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Tag: Wildlife

An incredible week in Chad at Zakouma National Park

A conservation success story, Zakouma National Park is back from the brink under the solid management of African Parks working alongside the Chadian government. Poaching has been practically eliminated in the park and the elephant population is on the rise for the first time in 10 years. Zakouma is one of the most inspirational and surprising conservation success stories in Africa.

Zakouma is 3,000 sq km of pure abundance, the sky is constantly moving with birdlife, the pans and grasslands are teeming with mammals and the river is choc-a-block with crocodiles. It is unlike any other National Park we have visited and is a truly remote, wild and special place.

It was just over a two hour flight from N’Djamena in a 12 seater Cessna Caravan, passing huge inselbergs on the way. We were greeted at the airstrip by Mathieu the manager of Camp Nomade and our two guides for the week Bonaventure (appropriate name!) and Mohammed. We jumped in the brand new Land Cruisers, kitted out with comfortable leather seats and bespoke spaces for camera equipment and set off for Camp Nomade. We came across a large herd (journey) of giraffe, numerous raptors & birds and a number of reedbuck and waterbuck.

With excitement, we were shown around the camp, which is modelled on the traditional nomadic camps of the region and is beautifully decorated with brightly coloured carpets, leather, wood and brassware. There are eight tents, each tent consists of a mosquito net ‘box’ which could also be described as ‘a room with a view!’ and a stretch canvas above to provide shade. As well as a comfortable bed there is a nightstand and a clothes rail and shelf. There is an adjoining individual bathroom for each tent consisting of local grass fencing screens with a bucket shower, compost toilet and hand wash basin. The tents are spread apart for maximum privacy.

The shared main camp area is full of comfortable cushions on which to recline, relax and enjoy the view of Reguiek pan which is packed full of flocks of birdlife and often buffalo, waterbuck and occasionally mammals such as warthog and lion. The long dining table enables for breakfasts & lunches to be shared in the shade and in the evenings the table is moved outside for dinner. The food is all prepared on site in a large kitchen tent by talented chef Abdoulaye and his team. There is great variety in the food, with tasty and fresh dishes presented every day. We were stunned by the quality of the food, prepared in this hot, dry, dusty and remote place, with no electricity.

With a maximum of 8 guests plus 2 private guides in camp at any time, for the majority of our stay we felt like we had the whole of Zakouma National Park to ourselves. Sightings of wildlife seem all the more unique and special without a crowd of other vehicles alongside. African Parks have an approved list of guides who are able to make bookings at Camp Nomade for 1 week at a time and bring 8 guests. Our booking was with Richard Anderson from Anderson Expeditions. Richard is a knowledgeable and experienced private guide leading specialist trips through Africa and South America. This was Richard’s third time to Zakouma. He brought with him Fraser Gear, another experienced guide, enabling each vehicle to have a private guide as well as the guide/driver from Camp Nomade. Four sets of eyes searching for wildlife are always better than two!

During our 6 night stay we explored as much of the park as we could. Camp Nomade is situated next to Reguiek pan which is a haven for predators, herbivores, primates and birdlife. We spent the first day and a half exploring the Reguiek area and had numerous sightings including lion, spotted hyena, serval, civet, genet, elephant, Kordofan giraffe, Central African Savannah buffalo, Western greater kudu, red-fronted gazelle, Lelwel’s hartebeest, tiang, roan antelope, Defassa waterbuck, warthog, olive baboon and Bohor reedbuck.

I couldn’t possibly list all of the birdlife as the sky, ground and trees were so packed full that it would take a pro birder to remember them all! A spectacle of the pan area is the red billed quelea who come in large, noisy flocks to drink. The quelea are vulnerable to predators when drinking so move with the plan of safety in numbers. This means that at times the sky is dancing with these beautiful formations of quelea swirling around like smoke.

The highlights for us in the Reguiek area were our first ever sightings of serval, such a beautiful cat, (we then went on to see serval every single evening, which was a real treat!) and two male lions feasting on a waterbuck early one morning. One of the lions was determined to guard the carcass from the diving yellow billed kites and crows that were trying to steal titbits and the ever growing number of vultures and marabou stork arriving to attempt to get their share. He was growling at them and took a particular dislike to the kites that were a constant irritant to him swooping down above his head.

 

 

We spent two nights fly camping in the South of the park enabling us to explore the area around the Salamat River. The staff at Camp Nomade set up small mosquito net domed tents opposite the river for us and two compost toilets and a bucket shower complete with privacy screens.

The camp’s chef and food team travelled with us to keep us in the  manner we had become accustomed!

As we sat drinking our sundowners before dinner, the crocodiles in the river began making some guttural, loud noises known as belch barking. It was a little startling at first, as by now it was dark and although between us we had visited many different African countries and seen hundreds or thousands of crocodiles, but none of us had heard them make these noises before. When we shone our torch into the water we could see the eye shine of hundreds of crocodiles reflecting back. The locals think the belch bark is a noise of aggression as there is such a high concentration of crocs fighting for territory in a relatively small area.

The landscape in the South has different features; there is a lot more forested area and less open grassland. Whilst half of the group took a guided walk along the river the rest of us went for a drive to explore the area. We came across a male and a female lion as well as Grimm’s duiker, oribi, Buffon’s kob, Patas monkey and Tantalus monkey which we had not seen in the Reguiek area. We could hear elephants communicating but it was difficult to find exactly where they were. We walked down to the river with Richard and our armed ranger but we had just missed them. We came across a group of the Mamba team of anti-poaching rangers, who spend 10 days at a time in the park travelling on horseback to protect the elephants. The rangers are employed from local communities around the park and undergo extensive training in a number of key skills, including shooting and arrest tactics. It was the first day of their 10 day shift and they were just about to eat their lunch. It was a privilege to shake hands with these men who lay their lives on the line to protect the wildlife from poachers.

