Tuesday 5 August 2008

NAMIBIA 2008: Erongo to Sossusvlei (30 July-5 August)

This blog covers the second half of a family holiday to Namibia in summer 2008. It is based on scant notebook entries and unreliable memories but it was a very enjoyable trip. The accompanying photographs were taken, some by Josh, Nessa and Megan, on print film using a couple of old Pentax cameras. The prints were not very good to start with and have not been improved by scanning.

Wednesday 30 July. I was up just before dawn and walking down the entrance road hoping to hear a Hartlaub's Francolin. Soon one started calling from the nearby hills and I saw it on a boulder just below the ridge. After breakfast Megan, Nessa and Josh went on a nature walk seeing Klipspringer while I returned down the entrance road seeing, as I had hoped I would, White-tailed Shrike and Rockrunner again. Erongo had been very enjoyable, a level of luxury we could have become used to even if my bank balance wouldn't have survived very long! We reluctantly left and drove back to Omaruru and west along the C36 to Uis. A White-tailed Shrike flew across not far down the road. In Uis we checked into the Brandberg Rest Camp and headed to Brandberg to see the White Lady, a Bushman painting at least 2000 years old. On arrival at the site we employed an obligatory guide to lead us 2-3 kms up the canyon on a well marked trail to the cave.  The White Lady was less obvious than some of the surrounding figures but was worth seeing.
Erongo dawn
view from our chalet
Erongo Wilderness Camp
leaving Erongo
C35 to Uis

the easy to follow trail to the Brandberg White Lady
the White Lady and other cave paintings. The White Lady is rather indistinct with a dark upper half and white lower half positioned on this image half-way down and a quarter of the way in from the left
directly below the palest antelope, one-third the way in from the right
Thursday 31 July.  I was up before dawn and driving back towards Brandberg, retracing the route of the previous evening. Turning off the C35 onto the D2359 I stopped and walked around the grassland north of the road - an excellent site for Benguela Long-billed Lark, I saw 9. On the way back to Uis I stopped in the only wadi with any vegetation and much to my surprise, as my information was somewhat vague, quickly found a responsive pair of Herero Chats. I was back in time for breakfast and after we headed for the coast, seeing 4 Ruppell's Kohraans just outside Uis and 10 Gray's Larks in the Namib Desert halfway to Henties Bay. At the coast we headed north along the coast for 30 miles to the Cape Cross fur seal colony. Arriving in the car park the smell was overpowering, perhaps not surprising as about 5000 Cape Fur Seals were present. We returned along the coast to Swakopmund where we had an apartment at Sea Breeze in Tumalin, a southern suburb of Swakopmund, for three nights. We were almost on the coast and it was quite cold and felt damp.

a brief stop in the Namib Desert, it was very flat and the roads almost deserted
Cape Cross
Cape Fur Seals

Friday 1st and Saturday 2 August. During our two days in the Swakopmund/Walvis Bay area we went on a Mola Mola dolphin trip (seeing Bottle-nosed and Heaviside Dolphins and a tame Fur Seal called Saddam Hussein), tried Quad Biking around and over sand-dunes (enjoyed more by Nessa and Josh than Megan and me) and visited the aquarium and saltpans (the latter were rather smelly and only appreciated by me). Megan visited the local laundrette while I walked a dried up river bed on the edge of town unsuccessfully looking for Orange River White-eyes. Birds seen in the area included Bank Cormorant, both Flamingos, various waders including African Black Oystercatcher and White-fronted Plovers, Subantarctic Skua, Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Bokmakierie.

