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Sunday, 30 August 2009

Namibia, Swakopmund, Cape Cross Seals & Quadbiking in the dunes.

We headed North from Swakopmund on a Salt Road, A road in better condition than many of Britain's main roads. Our intention today was to explore the Skeleton Coast.
The Skeleton Coast in the norther part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia. The coast is named due to the treacherous nature of this coastline, many shipwrecks can be seen, they have run aground on rocks in the thick fogs the area is known for. We were not going all the way up to the Skeleton Coast Park, but just to Cape Cross to see the Cape Fur seals.
Cape Cross is called so due to the fact that the Portuguese explorer Diego Cao (1486). The first European who landed on Namibian soil, erected the first stone cross in honour of King Johannes of Portugal. It was the tradition of the Portuguese to build a cross where ever they landed. These crosses had various functions: symbol of Christianity, documentation of the rights of possession and landmark for passing ships. However, in 1893 a German sailor, Captain Becker, removed the cross and took it back to Germany, where it eventually ended in the Berlin Museum of Transport and Technic. In place of Diego Cao's cross Becker built a 5 m high wooden cross, which was replaced with reformation of the original cross in 1895. The cross in the photo was erected in 1980. As well as the cross, Cape Cross is a Seal Reserve. The seal colony at Cape Cross is the breeding place of the Cape fur seals, which are actually a species of sea lion. Along the Namibian and South African coast there are 24 colonies with a seal population of about 650 000 animals. At Cape Cross live about 80 000 to 100 000 seals. According to NamibWeb.com the cows are a lot smaller than bulls, they only weigh up to 75 kg. A few weeks after the bulls have arrived the pregnant cows come to the colony to have one youngster. The pregnancy lasts for about 8 months. One bull has about 5 to 25 cows in his territory and only 7 days after giving a birth the next rutting season starts.
The pups fur is pitch black and they start sucking on their mother immediately. We saw loads suckling. A few days after giving a birth the mother has to return to the sea to feed. During this time the youngsters are very vulnerable and are hunted by jackals and hyenas. We did see lots of jackals taking the youngsters who were left on their own. We did not see hyena, but saw their footprints in the sand. On the drive back we saw loads of these stalls, I think it is sand crystal, with honesty boxes.
Once back in Swakopmund we decided to have a go at one of the many activities on offer. Swakopmund is one of the top destinations in Southern Africa for extreme sports enthusiasts. We did not try any thing to strenuous, but went quadbicking in the sand dunes.
After a hectic day, all that was left was to eat, tonight we went to the Lighthouse Pub & Restaurant, it was a very busy place, full of local people and no wonder, it was good food at a good price, recommended.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Namibia, Swakopmund, The Welwitschia Plains.

