Hi again to those in the ether…….
This trip from way back in 2003 was awesome…….
Just wait until I post the pictures………………
Botswana and Namibia
The first tentative enquiries for making this trip were made as far back as July 2002 and actual planning started in early October of that year. The overall concept was for Tony, Jan (TW & JB) and their friend Andrew Scothern (AJS) from the UK to tour through the Kalahari to Etosha and then on to a delightful riverside campsite on the Okavango River. As will transpire this plan was bent and massaged significantly en route. The objective ? To show AJS a bunch of Africa he had not previously seen on prior visits; to have a damn good holiday and for TW to squeeze in as much serious birding as possible without boring the others too much.
AJS arrived from Heathrow on time at 06h45 on Friday 11th April and was promptly transferred to our house to unpack very gratefully received goodies and to generally recover from what has never been a particularly easy flight. TW went off to work which actually involved little more than traipsing around the office saying farewell to colleagues and filing a last monthly and weekly report. At about 12h30 TW fetched AJS for a well earned lunch at the Harare Club from which we rolled home in rather poor but high spirited condition. At lunch AJS met a few old business acquaintances and caught up on the news in the city.
D-day – We are off……………….
Saturday saw us up fairly bright and early to commence the task of packing the vehicle, a Mazda B2500D 4×4 Twin Cab. This started with the fitting of a new roof rack which incorporates a 60 litre fuel tank and also carried chairs, tables gas bottles and a few other fillers like a case of wine for JB. We finally concocted a suitable and acceptable configuration within the back of the pick up when Daryll arrived with more kit for us to haul across Africa for two weeks before meeting up with him in the Okavango region. A quick reorganisation got this packed and we were ready to roll by 10h30 and we ‘hit the road’.
Our intended destination was Bulawayo which was accomplished uneventfully by late afternoon. As Zimbabwe seems eternally to be in the midst of a fuel crisis the roof top tank was christened and the truck once again fully fuelled in a matter of minutes. We were staying at a friends house and his daughter Emma had prepared a great dinner for us and to cap it all had invited over a whole bunch of our Bulawayo friends and a merry time was had by all. Thanks Emma !! Dunx also very kindly and bravely lent JB a digital camera for the trip. Thanks Dunx !!
Into Botswana ……..
Sunday morning very early we were up and on our way to Plumtree because the Ramokwebane border post into Botswana becomes very unpleasant after 07h00 with the simultaneous arrival from Bulawayo and Francistown of bus loads of indigenous informal cross border traders. We were early enough for all formalities on both sides to be over within about half an hour and we proceeded to Francistown where we refuelled both tanks and then had a leisurely breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Wimpy establishments. After brekkies we started on the long haul to Gaborone, arriving at the delightful home of Peter and Helen (HellsBells) Bell. Wonderful hospitality ensued and after breakfast the next morning we commenced another long haul north eastwards to rather quickly pick up our first speeding fine ! (87 in an 80 limit)
This Monday leg was 690Km to the metropolis of Ghanzi in the Central Kalahari Desert. About a third of the way there near the ‘town’ of Kang we picked up our second fine (77 in a 60 limit) and it started to rain and drizzle for the rest of the drive. Arriving in Ghanzi at last light we checked into the Kalahari Arms Hotel. (Great camping trip this !) Dinner was excellent, the beer cold and the red wine warm so we were doing swimmingly thus far.
Tuesday we were off at dawn with a magnificent sunrise heading directly west to the Namibian border at Buitepos. It was still drizzling and continued to do so all of the 520Km to Windhoek !
About mid morning we stopped in a lay-bye and quickly heated up great leftovers kindly given to us by HellsBells. It was brilliant and we received very strange looks from passing vehicles as we stood under a tree in the rain with the Skottle going, each with a fork in one hand, beer in the other, tucking into ham and six veg. We arrived in Windhoek at lunch time and as it was still drizzling booked into a great little truck park where the self catering chalets are all one needs. We still ate in the restaurant and AJS tucked into a huge portion of medallions of Springbok and Gemsbok. These camping holidays are really tiresome.