Swakopmund seafront
Saddam Hussein receiving breakfast

Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Sunday 3 August. Our longest daily drive of the trip was ahead of us, over 400km southeast to Sessrium mostly on dirt roads. Our return to the Walvis Bay saltpans was hardly out of our way but not very popular. The smell was no better and again it failed to produce the hoped for Damara Tern but did add Chestnut-banded and Kittlitz's Plovers. Heading inland a Tractrac Chat was by the road as were 4 Gray's Larks and 7 Lark-like Buntings while 100 low-flying Bradfield's Swifts were seen just before Solitaire. We filled up with petrol and seeing  a car stopped by us had cable ties around its hub-caps checked ours to find we had lost one
It was probably a fairly likely occurrence on the sometimes rough dirt roads as, when one looked, many cars had ties too. I was particularly annoyed with myself as I had read a report of a trip where a hefty charge had been levied for such a loss and had put some ties in the bottom of my rucksack for that purpose but promptly forgot all about them. We continued south to Sesrium and the Sossusvlei Desert Camp, posh walk-in half adobe half canvas chalets quite bizarrely set down in the middle of nowhere. 

heading inland from Walvis Bay
the dirt roads were generally in good condition
the very straight C14 through the Namib-Naukluft National Park
leaving the tropics
there was very little other traffic, although just enough not to feel one would be marooned for days in the event of a breakdown
me outside Sossusvlei Desert Camp at Sesrium, I saw 35 Namaqua Sandgrouse and a Lappet-faced Vulture while walking around the immediate area. 
Monday 4 August. We left Sesrium as it was starting to get light and drove the short distance to Sesrium gate, the entrance to the National Park. We joined a small queue of visitors waiting to enter at dawn and were soon on our way driving the 60km to Sossusvlei, perhaps the most famous single landmark in Namibia. It was spectacular but birds were not very evident,  Nessa, Josh and I walked up and along the crest of one of the nearby dunes where we had superb views. Megan was uneasy with the steep slopes and tracked our progress around the side. On the drive way back we saw 2 Burchell's Courses at about km50 and a Ruppell's Kohraan at about km30. We stopped at the Sossusvlei lookout and by now it was mid morning and the sun quite hot. It was a site for Dune Lark but I was not very hopeful given the time of day, and Megan, Nessa and Josh waiting in the car restricting the time I could look. I approached the nearest dunes, played a recording and was completely taken by surprise when a pair flew in to see off the intruder. It was my 18th and proved to be my final new bird of the trip and I was back at the car, where the family had been resigned to a long stay, 10-15 minutes later. Brilliant. We made a couple of short stops before leaving the park driving back to Solitaire where we checked into the characterful Country Lodge for our last night in Namibia. In many it was the nicest place we stayed even though Josh thrashed me at table tennis.
early morning balloon trips
red dunes
early morning sun on Dune 45

Josh and Nessa on Dune 45
Josh descending the quick way


an evening walk at Solitaire
Swimming Pool at Solitaire Country Lodge
Tuesday 5 August. Before and after breakfast walks around Solitaire were superb for Namaqua Sandgrouse with small parties, mostly of 2-6 but five of between 16-30, flying over and some landing in the nearby desert. I counted 189 in total although there could have been some duplication. It was at least 200km back to Windhoek although we did not have to check-in until 16:00. We had plenty of time and might even find a Toyota dealer to buy a replacement hub-cap. There were several different routes, the three shortest went over passes although winter weather could make some of them difficult. The lodge proprietor recommended the 'middle' route over the Gamsberg Pass as currently being the best. It involved heading back towards Walvis Bay for 60km before turning off up to the pass. On the way to the turning Megan spotted what looked like a hub-cap by my side of the road. We stopped and it looked very much like ours. It appeared to have been run over by a big truck and had a split in it but we managed to clean it up and fit it back on. The road up to the pass was quite narrow and as we got higher there were an increasing number of impressive skid marks on it. We were not too concerned until rounding a corner the road dropped down to cross a small stream there was an articulated lorry who's trailer was at an angle blocking it completely. There was no way past and we would now be hard pushed to return to Solitaire and reach Windhoek in time by another route. The driver told us help had been sought from a nearby farm but wasn't sure how long it would be, or what it would be able to do to pull the trailed upright. meanwhile a couple more vehicles arrived behind us and what seemed to be a local 4WD from the other direction. they took one look at the situation, engaged 4WD, crossed the sandy stream at its narrowest point and literally disappeared in a cloud of dust. Up to now all the locals we had encountered had been very friendly and helpful but clearly not all Namibians were. We didn't have 4WD but I felt we could even the track it had created out a bit and get our car across the stream and with no sign of anything else happening we gave it a go. There was one rock in the middle of the river we needed to avoid but we moved gravel and small rocks to fill in some hollows and build the track up a bit.  With help from the lorry driver and the other motorists I managed to drive the car across, with only one anxious moment when the wheels started spinning. we helped the other motorists cross too, were ensured by the lorry driver that there was nothing we could do to help him and much to our relief continued on our way. It had been an anxious time, the one occasion when such a delay could have caused us real problems. it didn't and in the even only added to the adventure of the holiday although sadly we had run out of film that morning and were unable to record the drama. It was fortunately a straight run back to Windhoek. We had time to visit a car wash before dropping the car off, the split hub-cap was not noticed or commented upon.  Our flight was on time and we were back at Gatwick early the following morning. It had been the memorable holiday we had hoped it would be, with plenty of iconic animals, almost all the birds I had hoped for, very impressive scenery and enjoyable activities. A perfect destination ...
Megan at Solitaire, early morning
the old car added a lot of character
it also doubled as a general store and Megan bought most of their stock of small hand carved wooden giraffes

