Tag Archives: campsite

Time Out in Tankwa

You know when you pass a sign that reads “Absolutely Nothing From Here” that you’re heading into a remote area.  Rob and I had a chuckle when we saw that, but instead of putting us off we were eagerly anticipating the vast empty plains and vistas of the Tankwa Karoo National Park that sits on the border of both the Northern and Western Cape.  We’ve always loved the arid Namibian landscape, so as the trees and houses gave way to barren wide open spaces we really felt like we were being welcomed by the silence and the beauty of this region.

You've been warned!!

We drove in from the Oudtshoorn area, taking the R46 and then the R355 towards Calvinia.  It was hot and we looked forward to camping in dry conditions over the Easter weekend.  The campsite that we were allocated was perfect for our ground tent and we had good shade the whole time that we were there.  A bonus was having our own ablution block with piping hot showers, thanks to a nearby solar panel.  Water tanks high on the hill above us gave shade to a troop of baboons and their calls serenaded us at all times of the day.

Our campsite in Tankwa Karoo Nat Park

Tankwa Karoo Park is not for folks who need to be entertained by animals or gadgets.  There is no electricity or cellphone reception in the park and very few animals, apart from the odd Eland, Gemsbok or Zebra.  This area, known as the Succulent Karoo, is for pure nature lovers, especially those interested in rare, endemic and endangered mammals, plants and birds.  In Spring the when the wild flowers bloom they cover the plains with a welcome mat of amazing beauty.

Amazing scenery in Tankwa

Previously home to the San/Bushmen, the Tankwa area gets its name from the Tankwa River, and is thought to mean “thirstland” or “place of the San”.  Apart from many crumbling old houses that were once occupied by trekboers (farmers), we came across some forlorn looking graves that had been taken over by Nature – their markings worn away by the sand, wind and time.

Deserted graves in Tankwa

Many would find this landscape bleak, but it is actually a photographers paradise with photo opportunities aplenty, especially if one heads up the beautiful Gannaga Pass (which I will write about separately).

Lonely road

It’s not only the scenery that is dramatic and exciting, the sunsets and stars at night are incredible.  Tankwa is only 140kms away from Sutherland, home to SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) one of the largest telescopes in the world.  This alone tells you how clear the skies are in this area at night.

Evening in Tankwa

Besides camping and birding, we were on a mission to find an elusive Aardvark, but apart from seeing some abandoned holes, we were out of luck.  I will blog next time about the birds that we saw.

Needless to say, this soul-expanding area is amazing and one that will definitely see us again – most probably when the flowers are in bloom.

Botsalano Game Reserve

I blogged a week or so ago about the Black wildebeest at Botsalano Game Reserve near Mafikeng in South Africa.  This was such a lovely stop over that I thought I would tell you more about it today.  We stayed there on our way to Botswana as it enabled us to have an early border crossing at the Ramatlabana border post, which is only a few kilometers away.  Not only was the camping and game viewing excellent, but the border crossing proved stress-free and easy, unlike some of the busier and more popular border control points further north.

Campsite at Botsalano Game Reserve

We opted to stay in their bush camp called Kukama and not in the public campsite that is near the gate.  There is nothing wrong with the public site, but we have been spoilt over the years preferring wild and isolated camps where game wanders freely around us.  The site had a stone shelter and a very basic open air shower which we had to share with one of the locals – a leguaan.  He was very obliging about letting us use it!

Water monitor in our shower

Frankly we were amazed at the amount of game in the reserve.  We saw far more there than in the popular Hhluhwe and Umfolozi game reserves in Kwazulu Natal, which is strange because one hears more about these flagship reserves than Botsalano.  Granted Botsalano is off the overseas tourist route, but for sheer numbers and variety, plus having two of the Big Five (buffalo and rhinos), I would say that Botsalano deserves more attention.  So if any South Africans are wondering where to go for a few days of magic camping, this is the place!

Beautiful Waterbuck

The birding in the park was also pretty good, especially when we sat at the waterhole.  From the elevated hide we not only had birds at eye level in the trees around us, but watched as a Secretarybird ambled down to the water for a drink.  Lots of  sand grouse came down as well and in the area behind the hide we saw a variety of waxbills, canaries and starlings.  We also watched two Pale chanting goshawks  making a meal of a dove.

