Please note that due to the large number of bird photographs from this trip, they can be viewed elsewhere on this site. To view them click on the link: Namibia birds
We toured Namibia on an independent fly-drive basis with flights, car hire and pre-booked accommodation arranged through Sunvil Discovery in London. They provided an efficient, professional service with lots of good advice, and constructive help when some of our first choice accommodation turned out to be fully booked. The Air Namibia flights were of reasonable standard, although the frequency of their flights to London (only one a week) meant that we had to take a connecting Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt on the outward journey which added considerably to the overall journey time.
Although we had done our homework beforehand, Namibia still far exceeded our expectations in almost all respects but especially the high standards of infrastructure and service, the vast open uninhabited space, and the freedom to explore by car even in Etosha where there is a lot of big game. We experienced almost no hassling, and felt totally safe at all times.
We hired a normal 2 wheel drive car which was perfectly adequate except for a few occassions crossing dry river beds - see below for more details. This is a problem which will vary enormously between wet and dry seasons. If you do get stuck, there is every chance that someone will rescue you, and we were able to help twice when locals had run out of petrol or their bus had broken down. However, being stuck in the middle of nowhere in late afternoon is not pleasant, although the additional cost of a 4WD would make most people think twice about taking that option.
We made extensive use of "The Bradt Travel Guide", written by Chris McIntyre of Sunvil, throughout the trip and found it to be very helpful and accurate. Our birding fieldguide was the "Sasol Birds of Southern Africa" 2nd edition, again to be recommended. We added to this in Namibia with the purchase of "Birding in Namibia" by Eckhart Demasius (Text) and Christine Marais (Illustrations), the work of the latter being very prominent at many of the hotels and restcamps we stayed at. We also acquired locally another fieldguide, "Southern Africa's Mammals" by Robin Frandsen - probably at less than half the price of a similar book at home.
The map on the left shows our itinerary, which followed the normal clockwise direction that most people take - Etosha is generally expected to be the highlight of most trips, so going in this direction saves the best until last. We didn't follow the shortest route possible, adding a few days to the minimum sensible time for such a tour.
However, although it could definitely be done quicker, do not underestimate the size of this country and the travelling times involved - most of the roads are gravel, and although they are well maintained it is not safe to exceed 80kph. We drove over 3600km in 14 days, which would be enough for most people at that speed.
The blue squares on the map show where we stayed, and although we would have done things slightly differently without any of the availability problems, it all turned out well in the end.
We began birding within minutes of leaving Windhoek airport when a pair of Cape Vultures were spotted soaring high in the sky. We then stopped at Avis Dam where we saw the first of many White-browed Sparrow-weavers, Blacksmith's Plovers, Egyptian Geese, Black-winged Stilts, Cape Wagtails, Helmeted Guineafowl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and Black-shouldered Kites as well as several White Pelicans. We stopped in Windhoek for a while to buy food, drink and a permit for the Namib-Naukluft National Park before driving the short distance to Eagle's Rock Lodge where we recovered from the long journey with a leisurely walk followed by an excellent meal.
The following day, we set off on what turned into a 9 hour plus drive to Swakopmund. This would be a 3 - 4 hour drive on the main tarred road, but we chose the scenic route on a gravel road over the Gamsberg Pass. Regular stops to admire the spectacular scenery and lots of roadside birds set the scene for what was to be in store over the next 2 weeks.
As the hours passed, the terrain changed from mountains to flat grassland. Then, slowly but surely, the grass became thinner until it was desert, until at last we reached the coast at Walvis Bay before continuing to Swakopmund. Birds seen included Black-breasted Snake-eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Crowned Plover, Mountain Chat, Ruppell's Korhaan, Ostrich and Flamingoes, whilst we also saw our first baboons, zebra and springbok. We satyed at the Schweizerhaus Hotel which was very comfortable.
The following day, we took an excursion with Bruno Nebe of Turnstone Tours to Sandwich Harbour. Bruno is an expert naturalist, guide and driver - the latter, combined with large amounts of detailed local knowledge, being an essential quality to get to this remote location safely. On the way, we called at Walvis Bay Lagoon which was teeming with Curlew Sandpipers as well as Kelp, Hartlaub's and Grey-headed Gulls; Caspian, Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns; Chestnut-banded, Grey, Kittlitz's and White-fronted Plovers; and many other species such as Black-necked Grebe, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, etc. At Sandwich Harbour, several ducks were present including Fulvous, Maccoa, South African Shelduck, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler and Southern Pochard - an interesting and enjoyable excursion.
