2019 South Africa and Namibia Expedition
Sunday, September 8, 2019
PROVISIONAL COST £5760, €6790, USD $7540 Windhoek/Windhoek. Single Occupancy £210, €248, USD $275 . Deposit required at time of booking £600, €800, USD $950
SOUTH AFRICA (THE KALAHARI) AND NAMIBIA
“Here was a place where creatures did not know of man’s crimes against nature. Perhaps, if we were sensitive enough to the freedoms of these animals we could slip unnoticed into this ancient river valley and carefully study its treasures without damaging it. We were determined to protect one of the last untouched corners of Africa…..” Mark James Owens – The Cry of the Kalahari.
Spanning a vast corner of south eastern Namibia, north western South Africa and Botswana, the Kalahari is not a true desert as it receives too much rain. It is actually a fossil desert. Rather than the stunning red dune landscapes of the Namib, the Namibian and South African areas of the Kalahari Desert is covered with trees, ephemeral rivers and fossil watercourses. The reasonably regular rainfall patterns that occur every year do allow for huge numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, plant life and insects to thrive.
Where the red dunes and scrub fade into infinity and herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest follow the seasons, where imposing camel thorn trees provide shade for huge black-mane lions and vantage points for leopard and many raptors… this is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. An amalgamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa (proclaimed in 1931) and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park comprises an area of over 3,6 million hectares – one of very few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world.
Red sand dunes, sparse vegetation and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob show antelope and predator species off to spectacular advantage and provide excellent photographic opportunities. Kgalagadi is also a haven for birders, especially those interested in birds of prey.
“You can always leave Namibia, but it will never leave you”
Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country on earth after Mongolia. It is also home to some of Africa’s most visually spectacular landscapes. Comprising mostly of desert, the vast dune systems of the Namib Naukluft National Park sweep their way into the shifting sands of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, a stretch of coastline that is cooled by the Benguela current which, when it clashes with the desert heat, creates coastal fog that supports entire ecosystems of its own.
Our journey through Namibia will commence when we cross the frontier from South Africa into Namibia after visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The tour begins around midday at Windhoek, where we will stay overnight. Home to a population of around 300,000 people, Windhoek feels more like a large town than a capital city. It is a modern city whose architecture is sprinkled with colonial buildings that hark back to the time when Namibia was a German colony.
On the first night of our expedition we will enjoy a welcome dinner at the iconic restaurant “Joe’s”, the traditional start and end point for many memorable expeditions in the Kalahari and Namib.
OVERNIGHT – Villa Violet
Today we will drive south east from Windhoek along bitumen roads to the tiny town of Stampriet where we will refuel our vehicles before we drive to the frontier between Namibia and South Africa. From Stampriet the change in landscape as we drive towards the Kalahari is immediate. We will drive along unsealed roads that follow the paths of ancient river beds, past many outpost cattle stations and properties towards the border of South Africa at Mata Mata, our first camp in the spectacular Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park., where we will overnight.
That afternoon we will make the first of our drives in Kgalagadi to search for the park’s lions, African wild cats and other predators like hyena. Although wildlife sightings can never be guaranteed Mata Mata is generally considered a good place to see Giraffe, Oryx, Springbok and a variety of birds of prey including Pale Chanting Goshawk, Pygmy Falcons and Tawny Eagles.
OVERNIGHT at our camp in Mata Mata
We will start a slow drive this morning to spend a full day on safari as we traverse the park from Mata Mata to Nossob, where we spend two nights camping. En route we will be searching for many of the Kgalagadi’s ungulate species, predators, birds and also the Park’s famous Ground Squirrels and Meerkats.
OVERNIGHT – our camp at Nossob.
Today we will drive both a morning and afternoon safari in the area around the Nossob ephemeral river beds searching for Meerkats and other wildlife. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier is home to some spectacular nesting structures for Sociable Weavers so if safety permits we will stop to look at one of these avian mega structures for photographs.
The region of Nossob is home to the famous black-maned Lions of the Kalahari, which are reputed to be some of the largest lions in the world. Although they are the same species as other African lions, the male black-maned lions of the Kalahari can weigh up to 190kg as opposed to lions elsewhere in Africa whose males have an average weight of around 130kg. Nossob is where we will base our search for prides of these spectacular lions but we are likely to encounter many other animals on the way.
Nossob is also famous for being a great place to find Suricates or Meerkats.
OVERNIGHT – our camp at Nossob.
