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Trip Report Trip report: Botswana (Makgadikgadi and Mashatu) and Namibia July-August 2008

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During July and August 2008 a friend (DF) and I visited Botswana and Namibia. The itinerary was:

Botswana (booked with Massons)

7th July – depart JNB for Gabarone, overnight Cresta Lodge (day in Gabarone)
8th–9th July – fly Maun, fly San Camp
10th-14th July – Mobile Camping Safari with Ewan Masson. 2 nights Nxai Pan; 3 nights CKGR
15th July – return to Maun, overnight Maun Lodge. DF departs for Mapula Lodge
16th July depart MUB for JNB (overnight Metcourt Laurel)

17-20 July – Mashatu Tented Camp
21st July - depart Mashatu for JNB, transfer to De Wildt Sanctuary, overnight Cheetah Lodge
22nd July – Morning Cheetah run and tour, Hartebeesport Elephant Reserve, depart for JNB (overnight Metcourt Laurel)

Namibia

23rd - 25th July – Windhoek, overnight Safari Court
26th–29th July – Swakopmund, overnight Brigadoon B&B
28th July – day trip to Sandwich Harbour with Turnstone Tours
30th July – Walvis Bay, overnight Villa Weiss
31st July – Desert Camping
1st–2nd August – Hobatere Lodge
3-4th August – Okaukeujo, overnight Waterhole Chalet
5th August – Halali
6th August – Namutoni, overnight Bush chalet
7th August – Return to Windhoek, Overnight Safari Court
8th August - depart for JNB (overnight Metcourt Laurel)
9th August – start of home journey (boo-hoo)

This was the second sector of an 8 week safari that started with 3 weeks in Tanzania, the trip report for this safari with links to photos is available at http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessages.jsp?fid=4&tid=35153489&numresponses=8&start=0&searchText=treepol . The photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ18 and edited using Picasa software.

Photos from Botswana are available at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Botswana2008

7th July, Gabarone

DF and I left the Metcourt Laurel for an early flight to Gabarone. Air Bots had chartered an aircraft for this flight and we had a false start when we were returned to the lounge while a ‘small technical detail’ was fixed before take-off. The flight lasted for about 45 minutes and we quickly completed immigration formalities and located the Cresta shuttle to take us to the Lodge. The Cresta Lodge is a pleasant place to stay and only a short taxi ride from downtown Gabarone. DF and I had lunch at the Cresta Presidential Lodge at a balcony table overlooking the lunchtime crowds in the Mall. We noticed a number of fast food outlets that competed with the ladies selling more nutritious meals from temporary food stalls as well as many sweet vendors. After lunch we walked down to the government buildings where the House of Parliament was in session. We were amazed that we could walk right up to the door without being approached by security personnel.

8th – 9th July, Makgadikgadi NP

Next morning we caught the early flight to Maun where we were met by Sallie Masson in addition to a Delta representative. Sallie advised us of 2 changes to our itinerary – firstly that Makgadikgadi Camp was closed and that we had been upgraded to San Camp and secondly that we would be camping at Nxai Pan NP rather than the Boteti River due to poor game viewing at the Boteti. We were soon away on the 45 minute charter flight to San Camp. The weather was hazy which made sightseeing difficult, however the miles and miles of golden grass interspersed with palm trees promised a radically different environment to Southern Tanzania. Konosi collected us from the airstrip and drove us to San Camp for a delicious lunch of fried chicken with corn and blackbean salad. There was time for an afternoon nap and hot water for the shower was delivered at 3 pm. Afternoon tea is served at 4 pm before the afternoon activity which was quad biking on the pans.