As we drove out of Swakopmund and towards the Namib Desert, we drove passed an old Steam Train named ‘ Martin Luther’. 5 minutes past this point the Fog cleared and we were in the bright sunshine again
We had picked an entry permit and a brochure outlining the drive from the Ministry of Environment & Tourism office in Swakopmund. The brochure outlined a drive called 'The Weleitschia Plains –A Scenic Drive’. The brochure its self looks very old and I have basically copied it onto the blog in case it goes out of print and you want to do this drive. For some reason I did not take many photos, and apologise for this!!
The round trip by car takes approximately four hours, allowing you to get out at each of the numbered beacons , there are 13, and explore the area with the help of the brochure. The required permit, which allows entrance to the park as a whole is obtainable from the offices (as mentioned above) in Swakopmund. (There are not any gates or guards to check you in and out). A camping permit is required if you wish to camp.
1. No Photo. At first glance it would seem that the Namib desert is a dry and barren region. But if you look closely the ground is covered in stones and lichens. The lichens depend on the fog and mist for there survival. Unfortunately the lichens were all gone, or dead, but I had seen the BBC wildlife programme 'The Private Life of Plants', this was where it was filmed, (was that why the plants were all gone?) so understood what the brochure was alluding to.
2. No Photo. The Dollar bush this is one of two types of bush drought resistant bushes found all over the Namib. The dollar bush, so called because its leaves are the size of a dollar coin, and the ink bush. Both can survive without rain for years.
3 No Photo. Tracks of ox-wagons Although made decades ago, these are still visible here, showing clearly the damage that can so easily be done to the lichen fields by driving over them.
Some photos can bee seen on this link http://www.namibia-1on1.com/moon-landscape.html
4. The moonscape This is an unusual and spectacular view, usually called the moonscape, looking over a landscape formed by the Swakop River. It is best seen in the slanting light of early morning or late afternoon. It really did look like a moon scape!
5. In the background is Rossing Mountain. On the ground, more lichen fields, this time they were here. These remarkable plants can extract all their moisture requirements from the air. To simulate the dramatic effect that a morning fog can have, simply sprinkle a little water on one and watch carefully for a few minutes.
6 This is another impressive view of the endless moonscape.
7 Old South African camp. 'It comes as a surprise to find remnants of human sojourn in this desolate landscape. On this spot South African Troops made camp for a few days in 1915, during World War I. Along with broken bottles and rusty cans, one can also see the tracks of an early form of tracked vehicle.'
9 A dolerite dyke These dark strips of rock, which are a common feature of this part of the Namib, were formed when molten lava welled up through cracks in the existing grey granite. After cooling it formed dark, hard bands of rock which resisted erosion more than the granite – and thus has formed the spine of many ridges in the area.
10.The Swakop River Valley. Compared to the desert plains this riverbed has lush vegetation. It It includes wild tamarisk (Tamarix usurious), and anaboom (Acacia albida), better known for its occurrence in the humid Zambezi valley almost 1,000 miles east – sustained by underground water percolating through the sands beneath your feet. You can Picnic and camp here, but you must book first with the office in Swakopmund. It was very isolated.
11 Welwitschia Flats This barren, open expanse of gravel and sand is home to the Namib's most celebrated plants, the endemic Welwitschia mirabilis. These plants are unique to the Namib, and at just a few locations which suit their highly adapted biology.It is in face a coniferous dwarf tree and is related to the pine tree.
12 The big welwitschia. This is a splendid example of Welwitschia. One of the largest Welwitschia mirabilis known – estimated at over 1,500 years old. This beacon marks the end of the trail. But then we saw another beacon on the road.
13 Old mine workings On the way back to Swakopmund, continue straight past beacon 8, without turning right. Where the road joins route C28 to Swakopmund, marked by this final beacon, is that of the abandoned Von Stryk Mine. This small, hand excavated iron ore mine was worked during the 1950s, but was not economically viable. The mine is still privately owned. Now it is just another reminder of the park's chequered past.
The drive was interesting, and with out the printed brochure I don't think we would have stopped to look at the small things. The Lonely Planet does outline the drive in the 'Botswana & Namibia Book', but it would be more difficult to follow than it was with the brochure.
Back in Swakopmund, it was time to eat. We walked through the thick, cold and damp fog to 'The Tug'. This is in a beached tugboat near the jetty. We had not booked, but that was not a problem, I tucked into a 'Surf, small Turf', it was a massive Lobster, with a small fillet steak, and it was delicious. I also enjoyed the patio heater that kept me warm, it is the first (and last) time I have seen a patio heater used inside a building!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Namibia, Swakopmund, a German town on the Atlantic Ocean!

