Sunday, May 3, 2009

Namibia Holiday: Scenery

May 09

Sorry – I have got further & further behind with these so-called “weekly” updates, so here is an attempt to do a bit of a catch up.

We had three wonderful weeks in Namibia – an incredibly beautiful country that is easy to travel in and has so much variety. We hired a car to drive ourselves around, and the sense of freedom was very liberating. We had pre-booked our accommodation, so it was simply a matter of following the map & stopping wherever we liked to have a break or (most often) take some photos. The drives were quite long (probably our only complaint) which meant we arrived in some places disconcertingly close to dark. We also got up at the crack of dawn almost every day – something I don’t think we’d planned to do before coming on this holiday. But the upside of long days is that each one was so packed full, that all sense of time became dilated, so within just 2 days, we felt we’d been on holiday for ages. Needless to say, we both took hundreds and hundreds of photos, so I’ve decided the only practical way to deal with them all is to do this update in instalments based on photo topic (what other way is there?).

So first is scenery – the back-drop to everything that follows. Our photos just don’t do justice to the variety and spectacle that we saw. Bill wouldn’t let us stop every time I wanted to take a photo – as he rightly pointed out, if we did, we’d never arrive anywhere!

The other thing that was so special about our trip is that Namibia has had the heaviest rains this year for 10 – 20 years! So what we saw in terms of plant life was truly exceptional. Wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. The grasses were about 1 metre tall – impacting on visibility for when we were trying to see animals in game parks. The incredibly beautiful sand dunes of Sossusvlei were covered in grasses of the most beautiful shade of grey/green. We realised that our experience on this holiday was probably quite unique in terms of a “typical” visit to Namibia - & although it had some down sides (in terms of the animals we could see in Etosha in particular), overall we felt very privileged to be able to see the country so green and lush.

We started our trip in Windhoek (after a long but not too unpleasant day in Luanda Airport) – just an overnight and then after some shopping (remember we only ever shop for food in Luanda, so that in itself was a thrill), we set off along some minor roads to our first stop, not far from the sand dunes of Sossusvlei. The trip was a good 6 hours drive (which we didn’t know in advance), and the scenery changed dramatically along the way. We passed a lot of “farmland” with not that much to see in the way of livestock. We did see baboons, giraffes, ostriches, a secretary bird, a marabou stork and various small reptiles and mammals along the side of the road. We hadn’t expected to see any “animals” as such until we got to Etosha, so it was a real thrill.
The place we stayed that night was in one of the most beautiful locations you can imagine – nestled in around hills with stunning scenery in every direction.

We had the first of our incredibly early wake up calls the next morning – around 4:30 am for breakfast & a packed lunch to take with us. The drive in the dark was a bit hairy (the roads were unsealed) but we got to the park entrance in good time for the gates to open (we blew it a bit by not knowing we had to stop and buy a permit & had to backtrack, but we didn’t lose much time). The sun was just coming up as we drove into the park – it was just so beautiful! We thought we were just going to see sand dunes (this shows how busy we were before we left – no time to do any decent research!) so we amazed to see first ostriches and then springbok. Then, thrill of thrill, we spotted some oryx (gemsbok). The scenery was just stunning – we stopped at a look-out point and ate our breakfast, and watched as colourful hot air balloons went up into the sky.

We drove (on a sealed road) for about 60 km to reach the start of the dunes themselves. We didn’t want to take our car on the soft sand, so went in with a “taxi” instead. By this time, the sun had come up and the sunrise light was pretty much gone, and a wind had got up, making the whole scene very sandy. We were just wandering around when we saw an oryx walking out of the sand storm towards us! We were able to get fairly close!
Bill decided he wanted to climb up a dune (really not a good idea in those sorts of winds), so we choose one, but it was so unpleasant at the top that Bill quickly retreated back down out of the wind & I decided I could live without getting to the top.

We walked to a valley full of dead acacia trees, which was very photogenic, but by then it was getting pretty hot, so we decided to return early the next day on our way to Swakopmund, and .head back to our accommodation for a relaxing afternoon.

Actually, we climbed a hill behind where we were staying to try to catch the sunset from there, but when we came home we found out we had a flat tire! It was too late by then to do more than change it for the spare, but it meant that our plans to drive back along the dunes would have to be postponed until we got our tire fixed.