The next day, we drove east into the Namib Naukluft park to follow the Welwitschia Drive, a road with numbered markers and an explanatory leaflet giving information on the specialist flora and geological features. There were also birds to be seen, particularly at the bridge over the Swakop River (plovers, stilts, ducks, etc) and at the Goanikontes Oasis where there were several weavers, as well as African Marsh Warbler in the reedbed.
The Swakop River featured heavily during this day - after crossing it by bridge, we again crossed the dry riverbed at the Goanikontes Oasis where it was noticeably sandy. By the time we tried to cross it again at marker 10 - still 3 markers to go on the drive and heading towards a dead end, we got firmly stuck in the soft bed. The dry river bed is so wide here, that it is very easy to go beyond the point of no return, and there is no visible warning. Apparently, people who bought their park permits in Swakopmund were warned about this hazard but we had bought ours in Windhoek on our first day.
We became stuck at 2pm and it was almost 3pm before another car appeared. They tried to help but to no avail, but at about 3.15pm a 4WD miraculously came from the opposite direction. It had a car behind it, which had also been stuck and rescued previously. We felt very lucky to be pulled out of our predicament rather than being faced with a night in the car. After that, we approached dry rivers with trepidation, and on a few occasions had to backtrack in order to get up more speed to ensure we had enough momentum to get through.
We returned to Swakopmund only to face a sandstorm. The wind had been strengthening all day, as it had the previous day, and the dunes were clearly on the move. This was bad enough from the shelter of a car, and put an end to the day's birdwatching.
We left Swakopmund on day 5, heading north along the coast to Cape Cross after pausing at the saltworks to view various plovers, flamingoes and cormorants, and the huge manmade platform just offshore specially built to harvest guano.
We drove on a "salt road", the surface of which is much better than gravel, so it was possible to make good speed safely. At Cape Cross, the fur seal colony fully lived up to expectations with the sights, sounds and smells of thousands of seals going about their business.
We then backtracked in the direction of Henties Bay before turning inland towards the Spitzkop and our eventual destination for the day of Erongo Wilderness Lodge near Omaruru. We had plenty of stops on the way to admire the scenery and many roadside birds including Gray's and Stark's Larks, Tractrac and Herero Chats, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Ludwig's Bustard and Red-crested Korhaan.
The lodge was idyllic, featuring luxury tents with private facilities and excellent food. We arrived late in the day just in time for a "sundowner", and a walk the following morning produced White-tailed Shrike, Pearl Spotted Owlet, Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting anf Golden-breasted Bunting, Yellow-billed, Grey and Monteiro's Hornbills, Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Hartlaub's Francolin, Greater Scimitarbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, etc, as well as Jack the tame helmeted guineafowl.
It would have been nice to spend a full day here but we were soon on the move again northwest towards Khorixas. We again had to cross the dry Swakop River, and again it was difficult although we made it without getting stuck. A village next to the dry river had some cultivated fields containing several new birds including Southern Pied Babbler, Ruppell's Parrot, and Red-necked falcon.
The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful although we did manage to rescue several Namibians in a car that had run out of petrol miles from anywhere. We had seriously wondered why we had been talked into carrying the large jerry can of petrol with us, but at least someone benefitted. We wasted almost 2 hours the following morning waiting to change money at the "bank" - the only place on the trip where we were troubled by hasslers, insisting on washing our car windscreen repeatedly despite protests and then demanding cash.
We then set off west to visit the petrified forest, which turned out to be rather an exagerated title as there were only a few tree trunks visible. As we continued west, we gave a lift to a local couple whose bus had broken down.
On the way to their farm, they treated us to a demonstration of the local dialect which contains a myriad of amazing pops and clicks, interspersed with graphic accounts of the many accidents that had occurred on the road in the last few months. As we returned to Khorixas, we took a detour to see the organ pipes - a miniature version of the giant's causeway. The scenery was again superb but the birdlife sparse with only 3 new species for the day - brown-throated martin, common fiscal shrike and cape penduline tit.