This was great fun and very dusty, so we used our kikois to cover our faces! Abby was our guide and DF and I had a quad bike each. The pan was completely flat and we took some photos of DF appearing to stand on my hand. Later, we used our kikois as blindfolds and walked towards a bag that Abby had placed out on the pan. I thought I was walking in a straight line, however I had wandered over to the right of the bag. DF walked in a semi-circle and ended up almost back on the road, so maybe its true that people who are lost do walk in circles. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see Chapman’s baobab from the pans. It was a unique experience being out on the pan after dark, the world was very quiet (except for the quads) and empty as we made our way back to the vehicle. Returned to camp for a dinner of delicious pea and mint soup, lamb shanks and mash and gooey chocolate pudding.

Meerkats! We found the meerkats about 8.30 in the morning when it was still cool. The colony is habituated but not tame and we weren’t allowed to touch them, but it was OK if they wanted to climb on us :-D . The meerkats are accompanied by Matusi who stays with them all day to until they settle for the night, and then he knows where to find them the next day. I was surprised at how hard the meerkats have to work for their food, foraging and digging for sometimes very small morsels. We saw one with a lizard – what a prize! The meerkats like to use any high place as a sentry post, including their visitors and climbed onto our heads for a good vantage point. The sentries make ‘chirpy’ noises to let the others know that all is well. We had breakfast with the meerkats – homemade muesli, muffins, fruit and yoghurt.

Skipped lunch due to the late breakfast and had a relaxing afternoon before tea at 4 pm and then a trip to the brown hyena den. Sometimes 3 hyena cubs aged about 7 months are visible at their den around dusk and we were lucky :-D We waited for about 25 minutes before the cubs emerged and joined in a game with a piece of wood. An adult brown hyena was seen approaching in the distance and Abby said that if the mother is going to bring them food it is well after dusk, however, she didn’t think it was the mother because the cubs didn’t react, one even went into the den, nor did the adult seem to be bringing food. Abby was worried that our presence had prevented the adult from coming closer and was going to ask a Maun-based researcher who is studying the brown hyenas if regular visitors were stressing the animals.

Next morning Abby took us for a drive and explained about the ecology of the pans as well as spotting the resident game. Lion tracks had been seen around Lion Island but we had neither sight nor sound of the big cats. Other game included a Tawny Eagle that had stashed the remains of a Cape Hare in a hollow tree, zebra, a family of 5 bat-eared foxes that we saw 3 times, kori bustards, ostrich, black-backed jackal, a sand snake and ground squirrels. We searched in vain for a purple roller.

San Camp was an interesting experience, and totally unexpected as it was an upgrade. It was very formal and lacked a central space for guests to relax, with the dining room mostly used at meal times only. The décor seemed to me to be at odds with the environment – 1930s-1940s British colonial style with a dash of the Arabian nights didn’t gel for me with the golden grass and meerkats. I guess the Persian carpets, copper hand-basins and pitchers and the EPNS on the morning tea tray are distinctive features of San Camp and what they do well – it just seemed out of place to me. Otherwise, San Camp is well appointed with bucket showers and flush toilets in each tent and a front verandah with chairs. The game-viewing experiences were unique with the meerkat interaction and seeing the brown hyenas and the private vehicle was a bonus. Abby was knowledgeable about the environment and the wildlife.

10th – 11th July, Nxai Pan NP, Masson Safaris

San Camp had agreed to transfer us to the Scout Hut on the cut road where we were to be met by Massons. This caused considerable confusion as there are 2 huts, however Abby kept driving until we met Nick Langton coming to collect us. Nick is Sallie’s father and some Fodorites have good memories of his safaris. We enjoyed our afternoon with Nick in spite of the pot-holed and dusty roads we traveled to Nxai Pan campsite via Baines baobabs. After a quick stop, we left for Nxai Pan waterhole where Nick broke out the gin – hooray! The waterhole was quiet with a couple of elephants, some impala, many doves and a juvenile Tawny eagle.

Sallie and Nick stayed in camp that night and we all sat around the fire chatting about home, family, books and wildlife. The game drives in Nxai Pan were uneventful with the highlight being a sighting of 2 honey badgers (my first, so this was a red letter day!). The waterhole remained quiet with regular sightings of elephant, giraffe, impala, zebra, doves, sandgrouse, shaft-tailed whydahs, red-headed finches and an African Hawk Eagle. Sadly no cats though. This was disappointing as I remembered Nxai Pan from my first safari in 2004 as being quite rich in game, although maybe that’s because I was a newbie.

