sorting and processing.
So a long drive back via Windhoek, with plenty more road blocks, most of which just waved us through. I think we have had a total of about 20 in our 6000km trip around Namibia.
We worked out our next stop time wise and phoned to book rooms at the Orange River Lodge at Noordoewer, which is the Namibian side of the border post. We were pleasantly surprised by the nice accommodation – double rooms with shower and toilet plus desk and cupboard and self catering facilities. A wonderful garden in front of the rooms along with bar and restaurant which served yummy lamb chops and burgers. Ideal if you have kid with you too. By the way – you can change over to the RSA Vodacom cell network – no more international call rates, which makes phoning home a pleasure.
Final leg of our journey started at 04h00. Extremely windy for most of the way, so the driving wasn’t easy. No stopping unless to change drivers and for a Wimpy breakfast in Klawer – no more birds. So our bird list for this trip is 360. I got 76 new birds, Sion got 70, Mags got 23 and Trevor got 1. So all in all a very successful trip!.
Text by Tiana Stanton…