White rhinocerus

White rhinos breed well in the park and so do Eland, which we saw in great numbers.  One only hopes that greedy poachers won’t get their hands on any of the rhinos. This photo gives you an idea of the herds of antelope that head down to the waterhole during the day.

On the way down to the waterhole

There was a good variety of antelopes, like Waterbuck, Blesbok, Kudu, Eland and the smaller more shy ones.  The staff were very helpful and polite too.  We had a giggle when we asked whether there were any aardvarks in the park.  The receptionist said that she had seen them often – one just as recently as two days before.  Knowing that aardvark sightings are generally as rare as hen’s teeth and one is only ever likely to get a glimpse of one once in a lifetime, we gathered that she must have confused the aardvark with a warthog – but then again, I may be wrong and she may be the luckiest lady in the world!  I’m still dying to photograph an aardvark – the one and only time we saw one near Windhoek, we were so amazed at what walked out of the bush in front of us that it disappeared before we had a chance to lift a camera.  Got to be quick about these things….  If anyone out there knows where we are most likely to see one, do drop us a line.

If you’re ever around Mafikeng, do pay this lovely park a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Mudumu National Park – a Namibian gem

It’s so exciting staying in a nature or game reserve and even better if you can set up camp in a wild area without any fences.  We decided to rough it on a recent trip to northern Namibia and opted to leave the beautiful (but crowded) Camp Kwando with all its facilities, to stay in a small park nearby called Mudumu.  The beauty of this place is that they only have three campsites and all that makes them campsites is a rough long-drop a few meters away from each clearing and a ring of old coals marking a fireplace.  You have to be totally self-sufficient to stay there, but the rewards are great.  Not only do you get to have the place to yourselves as the campsites are far apart, but you get to stay in amongst the elephants and wild animals.

Mudumu sunset

Our great campsite

All three campsites are on the banks of the Kwando River where the ellies love coming down to drink during the hot days and glorious still evenings, or to cross over into Botswana to feed.  Have you watched a small herd of elephants crossing a river?  It’s the most awesome sight.  They go in a straight line and babies are strategically placed between older ones so that they can be helped out if they get into difficulty.  Often just their trunks stick above the water like little periscopes.  It’s too cute to watch.

Elephants crossing the Kwando River

It was exciting to lie in bed at night and hear the rumbling sounds of the elephants as they walked quietly down to the river.  Their feet didn’t make a sound, but their rumbles sounded like a very loud cat purr and it was enough to give me goose-bumps knowing how close they were.  The park has literally hundreds of elephants and driving around can be quite challenging because the roads consist of deep sand in places.  Trying to make a quick getaway from an approaching herd of elephants is a bit of a challenge when your wheels are churning up sand.  They are very protective when they have young ones in the herd so it’s always wise to keep a safe distance between yourself and the animals.

Heads down.  Bottoms up!

A highlight of our visit was seeing a herd of about two hundred elephants walking through the veld in a straight line.  When we stopped to watch them, a command went out, probably from the matriarch, and every elephant just froze.  Some had feet in the air in mid-step, trunks were raised or lowered, but they didn’t move.  They stayed like this for many minutes and didn’t make a sound.  It was almost eerie watching this beautiful spectacle.  When the command came that they were safe, they all moved on again, very quickly and quietly.  We felt so privileged to watch this beautiful sight.  Apart from elephants there is an abundance of birdlife and other mammals.  We found these baboons quite amusing if only for the attitude they displayed!

Baboon sentinels

Our previous visit to this park was disappointing, although we did see a pack of wild dogs, but this time we were fortunate enough to see lots of roan and sable.  These antelope are not terribly common so it’s always great to get sightings of them.  That’s why it’s better to stay in the park as opposed to taking day trips – you put yourself in a better position to have all the right experiences.

Roan - Mudumu National Park

Mudumu National Park has yet to catch up with the 21st century as far as pricing is concerned.  We paid about N$50.00 per person per day to stay there, which was basically the entrance fee to the park as well.  With Botswana pricing itself out of the average holiday-maker’s range, this place makes financial sense.  We didn’t book ahead.  I don’t think it’s necessary as not many people know about it.  For all you South Africans reading this – this place is worth visiting, as is nearby Mamili, which I will chat about next week.  Not only do you get good value for money but there is a great adventure factor too – you definitely feel like you have left civilization far behind and it’s just you and the wilds.  What a pleasure.  Never mind the abundance of elephants and the solitude of the place – the sunsets alone would be enough to get us back there!