We were reunited with the group who had been walking, for lunch eaten at a dining table placed under the shade of a tree in Sourone pan. After lunch, mats were laid out for a rest in the shade before an afternoon drive back to the fly camp. When we passed the area that we had heard the elephants earlier in the morning we could hear them again. It was worth another walk down to the river to see if we would be lucky second time around and boy were we rewarded. We sat down on the bank of the river where on the opposite side around 200 elephants were coming to the river to drink. It was heartening to see so many babies and young, further demonstrating how well the anti-poaching teams are performing. Poaching drove a massive decline in the elephant population, from 4,000 individuals in 2002 to just 450 in 2010. The elephant population is now finally on the rise; with over 550 individuals counted in 2016, this is the first time elephants have been on the increase in the park in over a decade.

After our two nights of fly camping we took a leisurely drive back to Camp Nomade, making some interesting stops along the way. We got out of the car along one stretch of sandy track where Fraser walked us 100 metres along identifying numerous animal tracks & footprints, just in that short stretch. We saw tracks of banded mongoose, striped hyena, crocodile, giraffe, buffalo, civet and genet. It is possible to tell how old the tracks are by whether seed eater birds have walked through them and ant lions have built their traps.

As we drove past African Park’s HQ we saw that one of the regular bull elephant visitors was in the garden drinking from waterhole. There were around 70 local children and adults watching on with rapture, wide smiles on the children’s faces. These locals were visitors to Camp Salamat. The camp’s primary purpose is to offer free accommodation to Chadians who would like to visit Zakouma National Park. It is also used as part of the park’s outreach programmes, when day-long visits are organised during the season to bring children, students and local villagers from Zakouma’s surrounding communities to visit the park.

We also saw a vegetable garden that has been set up by the wives of the rangers to grow veggies and salad that can be sold as fresh produce to the camps. The garden is protected by wire mesh to keep the wildlife out. They are also thinking of setting up a honey farm.

That evening we took an early dinner and then went out for a long night drive around the Reguiek pan. Searching for wildlife at night is very exciting; the guides use a spotlight to look for eye shine. During out drive we were really excited to see an African wildcat. This is another species that has eluded us during our previous safari trips. These cats are one of the most successful hunters with a higher success rate than lion, leopard & cheetah. We also had numerous sightings of genet, civet, scrub hare and a Verreaux’s Eagel Owl.

We were joined at dinner by Leon Lamprecht, the manager of Zakouma National Park. Leon has been the manager of Zakouma since January 2017. Previously Leon was manager at Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo. It was fascinating to talk to Leon about his experiences of managing Zakouma and the challenges that the team face and also all of the good things that have happened since he has been there.  Leon previously served as an officer in the South African Defense Force, so he is able to draw on that experience to help with the strategy for the anti-poaching effort.

For our final full day in Zakouma, we drove to the North of the park. Once again the terrain looked different, with a lot more long dry grass and orange barked trees. Fraser saw tracks of two cheetah and although we didn’t find them it was great to know that there are cheetah present in the North of the park. As we were driving along we came across two lions, a pregnant female and a male together. The female looked like she would be giving birth soon. Further along the track we saw two animals stand up when they heard the car, it was a pair of caracal. This was an exhilarating sight, another first for us! Unfortunately the caracals were very shy and they went and hid behind some bushes, but could see them peeking through.

We reached the boundary of the park and shortly after that we saw lots of people fishing and a huge quantity of livestock around. There were people collecting dry grasses and loading it onto their donkeys to take back to their village. We went to visit a family of nomads who come to the edge of the park to live during the dry season; they travel on their camels along with their cattle and sheep. African Parks have built a school in the area for the children to attend whilst they are in the area. The family consisted of around 20 individuals including lots of children and babies. We sat talking (translated through our guide Mohammed) to the Grandfather and Father of the family; they were telling us about their lifestyle and what it is like to live as a nomad. We were invited to take a look around their camp and meet some of the rest of the family. It was a really enjoyable visit.

Our final sundowner drinks were taken on the other side of Reguiek pan where we were joined by Leon, Mathieu and his wife Victoire. As the sun went down the stars came twinkling out with a spectacular show before the moon rose.

The following morning on our way to the airstrip we came across a pair of lionesses who were walking nervously across the grassland, constantly looking behind them. We stopped the vehicle and one of the lions walked right up to our vehicle to inspect us more closely. It was a fitting end to a wonderful week of wildlife spotting, where collectively as a group we had sightings of lion every single day.

The Park HQ is located next to the airstrip so we went for a quick tour before heading off. We were shown around by Jerome who is the Head of Operations, also the chief pilot and a qualified vet. Zakouma has tagged elephants in each of the park’s herds, fitting them with satellite GPS collars in order to gather more information on their movements during both the wet and the dry season. Each satellite collar transmits location data every four to eight hours, enabling management to follow the elephant movements closely. We saw this in action with the radio operator giving information to the rangers. Anti-poaching patrols are a year-round activity and the central radio control room is manned 24/7 by trained operators.

Somewhat reluctantly we took our flight back to N’Djamena. As the aircraft arrived at the airstrip, a group of new and excited guests disembarked the plane. We were envious of them, knowing what they had to look forward to over their coming week at Camp Nomade. Zakouma National Park is a truly astounding and incredible place, one of the most special parks we have ever visited. An abundance of wildlife, with birdlife unlike anything else we have ever experienced and with an inspiring story of successful anti-poaching and species coming back from the brink.

It is wild and fascinating place, ready and waiting to be experienced by the curious and intrepid and definitely one that is on our list to visit again.

 

African Parks and the conservation success story

African Parks has managed Zakouma National Park since 2010. The Park has become a safe haven for Central and West African wildlife. With security having been restored and wildlife rebounding, Zakouma is now a coveted tourism destination to the benefit of adjacent communities whose livelihoods have improved considerably.

The park is an important refuge for numerous animals, many of which are threatened elsewhere within this eco-zone, which stretches as a band across the breadth of Africa to the south of the Sahara Desert.

