So sorry for this late report but life sure gets in the way sometimes!
Namibia – Fabulous trip that was beyond anything that we expected (and we expected a lot due to the comments you had all left on Trip Advisor!)
Flights - We flew down using BA Air Miles (thank you BA). We flew into Johannesburg and checked our luggage out and then checked it back in again to Windhoek. Nothing lost or missing! On arrival in Windhoek a very weird experience with the lady checking our suitcase at customs but it ended up okay.
When we flew back we had the luggage security wrapped at Windhoek. Although the check-in clerk told us that she was not open for another hour we hung around and saw that she started checking people in much earlier so we got back in line and were then successful. We checked the luggage straight through and 1 suitcase missed the flight to Heathrow but was delivered to our house later on that day – all intact.
Our trip was booked through Tracey at Expert Africa. I found her to be very knowledgeable, friendly and professional. She was willing to listen to my ideas and to the suggestions that I had read on Trip Advisor and work with me to reach a trip we both thought would be wonderful... and it was!
Car rental – Budget – had been booked many months in advance and a Toyota Hilux was requested with comprehensive insurance cover and a 2nd spare tyre. We turned up at the desk and were told no vehicle was available but they would give us a car until our requested vehicle was ready. After finding out that several people were still waiting for their correct vehicles in Sesriem I insisted that they find us a vehicle which they eventually did. No problems with the vehicle throughout the trip and no spare tyre was needed.
My husband and I both thought that the 4 wheel drive gave us extra height, comfort and confidence. We wouldn’t go in a car but met others who were. Some were happy with their choice and others weren’t but it really depended on the roads they were driving on and their confidence.
The roads varied a lot but we took everyone’s advice and drove sensibly and had few problems. Slow down for the water courses (even if the previous 10 have been easy!) and where the gravel roads have sand blown on them. Take local advice but be aware that we were given misleading timings (by several hours) from some of the lodge managers. The rains this year caused quite a lot of damage to somel roads.
The last 100K’s into Swakopmund was boring, boring, boring but everywhere else was fascinating. The geology is really intriguing throughout.
For all of you going for the first time make sure that you do all of the checks thoroughly and that, if you ordered a 2nd spare tyre, it has been placed in the vehicle. After reading loads and having no luggage limitations I took:
- A comprehensive first aid kit including Brolene (several bottles as the dust affected our eyes), Hay fever tablets if you use them (the grasses this year were spectacular), Immodium (just in case), plasters, antiseptic wipes, mosquito spray, antiseptic cream, etc etc etc. We only used the Brolene and the hay fever tablets but felt more secure for having everything. We also put a Swiss Army knife in the middle of the kit which did prove useful on several occasions.
- The thick garden type of rubbish bags that we slipped our suitcases into to prevent the worst of the dust from getting into everything.
- Baby wipes that came in useful in so many ways
I had not really thought of it but we managed to time everything so that we missed most of the shop opening hours in Windhoek and Swakopmund. On second thoughts... I wonder if my husband had anything to do with that part of the planning
We did go into Windhoek on the Saturday afternoon to buy a cooler, lots of water ( 6 big bottles to stay in the car and several small bottles to chill and drink along the way), beer. We should have bought more biltong, biscuits, crisps, or general snacky things..
Everyone says the roads are empty but we did not realise that they meant THAT empty especially when you travel on Sundays. Be warned, a dot on the map does not equal a town or even a shop or a petrol station. Take the advice of many gone before us and fill up at every opportunity!
I will do individual reports on the lodges but:
River Crossing Lodge - 1 night. This is between the airport and Windhoek and is situated up in the hills. Lovely, relaxing location but with a few small teething problems. Generally a nice start to our trip but you will still need to go into Windhoek to do any shopping you need.
Wolwedans Dune Lodge, NamibRand – 3 nights Stunning lodge, fabulous scenery and well worth the 3 nights. We would definitely go back.
Sossus Dune Lodge, Sesriem – 2 nights. With concerns we booked this Lodge inside the park. We were very surprised indeed. The rooms were lovely, the scenery attractive, nice small pool and cold beer – what more could you ask for? The food was fine but the service lacked a bit of warmth that the privately owned lodges provide. Make sure that you make time to have a look at the canyon near the Lodge.