 

Weekend at Tsauchab River Camp

The only time that the Tsauchab River has any water in it is after exceptionally heavy rains, and in the Naukluft region of Namibia that is very rarely. The “river” is approximately 100 km long and is best known for the spectacular Sesriem Canyon, which it has carved through the sedimentary rock over the millennia, and for the usually dry lake called Sossusvlei, in the very heart of the Namib Desert. Sossusvlei marks the end of the Tsauchab River’s abortive attempt to reach the Atlantic, for here it is blocked by some of the biggest sand dunes in the world.

It is on the banks of this ephemeral river that the Tsauchab River Camp is situated.

Approaching the campsite - dry, barren and not very inviting

Approaching the campsite - dry, barren and not very inviting

The driveway to the reception area of the Tsauchab River Camp is decorated on both sides with metal animals and the like, assembled from oddments from cars, tractors and who-knows-what-else, welded together. Some of the assemblages are easily recognized, some are a mystery to all but the creator. Yes…But is it art? Hmm.

? Common ostriches

? Common ostriches

? Kudu

? Kudu

? Springbok

? Springbok

? Owl

? Owl

Whatever your view of the scrap-metal creations, don’t let them put you off. The campsites are magnificent! I think that they must rank as the most spacious campsites in all of Namibia – the campsite that we stayed in had no fewer than three separate areas in which we could camp, and no fewer than three separate toilets. Some of the toilets are not strong on privacy, which is not terribly important in view of the isolation of the campsite.

There are a few gaps in the toilet walls...

There are a few gaps in the toilet walls...

...and sometimes there aren't enough walls!

...and sometimes there aren't enough walls!

Clear instructions for using the toilet!

Clear instructions for using the toilet!

And some allow limited activity. I assume that it was a courtesy to the ladies that this was shaped and positioned like an ordinary toilet and not like the urinals that usually populate gentlemen’s facilities.

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The main ablutions, though, is built between the multiple trunks of an enormous ficus and is of the highest standard. Step inside and the fitments and cleanliness would do a good hotel proud.

Campsite and ablutions built into the fig tree

Campsite and ablutions built into the fig tree

One section of the Tsauchab River along this stretch is fed by a spring, and the pools contain water all the year round. Because of this, there is a stretch of riparian forest, mostly of wild figs, that is home to a multitude of birds and provides delightful walks through the deep shade. The channel of the river shows evidence of the flash floods that are a feature of much of Namibia, and the roots of some of the fig trees have been well exposed through the erosion of the river banks.

Roots exposed by erosion

Roots exposed by erosion

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In the evening we were treated to magnificent sunsets and were greeted in the morning by a slow parade of kudu along a ridge overlooking the campsite. In the absence of other campers in the vicinity we felt especially privileged to share these experiences in the absolute quiet that is such a rarity in the city.

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This is a spot definitely worth a visit.

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Familiar chat at Tsauchab campsite

Familiar chat at Tsauchab campsite

Weekend at Waterberg

Summer is not the best time of the year to go to the Waterberg as we were to find out when we paid the area a visit.  However, we duly set off from Windhoek on a Friday afternoon and drove the 300 kms north with high expectations and our usual enthusiasm when going to see a new place.

As always, we had our guide books with us so could read up on the geology and history of the area.  Nicole Grunert has an interesting book (Namibia – Fascination of Geology) that describes how erosion formed the enormous red sandstone cliffs of the Waterberg.  According to her the Waterberg was mainly characterized by tectonic processes, when an equalizing movement in the earth’s crust took place causing a comprehensive elevation of the land.  An old fault zone in the area of the Waterberg was reactivated and this zone, which stretches from Omaruru, past the Waterberg up to Grootfontein, is now known as the Waterberg Thrust.

The Waterberg cliifs

The Waterberg cliifs

Historically, the area is famous for the final battle of the Herero uprising in 1904.  Here, a comparatively small number of Germans put down the Hereroes and brought an end to the war.  The battle was apparently made very difficult by the dense vegetation in the area.  Today a small cemetery marks the final resting place of about seventy young German men who lost their lives in the fight.  A long way from home, it is sad that they had to give up their promising young lives in such a remote and desolate spot.

