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Follow Oliver Self, from the United States, on his magnificent Kalahari journey. In part one Oliver describes the wonders of the Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve in South Africa, and part two, below, places him on Namibian soil:
“After our wonderful time in the Kalahari, we made our journey into Namibia. It became quickly apparent that transportation between the remote camps of the Namibian wilderness could be tumultuous, with light air charter flights serving as the most expeditious transport. If the winds are kind, the flights are decent, but note that it can be turbulent and not for the squeamish.”
“Our first camp in Namibia was the Kulala Desert Lodge near the Soussevlei sand dunes. When we arrived at camp with our new guide, Matheus, I was struck how much the lodge reminded me of the first camp we stayed in Africa back in 2013, the Nkambeni Camp near Numbi entrance at Kruger National Park. ”
“The evening’s drive was a casual, informative drive around the reserve as Matheus explained the foliage, geology, geography, and fauna of the area. We learned about the soussala bush that shielded springbok and gemsbok from sandstorms. We learned about the mara bush and the bitter bush (which was the semi-pleasant grassy smell I had recognized from the Kalahari grasslands at Tswalu). The mara bush, evidently, when rubbed on your skin will protect you from mosquitos for up to four hours. We saw fairy circles, which I had recognized from David Attenborough specials, which naturally form on the ground and which nothing will grow from within the circle. It is still not fully understood what causes this phenomenon.”
You can see some of these fairy circles in the picture below, just above my watermark signature in the lower right.
“Our second day was focused on hiking the sand dunes and we hiked the highest one, known as “Big Daddy”. We drove 40km to the highest sand dunes in the world, Sossusvlei. This is a surreal, striking and alien landscape with sand dunes as high as mountains. The geographic shadows and light over the dunes changes with the angle of the sunlight and the surrounding flat desert terrain is littered with ancient dead acacia trees (known as the skeleton forests). The atmosphere is otherworldly here, and time and space seems less defined. Days in Namibia, as I would come to find, are better defined as simply “light and dark” rather than by clock. Experiences stack one upon another, and you can hardly believe the asphalt covered world of urban dissonance from which most of us tourists came could exist on the same planet as this.”
The views from the highest vantage point were breathtaking. At the bottom of Big Daddy, there is a silt basin with the ancient dead trees.
A spotted eagle owl. I was grateful for the spotting, as I had previously only seen them in darkness during the night’s hunt.
“Our evening drive was out to Sesriem Canyon, which we were told was ~300 m deep. The area is notorious for horned vipers (adders) which are often blown down into the canyon by the strong desert winds coming off the nearby Naukluft Mountains. In the end, we did see a dead one, but luckily (or unluckily) no live ones.”
“On the evening, our intended trip back to the camp for our sundowner was cut short because, as Matheus remarked: “the sun is faster than us today”. We improvised and pulled up to a nice spot on the side of the roadway, listening to the barking desert lizards, unseen but well-heard throughout the vast desert land before us. These were truly moments of bliss, free from worry as I sat in the fading sunlight, sipping a cold Seagram’s dry lemon!”
“On our last day at Kulala, we drove to a very remote and stunningly beautiful part of the reserve, where Matheus showed us an example of ancient bushman cave painting, reportedly around 4,000 years old. These paintings were left as markers to indicate some significant direction or sign or to brand the location as having some importance as a reference to other bushmen.”
“For our sundowner, we went to a simply astonishing viewpoint, overlooking a vast flat plain with rocky mountains out on the horizon. We could see the small silhouettes of zebra marching across the flats as the sun went down over the distant Namibian cliffs ahead. It was a fitting finale for our time amongst these trance-like landscapes in the Namibian Sossusvlei region, with panoramas that collide upon one another, sand to rock, rock to trees, bush to canyons. Truly spectacular.”
“Our next stop brought us to the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, which is truly one of the most remote, desolate locales remaining on the earth. As our pilot remarked when we landed, ‘you are not on the edge of nowhere, you are in the middle of nowhere’. I couldn’t be happier. The lodge was a very open, modern and refined design with a backdrop of rocky outcrops and scattered trees whose beauty could not be possibly accurately represented with photography.”
“Much to some’s surprise, however, the Skeleton Coast Camp is not actually on the coast, but rather situated ~75km inland from the ocean side. Upon our first evening outing, with our amiable guide Mwezi, we could see that the landscape would once again be breathtaking and unimaginably beautiful. We drove upon a long natural rock wall, as beautiful gemsbok gently scoured the semi-arid ground for green snacks.”
“We traversed forward through the sand and rocks, passing through an unexpected forest of acacias amongst the seemingly lifeless, harsh terrain. When we reached a high point for our sundowner, it seemed that we could see to infinity over the horizon. For me, the spot brought thoughts of something off the set of Star Wars. This was natural, unspoiled desert wilderness like I have never seen.”
“With its proximity to the ocean, a.m. game drives can often be obstructed with unexpectedly thick fog, as we would discover on our first morning drive at Hoanib, which would land us at the coastline. Along the way, we had a nice sighting of these desert-adapted beauties on top of the hillside as they were browsing for their breakfast in the thick Namibian fog.”
“As you move to the coast from camp, you pass through an amazing variation of terrain, from expansive deserts with sand oceans, thick and almost impassable brush, rocky outcrops and semi green oases. Once at the ocean, you could get an eerie sense of this harsh, unforgiving shoreline and its foreboding beauty which has caused so many shipwrecks of the past.”
The wreck of the Suiderkus from 1977.
