Our Namibian Trip

 
 

Peter and Doreen Thomas

 
 

Day by Day

 
     
     
 

Background 

We had been thinking about visiting Namibia for years and eventually late in 2005 we booked on a bus tour of the country in May 2006. In January we were advised that the tour had been cancelled so we decided to do the same itinerary as the bus tour but go by car instead. 

We contacted a Travel Agency in Windhoek, Namibia,  (Sandscapes Travel Services) gave them our itinerary and asked them to do the reservations for us. This they did and all we had to do was to pay them one amount. As we were making reservations from outside Namibia this was the easiest option for us, saving us many international phone calls.

We decided to go the self catering route, mainly because catered accommodation is much more expensive. We also prefer to prepare our own food and to eat where and when we want to. The trip could be done much cheaper if you go camping as camping rates are much cheaper and most places have campsites.

Day 1 – 7 May 2006 - Johannesburg to Upington,
Distance travelled - 807 km 

We left at 05:30 am and took the route via Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Ottosdal, Delareyville, Vryburg. Kuruman, Upington. The reason for this route was to mininise the occurrence of potholes. It seemed to work as very few potholes were  encountered and we had an uneventful journey. Nine hours after our departure we arrived at the Eiland resort in Upington where we were to overnight. Much to our amusement we realized that our booking was for the following night and that we had departed on our vacation a day  early!!

This now resulted in us having an extra day in Upington and we decided that we would use the bonus day to travel to the Augrabies Park and view the Augrabies waterfall which was in full flow after recent rains in the area.

We still had the problem of accommodation and managed to find a B&B in Upington where we spent the night. 

Day 2 – 8 May 2006 – Upington – Augrabies - Upington.
Distance travelled  - 240 km 

We left the B&B and headed towards  the Augrabies Falls National Park. We traveled via Keimoes and Kakamas and arrived at Augrabies round mid morning. The route to the park is lined with vineyards and date palm groves. The area is a major producer of raisins and at road stalls in the area one can buy raisins and dates in various forms, we even got some chocolate coated raisins!. 

The Augrabies falls are really awesome. We had visited the falls some years earlier and the flow then was not nearly as strong. I took quite a few photos and also some video. We had lunch (chicken pies, chips and gravy) and on the way back we stopped at a road stall and stocked up on raisins and dates  to be used as padkos during the rest of our journey. 

Day 3 – 9 May 2006 – Upington to Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Distance traveled – 504 km 

We departed from Upington just before 5 am and it was still dark when we reached the SA/Namibian border 130 km later. The road was good and well marked and a pleasure to drive. Having nothing to declare, border formalities were a breeze and after paying N$140 road tax we were on our way to our overnight stop, Ai-Ais. We passed through the towns of Karasburg and Grunau on a good tar road and the surroundings flat as a pancake, you could just about see forever! The last 70 km to Ai-Ais was on a very good gravel road, in fact I would say it was better than some of our tarred roads in South Africa, especially those in North West Province.  We found petrol to be cheaper than in South Africa, our rand currency was also accepted and we were able to fill up with petrol with a South African petrocard. The Rand is of equal value to the Namibian dollar and accepted at all shops.

We arrived at Ai-Ais exactly 5 hours after leaving Upington and after paying N$130 park fees (N$60 per person and N$10 for the car) we checked into our “luxury flat”. I would have expected at least a TV but it was neat and tidy, so no problems there. A bit of TLC would have been an improvement.

We didn’t even bother to unpack but left to go and take a look at the famous Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in Africa. The viewpoint was about 60 km away over not so good gravel road. Personally I didn’t think the trip worthwhile because of the road, but as we had reservations at Ai-Ais, entrance was free and I did manage to get some video and photos. The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand canyon in the States. It is 56 km long and in places up to 500 m deep and 8 km wide. Impressive indeed! 

We returned to Ai-Ais and spent the remainder of the day relaxing. 

A tip when touring Namibia, when you come across a filling station, fill up, when you come across a toilet, make use of it! Rather be safe than sorry! 

Day 4 – 10 May 2006 – Ai-Ais to Luderitz
Distance travelled – 493 km 

We left Ai-Ais just before 6 am (SA time), 5 am Namibia time. I have not yet set my watch back an hour so I have to keep remembering that I am 1 hour ahead of the Namibians. Up to Seeheim the road was gravel, very good in places and bad in others where the road had been flooded during recent rains and not yetrepaired We were bemused to spot a road sign indicating "Serious washaways". When we got to Seeheim we passed a road sign warning that the road we had just traveled was closed! We saw no such warning from the opposite side!

