Category Archives: Camping , 4×4

Brukkaros – the look-alike volcano that isn’t!

From the national road (the B1) Brukkaros looks like any other ordinary mountain in Namibia.  Anyone flying over the massif of Brukkaros, however, could be forgiven for thinking that they were looking down at the crater of an extinct volcano.  They would be wrong though, as Brukkaros is not a volcano at all, in spite of having characteristic volcanic slopes and a caldera.

According to geologist Nicole Grunert in her book “Namibia – Fascination of Geology”, Brukkaros was formed as a consequence of magma rising from the deep earth’s mantle about 80 million years ago and getting stuck in the earth’s crust.  Enormous pressure (welling up) pushed the overlying rock upwards, forming the mountain.  During this process, the rising magma reached ground water, which in turn caused water vapour to form, and the pressure of this combination resulted in a gigantic explosion on the surface.  The crater then opened up, and with subsequent erosion, Brukkaros as we know it came into being.

Approaching Brukkaros

A few things are needed to visit Brukkaros today – a 4×4 vehicle (if you want to camp at any of the upper campsites), a sturdy pair of legs and a head for heights.  These will ensure that you get the most from your visit to this beautiful and geologically fascinating spot.  We were the first to arrive there on Good Friday, so were able to claim the best campsite with views over the flat and endless plains looking towards the little village of Berseba, with the upper rim of Brukkaros forming a dramatic backdrop behind us.

Pools below the waterfall

It is recommended that you hike the mountain with guides from the local community, but there were none around when we arrived, so we had to do the five and a half hour walk on our own.  There are various hiking options – a strenuous walk around the rim up to the remains of a long-gone research station – or an equally strenuous walk down onto the floor of the caldera.  We opted for the rim walk and shortly after setting out we stopped for a while to watch a pair of Verreaux’s eagles catching the thermals in the valley.  They were later joined by some Black-chested snake eagles that spent quite a bit of time skimming the cliff face in search of food.

First view of caldera

The first view of the caldera was amazing – a perfect basin, three kilometers in diameter, with a grassy plain dotted with rocks and quiver trees.  Traces of river beds were marked by dark green trees, looking remarkably like veins on the landscape as they made their way down to the gap in the valley where water escaped the caldera over a waterfall, to tumble down into two pools below the mountain.

The rocks are embedded with cyrstals

Brukkaros should be nicknamed “the crystal mountain” because all along the way you see crystals glittering in the rocks or lying on the ground.  Along the path the rocks themselves are an amazing sight – some of them the colour of dark red ox blood (these are called carbonatite) and others dark brown.  The floor of the caldera is covered in very hard rock called breccia, scattered with quartz crystals.

After a couple of hours of steady climbing and battling the long grass along a barely visible path, we arrived at the ruins, which Rob measured to be at an altitude of 1515m.  We were fascinated by a building constructed partly by blasting deep into the rocky mountainside – with rusty bars in the window area it looked just like a prison.  We have subsequently found out that it housed a solar observatory set up in 1926 by the National Geographic Society in co-operation with the Smithsonian Insitute.

Solar observatory built into the mountain

The views from the rim of the crater at this point (about 564 meters above the Berseba plains) are magnificent – confirming a small painted sign propped up on a rock that read: “View of the World!”

View of the world from Brukkaros rim

Before leaving Brukkaros early the next morning, we took a short walk back along the path, armed with cameras and binoculars and waited for the Verreaux’s eagles and Black-chested snake eagles to make their appearance.  Right on cue they left their nests and took to the thermals, giving us a wonderful display and a fitting send-off from their beautiful mountain.

 

Weekend at Teufelsbach Riverside Campsite

One of the beauties of living in Windhoek is that from any suburb in the city it takes less than ten minutes to be out in the countryside.  No need to drive for kilometers to reach the bushveld and nature – one can still be in some of the outer suburbs and come across baboons, guinea fowl and mongooses crossing the streets.  In fact we have a whole troop of noisy baboons living on the hill behind our house!

