Tag Archives: Camping

Spitzkoppe Revisited

One of our favourite areas in Namibia is the Erongo region and we’ve spent many happy hours exploring this amazing part of the country.  It is here that one finds the majestic Spitzkoppe mountains rising out of the dry desert landscape.  No two visits to this fabulous place are the same as we usually stay in different campsites each time. Most campsites have their local residents in the form of bird life and little animals, so it’s fun to move around and see what creatures Nature is going to manifests for us!  Our last trip didn’t disappoint as lots of colourful Rosy-faced lovebirds were nesting in the rocks above our campsite.  They are such bright little birds that they’re easy to spot in the dry brown grass as they forage for food.

Adult and juvenile Rosy-faced lovebirds

Rob and I have twice been privileged to see special animals in the area – the elusive Black mongoose, which is a shy animal, seldom seen, that lives amongst the granite boulders; and two wild cheetahs standing on a small hill.  It’s always a thrill to see cats in the wild and having a pair like this so close to Spitzkoppe was a real treat.  They weren’t terribly enamored to see us and moved away as soon as we pointed a camera at them.

Cheetah pair near Spitzkoppe

Hiking trails abound at Spitzkoppe and we walked for hours marveling at the breathtaking scenery.  Even the trees and shrubs growing out of the boulders looked like works of art.

God's artwork at Spitzkoppe

The beauty of going at a quiet time of the year is that one almost has the place to oneself.  There are a number of caves in the rocks that are home to Rock Hyrax’s, bats and the odd snake or two, and a short climb up to one of these gave us lovely views over the grassy landscape.

View across the plains

The ancient San Bushmen used many of the boulders to tell stories with their rock paintings, and a guided tour is a must if one wants to understand the meaning behind the various pictures that time and the wind are busy erasing.  Tours are a little pricey, but all the money is ploughed back into the coffers of the local community who at last are benefiting from tourism in the area.  It is an excellent way for them to realize that by preserving their heritage they have a sustainable form of income for years to come.

Beautiful scenery at Spitzkoppe

The appealing thing about camping at Spitzkoppe is its lack of development.  You won’t have the luxury of toilets and ablution facilities and the only thing that defines a campsite is a clearing and a pile of rocks around some burnt charcoal where the last camper had a barbeque.  This lack of amenities doesn’t faze us at all – in fact we quite like getting back to basics and having a bush wash with a little basin of water.  That’s when you really feel like you’re getting away from city life!

Our campsite

I have previously blogged about Spitzkoppe, so if you want more details and facts on this delightful spot, click here.

 

Gamsberg – Namibia’s Table Mountain

We had a weekend with a difference recently when we decided to hike up Gamsberg, a Namibian mountain with an elevation of 2347 m above sea level.  This flat-topped mountain closely resembles Table Mountain in South Africa and it is famous (or infamous) for more than just the tortuous walk to the top.

Gamsberg - Table Mountain look-alike

The farm Weener, where we planned to camp overnight, is about 17 kms off the main gravel road (the C26) and getting there is an adventure in itself.  Just before reaching the farm, the road passes through a narrow gap in the mountain and runs alongside a deep gorge.  Going over the edge is not an option!  We were given the campsite aptly named “Panorama” with stunning views over the hills and folds on the low-lying Namib desert in the west.  What a magnificent campsite – highly recommended.  The bird-life and walks on the farm are worth going back for in the future.

Panoramic view from our campsite

But this weekend was mainly about climbing the Gamsberg.  We left early on Sunday morning and drove the 4×4 track through the farm Dradiwawal to the base of the mountain.  It was a beautiful day and Gamsberg loomed above us in all its splendour.

Rob leads the way

Jane with Gamsberg backdrop

The steep track was relentless from the word go.  An hour and a half later, after gasping my way up numerous switchbacks, I joined (a much fitter) Rob at the top and we marvelled at the views of the Hakos Mountains in the north.  Wow!  The views alone were worth the effort.

