Legend – Namibia 2011

We left JFK for Johannesburg and after a short 1 hour layover..on to Windhoek.  Security through JFK was swift and efficient. The 14 hour  flight left JFK about 20 minutes early.  Drinks, including South African wines and Amarula were served almost immediately.  Lunch was served shortly into the flight. Choices were chicken, beef or vegetarian. Lynn chose chicken. I went with the braised beef which was excellent.

At the JFK gate I spoke with another photographer, Pierre, who was on his way to South Africa and Botswana.  When I mentioned that we were going to Namibia he said that he had also photographed it and to go there with an open mind. He said that he was amazed by the vastness of the Namibia desert and that his favorite place was the Skeleton Coast. 

Our flight to Johannesburg arrived a few minutes early..  I was ready for a plane change..anything to stop the leg cramping that can result from long flights.   We had plenty of time to make our connection to Windhoek.  I think Dick must have done some smooth talking with the SAA customer service agent since she switched all four of us to 1st class.  Very  nice. 

We arrived in Windhoek to beautiful sunny weather, 74 degrees and a blue cloudless sky.  The Hosea Kutako International airport is almost 20 miles from Windhoek, Namibia's Capitol.

We picked up our car, a 2 wheel drive Nissan Extra at the budget counter .  We had to wait a few minutes for the 2nd spare tire to be delivered.

On the way to our b&b, The Elegant Guest House we got our first glimpse of the Namibia desert  terrain...and our first wildlife sighting..a large troop of very large baboons.  We thought that we would see more baboons on this drive, but it wasn't meant to be.  A missed  opportunity indeed.

We went to a couple of grocery stores to pick up some odds & ends like soda & water. We asked the host at the b & b for some restaurant suggestions which started and ended  with Joe's Beer House.  We had read about it and it also had received good reviews in Trip Advisor. This is a funky, large African restaurant that specializes in game. We had kudu, ostrich, oryx/gemsbok and some native  Namibian fish. The service was great.  The food was wonderful. We highly recommend Joe's Beer House. Total cost of the meal...just 275 Namibian$ per couple...about $35 US.   And, they took the American Express card...sweet.

Up early the next morning at 6 AM..breakfast at the b&b at 7 AM. Eggs and omelets.   By 9 AM we were in a convenient Bank of Windhoek trying to exchange US dollars.   No luck after waiting for 15 minutes for all of the local workers to deposit their tip money from the weekend. Changing money in Africa might not be a good idea on Mondays.

We went downtown to another Bank of Windhoek and we were successful. $1000 US  for each couple. Our exchanges netted approximately $7500 Namibian $. We drove through the high desert for approximately 100 miles.  We stopped at Karibib to visit a craft market. High prices, but we picked up a couple of carved Masai warriors. Also, we found a nice little place that sold biltong so we picked up a variety of three kinds..100 grams each at about 17.50 NAB $ each..garlic beef, beef, and game. Very good.

12:30 PM we stopped at a big grocery store in Karibib for lunch. This was the only dining option in the town. They had a nice lunch area where they offered sandwiches and a special of the day. We each had a half ham & cheese sandwich and a Tafel Beer. Total was 40 Namibian $ about $5.00 US.

Our lodge was the Erongo Wilderness Lodge about 24 km from Omaruru. This is in a spectacular setting..thatched roof tents surrounded by granite kopjes. After touring the lodge we were treated to tea at 4 PM. We decided to take a guided hike to the top of one of the kopjes to view sunset and enjoy sundowners. The hike was not exactly Lynn's "cup of tea", but I think that she was proud of herself after summiting the small mountain. The view across the mountains was excellent.  Upon returning to the lodge we went right to a beautiful dinner of South African wine, beef curry & chicken satay.

We decided to do a morning hike at 6AM to view the landscape. 

Tuesday Morning: Up at 5:15 AM for the morning walk with Johnnie, our guide.  We were joined by a German couple. Coffee and juice first. The staff at the Erongo Wilderness Lodge put out food for the birds. Hundreds of beautifully colored birds flew in to feed. We saw red faced parrots, sparrows, a francolin, a black faced yellow bird and more. 

