|Colin, Peter, Terry and Kevin in the Khaudum National Park|
Collected at by Ken, our group organiser then a detour to collect Terry’s waterproofs, Terry, Peter and Kevin having experienced a big storm on the first night of their journey from South Africa into Botswana. A trouble free journey to Heathrow, dropping the car at the very efficient ‘Purple Parking’ in Hayes, arriving early at Heathrow and forcing us to sit down and have a beer or two! Boarded the South African Airways 747 and found our seats with good legroom but very narrow indeed. A couple of Castle Lagers, some food and a mixed bag of films sustained us through the 10-hour flight.
|Ken Hall, our organiser and chief spotter!|
Landed about 0900 in Johannesburg and found it under cloud and quite chilly. Transferred to our Windhoek flight after a mistaken bout of queuing that would have seen us admitted into S Africa. Flight departed 1100 and we passed over the route the lads were on…miles and miles of absolutely nothing. At Windhoek, a surprisingly small airport, my luggage failed to arrive and we were told that it’ll be on the next flight 2 hours later. Then the lads arrived, after a 1600km journey, and everybody headed off into Windhoek, 40km away, to collect the second 4WD vehicle and provision up. Terry and I returned to the airport later and found my luggage had arrived…big relief!
|The team, Etosha National Park, Namibia|
Our first morning in Africa arrived. Cool, fresh and a cloudless sky. Guinea fowl started the day with a very noisy clucking noise at 0400, just two hours after Kev came to bed. Breakfast, a quick Garmin GPS lesson and then on the road for an early push to the Andersson Gate, the southern entrance to Etosha.
Within minutes we arrived at the first waterhole, Ombika, seeing zebra, springbok, oryx and giraffe in abundance. Then on to our first camp area, Okaukeujo, a well laid out camp and lodge, with a tower for viewing the surrounding pan. Could not get a lodge for the first night so camping became inevitable.
|Entering Etosha National Park|
|Ombika Water Hole, Etosha|
|Salt pan looking north across the Etosha National Park|
|Water hole at Okaukeujo|
Up early and through the gates by 0700, heading for Okandeka. Ostrich seen out on the pan with solitary giraffe. Plenty of springbok and small herds of blue wildebeest, then three lion spotted in the distance. Returned for breakfast and secured a lodge for the coming night. Then off again to visit Gembokvlakte, Olifantsbad and Aus water holes again, before taking the road to Rietfontein. A lengthy but unproductive route to Halali Camp for lunch.
Rietfontein was a busy water hole with elephants taking a mud bath after bathing in the pool and we were challenged by a 5 year old bull elephant. Zebra, kudu, springbok, red hartebeest, giraffe and warthog seen.
|Get off my case!|
|Young lioness, Etosha|
|Ostrich sheltering their brood|
|Elephants dusted in the white Etosha sand|
Returned to our lodge and had a braii with plenty of beer and wine. Jackals continued to wander past us and lightning could be seen in the distance. During the evening we decided to leave Etosha the next day and head for an adventure in Bushmanland.
No breakfast this morning in order to get an early start across the Etosha National Park. Not much seen at the waterholes at the western end of our journey except for a sighting of a large male lion on the grassy plains en route to Rietfontein. White rhino seen in the distance to the south of us. Then we had two sightings of black rhino, both close to the road. The scenery changed as we headed east, giving us more open views of the salt pan, but the water holes were not particularly productive…we were already getting blasé about the normal plains animals! Visited Okerfontein before meeting up with Ken and Terry at Namutoni Rest Camp, where they had already provisioned up for the next stage of our journey.
We also concluded the lively debate that had ensued over the previous 24 hours about whether we would have enough fuel to get out to the other side of the park. Brian advised that if we had enough fuel in our tanks to travel 500km on the road we would have enough to get to the filling station at Divindu, about 300km away, as travelling in deep sand roughly doubles fuel consumption. Although there was still an element of doubt about our fuel tank capacities we achieved a consensus that we would have enough, and we set off into the gathering gloom, armed with a very detailed map produced by the lodge owner’s wife which gave GPS coordinates (albeit on a different convention to that I had learnt) to get us through the park.