Today we will have another full day on safari as we head south from Nossob towards our camp at Twee Rivieren where we overnight. Here we will also be searching for predator species such as lions, Cheetah, African Wild Cats, Spotted Hyena, Brown Hyena and Black-backed Jackals. We will also encounter many prey species including Blue Wildebeest, Springbok and oryx. The Kalahari is a fantastic place to see wandering wild ostriches and giraffes.
OVERNIGHT – our camp at Twee Rivieren
After a final safari in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we will clear customs in South Africa and drive north west towards the border of Namibia. Crossing the frontier we will drive to the town of Keetmanshoop for an overnight camping. The Keetmanshoop area is home to the otherworldly Quiver Tree Forest, a stand of Aloe dichotoma trees that are scattered amongst dolerite rocks.
The quiver tree gets its name from the habit of the indigenous San Bushmen who made quivers from the branches of the plant as containers for their (poisonous) arrows.
Botanists have been unable to determine the age of the trees in this forest, and carbon dating in South Africa shows that the quiver tree does not live exceptionally long. Claims that they can attain an age of thousands of years are pure speculation and unfounded, but it is believed that large trees up to 5m in height could be some 200 years old.
We will spend the sunset wandering through this forest doing photography of both the Quiver Trees and the native African Rock Hyraxes or “Dassies” that call the forest home.
The Quiver Trees of Keetmanshoop are also an ideal subject for night time photography as they rarely shiver, even in a stronger breeze, making them ideal subjects for long exposure photographs. It is also blessed with low levels of light pollution and is an incredible place to watch the Namibian night sky. If the weather and time permits we will return to the forest after dinner to enjoy a night time photography session where our targets will be the Milky Way and doing star trail photographs.
OVERNIGHT – our camp at the Quiver Tree Forest
This morning we will get up early to photograph another stunning location near Keetmanshoop, the odd dolerite rock park of the Giant’s Playground. At a first glance the Giant’s Playground doesn’t look like much more than a pile of ancient rocks but as we will navigate our way through a labyrinth of paths, we will be searching for Quiver Trees, desert aloes, grasses and desert wildlife to photograph in this stunning place.
When the sun has become too high to enjoy photography we will drive from Keetmanshoop, over the incredible Namib Rand into the red dune deserts of the Namib Naukluft National Park, home to the famous Namibian monument of Dead Vlei and some of the largest sand dunes in the world, to small town of Sesriem for two nights at a comfortable safari-style tented lodge.
If time allows we will venture out into the red dunes of Sossusvlei in the late afternoon of our arrival to search for oryx and other wildlife to photograph in the dunes.
The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade.
We will also see our first of the unexplained “Fairy Circles” in Namibia at Sossusvlei.
OVERNIGHT – Sossus Dune Lodge
Starting before the sun has risen we will enter the Sossusvlei park as soon as the gates open and we will drive out to Dead Vlei, possibly the most beautiful geographical features in all of Namibia. We will make the short walk from our vehicles into Dead Vlei at sunrise.
The most famous feature of the Sossusvlei area is the stunning clay pan of Dead Vlei, a white flat pan that features cracks and fissures from erosion and a group of dead camel thorn trees, some over 800 years old, that stand helplessly as photographers from all over the world, including our group, attempt to capture that unique, ageless desert shot.
After a break in the middle of the day we will venture out into Sossusvlei in the afternoon for another landscape photography workshop in the red dunes.
OVERNIGHT – Sossus Dune Lodge
We will enjoy a final sunrise landscape photography shoot in Sossusvlei before departing for the spectacular drive out of the Namib Naukluft to Swakopmund for an overnight stay at a comfortable hotel. During this drive the landscapes of Namibia change dramatically almost at every turn as we will descend into rocky canyons before climbing out to rocky promontories to take in the view. We will make many stops on this trip to ponder the landscape but the highlight will come as we make a detour to see some of the oldest plants in the world, the Welwitschia mirabilis.
Although they look like a cactus or succulent, Welwitschia are actually a conifer, with distinct differences between male and female plants. Although many of the plants we will see on the Welwitschia plain are between 500 and 600 years old, Welwitschia can live up to 2000 years!
Large Welwitschia create their own micro-habitat, harbouring many occupants in the shade beneath their leaves, including a variety of bugs and bees. The leaves themselves are eaten by rhino, zebra and even horses if they cannot find an alternative fodder. The Welwitschia is endemic to Namibia and is one of the rarest plants in the world.
OVERNIGHT – Delight Hotel in Swakopmund
After breakfast, we will embark on a brilliant journey through the coastal dune systems of the Dorob National Park just south of Swakopmund. Namibia is one of two places in the world where the cold waters of the Benguela current running along the coast cool down the heat of the desert to create a coastal fog that supports an entire ecosystem of its own. The other place this occurs is the Atacama Desert of northern Chile in South America.