But this blog is not about baboons, it’s about a very nice campsite that is situated about forty minutes outside of Windhoek on the road north to Okahandja.  The farm, Teufelsbach, offers a beautiful riverside campsite and visitors have the freedom of most of the farm for the duration of their stay.  How wonderful to be able to walk and drive all over, knowing that you won’t be meeting anyone else apart from the farm owner.  There is also a 4×4 trail for enthusiasts of that ilk!

The riverside campsite

We set up camp on Friday evening and soon had a roaring fire going for our braai.  The campsite is nicely laid out with place for several tents and it has a big covered boma with a large concrete table and chairs.  It would be suitable for a big party of campers.  The ablution block is clean and supported by a ‘donkey’ – a system whereby the water is heated by a wood-burning stove.

We’re always keen to meet the local ‘residents’ of each campsite that we visit, and at Teufelsbach it was a family of red-billed francolins that woke us each morning, accompanied by a pair of  screeching Ruppell’s parrots that frequented the gnarled old camelthorn tree overhanging the campsite.

Ruppell's parrot

There are a number of dams on the farm that are home to a variety of birdlife.  It was nice to see that the dams actually had water in them, which isn’t always the case when the rains aren’t as abundant as they have been this summer.  In fact, the rains had made the countryside really lush and green.  The veld was covered in waving grasses and wildflowers in hues of yellow, purple and white.

Walking on the farm was not without peril, as the paths and roadways were liberally punctuated by spider webs.  They were strung from virtually every shrub and even stretched across the roads that were three or more meters wide.  We had to be careful to duck under them or risk being covered in sticky webs and scary-looking spiders!

Watch where you walk!

The birdlife didn’t disappoint and we spent a number of hours chasing an elusive Great spotted cuckoo down a riverbed; the cuckoo remaining tantalizingly out of our reach.  Aahh the joy when it eventually settled for just long enough to get a photograph!

Great spotted cuckoo

Our weekends away are always full and interesting.  It was great to have found a campsite so close to Windhoek, as it isn’t always easy to take enough time off to travel great distances to go camping.  Teufelsbach is definitely conveniently close enough for many more visits.  As a nice farewell present, when we were leaving the farm, we came across this beautiful Abdim’s stork just outside the farm gate!

A farewell gift - Abdims stork

Chobe National Park – Botswana

In previous blogs we have talked about our wonderful holidays in Botswana, in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Central Kalahari, as well as up in the Savuti area.  In all these places the wildlife has been abundant and we’ve had the privilege of viewing it in relatively remote and isolated conditions with few other people around us at the time.

The Chobe River area is also well worth a visit as it probably has the greatest variety of wildlife in Botswana – the only downside being that it is easily accessible so one has to share this piece of paradise with lots of other tourists.   Nevertheless, it remains one of our favourite spots and we’ll venture back there at every opportunity.

Hippo gives us the evil eye

There are some great camping spots along the Chobe and our choice of a site at the Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane was ideal.  Nestled privately amongst the trees, with the water lapping a couple of meters away (and the protection of a fence to keep intruding crocs and hippos at bay), our campsite was well positioned to give us excellent views of the animals coming down to the river to drink.

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The highlight of any visit though has to be a sundown boat cruise on the Chobe as the birdlife on the banks and islands is superb.

Water thick-knee

If you’re not into bird spotting, you will be just as enthralled at the vast numbers of animals that congregate on the riverfront towards the end of the day – elephants, buffalo, kudu – the list is endless.  Top all this off with an ice cold beer and an amazing sunset and you’ll wonder why you don’t spend every holiday here.

Who is watching who?

We also enjoyed our stay at the Kubu Lodge campsite which gave us the chance to do a self-drive into the Chobe National Park.  The Lodge offers game drives into the Park, but we preferred going on our own as it enabled us to stop and photograph at our leisure. Kubu  (Kubu means hippo) Lodge has enormous grounds to walk around in and we had little buck peeping at us through the trees.  We were warned to be on the lookout for a stray buffalo that had come ashore from the river – fortunately we didn’t encounter it while we were out birding.