Today the elephant population of Zakouma is on the rise for the first time in a decade, with more than 500 individuals counted in 2018, 81 of which were under the age of three. In terms of avian species, Zakouma is believed to be home to the largest population of red-necked or North African ostrich, now extinct in most of its former range. The black-crowned crane is found in flocks of thousands and it is believed that the ecosystem is key to the survival of this species due to habitat loss in many areas. The black-breasted barbet is also found in Zakouma, a species of very limited range in Chad, CAR and Sudan, making the park the only place where it can be viewed by tourists. Since African Park’s involvement, most species of larger mammals, including buffalo, giraffe, roan antelope and Lelwel’s hartebeest have increased in number. The buffalo population, reduced to only about 220 animals in 1986, has increased to over 10,000 today.

 

Camp Nomade

Camp Nomade is erected in Zakouma’s prime wildlife-viewing areas during the driest part of the dry season. It has a very short season, from mid-December to mid–April, making it very exclusive and highly sought after. At the end of the season before the plains flood, the camp is dismantled and packed away until the water recedes and the ground dries out enough for the camp to be rebuilt.

We booked our trip directly with Anderson Expeditions. One weeks stay including return charter flights from N’Djamena, 1 night stay in N’Djamena, airport transfers, all meals and drinks, game drives and activities, laundry and two private guides costs around $10,000 USD per person.

There are two other more basic camps in the park, Tinga Camp set up by the government which is situated on the banks of the Tinga River, surrounded by lush vegetation. It is located in one of the park’s best game-viewing areas and has 24 rooms; and Camp Salamat which is free for Chadians.

Zakouma would be an unusual choice for first timers to Africa and is probably more suited to seasoned safari travellers.

 

Anderson Expeditions

Richard Anderson from Anderson Expeditions arranged the trip and there was a loose itinerary for the week detailed below. The best thing about an expedition such as this is that there is a huge amount of flexibility available, meaning that if drives take longer because you have had awesome sightings or people want to do different activities, it can all be catered for and no one or no activity has a deadline to finish. This makes for a very enjoyable holiday.

27th February – N’DJAMENA, CHAD

On  arrival  in  N’Djamena  you  will  be  met  by  your  expedition  guides,  Richard  Anderson  and Fraser Gear, and your ground team, and road transferred to the Hilton Hotel for the night.

28th February – N’DJAMENA to ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK

After  an  early  breakfast  you’ll  be  road  transferred  back  to  the  airport  for  the  charter  flight  to Zakouma  National  Park.  The  charter  aircraft  is  a  Cessna  Caravan  208  and  the  flight  will  take about  2.5  hours.  On  arrival  in  Zakouma  you  will  meet  your  ground  team  and  game  drive  to Camp Nomade.

28th February to 7th March – ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK

These  7  days  will  be  spent  exploring  Zakouma  National  Park  and  the  parks  perimeter  using Camp Nomade and the mobile fly-camp as nightly bases.

Typically days start very  early with  coffee/tea and biscuits before heading out of camp around sunrise. Depending on the plan for the day you may return to camp for a late breakfast or take a packed breakfast and return to camp for lunch. Days can be made up of game drives, walking, sitting at action-packed pans watching wildlife and birds or any adventurous endeavor which is a good  idea  at  the  time!  Camp  Nomade  and  Zakouma  provides  a  safari  environment  offering complete flexibility in the manner you explore this incredible park, and you and your guide will take full advantage of this adaptability which is possible in only very few parts of Africa. You’ll generally  return  to  camp  after  dark  for  a  well-earned  dinner.  Depending  on  energy  levels  and animal activity in the vicinity of the camp you’ll embark on night drives after dinner in search of the parks nocturnal creatures.

7th March – ZAKOUMA NATIONAL PARK to N’DJAMENA

A  final  morning  in  Zakouma  before  your  charter  flight  departs  for  N’Djamena.  On  arrival  at N’Djamena  airport  you’ll  be  assisted  with  the  connection  on  to  your  international  departure

 

 

Richard & Fraser are incredible guides, sharing a huge amount of expertise and knowledge, maintaining an excellent sense of humour and being great and interesting company, enabling all guests to enjoy their trip to the maximum whatever their ability or requirements. We would not hesitate to arrange another trip with either (or preferably) both of them some time again soon.

 

Richard has two weeks available at Camp Nomade in 2019; guests are able to book for either 1 week or 2 weeks stay.

 

CHAD

Weather

The climate during the dry season is blisteringly hot with temperatures soaring as high as 42 or 43 degrees Celsius. Early mornings and evenings are more comfortable when the temperature drops down to a pleasant 23 to 26 degrees Celsius. There is very little chance of rain between January and April.

Currency

The Central African Franc or CFA is the official currency although USD are widely accepted (ensure you have new, clean notes).

Safety

At the time of writing, the UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the whole country of Chad and the US Department of State advises to reconsider your travel to Chad. High risk travel insurance which covers Chad is essential for all visitors.

Entry Requirements

Visitors to Chad must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months with at least 2 consecutive/side by side blank pages on entry for stamps. Should there be insufficient blank pages in your passport then entry into or exit from a country could be denied. A visa is required for most travellers to Chad. This has to be obtained prior to arrival from your closest Chadian Embassy. An invitation letter will be provided by Zakouma National Park once your booking is confirmed.

On arrival in Chad it is required for each individual to report to a police station to register their arrival in the country. African Parks can arrange with the authorities for a representative to do this in your place. You will need to bring 2x passport photos.

A “Yellow Fever Ceritficate” is required to enter Chad. You will be asked to show this once you are through immigration.

 

Seeking leopards in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park

Situated on the South East coast, Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s second largest and boasts one the highest concentrations of leopards per sq mile in the world. We arrived with eager anticipation, we were not disappointed.

We flew from Colombo City to Weerawila Airport in a Cinnamon Air float plane! This was somewhat of a surprise to us as we thought we were travelling on a normal aircraft. We took off from Colombo City and after a quick stop for people to get off and on in Kandy we arrived at Weerawila an hour later. It was approx. a 1 hour drive from the military and civilian airport to our meeting point, a huge Buddha statue. There we were met by Sam our guide from Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris  in one of the Land Cruisers. It soon became apparent why a 4WD was required, the roads leading to the camp were muddy and bumpy!