On the road to Luderitz the scenery changed rapidly from flat grassland to the sand dunes of the Namib desert, an awesome sight indeed!

We arrived in Luderitz late morning and checked into our accommodation (Shark Island Bungalows). This was also one of the Namibia Wildlife Resorts, same as Ai-Ais. We are becoming more and more disappointed with the Namibian Wildlife Resorts as we find them neglected and overpriced. This view is also shared by fellow travellers, a sad state of affairs indeed. We still have reservations at their resorts in Etosha and Waterberg, so let’s hope matters improve. 

We lunched on fish and chips with a salad at a local harbour restaurant, at N$136 we found it grossly overpriced! 

We drove around Luderitz in the afternoon looking for examples of colonial German architecture and managed to find a few examples which I photographed. The town was a big disappointment in this regard as I was expecting to see much more of the German influence. 

We also bought our permit to visit the ghost town of Kolmanskop the next day (N$36 per person) 

Day 5 – 11 May 2006 - Luderitz
Distance travelled - 55km 

We did not have a good night's sleep as our accommodation is right next to the harbour and harbour people work through the night, so we had to contend with the sound of heavy machinery all  night.

Then came one of the highlights of the trip, the long awaited trip to Kolmanskop, the old mining town, now ghost town. At one time in history diamonds were so plentiful there that they were picked up but in the early 1920's they became too scarce to make mining viable and by 1927 the last inhabitants of the town left. Since then the town has been exposed to the elements and has now become a great photographic site which was the reason for my excitement. We went on a guided tour and then had free reign to explore and take photos, and of course I had a ball. 

They even have a restaurant on site and after a nice lunch we headed back to Luderitz and spent the afternoon just relaxing. We bought some rubber seal to dustproof the bakkie as we seemed to be collecting some dust on the gravel roads. 

Day 6 -  12 May 2006 - Luderitz to Betesda Guest Farm near Sossusvlei
Distance travelled - 469 km 

Once again we made an early start and travelled the tar road to Aus in the dark. At Aus we turned North on a gravel road. We have now started our own grading system for Namibian gravel roads. For the most part they are very good but the recent floods have left their mark. The bad parts we have graded as follows, dips, washaways and serious washaways.

You regularly get "dips" in the road followed by a "yump". Your ground clearance as you ramp the "yump" is directly related to the speed which which you negotiate the dip, the faster the higher! Every dip holds a surprise, those that have been affected by the floods can hold unpleasant surprises, thank goodness for the Nissan's firm suspension.

A washaway is where the road was washed away but sort of repaired, you still have to reduce speed drastically. Serious washaways are unrepaired sections or washaways still happening such as a river still flowing over the road. On the road between Aus and Seeheim we found a "Road Closed" sign from the Seeheim side but no such sign from the Aus side! 

Our destination was the Betesda Guest Farm about 38 km from the Sossusvlei gate. Compared to our previous accommodation, this was a dramatic improvement.. We were booked in on a "Dinner, Bed and Breakfast" basis. The main buildings are brand new, the reception area and dining room are impressive, our accommodation was spacious and cool in the midday heat.  

As we would be leaving early the following morning to go to Sossusvlei, they packed  us a "Breakfast box". By this time we were hungry and we were looking forward to a hearty supper. The receptionist promised that their apple pie was better than the famous Solitaire apple pie, I couldn't wait to compare. 

Day 7 - 13 May 2006 - Betesda to Sossusvlei
Distance travelled 423 km 

As we were advised that the Sossusvlei gates open at 06:30 we left Betesda to drive the 38 km to Sesriem where you get your permit to enter Sossusvlei. Permits are N$60 per person and N$10 per car, which seem to be the standard Park fee for Namibian Wildlife resorts. Once inside the park you travel another 60 km, mostly between beautiful dunes. Early in the morning you get the wonderful contrast between light and shadow and hopefully I got some good photos. After travelling the first 60 km you get to the 2x4 parking area and only 4x4 vehicles are allowed to travel the last 5 km to the actual Sossusvlei. But all is not lost for non 4x4 owners, they run a shuttle service taking you to the vlei at N$75 per person, (Namibians only pay N$30 and overseas tourists pay N$90) so it's a 5 km slog through the sand or pay up! So we paid up! At 500 meters before Sossusvlei you can hike the 1.1 km up sand dunes to Dead Vlei where there are a whole lot of dead trees between the dunes making for really great photography. I can now confirm that there is no comparison to slogging up a sand dune and walking a treadmill in the gym! 