During the afternoon we had parked ourselves in the centre of the city and embarked on some serious retail therapy. TW had prearranged the purchase of a 40 litre “Engel” camping freezer from a company called Cymot Greensport and apart from a few irritations with various combinations of credit cards this was successfully accomplished but only after we had worked out why Windhoek shops close from 14h00 to 15h00 ! Being so far west he Namibians have ‘winter daylight saving’ and we had gained an hour at Buitepos. Other retail stuff involved some serious grocery shopping because we were on a camping trip – right ? Also some compulsory stuff like new bird books, booze, reading specs for specs lost in Harare by AJS (more on this later).
Into the fray……………..
The next morning TW found a Grey-backed Cisticola (in the rain) and we discovered that the new Engel freezes absolutely brilliantly but would not work in the previously installed car socket !! Back to Cymot and extremely good service involving the big boss taking us to their fitment centre and after simply fixing a faulty fuse we were on our way north with the freezer running, to Okahandja, Karibib and Omaruru. It was still raining and irritation is starting to set in – especially with AJS who had travelled half way around the world to ‘sunshine in the desert’. Around mid morning TW sees his first ‘lifer’ – a White-tailed Shrike – and it is time to stop for a beer ! Whilst this small interlude, just before Karibib, is in progress some discussions were held over which route to take to Omaruru when JB notices it is a mere 200Km detour to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast !! TW ‘cracks’ another tinnie and says “OK – lets go – AJS – you drive !”
This is the first time AJS has driven the truck and as we start getting into serious Namib type desert he is having a bit of difficulty with holding a straight line. We stop for JB to study some cactii and AJS to take videos and are nearly blown over by a quite awesome desert wind. Steering problem resolved or at least understood !
We get into Swakopmund (the mouth of the Swakop River) and drive directly to the beach for JB to dip her tootsies in a very chilly Benguela current in the Atlantic. With the assistance of a very helpful shop keeper we find an excellent Pension to stay in. Yes it may have stopped raining but remember the wind ! She also has identified a cool restaurant made from a tug hauled up onto the beach and she ‘phones and makes a table booking for us. So after showers and a change of clothes we ensconce ourselves in the “Tug Pub” with litre glasses of German draught beer and a Campari and fresh orange for JB. The wind blows up a real storm during an excellent dinner with great Delheim red wine. The Pension provides us with an excellent breakfast which we eat with gusto after a dawn stroll down the beach. After purchasing some more film for AJS and sunglasses for JB we fill up with fuel and drive out of town.
Back to Karibib ? No chance – directly North up the Skeleton Coast !
This is all a well surfaced “salt” road. I will not even attempt to describe the next 250 odd Km. The words awesome, amazing, mind-blowing and life-changing will about suffice. More simply put – if you get the chance – do it ! If you don’t get the chance – engineer the chance !
At Torra Bay we turned right on the road to Khorixas and after a short while started having a few problems with sand so 4×4 hubs were engaged in case of urgent need and we proceed after having a good look at the Welwitchia plants. We passed Namibia’s Great Table Mountain, cracked four more lifers (Burchells Courser, Mountain Wheatear, Ruppels Korhaan and Herero Chat) and promptly drove back into RAIN. After about 100Km we turned left to Palmwag where we refuelled and then proceeded north in ever increasing darkness arriving in Sesfontein at about 19h30.
Its dark, its raining, I’m knackered ! Put up tents ? No chance ! With some difficulty we arouse the staff of the Sesfontein Fort which charges us an exorbitant tariff for quite a nice suite of rooms. Too late for dinner but we have cheese biscuits, tins of tuna and mussels, bread for AJS’s sarmie, red wine and a bunch of cold beer and a table to sit around so we eat, drink and retire.
The ‘hotel’ provides an excellent breakfast and with AJS behind the wheel we point, still north, to Opuwo, on quite a good dirt road and it has stopped raining. Half way there we stop for AJS to see a Crimson-breasted Shrike and I crack Monteiro’s Hornbill. We come around a corner to the most amazing sight – the road is tarred ! And if that’s not enough – it points upwards ! At a 1:2 ratio ! We engage the low range gear box and simple bumble up to the top (only about 800 meters) to discover a vista of green wooded rocky hills and streams. We have this amazing scenery (and a brilliant lifer in Violet Woodhoopoe) all the way into Opuwo which I must say is a bit of a dump. We refuel and head north west on the D3700 (this is only remembered because there was no other signage).