 

After a 10 min drive we reached the camp where we would be spending the next 5 days and we were introduced to the staff. We were given a fresh coconut juice and shown around the camp and taken to our tent.

We spent our first two nights in a mobile tent, with an insect proof sleeping area containing a double bed, bedside table with fan and light and power socket for charging batteries. In the living area of the tent there were two camping chairs and table, a cupboard and a light. Just outside the tent was a flushable toilet with a light and in a separate tent a shower which would be filled with hot water before our return from the afternoon drive.

We sat with Sam our guide and the camp manager Sajith for lunch and what a lunch, the food was absolutely incredible, several different traditional Sri Lankan dishes each bursting with flavour and as each dish was presented Sam gave us it’s name and explained the main ingredients.

After lunch we went for our first afternoon drive. We left around 2:30pm and it took about 30 mins to arrive at the park gate for what is know as ‘block 1’. There is plenty of wildlife to see on the way to the park including macaques, wild boar, black-naped hare, peacocks, peahens, grey langur monkey and a wonderful variety of birds.

Raj & Sam

On arrival at the gate we collected a wildlife ranger from the park, his name was Raj. He came with us on every drive we did in block 1 and was great as an extra pair of eyes spotting and identifying different species. Around 90 mins into our first drive, a peacock had come quite close to our vehicle and we were busy taking photos of it when suddenly we realised up ahead there was a leopard crossing the track! We drove slowly towards her and our excitement levels went through the roof! She was wandering slowly around, sniffing and checking out the area. Then as quietly as she arrived, she silently wandered into the thick bush and she was gone. It was a truly magical moment, she was absolutely beautiful and we felt very lucky!

We left the park at sunset, around 6pm and went back for a shower before dinner.

The food served at the camp during our entire stay was absolutely delicious, authentic Sri Lankan dishes with a fantastic variety each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Spice levels are adjusted to your requested tolerance (so don’t panic if you are not good with too much chilli!) and wine, beer & spirits are all included.
Our next 3 days followed the same pattern, starting with an early wake up around 5:15am with a quick tea/coffee before setting off to Yala National Park to be ready when the gate opens at 6am, meaning you are able to look for the wildlife while they are still active. Morning drives last approx. 3 hours before returning for breakfast. Lunch was at around 1pm after which we left for the afternoon drive at around 2:30pm. The park closes at 6pm and we would have drinks and canapes before dinner at around 7pm.
Sam was a brilliant guide and he looked after us incredibly well and took us on some fantastic game drives where we saw leopards on 4 out of 7 drives and we also saw a sloth bear on the final drive! That was a fantastic end to our stay and we felt incredible lucky. We completed one drive in ‘block 5’ and all of the rest were in ‘block 1.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited the beach at the southern end of the park, where tragedy struck during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, taking the lives of 47 people. There is a memorial, next to the remaining foundations of a guest house. A sobering reminder of the force and power of nature.

A brief list of the wildlife we saw during our stay aside from the leopards and sloth bear included; spotted deer, crocodiles, elephants (including one tusker), water buffalo, wild boar, monitor lizard, mongoose, macaques, peacocks, peahens, owl, eagles, hares and a superb array of birdlife plus lots of other interesting species. Sam was a passionate guide with incredible knowledge of all the animals and birds in the park and he was a safe and skilled driver. 

 

 

 

 

For our second two nights we were upgraded to one of the two luxury tents, which has air conditioning and an attached bathroom and is much larger. The plan for the camp is to eventually upgrade all of the tents to the luxury style and I am sure they will prove very popular, it was very comfortable. Thank you so much to General Manager Sajith for the upgrade! They are also in the process of building a swimming pool which will be a most welcome addition to the camp.

 

Before we left, we were invited to plant a tree, which was a very special moment. Such a lovely idea and we hope to return one day to see how our tree has grown.

 

We had a brilliant time at Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a stay here. The great conversations with all of the staff during drinks and meals, the outstanding food, the service from the whole team and the exciting game drives made for a wonderful stay.

 

What to pack

  • Lightweight, breathable cotton clothing
  • Jumper/cardigan for morning game drives
  • Camera
  • Sun hat or cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream and insect repellent
  • Head torch
  • Small day bag

The Land Cruisers have bean bags for supporting camera lenses and binoculars as well as cold drinks and a snack box.

 

Weather

The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius all year round and the climate is hot and humid. In the dry season temperatures can reach 37 Celsius during the hottest part of the day. Rains are usually expected during the North East monsoon from late November to January. The rain often comes in short and dramatic bursts before clearing up.

Unpredictable inter-monsoonal rains can occur during March or April.

The main dry season spreads from May to October.

Leopards and other wildlife can be viewed all year round in Yala National Park.

 

Rates

All-inclusive Rate Mobile Tents (Single, Double, Triple or Family Tents)

Adults rate (over 12 years, per night)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
1 Adult 475 USD 555 USD
2 Adults 895 USD 990 USD
3 Adults 1 350 USD 1 545 USD

 

Children Rate (per Child, per night)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
6 – 12 years 290 USD 345 USD
3 – 5 years 200 USD 250 USD

 

The minimum age for children for our safaris is 3 years at the date of arrival.

 

*HIGH SEASON:

  • Christmas/New Year Holidays
  • Chinese New Year Holidays
  • Easter Holidays
  • Summer Holidays: month of August

 

All-inclusive Rate Luxury Lodge Tent

Adults rate (over 12 years, per Night;)

  LOW SEASON HIGH SEASON*
1 Adult 725 USD 920 USD
2 Adults 1 250 USD 1 600 USD

 

1 extra bed can be added for US$500 (all-inclusive)

 

What’s included in the package?