It is the victors who usually get to write the history and sadly we could find no memorial to the many Hereros who fought and died for what they believed in.

The cemetery at Waterberg

The cemetery at Waterberg

The campsite in the Waterberg Plateau Park is a beautiful shaded oasis with enormous trees and sprinklers that lazily flick water over the lush green lawns.  We found a super shady site fairly close to the ablution block and soon had the rooftop tent up and our table and chairs unpacked.   Our first impression was of lots of bird activity in the park with starlings, crimson breasted shrikes, forked tailed drongos and noisy wood hoopoes flitting around.

The campsite

The campsite

Apart from the birds, the sprinklers attracted a few little ground squirrels that were quite tame and didn’t run away when we approached them.

Ground squirrel

Ground squirrel

A short walk towards the towering sandstone cliffs had us passing a fair sized restaurant and an inviting looking swimming pool.  At the foot of the mountain, some distance from the campsites, a number of chalets were nestled amongst shady thorn trees.

Being one of the more popular Parks Board camps, we had to share the spot with other campers.   Our site had a large concrete braai where later we were able to cook our meat and potatoes whilst enjoying the cool of the evening and the sound of crickets around us.  When you’re sitting in the dark, watching the flickering fire flames and enjoying the symphony of the night creatures you truly feel like you’re one with the African bushveld.  For me it’s a special time of the day and I really savour the experience.

Our plan the next day was to climb up the cliffs to the top of the plateau from where we would get amazing views over the plains below.  At the foot of the mountain we were a bit sidetracked by two shy little deer that we followed into the dense bush for a photo shoot.  They blended into the woodland so well, only making themselves visible when they took off in fright as we approached them.  The birdlife in this area is also abundant and we flushed out some red billed francolins and spent about half an hour trying to photograph a pair of yellow-bellied eremomelas.  The Hartlaub’s francolin is found in this area, but unfortunately remained elusive on this trip.

The path up the mountain is quite steep and is mostly through shaded woodland with a carpet of dry leaves.  Quite near the top the trees thin out a bit and one catches glimpses of the vast expanse of land below.  On one of the rocks near the top we passed a plaque honouring a member of the Mountain Club who had lost his life in a rescue operation here many years before.  We later heard from a former member of the Mountain Club that he had plunged to his death when he stepped on a tuft of grass at the side of the cliff which gave way underneath him.

On the path

On the path

It was a bit disappointing to reach the rocky outcrop at the top of the cliff and to find that we weren’t allowed to go any further without a guide and a permit.  The plateau at the top is home to many dangerous wild animals, including white rhinos, buffalo and leopards, so it is understandable that they want to protect both the visitors and the animals.  We sat for a long time looking out over the plains below us, their natural beauty marred somewhat by the dirt roads that cross-crossed them.  Occasionally in the distance we saw a cloud of dust raised by a passing car.  It was very peaceful up there, but we didn’t linger too long as we wanted to explore the area at the bottom.

Our bird watching was very productive as we saw a pair of groundscraper thrushes near the chalets.  Continuing on towards the little German cemetery we photographed Ruppell’s Parrots and a Purple Roller.  By mid-morning the heat was starting to take its toll on me and I had to leave Rob to wander through the bush on his own while I took shelter in the campsite under the shady trees with a good book.  The squirrels and birds around the campsite were a pleasurable distraction.

Ruppell's parrot

Ruppell's parrot

Eventually even Rob couldn’t tolerate the heat anymore and we settled down to a siesta until the sun disappeared behind the mountains.  This is always my favourite time of the day as the sting has been taken out of the heat and the birds reappear as if to make the most of the last hour or so of daylight.

By the time we arrived back a big bus carrying students from the Namibian PolyTech had pulled in and unfortunately ruined the peace and quiet with their loud music and partying.  I’m sure that we weren’t alone in wishing that they had allowed us a quiet evening out in nature.  We sometimes feel that people lose the plot when it comes to weekends away in the bush – if they want to party and listen to loud music they should do it at home or at discos, not in places where others are trying to get away from these very noises to listen to natures night sounds.

