My trip travelling alone in Namibia, where I stayed and what I saw. You should get a cuppa as it’s a long one.
I fell in love with Africa when I travelled from Nairobi to Victoria Falls via Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in 2012. I can’t quite describe the feeling it gives me, other than it makes me feel tearful just thinking about it (in a good way). Since then, I have been to Botswana and now wanted to check out Namibia.
I can highly recommend Namibia as a woman travelling alone, I felt perfectly safe. I travelled to the north of the country but am planning to return to visit the south and west. You can read about the practicalities of a self drive in Namibia in my post solo self drive in Namibia.
Arriving at Windhoek and finding my way
I arrived at Windhoek after a short flight from Johannesburg, tired after the long haul from the UK. At the time of posting, UK nationals don’t pay for a tourist visa so my passport was quickly stamped and my hold baggage was waiting on the carousel. I was met immediately on entering the arrivals hall by a representative from ValueCarHire.
After a quick ATM stop the other clients and I were transferred the 30 minutes to Value’s depot in the centre of Windhoek. After all the paperwork and instructions were received, it was time to get on the road. I had a city and country map and some instructions on how to get on the main B1 road, it was pretty straightforward route to my first stop at the Elegant Farmstead.
The Elegant Farmstead
The gravel road leading to the Elegant Farmstead is well sign posted off the B1, but it’s worth noting there are no other signs indicating that you’re in the right place until you get to the entrance to the farm. This was a bit disconcerting as it took rather longer than I was anticipating!
First day nerves kicked in; I was getting used to the truck and it was my first time on a gravel road, after being made to watch a video of people rolling their 4WDs! Anyhow I arrived at the farmstead without any problems around 5pm, to be greeted warmly by the fabulous staff.
The rooms at the farmstead are simple but comfortable. Wifi is available in the lounge area, where there’s an honesty bar for when the main bar is shut; along with tea, coffee and cake. I found the menu for dinner, which looked really nice and they were happy to adjust to my particular dietary needs, i.e. fussy.
As you can see from the photo, the pool area is lovely. But the pool itself was freezing! I didn’t have time to do any of the activities, but the surrounding landscape was extremely picturesque. I left after a good breakfast and some excellent coffee, starting the drive to Okonjima with the aim of getting there as early as possible.
After a quick stop for supplies at Okahandja, I arrived at the entrance gate to Okonjima in good time at 11.15am. Drawing up to the gate, the security guard checked my name on the list. I was expecting to stay at Plains Camp but was instructed to drive to the Bush Camp as I’d been upgraded.
The drive took me through two more gates, the second of which takes you into Okonjima reserve. I slowed right down to see what I could spot on the drive in (lots of different antelope I didn’t know the names for yet).
On arrival at the bush camp I was greeted by a cooling drink, shown around the main Lapa (open air lodge) and talked through the activities I could expect during my one night stay.
I was then shown to room 2 or should I say rooms! There I was informed it was safe to walk to the lapa in the dark; and shown around the excellent accommodation, which had a fantastic view from both the bed….and the loo.
Here’s the video of my first impressions: Okonjima Bush Camp Accommodation
And some photos…
After spending several hours relaxing and feeding the birds it was time to go to the main lapa for coffee and meet the guide for the afternoon game drive.
I joined two couples and our guide Jonah, who drove us out of camp and through North Post Gate into Okonjima reserve, with a plan to track leopards. It’s unclear how many leopards are in the reserve, but we were informed that all of them are of the area, rather than being introduced. About eleven were collared, so that the Africat team could monitor them to understand their range and behavior.
You might think that radio tracking is cheating (I certainly did), but even though it can indicate that a specific cat is within one km in any direction, there’s still no guarantee you’ll find it. Just like tracking from visible clues like scat and tracks, leopards could enter brush or a ravine that we couldn’t access. In this case we were really lucky to pick up faint “beeps” from “Shanti’s” collar, which gradually got louder as we veered down a righthand sandy track.
What followed was thirty minutes great viewing, of this magnificent cat cooling off in the shade of a termite mound.
After a really tasty dinner I had the opportunity; to go on a night drive, or go to a hide. I chose to go to the hide after speaking to some of the other guests. I saw a group of Porcupines and a grumpy Honeybadger.
I had a brilliant nights sleep, and awoke early the next morning to a view of Okonjima plains at the end of my bed. What an excellent way to wake up.
Following coffee and a quick bite to eat, it was back out in the landrover to track Cheetah. First driving and then on foot.
There are currently seven cheetahs in the reserve. Which were released by the Africat Foundation, to monitor them to see how they manage, before they’re moved to different reserves across Namibia.
