Delta to Desert Tour – Feb 2020

Just as the world was starting to hear about the Corona Virus, and long before we had any idea of what sort of effect it was going to have on our every day lives, I was rushing across the northern cape, en route to Maun in Botswana, to meet up with clients flying in from Italy.

Our original plan, made about was to spend the first few days exploring the Okavango delta. But as a major drought (now thankfully broken) had swept across the region for the past few years, the delta was at its driest ever. So Maun became just an entry point for my foreign compatriots, as we spent the night there, at our water front accommodation that had now been turned into a dust owl. 

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed east, cutting across the Makgadigadi national park, where we managed to catch the tail end of the great Zebra migrations, as the remnants of the vast herds grazed peacefully along the road reserve. We stopped for lunch that the well known watering hole of Elephant Sands. Elephant sands is a true gem on the route up to Kasane, and an excellent place to start your exploration of the Hunters Road from, but we only had time for a refreshment stop, as we were heading to for another hidden gem, Senyati Safari camp, near Lesoma. We arrived at Senyati, were we would stay for two nights, and were immediately greeted by herds of elephant one after another coming to drink at the waterhole, and passing by right in front of our chalets. Surprisingly though, elephant were not the highlight of our stay at Senyati. On the drive from Maun to Senyati, one of the guests asked me what the chances would be of spotting Wild Dogs, (or Licaune in Italian.). Although it took me a while to figure out what she was asking about, I had to inform her that although this area has a healthy population of wild dog, the chances of spotting them was extremely low, but much to my surprise, as I was braaing some steaks in front of the chalets, a pack of wild dogs, obviously on the hunt, came trotting by, so close I was worried they may steal the steak of the braai. Unfortunately, they were gone as soon as they arrived, and there wasn’t even a chance to try get the cameras out.

From Senyati, we did a quick day trip to Victoria falls. The border crossing went smoothly, and it was an easy 90 minute drive from Kasane to the falls. The ladies had a good time, although the falls were not at full capacity, there was enough water to thouroughly soak them as they passed through the rain forest. I also always tell people that you need to visit the falls at least twice in a lifetime, as they are equally, however differently impressive, both at high water, and low. After a few hours at the falls, and some curios shopping in the car park, we went off to enjoy lunch overlooking the Zambezi gorge below, and watched a few thrill seekers enjoying the zip line across the gorge.

The drive back to Senyati went without incident, and the we enjoyed sightings of buffalo an giraffe along the way. We were back at Senyati in time for a quick swim, and then enjoy sundowners on the deck. Again the elephant graced us with their present all throughout the evening. So magical to be so close to these giants, with no barriers between us. Botswana was truly showing off.

The next morning, bright an early, we said our goodbyes to Senyati and its beautiful waterfront bar, and made our way through Chobe National Park for the Border with Namibia, to enter the Caprivi Strip (Now known as the three rivers region). The crossing went by with no incident, and there were as of yet no measures in place to control the spread of Corona Virus, although, it was all one heard about on the radio. The drive along the caprivi was beautiful, and the guests could not believe how much completely I inhabited space there was. Around 15:00, we arrived at our stop for the night, Ngepi camp. Ngepi is another must see space in this region, and the treehouses overlooking the Okavango river, with there outdoor ablutions are truly amazing. This was by far the best accommodation of the entire trip, and we can’t wait to get back there. 

We enjoyed a sunset boat cruise on the Okavango, and then returned for a delicious dinner, our first taste of Namibias incredible venison. The following mornings breakfast was equally delicious, but then it was time to hit the road again. We were now making our way towards Etosha National Park, but we had some serious ground to cover first. Today we would travel as far as Grootfontien. There is not much to be said about Grootfontien, the farming community is the hub a many tourist routes across Namibia, but it’s definitely a one night stay kind of place, and a good spot to resupply with a selection of supermarkets. We booked into a lovely guest farm just outside of town, and were treated to real country hospitality, and more great local cuisine. 

After a night of heavy rain, we left Grootfontien, making our way to Etosha. But first we had to stop off at the Hoba metorite, the largest intact meteorite known on earth. from here, we drove off, encountering lots and lots of much needed rain as we made our way to the Namutoni gate entering into Etosha NP. Unfortunately, Namutoni has become terribly run down, and after a quick bathroom break, we decided to head into the park, not even bothering with a visit to the museum.

