The day of our long planned road trip through Namibia finally arrived. The trip would take us North from Cape Town to the border post at Vioolsdrift, through Windhoek to Tsumeb, then turning West through Etosha to Henties Bay on the coast. From Henties Bay we would turn South via Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Sossusvlei, to the remote Western side of the Fish River Canyon. Then turning East at Rosh Pinah, and following the Orange River back to the border with South Africa at Vioolsdrift and home.
It rained pretty much all the way from Cape Town to Springbok, with road reconstruction over much of the distance and lengthy delays at the many stop / go’s, it wasn’t the easiest of trips. But after Springbok the sun came out, lightening the mood and putting us in the holiday mood. First night was spent on the Namibian side of the Orange River at Amanzi River Camp. It’s a great place to break the journey with a cool pub, clean ablutions and shady camping spots.
Next morning it was an early start for the long road North to Windhoek. Distances are huge and the road arrow straight for kilometre after kilometre. Expect to travel over 200 km between some towns, but the roads are mostly pretty good, although we noticed that there has been some deterioration since our last visit.
If you have the time, an overnight stop at Lake Oanob, about 75 km South of Windhoek, almost astride the Tropic of Capricorn, is well worth the effort. In a parched land this man made lake on the Oanob River just outside the small town of Rehoboth, this lake is a real paradise. There are luxury chalets available to rent, but we opted to camp. Camp sites are all really private and have their own thatched boma, kitchen facilities, fridge, built in braai, and electricity, not your regular campsite at all, and there is a restaurant perched on the water’s edge. The lake contains largemouth bass, I caught a couple off the bank, but not very big, apparently the large ones do exist though.
From Oanob we bypassed Windhoek and headed on Northwards towards Tsumeb, making a detour at Von Bach Dam along the way, it’s a popular weekend spot for Windhoek residents and one of the more popular bass fishing spots in Namibia. Watch out for speed traps and corrupt cops on the highway bypassing Windhoek. I was travelling less than 5 km/h over the speed limit and was stopped, the police officer told me that since he didn’t want to spoil my holiday, I could make a small donation to his “cool drink” fund. I think that they maybe target South African cars, knowing full well that we don’t want the hassle of going to a police station to pay the fine.
Tsumeb is actually not a bad little town, well actually not so little, it’s got everything that you need to stock up on provisions for Etosha. It’s lush and green, at least it was when we were there, and has a huge population of mosquitoes, so I recommend taking a good supply of bug spray. We stayed in a self catering chalet at the Kupferquelle Resort, which was really good, and had dinner at the Dros Restaurant which is part of the resort. There is quite a bit to do in the town, but we were in a hurry to get to Etosha so kept that for a future visit.
I recommend a quick stop along the road between Tsumeb and Etosha at the fascinating Otjikoto Lake. The “lake” is actually a large dolomitic cave which the roof collapsed leaving a very deep, very clear lake which looks very similar to a volcanic crater lake. At least 140 metres deep (it hasn’t been accurately measured), the lake was used as a dumping spot for munitions and military supplies by German troops before they surrendered to the British at the end of world war 1.
According to legend, the German soldiers also dumped a sealed safe into the lake. The search for it and the 6 million gold marks it is said to contain has as yet not been successful. (Wikipedia)
From Tsumeb, entry to the Etosha National Park is via the Von Lindequist Gate which is a few kilometres before Namutoni Camp, where you can get refreshments and supplies if needed. The distance from Tsumeb to Namutoni is around 113 km, all of it on a good tar road, from here though it’s all gravel. Namutoni is actually an old German fort and is a pretty unique spot with a long history. Accommodation is in chalets or camp sites, there are a couple of restaurants and curio shops, not really my style, so we just filled up with fuel and headed into the reserve to our stop for the first night at Camp Onkoshi.
The area abounds in game, on the drive to Onkoshi we saw everything from elephant (even had one charge at us), giraffe, zebra, oryx and amazing bird life.