Driving through the large expanse of the Namib Desert, we headed back to the Atlantic Coast, first we arrived at Walvis Bay. This town was a great disappointment. Having heard about it for years on the South African weather forecast, I was very disappointed. It was architecturally uninspiring, looking like some odd town, dumped in the middle of know where, for no reason! Of course there are plenty of reasons for its survival. It thrives mainly because the Pelican Point sand spit makes it the only feasible port between L├╝deritz and Luanda.
During the UN-sanctioned South African mandate over Namibia, the port of Walvis Bay was appended to South Africa’s Cape Province, Namibia gained independence in 1990, but South Africa retained Walvis Bay. Although South Africa stubbornly held its grip, the town’s strategic and economic value made control of Walvis Bay a vital issue in Namibian politics. After much negotiation and deliberation, control finally passed to Namibia on 28 February 1994.
So having had a (quick) look round Walvis Bay, we drove 30km south to the town of Swakopmund. We stopped after about 10km to look at ‘Bird Island’. This wooden platform in the sea was built to provide a roost for sea birds, it is now a source of guano, and I do not have any photos of it as the SMELL was absolutely disgusting!
We booked in to The Swakopmund Hotel, it was once the main train station, built in 1901, but has now been converted into a hotel. This building set the style for the architecture in the town, distinctly German/ Bavarian....was I in Africa??
According to all the tourist information, Swakopmund is the premier holiday resort in Namibia. Swakopmund feels overwhelmingly Teutonic – indeed, the Lonely Planet describes it ‘as being more German than Germany’. With its palm-lined streets, seaside promenades and Teutonic style buildings, you think that you are in a town on the German North Sea. We went to the Tourist Information, then walked around the town in the bright June Sunshine, it was a bit chilly but lovely.
There are loads of interesting historical buildings in Swakopmund, all fantastic examples of traditional German Architecture. This is one of the churches.
This is the Hohenzollern Building, built around 1906, it was built as a Hotel. This was my favourite building with Atlas supporting the world on the roof, and all the dancing girls on its front, just above the main door. My camera is not good enough to pick up the architectural detail of the buildings.
This is the Woermannhaus, we went up the former water tower and had a great view of the town and the desert at the back of the town...I had forgotten I was in a desert by then!
We sat on the promenade and enjoyed an ice cream, in the bright afternoon sun. We then walked out along the harbour wall and watched as a large pod of dolphins and one seal came in to the harbour. As we watched them, the fog rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean. The cold Atlantic Ocean meeting the Namib Desert often creates a fog bank. This fog can roll in up to 30km inland and provides moisture for desert-dwelling plants and animals. The fog was by now thick and very cold, so we went back to the car and went for a desert drive.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Namib-Naukluft Park.Sossusvlei, Sesriem, Dune 45,The Hidden Vlei. Namibia, June 2008.

At Kulala Desert lodge you can sleep on your private roof terrace and look up at the stars. Stargazing in the Namib Desert was spectacular. The sky's are so clear, it is easy to see the Milky Way. The nights in June were very cold, I needed the hot water bottle I found in my bed!
Waking up in the morning to the view towards Sossusvlei was unforgettable, the dawn was just breaking as we got into the Land Rover and drove with our guide to a private gate on the Tsauchab River. This gate was the entrance to the world-famous Sossusvlei dunes.
When Andy said we were going to Sossusvlei, I have never heard of it! However, as soon as I saw this sand dune I recognised it straight away, it was one of the desktop background images used by Microsoft on my first computer! Dune 45, called so as it is 45km from Sesriem.
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. I don’t know if this is true, and to get obsessive about that is to miss the point, which is that Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia. All the guide books suggest that the best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. This is true, while we watched the sun come up the dunes changed from dark brown to bright orange in seconds. Tthe dunes are also great fun to walk up, but better fun coming down.We walked from the car park,up and over this sand dune into the 'Hidden Vlei', and there in front of me was the cover of the Lonely Planet book I had in my backpack.
'Vlei' is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water (well, a depression that might sometimes be filled with water!), and the name 'Sossusvlei' should strictly only be applied to the pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further. This particular 'vlei' is actually a more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. We walked further to the 'Dead Vlei', then back to the car park for a late breakfast/ early lunch.
I then spent the afternoon relaxing, reading my book on the veranda having endless cups of tea. The lodge had a pool, but the water was far to cold for me to go in.
At around 15.00 our guide called us to accompany him to Sesrim Canyon. The canyon was a few kilometers drive from the lodge.The canyon derives its name from the fact that early Afrikaner trekkers had to use six ('ses') leather thongs (a thong is a 'riem') so that their buckets could reach the water far below. The canyon begins as an almost imperceptible but nevertheless deep cleft in level, stony ground, and then widens until it finally flattens out onto the plain. Because it is so deep and sheltered, it often holds water well into the dry season. So it must have been of great importance to the early inhabitants of this area. It is 1km long and 30 km deep, the Tsauchab River has carved the canyon. We hiked up stream, it was very cool in the canyon compared with above it.
On our dive back to the lodge, we stopped for a drink and snacks...Biltong, Cheese and Windhoek Beer, and watched the sunset. Again, as the sun went down the colours of the landscape changed.It was our last evening in the Namib Desert, we had a lovely meal cooked for us by the staff of the lodge, a fine wine and stargazed....and that's what I call a perfect day!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Swakopmund to Namib-Naukluft Park and Kulala Desert lodge.