In spite of our rowdy neighbours, the weekend was considered a great success and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Waterberg.  Our biggest regret was not booking a hike at the top of the plateau, but then again, it gave us a good excuse to go back another time.

Weekend at Isabis

A Weekend at Isabis – February 2006

(Jane)

Isabis is a farm some 130 kms south-west of Windhoek in the Gamsberg region.  Situated in the catchment area of the Gaub River, a tributary of the Kuiseb, the farm has dramatic scenery etched out by the towering gorges of the Gaub River Canyon and a conglomeration of granite outcrops of the Rooiberg.  

4x4-trail to the campsite

 The delightful campsite is quite special and isolated because the owner, Joachim Cranz, only allows one party of campers on his enormous farm at a time.  Joachim sounded quite excited when he described their challenging 4×4 trail, but I was quick to assure him that we were more interested in birding and walking than the rough ride.  What he didn’t tell me was that to get to the campsite we’d have to take on the rugged terrain anyway! 

 After paying our camping fees we headed across the flat grassy plain following the crudely painted signs to the campsite.  We saw a snake eagle circling overhead and a couple of Northern Black Koorhaans crossing the dirt track as we approached.  It seemed to augur well for the birdlife that lay in store for us. 

 The road was fairly innocuous to start with, but as we drove deeper into the farm, we descended into an enormous gorge and the route down became quite hair-raising.  Hewn out of rough boulders, with hardly enough room to squeeze through, in places it barely resembled a road at all and Rob had to really concentrate as he put the car into 4×4 mode and negotiated the way down.  I’m still not comfortable driving over rocks like that and have to admit that my heart was in my mouth most of the way.  My vivid imagination had our tyres being shredded by the sharp rocks, so it was quite a relief when we finally made it to an area where the gorge leveled out a bit.

4x4-trail to the campsite

 We eventually reached the campsite by crossing a river bed at the foot of a rocky hillside.  The facilities, although quite primitive, were great – a table and chairs made out of flat rocks, an open flush toilet with views on three sides and best of all, a shower built into the cliff, with only a flimsy shoulder-height reed wall to preserve one’s modesty.   I eyed the huge woodpile lying next to the braai area with more than a little suspicion, thinking it would make an ideal home for snakes! 

Campsite at Isabis

 No sooner had we unpacked the bakkie and opened up the rooftop tent when it started to rain softly.  Alarmed, we realized that we were camping virtually in the river bed and if it rained heavily upstream, we could get washed away during the night.  We’d heard horrific stories of people drowning in this way, and decided that we wouldn’t take a chance by staying in that lovely spot.  Sadly we packed everything up again and made our way back across the river to higher ground a short way up the hill.  This site wasn’t nearly as nice as the one next to the cliff, but we felt safer and soon settled down again.  Fortunately the rain didn’t last very long so we were able to have a pleasant braai under the stars.

The next day as dawn smudged the morning sky and we were having a leisurely breakfast, we were joined by a little hare with cute long ears.  A bit wary of us, it sat under a thorn tree a few metres away and kept an eye open for any movement from our side while it scanned the area for some food.  As usually happens with birds, when we reached for a camera it took fright and disappeared into the bushes.  These little encounters with nature add tremendous pleasure to a camping trip and we’re always delighted to be joined by the locals of the area.

 After breakfast we took a short walk along the river bed to a road that lead up the hill.  On the way I stepped on a rock and heard a hissing sound.  Closer inspection revealed a horned adder that bid a hasty retreat while we tried to photograph him.  Across the river was a rock with about five colourful Namibian Rock Agama’s basking in the early morning sunshine.  Their bright orange heads lifted as we drew nearer and they vanished rapidly when they decided that we’d got too close for comfort.  This time of day is so peaceful and with birdsong in the air, we enjoyed seeing and listening to nature greeting the new day. 

Horned adder

Isabis

 The road rose steeply up the hill and as we made our way slowly up we heard the echoing cries of baboons warning each other of our presence.  A couple of them were sitting harmlessly like sentinels on the rocks above us.  We’ve encountered many baboons on our walks, but have never felt threatened by them even when they’ve been at their most vocal. 

 The road flattened out at last and a short way along we came across an empty reservoir and a rusty old windmill.  Disappointingly, there weren’t many birds, so we decided to head back to camp and drive around the farm to a dam where we hoped to see some water birds.