Our walk lasted almost 3 hours. Lynn was a real trooper and did the hike without much assistance. We hiked over the soft granite rock kopjes. Johnnie told us about the different tree species.  We saw a couple of rock agama lizards as well as many dassies.  We returned ready for omelets, coffee and juice. Then it was time to download photos and go for a cooling dip in the pool. Later this afternoon..tea followed by a game drive and sundowners.

Our lodging at Erongo Wilderness Lodge..luxury tent with thatched roof, bath & shower.

Wednesday AM -Breakfast -out early for our long drive to Okaukuejo.  We stopped in Okahandja for a pastry at a German coffee place. We were surprised to find a full restaurant with the only black face belonging to our server!   And, a separate entry for black people. A glimpse back to the '60s including the old familiar sign, "We reserve the right to refuse service".  How strange!

Onward, another stop in Outjo for lunch..bratwurst & Saurkraut. We stopped next door to browse at an outfitter & gift store.  Interesting place.

We arrived at Okaukuejo at about 2:30 P M. We showered and headed out to watch game. We spotted hundreds of springbok, many oryx (holy cow, I knew that there were oryx here but I didn't expect anywhere this number!). We arrived at the farthest northwesterly waterhole. Once again,  a tremendous sighting.  8 adult lions and 4 cubs.  We even saw a kill. Unfortunately, the lions were too far off for good photography.  But, I still took many photos. Many ostriches here as well as black-backed jackals. Our room at Okaukuejo was small..bed with mosquito netting.  Small bathroom.  But the big win was that our room was a very short distance from a huge waterhole. Elephants, rhinos and many other animals congregate at the waterhole to drink nightly. This is quite a show, plus the waterhole is lit so that you can watch the animals come and go 24 hours a day.

Friday - I am writing this now from our tent at Mushara Bush Camp which is just outside the eastern gate of Etosha National Park.  We spent the day driving across the entire park. On the way we saw 4 elephants in great light. Later a herd of wildebeest and a large group of zebras. We made a stop for a photo at the Etosha Overlook where all that you could see for miles is sand. I couldn't even find a nice rock for the foreground so I posed the girls and our car. This is definitely a most amazing wildernesses.

Mushara Bush Camp is a luxurious place with just a small number of luxury tents which include beautiful en-suite bathrooms, plenty of electrical outlets, big beds and lots of room!

Saturday - early start again.  Did I mention that the Park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset?  That is a weakness of this park.  It would be nice to be able to enjoy sunset from one of the waterholes rather than to beat it out of the Park at 7pm.

We got many great photos of oryx, impala and giraffe going down to the waterhole. I got several good photos of eagles in a tree  Also later in the day I took pictures of flocks of birds mixing it up.

Dinner tonight was great following  sundowners and wine from South Africa. Dinner was chicken and a chocolate layer desert. 

Tomorrow, Sunday, will be our last day in Etosha. We are going to head out early, hopefully to find a leopard.

Sunday morning - 7AM - Out early. We stayed in the Bush until 5 PM today with only a lunch stop at Halili Camp, about 75 km from our lodge. Lunch was a Halili Burger for me and a double decker Vienna sausage for Lynn. We both had Tafel Beer, a popular choice in Namibia.

Today we headed straight to the waterholes. Chudob has become my favorite. There is something different to see every-time that one stops.  Giraffes, impala, springbok, wildebeest, oryx, black-backed jackal.  It seems that they all come here. It is fun and interesting to photograph the various species as they congregate here to drink.  Later we had a couple of encounters with Etosha's giant elephants. One came within 8 feet of our vehicle. On the return trip from Halili we stopped at Goas and was surprised by 3 lions lying under an acacia tree. We stayed awhile, left, then returned to still not a lot of activity from the cats. I got off one photos with the lion facing forward before moving on.