Once we entreated the park, the shock of the state of affairs at Namutoni soon wore off, as we were treated to amazing game viewing, and could almost see the state of the park changing before our eyes as the much needed rain had started wetting the soil. On route to Halali, amongst other great sightings, we were blessed to watch an Impala giving birth to a foal, and watched as the mother gently enticed the young one to get up and start walking within half an hour of the umbilical cord being severed. Nature truly was showing us its best face.

We were very relived to find Halali in a far better state than Namutoni, and were happy we would be spending the next three nights there. The staff were friendly and professional, the facilities clean, and the camp well kept. After dinner, we headed up to the waterhole were we were lucky to see a black rhino with a calf suckling milk. The cow/calf pair would return each evening for the next few nights, as well as a pack of Hyena, and on the second night, we spotted a leopard coming for a drink too. The game viewing during the day didn’t disappoint either, as we spend hours and hours exploring the parks road network. 

A lot of people these days advocate for staying outside the park and doing day trips in, but I don’t agree with this course of action. You simply cannot reach the interior of the park on a day drive, and still enjoy it, and the interior, around Halali is where the real magic lies. We spotted herds of elephant, black and white rhino, giraffe, Oryx in herds of well over a hundred. More springbok then we could bother to count, and an unbelievable. Array of bird life. Not to mention the late afternoon sun playing trick across the sky at Etosha Lookout, overlooking the pan. A day tripper into the park could never experience this and make the cutoff time for the gates. I for one cannot wait to be back in August to enjoy this magical park once more.

After three nights exploring the interior of Etosha in depth, we had seen 4 of the big 5, and loads of other exciting wildlife, it was time to move on, as we exited Etosha at Okakeujo gate and made tracks in a westerly direction, as we headed towards the Skeleton Coast. We broke the journey with a Overnight stop in Kamanjab, which I think is a town that purely exists as an overnight stop for people moving between the Koakaveld, Damaraland and the Coast. Plan your day so you arrive late, and leave early, as there really isn’t much to see or do there, but there is a choice of reasonable accommodation, and the restaurant at Oppi Koppi resort is definitely worth it. 

The following morning we got an early start, and made our way first to the Palmwag conservancy where we enjoyed a very good breakfast. We spent an hour or so trying our luck to find desert adapted rhino here, but only found tracks. Hopefully we have better luck next time when we spend a few days here. From Palmwag, the desert proper really begins, and the landscapes are truly phenomenal as once heads towards the coast. 

We entered the Skeleton Coast Park around midday, and after letting the tires down at Torra Bay (deserted now, as it is only open during the December holiday, we made our way along the beach towards Terrace Bay, where we would Overnight. When we arrived at terrace bay, and had checked in, it was time for a afternoon nap, before taking a sunset drive into the dunes behind the resort, followed by another excellent Namibian meal. Everyone opted for the oryx steak with peppercorn sauce, and it was a winner. 

After a good nights rest, with the waves of the Atlantic crashing onto the beach only a few yards from our doorsteps, we wolfed down a scrumptious breakfast spread, and then said our goodbyes to Terrace bay, as we headed south now, down the coast. Today was all about exploring the shipwrecks that have infamously given the Skeleton Coast it’s name, and they definitely did not disappoint.

After a day cruising the beaches and dodging seals and jackals, we eventually reached the little fishing village of Henties Bay, that would be our base for the next two days. Two things become immediately apparent in Henties Bay, fishing is more than just a way of life in this town, the locals are absolutely obsessed. The second is that the fishing is getting worse every year, and the blame seems to lie squarely on Chinese trawlers overfishing the off shore reserves. A recurring problem all over Africa. Hopefully one day soon, African governments will wake up and realise their new BFFs from China are actually a far worse colonizer than the previous lot ever were. 

