Thursday 10th February/day 129. Drotsky’s Cabins, Botswana – Ngepi Camp, Namibia.
We couldn’t leave Botswana without a jaunt into the Delta. We therefore booked a couple of hours on a speedboat to explore the Panhandle. As we were visiting in low season we had the speedboat and guide to ourselves. The benefit of which is that we could quiz Salvation (what a great name) as to the best places to go without too many people adding their tuppence worth.
Salvation was able to take us to various hippo locations, a sandbank adorned with crocs, although the buggers buggered off as soon as we arrived, fish eagles, and a drive past an island which is owned by the President before a whiz around some of the smaller channels and inlets before heading back to camp.
Final checks were made to ensure we hadn’t left anything behind at camp and a quick goodbye to the owners before we heading the short distance to the Botswana/Namibian border.
The border was a breeze. The customs lady on the Botswana side wins the prize for the ‘jolliest border employee’ of the trip. So much laughter and humour! Sarah again loved Botswana and was sad to leave.
Probably our greatest observation for Namibia was the standard of the Immigration/customs office. Unbelievably modern desks, chairs and seating area. Such a contrast to the ropey ones in the north of the continent where the customs officers ask to borrow a pen from us!
We entered Namibia without a bean of local currency as this was the first border crossing where there wasn’t a bureau de change or any dodgy black-market dealers swarming around the car. Payment for the road tax was made in Botswanan Pula. We also entered without any car insurance as there was no-where to buy it from and just hoped we wouldn’t get stopped.
Our destination for the night was Ngepi camp which was only a hour-ish down the road. The other great thing about the southern countries is that there is ample sign-posting around. With this in mind, our navigator still managed to find a turning too early and nearly ended us back in the Delta.
Ngepi campiste had been recommended to us by a few people for its comical toilet and ablution blocks. After finding our pitch we went exploring and the stories were all true. Loos were positioned overlooking the delta with such themes as ‘Royal Flush’ and ‘The Throne’. The showers were ‘Tarzan and Jane’ – a shower within a jungle enclosure but the tin bath overlooking the delta took the prize overall. What a great place to relax after a drive. (see pics)
Following the bath, dinner was another great braai success.
Kms travelled: 60kms.
Friday 11th February/day 130. Ngepi Camp – Roy’s Rest Camp, Grootfontein. Odometer: 97664.
Namibia is a big place and today’s plan was to cover a tiny proportion of the country. Our overall aim at the moment is to head to the very north of the country to see the Epupa Falls which are on the border with Angola. We have anticipated this will take us three and half days of driving to get there. Therefore, a stop was made in Rundu for fuel and supplies before driving on.
We had also read that there were some pretty big distances where there would be very few fuel stations so the decision was also made to fill-up at every opportunity going forward and not repeat the experience of nearly running out of fuel as we did in Zimbabwe.
During a quick sandwich stop on the side of the road, a guy on a bike asked if we had a bike pump. Sadly, no bike pump but we have got an on-board compressor and air-tank. At this point the guy looked a little cautious as we think he thought we were about to blow his tyres to smithereens rather than just pump them up. The 150psi air tank took only a couple of seconds to fully inflate the tyre.
Roy’s Camp sounded like an ideal stop and somewhere I couldn’t really miss especially in memory of ‘Uncle Roy’ – hope Auntie Amazing Grace is reading this. And indeed the drive from Ngepi via Rundu to Roy’s Camp was long and pretty dull, but we arrived mid-afternoon and managed to squeeze in a swim and sunbathe around the pool. The campsite was great with good sized clean pitches. There’s a kitchen area with a gas cooker, fridge and plenty of hot water.
Over a drink in the evening, we made our first change to the Epupa route and decided to explore the Etosha National Park over the next couple of days as we felt we couldn’t really visit Namibia without doing this.
Kms travelled: 440kms.
Saturday 12th February/day 131. Roy’s Rest Camp, Grootfontein – Okaukuejo
We headed off to Grootfontein to find a garage to get an oil change for Alfie, the last one of the trip before heading north to the eastern gate of the Etosha Park. The drive was good and we arrived mid-morning therefore had most of the day to explore.
Etosha is designed for self-drive exploration so off we went into the park at which point it started to rain again but never mind. Within 15 mins we had come across a pair of black-back jackals sploshing and drinking from a large puddle, a giraffe, an ostrich and zebra.
Good stuff…off we went again, this time town Rhino Drive but sadly nothing to be seen. The Pan viewpoints had received a good write up in the Bradt guide which was therefore our next stop, again nothing there. Bit of rain, couple of good sized puddles for Rob to drive through and a couple of hours later again we had seen absolutely nothing!