Onkoshi is one of the newest camps in Etosha, it’s on a long peninsula jutting out into the pan, a 4×4 is required to reach it but it’s well worth the journey. Accommodation is an wooden chalets perched on stilts above the veldt, wooden walkways keep you safe from predators when walking between the bar & restaurant area and the rooms. A sparkling pool overlooks the pan, very inviting in the 36 degree daytime heat when we were there. Food was really good and the beers cold, what more is there? Well aircon would be nice, but there isn’t any, Onkoshi is well away from any power supply, the generator goes off at 10pm, when all power dies, but that’s fine, the silence is absolutely awesome.
We were very privileged to come across a pride of lions cooling off in the shade next to the “road”, less than 300 metres from the camp when we left for a game drive early the next morning. That sort of experience doesn’t have a price tag, it simply can’t be bought.
Etosha Back Roads
From Onkoshi we drove, mainly on backroads, across the reserve to Okaukuejo Camp, which is the Western entrance to the reserve. It’s about 130 km, all on gravel, some roads good, some not so good, but with stops along the way for photography and to enjoy the game and scenery it’s a day’s trip. What an awesome place, game is plentiful, from small game like jackals and springbok, to rhino, giraffe, hyena, zebra and more lions, they are all there.
Roughly at the halfway point between East and West camps is Halali, which in an otherwise flat reserve is surrounded by hills and koppies. As with the other 2 camps there is a shop, camp sites, restaurants etc, but we were keen to get passed the hustle and bustle and back into the wilderness.
Camp Okaukuejo is at the Western entrance to the reserve and was to be our last night in Etosha. Apart from the awesome waterhole I didn’t much like it, nothing wrong with the place or facilities, but it’s incredibly busy with busloads of tourists, pushing and shoving, if not for the dry surroundings it could be any large resort in Europe or the USA. We stayed in a chalet and ate at the restaurant, accommodation was OK and the food tolerable, but nothing outstanding. Highlight of the evening was watching an elephant come down to the waterhole to drink and chasing away a pride of 5 or so lions who slinked off to sulk under a nearby tree until the ellie and drank his full. Makes you wonder who is the real king of the jungle?
Brandberg White Lady Lodge
From Etosha we took the road Southwest via Outjo and Khorixas to spend a night at the White Lady Lodge in the shadow of the Brandberg Mountain. The road is tarred until Khorixas, from there it’s gravel pretty much back to the border with South Africa. Temperature was really really hot, so we settled into the pub at the White Lady Lodge to wait until sundown, it’s a very cool spot (literally and figuratively), a dip in the awesomely inviting pool was very much in order. Our accommodation for the night was in a chalet, no electricity here so there is no aircon, a very hot night and mosquitos made for a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep, but an Eland steak from the lodge kitchen, cooked on the braai made it easier to bear.
Brandberg to the Coast
The heat was so intense that we decided that climbing the Brandberg to see the San art and the famous painting of the White Lady was out, so we headed onwards on the long journey to the coast at Henties Bay, that climb will have to wait for another occasion. It gets progressively drier (if that’s possible) as the gravel road heads Southwest with a steadily dropping elevation. Along the way the local Himba people sit alongside the road selling their crafts. The women of the tribe cover themselves in a red pigment to protect themselves from the sun and mosquitoes. Actually the prices are quite outrageous, I think that the folk along this road are maybe not as traditional as their kinsfolk further north, cell phones are near at hand and they have a ready market in the passing groups of mainly German tourists. But it’s still a privilege to experience.
As the elevation drops, the road traverses some of the most inhospitable desert in the country (maybe even the world), with kilometre after kilometre of dead straight road with little to differentiate between desert and road. It’s an awesome place, we stopped the car and just sat and listened for a while to the absolute silence, not a living thing around to break it, an absolutely amazing place to be. There isn’t a lot of traffic but the odd vehicle does break the monotony.
Eventually the outside temperature cools down and a distant mist on the horizon is evidence that the coast is near. The C34 main road appears out of the mist with Torra Bay to the right (North) and Henties Bay to the South and beyond that our next destination, Swakopmund. The road looks like asphalt but in fact it’s just really tightly packed gravel, with the characteristics and pitfalls of a gravel road so I advise caution when driving along it.
Next: Swakopmund, Solitaire, Sossusvlei and the Fish River Canyon.