Cheetahs have a really wide range and Okonjima is massive, so for the first two hours we didn’t pick up a signal. We then found a “beep” for a leopard, but our search was fruitless as the cat had entered a ravine. Finally we received a call from another guide; two cheetahs brothers, had been spotted on the main track into the camps, just before the automated gate. This was the same route I’d taken to get to the Bush Camp the previous day, and the cats were just under a tree by the side of that track.
We left the jeep and walked towards the trees and the most awesome sight. Of all the big cats the cheetah is my favourite due to their elegance and facial expressions.
The brothers were keen on hunting Springbok and it looked like we’d see a chase, but the Springbok got spooked at the last-minute. Then it was back to camp for breakfast and packing to leave for my next stop. I was very sad to be leaving such a wonderful place and pledged to return to a longer stay in future.
The drive to Damaraland took a couple of hours, the scenery starting to change into rocky mountains. I left the main tar road and made my way to the lodge on a good gravel road.
After the entrance I could see that it was a very steep drive to the lodge at the top of a hill. I followed another car on a single track and as I came closer to the summit there was a very steep rise on concrete and gravel, with a sheer drop on each side; it was the steepest road I have ever driven on.
As I had failed to engage high 4WD, I managed to stall half way up this incline. My head was screaming “don’t touch the clutch” as I tried not to panic (had I pressed the clutch I would definitely have slid straight off the side of the steep hill and rolled down, probably dying in the process….. dramatic I know). I managed to engage the hand and foot brakes, alter the gearing, and climb slowly up the rest of the hill. Luckily nothing was coming down the hill, so I made it!
You know when you’re filled with adrenaline and feel kind of numb? Yes, that’s what it felt like. I was ready for a stiff drink in the bar before checking in, worrying about the drive down the next day.
Ugab was a bit of a strange place. Of course I’d just come from luxury and the accommodation wasn’t as smart, but there was something strange about it, I’m not sure what. The owners were friendly, but conversation was stilted and didn’t flow. Maybe they don’t find it easy to talk to guests? However, the views from the terrace and my room were absolutely superb, and the staff attentive.
This was just an overnight stop In the morning I left early, knowing I had a long drive (6.5+ hours) to Palmwag and wanted to stop at a couple of places on route.
Journey to Palmwag in Damaraland
The drive through Damaraland is simply stunning, the landscape is red rock and mountains, the road often seemed endless. I hoped I would have time to visit at least one of the historic sites on route. My first stop was to take a photo of my surroundings and the open road.
My next stop was the Petrified Forest, where I was shown massive tree trucks that had been swept down a river by floods over 2 million years ago, which had turned to stone by mineral deposits. I was invited to lift what looked like a piece of old wood that was really heavy.
During the tour I was also shown many Welwitschia, which is the national plant of Namibia and can live for a thousand years in the desert. Lucky as Namibia was entering a fourth year of drought.
It was now about 11am and I decided I had time to visit either Twyfelfontein or the Organ Pipes, I chose to visit the former as it was slightly closer. I’m so glad I did.
What I thought was going to be a 30 minute deviation off the main route turned into almost an hour as the road was so bad. But I arrived at Twyfelfontein in time for a tour that lasted an hour. Twelfelfontein, which means ” Doubtful Spring”, is an Unesco World Heritage Site.
The engravings were completed over several generations of San people coming to the area around 6000 years ago. They depict scenes to encourage good hunting, maps to long gone springs (these appear as circles in the engravings), and other spiritual meanings. I joked that one “looked like a penguin”… it turned out to be! The San people were nomadic and would have travelled to the coast.
The guide was truly knowledgeable and happy to answer the dozens of questions we had. On leaving, I pretty much floored it to make it back to the main route. At the turning, some young girls waved and chased the truck and I wondered if maybe I was going the wrong way? But decided they just wanted to sell me the crafts on the nearby stall.
At this point it was almost 1pm and I needed to be at Palmwag for a pick up at 3.30. It was a journey of 89km so I thought it would be easy…..it wasn’t. For the next 2 hours or so I drove on the roughest road to date. The scenery was astounding but I didn’t want to stop in case I was late, I was also worried that I was on the wrong route by this point!
Those 89km took almost 2 and a half hours, and I didn’t see another car until I was a couple of km to Palmwag. Arriving to park at Palmwag at 3.25pm the Etendeka Landrover was waiting, unfortunately another couple was an hour late so it was 4.30 before we headed to camp.
Etendeka Mountain Camp
Guests are picked up at Palmwag, as the 18km drive to Etendeka Mountain Camp is more suited to those with “real” off-road experience. The journey also serves as a first game drive, an opportunity to stop and admire the surroundings and animals on route.