Views from the top were spectacular

There were some buildings at the top, probably part of the observatory established in 1970 by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy when this area was identified as a top site in the southern hemisphere for astronomical observations.  The clear Namibian skies are exceptional for star-gazing and the desert conditions add to the suitability of the site.  It would have been useful to have had a guide to enlighten us more on this.

Someone had a sense of humour

We spent some time at the top, looking at the views and the plants and just getting our breath back for the descent.  The walk down, although much quicker, was harsh on the knees, but we made it back safely, happy with our morning’s excursion and exertion.  The beautiful unspoilt scenery and the privilege of having shared the mountain with no-one but its animal and feathered inhabitants was a rare treat.

150 / 66!

Rob and I don’t need any excuse to pack up our trusty Toyota Hilux and head off on a camping trip, even if it’s only for one night.  The beautiful weather in Namibia is perfect for spending time outdoors and in the five years that we’ve lived here we’ve seldom passed up an opportunity to take advantage of it.  This last weekend we celebrated having spent one hundred and fifty nights in our rooftop tent  at sixty-six different campsites in southern Africa.  Quite an achievement when you consider that this figure is mostly made up of weekend camping trips of one or two nights at a time.  Of course we’ve had our annual holidays too, that rack up an average of about fourteen to twenty nights at a stretch in the great outdoors.

Off of an adventure - Khowarib Schlucht

Milestones like this give us a chance to reflect on the places we’ve been to and the things we’ve been privileged to have seen on our various trips.  A few places have been revisited, but Rob’s meticulous records show that we have been to sixty-six different campsites over the last five years.  Some have been chosen for the birds that are endemic to the area, whilst others have been picked for their hiking opportunities, remoteness, beauty and convenience as stop-overs en route to exciting destinations.  The campsites in Namibia and Botswana never disappopint us and we come away from every camp-out with wonderful memories and great experiences.  Most campsites have resident birds and animals with their own peculiar quirks and they just make each place extra special!

Ombandumba campsite - dramatic backdrop

If anyone had to ask us which has been our favourite campsite, we would be hard-pressed to come up with an outright winner, although I’ve made it clear over the years that Ameib Ranch in the Erongo Mountains has a very special place in my heart.  Camping in the Central Kalahari and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana is an unparalleled experience, with entertainment put on every day by the wild animals and birds.  Where else can you watch a lion kill in solitude, or have lions walking past you as you sit around a campfire talking about the day’s events?

Lion kill at Passarge Valley Botswana

We’ve seen African sunsets, the Milky Way in magnificent starry splendour and heard the haunting cry of the Fish Eagle when we’ve camped on river banks and lakes.  And how about seeing the early morning sun hitting a hunting cheetah!  Magic stuff!

Cheetah at sunrise - Deception Valley Botswana

We stay in lodges sometimes – some luxurious and others very basic – and our consensus is always that they cannot compete with the outdoor experience.  Camping is still our absolute favourite form of accommodation!  Here’s looking forward to the next one hundred and fifty nights and all the wonderful nature experiences that await us!

Namibgrens - another stunning campsite

Weekend at Arnhem Cave

We’re always scouting for camping venues close to home, and have discovered a great farm about 140 km east of Windhoek.  Not only does it have campsites and chalets, but Namibia’s largest cave system is situated on the property as well.  As an added bonus, the farm is serviced by a quiet dirt road, which makes it ideal for Rob to cycle to without having to worry about traffic.  So we headed off to Arnhem Cave for an adventure weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We left early to ensure that Rob rode mostly in the cool of the day and by doing so we were assured of abundant wildlife on the lonely road.  I drove a short way ahead and waited for Rob at various points along the way.  We both saw loads of kudu, hartebeest, warthogs, black-backed jackals and shy little buck in the early morning light.  As the day warmed up the meerkats peeped curiously out of their burrows, keen to see what we were doing when we stopped to watch them.