A comment about this ginormous park.  Bring the longest lens that you own or can borrow to Etosha. My 400mm lens was really not enough for some photos, particularly the lions. You cannot leave the paved and gravel roads for any reason. You cannot leave your car. Some of the animals that you will see will be distant enough that you will need binoculars just to see and identify them. The 80-400mm Nikon lens is not a fast lens. I certainly would have been better served with my 200-400mm f4.0 Nikon and a 1.4 or even a 1.7 time tele-converter. The big challenge is being able to fly with this heavy gear as carry-on luggage, particularly if you are going to be traveling to anyplace in a bush plane. On this trip we will be taking one round-trip to and from the Skeleton Coast, presumably in a 6 place Cessna 206 aircraft

Also, the few rest stops, bathrooms and picnic benches are not at all sanitary. Drop toilets and no running water. There were many wasps in both of the restrooms that we stopped at. Signage throughout Etosha is adequate. Cement markers identify how far each point of interest is in kilometers. Many of the signs are fading to the point of not being readable. A few had been knocked down making it difficult to navigate sometimes. However,  almost all of the roads snake around until you get back to the main hard packed and tar road C38. Unless you pack a lunch to eat in the car there are only 3 places to eat inside Etosha National Park, Okaukuejo, Namatoni and Halili. All have buffets for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Halili had a simple lunch menu which was sufficient.  Also, they had the fastest service in the Park.

The terrain of Etosha is desert, rocky plains, very little vegetation making game viewing quite enjoyable. We were in the Park during most of November which is Namibia's spring. Temperatures ranged from the 80s to over 100 degrees. This is dry heat. An air conditioned car is essential, but a 2 wheel drive high suv is fine. I would imagine if it rains hard that there are a few places that might be difficult if not impossible to drive due to deep muddy ruts in the road. Again, there is absolutely no off-road driving in Etosha.

Our next destination is Okonjima Main Camp south of Etosha. More later.

Breakfast at 7 AM - We left Mushara Bush Camp before 8 AM.  It was a long, approximately 200 km drive to Okonjima Main Camp. Once we were on the property we had a long 24 km drive over dirt road and through 3 game fences to our lodging. Again beautiful accommodations. A big open reception & dining area and huge individual rooms with a view out to the granite cliffs.

At Okonjima Main Camp we did morning and afternoon game drives on the huge 22,000 hectare reserve.  There are approximately 2.45 acres in a hectare.  We would spend 2 nights here.  Here, we saw all of the usual African game with an emphasis on the cats..leopard and cheetah. This is another classic African property with exceptional staff and guides.

Our Tuesday night game drive was in search of hyena, however we weren't successful so we decided to search again for a leopard. Shortly we came upon MJ, perhaps the most elusive cat in the preserve. This is a beautiful mature leopard with beautiful blue eyes. We were able to get within about 10 feet of MJ until something very frightening happened. Our 4 wheel drive Toyota game vehicle got stuck in not one, but 2 aardvark holes. Stephan, quite the safety first guide advised everyone to stay in the vehicle and do not move. An attempt to dig the front wheels out of the holes was not successful. Finally, Stephan radioed ahead for another vehicle to come and get us out of this mess.  Another guide showed up at almost sunset. He tried to push us out unsuccessfully.  He tried towing us. This worked and we were out of there and still managed to have our sundowners in an open area with oryx, zebras and giraffe surrounding us.

The following morning we did a game drive to see wild dogs, a quite endangered species. There are only 5000 of these animals in existence in the world. Early on we again ran into MJ with her 2 cubs. They were in beautiful light as they perched on an exposed dead tree branch. We found the 4 wild dogs at the very north end of this huge concession and got to spend about 10 minutes photographing them before returning to the Main Camp for a light breakfast and our plane to the Skeleton Coast Camp where we would spend three nights.

Our plane was a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B. The aircraft's capacity is 13 passengers plus the pilot. This is a beautiful aircraft.  The flight was full after picking up passengers from other camps. We made stops at Rhino Camp to pick up 2 South African ladies, Margaret and Rene and just a short hop to Palmwag where we picked up a Swiss couple. From there we did a sightseeing adventure at 1000 feet over the desert...our first glimpse of the magnificent Namib Desert.

We were greeted on the dirt runway at Skeleton Coast Camp by our native guides Gotlod and Gert.  Gert would be our personal guide for the next 2 days. Tea was commonly served at all of the camps at 3 PM. We did an orientation drive on the desert and sundowners (always gin & tonic for Lynn and me). 

