Exploring North Eastern Namibia

 

Namibia is a place of vast distances, few people and scattered villages. It is a little short of water and grazing right now as it is the driest year in more than 90 years, the locals say. What it has in abundance though is good roads, amazing scenery, wild animals and very friendly people, except for the customs and excise team at the airport.

Llewellyn Anthony and friends at the big Baobab in Mahangu

A grumpier lot you will have to travel far to find. But enough of that.

I think its best to divide Namibia into three areas when exploring the country. One section will be the south including Sossus Vlei, Fish River Canyon and Luderitz, including possibly Swakopmund. The other area will be the northwest including Erindi, Etosha and the Kaokoveld. The third section is the northeast, the subject of this report.

Llewellyn Anthony of Sirkel Transport took us on a week-long exploration of the area in his fully equipped Toyota double cab.

Heading north from Windhoek to the Kavango area after an early start will usually be on the main road (B1) via Okahandja and past the Matopos. There is also a new tarred road via Gobabis and Otjinene to Grootfontein which is an extension of the C22. More about this route later.

Casa Forno, Otiwarongo

Otjiwarongo, 250km north of Windhoek is the perfect place to stop for brunch. We stopped at a veritable oasis, the Casa Forno in Ramblers Street. Great coffee and amazing bread. Get a take-away loaf for padkos (snack). There are overnight facilities next door.

There is a very good Spar in town if you need any groceries.

Fortunately this town has kept its charm and is well worth a little explore.

After Otjiwarongo you head to Otavi where you have a choice of either going via the mining town of Tsumeb on the B1 or along the interesting ‘corridor’ (B8) via the somewhat derelict old mining village of Kombat. The Hoba meteorite is along this route.

Grootfontein is the last proper town with a variety of amenities and choices. The town offers first world services and supplies which effectively reach the end of the

Pond at Kalkfontein Guest Farm

line here. As you go further north your choices diminish but essential supplies are available all along the B8 at the towns and major intersections.

Danita du Plessis feeding the monkey at Kalkfontein.

A pleasant and affordable place to overnight is the Kalkfontein Guest Farm about 14 km north of Grootfontein (+264(0)67 243 731) on the road to Rundu.

They offer luxury air-conditioned rooms, rooms and camp sites. There is a pool and a number of tame animals live on the farm.

A real pit stop.

The next town is Rundu, situated directly across the Okavango River from Calai in Angola. I found the town a little dilapidated and disappointing.

From Rundu you head west. Now the real fun starts. This part of the journey is best taken slowly. It is a time and place for reflection.

Nkurukoro Lodge

We stayed overnight at Nkurukoro Lodge overlooking the Okavango River. It is about 150 km east of Rundu. Tranquillity personified. It is a small lodge with luxury safari tents, standard tents and river front camping sites. Although self service there is a lovely lapa and pool area. Really a little bit of heaven on earth. Leon Nederhoff (+264 81 124 1051), the owner is busy upgrading the remaining campsites and putting in a few more luxury tents. The new ablution block for the campers is already completed. A trip on the Okavango at sunset is sublime, even when it is as low as it is now.

The next stop id Divundu, homestead of the local Mbukushu kings. It is right next to the town of Bagani. It is situated just south of the Okavango river and just above the Popa Falls which are actually rapids with a drop of about 4 m. This village has a strip mall and a Metro Cash & Carry. Fuel is available. Last stop before Kongola on the other side of the Bwabwata National Park.

Just a random travel note. Namibia has road blocks at odd points on all the major roads. You need to wear your seat belts and expect a bit of ‘gaming’ if you are a foreign tourist. Don’t be intimidated. Just smile and keep calm.

You can either do a little detour south along the Okavango (more later), or head east to the Kwando river along the straight B8.

You may see elephant on this route. You will see warthogs and small buck. As always watch out for the goats.

Chicken coop, Kwando style.

The other interesting thing pointed out to me by Llewellyn Anthony is the hen houses perched on stilts for the safety of the village chickens. Because of the danger of jackals, dogs and small cats the night roosts are built above ground. After the chickens have climbed up the ladder is removed.

Our next little bit of paradise was Sharwimbo River Camp Self-Catering (place of music) which opened in September after two years of hard graft.  This magnificent, remote site has been developed by Ben Vermaak (+264(0)81 124 0489), an old hand at developing lodges in the area and it shows. The camp overlooks the Kwando River and is about 25 km south of Kongola.

Shawimbo deck area

Sharwimbo Lodge river boat.

Ben Vermaak piloting their boat on the Kwando.

It is self-service but the facilities are magnificent. There are 15 luxury tents and 5 camping sites. Each tent has 12 v solar lighting, en-suite bathroom with hot water, and a fully equipped kitchen nook, all utensils and two plate gas stove.

We were privileged to go on a game drive in the Mudumu National Park with game guide Kelvin. You could not ask for a better guide. We saw literally all there was to see, from wild dogs, ellies, an abundance of birds, lions to a plethora of buck and an ostrich. The major domo of the camp, Bernard, holds a firm hand on operations and ensures a carefree stay. Sharwimbo is a brilliant base from which to explore the whole area. The Livingston museum is at Shangari. Speak to Ben about a boat trip to either go fishing or game viewing.

Although the B8 continues east to Katima Mulilo we turned back as we were headed to Rainbow River Lodge just below the Popa Falls on the Okavango river near Divundu.