At round about midday we headed towards the main gate with the intention of filling up with fuel. To our dismay we were advised that there was no unleaded available. As we would not be able to get back to our lodge and get to the next petrol station at Solitaire the next morning, we had no option to drive the 80 km to Solitaire fill up and then to drive all the way back again, and that on a gravel road! When we reached Solitaire the fuel gauge was below the "E" mark and we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the Petrol 3km sign! 

While at Solitaire we just had to try out the much talked about apple pie, and what a disappointment that was! More base and crust than apple and nothing to write home about. Just another little Namibian disappointment to add to a now growing list! The chef at Betesda Lodge promised that he would make apple pie that night to show us what apple pie should really taste like. The previous night's dinner was superb and we werere eagerly awaiting dinner time . I will report on the apple pie tomorrow. 

Day 8 - 14 May 2006 - Betesda to Swakopmund
Distance travelled 382 km

The apple pie at Betesda was great, much better than the Solitaire version! Today's journey was 382 kms of gravel road. I am now changing my opinion of the Namibian gravel roads, only about 70% are good, the rest vary between not so good to bad (due to the recent rains). Today’s trip was not pleasant, the frequent dips meant that you could not maintain a steady speed but had to slow down often to negotiate the dips, frustrating indeed! Only the last 20 km or so to Walvis Bay was good and a speed of 120 km/h could be maintained. 

Upon our arrival at Swakopmund we were advised that we would have to wait for the keys to our accommodation for 4 hours as we had arrived 10 minutes after the local agent closed office which she would only reopen in 4 hours time. She was not prepared to wait the 10 minutes as she was not being paid by the apartment owners. This matter will be taken up with Namibian Tourism and reported to Namibian newspapers and anyone else who cares to listen. Anyway, the wait was probably worthwhile as our accommodation was just great, modern and spacious, even with a lock up garage! No sea view, however, so still not perfect! When you live 600 kms away from the ocean, you at least expect to have a sea view when on vacation! And the apartment was in a residential complex with the German permanent residents making us feel like intruders.

We passed the time by visiting an acquaintance who through a friend made a booking for us for a dolphin cruise in Walvis Bay the next day. 

Day 9 – 15 May 2006 – Trip to - Walvis Bay
Distance traveled – 104 km 

Today was to be one of the highlights of the trip, a dolphin cruise in Walvis Bay. This excursion had been featured on our TV and apparently seals randomly jump on the boat and are  so tame they can be petted. 

Before we left for Walvis Bay we visited a local tannery that is famous for their velskoene (handmade leather shoes) and I bought myself a great kudu leather pair. 

The 3 hour dolphin excursion costs N$ 310 per  person and is worth every cent. During the trip you not only get to see dolphins chasing the boat up close but you also get visited by no less than 5 Cape fur seals that simply jump on the boat eager for a snack of sardines. Cameras clicked away as everyone petted these wonderful animals. The boat was also visited by cormorants, hovering seagulls and also some pelicans, all eager for a snack. A seal named Surfing Sally  actually surfed in the wake of the two outboard motors! 

At lunchtime we were served  a finger lunch consisting of a variety of goodies, even oysters, and sparkling wine to wash them down, everything included in the cruise price. 

All in all, three hours well spent! 

We returned to Swakopmund and drove around town looking for examples of old-time German architecture and taking pics. On the way back we passed the suburb where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were staying but could not get close because of heavy security. 

Day 10 – 16 May – Swakopmund to Etosha National Park (Okaukuejo camp)
Distance traveled – 620 km 

The road from Swakopmund to is a good tar road except the section between Swakop and Karibib, which has no line markings and we were traveling at night and were unfortunate to encounter fog, not fun to drive at all with many heavy trucks sharing the road!

We took the route via Karibib, Otjiwarongo, Outjo and on to Etosha National Park, Okaukuejo camp where we have reservations for two nights. The trip was uneventful but boring with nothing much to see. Okaukuejo is a beautiful  rest camp with good accommodation. This time we even had modern SILENT airconditioning.

Doreen has come up with some catchy quotes!  On a particularly boring stretch of road with scenery flat as a pancake a bug happened to SPLAT into the windshield. Said Doreen: “At least we now have something to look at”! 

At another time while driving in Etosha and not having spotted any wildlife for quite a while, she came up with: “If all animals fail, check the birds!” 

Each of the three rest camps in Etosha have a waterhole right next to the camp fence. These  waterholes are lit right through the night so you can sit there and hopefully get to view wildlife coming to drink. The waterhole at Okaukuejo is particularly nice and the sun sets right over the water, I think I got some great photos. 

Earlier the afternoon we went on our first Etosha game drive and saw a variety of animals, including lots of zebra and springbok, also jackal, wildebeest, impala, ostrich and a selection of birds. I have a great beanbag which hooks over the car window and helps to ensure that photos taken from the car are really sharp!

