The full gallery of photos from our fabulous trip around Southern Namibia. We tried not to drive too far but still did 2,000km by the end of the 9 days.
After another open air bath, a bath disturbed slightly by the sight of someone smoking a cigarette on the porch of the next bungalow we had breakfast. Given there were no other guests the previous night it must have been a maintenance man?
We then made tracks northwards to our destination of the Barchan Dunes Resort in the Naukluft mountain area of the Namib. En route we stopped at Solitaire – a little oasis in the desert which picturesquely offers petrol, basic supplies and a small restuarant where we had a Greek salad and a glass of wine before heading back out onto the dusty roads. The dust had started to find a route inside the boot of the car by this stage and so the luggage was looking as well travelled as could be expected.
We were welcomed at the Barchan Dunes by Hannetjie who showed us to our room tucked under the dunes with a stunning view across the valley to the mountains beyond.
We stayed outside our room enjoying the heat of the day and watching the colours change. We were brought tea at around 4pm and enjoyed a shower before dinner hosted by Hannetjie and Willem who entertained us with stories of what it was like to run a B&B in such a remote location. The food and wine were excellent and we enjoyed the company at the table of a couple from Swakopmund with their young daughter. They were having a break from their own tourism business – she is German and he is local running adventurous trips into the desert and game lodges in large 4x4s. They enjoyed our description of Polo driving along the D707!
Coco the collie and Lucky the terrier were allowed the run of the place, as was the unnamed meerkat who was injured and abandoned but had taken advantage of the hospitality on offer from the owners.
The following morning we had a sociable breakfast and we set off for the Spreetshoogte pass which was quite an experience after all the flat miles we had travelled recently. One night may not have been quite enough to experience all that the area had to offer us and the pass and surrounding countryside was stunningly beautiful and had plenty of birdlife and other animals.
We will have to come back!
Elias was ready for us in the Land Cruiser at the appointed hour of 5.30am. I had been awake from 3am to ensure we didn’t oversleep and at 4am got up and enjoyed a plunge bath before we went to breakfast at 5am.
All very exciting, and before we headed off Elias pointed out the last of the bright stars and planets still visible in the clear sky, including Jupiter and the dog stars, Southern Cross and pointers, Orion’s Belt and the Leo constellation.
We were inside the reserve in time to watch the sun rise and soon thereafter we were reading the “bushman’s newspaper” the tracks and trails of the various animals inhabiting the red dunes. It was fascinating to see how many species were all moving around at night with the tracks all freshly made and erased by the winds of the mid to late afternoon.
One of the oddities seemed to be small hollows in the dunes, and we soon learned that these were man made, as the various guides all did the same demonstration, Elias included, of finding the trapdoor of a white lady spider and then digging down and around its tunnel, exposing the sheath-like construction and eventually uncovering the spider itself, which of course would rugs speedily across the dunes, scattering tourists and guides in screeching pandemonium.
Elias’s first attempt didn’t quite go to plan and he eventually gave up after digging a substantial crater. The next one went better and we soon had some excellent photos of a predatory looking but obviously quite harmless spider.
We traipsed around the dunes for quite a while, eventually tracking down both the two different types of dune snake, one with horns the other without, both of which he teased with a stick for a while to get them to strike while we stayed at a discreet distance.
Eventually tiring of tormenting serpents, we drove off into the main dunes area where we parked the vehicle (definitely 4×4 territory only here) and walked up and over a reasonable size dune (one of us needed some pushing and pulling to get to the top). One walked along the ridge, the other went straight down the other side and we reunited at the edge of the Dead Vlei.
Plenty of photographic opportunities here and we snapped away happily in the increasing heat until no tree remained un-captured.
We walked back to the vehicle watching as others climbed some or all of the neighbouring Big Daddy dune – a three hour activity for the brave or foolish in searing temperatures. We drive instead to the edge of the now dry Sossusvlei pan, trying to imagine what it must look like when the rains have fallen, while having a cup of tea and a biscuit under an acacia tree.
Elias showed us how the enzyme in the roots can be lifted by the tree to its upper branches to discourage the giraffe from eating too many leaves as the enzyme is poisonous to them if eaten in large quantities and doesn’t taste good either. Giraffes continue to move up wind to eat at the next tree as if they went down wind, an acacia is smart enough to smell its neighbours barriers going up and do the same itself.
We then drove back out of the main dunes area and went to a lovely spot called Elim, where the table and chairs magically appeared from the cavernous land cruiser and with a stunning dune as a backdrop, we sheltered in the shade of another large tree while Elias spread the white tablecloth and put the white wine in an ice bucket.
We had of course washed our hands in the canvas sink set up just for the purpose and tucked in to some lovely chicken legs, fish cakes and salads.
