After leaving Mata-Mata we headed across the border into Namibia for the long drive up to Windhoek, a resupply point before we headed into Damaraland. At the border post we first noticed Namibian’s attitude towards the daylight savings time that had started a few days before. It seems that pretty much everything in the country (other than schools and some government offices) simply change their opening and closing hours to be one hour later, making the whole exercise completely pointless! Apparently the main reason for it was to make sure school children don’t have to walk to school in the dark in winter, but you can’t help but feel that changing the school opening hours would have been easier.
The drive to Windhoek was long but uneventful (other than the occasional tortoise crossing the road). Most of the roads in Namibia are (mostly good) dirt roads and are very empty – for the first 2 or 3 hours I don’t think we saw more than a couple of cars. There are some tar roads but they are largely limited to the main roads heading to Windhoek from the South African and Angolan borders. Having a 4×4 is a nice to have for most places, but not always essential – a vehicle with reasonable ground clearance is generally sufficient. There appear to be quite a few places in Windhoek that hire out fully kitted and converted bakkies / pickups, complete with roof tents and an enclosed lockable storage area. For this part of our trip most of the vehicles we saw on the road were these vehicles – it was only when we started hitting the northern parts of Namibia that the more hard-core vehicles started to appear. Something you also learn pretty quickly in Namibia is to fill up with petrol or diesel at every opportunity, as the smaller towns can have a fairly erratic supply. While filling up with diesel in a small town fairly near Windhoek we came across someone who didn’t have enough petrol to get to any other towns , and the petrol station had run out. Fortunately for him it was a fairly busy road (for Namibia), so he probably didn’t have to wait too long.
In Windhoek we did a bit of shopping at Maeru Mall to resupply some groceries and for me to get a new pair of flip flops (after mine died while packing up in Mata-Mata), had a lovely (and obligatory for any tourists) dinner at Joe’s Beer Hall, before setting off fairly early for our first stop in Damaraland, Spitzkoppe. One the way we had a quick stop in Okahandja for some booze (a lot of beer, gin, Amarula and some sparkling wine from the surprisingly well stocked Tops Bottle Store) and a big stash of really good game biltong from Closwa Biltong Factory – definitely recommended if you are passing through.
Spitzkoppe are a group of granite domes rising impressively out of the surrounding flat desert. Spitzkoppe Rest Camp (http://www.spitzkoppe.com) is pretty much the only place to stay in the area and offer a choice of simple campsites (basically a pit toilet, a dustbin and small braai / barbecue area), or a few simple huts. There is also a nice little bar that serves a small selection of food, with good shared showers close by. They offer a few guided walks and drives to see some San paintings and the small game reserve, otherwise there are some walks up onto the granite domes that you can do on your own. The campsites are really spread out and really well situated in various spots around the granite domes. It was fairly empty when we were there and so the next campers were over a kilometer away from us, so we really felt that we were completely alone – such a change from some of the other campsites we’d been to. The setting sun on the granite made for a fabulous backdrop for our sundowners.
We’d planned to spend two nights there, but after a lovely peaceful evening we headed to bed only to be woken up at 3am by a sudden and violent wind storm attacking our tent. After stumbling around in the dark adding some extra guy ropes to secure the tent we hoped things would be okay, only for the winds to progressively get worse. After several sleepless hours of being battered around and fearing for our tent collapsing on us, we hastily took the tent down during one of the very short periods of calm around sunrise (thank goodness for our instant tent). We sat around hoping for the winds to calm down, but by 9am the situation hadn’t changed and so we sadly decided to rather head to the town of Uis (pronounced Ooos) near for the night.
Uis is well situated for the Brandberg Mountain, another megalithic rock structure rising out of the desert, and Namibia’s highest mountain. It is famous for the more than 45 000 San rock paintings found all over the place, the most famous being the White Lady (actually a man), thought to be between 2000 and 5000 years old. The White Lady is a very hot 30 – 45 minute walk from the parking lot – try doing it early in the morning and not in 40C+ heat like we did. The site is small but definitely worth a stopover. In Uis we stayed at Brandberg Rest Camp (http://www.brandbergrestcamp.com), a nice little place with a massive pool that is perfect for getting some relief for from the heat. We opted for a self catering chalet so that we could catch up on some of the sleep me missed out on the previous night.
After Uis we headed north to Palmwag on the edge of Damaraland, where we had booked three nights of delightful luxury at Wilderness’s Desert Rhino Camp (http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/desert-rhino-camp). The camp is situated deep in the Palmwag Concession and specializes in tracking desert black rhinos using trackers from Save the Rhino Trust (http://www.savetherhinotrust.org), an organisation trying to preserve Namibia’s black rhinos by ensuring that there are locals on the ground patrolling as much as possible funded by carefully controlled tourism. Each morning we headed off on a very bumpy ride along the Mars-like desert landscape looking for the rhinos, as well as anything else we might come across along the way. The landscapes are amazing and for such a desolate place it is quite incredible that anything lives there. We were lucky to see two black rhinos on foot – a really special moment for both of us. Once again Wilderness did not disappoint, with great guides, lovely staff, a nice relaxed atmosphere and luxurious (without being over the top), and a nice change from roughing it over the previous few weeks.
Before leaving Desert Rhino we decided to check whether there was any availability at one of the nearby Wilderness camps that specialise in tracking the desert elephants – when we had tried earlier they were all fully booked. Luckily Damaraland Camp (http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/damaraland-camp) had space for us, and because it was at such short notice we managed to get a good SADC residents’ discount. The landscape was quite different to Desert Rhino, but equally deserted, and the trip to find the elephants involved an exciting ride through the sandy dry river beds in the area. The desert elephants were lovely to see, especially the two tiny baby elephants that still fitted under their mom’s tummies.
After our short stay at Damaraland Camp we headed back to Palmwag for the night, making a short detour to Twyfelfontein on the way. Twyfelfontein is a Unesco World Heritage site on account of the 2000+ San rock carvings found in the area. You can do an easy 30-45 minute guided tour of some of the nearby sites. There are some other attractions nearby such as the organ pipes and the burnt mountain, but we found them to be less impressive.
Our final night in Damaraland was spent camping at Palmwag Lodge, a really comfortable campsite that also offers chalets, and has a nice pool, bar and restaurant (http://www.palmwaglodge.com).
Cumulative distance since leaving Joburg 4 965km
Cumulative bird count 105
- Cape hare
- Spotted hyena
- Black rhino
- Desert adapted elephants
- Some type of insect eating bat
- Rock agama
Next stop: Kaokoland!