Hippo

If you’re planning a visit, don’t limit your time in the Chobe area as there is so much to see and do.  If birds and animals don’t interest you, then try your hand at tiger fishing – it’s guaranteed to give you a thrill when you land one of these amazing fish.  All in all a very special part of Botswana and a photographer’s delight.

Bushveld Soap Opera

There’s a Dettol advertisement on TV in South Africa at the moment in which they are marketing a soap dispenser with a sensor that makes the soap squirt out without you having to touch it at all.  This is to prevent you from catching germs from the dispenser itself.  I ask you with tears in my eyes – just how many people have died from dangerous soap dispensers in their homes?  Aren’t we becoming a little too paranoid about germs these days?

Our travels through Southern Africa have taken us to many different places and we’ve come across ablution set ups that have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, especially at campsites.  These are great fun though and we never fail to be amused at the creativity of the ablution designers, which tells you a lot about them and their sense of humour.  I don’t mind how whacky and adventurous a loo or shower is as long as it’s clean.  In all the years of camping, there haven’t been many places that weren’t acceptable, although I doubt whether the Dettol manufacturers would agree with me.

Bear with me as I take you on a little tour of some of the ablution facilities we’ve been privileged to use over the last few years…..

Let’s start with this elegant design that we found at the Omandumba campsite in Namibia. Definitely worth wiping with Dettol before sitting on that!  Not your average loo, but at least it has a good plastic seat and the toilet roll holder is conveniently close enough for you to unroll paper from the nail in the ground.

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Talking of toilet roll holders, the owner of a campsite near Clarens, in the Free State, surpassed herself when she designed matching arum lily doorhandles and toilet roll holders in the ladies’ ablution block.  How classy is that!

Arum lily doorhandle

Arum lily toiletroll holder

For the adventurous camper there is always the open-air, out-door bathroom.  Sometimes it’s built into the rocks, like this one at Namibgrens.  This one doesn’t have a door, but that’s not the only part that makes you slightly uneasy – it’s the fact that there is a big hill overlooking the loo, so you have to be on the look-out for peeping mountaineers as well.

Open-air loo Namibgrens

Or what about this lovely loo overlooking a dry river bed at the Tsauchab River Camp?  Admittedly it’s a private spot with no other campers within miles, but there’s always the chance of a stray hiker following the course of a long-gone river.

A bit chilly in winter

The shower cubicle is a bit drafty too, so it’s probably advisable to do your ablutions under cover of darkness.  I can see a Dettol sensor dispenser looking quite neat on this wash basin.

Drafty bathroom Tsauchab

If you get tired of the outdoor stuff and want something a bit more upmarket, then look no further than the VIP suite at Namushasha.  The wash basin comes complete with animal horn to give it an authentic African bushveld look!

Horny washbasin

Fantastic.  Must tell them about the Dettol dispenser though – that’s if I live to tell the tale because I only use a disgustingly dangerous bar of soap when I wash my hands.

Through the Khowarib Schlucht

Our first look at the track running through the Khowarib Schlucht was quite intimidating. We had driven south from Ongongo Campsite, where we had spent the night, and entered the Schlucht at its Western end, turning off the C43. Within a very short time we were faced with a very rough stretch of track.

The road shortly after entering the Khowarib Schlucht

The road shortly after entering the Khowarib Schlucht

Jo and I parked the bakkies and walked forward to look at the road. It was tricky, but quite driveable; however the thought of twenty-three kilometers of that sort of track was daunting to say the least.

Jo & Rob checking the track before driving though

Jo & Rob checking the track before driving though

But, we had given ourselves most of the day to cover the 80 kilometres between the C43 and C35 that included the Khowarib Schlucht and without any sort of time pressure we would be able to enjoy the spectacular scenery that we believed lay ahead.