There was a service station open from 6am so we were able to go right in & get the tire checked. Unfortunately, the tire has multiple punctures and was deemed “stuffed”. We had to buy a new tire (we had tire insurance & rang Avis first to authorise it). Despite some mucking around, we were able to go back into the park & catch some more photos before setting off on our trip to Swakopmund. It was another long drive, but also incredibly scenic. We passed the tropic of Capricorn along the way (for the second time on our trip).

Swakopmund is on the coast, and is right on the edge of the sand dunes. We were staying in a place that overlooked the desert from the upstairs balcony. We also had internet here for the only time on our entire trip. We had 3 nights, so the first day we took it pretty easy, exploring the town & getting permits to visit a couple of places we wanted to see.

That afternoon we drove back an hour the way we’d come the day before to an interesting rock outcrop, with the plan to catch the sunset. We had a ball there – great photography & some raptors (kestrels & an owl) and even a snake to keep us busy!

The next day we went on a “living desert tour” – absolutely one of my favourite things we did on the whole trip. The aim was to find the “little 5” – chameleons, snakes, dune lizards etc. It was great!

That afternoon we drove out to the “lunar landscape” area & explored that. We were staying in a self catering apartment, so we also ate really well while we were there.

The next day we left for Damaraland – we went via the seal colony further up the coast. It was very foggy & actually cold (as well as smelly – we didn’t stay very long). We did see our first jackal on the way though!

The scenery again was stunning & we stopped along the way for me to buy a doll from a road side stall. The women there were dressed in their traditional clothes (Herero and Himba) and they let us take some photos.

We also stopped to see a petrified forest, which was moderately interesting, but set in beautiful scenery. The place we stayed out was another stunning location and we caught the most wonderful sunset that night.

The next day we went to Twyfelfontein to see the San (bushman) rock drawings. We felt we were rushed around way too fast, which put a damper on our visit. The scenery in the area though was stunning.

The next day we headed off to Etosha National Park. We’d been hearing from people travelling in the opposite direction to us that the game viewing was far from typical and spotting wildlife around the waterholes was pretty difficult. We arrived at the park around lunch time (one of our shortest driving days) and on our way to the resort we took a short detour off the main road & to our delight we saw a giraffe within 5 minutes & a zebra and a springbok up close just a few minutes later. We sat and ate our lunch there (in the car) & decided that we were going to be lucky (as always). We soon discovered that the stories we heard we correct, there was so much water in the park (just lying in puddles on the ground) that animals didn’t need to risk going to a waterhole to drink, & in the three to four days we were in the park, we hardly saw an animal at a waterhole. We got up early every day so we could start driving as soon as the gates opened at sunrise, had a rest around lunch time & then headed out again for an afternoon drive. We think we were really lucky with what we saw – because the grasses and bushes were so high, we couldn’t see much past about a metre from the roadside, but that meant that what we did see, we saw up close! We didn’t see any elephants (much to Bill’s disappointment) or rhinos, but we saw two leopards and a lion! We were really delighted with what we got to see & as for what we didn’t – we’ll just have to go back for another holiday!

The biggest surprise was the Etosha pan – normally a dust bowl, we saw an ocean! Instead of animals, we saw ducks and waterbirds.

After Etosha, we stayed at the Waterburg Plateau – a huge rock with steep sides where the most endangered animals (eg rhinos, roan and sable antelope) are kept. Although we took a safari, we didn’t see any rhino, although we did see a roan antelope. Around our unit we had dwarf mongooses and Dik-dik – the smallest of all the antelope & surely the worst of names! We climbed up to the plateau for the sunset view, which was very impressive.

Then it was back to Windhoek for some essential shopping & the next day we flew out – Bill to Tanzania to spend a few days with the boys & myself back to Luanda & school.

We loved Namibia & truly hope that we can visit again – maybe during the dry season. What bliss to be able to communicate easily with the people we met, be able to buy almost anything we wanted (for very reasonable prices). Our 3 week holiday felt as if it had lasted forever!

Here are links to some of Bill’s photos from our holiday. (He takes better pictures than I do!)


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