Nessa and Josh
[blogged April 2016]

Friday 1 August 2008

NAMIBIA 2008: Etosha and Erongo (23-29 July)

This blog is the first of two recounting a family holiday to Namibia in July 2008. It was sadly before I had embraced the digital age and the accompanying photographs were taken, some by Josh, Nessa and Megan, on print film with a couple of old Pentax cameras. The prints were not very good to start with and have not been improved by scanning, quite the reverse.

Introduction. Nessa was about to go off to University and we were wanting a memorable family holiday while we were still together.  Josh was 14 and old enough to appreciate somewhere different too.  I was the only one who had been to Africa before and we decided on Namibia, being somewhere with a good reputation for safety where we could self-drive.  It had a reasonable climate (although it was colder in winter than we were expecting), no time difference (so no jet-lag) and direct overnight flights from Gatwick with Air Namibia.  For me there were some highly sought-after birds I was very keen to see but not too many to make a family holiday frustrating for any of us.  I investigated further to see if it would be feasible and discovered the Cardboard Box Travel Company through whom we could book accommodation online.  I started on an itinerary and soon found the main restriction was likely to be cost - Namibia was not cheap.  This was particularly true at Etosha where the limited ‘cheaper’ accommodation was already fully booked (by ‘overland’ tour companies we suspected).  Our options were not to visit Etosha (unthinkable!), try and stay close enough to visit as a day trip (not practical) or camp (not very popular with the family)!  After much persuasion I convinced Megan it would be OK to camp although this then meant we had to take 2 tents and 4 sleeping bags, karrimats etc.  It was sensible to get the camping out of the way first and this determined the route we would take – north to Etosha, across to the coast, south to Sossusvlei and back to Windhoek.  My most wanted bird was White-tailed Shrike and the luxury tented lodge at Erongo seemed the most guaranteed place to see it.  A few years earlier Frank Lambert had blagged his way in to look around but that didn’t really seem an option for us so we committed 1/3rd of our accommodation budget to a night there (it was very nice).

Wednesday 23 July.  Roni gave us a lift up to Gatwick where we checked in for our 22:40 flight to Windhoek.  The North Terminal was almost deserted as ours was the last departure.  It was a comfortable flight and we all managed some sleep.