In the Khowarib Schlucht

In the Khowarib Schlucht

In fact the drive turned out to be very enjoyable and not nearly as difficult as we had anticipated. The most difficult part was the navigation as the track split up repeatedly with no indication as to which was the “correct” track to follow. In most cases it didn’t really matter, as the roads almost invariably linked up again, but sometimes the decision was an important one, as some of the threads deteriorated into an assortment of potholes, deeply worn tracks and eroded dongas that made driving more challenging or well nigh impossible.

In the Khowarib Schlucht

In the Khowarib Schlucht

Being cautious souls, we stopped the vehicles frequently to walk over the more challenging sections of the track. We didn’t relish the idea of falling off the track or getting stuck unnecessarily and this also gave us plenty of time to absorb the scenery. The rocky cliffs towering over the track are a golden-red and present a magnificent sight.

Magnificent rock faces in the Khowarib Schlucht

Magnificent rock faces in the Khowarib Schlucht

The cliffs are a wonderful deep, golden red

The cliffs are a wonderful deep, golden red

The track crosses the dry Hoanib River numerous times, sometimes following the river-bed for a short way before climbing up the bank again. On occasion there was water to cross, but most of the time the bed of the river is of thick, soft sand that demands low-range four-wheel drive and a fair amount of concentration to maintain forward momentum.

A rare water crossing in the Khowarib Schlucht

A rare water crossing in the Khowarib Schlucht

Water crossing

Water crossing

It was crossing this river, that we got stuck. We had crossed the soft sand of the river-bed and driven up the bank on the far side when we found that we were on the wrong route; the track was impassable due to massive erosion. A quick excursion on foot showed that we should not have crossed the river-bed directly, but should have turned left on entering the river-bed and driven along the river for a few hundred metres before exiting again onto the same bank. We turned the cars and dropped back down the bank onto the soft sand. Correction, not onto the sand, rather into the sand! The Toyota sank down and stopped. Nothing serious, though, we let the tyres down (which we should have done a lot earlier!) and removed some of the sand from in front of the wheels. In about thirty minutes we were on our way again.

Digging the bakkiie from the loose sand

Digging the bakkie from the loose sand

The wonderful cliffs form a natural amphitheatre

The wonderful cliffs form a natural amphitheatre

An interesting feature of the drive through the Schlucht are the “dust holes” that occur without any real warning. These stretches of track are filled with the finest talcum-like dust that billows around the car like a thick, opaque mist. If there is the slightest tailwind, this cloud engulfs the car and reduces visibility to a few metres.  Quite disconcerting. Even just walking through this talcum-sand raises puffs of dust around your feet and ankles.

Rob walking through one of the dust holes found within the Schlucht

Rob walking through one of the dust holes found within the Schlucht

The little village of Umumbaadjie marks the end of the Schlucht itself, but there is still about 55 km of track, passing through the Kamdescha Veterinary Control Point (and yes, they did check that we had no meat with us), before reaching the C35  It was still quite early in the day when we reached the C35 and so there was a quick change of plan and we headed south for 200 km to Outjo, where we camped just outside the town at a farm called Sophienhof. This was the first and only occasion on the entire trip that Jo, Des and Gwen were able to pitch their tents on grass!

After spending the night at this very comfortable spot, we had an easy drive back to Windhoek to end the trip.

Epupa Falls on the Kunene River

For die-hard 4×4 enthusiasts there is a riverside track running from Kunene River Lodge to Epupa Falls.  When we initially planned our trip we were hoping to take this route, but we subsequently heard such horrendous stories about how bad the road was and how much damage it inflicts on vehicles, that we decided to take the more drivable route, turning South at Swartbooisdrift and then picking up the C43 to Epupa Falls.  This proved a wise decision in the end as the trip was very pleasant and took far less time than it would have going the shorter way.