We took the Lodge tour to the dunes which I thought was good value and gave us a break from driving. After an amazingly early start (set your own alarm) we arrived at Big Daddy before anyone else. I can not climb so I watched the others (more enjoyable!) and went to Dead Vlei before anyone else. What an experience!
Stiltz, Swakopmund – 3 nights. Very unique and different – we really liked it. The entire staff are so friendly and professional and breakfast is delicious. Margaret went above and beyond when making our stay so enjoyable by suggesting and booking restaurants, confirming tours, arranging taxis and giving directions.
Eco Marine Kayaking – A drive out past the salt flats to an incredible trip where we were lucky enough to be surrounded by seals and dolphins. The seals even taste-tested my paddles! We were in double kayaks, the water was smooth and the experience was so much fun. The numbers are limited and the guide is with you all of the time so experience is not required. Wear layers but we did not get at all cold on the water.
Turnstone tours – Sandwich Harbour Tour Picked up promptly at our hotel although several pick-up stops may be required. The weather was cold and grey so we wore layers. Due to the excess rains this year the ‘normal’ birdlife was different than previous years. So do not go with expectations – just enjoy! There were no flamingos and only 3 pelicans in the harbour and there were few birds in the ponds at Sandwich Harbour. This did not matter even in the slightest as we saw seals, jackals had a great walk on the sand and an informative and fun trip up into the dunes.
Tug – Go, but make sure you book in advance especially if you are requesting a window table! We had a wonderful evening meal in a unique restaurant
Kucki’s - Down to earth pub with good pub grub and a very nice change after more formal food.
Jetty 1905 on The Pier – Sushi – really! Very unexpected and tasty. Also good for coffee and cakes in the afternoon.
Zur Kupferpfanne Restaurant. We weren’t expecting this museum with dining tables throughout the rooms of the house. A really different dining experience in an unusual setting. We had, and enjoyed, the crayfish but the menu is extensive and some of the meat dishes looked fascinating.
Cape Cross Lodge, Skeleton Coast – 1 night. Surprising and lovely. Clean, light rooms with a view out to the ocean. The dining room, lounge and bar area is great for relaxing in. Keep looking and you will see the surfing sea lions and possibly jackals.
Don’t do what we did, The Seal Reserve IS off of the road that is signposted to the Lodge. Check the opening times and do not expect to enter early in the morning as you can’t. We went in the afternoon and were fascinated. I can’t imagine how noisy and chaotic it is when the pups have been born.
Camp Kipwe, Southern Damaraland – 3 nights Used as a stop to Etosha and not many seem to stay for 3 nights but we loved the break and the relaxation. The rooms and the outdoor showers were lovely too.
excursions - We went looking for the Desert elephants on two mornings and found 1 group the first morning and 2 groups the second although I gather that this is not the norm. There were other vehicles there but everyone spread out and enjoyed watching these peaceful groups . The guide was competent and friendly but not as outgoing as most. We also did an afternoon trip to the San carvings, the organ pipes and the Burnt mountain which was interesting but HOT!
Etendeka, Northern Damaraland – 2 nights. Fabulous, in the middle of nowhere and we will go back! You leave your car at Palmwag (NOT a town, people!) and are driven to the camp- about 1 ½ - 2 hours. The camp is more basic than many but is all the more enjoyable for that reason. The new tents are comfortable and clean. The shower experience is amazing and so eye-opening to someone who takes water for granted. The dining, lounging, bar area is going to be redone shortly but is open and laid-back with fabulous views across the valley.
You go for a walk in the morning which I was a bit nervous about having had a knee-replacement earlier in the year. No problems! It is not a strenuous walk but an interesting one. Bonnie is so professional and knows so much about everything.
In the afternoon you go on a game drive. We did not see elephants, rhino or cats but we did see lots of other game. We had heard the lion roaring the night before as well as hyaenas and saw evidence of elephant but we were just not lucky on that day.
Etosha in general. We didn’t really understand how the park worked so this is what we found.
At the entry to the park, you register and are given a piece of paper. When you get to one of the Lodges go into the office. There will be a desk to register for the rooms and another desk where you fill in the form and pay your fees for the whole time you will spend in the park. The fees are based on a 24 hour period and must be paid for before you leave the park. We saw someone try to leave way after their due time and they were sent back to pay for another day so be careful.