Day 11 - 17 May 2006 – Etosha - Okaukuejo
Distance traveled – 177 km 

Last night at the waterhole we spotted a rhino drinking, I managed to get a reasonably good photo under difficult lighting circumstances. Etosha has had some problems with the serious crime of rhino poaching over the last few years. It would be difficult for even the best Cincinnati criminal lawyer to defend someone caught poaching rhinos on national park lands.

Today was spent driving different routes around Okaukuejo and we were fortunate to spot two lion, two elephant and the usual wildlife, zillions of springbok and zebra and lots of different birds. We can now confirm that zebra and springbok are not on the endangered wildlife list!

We headed back to camp for lunch and there at the waterhole was a large elephant bull and a herd of zebra all having a drink, got some nice photos.

We also went on a late afternoon drive  and saw zebra and springbok (again), also wildebeest, oryx, impala, ostrich, jackal, eland and the usual variety of birdlife. 

Tomorrow we head to Halali, our next destination in Etosha National Park. 

Day 12 – 18 May 2006 – Okaukuejo to Halali
Distance traveled – 123 km 

We left Okaukuejo as soon as the camp gates opened at sunup and headed for Halali. The trip was uneventful with us spotting the now obligatory springbok and zebra. We struck paydirt as we reached the Halali turnoff and saw a leopard in the grass alongside the road. There was a solitary tree alongside the road and we parked next to it waiting to see where the leopard would go to. As luck would have it, it headed straight for the tree and climbed in, posing for us on a branch. I had ample opportunity to get some photos before the leopard decided to move on and disappeared into the grass. Like we always say, you have to be at the right place at the right time.

We checked into our accommodation at Halali, once again very impressive (compared to Kruger) Once again we were booked into a two bedroom unit, overkill space and price wise..

Halali also has a great waterhole, the viewing site is halfway up a koppie and you look down to the waterhole. We spotted a kudu, blackfaced impala and two warthog. 

Then we went on another drive and took a road leading right into the Etosha pan, talk about desolation! 

Back at Halali we again visited the waterhole and were rewarded when a whole herd of elephant came to drink, what a wonderful sight!  A black rhino and calf also came along for a drink at sunset. 

We returned to our bungalow and had a delicious boerewors braai, a great end to a great day! 

Day 13 – 19 May 2006 – Halali to Namutoni
Distance traveled – 130 km 

The 75 km between Halali and Namutoni was uneventful. A fortunate sighting was of a spotted hyena that trotted past us in the road. 

The main feature of Namotoni camp is Fort Namotoni. Built during 1903/4 it was destroyed by the Owambos in 1904 and again rebuilt in 1906. 

Today the fort has comfortable rooms so you can actually sleep in a fort. There is also a small museum. Our accommodation was similar to what we had at Okaukuejo, again a two bedroomed unit for only two people.  

The waterhole at Namutoni has a thatched viewing area but part of the water is obscured by reeds, so one hopes that the animals will choose the visible part of the waterhole to drink at. 

We went on a late afternoon drive with no significant sightings. After sunset we had a nice braai and went to bed early. Our next destiation was  the Waterberg Plateau Park, a distance of more than 400 km, mostly on tarred road. 

I must mention that found accommodation in the Etosha rest camps very acceptable although expensive if compared to Kruger National Park prices.

Day 14 – 20 May 2006 – Namutoni to Waterberg Plateau Park
Distance traveled  - 520 km 

Today was a bad tourist day for us. Our destination was the Waterberg Plateau Park and we took the detour via Grootfontein specially to see the famous meteorite. Just past Grootfontein we saw a road sign indicating “Meteorite” and took the gravel road. About 30 kilometers and no sign of the meteorite we hit the tar road again. Checking our map, (issued by the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism) the meteorite was NOT where it indicated. There was also no road sign indicating a turnoff. So we regretfully had to give the meteorite a miss.  

At Otjiwarongo we saw a sign advertising the Okonjima and Africat Foundation, 44 kms on the road to Windhoek. On the sign were symbols indicating it as a destination for viewing big cats and also a tea cup indicating refreshments. At about 50 km we saw the turnoff onto a gravel road, the actual destination was a FURTHER  24 km, AND there was a gate with a sign proclaiming that no day visitors were allowed! We had travelled all that way for nothing. Thank you very much! Another instance of misleading information.

On the way to the Africat Foundation we had actually passed the turnoff to Waterberg Park as there was no road sign from the Otjiwarongo side indicating that this was the Waterberg turnoff! Sheesshhhhh! There is also a much shorter good gravel road to Waterberg from Grootfontein and again no road sign indicating such. 