Our first stop of the day was at the Dorsland (Thirst land) Trekkers Memorial just outside Swartbooisdrift.  The monument commemorates the settlers who trekked north from South Africa due to strife with the Zulus and subsequent annexation by the British.  They settled in Angola (and other areas), but decided to move once again when the Portuguese wouldn’t allow them to speak their own language in schools and wanted to convert these staunch Protestants to Catholicism.  They suffered many hardships on their epic journey and have earned their place in history.

Dorsland Trekker Monument                               Zebra Mountain

Another interesting feature on the trip to Epupa Falls is the Zebra Mountain range that extends south-east and north-west for 48 km between the Kunene, Omuhonga and Otjitanga rivers.  According to  “The New Dictionary of South African Place Names” by Peter E Raper, the name of this range is derived from its striped appearance caused by ironstone ridges alternating with declivities in which pale coloured vegetation grows.  We were there at the right time of the year to see this striking effect, which  may not be as visible once the vegetation turns green in summer.

Our destination at Epupa Falls was Omarunga Camp, another small oasis along the Kunene River that contrasts sharply with its dry and arid surrounds.  Our campsite, under lush Makalani Palms, was just metres upstream from the falls and right on the river bank.  The ablution block was open air and made out of Makalani Palm leaves and branches.  (This sounds a bit flimsy but it is such a lovely experience to shower in a roofless outdoor cubicle like that!)

Campsite under the palms                               Campsite under the palms

It was a bit of a squeeze getting all three tents onto one campsite, but eventually we were settled in.  Jo and Des were most impressed with the ease with which they could erect or take down their Oz tent and at this stage of the journey they had it down to a fine art.

We discovered shortly after arrival that we were camping in a hard hat area, as the large Makalani Palm nuts drop from the trees and could cause serious injury if they hit an unsuspecting camper on the head.  Management claimed no responsibility for damage or injury caused by these falling nuts. Rob attempted to pad our windscreen with some shadecloth and held thumbs that the wind wouldn’t come up during our stay.

We hadn’t been there long when someone pointed out a three metre crocodile in the middle of the river.  Obviously there would be no swimming here, although we did see the locals washing themselves at the head of the falls.  No doubt they kept an eye out for each other’s safety.

The falls are a five minute walk from the campsite.  Unfortunately, we weren’t there at the right time of the year to see them in full flow, but they were stunning nonetheless.  It was late afternoon when we arrived which meant that we were treated to seeing the sinking sun hitting the enormous Baobab trees that dot the area.  I could just imagine them in the rainy season with the water flooding down.  Some cling tenaciously to the sides of the gorge while others stand like fat old ladies paddling, defying the rushing waters to wash them away.

Awesome scenery

Scenic Baobab trees Scenic Baobab trees

Adding some glamour to the falls

Adding some glamour to the falls

It’s a magical spot and we had to drag ourselves away with the promise of a good hike around the area the next day.

We were pleased to find that African mourning doves are plentiful in this area.  I feel sorry for doves in general, because they are so common that most people don’t pay them too much attention. Mourning doves aren’t widely distributed which made the sighting a little more exciting than it would otherwise have been.  We had a number of Red-eyed bulbuls, Weavers and Pale-winged starlings visit the campsite and on a walk we also saw a Short-toed rock thrush and an African pied wagtail.  Sunbirds love the flowers in the palm trees so there is plenty of bird activity in the area.

African Mourning Dove                               Pale-winged Starlings and Weavers

The local community has shown some enterprising spirit by charging tourists to climb a hill that gives one a spectacular view of the falls and surrounds.

We didn’t mind paying the small fee as the view was worth it and we were able to shelter from the heat in a lean-to made out of Makalani Palm leaves.  Unfortunately for Gwen and me, we had started our hike a bit late and the heat was beginning to tell on us.  We decided to head back to the camp when the others carried on along the gorge.  Des was startled by a nearby crocodile when she ventured a bit close to the water.