Heading directly north into the Khaudum National Park we did a 60km dash up rough dirt and sand tracks, finally arriving in the dark at the Sikereti Camp around 2000. The advice that Brian had given us about having just a light touch on the steering wheel when in sand, letting the vehicles’ tyres follow the track themselves and nudging the vehicle back when it started to stray was sound. This was really our first camp in the wild, with warning signs telling us to beware lion, elephant and hyenas in the camp at night. We had a braii and a few beers, enjoying clear views of the southern sky. True to form, hyena visited just after we turned in for the night.
|We have been warned! Sikereti Camp|
We had a very early start, up at 0515 with Terry to sort vehicles, grab a quick breakfast and take down the camp. We followed the advice of the Sikereti Camp manager and took a different route to that we had planned, necessitating a re-programming of coordinates into the Garmin using the UDM convention – metric rather that the traditional degree/minutes protocol. We set off at 0730 into the Khaudum National Park, stopping first at the Soncan water hole and then to Omuramba where we sighted a skittish bull elephant and then a leopard that quickly took off into the dense bush of the area, having spooked the elephant some more.
Up to Dussi and then east to Tari Kora, seeing more elephant, before heading north to Leeupa, Doring and up into the Khaudum Omuramba (‘vague waterbed’) taking us in a westerly direction towards the Khaudum campsite. We experienced two further elephant sightings, one a huge herd of more than 100 animals. It was interesting to watch the herd matriarch pushing young elephant into the water hole in some sort of queuing system. During our journey through the Khaudum we experienced an enormous variety of terrain, deep sand, bone shaking rutted tracks, forest interspersed with savannah and wooded dunes. In the dense cover we saw Damara dikdik twice, plus eagle and white-headed vultures. Fascinating and challenging country indeed!
|Leopard, Khaudum National Park|
|Elephant at Tari Kora|
|Khaudum National Park|
|Deep sand tracks, Khaudum National Park|
|'Bushmanland' near Botswana/Namibia border|
|Exiting Khaudum National Park|
|Village near Popa Falls|
Breakfast, then reflated tyres giving us a relatively late start. We went a few miles down the road and decided to stay at Ngepi Lodge next to the Okavango River. We took a boat trip and saw many hippos, plus small crocodile and much birdlife, including my personal favourite, the pied kingfisher.
We took an escorted game drive into the nearby Mahango National Park during the late afternoon, seeing several Baobab trees, buffalo in the distance, crocodile, a rare sable buck, fish eagle, roan antelope, red lechwe and two tsessebe (similar to wildebeest but less common). We returned to the lodge as the sun set, with the sound of singing villagers in the distance.
|Sable, Mahango National Park|
|Red lechwe, vulture in foreground|
An incredibly noisy night, broken by Kev’s need to got to the loo several times, with elephants trumpeting in the distance (sounding very disturbed) and birds which started up at 0330. Worst of all though, was the intense humming noise from the tree above our hut at about 0530, which sounded like a swarm of bees. Stayed well under the mozzy net until that one subsided! It turned out to be the sound of a particular type of fly that drinks dew from the flowers of that tree before the sun evaporates it off!
Kevin stayed in bed whilst we had breakfast, but eventually we had to move, as we had to do the 400km drive east into the Caprivi Strip to get to the Botswana border. Basically a relentlessly straight road to Katima Mulilo, passing through a couple of small locust swarms (which the locals seemed to ignore completely). Kevin slept most of the way, giving him a chance to recover, before we finally turned south east to reach Ngoma Bridge, the border with Botswana, crossing the Chobe River.
|The Caprivi Strip|
|Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane|
|Hippo on the Chobe River|
Ken, Peter and Terry went off for an early ‘drive’ and I stayed with Kevin to get him going. Hippo in the river directly next to our rondavels…sneaky creatures! Had breakfast with Kev but he felt a bit nauseous afterwards and had to miss the boat trip timed for 0830. It was a fast boat and we were quickly into the deep channel of the Chobe River with a great variety of waterfowl, plus monitor lizards, crocodiles and hippo everywhere. We saw our first puko who were grazing with Impala. Elephants hereabouts were relaxed and enjoyed wallowing in the river and nearby mud pools. We saw baboon and some buffalo. There were also a couple of buffalo carcasses, possibly as a result of the local anthrax outbreak. Birds seen included great white egrets, squaco heron, African darter, reed cormorants, African jakana, African skimmers, goliath heron, white fronted bee eaters, open billed stork, spoonbill, fish eagle and pied kingfishers.