The Desert Express moved very slowly from Windhoek towards Swakopmund, I think it pulled into a siding for the night as I slept well for most of the night, waking as the train started to move at around 05.30. The view outside of the carriage window was rather startling, thick fog. Fog is a common phenomenon in Swakopmund. This town is situated where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the destinations in the Namibian interior, Swakopmund usually has quite cool weather. The town has a temperate climate where the average temperature is between 15˚C and 25˚C year round. It hardly ever rains in Swakopmund, but there is often fog brought from the sea by the wind.
After breakfast, a member of the crew took us out into the desert to climb Dune 7. From the top of Dune 7 you can see the desert on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.
The climb was easy, and possibly easier as it was not hot and the moisture from the fog made the sand very firm . We climbed to the top.
But due to the fog could not see the Ocean, we did however get a good view of the train in the desert, and coming back down the dunes was great fun. As we descended the fog was starting to clear, and by the time we pulled into Swakopmund station, 10 minutes from dune 7, it was bright sunshine.
We arrived in Swakopmund at 10.00, and it was about 15 minutes to get the car off the train, then we hit the road, heading towards the Namib- Naukluft Park. http://www.namibweb.com/naukluft.htm I had envisaged this to be a drive through the lifeless, arid desert......how wrong I was. Firstly the road was gravel, but almost as good as a tar road and with no traffic on it.The desert was amazing! It changed constantly, starting off flat with a little bit of grass growing, we soon entered the green Kuiseb Canyon, and soon after this drove over a range of limestone hills. We constantly saw Springbok and Ostrich, and very soon reached the 'town' of Solitaire. we stopped here to fill up with petrol and have some of the 'best Apfelstrudel in Africa'...it was delicious.
We drove on and the scenery just got better and better, it was one of the most stunning and colorful landscapes I have driven through, the colours ranging from Violets to Bright Oranges and Caramel Browns. My camera could not do the scenery Justice. We saw a surprising amount of wild game, mainly Springbok, but we also saw Gemsbok.
Our stop for the next two nights was The Kulala Desert lodge. I have posted photos on Trip Advisor
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g479221-d678173-Reviews-Kulala_Desert_Lodge-Namib_Naukluft_Park.html
We pulled into The Kulala Desert lodge just as the sun was starting to set, the lodge is set in such large grounds that the drive from the gate to the lodge was very long, but we made it before it got dark. The accommodation at the lodge was just like the pictures on Trip Advisor, and the view from our tent towards the world larges sand dunes was spectacular...I couldn't wait until the next day to explore the dunes.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Namibia, The Desert Express.

We arrived at the picturesque Windhoek Train Station at 09.00 to check in on the ‘Desert Express’.The train station is built in old Cape Dutch style and there are many old trains on display outside as the building forms part of the Trans-Namib Transport Museum. The German influence was evident with the Gothic script on the information board at the station.
We were boarding the Desert Express bound for the coastal town of Swakopmund. I don’t know how my birthday planner found out about this train, I had never heard of it. There is a paragraph about it in the 2007 Botswana & Namibia Book by Lonely Planet, it says ‘it provides a luxurious overnight trip between Windhoek and Swakopmund twice weekly’.
The train also allows you to put your car on it, and this is what we did.Upon check in we were met by the very welcoming crew, designated a ‘compartment’ in the Oryx cabin and advised to meet in the Dining Room for lunch at 12.00. Once the passengers and cars were loaded the train set off. The countryside we travelled through was not at all what I was expecting, it was rich, green bushvelt. Over a lunch of sandwiches, we were told that we would stop at around 15.00 and go to a game farm for a game drive. We went to our cabin and relaxed reading our books as the train continued through the countryside. We pulled into a siding at exactly 15.00, where this truck was waiting for us to get on.
We drove along a very dusty road, to a game farm, where we saw Rhino, Buck and lots of Rock Rabbits.
We than stopped for Sundowners with snacks

Then we were taken back to the train, once the sun went down it was rather cold and i was glad I had my long sleeved jumper with me. I have put some photos of the cabin on Trip Advisor http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g298357-d478087-r17698257-Desert_Express-Swakopmund.html
The Dinner that evening was lovely, there was a choice between Meat or Vegetarian, and the Dining Car and Bar were very pleasant areas. The Viewing car was unfortunately used as a smoking areas by the smokers, so I did not go in to it.

