Saturday, 26 April 2014

Exploring Namibia

A number of delegates at Comminution '14 expressed an interest in our post-conference self-drive tour of Namibia. So for the benefit of future delegates, and anyone else who may wish to undertake this adventure, below is a blow by blow account of our 9 day,  2000 km tour, beginning and ending in Windhoek. The itinerary was recommended by our excellent agent in South Africa, Rene Simpson, and I would suggest that if you are interested you contact her to customise your own tour. This was our second visit to Namibia, the first being to Fish River Canyon in the far south after Comminution '12 (posting of 28 April 2012).

Saturday 12th April
The early morning plane from Cape Town to Johannesburg, then on to Windhoek, where we picked up a rental car.

Then a very hard 5 1/2 hour drive to Swakopmund almost all along the C28, a very rough dirt road, nearly two hours of which were in darkness. Compensation for the tough drive was slightly provided by the spectacular sunset just after driving through the Bosua Pass.

If you are not experienced on driving on African untarred roads, this might not be the route for you, as it can be a little scary mile after mile, and there is a great sense of isolation, we having seen only a handful of other vehicles in around 300 km.  The uninitiated might like to take the less scenic tarred B2, which takes you to Swakopmund in around 4 hours, or fly direct to Walvis Bay rather than Windhoek.

Sunday 13th April
We spent an hour looking round the historic buildings of Swakopmund, a town with a very distinctive German atmosphere. The most impressive of these buildings is the old railway station, built in 1902, and converted into a hotel in 1994. This is where we based ourselves for two nights.

Swakopmund Hotel
The Swakopmund Hotel
We then drove south down the Atlantic coast to the uninspiring harbour town of Walvis Bay. A nice drive between the sea and the dunes of the Namib desert, but marred by a very heavy on-the-spot fine at a police road block, a reminder to all visitors to carry your driving license with you at all times! It is a serious offence not to do so.

Swakopmund to Walvis Bay
The road from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay
Dune 7 Walvis Bay
Dune 7, near Walvis Bay

Monday 14th April
Another 5 and a half hour, 365 km drive today, mostly on dirt roads of varying quality to Vingerklip Lodge in the heart of the Damraland region. A day of dramatic changes in scenery from the bleakness of the Skeleton Coast from Swakopmund to Henties Bay, and  the desolation of the Namid Desert, to the grandeur of the mountains between Khorixas and Outjo.

Skeleton Coast
The bleak Skeleton Coast south of Swakopmund
Namib Desert
Crossing the Namib Desert
Leaving the desert
Entering Damraland
Deteriorating roads
Fransfontein Mountains Namibia
Approaching the Fransfontein Mountains
Rarely have we stayed at a more spectacular setting than Vingerklip Lodge, overlooking the flat-topped Fransfontein Mountains. We have a solitary suite, Heaven's Gate, perched at the top of a huge limestone monolith. Do not book in here unless you have a reasonable level of fitness, as it is a hard 15 minute climb from the main lodge, including a final ascent up 190 steps, but well worth the effort.

Vingerklip Lodge Namibia
The ascent to Heaven's Gate
Vingerklip Lodge Namibia
The wonderful view from Heaven's Gate
Tuesday 15th April
As the sole residents of the mountain top we were treated to personalised service for breakfast, after which we walked in 36 degree heat to nearby Vingerklip (Finger Rock), a 35m column of limestone conglomerate, this and the surrounding mountains being relics of an earlier plateau which was subsequently eroded by the Ugab River.

Vingerklip Namibia
And then a rare chance to relax by one of the lodge pools, and catch up with emails.

Wednesday 16th April
A relatively easy 4 and a half hour drive today, on dirt and tar roads, to Etosha National Park, one of the world's great game reserves, covering 8,598 sq. miles. Our destination was the Dolomite Camp in the west of the park, an area until very recently being inaccessible to tourists. Dolomite, opened in 2011, is the newest of the Etosha camps, nestling in a dolomitic outcrop.

Dolomite Camp Etosha
The road to Dolomite Camp
Sundowner at Dolomite

Thursday 17th April
A morning relaxing on our cottage veranda watching zebra, oryx, ostrich and springbok on the vast plains below us.


Then an afternoon game drive, where we saw only one of the 'big five', a lone bull elephant. April is not a great time for game viewing, being the end of the rainy season, so the animals are widely dispersed around the park. The best time for a visit to Etosha would be the end of October, the end of the dry season, when water supplies dwindle and animals congregate in large numbers at the remaining water holes.




Shy Kudu
Friday 18th April
A relatively easy 180km drive this morning across the Park, the first two thirds across a desolate wilderness, with very few animals to be seen.


However as we approached Okaukuejo camp in the east, our destination for the night, we encountered huge herds of zebra and springbok.

Okaukuejo is Etosha's oldest camp and sits on the perimeter of the massive mineral pan, which covers about 25% of the surface of the park, and gives the park its name, meaning 'Great White Place'. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River, but with the change in course of the river, over thousands of years, the lake dried up, and is now a large dusty depression that only temporarily fills, or partially fills, with water during the rainy season.

We took an evening game drive and saw virtually nothing for the first two hours, then just before sunset a fine male lion emerged from the bush, and strolled along the road to an evening sundowner by his local watering hole. Number 2 of the big five ticked off the list.



Saturday 19th April
Made our way south today towards Windhoek on a good tarred road. We made a very worthwhile detour at Otjiwarongo to the Cheetah Conservation Fund Centre, whose aim is to ensure the long term survival of the cheetah through research, education and conservation programmes.

We stayed overnight at the Otjibamba Lodge just south of Otjiwarongo.

Sunday 20th April
We made a short visit to the crocodile ranch in the centre of Otjiwarongo this morning. Here crocodiles are bred for their skins to satisfy the market for crocodile skin shoes, handbags, belts etc.

Then an easy drive to Windhoek, and the Windhoek Country Club, our overnight stop before tomorrow's short drive to the airport.

This has been an interesting nine days, giving a true flavour of Namibia - the sea, the desert, the mountains, and of course the famous Etosha. In retrospect, however,  Etosha was the most disappointing part of our itinerary, due to what I feel was time wasted in travelling to Dolomite camp in the desolate west and then across the bleak wilderness to Okaukuejo in the east. A much better route might have been direct to Okaukuejo from Vingerklip, then east along the pan to Nanutoni Camp, leaving via the Von Lindquist gate, and calling in at the old mining town of Tsumeb en route to Windhoek. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has done this and any other route in northern Namibia.

Although memorable, we have had journeys in Africa which have been more exciting, and to MEI Conference delegates who would like to experience 'real Africa' and its wildlife I would recommend the far north of South Africa (see Travels in Limpopo), which involves only a short flight to Johannesburg to pick up a rental car.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Barry - takes me back to my time spent at Rossing near Swakop... great country and great people.

    Dave M ACSM 2004


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