|Elephant, Chobe River|
|Vervet monkeys, Chobe|
|Chobe - big herds of elephant seen|
|Kev with (large) catfish|
|Stumpy with (small) tiger fish|
Kevin now fine. 0700 we had breakfast before heading into Kasane for soft drinks and some healthier snack food for our forthcoming travels. After a 20 minute drive we reached the border post at Kazangula. Queuing behind a large group of Spanish tourists it took us an hour to get through Zimbabwean formalities during which we parted with about £70 each to cover a visa, customs duty, vehicle charge and compulsory insurance plus a ‘carbon tax’. What a rip-off! Then 70km down a straight, rather dull road to the bustling town of Victoria Falls through the Masesti Game Park. We parked next to the entry gate, ran the gauntlet of many people hustling us to spend money on everything from water to carved elephants before entering the Victoria Falls Park itself. We spent a hot hour and a half walking along the rim from the David Livingstone Monument east to ‘Dangerous Point’, overlooking the first of the deep gorges downstream from the main falls area. The sight was impressive with drops of over 95m but at this time of the year it is somewhat less of a spectacle than it would have been following the rains (due in November), but a great sight nevertheless.
|Zambezi Bridge, Zambia/Zimbabwe border and bungee jump!|
|Weigh-in for the bungee jump at Victoria Falls|
|Kevin, first to jump...|
|Stumpy in flight off the Zambezi Bridge|
|Yeh right, don't need to do that again!|
Started with a 7 a.m. boat trip on the Chobe, or at least that was the plan, as the guide failed to show up on time. We had breakfast instead whilst the booking office got it sorted out, then on to the river for two hours where we saw Buffalo crossing the shallow channel and close up again on Sedudu Island. Kevin reached the ‘Big Five’ with this sighting. Many close ups of crocodile and hippo, waterbuck and impala and pied kingfisher, fish eagle and the wonderful but elusive malachite kingfisher. We saw hippo on the riverbank and saw elephant as a finale for our trip.
|Chobe - magnificent for elephant spotting|
|Buffalo on Sedudu Island, Chobe River|
|Monitor lizard, Chobe|
Apparently, the Army had had to return to their camp nearby to get a tow chain and had left an armed officer with them to protect them against wild animals. This led to the rather alarming aside made by one of the Army chaps to Kevin after seeing Ken and I walk down the track. His comment, ‘so your friends are not worried about the animals then?’ rather said it all! Terry was not at all keen to proceed so Ken and I returned to our vehicle in searing heat and Ken managed to turn around without getting stuck again. We headed back to Kasane through some great acacia and Baobab country and en route decided the best way of getting around to the Moremi and Okavango area was to undertake a 750km drive (yes, 750km!) via Kazangula to Maun with an overnight stop in the Nata area of eastern Botswana. So we drove into the night, finally arriving on a fast but increasingly pot-holed road at about 2030. There was a constant danger of animals on the road and during the latter stages we were surrounded by a huge bush fire on all sides…surreal seeing bonfires in the bush for miles. A long and eventful day!
We had an early start from Nata and drove 310km of straight road across the Kalahari Desert, passing between the Nxai and Makgadikgadi pans (unfortunately without seeing them) before reaching the busy, rapidly expanding town of Maun. We took some advice here on the best places to go in the Moremi National Park and booked a boat trip on the Okavango Delta for the following Monday. We then drove north to Audi Camp to confirm the boat trip but were advised to take a shorter trip later in the day due to the heat and restricted access due to private concession areas which now impact most of the delta.