  • Unique tented accommodation waterproof canvas bush tents
  • Freshly prepared meals, BBQ, and snacks; all cooked with love
  • All drinks, incl. drinks from our international jungle bar
  • Two 3 hour game drives per day in our customized Toyota Land Cruisers with snacks and drinks
  • National park fees
  • Binoculars, tripods, monopods, bean bags, battery charging on board safari jeeps
  • All applicable taxes

 

INFORMATION ABOUT SRI LANKA
  • Sri Lanka has two capital cities – Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (Administrative) and Colombo (Commercial)
  • There are two official languages; Sinhala and Tami however English is a recognized language too
  • Buddhism is the major religion with approx. 70% of the population estimated to be practicing Buddhists. Other religions include Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
  • Population – approx. 21.5 million
  • Currency – Sri Lankan Rupee
  • Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road

 

A magical fly in safari around the varied landscapes of Namibia

Looking out of the window from the small Cessna aircraft you could be forgiven for thinking that you may be landing on Mars. The sparsely populated landscape was dominated by desert, huge rocks and dry riverbeds. It is a place unlike any other I have seen.

Our first destination was Little Kulala Lodge, located just outside of Namib-Naukluft National Park. The Park encompasses part of the Namib Desert, which is considered to be the oldest desert in the world. We flew with Wilderness Air from the capital Windhoek for around 50 mins, where we touched down at Little Kulala airstrip. From there it was around a 20 minute drive to the lodge. Little Kulala is situated in a 67,000 acre private reserve, along with its sister lodge – Kulala Desert Lodge. Kulala reserve conveniently has a private entrance to Sossusvlei – the main attraction in the area.

Little Kulala has 11 luxurious, large rooms (known as ‘kulalas’ in the local language of Oshiwambo) all of which have air conditioning, indoor and outdoor showers with hot water, a private plunge pool and a sleeping deck on the roof, where you can sleep under the stars. As we visited in January, the height of the summer, both the air conditioning and the plunge pool were most welcome. During our stay the temperature one lunch time was up to 41˚c!

The huge bed was adorned with a mosquito net, however we didn’t see any mosquitoes during our stay, the area is possibly too dry for them, it hasn’t rained there for at least 5 years. The rooms also come with a stocked fridge containing water, soft drinks, beer and wine – which is all included in your stay.

The main lodge has a small waterhole opposite which was frequently visited by lots of wildlife. During the daytime we saw springbok, ostrich and oryx and at night we saw a cape fox and black backed jackal. There is also a large communal sociable weaver bird nest, with over a hundred birds coming and going. The lodge has free
WIFI should you wish to use it, but we mostly preferred to admire the views and forget the outside world. The main lodge also has a swimming pool and sun loungers.

Our first activity was an early morning trip to Sossusvlei to visit the red sand dunes and Dead Vlei, a dried up clay pan in the desert where the dead camel thorn trees are still standing, despite the fact that the water disappeared around 700 years ago. Dead Vlei is an incredible and awe inspiring place to visit and it is makes for some beautiful photos in the morning light. Sossusvlei is home to the highest sand dunes in the world some of which are over 300m high. Popular dunes to climb are Dune 45 (located 45km from the gate), Big Daddy and Big Mama. Big Daddy is situated next to Dead Vlei. After visiting Big Daddy & Dead Vlei we were driven to a shady area for some welcome cold drinks and snacks.

In the afternoon we went quad biking around the reserve with our guide aptly named ‘Action.’ The terrain is a mixture of flat sandy/gravelly tracks and large rocky hills with faces covered in sand, it was a fun place to quad bike and from the top of the rocks the views were remarkable. We returned to the lodge somewhat sandy and ready for a sundowner drink before dinner!

We chose to sleep on the rooftop bed under the night sky, where the stars were absolutely magnificent and Venus was shining brightly. We were awoken at around 4am by some jackals barking to each other; we couldn’t see them but it was fun to listen to them for a while before drifting off back to sleep under our warm duvet. The evenings can be quite chilly in the desert but we were lovely and cosy.

The following morning we were woken before sunrise for a hot air balloon flight over the Namib desert. Only a short drive from the lodge, we approached the balloon which was in the process of being inflated. At 6am, just before sunrise, we and 14 other passengers climbed into the basket and Eric the balloon pilot took off. Whilst we were climbing the sun was rising above the horizon, creating beautiful colours over the sand dunes and surrounding area. A swoop of swallows crowded around the balloon feasting on the insects that we were pushing their way, however every time the burner was deployed they scattered sharpishly!  Eric was an interesting pilot, having grown up in Belgian Congo but a resident of Namibia for over 30 years. He was part of the fledgling tourist industry in Sossusvlei, encouraging everyone to see the potential of tourists wanting to visit Sossusvlei and the National Park. After 60 mins in the hot air balloon, we landed very gently and were served a wonderful champagne breakfast in the middle of the desert, close to Dune 1. It was a truly magical experience.

We spent the afternoon sitting in the plunge pool to keep cool and enjoying a couple of beers whilst watching oryx march past our room to head for the waterhole.

On our last evening at Little Kulala we were driven to a wonderful viewpoint to watch the stunning sunset, where we could enjoy a glass of wine and some snacks before returning to the lodge for dinner.

The lodge is fully inclusive, meaning that all meals and drinks are included. Breakfast includes cold buffet options and a menu of hot breakfast items cooked to order. Lunch varies daily and the main course is a choice of a meat or fish option or a vegetarian option, a starter and dessert are also served. A three course dinner is served each evening, usually comprising of a choice of two starters, three mains and two desserts. There is an excellent choice of wines, mainly from South Africa and a good selection of spirits. There are two local lagers Windhoek and Tafel.

The staff at the lodge are excellent; Michael the manager is friendly and knowledgeable. Manfred the bar manager was welcoming, efficient and was able to remember everyone’s beverage of choice.