Before Opuwo we had already started to encounter the Himba peoples who are indeed strange in their Iron Age clothing or rather lack of clothing. They are a nomadic tribe who cover their skins in ochre and spread butter fat everywhere including their hair and wear little else than tiny leather aprons and amazing iron and bead ornaments. No time here for more of that – look them up at the library. Just before the town of Okongwati we turn right and drive, in four wheel drive, the last 56Km to the Angolan border and the world renowned Epupa Falls !
Don’t say I didn’t warn you that we were going to bend and batter the original plans. We quickly, and surprisingly efficiently, set up our first camp of the trip !! It is Good Friday and the camp site is very full but very pleasant with flushing toilets and hot and cold showers. I suppose that generally it is only those of a kindred spirit who venture into such remote places which makes for politeness, understanding and willing hands from all around you.
The car doors were barely open when JB says “Look up there !” TW does and there is a Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush !!! This is the only place in southern Africa where this species occurs and was my secret reason for wanting to show AJS the falls !!
The Epupa Falls ? I guess at times of low water they would be quite pretty and pleasant to explore. At times of high water – which is coincidentally April – UNBELIEVABLE !!! In terms of noise and spray it is synonymous with the Victoria Falls. AJS and TW said this to each other almost simultaneously ! The three of us were awe struck !
The huge Kunene River (which demarcates the Namibian & Angolan border) spreads out over what looked like more than a kilometre to split up and plunge through countless little ravines and crevasses. Water flowing and tumbling around rocks, Baobab trees, palms and fever trees growing all over the place and the constant calling of mourning doves and peach-faced lovebirds adding to the spectacle. The total drop over a couple of kilometres is probably not more than 60 or 70 metres but the scale and tropical feeling make it worth every minute of the effort to get there. Let alone the Palm Thrush !
So, after a week on the road we have finally camped and “roughed it” ? Hardly ! We all had mattresses (no sleeping bags mind you – sheets and light duvet’s), two more than adequate tents, a functioning freezer, plenty of firewood, 12v fluorescent lighting in tents and around camp. Kitchen table and cooking area. A table, with chairs, to lay for dinner. Table cloth, cutlery, condiments, silver wine goblets and a beer bottle for a candle stick. I can’t for the life of me recall what we had for our candle lit dinner (wine was in there somewhere) but it was excellent and with the warm and dry weather who could ask for more ?
After taking a bunch of video at sunset the day before AJS sensibly went off to get some more footage of sunrise over the Falls and as there is no reason to hang around just because the camp is comfortable – there are things to do and birds to find – we pack and leave after wandering around camp to gather local knowledge about how to get upstream (going east for the first time) to Ruacana Falls.
Following our route in we return to the Okongwati turn off and retrace for a while to the turning to the Kunene River Lodge. En route TW adds the Madagascar species of Olive bee-eater, White-throated Canary, Carp’s Tit, Chestnut Weaver and Ruppels Parrot to the list. All lifers – Wow !! We had some seriously impressive river crossings on this leg but we arrived at the lodge unscathed to discover a first world pub where it was deemed necessary to pause for a while so more local knowledge could be acquired. This took several hours and turned out to be necessary as our original destination was deemed unsuitable and we should stay at a better camp site than the one we had earmarked.
This was accomplished, via an awesome river crossing, and we arrived at the Cunene-Omunjandi Rest Camp, and after another successful camp site being set up we once again retired after a candle lit dinner. Early morning TW found the Kunensis sub-species of the Red-necked Francolin and we proceeded to Ruacana Falls.
These are not nearly as impressive as Epupa having been disrupted by the building of an Angolan Hydro Electric scheme but still looked good from a distance due to the high water levels. We spent some time wandering around this area looking for the remaining two specials for the area but having failed and with long distances to cover that day we left (but I did find the newly split Damara Hornbill). All this really means is that TW will have to return at a later date to get the last two specials for his southern African list.
