Try (not) to pitch your tent under a marula tree

Blogged by Anne

After Etosha, we travelled south in our trusty Toyota for a few days in the Waterberg. The Waterberg plateau is a national park with a wide variety of animals including black rhino and buffalo. It is edged to the south by rocky cliffs which house mountain species like black eagles. The area appears to have a large number of leopards – we were amazed to see a large male standing next to the tar road on our way in and we saw a lot of tracks, some very fresh, on our hikes. We stayed on a farm next door to the national park at the Waterberg Plateau campsite (http://www.waterberg-wilderness.com), a very well set up and peaceful place with access to the plateau. We did a fantastic guided hike up onto the plateau to enjoy the views with a wonderful Herero guide.

The Waterberg escarpment
Hiking in the Waterberg
Leopard track!

The Waterberg has a distressing history because it was the site of the battle which marked the start of the German genocide against the Hereros in 1904. It is estimated that between half and three quarters of the entire Herero nation were systematically wiped out, either directly or by forcing people into the desert and preventing access to water sources. Refugees were rounded up into concentration camps and badly mistreated. The farm had a carefully worded history trail around some ruins of a refugee camp, but this remains a fairly controversial part of German-Namibian history.

After the Waterberg we headed north again to see the Hoba meteorite just outside of Grootfontein. It is the largest meteorite in the world, and weighs around 50 tons. It hit the earth around 80 000 years ago and is made almost entirely of iron and nickel. We spent the night in a quirky lodge called Roy’s rest camp to the north of Grootfontein and had an amazing dinner there while waiting for the Landrover to arrive back from repairs in Windhoek. We would highly recommend Roy’s as a stopover en route north (http://www.roysrestcamp.com).

The Hoba meteorite
Some meteorite humor
All roads lead to Grootfontein
Quirky Roy’s camp

 

Next up was a part of the trip we had really been looking forward to – Zambezi (previously known as the Caprivi strip). Zambezi is narrow strip of Namibia which stretches east between Angola and Botswana towards Zambia and Zimbabwe. It has four major rivers and is very lush with tall trees. A number of people had recommended Ngepi camp so we booked three nights in an Ngepi “tree house” (http://ngepicamp.com). Our room (tree house 5 and a half) was a spectacular wooden deck, built on stilts over the Okavango river, with a thatch roof but completely open onto the river front and definitely the best room in the place.  We could hear elephants and hippos at night and an otter came and visited our sundowners. Twice! We spent a morning with an expert bird guide – the area is particularly impressive for birds with over 600 species. The Mahango region of the Bwabwatwa National Park is a short drive away and there is a wonderful 2×4 river road which is well worth a drive. Ngepi definitely lived up to expectations.

Our Ngepi “tree house”
Not a bad view from the bed
Another attempt to capture tree house 5.5’s amazingness
Swimming in the Okavango
Black herons hunting
Black heron impersonating a clown

Next up was a magical community campsite called Nambwa (http://www.africanmonarchlodges.com/nambwa-luxury-tented-lodge/), further along the strip near Kongola in the Bwabwatwa park itself. The campsite has only four sites along the Kwando River and is unfenced and very remote (accessible only through thick sand which made game drives interesting). They were full when we arrived, so we camped in the ‘overflow’ area under a fruiting marula tree.  This was not an experience for the faint hearted – we had a number of visitors at close quarters including baboons (almost constantly), various antelope and a large herd of elephants that surrounded us so quickly that we didn’t have time to get into the tent or the car. We ended up standing next to the car, as still as possible and somewhat nervous. At one stage, a bull elephant was only separated from us by the bonnet of the car!

Surrounded by elephants
Baboons around camp
Loving the marulas
Bushbuck also love marulas

 

Wattled crane

There is a five star lodge next to the community campsite, and we went out on an evening game drive with the lodge guests. We were extremely impressed with the lodge itself (they showed us one of the rooms) and with the courtesy that they showed us as campers joining the lodge activity. Definitely somewhere to consider for a luxury alternative. And we saw a leopard! We really enjoyed Bwabwatwa in general, there is excellent game and it is all very relaxed – even the baboons ignore humans rather than steal. There is a small population of lions and wild dogs although we weren’t lucky enough to see them. All in all, the Zampezi / Caprivi area is a very worthwhile destination.

Warthog

 

Pied kingfisher
White-headed vulture
Plenty of vultures
Elephants everywhere
Very relaxed
Grey-headed kingfisher
Leopard!

We’ll be heading into Botswana next so it’s time for a few closing remarks on Namibia. The whole country’s tourism infrastructure is extremely well set up for independent self-drive travelers. There are many, well equipped and reasonable priced camp sites, almost always with good ablutions and other facilities. There seems to be some competition among the private campsites which encourages them to compete on things like providing free wood and private bathrooms. Camping typically costs around ZAR150 per person per night. Bungalow style accommodation tends to be quite a bit more expensive (ZAR700 pppn) but we also found it to be of very high quality. Shops are well stocked for travelers, and you can pretty much buy any kind of food item as well as other camping basics in every large town, although in very remote places the availability of fresh goods and ice is restricted. Attractions and entrance fees are not expensive, the roads are good and fuel is cheap (although not always plentiful). You can rent a 4×4 completely kitted out for a camping trip in Windhoek – similar to the Toyota we drove while the Landy was being fixed – and most people we met were driving these. We would definitely recommend Namibia to anyone looking for an independent travel experience in Africa.

Cumulative distance since leaving Joburg: 8 475km

Cumulative bird count: 221 (over 50 new species on this leg!)

New animals:

  • Leopard (on main road to Waterberg)
  • Porcupine (trying to steal our roll of bin bags)
  • Otter (probably Cape clawless)
  • Impala (non-black faced)
  • Red lechwe
  • Bushbuck
  • Buffalo
  • Hippo
  • Crocodile

Next stop: Botswana

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