Suricate (meerkat) checks us out

If we made the slightest movement, or grabbed a camera, they dashed back into their holes and popped up a few meters further along!  It was lovely traveling like that, as the journey itself became as pleasurable as the destination and Rob had a good workout on those hills!

Arnhem Cave campsite

Our campsite, under enormous acacia trees, was really nice and we had an ablution block to ourselves, complete with resident bat that eyed us every time we ventured in.

Bat in the bathroom

The birdlife around the camp was also good so we knew we’d be fully occupied the whole weekend with walking, caving and photographing the birds and animals.

Southern yellow-billed hornbill

We booked a tour to visit the caves and were soon being led deep into the bowels of the earth.  The caves stretch for 4,5 kms underground and are well worth a visit if you aren’t scared of bats, because they host the largest bat population in Africa with five different varieties being found there. It’s a bit disconcerting having bats flying past your face in their dozens, but their radar is excellent and they never actually touch you (don’t believe that myth about bats going for your hair – it isn’t true!)

The five varieties of bats found there are:
1.    Giant leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros commersoni)
2.    Long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schrelbersi)
3.    Leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros caffer)
4.    Egyptian slit-faced bat (Nycteris thebalca)
5.    Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus denti)

We learned that more than 100 000 tonnes of bat guano was mined there during the Second World War  Apparently bird guano is rich in mineral nitrates and was used for the manufacture of both explosives and fertilizer.  When, during the war, the use of bird guano collected at the coast was curtailed, the farmers turned to bat guano as an alternative organic fertilizer as it wasn’t subject to the same restrictions, and Arnhem Cave came into its own as a large scale guano producer.

The grotesque remains of a porcupine from the 1930’s is also on display in the cave.  It was very hot and dusty down there and I was relieved to leave at the end of an interesting tour.

The remains of a long-dead porcupine

There are pleasant walks on the farm and at the end of the day it was wonderful to sit under the stars with a crackling fire and a cold beer reliving the experiences that we felt so privileged to have had.

Try camping – Rob’s response

Anyone who read the post “Try camping – it’s much cheaper” and thought that it was about camping and buying stuff for camping missed the point. It’s really about the differences in the way men and women see the world. Observe a couple in a TV store  – the male will immediately see the importance of owning a 42 inch plasma TV; the  female will roll her eyes and tap her foot. A foot encased in a shoe that cost half as much as the TV, but which she considered a bargain.

Let me explain a few things that were omitted from the post in question. There are a few snide comments on buying a 4X4, but this was a no-brainer and really not worthy of further discussion. I proved that by taking the Opel Monza up the first stretch of Sani Pass. Point made.

You'd take a sedan up here?

You'd take a sedan up here?

So let’s consider the other items.

A man says “I’m going to buy a rooftop tent” and his wife thinks he is going to buy a rooftop tent. Only a rooftop tent. But the man knows that you need load bars to fit the rooftop tent to the bakkie – how else are you going to put it on the roof? Nail it on? The load bars are so obvious, it isn’t really worth mentioning them. If you are going to buy shoes, you don’t really have to mention that you need shoe-laces as well, do you? And if you buy a rooftop tent, then clearly you plan to go camping, right? In remote places (in Namibia anywhere outside of Windhoek is remote). So it is a given that you will need some recovery equipment – high-lift jack, tow strap, sand tracks, compressor, spade. No point in taking a chance on getting stuck out there in remote Namibia. And of course you will need camping stuff like sleeping bags, gas bottles, lights, chairs. So if a man says “I’m going to buy a rooftop tent”, he doesn’t mean only a rooftop tent, he means that he wants to go camping. I would have thought that much was obvious. Anyway, it was Jane who wanted the chairs.