After arriving at camp at around 6pm, there was time for my first bucket shower before dinner. There’s something about this type of washing that’s incredibly civilised, and it’s certainly eco-friendly. I filled the bucket from the taps (including water heated by solar energy), had a quick rinse, turned the shower head off, applied shampoo and then turned it back on for that final rinse and clean. It’s surprising how long one bucket of water lasts and certainly enough to clean you, even considering the slightly dusty enviroment.
Meals at camp are taken communally with everyone sharing the same menu, with adjustments for allergies etc. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the other friendly and interesting guests.
There were a lot of jokes and friendly jibes around the table for the next 3 nights, especially when the fabulous wine flowed. Denis was our host, a lovely gentleman that calls dinner to order with a tinkle on a wine glass, keeps the conversation flowing, and ensures guests are having a good time. He also takes time to explain the activities we’ll participate in, the history and life at Etendeka.
After dinner that first night, we had the opportunity to view the night sky through a pretty powerful telescope. As we gathered outside, Denis explained a number of constellations we could see, along with the small cloud of Magellan, a distant galaxy we could see with the naked eye.
This is a real highlight at Etendeka. With no light pollution, the milky way is so visible it stretches almost 180 degrees across the sky. Thousands of stars fill the view, just magical. Looking through the telescope we could see what looked like an eye, we were looking at Saturn! Amazing.
Later I tried to photograph the stars, but couldn’t quite get it right. One night I woke at 4am, I went outside and the large cloud of Magellan was clearly visible in the sky alongside the small cloud of Magellan. I found it incredible, I could see another galaxy just by looking up.
Mornings at Etendeka are for walking. Guide Boas, took us out in the surrounding area to learn about the animals and plants. We could also ask questions about life for the local Damara and Himba people, which was really interesting. Damara’s have something known as “pre-marriage” after dating, where they can live together and have children. Only once both sets of parents are happy they’re a true match (usually after 3/4 years), are they allowed to marry. Men can also have more than one wife.
We were taught how to identify animals from their scat, so I can now tell you if it’s giraffe or springbok poo! The route took us through a ravine where I spotted a black eagle, and then over a hill where the view back to camp was magnificent.
Afternoons are for game drives, Boas is an excellent driver and guide. We spotted a desert adapted elephants and lions, as well as many different envelope including springbok and klipspringer. Stopping for sundowners in this amazing place was also a highlight of my stay.
Etendeka is a place to get away from it all. I’d recommend staying at least two nights, but three is ideal. The sounds during the day and at night are out of this world, the landscape incredible, and Denis and his staff could not be more welcoming.
Driving to Etosha
Leaving Etendeka after breakfast for one last drive through the area, I was taken back to Palmwag where my truck was safe and ready to go.
I was expecting the drive to Etosha to take four or five hours with a stop for fuel and supplies. I stopped at what was described in my travel information as “the one horse town of Kamajab”, it was exactly that. This is the only place in my entire journey where I felt uncomfortable, it was only due to a man (who looked stoned out of his mind) asking me personal questions through the passenger window, whilst the attendant filled up the tank. I was firm with declining to buy anything and he moved away still staring. Therefore I only stopped in the shop briefly for water, and I was on my way again.
Arriving at Anderson’s Gate at around 2.30pm, I drove straight to Okaukuejo Rest Camp to check in and check out the waterhole.
Etosha National Park is predominantly a huge salt pan surrounded by grasslands and mopani forest. It’s a fantastic place to go on safari due to the sheer numbers of animals gathering around the waterholes. I stayed at three rest camps in Etosha and camped in a roof tent. I chose to drive myself each day guided by the book I was provided, you can get a copy here.
My first stop was Okaukuejo Rest Camp in the west of the park. Okaukuejo has the most fabulous waterhole on site. You can easily view almost everything Etosha has to offer, just by sitting on one of the benches or the viewing platform day and night….if you’re lucky that is.
I decided to spend the next day here so I didn’t need to collapse my tent; then rise early the following morning to check out the other waterholes, and drives of interest on my way to Halali.
Early the first morning, I heard a lion roaring really close by. I later found out it had been just the other side of the (electric) fence, about 50m from me. Giraffe were also abundant at Okaukuejo waterhole and I saw this rhino just after sunset.
Camping was quite comfortable but I couldn’t get my gas lit for the kettle the first morning. However, my neighbours were happy to supply some hot water for my coffee. I decided not to cook anything other than breakfast in camp, as I’d heard the jackals often hover to steal the meat from the fire. The supplies in the shop in the camps were not to my liking either. Unfortunately this meant eating in the camp restaurant, where the buffet wasn’t great.