So we eventually arrived at Waterberg Park.  What a picturesque setting! The chalets are situated in a long row halfway up a mountain. Behind the chalets are towering cliffs and in front, a view to die for! That is if you could see through the thick bush obscuring the view! If they would just get rid of the bush the setting would be perfect. Once again park fees were N$60 per person per day and a once off N$10 per vehicle. The chalets are VERY nice and spacious, once again two bedrooms for only two people. I hope the Namibian Wildlife Resorts put the extra money I am paying them to good use. And once again as with most Namibian Wildlife Resorts the place can do with some TLC. 

We went on a walk admiring the cliffs and trying to get a view to photograph of  the plains stretching out below, but no such luck, the obscuring bush was impenetrable!.

We ended off a frustrating day with a braai! 

One thing we noticed about Namibians, if you should ask them for instance how far it was to Windhoek, they would reply “Three hours” instead of “300 kilometers”!  Weird! 

And how I miss the One Stops and Ultra Cities  with their spotless facilities in South Africa!  Some roadside toilets here are NOT that clean! Actually the same can be said for toilet facilities at town filling stations in South Africa. I would suggest that the fuel companies set minimum standards for toilets at filling stations where their fuel is sold, and then monitor these standards.

Day 15 – 21 May 2006 – Waterberg to Windhoek
Distance traveled – 318 km 

The trip was uneventful, our destination being the Arebbusch Travel Lodge. Once again we battled with the instructions that we had but after asking for directions we reached Arebbusch. The accommodation here was great, this time a single room and very clean. Even satellite TV! BUT, nothing is perfect, the small oven door, the shower door the bathroom door and the one window did not close properly. If Namibians would only spend some time and effort on basic maintenance of their tourist resorts the country would be a much more pleasant place to visit.

So far the weather has been just great! Mild during the days and nights, I doubt if the daytime temperature ever got near 30C. However, today was different and VERY cold about 10 or 12C, I would guess. 

We bought lunch at a supermarket and afterwards visited an internet friend, Estelle, who works for the Republikein newspaper and enjoyed a wonderful visit.

We have decided to change our travel plans and not go home via the Trans Kalahari highway through Botswana but to leave Namibia where we entered at Ariamsvlei and overnight again at Upington. This will add some distance to our trip but shorten it by a day and we cut out the Botswana bit. We are concerned by talk of many animals in the road, speed restrictions through villages and rumours of corrupt traffic officials. 

Day 16 - 22 May 2006 - Windhoek
Distance travelled - km 73

Today we did some sightseeing in Windhoek and also got rid of the last of our Namibian currency at the local casino. Our dollars were quickly gobbled up by the hungry machines!

We headed back to Arebbusch for lunch (a braai with Blue Bull charcoal bought locally)

Day 17 - 23 may 2006 - Windhoek to Upington
Distance travelled - 1032 km

A long day on the road and we crossed the border at Ariamsvlei. Border procedure went smoothly with only two forms to be completed. To he one form contains a long list of items that have to be declared. We had nothing to declare and we were on our way again in minutes.

We reached the Eiland resort at Upington round mid afternoon, great to pay reasonable rates for a change. We bought pizzas for supper and retired early as the next day was the last long stretch of about 800 km

Day 17 - 24 May 2006 - Upington to Alberton (home)
Distance travelled - 810 km

An uneventful trip home except for the potholed roads in North West Province. They are getting worse and worse with no sign of any maintenance being done! C'mon, North West, fix your roads, you are giving South African tourism a very bad name.

 
     
     
  So our Namibian holiday is now a thing of the past. We had a great experience in a wonderful country with many contrasts. Within a day's travel the countryside can change from flat grassland to mountains and then desert, truly awesome.

We have pleasant memories of friendly, helpful and Afrikaans speaking people. (They do speak English as well)

Will we go again? For sure!

 
     
  Trip positives:

- Namibians are very friendly and helpful
- They speak mostly Afrikaans
- Good tar roads
- Mostly very good gravel roads
- Kolmanskop
- Sossusvlei
- Etosha (from entrance to exit, just great)
- The best tourist town for us was Swakopmund
- Cheaper fuel
- The road between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund - ocean on the left and desert on the right, what a contrast! 

 
   

The negatives:

- Washed away sections of gravel roads are bad
- Luderitz a disappointment
- Expensive accommodation (compared to South Africa)
- Lack of basic maintenance at many tourist resorts
- Instances of missing and misleading road signs
- Very little traffic on the roads, a pleasant change from the Ben Schoeman in South Africa.

 
     
     
 

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