Hey ho, the camp was beckoning so we trundled on through the park occasionally coming across a coach-load of tourists. NB – we would never recommended doing this type of holiday in a coach!
The hub of camp was huge. Restaurant, fast food/kiosk outlet, post-office, swimming pools – the lot! Reception was busy with people arriving. It was good to see some other people again and a mix of nationalities. Just a pity the tour guide from Nomad jumped the queue in front of us which meant to wait for 12 people to individually pay for their night drives.
The campsite was flat, very hot and very little shade. We shared our pitch with the biggest birds nest we had ever seen! The smell was pretty pungent too.
Settling down for a cup of tea and whilst contemplating lighting the fire, we were visited by a very inquisitive black-back jackal. Now, thinking back to Hwange days in Zim where we were so excited to see one, we now had one trying to edge in on our dinner! (see pics)
We also had a chance to chat to a few people and gain advice on where the flooded riverbeds were etc.
The other attraction of the Okaukuejo camp was a flood-lit water-hole. But, I guess you don’t really need to read much further to learn that luck was not on our side this evening either. After sitting very quietly and very patiently well into the evening the African wildlife failed to visit whereas the night before Rhino had (apparently) been grazing at the water-hole!
That night our friendly jackals visited and emptied all the bins around the campsite. Don’t blame them really if the campsite hasn’t invested in locked bins but we wish they had been a bit quieter about their mid-night snacks!
Kms travelled: 407kms.
Sunday 13th February/day 132. Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha – Khowab, Sesfontein. Odometer: 98511
Up and away by 6.30am, a cool 20 degrees, in the vague hope of seeing something with four legs out in the park. I don’t really have to give any clues as to what we saw – diddly-squat!
Today was to be the mega drive day up to Epupa falls. Sally sat-nav gave us a ETA of 1630 which although a long way-off was achievable in one day.
Some 200 kms north, along another amazingly long flat road with only bush either side Rob stopped to take a look under Alfie. Not sure what actually possessed him to do this, but it revealed a slight seaping of oil from the transfer box. Blow, not good, but not the end of the world either.
What do we do next?
We decided to keep checking the oil level in the transfer box and continue driving. Good idea.
We headed on North to Opuwo agreeing that we would see what the place looked like and whether or not we would stay there, carry on north to Epupa or turn left to Sesfontein.
Arriving at the only garage within miles to fuel up, we were soon swamped by locals telling is where to stay, what to do, selling us bracelets, necklaces and virtually getting in Alfie to do so! We soon made the decision not to stay here and hastily drove away from the fuel station.
Rather than drive any further north following tales of the swollen uncross-able rivers, we decided to head towards Sesfontein with the aim of heading back to Swakopmund and a garage.
The afternoon’s drive turned out to be a total contrast to the morning. Flat open lush green bushland was replaced by rolling hills which soon became mountain ranges. The road went from a tarmac one as far as the eye could see to a gravel track through many dips and rises. Some filled with water, others empty. With each dip we wondered how deep the water may be. Surviving all of this we were hit by another massive thunder storm.
Some four hours later we arrived at a T-junction. We were now in the middle of the desert where we turned right to Sesfontein. Not too sure what we were expecting but it was certainly a bit more than the splattering of brick buildings! Anyway, we had made it to Fort Sesfontein, a hotel which also allowed camping only to be told that they no longer permitted camping!
Hmmm, they did recommend ‘Fig Tree’ campsite down the road but this didn’t look too inviting – more like a refugee camp; so a quick u-turn and another 30 kms down the road, we rolled into Khowarib Lodge which is a community based project and campsite. It’s billed as ‘Experience the remote north-west’ and that’s pretty good description as there was nothing around us for miles.
The campsite nestles on the banks of he Hoanib river in the Khowarib Gorge surrounded by mountains. We were there just in time to watch the sun go down. Rain threatened but thankfully it didn’t arrive. The surroundings were so quiet, all we could hear was the wind and the rumble of thunder.
Despite the campsite being in the middle of no-where (S19 15.753 E13 52.861) there were pristine flush-loos, showers, although the boiling required a few logs therefore forward planning was needed and all open to the elements above.
A huge drive today, through a vast topographical range and hardly saw anyone. The temperatures ranged from mid-20s to high 40s.
Kms travelled: 749kms.
Monday 14th February/day 133. Khowarib Camp – Buck’s Camp, Henties Bay. Odometer: 99260.
“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day”.
Up and away again relatively early and with the sun coming up over the mountains we headed for the Skeleton Coast, where many a ship has come unstuck.