Accommodations were large individual tents with lamps and hot water powered by solar. This was the only place where we had to charge our equipment in the reception tent. The generator however was always on when we needed it.

On Thursday morning, we left camp in our specially equipped Land Rover. Dick and Kathy and Lynn and I were accompanied by our new friends, Margaret and Rene.

Our day consisted of a drive across the huge desert that is the Skeleton Coast over sandy rutted trails and through dry river beds. We were in search of desert adapted elephants. We finally found what I will refer to as the "magnificent seven",  six majestic elephants and a 2 year old baby. They were so photographic as they marched in single file through the river bed, an oasis of sorts with some green vegetation appearing. Our lunch was in a clearing under a shady acacia tree.

After the elephants we continued our drive to visit a school in Puro and watched 1st and 2nd grade children in their class in a one room school. After the school visit we went to a traditional  Himba village about 5 km away in Puros. There we watched the villagers as they applied traditional ochre to their bodies. These people are so photographic. And, they were quite willing to have their pictures taken.

Friday consisted of an entire days drive on the desert and the harsh Atlantic Ocean coast. We drove over high dunes. We even got stuck on top of one of them. Gert and Gotlod had to dig us out.  We slid down the huge dunes on our butts and listed to the airplane-like sounds of the roaring dunes. During our drive along the coast we stopped to take pictures of Cape Frio, a mammoth seal colony of about 30, 000 animals. Many females had just given birth to pups. Unfortunately, there were a many dead seals along the beach..dead from starvation..some killed by jackals.

Our dinner on Friday night was a boma around an outside braii. The staff people at Skeleton Coast Camp were really great. We particularly liked Madri from Windhoek and Lisa from South Africa.

On Saturday morning we did a short walk in the dry river bed around the Skeleton Coast Camp before meeting our Wilderness Air flight to Windhoek at Noon. We spent the night in Windhoek at the Elegant Guest House before continuing our journey to Swakopmund the following morning.  Along the way we stopped for lunch in Usakos.

Sunday - Our trip to Swakopmund  was uneventful..paved road all the way.  Near Swakopmund we began driving through many huge sand dunes.   Swakopmund was much more modern than we had expected. The town's icon is the large active lighthouse and the early 1900 German buildings.  All of the old buildings had been renovated.  It is a beautiful town.

We drove to the port city of Walvis Bay which was pretty disappointing with the exception of the beautiful homes near the shore. We had hoped to see flamingos at the southwest section of the harbor, but they were nowhere to be found.

We ate at a couple of excellent restaurants in Swakopmund..Tugs on the waterfront and Erich's. I had klipfish, a local favorite. The fish was done pappilotte (in a bag, tinfoil) which was excellent. At Erich's I had a game filet, oryx. This was the best game that I had on the trip.

Tuesday - We began the very long drive to Kerala Desert Lodge.  The road was very bumpy corrugated hard packed gravel. Our only stop would be in Solitaire, a wide spot in the road that reminded us of Florida's Yeehaw Junction. Solitaire consists of a small restaurant, a bakery and a tiny general store. The motif is like the wild west with barbed wire, old rusting autos and old buildings. The baker is Moose McPherson. Moose has operated the Bakery for 20 years here. He is a roly poly man with a big beard and a round face. He was most obliging to be photographed.  I realized after seeing his name and face that I had seen an article about Moose in an Africa travel magazine. We spent 2 hours in Solitaire.  We had brats,wieners and beers in the restaurant. Then, we all had a piece of Mooses' apple crumble cake. It was delicious.

We continued along another hard packed road to our destination, Kerala Desert Lodge.  The lodge was 14 km down a private road in the concession which is solely owned by Wilderness Safaris.  After freshening up we took a game drive on the concession property with our local guide, Salomon.  We saw more springboks, ostriches and oryx in addition to the native flora (sage, camel thorn, etc.). After sundowners we returned to the lodge for dinner.