On day 8 we headed towards Etosha but not before seeing red-faced mousebird and bare-cheeked babbler in the restcamp. We made very good time on the smooth tarred road which was a treat after days on gravel. Within minutes of entering Etosha, we were at Ombika waterhole and viewing our first game - eland, kudu, gemsbok, zebra and springbok.
It was around noon, and they were all either looking very hot and bothered in the intense heat and blinding light or were sheltering from the heat under trees, whilst the birds must have been hiding in the undergrowth. We continued on to Okaukuejo restcamp where we were treated to our first elephants enjoying themselves in the waterhole.
At the other end of the scale, a family of ground sqirrels had made their home in the lawn outside our bungalow. In the afternoon we went north to Okondeka waterhole, getting superb roadside views of red-capped, spike-heeled and fawn coloured larks, grey-backed finchlark, buffy pipit, ostrich, double-banded courser, black-shouldered kite, bataleur, northern black korhaan, lappet-faced vulture, pale chanting goshawk, kori bustard, lesser and greater kestrels and red-necked falcon.
This had been by far the most exciting day so far, and to finish off we saw a large flock of double-banded sandgrouse at the restcamp waterhole at dusk followed a little later by 8 rhinos quenching their thirst together.
After this amazing first introduction to Etosha, we were up at dawn the next day exploring the restcamp grounds on foot which produced melba finch, scarlet chested sunbird, chestnut-vented tit-babbler, as well as the normal selection of doves, weavers, crowmned and blacksmith's plovers, hornbills, etc.
We spent the rest of the day roaming along the southern edge of the pan stopping at intervals particularly at waterholes. We immediately came across scaly-feathered finch and pied crow, black-chested prinia, secretary bird and most of the list seen the day before. We spent over 2 hours at Rietfontein waterhole where there was egyptian goose, marabou and yellow-billed storks, lappet-faced and white-backed and white-headed vultures, and a martial eagle as well as large numbers of zebra, giraffe, springbok, etc.
We also had a good view of a leopard resting in a tree, and at Aus waterhole we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of over 60 elephants. At Olifantsbad waterhole, there was a huge crowd of mixed vultures joined by a solitary rhino, a prelude to another 8 rhinos at the floodlit restcamp waterhole later in the day.
The next morning we repeated our dawn walk around the restcamp, seeing pririt batis, acacia pied barbet, dusky sunbird. A flock of namaqua sandgrouse flew in for their morning drink, and as we were leaving there was an african hoopoe probing the ground with its impressive bill. We retraced our route back along the edge of the pan heading for Halali where we would spend a further 2 nights. There were redcapped and sabota larks on the roadside overlooked by bataleur and tawny eagle in the trees. At Gemsbokvlakte waterhole, a group of hyenas was having a great time running back and forth through the trough. This was followed at Aus by the sight of a lion chasing a warthog.
On arrival at Halali, the trees around the bungalows were inhabited by bare-cheeked babblers and red-billed woodhoopoes. In the afternoon at Goas waterhole, there was another huge herd of elephants enjoying the water and mud accompanied by greater painted snipe, wood and curlew sandpipers, little stint, egyptian goose and secretary bird. In the evening, the Halali waterhole was almost as productive as Okaukuejo had been with 7 rhinos, 2 hyenas, 3 jackals plus freckled nightjar and spotted eagle-owl.
The next day, we took a dawn walk to the top of the kop to see rock bunting, carp's tit, red-billed woodhoopoe, yellow-breasted apalis, green-backed bleating warbler and white-crowned shrike before we headed off in the direction of Namutoni. We saw most of the regular species from previous days en route before calling in at the restcamp for refreshments, where the grounds held crimson-breasted shrike and blue waxbill plus thousands of assorted weavers. The journey back to Halali and the usual night watching the waterhole was a virtual repeat of the previous day.
The next morning we had to leave Etosha, but despite facing a long drive we again stopped at Goas and Namutoni with similar results to previously plus views of european bee-eater, buffalo weaver and black-backed puffback.
We broke our journey with stops at Lake Guinas, a 50km detour and a total waste of time, and Lake Otjikoto, right by the main road and surrounded by gardens. The latter looked as if it would be very productive but at the hottest time of day, we only saw redknobbed coot, reed cormorant, red-headed finch, blue and violet-eared waxbills.
