Off the beaten track – Tsumkwe to Nokaneng

We’ve written before about how our love of birds has taken us all over the country.  We’ve just returned from yet another trip that was moulded around seeing breeding colonies of the strikingly beautiful Carmine bee-eaters and rare African Skimmers.  It all started in June when we attended a travel exposition in Windhoek and discovered a company offering greatly reduced prices if one purchased accommodation at any of their country lodges.   We promptly bought six nights and then looked at where to go to cover previously unchartered territory and new birding experiences.

Tsumkwe Lodge

We were excited to see that they had a lodge at Tsumkwe, on the far north-eastern side of Namibia, in an area that is totally off the beaten track.   They had a second lodge, Namushasha, in that direction, in the Caprivi region, where we have wanted to see the Carmine bee-eaters, so it seemed logical to plot our trip with these two lodges in mind.  Having mentioned our plans to some folks we met at a dinner party, we learned that from Tsumkwe, one could go straight into Botswana through a small and relatively unknown border post at Dobe, and then cut up north to Namushasha, instead of backtracking to the main road and driving all the way across the Caprivi.  This valuable information saved us hundreds of kilometers of traveling and shortened our journey considerably.

Tsumkwe is a remote and tiny village just south of the Khaudum National Park.  It only has one general dealer store and a garage that restocks its fuel supplies once a week, so you have to be careful to carry enough fuel in case they have run out on your arrival.  It is also an area well-known for the few remaining San Bushmen (Ju/’hoansi tribe) who live there, and a number of living museums where Bushmen, dressed traditionally, give the public a glimpse into their lives, ancient spiritual beliefs and how they survive off the land.  These Bushmen will be the subject of an entire blog as we spent a delightful time with them on a very hot Saturday afternoon.

San Bushmen

The lodge at Tsumkwe is quite basic but comfortable, and the food is excellent.  We were amused to see, on entering our chalet that the washbasin, cupboards and dressing table were all made from 44 gallon drums.  How innovative is that!  They also have a campsite.

44 Gallon drum washbasin

With a whole day to explore the area before we left on the next leg of our trip, we decided to visit the Nyae Nyae Pans which are about twenty kilometers from the village.  After rains these pans are filled with birds and animals of every description, but unfortunately for us we were too early to see water so had to content ourselves with photographing Grey-backed sparrowlarks, squirrels and the beautiful scenery.

Grey-backed sparrowlark

From the pans we drove to another landmark of the area, the largest Baobab tree in the region, known as Holboom (hollow tree in Afrikaans).  This tree is absolutely mind-blowing in size – it is difficult to wrap your mind around how old it must be and how it could have a girth like it has.  We had a picnic lunch in its shade and reluctantly dragged ourselves away after having climbed up and into its midst.  It was home to a number of birds and tree squirrels.

Largest Baobab - Holboom

A few meters from Holboom there is another enormous Baobab under which one can camp if arrangements are made with the headman at the village.  An awesome spot to visit, but one needs a 4×4 as the track is very sandy in patches.

We entered Botswana the following day at the Dobe border post.  Short of actually conducting the border formalities on the bonnet of our car, it was probably the smallest and most informal customs and immigration set up we’ve come across.

Dobe border post

No cash changed hands so there were no cross border charges, and after a quick spray of the car wheels to prevent us spreading foot and mouth disease we were on our way along a very sandy and indistinct track to  Nokaneng and then up north to Namushasha on the Kwando River.

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