Besides the falls, there isn’t a whole lot to see or do other than just relax or visit a Himba settlement, so on our second evening we decided to leave a day earlier than planned and head on to our next destination, Ongonga, where at least we could swim in the heat of the day.

View from Sundown Hill                              Our resident chef

Epupa Falls is well worth a visit and Omarunga Camp is an idyllic spot.  The only downside was the somewhat hefty price of drinks in the pub.  If you’re planning to camp in a group, we suggest that you ask for individual campsites as three tents on a single site is a bit cramped.  Omarunga also has a Lodge with beautiful tented accommodation for those wanting something more luxurious than the campsite.

Kunene River Lodge

Kunene River Lodge is a short journey of 56 kms from Hippo Pools.   When driving on dirt roads it may seem like an advantage having only a short distance like that to cover, but the drive was through such rugged and picturesque landscape that I was quite disappointed when we arrived at our destination so soon.

The road followed the river for most of the way and we were treated to glimpses of the Makalani Palm-lined banks, which gave the  journey a tropical feel.  When we left the river, we drove through stunning Mopani trees still clad in their autumn coloured leaves, waiting for the rains to summon forth their summer foliage.

We passed Himba settlements along the river and marveled at their simple yet harsh lifestyle.  Every settlement we drove past had children who waved vigorously at us, their friendly smiles lighting up their dark little faces.

Kunene River Lodge is a veritable Garden of Eden and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing that this had been the sole destination of our ten day holiday.  Set below a canopy of indigenous trees and shrubs it can only be described as idyllic.

Shady camping area                               Deck overlooking the river

We were given campsite no. 7 – a stunning spot right on the river under enormous leadwood and jackalberry trees.  From here we could see Angola just metres across the river from us.

Not long after arrival we were greeted by the resident vervet monkeys, who proceeded to use their well-honed thieving skills and made off with a packet of rusks that Gwen had brought along.  We later learned that they had become such a nuisance that the owner had resorted to shooting them with a paintball gun.  He said he realized this was probably a futile attempt at solving the problem, but it served to chase them off temporarily.  Jo’s contribution was to build this dirty great catty which was big enough to load with a monkey and shoot it clean across the river!

Monkey enjoying Gwen's rusk                               Jo monkey-proofs the camp

The birdlife at the lodge was outstanding and we immediately booked an excursion to try and see the elusive and rare Cinderella Waxbill that is only found in this area.  Peter, who was to lead the tour, said that we would have to hike at the hottest time of the day in the hopes of finding them.  Seeing Cinderella Waxbills was the motivation for coming on this trip in the first place, so we were very hopeful when we donned our biggest hats, grabbed lots of water and set off at midday on our quest.  We walked along a semi-dry river bed for about half an hour before Peter heard the soft calls of the Cinderella Waxbills.

We crept up close to a bush halfway up a hillside and, sure enough, there were about three of them deep in the bush.  We managed to see them clearly but were unfortunately not able to get a photograph.  The best we can do to show you what they look like is by printing KRL’s logo :

Cindarella Waxbill

Cinderella Waxbill

We considered ourselves really lucky to have seen them though, as many who had come before us were not as fortunate.

Back at the reception area, Peter showed us a Cinderella Waxbill nest that he had found a few years before.  He had watched the little family hatch and grow before removing the nest some months after they left.  Little is known about these birds, so all information is gratefully received.  Peter’s knowledge of birds is exceptional and he made a wonderful guide.

Obviously the waxbills were lifers for us, but we also managed to tick off a couple more.  The Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush breeds well in the grounds of the lodge and we spent many happy minutes following them to get photos.  Their call is quite distinctive so once you hear one, it is pretty easy to locate it as it forages for food in the undergrowth.  Rob managed to photograph some Red-necked Spurfowls in a field next to the campsite so the trip was proving quite successful as far as first-timers were concerned.

Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush                               Bare-cheeked Babbler

The Bare-cheeked Babblers were there in profusion and, although they were very nervous, I eventually got a couple to sit still long enough for a photo.  Apart from the Swamp Boubou’s, Yellow-bellied Bulbuls, Golden Weavers and Grey Go Away birds which were very evident around the campsite, we also saw Black Crakes, a Bearded Woodpecker and lots of Meve’s Starlings.   One didn’t even have to go out looking for these birds as they were cheeky enough to come into the camping area to look for food.

It was a bitter blow for Rob when his longer lens, a Sigma 70-300 mm zoom, packed up on him.  His 500mm lens is still being repaired and this is his back-up.  This is not the sort of loss one needs when on a birding trip!  He gained some consolation from the fact that he was now forced to spend time just observing the birds instead of trying to photograph them.

This amazing bat was in a tree just metres from our tent.

A rude awakening

A rude awakening

The Lodge has an enormous wooden deck that juts out over the river – an awesome spot to have a cold beer and watch the Red-billed Queleas come in to roost in the reeds opposite, or to catch a glimpse of the Malachite and Pygmy Kingfishers as they fly into the reeds.  As the sun goes down the Cormorants and Egrets skim along the water on their way to their roosts.

On our last night there we took a short sundown cruise along the river, and as darkness fell our ‘captain’ cut the engines and let us drift slowly back to the Lodge.  The peace and calm that descended over the river was tangible – none of us wanted the trip to end.  It’s interludes like these that make one appreciate an African evening.

All aboard for an amazing cruise

All aboard for an amazing cruise

The Lodge doesn’t only cater for campers, but has a number of luxury bungalows and rustic chalets for visitors.  The swimming pool is a necessity and is well-used.  For the more adventurous, the staff offer white water rafting excursions.  All in all an excellent spot for a short or (preferably) long term visit.

Hippo Pools – On the Kunene River

Rob and I have, in the course of our travels, covered most of Namibia during the four years that we have been here.  We would be loath to go back to South Africa leaving any area undiscovered and for this reason we chose the Kunene Region, bordering Angola, as the destination for our latest ten day trip; it being one of the few remaining areas that we had yet to visit.

We have also seen and photographed most of the local birds around Namibia so needed a completely new area to notch up more lifers.  The Kunene Region has a number of birds that are endemic to the area, so it was with great anticipation that we headed out of Windhoek for our first stop – Hippo Pools – west of Ruacana on the Kunene River.

This trip would be slightly different in that our good friends, Jo, Des and Gwen would be accompanying us.  Jo and Des, new to camping, were keen to experience it for themselves and to try out their newly acquired Oz tent.  Gwen, Des’s mom, is an old hat at camping and wanted to spend some quality time out in the bush before immigrating to Australia.

Our journey to Hippo Pools started off on a very positive note when just 150 kms from Windhoek we spotted a pair of leopards on an anthill at the side of the road.  This was especially exciting for us, as, try as we might, Rob and I have never been fortunate enough to see a leopard in the wild – not even on any of our numerous game reserve visits.  The pair consisted of a mother and baby, but we were only able to photograph the little one as the mother slunk off into the long grass in the hope of diverting our attention away from her cub.

Leopard cub

The area was very productive as far as bird sightings was concerned as we saw seven Wahlberg Eagles along the next 100 km stretch of road.  Namibian highways can be quite dangerous because of warthogs that feed next to the road, so the verges are kept mowed to enable motorists to keep an eye out for these portly little creatures, as well as other animals like Kudu.  Hitting one of them at speed is guaranteed to inflict serious damage to one’s vehicle and one’s health.

We saw so many warthogs, baboons and little buck along the way that we could have been forgiven for thinking we were driving through a game reserve.  Birds often forage in these mowed areas along the roadside and we ticked Crowned Lapwings, Black-bellied Koorhaans and Red-crested Koorhaans off our list. We were also pleased to see an enormous Kori Bustard catching a bit of shade under a tree.

