21 July 2009

Stuart's log

Trip Day 13 - Lüderitz, Kolmanskop, Sesriem

Up before 7:00. Drove down the road to the supermarket for a quick shop at 8:15 and then on to the abandoned Diamond mine at Kolmanskop. This was once a thriving place and a solid infrastructure was built there. It was then abandoned and became a ghost town. We started in the main hall, and associated rooms such as gym and kitchen, which has been renovated and took many photos before looking at some of the abandoned houses. It was rather strange and a little sad. I looked around one of the houses which was in pretty good condition almost as a potential buyer, checking out the sizes of the rooms!


It was then a long drive to Sesriem where we thought there was space. However, the number we called was for a different campsite as the numbers have been switched and the guide book is wrong! The Sesriem campsite is very popular and was fully booked. However, there was space in the overflow area which was well away from the facilities but not too bad. What did shock us though is that the price charged for us three and the car was ZAR750 per night, plus we had to pay a park fee of 250! This was well over what we expected to pay so we only booked for one night.

Set up camp, had dinner and looked at the stars (again a remarkable display) and then to bed.

Trip Day 14 - Sesriem, Sossusvlei, Naukluft

Up very early to visit Soussvlei - where the dunes either side of a river have come together to block it and so it cannot get to the sea anymore. The result is a salt pan (or vlei) surrounded by amazing red sand dunes. We were pleasantly surprised to see there was a tarmaced road to Soussvlei (maybe that is why the prices are so high at the campsite) and we covered the 64km to the 2WD car park quickly. The last 5 km is for 4WD only so I selected low ratio and diff lock and went for it. Driving on sand again was fun and we never felt we were going to get stuck even though we had not let down the tyres. We arrived at the final car park and there were only 2 others there before us. The dawn light was beautiful.


I wired myself up and Merryl and I climbed a large dune by the pan, with me talking to camera a lot of the time. I think the footage will be good. Fiver did not come with us as she is still sore from her fall from the horse. However, she had the kettle on as we returned. During our walk we saw an oryx close to the car. It only had one horn so it looked a little strange. Merryl took Fiver to see it as I made the tea.

We had breakfast here, having fun photographing many sparrows for whom we made mini water-holes- they liked being fed as well but we very keen on water, not surprisingly in this incredibly dry area.

We headed back to the campsite and tidyed up. We then set off for the short trip to the campsite we had originally booked last night! This was a bumpy journey on the least well treated roads we have experienced so far but they were not too bad. The last part of the journey through hills was particularly beautiful.

Once we had set up camp, Merryl and I set off to do a couple of hours walking along the Waterkloof river. We got about half an hour along it when we came across a colony of baboons. Merryl was a little spooked by them and did not want to go past them so we returned to the campsite and then set off in the other direction along the river. It was a beautiful but not so easy walk (and I am finding Merryl's youthful fitness hard to keep up with). We even came across a rock pool in this river which actually had a fresh water crab living in it.


Back to the campsite for a lovely meal of sweet corn and vegetarian chilli con carne with tortillas. It was very cold so we went to bed early. Before doing so I noticed once of the tyres had gone flat with a metal spike sticking out of it. Nice job for the morning!

Trip Day 15 - Naukluft, Swakopmund - 381km today, 4800 total

Up early and saw that the tyre was now completely flat (which explained me rolling onto Fiver all night!). Went off for a fun with Merryl which was doubly hard. Firstly, the track was very hilly and, secondly, it was a few degrees below freezing. We got very cold and it took me a long time to get warm afterwards.

When we returned from the run, Fiver had already put the tent away so we started on the tyre changing as we made breakfast. It was hard as everything so so cold. We used the hi-lift jack with pneumatic jack back up. We did the job rather easily in the end and got away not too late.

The drive to Swakopmund was another glorious experience through amazing, empty countryside, including a couple of mountain passes. We stopped in Solitaire - a one horse town, that was recommended for great apple pie baked by a guy called Moose, who basically ran the place. The apple pie was very good and as we took it out onto the lawn to eat we met a New Zealand couple called David and Heather, who were on holiday. We had a good chat.

At one stage in the journey we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and, like the contents of two overland tour buses, we got out to have our photos taken at the road sign.


As we approached Walvis Bay there was a dramatic change to real sand desert conditions, with huge dunes coupled with a sandstorm blowing sand over the road, which we had last seen in the UAE. As we got close to Walvis Bay we saw a train that was stopped while labourers cleared the tracks of sand.