And, to set the record straight, the drawer system so derisively referred to in the post below was made absolutely essential because of the amount of unnecessary “stuff” that Jane has to cart around with her. Take toiletries. I take nothing from the bathroom on a camping trip beyond a toothbrush and toothpaste. After all, you don’t need a comb if you wear a hat; you don’t need to shave if you don’t take a mirror. Jane? 321 separate items in a toiletries bag the size of a respectable Nike tog bag, most of which are unidentifiable and some of which look positively lethal. So the drawer system was actually bought in self-defense to contain these weapons of mass reconstruction.

One of the black bags is Jane's toiletries bag

The black bags on the left are Jane's toiletries bags

Now I concede that a man may be vain enough to sneak a peek at himself in the rear view mirror once or twice during a camping trip to see how his beard is progressing, or how his hat fits. Bad mistake. Beards always feel better than they look, and although women look great in hats, men just look like dicks. But we might sneak a peak now and again. Women, on the other hand, look at their reflection in any shiny surface that they can find; a silver tea-spoon, a pot lid, a darkened car window, the neighbour’s bald head. Even a mirror. A big mirror, which they will take with them expressly for this purpose. Into the drawer with it.

Camping vs hotels - would you really trade this for the bathroom at a Holiday Inn?

Camping vs hotels - would you really trade this for the bathroom at a Holiday Inn?

Campring vs hotels - Or this shower for the shower at the London Hilton?

Camping vs hotels - Or this shower for the shower at the London Hilton?

Of course, women do have more reason to look into a mirror than men; most men have bodies that shouldn’t be seen unclothed in daylight; women are works of art. Have you noticed that just about all men’s magazines have pictures of near-naked women in them? And most women’s magazines also have pictures of near-naked women in them? I’m not sure what that proves – just thought I would mention it. I read somewhere that most women would rather get undressed in front of a man than in front of another woman. This is because women are critical; men are just grateful.

Back to the drawer system. Another reason that it proved essential was to accommodate the clothes that Jane takes camping. A separate outfit for every day and every weather condition, plus a few spares. When all you really need is a change every couple of days. (Clean underwear becomes quite a treat after a few days!) We take off for a weekend in the Namib Desert; she packs a raincoat. But, with all those outfits, she will still find it necessary to launder something sometime during the trip. Amazing. Why can’t she just turn the stuff inside out and carry on wearing it?

So was all this camping stuff expensive? Depends on your frame of reference, really. A man will happily pay $500 for something that is only worth $250 if he really wants it. A woman will pay $250 for something worth $500 that she has no use for whatsoever, and think she got a bargain. I wanted the camping stuff, therefore it was cheap at the price.

In conclusion, to compare the cost of camping to overseas holidays doesn’t make any sense at all! Only a woman could possibly think that a romantic evening wining and dining on the Champs-Élysées in Paris is more fun than digging your 4X4 out of a river bed under the blazing sun in the Khowarib Schlucht in Namibia.

Far more interesting plants here than at Kew Gardens.

Far more interesting plants here than at Kew Gardens.

Now, if we pass up the trip to the Greek Isles next year, I can get a set of Old Man Emu shocks and maybe a snorkel ….

Try camping – it’s much cheaper

As you have no doubt gathered, Rob and I are inveterate travelers and will pack a suitcase at the drop of a hat.  We’ve been privileged to visit many overseas countries (at great expense because of our darned weak currency) and so whilst sipping cool beers on our front patio one evening, we decided it was time to pull in the reigns on all this travel spending and lower our sights a bit.  We would take to camping and explore Southern Africa instead.  This would have a twofold benefit – we would save a fortune and get to know our own and neighbouring countries much better.

Here’s what our first attempt at camping looked like:

A modest start

A modest start

After one or two these trips Rob got this faraway glint in his eyes and started dropping hints about how nice it would be to have a 4×4 so that we could visit Namibia.  “Not a new car”, he said, “we could perhaps get ourselves a good second-hand one.”