The coastal fogs of the Skeleton Coast support such a tremendous amount of life that Namibia’s dune systems are, quite literally, some of the most alive deserts on earth. We will be searching for incredible reptiles during this excursion like Shovel-nosed Lizards, Namibian Web-footed Gecko, Namaqua Chameleons, legless lizards, and Horned Vipers. To Dorob is also a fantastic place to explore the dunes for uniquely desert adapted plants like Dollarbush and birds such as the Tractrac Chat.
We will also learn more about the origin of Namibia’s shifting sands in the reserve and the mineral make up of the different coloured sands of the dunes.
Stopping in Swakopmund for lunch, we will then drive north via a coastal marshland to view Greater Flamingoes, towards the largest colony of Cape Fur Seals in the world at Cape Cross.
Nearly a quarter of a million Cape Fur Seals call Cape Cross home during their peak breeding months of October and November. In the lead up to the season, well over 100,000 are present in this gargantuan coastal colony. To see Cape Cross is a visual spectacular of seals, seabirds and if we are lucky, predatory animals like Hyena who take advantage of young, elderly or unwell seals as prey. It is a seething mass of wildlife that is unrivalled anywhere in southern Africa. We will visit the colony late in the afternoon for a photo shoot before dark.
OVERNIGHT – Cape Cross Lodge
Leaving Cape Cross, we will drive north to Torra before we travel inland to escape the fog of the Skeleton Coast. When the dunes subside, they give way to the incredible red granite landscapes of Damaraland, one of Namibia’s most untouched and spectacular wilderness areas. Our adventure inland begins here as we traverse a rugged 4WD, unmarked trail to reach our destination of the Palmwag Concession, where we overnight at a comfortable lodge. On our drive we will see massive outcrops of Euphorbia Damarana and red mesa type mountains as we search for this region’s uniquely adapted desert wildlife that includes Black Rhinos, Elephants, zebra, giraffe, Klippspringe, Steinbok and a myriad of birds. If we are lucky we may encounter a leopard in this red granite country, surely one of the most incredible animals to see in this stunning backdrop.
Damaraland is when we get our first taste of the real Africa. It is home to two wonderful tribes of people that are distantly related – the Herero and the Ovahimba and on our journey into Damaraland we will begin to see the beautiful Herero women in their Victorian dresses and unique cow-horn shaped head dress. We will also begin to see the red-ochre coloured women of the Himba.
This northern region is also where we will see the first large stands of beautiful Makalani Palms and we will be seeking these out for sunset photography during our trip.
Palmwag Concession’s predator population is the largest outside of the Etosha National Park, with over 100 lions, cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena. Bird life is prolific and diverse with most of Namibia’s endemics present. This concession supports a healthy population of desert adapted black rhino and elephants, under the management of the Save the Rhino Trust.
OVERNIGHT – Palmwag Lodge
This morning we will take a slow safari style drive from Palmwag to Khowarib, where we will stay for two nights at a comfortable lodge. En route we will be searching for desert wildlife including Kudu, zebra and giraffe.
OVERNIGHT – Khowarib Lodge
Today we will spend a full day searching for the extremely rare and wild desert Lions of Namibia. Under the advice of local guides we will spend a full day attempting to find prides of desert lions around the Hoanib. While lions roam all of Africa, Namibia’s desert adapted lions are unique in that they have learned to survive in one of the harshest landscapes on earth. There are several prides known to researchers working in this region and we will be attempting to locate one or more in their spectacular desert terrain to photograph them.
It is important to remember that the desert lions of Namibia are completely wild and not living within reserves as the lions we will see elsewhere on our trip will be. If we find a pride, to see them in this landscape will be one of the highlights of our expedition in Namibia.
OVERNIGHT – Khowarib Lodge
Driving north from the concession at Palmwag, we will journey into the ancestral heartlands of the Ovahimba in north western Namibia at Etaambura, where we will stay for two nights.
Located within its own concession, beautifully-located Etaambura is the first lodge in Namibia that is co-run by the local Himba People. High on a hill within the Orupembe Conservancy, Etambura looks out over the holy plains of Onjuva where livestock and springbok peacefully graze together.
The holy plains are steeped in mystery, with several different stories of why the area was consecrated by the semi-nomadic Himba herders who live here. But one thing is sure, hunting is strictly forbidden. Tradition has it that animals on the plains are protected by the ancestral spirits.
