Namibia Highlights

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Namibia punches way over its weight in terms of ‘must-see’ and ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ sights. There is, sadly, too much to see in one 2-week trip, but here are some of the highlights.

Etosha National Park

I have never been as sad to leave anywhere as I was to leave Etosha. 4 nights in a National Park sounded like a lot but, frankly, it wasn’t nearly enough. I could happily have stayed here for a full week.

Namutoni Fort

Namutoni Fort

We drove into the Eastern Gate, then stayed 2 nights at Namutoni camp. We stayed at the campsite here, in our rooftop tent.

To make the early starts a bit easier, we took the morning game drive in a park vehicle. We had barely driven out of the camp gate, before a rhino wandered across the road. The sun hadn’t even risen! It’s easy to see why the park authorities don’t want tourists driving around in the dark. We also saw lions (with some very cute cubs) at Chudob waterhole.

Lion Cubs, Chudob Waterhole, Etosha National Park

Lion Cubs, Chudob Waterhole

From Namutoni, we spent a full day driving across Etosha to Okaukuejo Camp. It was a long, hot day, but probably one of the best day’s driving that I’ve ever had. We saw our first elephants at the Ngobib waterhole.

Elephants, Ngobib Waterhole, Etosha National Park

Elephants, Ngobib Waterhole

Okaukuejo Accommodation

Okaukuejo Accommodation

At Okaukuejo Camp, we stayed in resort accommodation for 2 nights. This meant that we could get up early to go lion-spotting (without packing up the tent) – we saw a whole pride of lions at Okondeka waterhole. This was a red-letter moment for us: the lions came right past the car on their walk from the waterhole to their daytime resting place.

Okaukuejo Camp also has a floodlit waterhole: this is the perfect place for an after-dinner stroll. Take a seat, and watch the animals gather for their evening drink. We saw a herd of elephants drinking and several rhinos bathing (including a mother and calf). We even saw some very bad-tempered juvenile lions try (and fail) to kill a giraffe. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the lions then tried to take on a rhino – whereupon the rhino adopted the ‘head down, forward march’ position and charged the lion! (Nobody was hurt that evening, except the lions’ pride).

Sossusvlei Dunes

Sossusvlei Dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

Sossusvlei Dune

Think big and sandy. VERY big, and VERY sandy. Sossusvlei Dunes are in a class of their own. Located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, 4-5 hours drive from Windhoek or Swakopmund, the dunes are one of Namibia’s must-sees. And don’t forget Dead Vlei – the iconic dead trees and parched earth are one of the most photographed travel locations there is.

Sossus Dune Lodge, Nambi-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

Sossus Dune Lodge

We stayed at Sossus Dune Lodge, the only accommodation inside the park with easy access to the dunes. It was fairly expensive, but worth it in terms of getting to the dunes at dawn and staying to watch sunset. (Plus there was the bonus of a guided tour).

You can self-drive around the park (even after dark, provided you’re staying there) – the road is hard up to a point, then there’s a car park with free shuttle bus up to the dunes and Dead Vlei. (Unless you’re an expert at driving in sand, probably best to park up and take the shuttle).

An early morning guided tour will take you the dunes at dawn, then Dead Vlei, then breakfast. The downside is a 4.30am wake-up call! But it’s worth it, particularly as you’ll have the place to yourself: we were eating breakfast by the time the external tourists arrived.

You are allowed to walk up the dunes, and around Dead Vlei. You may want to be careful of cameras and electronics: the beautiful, golden, fine sand gets everywhere. (In fact, I’m still removing it from my shoes).

It gets extremely hot at Sossusvlei and, when we visited, there was no air-con in the accommodation, only fans.  So be prepared to bake.

Damaraland

Hiking the Petrified Forest, Damaraland, Namibia

Hiking the Petrified Forest

Damaraland is the vast, ancient desert that occupies much of mid-western Namibia, from south of Etosha to the Atlantic Ocean and down to Swakopmund.

At first glance, you’ll probably think that much of Damaraland is dead – and you’ll be wrong. That grey-green plant with flaky leaves is in fact a Welwetschia plant, and it’s 2000 years old. So you’ll forgive it for looking a bit, well, flaky.

To unlock the mysteries of Damaraland, you’ll need a guide. At Twyfelfontein (“doubtful fountain”), the delightful Janet showed us around the rock paintings and told us tales of African settlers. The ancient paintings show the locations of waterholes and the animals that once lived here. At the petrified forest, we admired the Welwetschia, and learned about long-buried tree trunks. Further down the road, we braved the midday heat to see the organ pipes.

Welwetschia Plant

Welwetschia Plant. Not dead, just very old.

Waterberg Plateau Park

Waterberg Plateau Park

Waterberg National Park

Much of Waterberg Plateau Park is inaccessible, meaning that it’s the perfect refuge for many animals. Unlike most Namibian parks, you can’t self-drive here, so you’ll have to take a guided tour to see the plateau itself.

We saw mainly herbivores, in the form of buffalos and antelope such as eland, kudu, sable and roan. There was also our first sighting of yellow-billed hornbill (aka the Flying Banana).

The big draws at Waterberg are bird-watching and hiking: there are 9 unguided trails and 3 guided hikes. Plus, there are over 200 species of birds. The campsite is home to a large family of banded mongoose (mongeese?), plus some not-so-cute baboons as visitors.

Cheetah Conservation Fund

Cheetah Conservation Fund

Cheetah Conservation Fund

The chances of seeing cheetahs in the wild are slim – they’re very shy and very wary of humans. Fortunately, the Cheetah Conservation Fund near Otjiwarongo is open to visitors. This association has been supporting cheetahs since 1990, and by visiting you’ll be supporting their work.

The cheetahs that live here were all rescued, many as cubs. They cannot be rehabilitated as they are too used to human contact. So they live out their days in comfortable surroundings, enjoying the admiring glances of visitors and acting as cheetah ‘ambassadors’ for CCF’s conservation work.

The male and female cheetahs live separately and all of them have names. You can take a tour in a park vehicle (highly recommended), to allow you to really see them up close. After that, take a tour of the medical centre and the exhibition. (And find out why you can buy goats’ cheese at CCF…)

What we missed…

Alas, both time and money were too short to allow us to do everything. We sadly moved both of the following to “the next time”:

  • Fish River Canyon – 550m deep and 160km long, the world’s 2nd-largest canyon is in the south of Namibia, bordering South Africa
  • The Caprivi Strip – this strip in the far north-east of Namibia borders Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and plays host to the mighty Zambezi river.

And some lowlights…

Ok, so no trip is without its downsides. I can honestly say that our trip to Namibia only had 2:

  • Baboons. These malicious monkeys will take your food and drink and generally create havoc if you’re not careful. We “enjoyed” their company at Waterberg Plateau Park.
  • Malaria. Namibia is in a malarial zone, so you’ll need to take anti-malarials.

The map below shows our itinerary. Enjoy your trip!

 

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