Namibia Holiday. June 2008.

This trip to Namibia took place in 2008. I have decided to record it on my blog, as since posting the Botswana information I have received many enquiries about both Botswana and Namibia, so I hope it is of help to you all? It was my birthday present from my husband. As this holiday was a present, I do not know the prices of the accommodation, so my views are based on what the places were like not value for money. When planning this holiday, my husband had intended for us to visit both Botswana and Namibia, this is often sold by the travel operators as a package. But as he researched the country, he came to the conclusion that Namibia was a destination in its self and Botswana would have to wait for another trip.
My knowledge of Namibia prior to this trip was sketchy. I knew Namibia had also been known as South West Africa and was once a German colony. I remember the South African weather forcast in the 1980s always used to start with ‘Walvis Bay’ and the forcast would inevitabley be ‘Fog’. I had a lot to learn.
Namibia is part of Southern Africa, on the Atlantic side.
We flew with Air Namibia from Gatwick to Windhoek. This was an easy 9 overnight hour flight. The crew served dinner, then left you to sleep. We were woken on the approach to Windhoek for some breakfast prior to arriving at about 07.30 in the morning. No jet lag as the time difference is only one hour ahead. Unfortunately Air Namibia have stopped this rout at the moment due to the economic situation. If we went again we would have connect to an Air Namibia flight in Frankfurt.We collected our vehicle from the car hire place at the airport. As we were uncertain as to what the roads were like we had rented a 4x4 Toyota Hilux. When we were given the vehicle I noticed that it was not a 4x4 and pointed this out the man, reluctantly he swapped us to the vehicle we had booked. 1st Fake 4X4
I retrospect, we did not need to have a 4x4 in Namibia, you could do it all in a VW Polo the roads are so good! We also did not realise that there is a skill to using the 4x4 controls and if we had have needed it we would not have know what to do.
2nd Real 4x4
The airport is about 40 ks from the city, the road was good and it only took about 20 minutes for us to get to our accommodation. Our accommodation was pre booked, the first night we had booked in at the Villa Verdi Guesthouse in Windhoek. Villa Verdi was lovely, but the decor a bit odd,with its almost Thai Themed out buildings. It was very easy to find, set above the city of Windhoek. We had a chalet set in beautiful gardens. The gardens were full of quirky sculptures and carvings. The pool area was very nice, but the water to cold for me to swim.
We set out and explored Windhoek, a small city. It was very clean and safe. One of the towns main attractions were the Gibeon Meteorites Exhibit in the centre of the outdoor shopping mall. The large Meteors looked like solid metal, they were discoverd in 1911south of Mariental, I would not want one to fall on my head!! In the shopping mall the shops and Banks were all the same brands you see in South Africa...the whole place felt very South African.
Art for sale in the shopping mall.
We then thought we would get to grips with the Toyota and set off to the Daan Viljoen Game Park. This small game park is located 18km to the West of Windhoek. It was a beautiful spot, hilly with open thorn-scrub vegetation. But the best and most unexpected thing was the wildlife. I have never seen such wildlife so close to a city before, we saw Wildebeest, Zebra, Warthogs and loads of birds. It looked like there was a restaurant by the dam, but it was closed. There were very nice picnic areas and a Camp Site with self catering bungalows . It turns out that you can book the camping through the NWR office located in Windhoek and when we go again we will stay here.
We got very lost going back to Windhoek, I think we ended up in an area called Soweto. I stopped and asked a lady the way and she pointed us in the right direction. As we were so late back we ate at Villa Verdi, the meal was not up to much, but we were tired by then and just glad to get into our bed!