Saturday, 17 January 2015

Etosha National Park, Self Drive Trip June 2014.

Today we left the Caprivi region behind us and headed towards The Etosha National Park. We drove towards the town of Tsumeb. On the way I saw signs to the Hoba Meteorite
The Hoba Meteorite is on a farm. 'Hoba West' this is where it fell. It has never been moved and is said to be the largest Meteorite in the world. It was a lovely location and very impressive.  
Hoba Meteorite

We made Tsumeb in good time and had pre booked camping at Onguma Game Reserve. We arrived at Onguma a lot sooner than I had thought we would, the roads in Namibia, unlike Botswana are good.
We went to Onguma camp site to tell the owner we had decided camping was not for us! The campsite was really nice, good pitches each with high quality ablutions. The very helpful man running this part of the estate checked and there was a hut free in the Onguma Main Bush Camp.  The accommodation here was top class, viewing over a watering hole, with wifi, so I sat, G&T in hand and skyped home and showed the people in England the Giraffes drinking at the watering hole. It was a magical place. What a contrast the next day when we entered the state run Etosha.
camping at Onguma Game Reserve

camping at Onguma Game Reserve

camping at Onguma Game Reserve

 Onguma Game Reserve

 Onguma Game Reserve
Namutoni Camp site was run down and downright dangerous! The staff surly, rude and lazy. There were loads of them, all milling around doing nothing.  It’s a good job people visit to see the outstanding wildlife and not the experience you get in the Namibian Wildlife Parks rest camps.  
Namutoni Camp

Namutoni Camp

Namutoni Camp

The Book Shop at Namutoni Camp

Namutoni Camp

Namutoni Camp
The wild life in Etosha is outstanding, within minutes of driving into the park we saw this Rhino, one of 10 we saw in 3 days. 8 at the watering hole in Okaukuejo. We also had a puncture! Not a place you want to be changing your flat tyre.

At Okaukuejo we saw both Black and White Rhino and heard them calling to each other.

We stayed at Okaukuejo and were due to stay at Halali, but they had allocated us a small disabled hut, without cooking facilities. I asked if I could move into what I had booked, a hut with cooking facilities, I was advised the camp was full. It was very, very quiet with 2 cars in the car park.
When I said ‘OK! We will cancel the booking then!’ suddenly there was availability! That was it, I had had it with the rude , surly camp staff and scruffy surroundings (Namibian Wildlife charge top prices for Etosha).
We drove out of the Anderson Gate and checked into Etosha Safari Lodge & Camp. This was a fraction of the prices in the Park, it was clean, comfortable and run by professional friendly staff.

Posh Tents.
The next day it was time to drive the straight fast road to Windhoek, via the Biltong Factory at Okahandja and get the Air Namibia flight to JoBurgh where our aircraft was waiting to take us home.
Air Namibia Fleet at Windhoek airport.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Popa Falls, Caprivi Strip Namibia. Self Drive Road Trip, June 2014.

I entered the name 'Popa Falls' into the sat nav, and we followed the directions, although it seemed to be taking us in the wrong direction, as we were going back along the main road towards Kongola. Soon after crossing the bridge at Bagani, the tinny voice told us to turn right. This was onto a barely visible dirt track through the bush. The bumpy track led to a small beach on the banks of the river with this view of the Pops Falls,  more like a series of rapids really. 
The small sandy beach was a great place to sit and enjoy the packed lunch Shindi had prepared for us. Less than 10 minuets into our lunch I was startled when an old man appeared, silently behind me. Once I had recovered from the shock, I realised he was asking asking for money for the 'Car Parking' as this was tribal land. The amount he wanted was extremely low, and it was worth it to stop in this spot.  
Popa Falls, Caprivi, Namibia
Beach & Picnic Spot at Popa Falls
We needed to find accommodation and had see lots of signs to lodges and camping on the stretch of road from Mahango Game Park to Bagani. So we went back that way and followed the signs to Mahangu Safari Lodge. The track was long and dusty and we passed a few Shebeens. but the area was very quiet.
AfriCan Shebeen
Soon we arrived at the gates to Mahangu Safari Lodge. Here we had a choice of camping, or accommodation in bungalows or large safari tents all equipped with en-suite facilities, air-conditioning, mosquito nets and mains electricity.
The lodge is set amongst wild date palms and jackalberry trees and has great views of the Kavango River. Sunset decks near the water provide birders and photographers with a safe haven to sit and relax. The lodge also does game viewing boat trips to observe crocs and hippo, especially in the late afternoon. Organized fishing trips are also available for those who want to catch a Tiger in Africa, the fish! 
Mahangu Safari Lodge
We had a simple but very clean hut near to the river, dinner was served in the communal area and all diners sat together, with the log fire warming the area, that was a nice touch. The food was simple but very good, the wine was also good. It was a pleasant evening.
A Boxer at Mahangu Safari Lodge enjoying an early morning sunbed
After a leisurely breakfast and settling the bill we were on the road again. This time we called into the Namibian Wildlife Resort at Popa Falls. this resort has been renovated and looks very nice, but it was extremely quiet. I have to say the Falls are better seen from the other side of the river.

Popa Falls from the NWR, Namibia

Popa Falls

Sun downer boat at NWR Popa Falls
As we drove towards Rundu, was passed a community shop selling baskets and called in. Here I got some of the best African Basket wear I have ever seen. The quality of the hand weaving is top class, I got as many as I could get into my hand luggage. They have now been made into a wall hanging, and very nice it is to!