You will need to leave a cash deposit when you check in. They staple this to your form and when you check-out someone looks at your room and then they give you the money back. This process can take a while.
Buy the map from the shop which tells you where the waterholes are. The Bradt guide has descriptions of many waterholes but we found talking to people was interesting. Basically you now just game drive from waterhole to waterhole until you find one you like the look of and sit and watch. We saw wonderful activity at many waterholes and also on the drives. Very few toilets folks so be prepared (they are marked on the map). The one we went to was disgustingly filthy.
The shops at Okaukuejo and Halali are surprisingly not well stocked considering how many people need lunches. If I did the trip again I would stock up in one of the towns just before you get into Etosha. I would buy biltong, cheese, crackers, olives, tomatoes and some apples so I could do my own lunch. While we were at Okaukuejo there was some cheese slices and 2 packs of cold meat in the cold store. There is frozen meat for cooking. There was always lots of ice, cold beer, wine and water so that was never a problem
Okaukuejo, Etosha – 2 nights Waterhole Chalet. Expensive but amazing accommodation! Being so close to the waterhole meant you could easily pop back for a replacement glass of wine or a sweater or you could just sit on the balcony coming down if you wanted a better look at something.
The service at the restaurant is variable to say the least but we found the food tasty. You book your time when you check in and then subsequently at breakfast. Drinks are ordered but can take ages to come. You must pay for the drinks each night at the desk inside. We found that getting our bill took a long time. If you pay by credit card only you will touch the card. They now have strict rules in place about the staff not touching cards anywhere.
Halali, Etosha – 1 night We found this accommodation tired and the evening meal expensive so we gave it a miss. Besides, the waterhole calls! The waterhole is a distance from the huts so you will need a torch and take a sweater. People take a bottle of wine but do not make our mistake and take some crisps with you as well. The mouse quite enjoyed them.... It is not as busy as Okaukuejo but we saw 25 elephants, rhino with calf and lions, hares and jackal. This was also the night of the severe fire so we saw the red from the fire moving along the ridge – we did not know how serious that was as the time.
PLEASE check your mini-bar against the list that is in the folder and go back to the desk if necessary. Everyone we met had problems with discrepancies and the check-out queue was filled with arguments.
Onguma Tented Camp, outside Etosha – 3 nights Loved this place and would go back. Close enough to drive yourself in to Etosha for the day or a lovely place just to relax by the small pool and see what was going on by the waterhole. We did see lions by the side of the track on Onguma land but, in general, I think the game drives on their land were quite quiet.
Olive Grove – 1 night (upgraded to the next-door Olive Exclusive with Mike and Carol)
Mike and Carol were great hosts with a wealth of experience of managing lodges and hotels in Africa. We were surprised to be upgraded but it was friendly, superb and luxurious. We loved it!
Joe’s – OMG what a strange, wonderful, fascinating place. The food was great but do not go if you are in a rush! Make sure you make a booking.
CONCLUSION (are you sleeping yet?)
Everywhere we went we were told that this is an 'unusual' year. The excess rains this year meant that there were golden grasses covering the beautiful red soil. There were thousands of melons (yes, melons) throught the desert areas - apparently there was very few last year. Due to the grasses the animals were fat and content but did not need the waterhole areas as much as in a very dry sparse year.
The weather was colder and windier than we were expecting and, again, we were told that it was not usual for that period. Swakopmund was grey and colder than in the UK!
We were in Etosha at the time of the fires. The devastation was heartbreaking and vast and my photos of it still bring a tear to my eye. I still do not understand why this was not widely reported throughout the world. There were severe lightning storms at the time and strong swirling winds and they could just have easily started the fire although I do realise that this one was started by man. As several of you have already said, rain will fix a lot of the damage although many, many trees were reduced to charcoal. The loss of animal life is so sad but nature is so very cruel at times.
None of this made a jot of difference to how much we enjoyed our trip - we had not been to Namibia before and had nothing to compare it to. We went with open minds, a variety of clothes and lots and lots of memory cards and had a holiday we will remember for a very long time. We will be back.