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    12th July – 14th July, Central Kalahari Game Reserve

    We left Nxai Pan NP before 8 am for the Central Kalahari stopping for lunch outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) before reaching the gate where we collected extra drinking water for camp. The ranger said that lions had been reported within a few kilometres, however Ewan found no tracks so we drove to our campsite in Deception Valley where Ewan pointed out the Owens campsite (I am a fan of Cry of the Kalahari )

    Due to the heavy and late rains this year the CKGR has an unseasonal abundance of grass that has ensured the herds of zebra, wildebeest, oryx and springbok have remained in the valleys. This means that the predators also stay within the valley environs due to easy access to large game. We were incredibly lucky with game sightings in the CKGR and managed to see hard to find animals such as honey badgers, bat-eared foxes and black-maned Kalahari lions. During one game drive I asked Ewan how many honey badgers he’d seen and he replied that he’d stopped counting after 12! Many of the honey badgers were females with young, not real babies though.

    One evening we saw 9 bat-eared foxes and on the previous day, a Cape Fox. We saw 3 separate black-maned Kalahari lions, one with a large pride of 6 lionesses with 6 cubs at an oryx kill. Other sightings included meerkats in addition to the usual ostriches, ground squirrels, black-backed jackals and antelope species. Returning to camp one afternoon we saw a python disappearing into a ground squirrel colony, although the colony appeared to be deserted. There were concentrated populations of kori bustard and black korhaan leading Ewan to declare that ‘koris and black korhaan are definitely not endangered.’ Other birds sighted were ant-eating chats, pale chanting goshawks, white-browed sparrow weavers, clapper larks and a greater kestrel.

    The pride of lions was a very special sighting and we sat at the kill for quite some time. Eventually, most of the lions moved off slowly passing within metres of the vehicle. A single lioness and cub remained until they too left and the jackals and vultures moved in. Interestingly, the lioness returned to make one last run at the scavengers before following the others. At one stage there were more than 10 jackals scavenging for what little remained of the oryx.

    We heard lions in Deception Valley on our last night - a single male roared as he walked up the valley, getting louder as he approached the campsite and fading away as he moved towards Leopard Pan. Next morning footprints indicated that the male had been accompanied by a female for most of the walk up the valley, but he was alone when we found him. Closer to the gate Ewan showed us a baboon spider and our last sighting was quite sad, an aardwolf that had been hit by a vehicle down the fence line. We arrived back in Maun mid-afternoon and quickly settled into chalets at Maun Lodge.

    During the 3 days in CKGR we visited Deception Pan which lived up to its name, appearing to hold water, Letiahau Waterhole, Sunday and Leopard Pans (twice). Our camp was very quiet as we were the only group in the whole of Deception Valley and surrounding areas of Leopard and Sunday Pans. The first evening we heard zebras barking and many jackal ‘singing’ - they had quite a choir performing in the Valley. We woke each morning to the chatter of white-browed sparrow weavers above the tents, well before Ewan’s call and the arrival of hot water. After a light breakfast of cereal and toast we were off for a morning game drive (including a stop for mid-morning tea and biscuits) that would last until 11-noon followed by lunch and an afternoon nap, shower or read. Afternoon drives lasted from 3.30-6.30ish after which we returned to camp for a tidy-up, G&T around the fire and dinner. After dinner we would return to the fire until it was time to sleep. The tents were comfortable with beds, sheets, blankets and hot water bottles. There was a small table with a torch, tissues, wet-wipes and a night light for reading. The tents have an enclosed en-suite canvas bathroom with wash stand and chemical loo.