I think Rob must have worked for the CIA at some stage because he then started applying Chinese torture tactics and the hints fell like water dripping on a stone.  The clincher for the deal was when he insisted that we drive my little car (featured above) halfway up Sani Pass.  Anyone who knows Sani Pass knows that it isn’t a road, it is a rocky track designed to remove the bottom of one’s car and chew up tyres within eight kilometers.  After we finally managed to lever my car off a boulder and tie the exhaust back on with a piece of wire, I threw my hands up in despair and said: “Okay, you win, let’s go and find a 4×4!”

And so with great luck we managed to buy an almost new Toyota Hilux in mint condition.  The only snag was that it needed a canopy otherwise we couldn’t store any of our gear on the back.  Things were definitely looking up though.

Then Rob started buying the Getaway magazine which features all the mod cons that are a must for camping, and guess what!  The perfect accessory (according to him) was a rooftop tent.  “They don’t cost much,” he said “and make camping so much easier as they can be put up in minutes.  We’d have much more space in the car for all our gear and utilities.”  This sounded like a plan, but at this stage I had also been paging through the Getaway adverts and saw the ultimate camping accessory – a 40 litre Engel fridge.  Now I had some leverage.  “You get the rooftop tent if I get a fridge.”  We had battled in the heat with cooler boxes and the like, so a fridge, as far as I was concerned was a necessity, not a luxury.  I won!  Off we went to the Safari Centre to buy these TWO items.  What an ignoramus I must have been.

Two hours later we staggered out of the shop with a highlift jack, a compressor, a fridge, two folding chairs, numerous jerry cans, water bottles and an appointment to come back the following week to have the rooftop tent fitted – on roof tracks – next to a roof rack.  “What had happened back there”, I wondered.  “I thought we were getting ourselves a tent and a fridge.”

And we're off

And we're off

I must give Rob credit though – once we were kitted out, our camping became a delight.  We thought that as campers we had finally arrived!  But wait, what did the latest edition of Getaway come up with?  A drawer system for the bakkie (in Africa we call a truck a bakkie).  These are great because they come with a sliding section for the fridge to come right out of the vehicle and make it more accessible.  Yes, we definitely needed one of those.  No more utility boxes cluttering up the car – we could put all our food and clothing in the lock up drawers.  Perfect.

Anyone who visits Namibia or Botswana knows that there isn’t always a shady tree to camp under and when temperatures soar up in the 30C’s and 40C’s you definitely need some shade.  Getaway was advertising some wonderful canopies that attach to the side of your vehicle.  They pull out about three meters, giving you loads of shade.  Oh yes, we had to have one of those.

The full monty!

The full monty!

The latest acquisition was a GPS as we would be traveling in such remote areas that we could disappear off the planet without knowing which direction we were taking.

So now, let’s get back to those costly overseas trips that we were complaining about.  Let’s work out what this camping has saved us over the last five years:

Item Equivalent to
Toyota Hilux 4×4 & canopy Three round the world trips for two
Rooftop tent One week at the Paris Hilton Hotel
Compressor & highlift jack Five nights at Sun City with free  casino vouchers each night
Engel fridge Two week overland trip from Nairobi to Cape Town
Drawer system A luxury cruise on the Nile
Shade canopy Flight to Durban to see the grandchildren
GPS Elephant safari in Thailand
Repairs to the Toyota after heavy 4×4 trip A tour of 21 European countries in an air-conditioned coach, staying at 3 star hotels, including all meals
New tyres for the Toyota A visit to the gorillas of Rwanda for a party of eight.

When we decided to go through the Central Kalahari, Rob started talking about having a snorkel attached to the car because of the dust and deep sand.  Enough is enough.  If I have any say in the matter, the only snorkeling we’ll be doing will be in a shallow lagoon in the Seychelles.  Who are we kidding – this camping lark isn’t saving us a cent!!!    But it will from now on, as we have everything we need – if we stop buying Getaway.

Note to the kids:  If you give Rob a subscription to Getaway for Christmas you will be disinherited!