Hippo Pools is a community-run campsite on the banks of the Kunene River.  There are several well-appointed sites and a clean ablution block.   On arrival we settled into a lovely campsite very close to a little beach on the edge of the river and headed off to explore the area.  We were camped a few hundred metres downstream from the Ruacana hydro-electric scheme.  The water flow of the river is influenced by this scheme and in the early evenings, sluice gates are opened and water rushes down into the river.  It raises the level of the river and gives campers the opportunity of listening to the soothing sound of running water as they lie in their tents.

As the sun was going down we were treated to one of the most amazing spectacles that we have been privileged to witness on our camping trips.  Red-billed quelea’s flew in to roost on a little island in the middle of the river.  For at least forty-five minutes they came in flocks of varying size.

Red-billed Queleas

At times the sky was blackened by these birds and as they took their last few synchronized flights for the day, the sound of their wings flapping was akin to that of a strong wind.  We sat in awe as literally thousands upon thousands of birds circled around us and landed for one last drink of water before settling down for the night.

We wondered why we had never read any accounts of this incredible phenomenon in write ups about Hippo Pools.  It should be a major tourist attraction!  Unfortunately these flocks have a downside;  they are known to devour entire crops and are considered an enormous nuisance to farmers in more developed agricultural areas.  Their departure in the morning is just as spectacular, as they seem to have an invisible control tower telling each flock exactly when to leave.

We were woken early the next morning by the cry of the African Fish Eagle – the ultimate sound of Africa!  It was a fitting alarm clock for our environment and we were soon out, armed with cameras and binoculars looking for birds.

African Fish Eagle

We split up and covered different areas of the campsite and surrounds and soon Rob was engrossed getting pictures of a little flock of Blue waxbills, whilst I spent hours chasing Red-headed Weavers in an attempt to get a decent shot.  It’s amazing how quickly the time flies when one is photographing the birds and enjoying walking about in nature.

Blue Waxbill Red-headed Weaver

Sometime during the morning we moved to an even better campsite when the occupants departed for their next destination.   Although a bit of a mission to move a car with the rooftop tent up and open, it proved a very wise idea, as we settled next to a tree that a group of Madagascar Bee-eaters used as a base from which to hunt insects.

Madagascar Bee-eater

Madagascar Bee-eater

They were lifers for us and very obligingly allowed us to get some beautiful shots to add to our collection.  It was fun observing their catching and killing techniques as often several birds went for the same insect.  The victor would return to a perch and then smack the insect on the branch before eating it.  We had a symphony of smacking all day long as they feasted on the bounty of the riverside.  We later learned that the Madagascar Bee-eaters had arrived early this year as they normally only return to the area at the end of October.  Our good fortune!

Jo, Des and Gwen arrived from Windhoek in the late afternoon and we spent an enjoyable evening around the campfire watching the Queleas come in to roost, followed by the most amazing sunset.   Good food, good company and the African night sounds as background music – this is what makes camping so magical.

Jo, Des, Gwen, Jane and Rob

Stunning sunset

The next day Rob and I were back in the bush checking out the birds and wildlife.  First on our list was a two meter crocodile that was swimming quite close to our campsite.  We were amazed that there were no signs warning people not to swim because of crocs.  The only sign that was posted warned swimmers to vacate the water when the sluice gates opened and the water level rose.  I wonder how many tourists have ended up as crocodile fodder!

I loved this magnificent specimen of a Namibian Rock Agama.

Namibian Rock Agama

When we left Hippo Pools we took a short drive to see the Ruacana Falls, but unfortunately it was the wrong time of year as far as water flow was concerned and we mostly saw bare rock face.  We could only imagine their splendour at the height of the rainy season.

Ruacana Falls

Hippo Pools is a magnificent spot and well worth visiting.  The only downside that we found was that many visitors have no concept of space or privacy and on a number of occasions we had groups of people milling around inside our campsite when they came to look at the view of the river.  We would never dream of walking into someone’s camping area like that, but then who are we to say that we own the view!

The next leg of the trip would be Kunene River Lodge.

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!