Passing through the Palmwag Valley, the mountains and hills melted away. We had another vet fence to get through but all ok and nothing to feel guilty about on this occasion. The scenery gradually moved to sand, sand and sand again, reminiscent of the days when we were driving through the Sahara.
With temperatures creeping up to the high-forties we arrived at the entrance to the Skeleton Coast National Park, filled yet another form in but didn’t have to pay anything which was a big brucie bonus for Team Alfie.
Soon we saw the sea, hurrah!
It was on New Year’s Day when we had our feet in the Indian Ocean on the East Coast of Africa and today we had our feet in the Atlantic Ocean today. Hurrah! The Atlantic was a bit more lively though!
Wow, the feeling of desolation was soon all around us and we understood once again why the guidebooks recommend not travelling alone or ensure you are properly equipped. Sarah was not allowed out of the Land Rover without being covered head to foot in factor 50.
We had already come across a Toyota with a flat tyre but their friends in a Landy were there to assist. However, they soon caught up and passed us with what looked like they were still lop-sided. Ten minutes down the road we saw them stopped at the side of the road with puncture number two. Toyotas with indestructible BFGs ‘eh!
We then came across three Japanese/Korean people who were stationary on the side of the road with two tents up. Surely, they hadn’t been there all night? Yes they had!
They had run out of fuel and were waiting for friends to return with supplies. Not the most sensible place to run out of fuel. It turned out that they had hired the vehicle from Windhoek for a few days but the hire companies should take some responsibility and check where these people are going and at least make sure they know what distances they are covering and ensure they have basic supplies.
We checked they were ok and asked if they had sufficient water. One of them produced a 0.5 litre bottle with a thumb full of water left which we were quite shocked with. (at this point we were back to drinking flaggons of water each day) Therefore, we re-filled all the water bottles they had on them from our on-board water-tank. This really is not the place you want to get stranded in and run out of water.
With much bowing and dipping with thanks from our new Japanese/Korean friends we headed off.
We stopped off to look at two sea wrecks, that of the ‘South West Sea’ which was still pretty much recognisable as a boat, but as for the second, the ‘Winston’, there’s very little left. Although, Rob did think he saw some funnels sticking out of the sand at one point. Far too much sun we think. Not to mention the co-pilot’s “lack of enthusiasm” about the drive down the beach in search of bigger wrecks.
Next stop Henties Bay for an overnight stop.
Henties Bay is predominantly set up for fishing folk but they did have a supermarket so at least we got some fresh bread. In fact, the lay out of the town, proximity to the beach etc. reminded Sarah of Hayling Island years ago…without the climate that is!
The campsite was the most regimented we have come across. Each pitch being given the same size plot adjacent to your own loo/shower and washing up area. It served the purpose for the night. Despite the regimented build of the pitches, the numbering scheme didn’t appear to follow the same logic.
Our next door neighbours soon arrived for a chat and kindly gave us some fish-cakes, fresh from the day’s catch.
Kms travelled: 482
Tuesday 15th February/day 134. Buck’s Camp, Henties Bay – Dunedin Star Guest House, Swokopmund. Odometer: 99742.
Heading off towards Swakopmund we passed Wlotzkasbaken, which had been described as a ‘colony on the moon’ and a ghost town. Quite a lot of imagination is needed to liken the town to the moon and it looked very much alive and freshly, not to mention vividly, painted to us.
Arriving in Swakopmund by mid-morning we were greeted with a very organised yet very much a touristy town. We also expected the town to be a lot busier than it was so it was a pleasant surprise to drive around with minimal traffic. We headed for a garage to get Alfie sorted out, and then into town to find accommodation and a bank.
Accommodation was sorted quickly and we headed to find a bank. Crikey…the German influence is still in place! With Sarah just minding her own business whilst queueing in the bank, the bank clerk from the Bureau de change bellowed at Sarah “if you want to exchange money, stand here”! Well, Sarah didn’t want to change money but still she was called over to stand and wait. Two seconds later, following some further questioning we were sent on our way to another bank as they were not able to issue money again visa cards.
Sarah thought she needed a stiff gin after this but settled for a latte instead.
Swakopmund turned out to be a very relaxing stop-over. We had time to explore the town, visit Peter’s Antiques (a shop with everything from old colonial stuff to Nazi memorabilia and even some African tat) and relax in the afternoon. We rounded the day off with sundowners, a fantastic meal and some exquisite rose wine at ‘The Tug restaurant’ (an old tug raised up above the seafront at the land-end of the pier) overlooking the sea.
Kms travelled: 482 kms.
Wednesday 16th February/day 135. Dunedin Star Guest House, Swokopmund – Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch. Odometer: 99827.