There is also a massive Cape seal colony that resides on the coastline. They were amazing, spread out for at least 1 km.
While we were on coast, we were fortunate to get a brilliant sighting of a lone, long-haired brown hyena nearby, ostensibly looking for opportunities to ravage a baby seal pup.
“Next up was the Damaraland region and the dusty, harsh beauty of the Desert Rhino Camp [DRC]. The lodge is blessed with a warm and welcoming crew and the accommodation is rustic and understated, but very comfortable and having a real campground feel. At night here, you can hear a variety of visitors outside your tent, most vocal would probably be the spotted hyena, which chanted, howled and barked with regularity during our stay. The night sky at DRC has to be seen to be believed. The star-laden southern heavens are truly brilliant after dark, with the multitude of colours of the Milky Way galaxy revealed in full celestial glory among the unpolluted Damaraland skies.”
“I was impressed once again how the landscape could change so dramatically in Namibia. The rolling hills were covered in baseball-sized red stones and sandy foothills with low, rocky mountains surrounding on all sides. It was apparent that the amazing and unexpected Namibian penchant for abundant life among the harsh climates applied here as well. Milk bushes, acacias, nara bushes and grasses grew throughout. I was particularly fascinated by the welwitschia plant, which, at first glance seems like rubbish that someone has tossed on the ground. Upon closer inspection, you can see the plant has a woody base and long twisted leaves that grow out close to the ground. We learned that they can survive for thousands of years, only on moisture from the air if need be.”
“There is no guarantee you can see one of the rare and elusive namesake desert black rhinos here, but I can almost guarantee you will have an unforgettable experience with natural wonder, regardless.”
“Our last stop took us further north in Namibia to the Ongava Tented Camp, a concession bordering Etosha National Park. The first evening drive revealed that the terrain here was much more vegetative and lush than the Damaraland region. There were tall reeds and grasses and the trees were higher, although there was still an abundance of arid, desert type plants scattered about as well. On our first drive at this private reserve, we saw waterbuck, impala, kudu, and a pride of young lion resting in the tall grass.”
“We stopped to enjoy a chance sighting of the dominant male lion and his lioness as they casually kept their eyes on a dazzle of nervous zebra. It was a wonderful sighting that we enjoyed for some time. It was a standoff. The lions moved about a bit and the watchful zebra stood on the ready to take off at a moment’s threat.”
“We moved on to Etosha and through the guarded main gates. Etosha is a drive-only park, and visitors cannot get out of the car or veer off the main roads. Nevertheless, there were a number of nice birds in the roadside trees and brush, including the yellow-billed hornbill and the crimson-breasted shrike. ”
“Moving on towards our first stop in the park, we saw wildebeest, springbok and zebra. As we turned off towards one of the watering holes, Leon (our guide) spotted a black rhino out in the brush to our right. It would have gone completely unnoticed and hidden to the untrained spotter. We watched from some distance as the rhino moved about the brush, well camouflaged. Eventually, stereotypically evasive of company, the black rhino moved on deeper into the thicket and completely out of sight.”
“Onto the first watering hole, it was packed with a plethora of herbivores congregating nearby. This was a stunning array of some of Namibia’s iconic animals all gathered together. There were gemsbok, springbok, zebra, and blacksmith lapwing, among others. We moved on to a second, larger watering hole, which would prove even more rewarding. Immediately upon our arrival we were presented with a massive bachelor male elephant drinking and spraying himself with water. He was joined by ostriches, impala, oryx, warthog and common zebra. It was truly astounding to see the abundance and variety of majestic wildlife all together in one place!”
“On our way out for the day, we spotted a black-backed jackal lying in the shadows just on the side of the road and off to his right sat a spotted hyena beside a large bush. It continued to fascinate me how these clever animals, often with such bright, beautiful and distinct colours can hide on the terrain. They are perfectly adapted for their native bush homes.”
“Given the fantastic game viewing possibilities and the less public nature of the private reserve, we elected to remain on property for our remaining game drives at Ongava. We enjoyed some extraordinary drives during our stay, exploring the vast 70,000-acre private reserve. We also stopped to walk about on foot for a time, seeing a colony of ground squirrels and some photographic remains of wildebeest skeletons from a recent lion kill. We spotted giraffe, wildebeest, impala, zebra and waterbuck, among others. Perhaps one the most interesting sightings, was a massive congregation of red-billed quelea swarming over a watering hole. The sound of the massive gathering of birds was akin to a helicopter or small airplane, they were so great in number. It was truly enchanting to watch them, as they flew about in waves and groups within the massive flock. I had never seen such a gathering of so many birds in one place.”
“I truly can’t say enough about the beauty and unspoiled majesty of Namibia. Legitimately, this report and the pics don’t do it justice. I feel immensely privileged to have witnessed some of the last remaining “wild” still remaining. The whole experience was just humbling and it underscored, for me, the importance of preserving the wild that remains in our vanishing planet. The time I was fortunate enough to have there, brought some of the most enjoyable, profound and thrilling moments of my entire life. It was, in many ways, very different from my last Southern Africa trip, but equally as delightful in a contrasting manner.”
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Jemma's love for nature and culture grew while growing up on her family's dairy farm in the Natal Midlands. Since then she has been a ski lift operator in the Sierra Nevada, an Au Pair in London, an English teacher in Vietnam and is now writing about her favourite continent - Africa.
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I loved this blog! We were also at the rhino camp and Ongava. The Etosha pan was in a Disney movie when I was a child and I was really thrilled to be able to visit it.
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