1 – 18 October 2014
After a busy couple of weeks back in Cape Town catching up with family and friends and getting Charlie ready for the off, we hit the road again on 1 October. Our first few days were fairly long drives and whilst crossing the border into Namibia we got a bit of a surprise: as we were waiting to clear immigration a couple walked into the office and after a few seconds of placing the faces, we realised it was the couple who owned Peponi Beach Lodge in Tanzania. They had the lodge/camp up for sale when we were staying there. They had now sold it and were driving to South Africa to set up a new home in Napier. What a small world to bump into them after all this time.
With a quick stop in Keetmanshoop our first main destination was Windhoek to pick up Marcello’s parents, Hanne and Peter, on the Sunday. Despite Marcello’s parents having lived in South Africa since they were young children, they’d never been to one of the big game parks, so we wanted them to get a taste of life in the bush with us. We picked them up early and started the drive up to Etosha, where we were to spend four nights with them.
Hanne and Peter certainly got a good welcome into the park. Within a few minutes we came across three very young lion cubs that had been left under a tree by their mother, presumably while she went to hunt. Then not long after that we saw two elephants grazing in the bush: this on top of the usual suspects of springbok and impala which, whilst always in abundance, are still cool to see.
Marcello’s parents were going to be camping with us but, when we were packing up all our gear in Cape Town, it soon became apparent that there was no way we were going to fit in a tent, mattresses and stretcher beds in addition to two extra people with luggage on top of everything else we were carrying! Luckily we were able to book them into a room at the various camps and they were still able to enjoy sitting around the fire under the stars with us in the evenings.
We had some fantastic sightings while we were in the park, so we were really pleased that Hanne and Peter were able to see so much. There were plenty of elephants, zebra and giraffe, as well as gemsbok, springbok and kudu that came to drink at the Okaukuejo waterhole. We also saw several rhino and a lioness drinking there on our first night, but sadly that was after Marcello’s parents had gone to bed after a long day travelling.
However in the coming days, we saw rhino close up and were also treated to a pride of lions feasting on a poor giraffe they’d caught the night before. We’d actually heard them squabbling amongst themselves for the best bits in the night, with the hyena whining that they wanted some in the background, but we weren’t sure if we’d be able to find them. Thankfully, due to Marcello’s instincts, we found them very quickly and were the first ones there. We watched in wonder, with lions’ heads stuck right inside the body cavity and coming out with blood all around their faces and had the sight to ourselves for around five or ten minutes before all the game drive vehicles started to arrive.
It was lovely to share this time in the bush with Hanne and Peter and for us to see the joy in them of seeing these wonderful animals up close and in the wild for the first time. We also hope that it’s put their minds at rest a little about what life on the road is like: it’s not all creepy crawlies, bad facilities and definitely not bad food! It was also fun for Hanne and I to sit back with our glasses of wine and enjoy the battle of wills between Marcello and his father … two peas in a pod!
We dropped Hanne and Peter off in Ondangwa the following Thursday lunch time to catch a flight to Windhoek and then onto Cape Town. We think they were a little nervous as we were driving through the fairly typical African town, wondering if a town of that size actually had an airport and, if so, what the state of the planes would be. However we know they made it back safely, so it can’t have been that bad!
From here we headed north towards the border with Angola. We wanted to drive the river road from Ruacana to Epupa, so we were hoping we’d at least make it to Ruacana that night, which we did. On approaching the town we were treated to an amazing hilltop view of the Angolan mountains across the river, with the tree-filled valleys on the Namibian side of the Kunene river leading up to them. Stunning.
We set up camp at the Kunene Islands Campsite and soon after met Braam, a Namibian who was there with his two Swiss friends. They’d been travelling in the Caprivi and this was their last “day trip” before flying back to Europe. Marcello had been a bit concerned as Charlie had been losing water and, by luck, or the grace of God, Braam was a mechanic with a particular love of Land Rovers. He could see Marcello checking in the engine, so came over to take a quick look and, both figuring it was something to do with the water pump, suggested we come to his workshop in Oshakati the next day.
After a peaceful night by the river, crocs thankfully staying away (we’d been told a Chinese man had been taken by a croc a few days earlier, although he had somewhat stupidly decided to go into the river for a dip!), we packed up and headed back, almost to where we’d dropped Marcello’s parents off the day before. If nothing else, we wanted peace of mind before hitting a pretty remote and bumpy route. It’s a good job that we did as, after trying various fixes, it was apparent that the pump that Marcello had fitted recently was faulty. Thankfully Braam was able to arrange for a new one to be delivered for the following morning.