A gentle morning as we waited for Alfie to be finished but soon we were off heading towards Solitaire to a camp where we had heard that they had tame meerkats.
The changing scenery that afternoon was incredible. As we left Swokopmund we drove through hot, flat, harsh desert again for some 120 kms before we started to see terrain dotted with green vegetation. The flatness gave way to rocky outcrops and trees. Soon we were insight of hill-sides, then mountains flanking both sides of the gravel road and a very black sky loomed ahead of us.
Yep, the storm came in, engulfed us and moved away as quickly as it arrived. At this point we driving through “Gaub Pass” and could have been in the Lake District again! Thank goodness the river crossings had bridges over them, although the approach to one was a bit sticky but good ole Alfie trundled through.
We made it to the campsite to experience a memorable sunset.
Temperatures today ranged from early 20s to high 40s whilst driving out of Swakopmund to the cooler temperatures of Solitaire camp where Sarah even had to put a fleece on.
A momentous afternoon as Alfie passed the 100,000 km mark.
Kms travelled: 306kms.
Thursday 17th February/day 136. Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch.
Today was a rest and potter around day. Having nicely settled ourselves beside the pool we were approached by a very friendly Springbok who started to lick Sarah’s legs (yuk) and eat Rob’s book! With a few shoves the Springbok got the message and wondered off to annoy some of the gardeners.
With the heat soaring we retired to the banda back at camp only to be visited by the Springbok again who this time tried to charge Sarah. Really not funny but she was grateful that the owners had thought to put corks or something similar on its antlers or Sarah would probably have a Springbok shaped dent in her leg. Put it this way, the stick we were given to protect ourselves and beat the thing off broke when the Springbok tried to headbut Sarah. Rob took surprisingly swift and effective action by turning the hosepipe on it. (and laughing a lot)
The next visitor was a friendly meerkat who scurried around for a while before disappearing into the bush again. They do make a funny grunting sound.
Solitaire Campsite was another camp in a fantastic spot. Set at the foot of the rugged Rand Mountains with wonderful views over the Namib Desert and Naukluft Mountains. There are only three camp spots each with their own loo, shower and kitchen area. If you are in the area this is another spot we would recommend but would suggest you ring ahead to check availability. (we will be listing all the campsites where we stayed once we get home)
Kms travelled: 0.
Friday 18th February/day 137. Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch – Sesriem Campsite. Odometer: 100133.
Only a short drive today as we headed to Sesriem to seek out the infamous sand dunes of the Namib Desert. A stop soon made at the centre of Solitaire which turned out to be a garage, cafe and shop but also a general dealer who is famous for its apple crumble. The bakery was indeed scrumptious with more than just apple crumble on offer so we decided we would sample a range of sweet and savoury options! Have to say the sausage rolls won.
With fat and cholesterol levels stoked we drove the short distance down the gravel road to find Sesriem and Sossusvlei. A few wilderbeest and Ostrich were spotted along the way.
It was also a novelty to see some traffic this morning. We were also flagged down to ask about river crossings but we were able to reassure the driver that his Hilux would be fine through the river we had come across. He told us about a river which was about a metre deep but we never found it and infact were quite disappointed as Rob was looking forward to sending Sarah out to walk the river first to check the depth and current!
Sesriem was hot hot hot. We opted to stay at the campsite just inside the park as this allowed you entrance to the park at 05:30 to see the sun-rise. Before settling down at camp we needed to send get some more quotes for shipping as Cape Town is looming fast but we managed to find the slowest internet cafe to date…a very painful experience and hence why loading the diary up is so very far behind.
The rest of the day was spent sheltering from the sun.
Kms travelled: 97kms.
Saturday 19th February/day 138. Sesriem Campsite – Klein Aus Vista, Aus. Odometer: 100230.
04:45 – alarms went off = very early.
05:30 – we were through the gate and trundling in the dark along the 60 km stretch towards the sand dunes. It felt like a race against time as we wanted to get to the edge of the Soussesvlei Pan in time to see the sun come up over the dunes. We had decided not to climb Dune 45 as we would have needed to start the day before to cater for Sarah and it wouldn’t have been much fun for her either.
It was very eerie just before the sun emerged. Turning one way the view was of moon and the mist, yet if you turned 180 degrees you were greeted by the sun climbing up over the dunes. The temperature had dropped as well. The silence was amazing and apart from another group of people who had headed off to climb some dunes we were the only people in this part of the desert.
06:45 – on queue the sun loomed up over the sand-dunes. A fantastic sight and well worth the effort.
We trundled back across the sand trying to re-trace our tracks! I’m sure there were a few extra turns but we made it without getting lost or stuck. Hope the photos reflect the landscape we saw this morning.