After a hearty breakfast, back in the vehicles again with tar, then gravel, then easy (graded) sand to Moremi North Gate via the South Gate. After crossing a ‘flood friendly’ bridge we found the campsite, a very basic affair in a relatively exposed position and with many baboons in residence.
|North Gate, Moremi|
|Roof tents, so that Kev can escape from monkey spiders!|
|Camp at Moremi|
We had an early start in camp but afflicted by stomach cramps I elected to miss the first game drive and stayed with Kevin in the camp. Even Kevin had lost his appetite again but seemed basically OK. The baboons were aggressive and pinched our sugar before being scared off by an equally aggressive Terry! Whilst we waited for the lads to return the camp was visited by vervet monkey, glossy starling and red hornbill, with ground squirrels in abundance.
|Red hornbill, Moremi|
|Wild dogs, Moremi|
Fortunately the wild dogs were still around so Kev and I got to see them, but it was too uncomfortable in the truck so we were dropped back at the camp again. Bottled up some water and got food out for the evening dinner, but the afternoon was unbearably hot and dusty…very uncomfortable, and eventually forcing us to retreat to the vehicle and the delights of the air conditioning. Early dinner for all, followed by a mammoth cleaning session for our truck equipment. Tanks were refuelled from the jerry cans and an early bed beckoned despite a lot of baboon noise. The large male had managed to nick our bread by this time.
Up at 0515 and a lovely morning. We decided to grab breakfast in Maun, so we were on the road by 0700, taking 2 ½ hours to get there. We took luxury tents in the Audi camp before venturing into Maun to reflate tyres and get our vehicle checked out before the long journey back to Windhoek. The very efficient Toyota dealer in Maun quickly identified our problem: a new speedo cable was required but this was a minor issue and we returned to camp to repack for the final stages of our trip.
We had a boat trip up the river into the Okavango Delta at 1530, led by an ageing Zimbabwean called Drew (as Ken said, ‘never too far away from a beer’!). Viewing was limited. We saw plenty of local villages, goats, cattle and fishermen, plus a prison farm. We passed through the ‘buffalo fence’ into a private concession area but after half an hour passing slowly through tall reeds in increasingly narrow channels we were forced to turn around as we were getting too close to one of the private camps. Elephants were spotted walking through the reeds (water here is about 2m deep); as Drew said, this is ‘elephant heaven’. We were entertained by numerous pied kingfishers and eventually got back to camp in the gathering gloom at 1845. We had a great dinner at the camp restaurant, four of us enjoying an excellent Chateaubriand and some good wine.
I left Kevin lying in the big safari tent and set off for the border with Ken just before 0600. With a 500km drive ahead of us we were keen to get going and made good progress despite being stopped for a vehicle search 20km before the border. A petite female police officer asked if she could search our vehicle. We duly obliged and opened up the back of the truck, but on seeing the amount of luggage she quickly capitulated saying ‘there was too much’ to look through before defaulting to a superficial look under and behind the seats in the main cabin! We cleared the border at 1100 and 20km later we turned north into our final rest camp of the trip, the Zelda Game and Guest Farm, set in 10,000 hectares of which 5,000 was given over to game. They also had two families of Bushmen living on their land, most of whom were employed at the farm in return for money for food and school fees (an end to their traditional way of life seems inevitable). This was a very welcoming spot and we rested after a pleasant lunch in the shade. Then some R and R (nothing else available on the TV except MTV!) before a game drive late afternoon. The park was classic Kalahari bush desert, apparently well populated with Black Mamba, Spitting Cobra and Puff Adder; I was very glad to be in the truck! Here the animals were unused to seeing vehicles and humans, so saw lots of herds ‘in flight’. We had our first sighting of blessbok and eland and there were many Aardvark burrows. Warthog, Mongoose and the usual Springbok, Oryx and Red Hartebeest also seen.
|Cheetah at Zelda|
|Leopard at Zelda|
Our vehicle had been cleaned by the farm staff the day before, so in a shiny truck we completed the final 2 ½ hour section of road to Windhoek, with sufficient time to do a flying tour of the city, visiting the Parliament buildings and venturing down the busy Independence Drive.
In all, a great first experience of Africa and I was very impressed with the efficiency, cleanliness and friendliness in our host countries of Namibia and Botswana. My thanks to all the team for keeping their cool in one or two tricky situations and for the enthusiasm and good humour throughout. It was a journey that will be fondly remembered for years to come.