Etaambura is the ideal place to relax. You might see a Klippspringe or at dusk, a Jameson’s Rock Rabbit. Tiny footprints are evidence of genets and African Wild Cats. The calls of a diversity of birds, the whispery rustle of paper-bark and other commiphora trees, bottle trees in bloom, the rich hues of purple-pod terminalia with unimpeded 360 degree views make this unique spot unforgettable. After a game drive where you might be fortunate enough to see Black Rhino, enjoy a stroll and explore the hill, a botanical treasure trove with its many endemic species of plants and shrubs.
I chose Etambura to base our experience with the Ovahimba because all of the profits made by the lodge are directed back to the communities it supports.
OVERNIGHT – Etaambura Lodge
Through a trained and experienced translator we will be spending a day visiting the incredible Ovahimba tribespeople of northern Namibia. In two visits during the morning and afternoon we will visit communities of Ovahimba to meet these wonderful people and learn more about their customs of colouring their skin with ochre, the scenting by Otjize and their traditions around herding cattle.
It is an ideal way to meet the Ovahimba who are not only a visually spectacular tribe of people, they are friendly and generous of their culture too. Organised by the owners of Etaambura, our visits will support the Ovahimba within five regional concessions including Puros, Orupembe, Sanitatas, Okonjombo and Marienfluss, covering more than 13,500 square kilometres in this vast, remote area of north western Namibia.
OVERNIGHT – Etaambura Lodge
We will farewell our Ovahimba hosts at Etaambura today before we head south to Purros where we will overnight at a simple lodge.
OVERNIGHT – Purros Bush Lodge
We continue our journey to the magnificent game reserve of Etosha National Park, one of the finest sanctuaries in the world, for a four nights stay.
Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.
A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.
The game viewing in Etosha National Park is excellent, the best time being from May to September – the cooler months in Namibia. Visitors to Etosha Game Reserve can expect to see many buck species, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions. More fortunate visitors will see leopard and cheetah. There is a network of roads linking the five camps and subsidiary roads lead to various waterholes.
OVERNIGHT – Our camp at Olifantsrus in western Etosha
DAYS 18 to 20
Will be spent on safari in Etosha where we will search for the largest elephants in Africa and a myriad of mammal and bird species. Stopping briefly to hop out of to the Etosha Pan for photographs, our vehicle based exploration of Etosha will traverse many of the park’s side tracks and visit many water holes, the epicentres of Etosha’s wildlife activity.
OVERNIGHTS – Our camps – 1st Night Okaukuejo, 2nd Night Halali, 3rd Night Namutoni
Leaving Etosha we will drive back to Windhoek for our farewell dinner at the stunning River Crossing Lodge, located within its own wildlife reserve.
OVERNIGHT – Villa Violet
Accommodation will be mid-range standard lodges and supported camping. Transport will be undertaken by two custom built Landrovers with pop-top roofs that can be opened for peak safari viewing.
There is very little walking on this tour as most of it is conducted by driving. A short walk over undulating dunes is required to reach Dead Vlei. A board walk is available to view the seals at Cape Cross and the visits to the Ovahimba communities will also involve short walks across sand.
Namibia and South Africa are both extremely dry, arid landscapes with very few mosquitoes. During the day we suggest you wear neutral coloured clothing on safari, a broad brimmed hat and light, long sleeved clothes to protect you from the sun. At night time a warm fleece is recommended as the night time desert temperatures can drop to below ten degrees celsius.
For the larger mammals and the crocodiles a 200mm or 300mm will often be the most useful lens, but we also recommend a 400, 500mm or 600mm lens for many bird shots, mammal close-ups etc. (If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher optical zoom.
For landscape and night photography we suggest you bring a wide angle lens from 10mm wide.
For the Himba you may wish to have either a wide angle lens, point and shoot camera, a standard zoom i.e. 24-105mm or even iphones and ipads.
If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact me.
- All meals from Dinner on the day of arrival to breakfast on the day of departure
- 21 nights accommodation in hotels, lodges and supported camps
- Services of Inger Vandyke and Sean Braine as leaders/drivers
- Services of our Camp Support guys Rodney and Dion who will drive ahead of us each day to set up camp (on camping nights)
- All entrance fees
- Fuel for vehicles
- Transport to and from Windhoek Airport
- Living Desert Tour in Swakopmund
- Trained Himba translator/guides
- All gratuities
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
- International flights
- Travel insurance
- Laundry, telephone calls, wifi and other items of a personal nature
- Pre and post safari accommodation should you wish to extend your trip to Africa in Windhoek or elsewhere.