Thursday 24 July.  We landed in Windoek just before 09:00, collected the car (booked through Europcar), managed to squash all our bags into the boot and drove north.  A slight panic at our first stop when the car wouldn’t start, until I realised it wouldn’t do so unless my foot was on the brake.  Traffic was light and the roads good and we continued north to Waterburg National Park, a total of 343 kms from the airport.  Seeing Warthogs, Red Hartebeest and Lilac-breasted Rollers by the road brought it home that we were in Africa.  We showed our Cardboard Box voucher, put up the tents and wandered around before getting some food.  A pair of Red-billed Francolins were skulking around by the restaurant and 0ver 100 Alpine Swifts flew over the escarpment above us.  It was mid-winter but still colder than we were expecting.

Friday 25 July.  We had breakfast in the restaurant at Waterberg, packed away the tents and climbed up the escarpment to a lookout point.  We saw a good selection of birds including Verreaux’s Eagles (2 adults and 2 juveniles), more Red-billed Francolins, Bradfield’s Swift, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Ruppell’s Parrot, and Groundscraper Thrush as well as Banded Mongeese, Chamca Baboons and Rock Hyrax.  We returned to the main road and continued north to Otjiwarongo before turning NE to Otavi and Tsumeb, the last town before Etosha.  We filled up with petrol, the tank being somewhat defective as it allowed it to be overfilled – somewhat alarming to see petrol overflowing. We also stopped in a supermarket to buy supplementary food for the three nights we would be camping at Etosha.  After a further hour we arrived at the Namutoni entrance to Etosha and after a slight delay entered the National Park and checked in.  Turning a corner and seeing Giraffes next to the road was brilliant and really made us appreciate we were in Africa.  We were allocated a camp site and quickly put up our rather small tents.  Most other campers had fully equipped 4WDs with roof or trailer tents and collapsible tables and chairs.  It would have been a nice way to travel if we were on a camping trip but we were mainly staying in guest houses and restricted to what we could take on the plane.  Our sites built in barbeque remained unlit although with the temperature dropping sharply as the sun set it would have been a good source of warmth.  A lone Elephant was near the waterhole when we wandered down before dusk and a Spotted Hyena appeared as the light went but it was too cold to stay much after dark so we had something to eat and an early night.  We all slept fully clothed and wished we had brought warmer sleeping bags.

our pitch in the Waterberg campsite - the ground was too hard for some of our tent pegs but fortunately it was not windy 
me, Nessa, Josh at a termite mound
Waterberg Escarpment
Rock Hyrax
Namutoni waterhole at dusk

Saturday 26 July.  All day in Etosha National Park. An early walk around Namutoni was fairly quiet with a Three-striped Tchagra the best I saw. We packed away our tents and slowly drove around Etosha stopping frequently to look at animals or birds. We eventually arrived at Halali, the middle of the regular camps in the park, checked in and put up our tents again. Animals seen included 40 Giraffe, 40 Burchell’s Zebra, 200 Springbok, 100 Gemsbok, 20 Kudu, 3 Elephants, 2 Spotted Hyena and a Porcupine. For me birds were just as impressive although nothing was new. I saw an estimated 850 Double-banded and 3 Namaqua Sandgrouse, Two-banded Courser, 3 Red-crested Korhaans, 3 Kori Bustards, 2 Red-necked Falcons, 6 Bateleurs, Southern Pied Babbler, Golden-breasted Bunting and Scaly-feathered and Red-headed Finches. After dark a Black Rhino appeared at the waterhole before wandering off. It or another returned later but another very cold night had us curtailing activities earlier than we would have liked.
Josh at Namutoni Camp
Glossy Starling
Burchell's Zebra
zebra crossing
African Elephant