Isabis

 Taking the same road that we’d walked along earlier, we soon came to a rather treacherous stretch that formed another part of the infamous 4×4 trail.  I preferred to walk up the steep hill rather than listen to the torture going on underneath the vehicle.  Rob, whose 4×4 skills were being nicely honed on this one, soon had the bakkie crunching slowly up the rocky road to the top of the hill.  

 Out of breath, I climbed back into the car only to discover that around the next corner it became even more scary as we descended down a dreadful section with a sheer drop on the right-hand side.  Once again I opted to walk and told Rob to wait a while so that I could position myself to photograph his descent.  Who knows, my fortune could have been made by getting one of those dramatic shots of a car actually going over the edge of a cliff!  Just joking!!

 The rest of the day was spent negotiating the various stretches of rocks, holes and boulders in the road.  Admittedly it turned out to be quite fun and towards the end I even managed to remain in the car when the going got rough.  We came across the dam after leveling out and driving for some time across the plains.  As there were folks camping at the waters edge we figured that we’d driven onto the adjoining property, a farm called Hornkranz.   If not, then Joachim was definitely not sticking to his one party rule on his land.  It was very overgrown around the dam and there was no way we could get close to the water without walking through their camp. We decided not to disturb them and made our way back to our own campsite.  It had been such a pleasant day, full of exciting driving and beautiful landscapes. 

 The next morning, before leaving, we walked down to the trickle of a river below us.  Dozens of pale green butterflies were standing on the water’s edge with their wings folded up together.  They looked like little yachts at anchor.  Here and there bright orange dragon flies touched down gently on the pools of water.  The scene was quite idyllic and I felt rather sad to be leaving the area.  As we drove up the escarpment we were excited to see a pair of Kori Bustards ambling through the bush.  They’re not as common here as up near Etosha so a sighting always gives one a bit of a buzz.

 Instead of retracing our route coming here, we decided to drive back to Windhoek via the infamous Spreetshoogte Pass.   After bidding our hosts farewell we turned right at the gate and headed towards Nauchas and Namibgrens Farm.  Once past these, one turns on to the D1275 where a sign board screams out a big warning of the steep gradients ahead.  Our route took us down the Pass, but before descending we stopped at the look-out point just below the crest, which gave us the most spectacular views of the panorama below.  The good rains we’d had this season offered us green grass as far as the eye could see.  It is probably the best vantage point in Namibia. 

 The descent was steep, the gradient being 1:4 to 1:6.  Not something to be taken at speed and we were amused to see a couple of road signs saying 2 kph.  We discovered on a second trip that someone had removed the 1 and the speed limit should have read 21 kph (still an odd number).  The road drops several hundred meters in less than five kilometers, which gives one an idea of why this is regarded as the steepest pass in Namibia.  At one point where it was really steep, the dirt road was paved to give a better grip.  When we reached the bottom we agreed that it had been worth the trip just to experience the beauty of it all.

 From there we drove to Solitaire, a hot and bustling outpost in the middle of nowhere.  Solitaire is a halfway stop for folks on their way to and from Sossusvlei, so it’s quite busy in spite of its tiny size and remoteness.  It comprises a garage, a restaurant and an inhospitable looking camping area. After filling up with diesel we headed for home without trying the apple tart at the restaurant which is supposed to be to die for. 

 We took the C14 from Solitaire, which goes via the Gaub Pass.  Stopping at the bridge at the bottom of the Pass we saw the devastating effects of flash floods that had swept through there a few days before.  Dead branches were washed up against the bridge and lay strewn on the river banks.  This was obviously quite an unusual sight as many motorists stopped to take photos and walk down the damp river bed.  We were approached by a friendly guy in a Jeep who recognized our Underberg numberplates and came over to say hello.

 It started raining again when we resumed our journey and at one point beyond a very wet and muddy Rooisand, we came to a section in the road that was awash.  Not wanting to risk being swept away, I walked slowly through it with a stick to test the depth and the strength of the flow before Rob drove across it.  This truly was one of Namibia’s rainiest seasons for a long time and it was great to see the effects that all this water was having on the countryside.

Flooded road

 Yet another brilliant weekend enjoying the outdoors of Namibia.  This country really has so much to offer the tourist in the way of great experiences and great sights.  We loved it!

Isabis