Just while we were enjoying our second helping, the wind got up and we could see several dust devils forming in the middle distance. Then quite suddenly two formed near us, one to the left and the other slightly ahead to the right. The latter died out as soon as it had formed but the one on the left kept building and passed in front of the table about twenty feet away. At first we thought we were safe, but inevitably it stopped, reversed its direction and headed straight for us. Elias pointed at it with his elbow for some reason that we never discovered, but Heather and I hung on to our wine glasses and plates whilst Tupperware was being picked up and spun into the distance.
It didn’t last long but did make the lentil salad unbearingly crunchy to the taste. No harm done but we and everything around us was covered in a fine layer of sand. We packed the lunch things away chuckling at how nature has a way of bringing one back down to earth if one has any delusions of grandeur.
After breakfast and a bunch of email traffic we had a good chat to Piet the owner who with the rest of the family has worked wonders with the creation of the lodge and particularly the Eagles Nest. Piet was concerned that the field mice had been tormenting us but we laughed it off as part of the whole experience. After all we were only down one sponge and a packet of crisps, although Piet knew but I didn’t listen properly when he said that we had lost the corner of the cooler bag – this became clear when getting it out of the car later that day to discover the bag of ice inside had escaped as liquid into the back footwell of the car.
I asked about snakes, being conscious of the cooler evenings in these parts and with a snug interior with wooden fires and plenty of holes for the snakes to sneak inside to get warm, thought that might happen from time to time. Apparently only once about six years previously when a guest had woken to see a snake peering at him from above while dangling from the ceiling.
With all the wooden rafters it was quite difficult to retrieve or even find the snake once the screaming guests had reported the unwelcome visitor to reception staff, and eventually it was only the judicious use of the fire extinguisher that frightened it off. So field mice – pah – not an issue!
Piet had asked whether we were taking the D707 and on researching the guidebook it talks of its scenic nature. He didn’t ask whether we were in a Polo or a 4×4 though so might have assumed we were better tooled up for the job. I asked both a single American who was going that way directly after refuelling (but didn’t know if it was polo friendly) and the shop owner who advised that we would be ok but might need to go quite slow in parts. That seemed to be good advice from a lady who in nature years herself seemed to be following her own advice in her general dealings with everyone.
We set off with the D707 in mind, stopping for a quick cache find detour at the nearby commonwealth war graves. That road was terrible so we were able to get prepared for what lay ahead.
What a day – the first few hours were picturesque and the road was dusty and bumpy but quite good. We then found and turned off onto the D707. After half an hour we then got a couple of hours of amazing views of the extensive and deeply oxidised dune fields running across vast distances occasionally butting up against the odd mountain or two.
But what they don’t tell you in the guidebook is how hairy the road is to drive on in a polo.
The car would hit soft sand lurking beneath thin layers of gravel or sometimes just patches of soft sand and it would buck and slither until getting it back under control again. My hands gripped the wheel tighter bad tighter and Heather went especially silent.
We hadn’t seen many cars – only two – and if we did get stuck we could be there a while in searing heat. We didn’t, but on one occasion I really thought we were done for as the car went slower and slower with absolutely no power getting through to the wheels which in another few millimetres depth would have just stopped turning. As it was I remembered the lesson from the first day relearned, which is that you never stop, ever.
So we drove for seven hours non-stop, 375 km, arriving at the Hutoo Desert Lodge just past Sesriem at around 4.30 pm, having had a very exciting day with nerves frayed and dust covering everything inside and outside the little car, which had performed heroically.
We collapsed into the lodges beautifully appointed bungalow where we took turns to soak dusty and in my case sunburnt right limbs in the outdoor bath.
We were the only guests dining so with an exclusive table set outside on the patio overlooking the dry river bed, we counted our blessings and enjoyed a lovely meal – spinach and feta parcels followed by oryx skewers (starting to feel a bit bad as we must have eaten a whole oryx by now).
We took our lantern back for an early night as the 4am wake up call would be soon upon us as we got up extra early for a full day to follow in the world renowned Sossusvlei dunes.
Well rested, we had a bowl of fruit and set off after saying goodbye to all including a husband and wife from Harare who had been out meerkat spotting with some success before breakfast.
We enjoyed our stay at Bagatelle very much and it couldn’t have been better.
Having said to others that we had planned a trip with relatively little driving we then had over 500km to go that day to reach Aus, on the west side of the country near the Namib desert.
We bought some supplies in Mariental, including boerewors and steak, but no wine as it wasn’t for sale on a Sunday. Lucky we stopped early as we discovered all the shops shut on Sunday afternoon and indeed Keetmanshoop was a ghost town when we drove into get petrol just after lunch.