Rainbow River Lodge (+264(0)66 259 067) is a full service lodge with several types of accommodation from luxury air-conditioned en-suite units, or as some describe them bungalows, to rooms with ceiling fans. All in all they offer 29 chalets with three more about to be built. They also offer a complete camping/ caravan park with all the facilities.

The deck offers breakfasts and dinner and the well stocked bar serves ice-cold Hansa Draught.

The de Waal family now own and operate Rainbow but it was started 17 years ago. Gideon manages the day-to-day operations, while dad Deon gets on with the development which is in full swing after the status changed from PTO (Permission To Operate) to full ownership of the land quite recently.

Activities include half and full-day game drives to Mahango National Park, boat trips to Popa Falls (where hippo and crocodiles can be easily spotted,) early morning and sundowner boat cruises, river Mokoro trips, freshwater fishing, canoing/kayaking, guided walks and a guided village tour to visit the Mbukushu people. All river based activities are dependent on river levels. Please check ahead of time.

It is a tiger fishing paradise.

We saw roan and sable antelope in Mahango as well as monkeys, baboons, kudu, birds, buffalo, blue wildebeest and more. On our river cruise we saw crocodiles, hippos, carmine bee eaters nesting in a clay ‘cliff’ and so much more. What a pleasant way to spend a morning. Amos, our skipper and river boat expert, told us he has never seen the river so low. He asked his grandfather who also said he has never seen so little water in the Kavango. The veld is also bone dry.

Eventually we had to head home. We stayed over at Kalkfontein Guest Farm just this side of Grootfontein and took the new road south via Gobabis.

The road south forks at Grootfontein. If you came north on the B1, veer left and take the new road south via Otjinene to Gobabis. Refuel before leaving Grootfontein. The Chinese built the northern half of the road up to Otjinene. It is a magnificent piece of road building. A joy to drive on.

MaseMoerse Burger

The restaurant at Die Dam just outside Gobabis offers a welcome respite on a long hot day. Well worth a stop for something cold and a bite to eat. The MaseMoerse burger is enough for four. Its big.

The last stretch is west to Windhoek and takes about two hours.

One of the best weeks in anybodies life.

Add it to your bucket list.

Called “bobbejaan brains” in Kavango. A bit like Mango, tropical, almost grenadilla like. Looks awful but actually fruity and almost tart.

 

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Bass Lake 4×4 training

Bass Lake 4×4 training

Bass Lake 4x4 driver training

Bass Lake 4×4 driver training

04:45 N2 to Cape Town International.

What am I doing at this time on this road?

09:45 Boma, Bass Lake with coffee in hand. Jimny’s waiting outside. Ahh, now I know why.

Keep two wheels on the ground

Keep two wheels on the ground

Alan Pepper is a good instructor, but he is an even better story teller.

He has fairly strongly held views on matters off-road which I for the most part agree with. He gave us some really good advice and a solid theoretical grounding in 4×4 principles.

Then he let us loose on the very varied training ground, always on hand to show, to explain, to guide.

Alan has a fleet of 3 manual Jimnys and an automatic Grand Vitare.

We took turns getting the basics right and learning to read the road before lunch. That Malva pudding alone is worth the trip to Bass Lake.

After lunch the ten of us tackled the more adventurous section.  There are one or two inclines which I would have been inclined to avoid on my own. Not with Alan around. What a day.

One piece of good advice: “Drive the back wheels”.

Ooops. Getting it.

Ooops. Getting it.

Kyleigh Smith, Suzuki Auto SA’s PR Co-ordinator did a great job behind the scenes. Thank you Suzuki.

Speaking of which. Those Jimnys are great vehicles. Simple, solid engineering. The right stuff.

Namaqualand daisy spring flowers

Late August into September is the perfect time to go and look at the West Coast’s Namaqualand daisy explosion of spring flowers.
Carpets of purples, yellows, oranges, from white to red and everything in-between. They open on sunny days which are above 17°C but are great even on cooler slightly overcast days.

Flower-Trip-094

Flowers on Travellers Rest

The whole area from Durbanville right up to the Orange river becomes a riot of colour.
There are plenty of places to stay, from rustic B&B’s to grand lodges. Go to http://www.sa-venues.com/attractionsnc/namaqualand-flower-route.htm .

One of the secret places where the greatest variety blossom is the Pakhuis Pass, northern Cedarberg area. In this area fynbos, vygies and the daisies mix it up in a glorious display.

Namaqualand flowers

Namaqualand flowers

A great place to base yourself is Travellers Rest on the Wupperthal or Eastern side of the pass. This is one of my favourite hideaways. Accommodation is simple but good and it is quiet. The houses are clean, the showers are hot, and all you need to bring is your food. There is a little shop and cafe at reception. The units are far apart. Website is: http://www.travellersrest.co.za/.
An added plus, apart from the flowers, is the 11 cave bushmen’s painting hiking route.
To get there turn off the N7 at Clanwilliam and head east over the Pakhuis Pass. It is on your right where the road crosses the Brandewyn river about 5km from the pass.

Every year Clanwilliam puts together a spring flower show in their old church hall. This is worth visiting as well. They group flowers from the different regions. Sandveld flowers in a display, coastal flowers, karoo succulents, mountain flora and so on.
Clanwilliam is an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from Cape Town. There are three restaurants at the top of the Piekenier’s pass before you descend into the Olifants river valley. Well worth a stop for a snack but also to check out their farm stalls.
Do yourself a favour. Go and look at one of the natural wonders of the world. The carpets of flowers will lift your soul.