Wednesday - wakeup call at 5 AM, coffee and breakfast, then a drive to the famous red dunes in Nauklufft National Park. Incidentally, Wilderness Safaris has their own private entrance which makes it so simple to be on the property before sunrise.

I asked Salomon to stop on several occasions so that I could take photos of the contrasts of the light and shadows on the dunes.  We also stopped at Dune 7, the world's tallest dune. I noticed many people climbing one of the huge dunes. I asked our guide to stop for a photo, not realizing that we would be climbing that dune too. This is Dune 45 which is perhaps the most climbed dune in the park. I made it up about 3/4 of the way before I ran out of steam.  Of course Dick & Kathy continued to the summit.   I turned around and hiked back which was not easy since the trail was really narrow. Plus, a huge line of folks passed me on their way to the top. 

The next walk was to Deadvlei (1.1 km) This is another of one of the most photographed places in Namibia. Topographically, Deadvlei is a dry river bed with ancient dead camelthorn trees.  Some are more than 1000 years old. Its a spectacular place..not as large as I expected, but one could certainly spend an entire day taking different photos here.

From here, it was on to Soussusvlei which basically means "the end of the river". There was some water in this shallow pan. After a few photos we continued on back to the camp where we enjoyed a Hansa Beer and a ham & cheese sandwich.

Thursday morning after breakfast and checkout we began our short drive of near 100 km to Bullsport Guest Farm. We got there in no time at all.  We decided to take a drive north to Rehobeth.  Along the way we saw shepherds with their huge flocks of sheep. I don't think that I even remember flocks this large in Ireland. We also saw several donkey carts..obviously some farmers only mode of transportation. It only makes sense since the only gas station that we stopped at along the way has been out of gas for years. Inside they had very few things that you could by.  This is a country of contrasts. Outside of the rundown filling station was a woman meticulously washing the entrance floor.  Quite odd!

We reached Rehobeth. There were only 2 options for lunch..The Oasis or the Dolphin Fish & Chips. We stopped at the clean as a pin Oasis, but the cook was only serving goulash & noodles that day. We opted for the Dolphin Fish & Chips which was really a small general store with a few tables for dining. We really weren't sure how to get our food until a friendly black lady told us..."tell me what you want and I will make it for you.".    We all ordered fish and chips. She made the lunch for us and we enjoyed it.

We returned to Bullsport Farm where Johanna Sauber gave us a tour of the place. It didn't look like much from the highway, but boy was this place a nice surprise. The only activity offered here was hiking. I decided to take the 3 hour hike with Kathy & Dick through the Quiver Tree Gorge. It was a great trip. Lynn decided to stay behind and read a book.  We saw some wildlife..kudus, zebra, klipspringer and a chacma baboon. This was a wonderful opportunity to photograph the exquisite quiver trees.

Our journey was at an end with only the long flight home to look forward to.  I have spent many hours reliving this incredible trip through my photographs and our memories.  I hope that you enjoy the photos and comments on my site as much as I like showing you our travels.

-Dave Hutchinson-

Acknowledgements - Maruska Adye of Expert Africa located in the UK and New Zealand.  Maruska planned our flawless safari from start to finish.  Chris McIntyre - Author of "Namibia"  a Bradt guide.  This incredible guide and the Namibia Map 2008/09 from the Tourist & Safari Association of Namibia  were our sole references. Dick Browers - I offered to drive on the left in Namibia, but Dick wouldn't hear of it insisting that he do the driving...all 2,000 + kilometers of it!  Finally, a fellow named Paul that Lynn and I met at Bill Jackson's outdoor store in St. Petersburg.  Paul had been to Namibia a number of times and provided some excellent advice while we were shopping for quick dry underwear!

Photo equipment used on this trip: Nikon D200 & D300 bodies, Nikon 18-200mm lens, Nikon 80-400mm lens,4 Sandisk 16 gb cards,  Singh Ray ND filter and Warming polarizer and Kinesis bean bag, Sanho Hyperdrive and Flashtrax hard drives.  This "Legend" was produced on my IPad2 while en-route.

Guide - Gert - Skeleton Coast Camp
Guide - Stephan - Okonjima Main Camp/Africat
Guide - Solomon - Kulala Desert Lodge