We made a quick stop at the Sesriem Canyon, although I think we were both expected something slightly more impressive.
Duwisib Castle was next on the excursion plan. A small square castle with battlements and high turrets in the middle of the African bush, quite an amazing sight and pretty much intact.. Originally built and owned by Hansheinrich von Wolf, he lived there with his wife, developing a farm and was a fanatical horseman. As war broke out he reported for duty but was killed at the battle of the Somme. His wife never returned to the castle.
As we didn’t have the correct money for the entrance fee and there was no change in the till we put ourselves down as South Africans so we paid the smaller entrance fee and avoided the need for anyone to find change!
There followed a long drive through vast areas of Namibian nothingness. It’s a lovely country but you can drive great distances and see no-one and nothing more than flat bush and farmland. We did drive through one stretch on a D-road which is a smaller track out here and did come across a few flooded points but Alfie had no trouble. Driving such tracks at 80kph makes them seem even more nothing-filled.
We made it to Klein Aus Vista where we found a tarmac road and a beautiful lodge set amongst the Aus Mountains. Once Rob was settled in the bar it was going to be impossible to move him (Oi!) therefore, we opted for their evening meal before heading back to camp. Rob ate the Oryx while Sarah opted for the chicken. The chocolate dessert must also get a mention!
We also managed to catch up on some news and realised that most of the northern continent was in turmoil. It wasn’t us…promise!
Kms travelled: 552kms.
Sunday 20th February/day 139. Klein Aus Vista, Aus – Hobas Camp, Fish River Canyon. Odometer: 100782.
A bit of bad planning today for team Alfie. The aim was to drive to Luderitz and Kelmansdorp but we didn’t realise that there was only one tour on a Sunday which started at 10am. At 9.30am we were just settling our bill and with 124kms to drive there was no way we were going to achieve the 10am tour time!
Hey ho, never mind, another excuse to come back to Namibia and Africa to explore some more. Next stop was now Fish River Canyon and Ai-Ais Hot Springs.
We had the novelty of a tarmac road for start of the journey before turning back onto a dirt track to head south. No more than a couple of Kms down the road we came across a rather imposing ‘road-closed’ sign blocking the road. Hmmm. Thankfully, there was a hotel virtually next door so we made a quick visit to check the local knowledge. It turned out that the road was closed due to the high river and a lot of the road had now disappeared but “with a 4×4 you should be ok”. This was good enough for us and off we went.
A few low-range moments passed before we eventually found the river. Thankfully, it had receded a lot and we were able to get through without any problems. Some of the road had indeed been virtually washed away but with any 4×4 it was going to be ok. Although, there was no way this road would have been passable in the height of the rainy season. No great surprise but we didn’t see anyone else!
We arrived at Hobas camp on the edge of the Fish River National Park to find a shady campsite and some very jolly park staff. After a good chat we discovered that they were also at Sesriem camp the night we were there. The late night sausage-braai that Team Alfie had caught wind of was them on a company jolly 🙂
As the larder was devoid of anything interesting to eat we had to resort to some of the ’emergency tined food’ (which may or may not have come all the way from the UK with us) turned out to be meatballs and mash. These have to the most disgusting meat balls ever created even with gallons of Bisto gravy mixed in, we donated a fair few to the local wildlife. ( No we didn’t, that’d be irresponsible, wouldn’t it 😉 ) The mash and Bisto gravy was lovely though!
Kms travelled: 402kms.
Monday 21st February/day 140. Hobas Camp, Fish River Canyon – Springbok /camp, Springbok. Odometer: 101184.
Another great day on our travels. We had decided to head south as the temperatures in Namibia were limiting and we felt we had seen enough of endless roads and desert. Therefore, the decision was made to enter South Africa a little earlier than planned but head off into the Wine Lands to explore.
The day started well as a couple of overlanders from Finland pulled into the car-park at Fish River Canyon. With a Land Rover very similar to Alfie we were able to compare vehicles and share stories about our routes.
Our other new friends, the jolly park staff then asked us to act as couriers and take a load of mail over to Ai-Ais hot springs. We, of course, obliged.
The view of Fish River Canyon (second largest to the Grand Canyon) was awesome with great views over Hell’s Bend and the Sulphur Springs Viewpoint.
After a drive of about an hour we arrived in the bed of the Fish River at Ai-Ais, a lovely spa location surrounded by mountains. Ai-Ais means ‘burning water’ and indeed this was pretty much spot on! The hot springs were very, very hot and too hot to swim in to be honest. We had a good chat with another Land Rover enthusiast who had seen Alfie parked up and came to find us.