Our three nights at Little Kulala went by quickly and soon it was time to head back to the air strip to head for our next adventure at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. A 400 mile journey, it required us to take 3 flights in a small Cessna aircraft. The first from Little Kulala to Swakopmund, a journey which flew us over the golden sand dunes of the Namib to the Atlantic coast, we saw seals, flamingos and two sand covered ship wrecks along the way. From there we flew to Doro Nawas in Damaraland, where the landscape is full of red coloured rocks and golden sand then it was another 40 min flight onto Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp.

The camp is situated in a remote area close to the dry Hoanib riverbed and surrounded by large rocky hills. There are 8 tented rooms, which are chic, spacious and luxurious. This is not camping as you know it, the rooms are sturdy with floor to ceiling windows and contain a bedroom with a humungous bed, two wardrobe units, a desk with chair and a coffee table with two chairs, a large bathroom with two sinks and a giant shower and a separate toilet. On your outside private deck there is a sofa and table and chairs plus a fridge which is stocked with soft drinks and water. Each tent has a view of the waterhole, which is visited often by a variety of wildlife. The camp has no WIFI available and there is no mobile phone signal. It is marketed as a digital detox, which was a pleasant break from looking at the news and social media. The rooms do not have air conditioning as there is a lovely breeze that comes from the Atlantic which keeps the rooms cool and even though we were there in the height of summer it was never too hot in the room. Each room has an electric fan available.

The main lodge has plenty of comfortable seating, a bar and a separate restaurant area. There is also a small swimming pool for cooling off. In the evenings a campfire is lit and chairs arranged around it where you can sit and have drinks before & after dinner. One of the highlights of sitting around the campfire, is listening to Clement, the manager tell his hilarious and interesting stories. Clement and his team make the camp a truly memorable place to visit and they run an extremely slick operation. Without a doubt, our stay was one of the highlights of our trip to Namibia. From the moment we were collected from the airstrip the warm welcome that we received from all of the Hoanib staff was a large part of the reason that this camp is one of the best we have ever stayed at.

The food was delicious with a good variety of dishes on offer. The camp is all inclusive and meals included a cooked breakfast to order alongside a cold buffet, lunch was 3 courses with a choice of main courses and dinner was a choice of two or three options for each of the 3 courses. There is a large choice of wines, beers, cider and spirits as well as soft drinks which are all included.

Each group of guests is assigned a guide for the duration of their stay, we were lucky enough to get Charles who was part of the team who set up the camp 2 and half years ago.

On our first evening we went for a drive into the dry riverbed. Charles quickly picked up the tracks of a desert lion and followed them. She had been moving around a fair bit, but after a 30 min search he found her, sitting on a rock. She was absolutely beautiful and we felt very privileged to be able to see one of these rare lions. There are only an estimated 150 desert lions in Namibia, they are extremely endangered. We watched her as she climbed down from the rock and walked along the riverbed and then climbed onto a small dune before settling down to keep an eye out for any game to hunt. We left her to it and drove up to a high viewpoint for a sundowner, and whilst we were sipping out wine and tucking into our biltong a pair of giraffe walked past us below. The sunset turned the sky pink; it was a truly magnificent evening.

The following morning Charles took us for another drive in the riverbed where we saw the lioness once again; she was studiously staring at some oryx. We carried on along the riverbed where we saw plenty of giraffe, some chacma baboons, a jackal family with four pups and 16 of the known 18 desert elephants in the area, including some babies who are around 5 months old. The elephants were an absolute surprise to us, we weren’t expecting to see these stunning animals in the desert, but they looked in great condition. There are plenty of green trees and vegetation in the riverbed, which although it doesn’t often have water flowing through it, there is water underneath which the trees and bushes can root down into.

In the afternoon we went for a walk around the camp area where we were shown different animal footprints in the sand around the waterhole, showing that plenty of wildlife including brown hyena, springbok, oryx and elephant had visited the previous evening. We also saw the communal ‘hyena toilet’ where the hyenas like to go, telling them all about who else has been in the area and how recently! We saw some baboons, giraffe and oryx and then returned to camp for our sundowners by the campfire.

We had a fantastic day trip to the Skeleton coast with a drive through the riverbed and flood plains, through the dunes and ending up at the Skeleton Coast. On the way we had some fantastic spots including honey badgers, spotted eagle owl and a porcupine. We stopped for a coffee break in the dunes and Charles drove us down a steep dune which roars when you travel down it. We also ran/slid down the dune, which also makes it roar and vibrate.  It was lots of fun!

We visited a pebble beach on the Atlantic coast, the see is freezing so we didn’t swim, but this didn’t stop Charles going in for a dip and then warming himself up on the pebbles afterwards. We saw flamingos and a huge flock of cormorants and we also visited a ginormous seal colony, which was very smelly but an incredible sight. Some of the seals were swimming in the waves and looked like they were having a great time.

Our trip to the coast was topped off by a delicious lunch served right next to the sea, complete with chilled wine. It was one of the most beautiful locations you could wish to sit and eat lunch. We were collected by plane and flown back to the camp.

Charles was an excellent and knowledgeable guide with the perfect balance of professionalism, friendliness and humour. He is also possibly the only Stoke City football fan in Africa! Our three nights at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp were incredible and we were genuinely sad to leave.

Our next destination was Ongava Lodge close to Etosha National Park. We were flown from Hoanib to Doro Nowas where we changed planes and then onto Ongava airstrip, a flight time of around 45 mins.

It was immediately obvious to us that the landscape was different, there were many more trees and green bushes. We were collected from the airstrip by our guide Kapono and it was a 20 min drive to the Lodge. At around 1300m above sea level, the temperature is slightly cooler and we did experience a few rain showers during our three night stay.

The lodge comprises of 14 brick, rock and thatch chalets with air conditioning and a private outside deck. Some of the chalets have a great view of the floodlit waterhole, we were lucky enough to be in chalet number 1, which was situated closest to the waterhole.

The main lodge also has a great view of the waterhole, meals are served out on a large decked area and there is a bar which has a good range of wines, spirits and beers. There is WIFI in the main lodge area. Breakfast is a mixture of cold buffet and hot items cooked to order. Lunch is usually a choice of two main courses and the dinner menu is a choice of starters and main courses with one option for dessert. Some evenings the main courses are cooked on a large coal fired grill outdoors.

