It’s not hard to explain our attraction to Namibia. While the country is a striking contrast to the vision of Africa seen in the movies, of savannahs and umbrella acacia trees, in this vast desert there is stunning, rugged beauty in a palette from sandy whites to variations on tan, orange, red, ochre and brown.
Our safari began in Windhoek where we boarded our two Cessna Caravans to fly to the far NW of the country, about 100 miles below the Angola border. We spent our first days exploring in the remote Purros Conservancy, looking for the desert elephants who wander across vast territories to find food and water in the ribbons of green riverbeds that lie between islands of rocky mountains. We were happy to find the elephants, and also the very rare black rhino, giraffe, great gangs of ostrich, regal oryx, impala, steenbok, and klipspringers.
Purros is also home to a settlement of Himba, semi-nomadic pastoralists whose movements mirror the availability of grasses for their livestock. They are one of the last truly nomadic people in Africa. A few days in advance of our arrival we received word that the chief of the settlement had died. Most everyone in the community, and all of their goats and cattle as well, had moved to the north for the funeral, so we didn’t know what to expect. A handful of Himba women had remained behind to look after the younger children, and a few men as well. In past years we have visited a Himba settlement right on the Angola border (100 miles away), and we had brought photos from there with us. We showed the Himba women the photos, and they laughed and pointed to their friends and family. Nothing like family photos to break the ice.
From Purros we flew east to Etosha National Park, a huge expanse of dry landscapes surrounding the Etosha Pan. Each year here is different, sometimes there is water creating surrealistic views as we fly over the pan, sometimes we see only the
remaining patterns and tracks left behind in the dried mud. This was a drier year, which is great for wildlife viewing as Etosha has a network of roads that lead to a variety waterholes. Supported by solar pumps, there is an almost constant parade of wildlife to these holes — great family groups of elephants, herds of zebra, wildebeest, and impala, as well as giraffe and the superstar lions and rhino — all headed in to access these essential sources of water. (Why did the rhino cross the road? To get to the waterhole of course.) Hornbills and lilac-breasted rollers were perched along the roadway, while kori bustards and secretary birds were stalking the open plains.
After exploring the eastern side of Etosha, we did a leisurely full day game drive westward, arriving in the late afternoon at Ongava Private Reserve, a sanctuary for white and black rhino, bordering Etosha N.P. Ongava sits on a hillside looking down at a waterhole that is lit through the night. On the morning game drive we encountered a great pride of lions inside the park, and the evening game drive graced us with wonderfully close up views of two white rhino. The highlight was the time spent at sunset in the “hide” (a blind) adjacent to the waterhole. Patience and quiet is essential at the hide, waiting and watching to see what animals come in to drink a mere 30-40 ft away.
The lights above the waterhole make the darkness beyond more intense, so you often hear what’s coming before it appears. The rustle in the bushes and crunch of gravel underfoot signals a pair of black rhino approaching. But, it’s the subtle approach of the stealthy ones that really make you squirm.
When three big male lions suddenly appeared from the darkness to drink at the near side of the waterhole they were so close, our group in the hide were all holding their collective breath. Suddenly the small wooden building seemed awfully thin-walled compared to these powerful animals! As the last lion turned to leave, someone coughed in the hide. The lion, only a few yards away, turned to give what seemed like an extremely long and serious stare at the source, it’s large yellow eyes glowing, before disappearing back into the darkness right next to the hide. Definitely a breathtaking moment.
Continuing our journey south, after our mid-day boat outing in Walvis Bay, we flew over the endless dunes formations of the Namib Desert in the late afternoon. From the air, it is incredible to watch as the shapes change and the color intensifies to a rich, ruddy orange as we approach the Sossusvlei area. The next day we encountered a very unseasonal weather front, and saw a remarkable thing, a big rain in the astoundingly beautiful, giant, orange, sand dunes of the Namib. While this weather presented a few challenges, the clouds gave us combinations of light and shadow for gorgeous photo ops in Dead Vlei and throughout the dune corridor. We finished in Namibia with a stunning Sundowner perched on the jagged hills above the desert floor. Gorgeous.
Our safari was far from over for those continuing on with us to South Africa and the Mala Mala Private Reserve. Mala Mala, bordering Kruger National Park, is renown for it’s amazing wildlife, especially it’s leopards. 50 years ago, Mala Mala made the transition from a hunting reserve to a photo reserve, so generations of wildlife have grown up in the presence of safari vehicles without threat. This is especially important for photographing the cats, the big cats, and the little ones too.
Here we watched as a cheetah waited, oh so patiently, for a herd of impala to get within striking distance, only to be discovered a split second before her attack. We were lucky enough to find lion cubs, lot’s of lion cubs, including a pair who were only a few weeks old. And of course there were the leopards — tracking two leopards on our first outing, finding a young female with a delightfully curious cub.
These were all amazing moments from the first half of our month in southern Africa. More on the Botswana & S.Africa safari to come, as well as Galapagos, Costa Rica & Panama, and most recently E. Africa! Too much travel, not enough time for blog posts.