We passed very few towns of any description and it was very apparent how big and how sparsely populated (the second least densely populated country?)
Great swathes of semi arid countryside rolled on for kilometre after kilometre and it was the distance signs that kept us in touch with how we were progressing – easy driving at 120km an hour with the occasional truck to overtake to break the monotony.
We went through one small mountain range before flat expanses of scrubby plain took over again and it was with some relief and some fatigue that we spotted the mountain area of Aus ahead on the horizon.
We went into the town to discover that Klein Aus Vista was a further two kilometres on the Luderitz road and then wound our way to the reception area for Eagles Nest and the other accommodation options.
We were able to order a BBQ pack from the hotel which meant we hadn’t needed to stock up on supplies earlier, but now found ourselves blessed with a coronary sized pile of red meat for the evening, having added oryx fillets and more boerewors to our earlier stash.
Maureen laughed at my insistence that I should take a couple of beers with me and I understood why when we got to our Desert Vista bungalow as it was well stocked.
We drove the 7 kilometres round the side of the mountain, starting to wish that we had opted for a 4×4 as the golf narrowly avoided bottoming out on the lumps and bumps that passed for a road round here.
It was worth the extra distance. A stunning setting right on the edge of the desert with the granite boulders as a backdrop. Indeed one large boulder formed the back wall of our luxurious chalet style dwelling.
Having been warned about and having spotted the baboons that were said to be a potential pest when cooking, I fired up the BBQ slightly gingerly using a combination of really solid firewood and some charcoal briquettes that we had bought earlier.
As it happened we were unmolested by our ape cousins and we enjoyed some lovely tender fillet and I slightly overcooked the oryx fillets but they were still tasty.
The wind was howling and I thought it would stop after dark but never did. A taste of things to come perhaps. The color of the blue sky on the horizon behind the chalet was to be seen to be believed. It looked like it had been photoshopped – why does the blue seem so deep here – is it the quality of the air?
Too many bottles of wine and trivial pursuit later we ignored the field mice rummaging through the kitchen and enjoyed a sound sleep with no chance of any noise disturbing us as we were out in the middle of nowhere with the other chalets a very discreet distance apart.
We were up early to walk with the bushmen. Luckily I woke up without the alarm as the sun streamed in the window – on checking the time I realised that either it got light at 3am or I was still on UK time on the tablet.
We set off at 7.30 with two guides, Fidel and Chris (freshly arrived the previous week from the Caprivi area and learning the ropes) and five bushmen in leather hot pants and nothing else.
It was pure theatre as they had obviously left their trainers and man united shirts in their quarters and dressed up like their ancestors used to have. It was lovely to hear their clicking language – six different clicks made with various shapes of the tongue.
They acted out various aspects of daily life for the bushman – hiding water, hunting and trapping, medicines and toilet habits. Each time the guides “translated” but in fact they couldn’t understand the bushman language so had to learn the script off pat.
Back for breakfast and then a free period with swimming and blogging until the afternoon combination drive through the reserve and then watching the cheetahs being fed followed by a sundowner drink at the top of one of the dunes. All very spectacular and the game drive had plenty of deer and giraffe to see, as well as going across a large dry salt pan which apparently stretched as far as the airport – three hours drive away.
The clouds had been building all day which made for a spectacular sunset and to add it the drama there was a big storm on the horizon some way to the north of us, which meant we didn’t get wet but enjoyed the view.
During the day Amber showed us the two young meerkats that had been abandoned and were now being hand raised. They were 6 months and 8 months old respectively and we held them and watched them do what they do best – digging and standing up and looking into the distance.
On the way back from the drive we saw our suitcases in the back of pick up truck that was having a tyre changed – we were of course very pleased to be reunited with our things after dinner.
We had springbok carpaccio and oryx steak for dinner and then had a few drinks in the bar before retiring for the night. We met a nice Swiss couple, a couple from New York that were travelling for 9 months, a Bavarian couple that were doing a 28 day trip around Namibia and we also chatted to Martin and Tom the two young lads from the UK that had been on the morning walk and were staying in the campsite.
Up early for a bowl of fruit before the 112 km to Kolmanskop along the newly tarred road with no lines. We drove parallel to the newly reconstructed railway line for most of the way. Originally built in ten months during 1906 and 1907 by among others, 2014 Nama and Overherero prisoners of war, 1359 of whom died in the process, this time it had taken 6 years to reestablished it and it was just finished although no trains were visible. The Germans had blown up the last one in 1915 to try to slow the SA army advance prior to surrendering to them in Aus.
We were also warned off doing any amateur diamond prospecting in the Sperrgebiet on both sides of the road.
And we were warned of Wind and Sand, both of which we experienced in abundance.