We continued to the Waterberg Plateau restcamp, arriving late afternoon. We had hoped to take a drive onto the plateau the following day, but they were fully booked despite the camp being far from full. This and other experiences during our stay confirmed that despite its wonderful setting and atmosphere, and easily the best standard accommodation of all the restcamps, Waterberg was poorly managed and many of the staff were incompetent.
Instead of the hoped for drive, the next morning we climbed to the top of the plateau to admire the wonderful view. On the way, red-billed francolin were very common, as were the tiny antelope, damara dikdik, and noisy baboons. The woods were full of green-backed bleating warblers whose calls could be heard everywhere. Other sightings included bradfield's swift, white bellied sunbird, greater scimitarbill and three-streaked tchagra. We then explored the area near the camp entrance where we saw african hoopoe, rosy-faced lovebird, southern-crowned shrike and burchell's starling. A mid-afternoon stroll along the Kambazebi walk produced golden-tailed woodpecker, golden-breasted bunting, rock runner, short-toed rock thrush and a pair of african hawk-eagles.
We were now rapidly nearing the end of the trip and headed south back towards Windhoek. This was a pleasant drive with close sightings of all 4 hornbill species, red-billed francolin, helmeted guineafowl, red-breasted swallow, black-shouldered kite, tawny and wahlberg's eagles on the roadside.
Despite our guidebook advising that access to Von Bach's Dam Park had to be prearranged, we took a chance and turned up at the gate, and were admitted without problem.We had the entire place to ourselves and it was very productive at the dam outfall and especially around the bungalows. Birds seen included marico sunbird, long-billed crombec, brubru, ashy tit, cardinal woodpecker, black-cheeked waxbill, black-chested prinia, pririt batis, common and violet-eared waxbills, crimson-breasted shrike, african jacana, white-breasted cormorant, common and wood sandpiper. We then continued back to Eagle's Rock Lodge where we had begun 2 weeks previously. During that time, the weather had warmed up considerably which had transformed the birdlife bringing out scarlet-chested sunbirds and filling the air with the smell of orange blossom. An exceptionally good fish dinner was served that night.
After admiring the swallow-tailed bee-eaters immediately outside our room before breakfast, we spent the morning of our last day at Daan Viljoen Park, a waste of time for game, but quite productive for birds around the lake. Here we saw south african shelduck, white-breasted and reed cormarants, little grebe, egyptian geese, ruff, bar-tailed godwit, common and wood sandpiper, grey heron, redknobbed coot, moorhen, red-billed teal, african hoopoe, african darter, cardinal woodpecker, black-winged stilt, black-cheeked waxbill, mountain and ant-eating chats, and many others. We then called in at Windhoek for a while before finishing the trip where we had started at Avis Dam on the way to the airport. This didn't produce much as there were far less birds around than 2 weeks previously. We returned the car at the airport and then joined the chaos in the departure lounge where only one check-in desk was open.
A serious incident almost occurred after about 45 minutes when a group of about 30 Germans marched straight to the front of the queue in a carefully organised manoeuvre apparently orchestrated by their group leader. Not surprisingly, this caused a reaction from those who had been patiently waiting in line (also nearly all Germans), who moved en masse sideways against the queue jumpers in an attempt to keep them away from the check-in desk. Fortunately, a second desk was opened at this time and things speeded up considerably.
This was a very enjoyable holiday with a trip list of 209 species and 123 lifers. It would be nice to return again during or just after the rainy season when the vegetation is green and there would be more migrants and birds in breeding plumage around. Photographic results would also be much better at that time as extremely high brightness and contrast levels due to dust in the air and bleached landscapes are a problem in the dry season.
|16 Sep||Windhoek - Swakopmund|
|17 Sep||Swakopmund (Sandwich Harbour)|
|18 Sep||Swakopmund (Namib Naukluft)|
|19 Sep||Swakopmund - Cape Cross - Omaruru|
|20 Sep||Omaruru - Khorixas|
|22 Sep||Khorixas - Etosha (Okaukuejo)|
|23 Sep||Etosha (Okaukuejo)|
|24 Sep||Etosha (Okaukuejo - Halali)|
|25 Sep||Etosha (Halali)|
|26 Sep||Etosha (Halali) - Waterberg Plateau|
|27 Sep||Waterberg Plateau|
|28 Sep||Waterberg Plateau - Windhoek|