The town of Rundu states it is at the gateway to the Caprivi Strip. Well we did it the other way so it was the end of the Caprivi Strip for us. It was a busy, dusty town.
We were heading for Hakusembe River Lodge that according to the Sat Nav was situated on the banks of the Kavango River, about 15km west of the town. From the Tar road it was a 4.5km drive on a dirt track through more Shebeens and lots of Churches, until finally there was a very muddy, flooded track.  You did need a 4X4 type car to get to the lodge.
Again, once through the gates the contrast with the grounds and outside was immense. Here were lush lawns, roses, palms and a wonderful setting.
Set back from the river, is Hakusembe's campsite with eight individual pitches. But again we didn't camp, but had a hut with bathroom, fridge and a small veranda.
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
We did a sundowner cruise on the river, with drinks and snacks, it was very relaxing watching the sun go down and the moon rise, whilst villages ferried back and forth to Angola in small dug outs.
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

The meal was served in the temporary restaurant (the new one will be built now). It was a buffet meal and very good, again the wine was good quality, especially if you think where we were. So it was a pleasant end to our drive through the Caprivi Strip and onward tomorrow to Etosha.
I had wanted to visit this region for a very long time, disappointingly my imagined Caprivi was very different from the real Caprivi.
Most of Caprivi’s population is concentrated in Katima Mulilo, along the main road and in small villages spread across the eastern floodplains. Many of the people are at risk from frequent flooding. Many are subsistence farmers who make a living from the rivers. However many villages are apparently reliant on flood relief.  All along the Strip people are begging and children did not appear to have access to schooling, the population was one of the poorest I have ever seen in Southern Africa, unemployment is over 23%.
The Game reserves that are in the area state they have wildlife, but it was not in evidence along the road, I am glad I did not see animals along this road, as the large lorries go at great speed and I think if I had seen any they would have been dead ones. Would I go again? NO! only if I wanted to get from Namibia to Vic Falls in a rush, and that’s what all the guided tours were using it for.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Caprivi Strip. Okavango Panhandle and Delta, self drive, June 2014.

The pick up of the hire car was easy, but it took a while as the Bushlore rep went through the Van, tent and the camping equipment with us, it was very well equipped with everything we needed. Due to extensive briefing we were a bit later than planned leaving Kasane and heading to the Nogoma Bridge crossing.
Getting out of Botswana was easy, as usuall the boarder staff were great. Getting into Namibia however was a very different matter! The staff were surly and very unhelpful, far worse that when we visited Zim a few years ago. They also did not explain that you had to go to the office in Katima Mulilo to pay the fees, a fellow driver told us this very important fact.
Add caption
Once through the immigration process we found the office at the petrol station. Here we paid the road fees to a very pleasant man, got some meat from the shop and drove down the Caprivi Strip to find a place to stay.

The Caprivi Strip

 It was so disappointing!!! I don't know what we expected, but it wasn't this straight, fast road. I thought it would be by a river, but it was just bush, with very poor people living along the strip. The road is very good, so it did not take long to get to the junction at Knogola. There were shops here, but we had forgotten it was a Sunday, so everything was closed! Thank goodness we did a bit of shopping in Kasane.
We drove through some gates that stated Namushasha Lodge and after a drive down a long track found a hut with a man in. He told us he had camping space but the lodge was closed. we wanted to purchase fire wood, but he did not have any for sale! He told us if we wanted hot water, it was alittle extra and he would light the Rhodesian boiler. We did want hot water and he did have wood to light the boiler. But it was a waste of time as the water was a slow trickle and never came out of the taps hot!

The next day, after very little sleep in out tent we carried on our way, we were to stay at a lodge on the Okavango Panhandle for one night prior to flying into the Okavango Delta. We drove down the Caprivi Strip to Bagani, here we turned left and drove towards Botswana again. As we brove down this road towards the boarder we passed into Mahango Game Park, and the tar road finished. For a while we did wonder if it was the correct way, and it was. We spotted the boarder crossing.
Mahango Game Park

Mahango Game Park

 We were going to a lodge called Nxamaseri Lodge, as the panhandle does not receive a lot of publicity I was unsure of what to expect. We had received instructions to meet at a sign post on the road to Shakawe. Our guide was waiting for us. we left the car in a local krall by the sign and off we went with Adam.
Nxamaseri Lodge turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Our guide Adam looked after us from the moment we met him at the 'junction' on the main road. Firstly he drove us down a very sandy track to the waters edge, then we had a ride by boat to get to the Lodge.

 The lodge was clean with great accommodation, a bar and lots of good food. We were offered a choice of water based activities and chose to go out on the Okovango River for a sun downer bird watching cruise and this was better than anything we did in Moremi National Park or in the Delta. I think Nxamaseri is a fantastic camp and a real alternative to the Delta.
The next day we were flying for the airstrip at Nxamaseri to Shindi Camp in the Okavango Delta.
Adam took us on the boat to the air strip, it was covered with cows, Adam had to run up and down clearing the beasts from the grassy airfield to allow the very small aircraft to land.

Shindi Camp was, as I expected, fabulous, again booked via Expert Africa. And there is plenty of information about this camp on line so I will just put a few words:
Shindi. There are water based activities and land based activities, and that was what I wanted to do. The camp was full and we met some very interesting people here, including one of the original owners of Shindi….he had many interesting tales to tell us round the camp fire. The camps staff were outstanding, working hard to make your stay special and the guides of good quality. This photo says it all really:
However, if its water based activities & birds your after, then Nxamaseri is just as good if not better. And it was back to Nxamaseri airstrip that another small aircraft took us to, thank goodness it was only 45 minutes! Again Adam was ready with the boat to meet us and take us back to our car. Then that was it we were on our own, no pre booked accommodation. so we set off back the way we had come to Popa Falls in Namibia.