anyone for a mud bath
Black-backed Jackal

Red Hartebeest on the plains of Etosha
Kori Bustard
Sunday 27 July.  All day in Etosha National Park. I wandered around the camp site before breakfast seeing Damara Red-billed Hornbill, White-browed Scrub-Robin and Carp’s Tit. We were staying a second night at Halali, pleased it would be our last under canvas, so did not need to take down the tents. We slowly drove around Etosha for most of the day, visiting waterholes and stopping frequently. We went as far as Okaukuejo, the westernmost of the three main camps, before returning. Animals were superb with 2 Lions, 1000 Springbok, 500 Burchell’s Zebra, 100 Gemsbok, 4 Steenbok, 40 Black-faced Impala, 100 Red Hartebeeste, 50 Blue Wildebeest, 50 Giraffe and over 50 Elephants. We saw 4 Black Rhinos, at the Okaukuejo waterhole in daylight and at Halali after dark, a female with large calf, a male and an adolescent. Birds included 500+ Double-banded Sandgrouse around Halali waterhole at dawn and dusk, 6 Two-banded and a Temminck’s Courser, Pygmy Falcon, 2 Martial Eagles, Northern Black Korhaan, 12 Spike-healed Larks, 4 Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and 20 Ostriches. Another cold night but it would be our last under canvas.
Nessa at Okaukuejo
squirrel sp.
Black-faced Impala
Lion on the prowl

Warthog, a firm favourite
ground squirrels
sunset at the Halali waterhole
Monday 28 July. We packed away the tents, pleased not to be needing them again, seeing 2 superb Groundscraper Thrushes and 6 White Helmet-shrikes around the camp site. We slowly drove to Okaukuejo seeing 3 Lions, an Elephant and the usual selection of game in slightly lower numbers (e.g. 750 Springbok, 400 Zebra). Birds were well represented with 30 Ostriches, 120 Helmeted Gunieafowl, 4 Lappet-faced Vultures, 5 Secretary Birds, Kori Bustard, 3Northern Black and a Red-crested Korhaan, 3 Damara Hornbills, 2 Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks and shaft-tailed Whydahs. We somewhat reluctantly left Okaukuejo and Etosha after lunch and drove to Otjiwarongo. Once outside Etosha animals were few and far between although 5 Warthogs beside the road were as amusing as ever.  We found the Bush Pillow Guest House where we were booked in but it was locked up and appeared deserted (perhaps we hadn’t quite finished with the tents). Fortunately we were soon seen and made most welcome.  It very comfortable and warm and we were directed to a well-stocked supermarket nearby – the range of food available in Etosha was somewhat limited. Camping had made our visit to Etosha feasible and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything but it was nice to have a roof over our heads again. 
Burchell's Zebra
Red Hartebeest
heading our way ...
Yellow Mongoose
large monitor lizard
temporary road block
Sociable Weavers' nest
Okaukaujo tower - superb views from the top

Okaukaujo camp
Etosha animals
Nessa, Megan and me in Etosha

Tuesday 29 July. We left Otjiwarongo after a good breakfast and drove SW to Omaruru seeing Warthogs and Banded mongeese on the road. We had lunch before continuing the short distance to Erongo Wilderness Camp. We checked in and were given two substantial hybrid tent/chalets tastefully cut into the rocks. While Megan, Nessa and Josh discovered how cold the pool was I birded along the entrance road. I saw 3 Monteiro’s Hornbills and 2 male Short-toed Rock Thrushes before finding 2 superb White-tailed Shrikes. This was the bird I most wanted to see in Namibia and I was not disappointed, noting that it was better than expected. My other main target was Rockrunner and I saw one on the way back to the chalets as well as Dusky Sunbird, Ashy Tit and Acacia Pied Barbet. Rock Hyrax were common as were Chamca Baboons but fortunately only on a large rockface some distance from the camp. Late afternoon we went on a jeep safari to Paula’s Cave for a sundowner and some interesting bushman rock art. This was real luxury at a level we were not accustomed to. We returned to the camp seeing a Freckled Nightjar on the way. The only bird I could have hoped to see was Hartlaub’s Francolin and my best chance for that was always going to be early morning. We had an excellent evening meal which was interrupted by 2 Porcupines visiting the kitchen. Brilliant. 
Otjiwarongo Railway station
old locomotive
Omaruru Tower
our chalet at Erongo Wilderness Camp 
the bathroom

view from Paula's Cave
Bushman Rock Art at Paula's Cave
believed to be between 2000 and 6000 years old

sunset near Paula's Cave