We did not enter Walvis Bay but turned towards Swakopmund, passing the many smart developments on the coast between the two towns (but why anyone would want to live in these conditions is beyond me). On entering Swakopmund we tried the Municipal Rest Camp, that had many cheap bungalows but it was fully booked. We, instead, went into the Alte Brucke campsite that had places on grass with their own little bathrooms attached. It felt a little like camping on the lawn of someone's house in suburbia, but it was very comfortable.

Trip Day 16 - Swakopmund

Up early for a lovely run along the sea front at dawn with Merryl. Afterwards, we embarked on a day for doing chores. We did the laundry, got the tyre mended, did some shopping and spent plenty of time on the Internet. Fiver also went to the doctor to see to a pain she had in her ribs following her fall. I also tried to find some US dollars that I failed to do in Cape Town, but this time even though I could change money, no bank had any. Seems I need to order them a couple of weeks in advance, or be lucky that someone had changed dollars for Namibian dollars and the US ones had not yet been sent to Windhoek. One bank (Bank Windhoek) promised to call us tomorrow if any dollars came in.

Whilst Fiver and I spent the morning in town, Merryl headed off to the dunes and did some sandboarding - bit like snow boarding but with the big inconvenience that you have to walk up to the top of the dune rather than go in a cable car! I think she got quite worn out!

During the afternoon we bumped into David and Heather again and agreed to go our and eat Eisbein (knuckle of pork) that evening. We suggested the Swakopmund Brauhaus and agreed to meet there at 6:00 but when we tried to book found it completely booked out. So, we tried other places and one rang around for us and got us booked into the Wild West restauarant that had some. So, we hung around the Brauhaus until they turned up and we walked to the Wild West place. In the end we had two Swine Haxe and one Eisbein between us (they are the same thing except the Haxe is roasted and the Eisbein is boiled). We had a fun evening.

Trip Day 17 - Swakopmund

Up early for a run on my own (Merryl was sore from the sand boarding). Later went into town for more chores. One of which was continuing my quest for USD for our proposed visit to Zimbabwe. Went into Bank Windhoek and found they had around USD800 which they agreed to sell me. Had to get cash and got frustrated that my New Zealand cash card only works at one of the banks (where I promptly went and left it in a machine!). Also found my Lloyds card had been blocked as I had used it in Namibia and their sophisticated computer system assumed it had been misused - how much do I hate banks when I travel - they cannot cater for people such as us as we have a spending pattern that their systems cannot cope with.


At the end of the afternoon I went off on my own for a couple of hours, trying to capture photographically the essence of the town - and was quite pleased with some of the results. Returned to the camp to help get ready for a quick get away tomorrow morning. Once done so we went into town to the local cinema to see 'Angels and Demons', which made an interesting change.

Trip Day 18 - Swakopmund, Windhoek, Okaukuejo

Crazy day. Could not sleep during the night due to a tooth ache from my wisdom tooth that the dentist in South Africa thought would be a good idea to remove. I ignored his advice and paid the price. So, when we got up I told Fiver the problem and we agreed to head to Windhoek rather than Etosha, or rather then staying in Swakopmund, as there would be plenty of dentists there. So, up at 04:30 and away before 05:30, It was a relatively straightforward drive to Windhoek with Merryl and i sharing the driving while Fiver slept. Before we got to the City Fiver called ahead and found a dentist who could see me at 2:00pm. We headed for the area of the dentist but stopped at 10:30 by a Telecom office and found a phone book. We called a few dentists and got one who could see me immediately who was not too far away. We found the place easily and I was attended to be a young lady dentist. After a couple of x-rays we agreed to remove the offending tooth which she did quickly and painlessly.

As ths was all over by 11:30 we decided to battle on to Etosha. It meant our longest driving day to date (821km) but the driving was easy, all on straight, fast tarmac roads with little other traffic. We reached the gates of the park about 4:15 and drove slowly the remaining 19km to the camp we had booked for the night. On the way there we saw zebra, springbok, jackal, a distant elephant and many giraffe. This was very exciting for Merryl, her first sighting of giraffe in the wild.

Etosha is a very large national park, spread around an enormous salt pan. The salt pan does not support much life until it gets the occasional flooding but the area around is home to a very large amount of wildlife.