I’ve never been to a windier place – even Fish Hoek looks tame by comparison and winds on the Patagonian plains a mere breeze.
We arrived around half an hour before the 9.30 tour having been strafed by the sand particles for the last twenty kilometres. Gangs of bulldozers had been in evidence trying to force the sand dunes to stop crossing the road which they were doing at speed and in numbers as they were moving quickly downwind. It was all quite dramatic and spectacular.
We had a very interesting tour around the ghost town of Kolmanskop – it was fascinating to see how the inhabitants had tried to make themselves as comfortable as they could in dreadfully harsh conditions, with bowling alleys, casinos, movie theatre, ice factory and general stores importing everything from the German motherland.
The stories of how the workers had tried and sometimes succeeded in smuggling out diamonds were testament to mans ingenuity and the lure and value of the transparent carbon itself.
After the tour Heather stayed indoors while I battled the stinging sand to view some more of the derelict buildings and try and get some good photos despite the conditions. One can see why it is a photographers dream with fading character filling the lens in all directions.
We then headed to Luderitz which perhaps wasn’t showing itself in its best form in the howling gale. The waterfront development certainly didn’t rival Cape Town for charm or choices and we went back to the car before being advised by a local that actually we had chosen the right location for lunch and that Ritzies was the best choice in town. We went back and they opened slightly early for us to have a very pleasant lunch of prawns and kingklip – a treat to have a less cholesterol packed meal for once this trip.
Diamond diving must be a tough job and Luderitz is a tough town with a frontier feel to it. I clung nervously on to my stash of cash on the short journey from the ATM to the car. We bought some good quality wine in the Spar at £3 per bottle and headed back to the Klein Aus Vista lodge feeling that the Namibia guidebook was slightly optimistic about needing to stay a few days to enjoy all that Luderitz has to offer.
Back at the lodge we downloaded emails and picked up a BBQ pack before settling in for a great evening enjoying the scenery and the very tender oryx fillets cooked more gingerly this time on camel thorn wood charcoal – the best.
The flight from Heathrow to Frankfurt was delayed by twenty minutes meaning both a sprint through the terminal to get on the Air Namibia flight but the luggage got left behind. We would have also been left (not having been able to check in online beforehand) had it not been for the kindness of a fellow traveller – a Namibian girl living in Dalston, London going back home for a friends wedding. With her bleached blond/green cropped hair and intense blue eyes she used her German to good effect to startle the airport officials into showing us the right directions to E6 where the plane was, not E26 as previously advised by the BA crew.
We should have allowed longer between flights but we slumped exhaustedly into our seats on the 1/3rd empty new airbus, ready for our southern African adventure, even though it meant going commando while we were there.
We had been coughed at during our stay at terminal 5 and it seemed like we were surrounded everywhere by the germ warfare hacking and coughing tactics of the living dead. This continued on the plane where a particularly unpleasant Dutch family shouted at each other from 3 feet away and then repeatedly coughed up a variety of viruses into the closed system of the aircrafts air conditioning system, but not before trying to cover us both with phlegm from the seats behind.
So sleep was postponed to another day after arrival, which we did across the starkly different landscape of the African scrub leading into the airport. The conditions were great – still and sunny and we landed on time at 7.20am, registered the left behind luggage and picked up the car. After de-hub capping it and putting those in the boot, I took my grubby hands to the mall in Windhoek where we bought a couple of pairs of shorts and shirts each along with the basic essential toiletries and some snacks for journeys – springbok biltong, droe wors, grape juice, apples and bananas.
We found the B1 and by staying out of the way of the taxi minibuses we avoided accidents and incidents and sped along the single lane “motorway” at 120km an hour behind a van in the shape of a coke can, in search of the Bagatelle Ranch. We petrolled and peed at Kalkrand, paying 100N$ for the former and avoided paying 2N$ for the latter.
By 1.30 we were on the sand track leading up to the ranch, getting stuck in soft sand and being shown how to drive madly in reverse by a member if the local construction gang. We went up the down track and made it to the lodge where Amber and Alan greeted us with iced tea and advice on how to get our bags back.
After being lifted to our bungalow on stilts overlooking the stunning series of red ridges sand dunes poking out of the hay yellow grasses and spiky dark green bushes of the Kalahari desert, our adventure felt like it had begun.
Lunch of salad with Windhoek lager and a chat with the owner’s mum and following a short swim in the salt water pool rescuing butterflies in vain, we then enjoyed the view from our room as the heat built during the late afternoon.
After bathing in a tub with sweeping views across open countryside and then watching the sunset change the colours all around us, we took the now cool sand track down to the main building
The lop-horned pregnant tame springbok was there to meet us, searching us for carbohydrate without success.