In Henties, the local restaurant “Die Duine” was our go to spot. Not only is the view form high up overlooking the ocean great, but the food is pretty decent too, and very well priced. So on the first morning in Henties, we stopped at De Duine for a quick breakfast and a pot of coffee before making our way inland for a day trip into Damaraland proper. Our destination, the Brandberg, Namibia’s Matterhorn, this 3000+ meter high giant stick out like a sore thumb from the desert around it, but it’s only once you get close by, that the true beauty is exposed, as one can explore the little valleys around the mountain, and hope to find the very elusive desert elephant that dwell there. We were again unlucky in this exercise, but exploring up and down these desert river beds, and the small oasis dotted along them, was still a very enjoyable day out. We stopped off at the White Lady Lodge for lunch, and a refreshing swim. If ever there was a real life “storybook Aosis” this place would be it. Stuck out in the middle of a scorching desert, they serve ice cold beer with a smile, and the bar is right next to one of the bluest swimming pools I have ever seen. White Lady Lodge also supports local conservation efforts and is very involved with the protection of the desert elephant. This is another spot I look forward to spending more time at on our trip in August. 

The following day, we only had a short drive to go from Henties down to Swakopmund, so we started off lazily, and had a slow breakfast, before packing our bags to continue south. We made a stop off at a few more shipwrecks along the way, but the highlight of the day was the visit to Cape Cross, a spot with a very interesting history, that requires a blog post of its own (coming soon). The seal colony at Cape Cross is simply unbelievable, and any attempt to count them would be futile, as is any attempt to block out the smell. 

We arrived late afternoon in Swakop, after first detouring to Walvis Bay, and stopping off for some quad biking at Dune 7. Swakopmund is an incredible and interesting town, which also needs a post of its own (coming soon). Our first night, which happened to be Valentine’s Day, we spoiled ourselves to dinner at the Jetty1916 restaurant. This well known restaurant in Swakopmund is located right on the end of the original harbour Pier, a good 350 meters out to sea, with amazing panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean all around, and you can feel the waves crashing against the floor below your feet. The food is pretty decent too. 

Day two in Swakop we decided to ditch the 4×4 for a bit, and spent the day exploring the streets of the town, from amazing shiny trinkets in the Krystal Gallerie, to truly interesting artifacts in the city museum. Our day of culture was only improved by lunch in a traditional German beer garden, complete with complimentary pretzels. One could spend three days walking the streets of Swakop and not run out of things to see or do. 

Day three in Swakop, was a day for 4x4s and adventure again, as we got our permits, and headed out of town, slowly making our way up the Swakop river towards our lunch spot at the Goinikontes Oasis. The desert landscapes, known here as “moon landscape” are a geological wonder-world of epic proportions. Around every corner there is a new surprise waiting. Photographs and explanations just don’t do this place justice, to understand the scale of this area, one needs to visit, which is why we are going back in August and would love to take you along.

Our fourth and final day in Swakop, we headed back out to the moon landscape, but but this time from the other side, and with a new mission. Today we were going on search of the Welwitschia Mirabalus, a remnant of the dinosaur age, that only occurs along a narrow belt in Namibia and Angola, and is regarded as the oldest living flora on the planet. Today we would see the largest one known to man, a plant of at least 2000 years old. A humbling site to say the least. But to get there required us to take a very scenic drive, aptly named “Welwitschia Drive”, and at the various viewpoints along the way, one has a magnificent panoramic view of the moon landscape. Although the route is a public road, if you intend stopping at any of the viewpoints or getting out to view the welwitschia, you will need to acquire a permit from the MET offices in Swakop, as this area forms part of the Namib Naukluft National Park. 

After a few hours of taking in the sights, and again being reminded of the vastness of this magnificent desert landscape, we reach the giant Welwitschia, a truly incredible site. Unfortunately, because of numbers of visitors increasing, the plant is now fenced off, with a viewing platform built to observe it from. When one goes to read the plaque describing the tree, it soon becomes clear why this is needed, as the sign is almost unreadable from all the wanton graffiti as people insist on leaving their mark on the site. One would think with the advent of social media, carving your name onto everything would become redundant, when a selfie would do, but sadly this is not the case. 

Our last night in Swakop was enjoyed with dinner at the Tug Boat Restaurant, a landmark that is impossible to miss on the Swakopmund foreshore. Some wine and fresh fish while reminiscing about the past three weeks on the road was the perfect way to end off this adventure. Tomorrow there wouldn’t be anything special to do, just rush off to the airport and get the clients on a plane back to Italy before the borders shut down, and then I would tackle the linty road back to SA solo. But thoughts of that were a distant, as we reminded ourselves of all the magnificent experiences this trip had brought us. I for one can’t wait to be back soon, in August hopefully but we will have to wait and see how the Corona Virus pandemic plays out first.