There is a large swimming pool close to the main lodge and also a curio shop. The lodge is in Ongava Reserve, which is a private reserve that borders Etosha National Park. Ongava means Rhino and both black and white rhino are the main draw here. It’s reportedly the only place in the world where you can see both black and white Rhino with their horns, as many rhinos around the world have had their horns removed to save them from poachers. The reserve will not confirm how many rhinos they have, in order to keep them safe, they have a large anti-poaching team on site to protect these magnificent creatures.

Afternoon activities are game drives in Ongava Reserve, which usually end in a sundowner drink and snacks before returning to the lodge for dinner. Morning activities are game drives in neighbouring Etosha National Park. It takes around 30 mins to get to the park, departing after an early breakfast you return in time for lunch.

During our afternoon drives in Ongava we were lucky enough to see two white rhinos together and a white rhino and her calf and a black rhino. It’s wonderful to see them with their horns, the way they are supposed to be. We also saw two female and one male lion resting and a male lion roaring very close to our vehicle. Other wildlife spotted were zebra, black faced impala, springbok, waterbuck, jackals, wildebeest and giraffe.

After dinner, whilst sitting on our deck enjoying a glass of wine we saw a stream of rhino coming to the waterhole to drink one after another, some of them with calves. It was absolutely magical and we felt so lucky to be able to watch these rhino roaming in a natural environment for them where we knew they were well protected. We also saw zebra, waterbuck, oryx and a porcupine come to drink.

Often we were woken early in the mornings by lions roaring, which in my opinion is a wonderful way to wake up. It’s often difficult to judge how far away the lions are as the roar can carry over 2 and half miles.

On our game drives in Etosha we had some wonderful sightings including a black rhino, lions eating a zebra kill with jackals stealing scraps, a large journey (group) of giraffe, zebra and springbok at a waterhole, wildebeest, zebras with foals, ostrich, blue crane, kori bustard, slender, yellow and banded mongoose, and jackals with pups.

Our next stop was Africat at Okonjima, around a 3 hour drive (150 miles) from Ongava. We were driven by a chap called Vincent, who is a huge rugby fan, so we spent most of the journey talking rugby, especially about England, South Africa and the All Blacks! Africat was founded in 1991 and their mission is to contribute to the long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores. Since 1993 it has rescued over 1,000 predators from farmlands across Namibia and 85% of them have been released back into the wild. Okonjima offers a wide spectrum of accommodation options, ranging from private camp sites to safari lodges. Unfortunately we were only able to participate in a day visit, but the accommodation looked very nice and the activities on offer such as tracking cheetah, hyenas and wild dogs on foot looked especially exciting. Our day visit included visiting Lewa a beautiful 8 year old leopard, who lives in a large enclosure which has a fantastic viewing room. Lewa is unsuitable for release back into the wild and she is not equipped with the skills to hunt, so food is provided for her by Africat. We were then driven into an enclosure where three male and two female cheetahs that were rescued as orphaned cubs. As they have not been taught how to hunt by their mothers, they are unsuitable for release back into the wild; however they may be suitable for release into a larger part of the reserve where they have the opportunity to hunt but they would be monitored so that if their hunting was unsuccessful Africat would be able to provide them with meat to eat.

The vehicle was able to drive fairly close to the cheetahs, who were resting in two groups, the males in one group and the females in another. We were given some excellent information and facts about cheetahs by the guide whilst taking some lovely photos of these special cats.

After visiting the animals we were taken to the Africat Information Centre where we learned about the work that Africat is doing with communities in Namibia including with farmers and locals and with children and education in schools.

The tour lasted for around 90 mins and then we had a delicious lunch in the large restaurant on site, before visiting the gift shop. Our journey then continued onto the capital Windhoek, 140 miles further south, which took around 2 and half hours.

Windhoek is a relatively small capital, with a population of around 360,000. The centre of the city is dominated by government buildings, headquarters of businesses and companies and German style churches. We stayed at the small Olive Grove Guesthouse in a residential area of the city. Olive Grove consists of 11 en-suite rooms which are modelled from cement. The facilities include air conditioning, mini bar fridge, kettle, free WIFI and a small swimming pool. The restaurant is excellent with a large and varied menu and a good wine list.

On our final morning in Namibia, we arranged a tour of Katutura Township with African Desk. Lorraine came to collect us in a local taxi driven by Philip. Both of them grew up in and still live in Katutura, known locally as Silver Town due to the thousands of huts built from corrugated shiny metal. In the 1950s Namibia was ruled by South Africa and subject to Apartheid laws, resulting in the segregation of the black population, who were forcibly moved to townships including Katutura (meaning the place where we do not want to settle). It is said that over 200,000 people now live in Katutura with the population growing monthly as people move from rural Namibia to Windhoek to look for work.

Lorraine and Philip took us to a viewpoint up on one of the hills in the area where it was possible to see the sprawling township extending for miles and miles in all directions. The government have been making clean water available to residents and have provided public toilets, however in some areas one toilet is shared by hundreds of people. There are health centres in the township but they are not completely free to all residents. We visited a large primary school, which was bright and colourful, in good condition and full of friendly and committed teachers.

We also visited a bustling market place, which revealed the full diversity of the population of Katutura, with many goods on sale from Angola and The Congo as well as local produce. The stall holders were welcoming and friendly and very happy to explain their different products to us.

Philip our driver kindly took us to his house, which he has built himself from corrugated metal. Despite the heat of the day which much of been at least 35˚c it wasn’t as hot inside as we expected. He had also built his own private toilet next to his room, which is becoming more and more common in the area as people understandably do not wish to share with hundreds of other residents. Philip was lucky and had been allocated a plot of land to build on top of a hill, which meant that he received a nice breeze. For those located at the bottom of the hills, it must be quite unpleasant when there is heavy rainfall.