During the drive to Halali, I took the road to the edge of the pan. On my return I spotted a martial eagle in a tree right next to the track, I took about thirty different shots and wasn’t happy with any of them. This was my favourite.
I took also drove down Rhino Drive and saw droppings but no rhino, the mopane forest was quite interesting though.
As a campsite, I preferred Halali to Okaukuejo because it was more compact and slightly quieter. The waterhole was a slight walk away from camp and I didn’t see much of note. The food in the restaurant was equally as bad as the last camp, if not more so.
I got up really early, to head to a waterhole along a detour road that I’d taken the day before, where i’d spotted giraffes next to the track. I was hoping to spot a cat heading to a nearby waterhole, I was disappointed, but caught this Blackbacked Jackal coming to drink; and later saw lions with their kill at another spot.
Namutoni is a newer camp and it showed. Disappointingly, they hadn’t made the most of a pretty much redundant german fort, where viewing platforms over a reed full waterhole had fallen into disrepair. However the campsite and facilities were good and I caught up with several people I’d met at Etendeka. The food in the restaurant was also much better.
I was supposed to be staying in Numatomi for 3 nights. However, my right foot was tired of driving and I wanted some nice food, and a change of scene from the dusty park. I was also developing a hive like rash, possibly from the pool? So I booked a game ranch for two nights, which situated on the road back to Windhoek.
My final afternoon in Etosha was spent driving around Fischers Pan, DikDik Drive then at Klein Namutoni. I watched a young elephant really enjoying his bath, to the point an elder elephant eventually came and pushed him out of the water. It reminded me of my niece not wanting to get out of her bath.
Gabus Game Ranch
I have mixed feelings about this place, it will become apparent why in a moment.
The ranch was well signposted off the road and only 2 hours from Namutomi. I arrived for lunch and was treated to a delicious fresh salad with kudu strips. The ranch’s pet mongoose just climbed on to my lap after lunch for a brief lay down. I was then informed by the staff that it sometimes got cross and bit people, and I was given a water spray to keep it away. I was a bit surprised but followed the instructions.
I spent a very lazy day reading and had another lovely dinner as one of very few guests, the staff were thoughtful and happy to chat. I woke early the next morning to take a stroll on the ranch before breakfast 8am, I wandered towards the mountain; saw giraffes, impala and an eagle. On my return I was presented with this spread.
A stunning breakfast tray with an excellent view followed by bacon and eggs, I was really enjoying the days on the ranch.
Unfortunately this all turned sour later that afternoon, when I came to the pool area. In a nutshell, the mongoose ran round the corner; and without any warning or provocation bit me on the foot and ankle, and then again on my arm whilst a member of staff was cleaning my bleeding foot. Needless to say this came as a bit of a shock! I will write about the aftermath and implications of this event shortly.
As I needed to seek medical attention, my final night was spent at the Hilton in Windhoek. This was the little bit of luxury I needed after the dramatic events of the previous 24 hours.
The Hilton was hosting a prom for students completing their exams, I have never heard so much noise outside a hotel foyer, as every girl was cheered and screamed into the event. It was very amusing, but I was pleased I couldn’t hear it from my room or the Skybar, where I relaxed beside the pool and had dinner.
|Plains Zebra||Grey Heron|
|Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra||Egyptian Goose|
|Black Rhino||South African Shelduck|
|Oryx||Black Eagle (Verreaux’s)|
|Blue Wildebeest||Tawny Eagle|
|Black Wildebeest||Martial Eagle|
|Red Hartebeast||Gabar Goshawk|
|Damara Dik Dik||Namaqua Sandgrouse|
|Elephant (including Desert Adapted in Damaraland)||Blacksmith Plover|
|Black Backed Jackal||Rock Pigeon|
|Honey Badger||Cape Turtle Dove|
|Banded Mongoose||Palm Dove|
|Slender Mongoose||Ruppell’s Parrot|
|Small Spotted Genet||Grey Lourie|
|Spotted Hyena||Bradfield’s Swift|
|Lion||Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill|
|Rock Hyrax||Common Fiscal Shrike|
|Southern Porcupine||Crimsonbreasted Shrike|
|Tree Squirrel||Glossy Starling|
|South African ground Squirrel||Redbilled Buffalo Weaver|
|Scrub Hare||Whitebrowed Sparrow-weaver|
|Southern Masked Weaver|
I booked my trip through Yoursafari after meeting Kathryn at Destinations Olympia in February. Your safari organised; the car hire, accommodation and initial route, along with useful information including a map and contact list. I was also provided with an ebook, which I used to guide me in Etosha. I booked flights through Virgin Atlantic, and upgraded to premium economy on the day for a small sum outbound and free using flying miles on the return.
Please let me know what you think of my trip by commenting below.