The 175Km from Ruacana to the Etosha turn off was interesting in that there are large expanses of marshland, an unbelievable number of shebeen type pubs (literally thousands – including one called Botol Stor), goats, cattle, locals, traffic and small town after small town meant obeying very irritating speed limits every few kilometres. We eventually entered Etosha via the famous von Lindequist Gate, by passed the first camp site and proceeded to the central Halali camp where we checked in and set up camp.
After recent rains the park was very different in comparison to our last visit. Water and puddles everywhere and it was all generally very green. After supper we spent a few fruitless hours at the flood-lit water hole and retired. The next day we spent an hour or two touring around the local drives (I picked up a Great Sparrow and Pink-billed Lark).
We returned to camp so TW and AJS could change the engine oil in the vehicle (thanks to Nam National Parks for the loan of the pit.) We also found some of the resident owls (White-faced and Scops) before breaking camp and spending the remainder of the day leisurely touring back towards the first camp, Namutoni, where we set it all up again and once again embarked on candle-lit dinners. Next day saw us traipsing around a few local drives in search of, and finding, the diminutive Damara Dik-dik and some beautiful Dusky Larks. Fuel was purchased and we headed for Tsumeb.
East then North ……………….
It is now Tuesday the 22nd of April and Tsumeb is a delightfully colonial mining town where we embarked on separate missions to get groceries, get booze, get some hardware items for running repairs, get cash and a few gifts ending up in the Etosha Cafe & Biergarten which we highly recommend for light meals and a few cold beers.
From Tsumeb we drive to the site of the Hoba Meteorite, the largest in the world, and essentially a block of about 50 tons of stainless steel – an interesting stop and not too much of a detour. Then on to Grootfontein for a few abortive retail attempts, fuel and then North east we go with the sunset to Roy’s Camp. (52Km from Grootfontein).
It’s late, we are tired, the chalets look delightful, we check in. The proprietor informs us they are full for dinner so can we cope ? Of course we can – we got beer – we got wine – we got firewood – we got pasta – we got tins of stuff – its warm and dry – no problem. The next morning a leisurely breakfast (included in the chalet price), a conversation with Mrs. Proprietor about the worries of farming in southern Africa and we are back on the road.
It is 196Km to Rundu along what must be the longest runway in the world. This dead straight road was built by the South African Defence Forces during Namibia’s “troubles” and can handle a C130 Hercules anywhere along the whole distance !!! At Rundu, a rather poxy little overcrowded town, we are, again, on the Angolan Border but this time the border demarcation is the Okavango River. Here we bought some groceries required by folk back home in Zimbabwe and of course re-fuelled both the diesel and beer stocks before turning directly eastward and following the border for another 200Km to the metropolis of Divundu where only one of the two petrol stations was operating, re-fuelled and turned directly south, still following the Okavango River, towards Botswana.
We crossed back into Botswana at Mohembo Border Post. Rather sadly this is being modernised – on previous visits this was a very quaint little hut under a tree – but progress is progress I suppose. It is only a matter of about 60Km from the border to the village of Shakawe and from there about 10Km to Drotsky’s Camp where we arrived at about 16h00 a mere 20 minutes or so after the previously mentioned Daryll and his buddy Dan White had themselves arrived. Camp was quickly laid out, erected, cooking area, lighting, parking, firewood and dining area organised. A veritable little nylon city in about 25 minutes ! Over dinner that night we resolve to spend the next day at Tsodilo Hills.
The Tsodilo Hills lie about 40Km off the main road and I am happy to report that this journey which last year took us four hours each way was now accomplished in 40 minutes. Amazing what you can do with a bulldozer, some substrate and the will. Well done Botswana ! The hills themselves are reputed by the Bushmen (San) folk to be the birthplace of mankind and we had one major objective which was to find the stone-age paintings of whales and a Penguin !! Remember we are in the middle of the Kalahari desert and about 1000Km from the coast !! OK – so they are primitive line drawings and maybe they are poor representations of a courser or plover and some cat-fish from the lake that once covered the Kalahari – but JB and TW agreed that they sure looked like whales and a penguin. Cool. We explored lots, climbed a few hills, quick picnic lunch, kazillions of photo’s of the amazing colours of the lichens, shadows and sunlit bits. A truly amazing place.