As events unfolded, I had a quick look at what accommodation Oshakati had on offer, however Braam was having none of it and insisted that we stay with him for the night. Wow: it never ceases to amaze and pleasantly surprise me how hospitable and generous people can be to pretty much complete strangers. Braam is an experienced overlander, and has even done some mapping for the founder of Tracks4Africa, a friend of his, so he explained that he could tell right-off that we were like-minded people; but still. He wouldn’t even let us buy him dinner! What a kind, salt-of-the-earth, guy. We really enjoyed chatting with him and his brother about their travels and hope to be able to hook up on a trip in the not too distant future.
The next morning the new pump was fitted, tested and we were safe to be on our way again. For anyone with any need for a mechanic in northern Namibia, Braam’s your man. (Braam Ellis, Northern Auto Repairs, Main Road, Oshakati +264 65 221802.) Just don’t turn up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay 😉
We made it back to Kunene Islands Campsite in time for a quick lunch and then hit the road again. We’d intended to wild camp that night and had discussed stopping off at the Kunene River Lodge for a quick beer on the way past. However, when we got there after a very hot and dusty afternoon of driving, the call of their swimming pool got the better of us and we decided to stay. It was one of the most refreshing swims we’d had in a long time!
We were warned that the river road between the River Lodge and Epupa was hard going but, as we said to everyone that looked at us somewhat questioningly when we said we were driving that route, we weren’t in a hurry so if we needed to stop and wild camp, that’s what we’d do. It was a hard day’s drive, particularly for Marcello, driving in low range with difflock engaged more times that he can remember, but it was worth it for the scenery. We went from deserted arid rock and dust roads, with bare-branched trees to lush palms and green foliage as we got closer to the water … it was never hard to spot where the river was!
We arrived in Epupa 87 kilometres and seven and a half hours later ready for a beer and a cold shower. The water in the falls was a lot lower than when we were there previously, with areas around them that had been gushing streams and rock pools now completely dry. It was nice to be back, although we did miss our travelling companions, Freddie and Joel, from our time there before. I was also disappointed that “Camp Dog”, our little black and white Jack Russell friend was nowhere to be seen. I suspect someone else had the same idea I’d had before and decided to take him home with them. We were warmly greeted by one of the other Jack Russells though – particularly when the braai was started.
From Epupa we travelled south to Opuwo, another former haunt of ours and, like Epupa, to our amazement they remembered us. After stocking up on supplies and a few odd jobs, we decided to go and visit Robbin and, hopefully, some desert elephants in Purros. Robbin was the guide that had taken us to see the Himba previously and ended up coming with us to help Freddie arrange some photo shoots with them.
Although we remembered the Kaokoveld and its landscape very fondly, we were still taken aback as we were driving towards Purros through the area of the “fairy circles”. Suddenly there are vast plains of grasses, with mountains in the background and everything is a hue of sand beige, red and tinges of green minerals. There wasn’t another person or vehicle in sight, just the odd ostrich. Then before you know it, you’re driving through riverbeds and surrounded by trees. It still amazes me how there is so much vast nothingness in Namibia, and yet, the landscape seems to change every ten minutes or so.
We caught up with Robbin that night over a braai and decided to take him with us the following day to drive back to Sesfontein via the riverbeds. (If you need a guide in the area, contact: Robbin Uatokuja, Robbin’s Moon Valley Nature Camping, firstname.lastname@example.org or +264 8171 62066.) We were surprised after setting off in the morning at how much water there actually is around Purros and soon after setting off we saw three, and then another two, of the six desert elephants that currently live in the area. After a period of time, we turned off towards the Hoanib river bed and on the way spotted two bat-eared foxes in the distance. We managed to get fairly close, but they soon legged it off into the distance, every now and then turning around and getting a fresh fright at the sight of us.
There are far greater numbers of desert elephants in the Hoanib, which seemed surprising as there appear to be far fewer resources for them. After some time, we started to think we had seen all the ellies we were going to when Robbin spotted some ahead of us. We saw a total of three herds of four or five, all with little ones (nice to see that they’re reproducing). You can definitely notice the longer legs that the desert elephants have compared to their other African counterparts and it was good to see them looking so healthy considering the environment they live in.
Having bid farewell to Robbin in Sesfontein, we headed further south to Palmwag. Along the route we saw more giraffe, zebra, gemsbok and then two elephants grazing close to the road. There’s something I particularly like about seeing them in this part of the world: not only are they surviving in pretty harsh conditions, but they’re just part of the natural habitat and not in a national park.
From here we were kind of transiting through to Botswana, or that’s how it felt as we were, and had, only spent one night in each place since Opuwo. After Palmwag we stopped in Tsumeb and from there we went into the west side of the Caprivi back to Divundu and one of our favourite camps, Nunda River Lodge. We’ve found that we’ve been creatures of habit, opting to return to camps that we know and liked. I guess this is particularly so as we’ve packed in some long days in the car. Well, we are trying to fit in a lot to the time that we have … Next stop: Botswana.