The office at the camp showed the usual African efficiency and I was getting annoyed - I was very tired by this stage. Eventually it was sorted - we booked in for two nights (for the crazy price of N$1500 for the two nights). We had planned to move on after one night but we found that the next camp we had planned to visit (Halali) was fully booked. We found our camping place but there was another car parked there and we found that the site had been double booked. We were offered another place but did not want to find that that was also double booked so we stood our ground with the hapless park official who found the owners of the car and they agreed to move, despite having arrived earlier than us. I was being unreasonable but I was very tired and stressed.

We set up camp quickly as it was getting dark. As we were staying 2 days here, tried putting up the ground tent but the ground was far too hard so we decided to use the roof tent instead. We then moved to the floodlit waterhole where we had a wonderful experience watching elephants, giraffe, springbok and jackals. Then back for supper of soup and to bed.

Trip Day 19 - Okaukuejo

Up early, before light, as usual. The jackals had been around during the night and they had eaten the straps off the bag of the packed ground tent, which we had left outside. Merryl also mentioned that one played with her tent for sometime during the night, which was a little scary.

After Merryl cooked, and I ate, a meal of beans on toast we set off for an early morning game drive. I drove initially, with Merryl in the front for her first game drive and Fiver in the back filming. We headed north west and were rewarded with many animal sightings, including very many zebra and springbok, several Blackbacked Jackals, giraffe and yellow mongoose. Among the birds, besides the many Sociable Weavers (there are a lot of their huge nests in the park) we also saw Fork-tailed Drongos, Cape Glossy Starling, Black-shouldered Kite, Crowned Lapwing, and a couple of Kori Bustards.


We returned around 10:30, did some quick shopping and chilled around the camp. Had a couple of visits to the water hole where we saw many Zebra and Elephant, along with a Blacksmith Lapwing and some Pied Crows. We did not go out on another game drive in the evening but did visit the water hole and sat for a while with a beer, taking photos and video. Back to camp later for a quick stir-fry and then to bed.

Trip Day 20 - Okaukuejo, Namutoni, Sachsenheim camp

Up before dawn for a long game drive. As we cannot get bookings at any other camp inside Etosha we need to get out of the Eastern entrance tonight. We were up at 5:30 and packed away by 06:30. We drove out into the park and, instead of the direct route towards the Eastern gate, we took several loops. New sightings today were rhino, elephant (one of which took exception to a car being in the way of where he wanted to cross the road!), a couple of sightings of Lion (a pair of males by a water hole and a male and female just chilling in the bush), Dukier or Dik-Dik (not sure which). In the Namutoni camp, where we stopped for a drink and look at their water hole in the late afternoon, we also saw many Banded Mongoose.


We popped into Halali camp in the morning for a coffee, but it did not seem a very inviting place so we are now glad we did not get a booking here. After this, we went to a short drive onto the pan lookout. It was completely bleak out there and the pan itself was very smelly with very sticky mud which caked our shoes. Mid afternoon, we stopped at the Namutoni camp, a wonderful old German fort now turned into accommodation and a camp site. We we stopped here for a drink and look at their water hole in the late afternoon (where there were several wildebeest drinking, along with several water birds). We also saw many Banded Mongoose around the site.

We drove out of the park (which took a little while as we had lost our receipt for the park fees) and drove to a much cheaper campsite called Sachsenheim, which caters for visitors to the park. The site was attractive and efficiently run (by Germans, of course!).

Trip Day 21 - Sachsenheim camp, Rundu

We had decided on a chilled morning so could sleep in a bit. We cleaned up camp and Fiver made us all pancakes. We left around 10:20. First stop was Tsumeb, an old mining town. We went to the well appointed local history museum which told the story of this very rich mine, along with a good anthropological collection of artifacts and photos (this was an area occupied by the San) Also stopped at local coffee shop called "Coffee Shop und Biergarten" to get some cake to eat on route. Roads here are very straight and a little boring to drive. Eating has become a good distraction.

Stopped in Grootfontein for fuel before tackling the 260km almost totally straight road to Rundu. Not far from Gootfontein we were stopped at an agricultural inspection point in the large cattle control fence that runs through Namibia. After this fence, things changed quite dramatically. Instead of the very large white owned farms with very few settlements, we entered the Africa of subsistence farming, with many small populous villages strung along the roadside. This continued all the way to Rundu where we stopped for the night. We checked into the Sarasungu River Lodge campsite. This is a lovely shady spot, full of tropical vegetation on the banks of the Kavango River. This river marks the border of Namibia and Angola and we sat and watched the sun set over Angola before having dinner.


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