Over another candle-lit dinner we decide to squeeze two ventures into the following day and as we anticipate this will be a very long day we organise to have dinner prepared for us in the adjacent restaurant, and retire for an early start.
On Friday we rose early and headed north, back into Namibia (I know, I know – we did a LOT of border crossing) to visit the delightful Mahengo game park. Not too much game about but that’s luck but some beautiful spots and cool birding. I could show off Coppery-tailed Coucal and the elusive Sharp-tailed Starling and I found the white-billed sub-species of the Village Indigobird.
The Kudu were awesome but it was time to head home to Drotsky’s (back into Botswana – again) for our rendezvous with the boatman to take us fishing on the Okavango river. Enough said.
Daryll caught an imminently let-go-able Tiger fish and said boatman caught two very nice Robustus but he doesn’t count !
Sunset and compulsory sundowners were however really lovely.
A tired little quintet returned to Drotsky’s to find the pub humming and about 25 people for dinner. We made new acquaintances every few minutes and once again the kindred spirit took over and a great Boeuf Stroganoff dinner was had by all.
Just chilling ……………….
Daryll and Dan left us on Saturday morning and the three remaining adventurers wandered about 4Km downstream to another campsite with the express intention of finding JB and AJS a Pels’ Fishing Owl which was accomplished relatively easily. We returned to Drotsky’s and, to coin a phrase, “just blobbed” for the rest of the day.
Sunday saw a repeat performance with time spent alternating between occupying bar stools, eating, and a small amount of birding during which I found the Luapula Cisticola, a recent split from Black-backed Cisticola. JB also did a wonderful job of washing the car.
Birding around Drotsky’s is generally excellent with Brown-throated Weaver, Swamp Boubou, Purple-banded and Collared Sunbirds, Hartlaub’s and Arrow-marked Babblers, Coppery-tailed, Senegal and White-browed Coucals and the evenings are full of wonderfully calling Barn, Wood, Spotted-eagle, Giant-eagle and White-faced Owls.
To Vic Falls ……………….
Monday saw us packing up camp and heading for Zimbabwe.
To do this we needed to cross back into Namibia, again at Mohembo, back past Popa Falls to Divundu and crossing the Okavango over a bridge into the Caprivi Game Park and heading east about 200Km to Katima Mulilo where we re-fuelled and drove south about 80Km to Ngoma Bridge where we left Namibia and, crossing the Chobe River, went back into Botswana and eastward to Kasane. Phew !
In our efforts to re-fuel we managed to get a bit lost here but eventually succeeded and on leaving had our first glimpse of a very full Zambezi river. We crossed our last border post, Kazungula, back into Zimbabwe and drove through the Zambezi National Park (lots of Elephant) to Victoria Falls where we met up with Greg Watson. (Emma ? Remember Emma ? Greg is her father) Greg had kindly arranged for us to stay in a very nice lodge and we had a wonderful Beef Fillet for dinner along with plenty of beer as TW and Watson catch up with each others lives..
Homeward bound ……………….
On Tuesday morning we left the Falls early and drove directly to Robin’s camp in the Hwange National Park.
From here we slowly threaded our way down the 160Km to Main Camp. We saw plenty of elephant but not much else and only passed one car – a sad reflection of what is happening to our beloved Zimbabwe.
Having left Hwange we headed for Bulawayo, arriving there at sunset. We took Emma and her boyfriend out to dinner at the Brass Monkey and retired early so as to be fresh for our last drive.
Wednesday saw us back in Harare by mid-afternoon.
A “trip list” of 233 bird species included 18 “lifers” for TW and all in all a wonderful, if hectic, holiday.
The bird count actually works out at a smidgen over 32Km travelled per new species seen.
AJS’ glasses ?
Remember the glasses.
Sometime before we left Harare AJS had dropped his glasses in our drive way and on departure I simply ran over them !! All is well however, that ends well because apart from the frames being quite seriously bent, the lenses were intact.