Whilst travelling around the township it was clear to see that there are lots of entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses including car washes, barber shops, bars and food stalls, catering to the needs of the Katutura residents. We were very glad to have the opportunity to be shown around Katutura, feeling that it is important to see all sides of a city before you can feel like you have experienced it all. Especially in this instance, where more than 70% of the capital’s population live in townships.

Our time in Namibia was up, we had visited four wildly different areas; the Namib desert in the south, the Skeleton Coast and dry Hoanib riverbed, the grasslands of Etosha, Ongava and Okonjima and the City of Windhoek. My leaving thought was that Namibia is a fantastic country, with beautiful and varied landscapes, incredibly resilient people in a challengingly dry climate and a wide range of striking wildlife. Every single Namibian that we met was welcoming and friendly and proud of their country and keen to show it off – and rightly so.

OTHER INFORMATION

Weather

Partially covered by the Namib Desert, one of the world’s driest deserts, Namibia’s climate is generally very dry making it fine to visit all year round. Namibia only receives a fraction of the rain experienced by countries further east.

December to March – summer, can be very hot. Towards the east of the country there can be rain and thunderstorms.

April & May – autumn, warm and dry with more greenery in the landscapes.

June to August – winter, cold nights and early mornings, below zero in the desert. Very dry – good for game viewing.

September & October – spring, warmer but can be windy and dusty.

November – a variable month, sometimes experiences cloud and rain but recently has been hot and dry.

Food

Game meat is very common in Namibia, the terrain and lack of rain makes it difficult for much of the country to raise cattle. We found oryx, kudu and eland to be delicious as well as springbok sausages.

What to pack

Comfortable walking shoes, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, light cotton shirts/tshirts, long trousers & shorts (neutral colours), a jumper, waterproof jacket, torch, camera, binoculars.

Little Kulala – Rates

11 rooms. Rates are fully inclusive including food, drinks, activities, entrance to Sossusvlei.

Per person sharing per night                         Rates (South African Rand)    £ GBP

11 January 2017 to 31 March 2017                ZAR 6,740                                   £407

01 April 2017 to 31 May 2017                         ZAR 6,985                                   £422

01 June 2017 to 31 October 2017                  ZAR 10,375                                  £627

01 November 2017 to 19 December 2017    ZAR 6,740                                   £407

20 December 2017 to 10 January 2018       ZAR 8,310                                    £502

11 January 2018 to 31 March 2018               ZAR 7,280                                    £440

01 April 2018 to 31 May 2018                        ZAR 7,545                                     £456

Hot air balloon flight not included – rate 5,950 Namibian dollars per person – includes champagne breakfast, balloon flight, Sossusvlei entrance fees, transfers from selected lodges. Also contributes to local community projects such as schools and education for disadvantaged local children. Minimum 2 passengers. (Approx £360pp) Book with Namib Sky

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp – Rates

7 double/twin rooms and 1 family room. Rates are fully inclusive including food, drinks, activities. Trip to Skeleton Coast included for guests staying 3 nights or more.

Per person sharing per night                      Rates (South African Rand)  £ GBP

11 January 2017 to 31 May 2017                 ZAR 9,470                                 £572

01 June 2017 to 31 October 2017                ZAR 13,055                               £788

01 November 2017 to 19 December 2017  ZAR 9,470                                £573

20 December 2017 to 10 January 2018     ZAR 13,085                              £790

11 January 2018 to 31 May 2018                 ZAR 10,230                              £618

It is not possible to drive to Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, it is a fly in camp only. Flights with Wilderness Air can be arranged when making your booking – nearest airstrip is Doro Nawas, where you can park your vehicle.

Ongava Lodge –Rates

Fully Inclusive (incl game drives)                Months           Rates                   £ GBP

Double room Per Person Sharing                 Dec – Jun       ZAR 6,668          £403

Single Room                                                      Dec – Jun       ZAR 8,336          £503

Double room Per Person Sharing                 Jul – Nov        ZAR 8,891          £537

Single Room                                                      Jul – Nov        ZAR 11,114          £671

Dinner Bed & B’fast (no game drives)         Months           Rates                   £ GBP

Double room (per person sharing)              Dec – Jun        ZAR 3,816          £230

Single room                                                       Dec – Jun       ZAR 4,771           £288

Double room Per Person Sharing                 Jul – Nov        ZAR 5,089          £307

Single Room                                                      Jul – Nov        ZAR 6,361           £384

Africat Day Visit – Rates

Activity (compulsory) – N$ 385 per person (approx. £24)

Children (age 7 to 16 yrs) – N$ 285 per child (approx. £17.50)

Activity departure times:

Summer (Sept to March) @ 11:00 & @ 13:00

Winter (April to Aug) @10:30 & @ 12:30

Lunch N$ 175 per person (approx. £11)

Olive Grove Guest House – Rates

11 rooms. Rates include breakfast.

Per person sharing per night             Rates (Namibian Dollars)         £ GBP

Double Standard Room                       N$805                                           £49

Double Luxury Room                          N$1270                                          £77

Double Executive Suite Room           N$1495                                          £91

Per person per night                            Rates (Namibian Dollars)         £ GBP

Single Standard Room                        N$995                                            £60

Single Luxury Room                           N$1570                                           £95

Single Executive Suite Room:           N$1790                                           £108

Katutura Township Tour – Rates

900 Namibian Dollars for two people, including guide, taxi for the duration and pick up and drop off in Windhoek. (Approx £55)

INFORMATION ABOUT NAMIBIA

  • Population of approx. 2.3 million
  • Official language is English but Oshiwambo and Afrikaans is widely spoken. German is spoken in some areas
  • Currency is the Namibian Dollar – which is linked as 1:1 to the South African Rand
  • It is advised that you drink bottled water or filtered water provided by lodges
  • Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road
  • There is one main international airport in Windhoek. There are flights from Walvis Bay Airport and Swakopmund Airport to both Johannesburg and Cape Town.

 

 

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