    I really enjoyed being on safari with Ewan Masson because the camp was relaxing, comfortable and peaceful. The food was very tasty and Ewan is a knowledgeable guide and a great bloke to spend time with. Sammy and Karzi were the cook and camp assistant and I’m sure they worked very hard to create the informal atmosphere that I enjoyed so much. In many ways, these few days were like going for a drive with a friend who knew lots about animals and could find lions! I look forward to traveling with Masson’s again in the future.

    Next up, Mashatu...

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    I'm so glad you had a good time with Massons. I went on a mobile with Nick Langton as our guide. He had the BEST stories!
    I was in Mashatu this summer so I'm looking forward to hearing about your experience there.

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    Good report on Massons. Glad to read that. San was formal? What a change from the 3 Paw version I recall. Wildlife was out in force for you from San. Not only did you see the brown hyenas, but pups!

    The lion pride (at Leopard Hill) looks like a charm braclet. Great bat earred foxes, some of my favortie creatures.

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    Thank you everyone for the encouraging comments.

    Hari - I have some cheetah photos from Mashatu that you might enjoy, coming soon.

    Rick - well...they do exist, but are not on the net :$

    Lillipets - Nick does remember you, and yes you are right about his stories. I think we missed each other by 4 days at Mashatu, shame. I did enjoy your report and it helped me to relive that wonderful Mashatu experience all over again. Richard was my ranger too, and I was lucky to have 2 private drives with him during my stay!

    Lyn - I found San very formal both in decor and interactions with the staff. A 3 paw version sounds much nicer! I forgot to post pictures of accommodation, so here is the link http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Accommodation2#

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    <bold>Mashatu, 17-21st July

    I thoroughly enjoyed Mashatu, and echo the praise that others have heaped on this special destination and the wonderful staff who work so hard to make everyone’s trip a success.
    Photos are at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Mashatu# and http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Accommodation2#

    I left the Metcourt Laurel at 5.30 am to catch the 6.35 flight to Polokwane, where I was met by Mike from Copper Sun who drove me to the Botswana border. It was a pleasant 35 minute flight with a slightly anxious landing –on the second attempt the plane seemed to drop out of the sky at an alarming rate – Mike said it was the strangest landing he had seen there. The drive took about 2 hours through rural South Africa which eventually gave way to heavily fenced game farms. Closer to the border we passed the turn-off to the Venetia Diamond Mine the lights of which could be seen from Mashatu at night.

    Border formalities were quickly completed and then a big surprise – I got to enter Botswana by cable car, which I duly noted on the arrivals card (-: . Jacks was waiting to transfer me to Mashatu and on the way we saw giraffe, zebra, impala and wildebeest on what had become a cloudy and cool morning. Jacks was always cheerful, I never saw him without a smile or his bouncy walk. Jacks and I had brunch and chatted while my tent was made ready. I was the only person in camp until Anna and Alex from the UK arrived later in the afternoon so I spent some time in the hide until high tea at 3 pm, the first of many delicious spreads – open sandwiches, quiche, custard tarts and banana bread. Golden and cinnamon breasted bunting, yellow-eyed canaries and a bachelor herd of impala visited the hide that afternoon and a cheeky squirrel attempted to visit high tea :-o

    Richard was my guide and Onalenna the tracker on my game drives. I really enjoyed their company and appreciated Richard’s extensive knowledge of both game and Mashatu. The first afternoon game drive found 2 young cheetah, a brother and sister. The male had a slight limp that Richard thought might have been caused by a thorn in is paw. Violet-eared waxbills were fluttering about near the cheetahs and later we saw pied babblers, a gray-headed shrike, a crested barbet that was so hard to photograph and later a large spotted genet while spotlighting.

    A typical day at Mashatu starts with a wake-up call at 6 am followed by a light breakfast (fresh fruit and homemade muesli) before the morning game drive leaves around 6.45 complete with blankets and hot water bottles. Morning tea of hot drinks and cake rusks was around 8.30 each day. The morning drive returned to camp between 10.30 -11.30 after which brunch was served and then there was time for the hide, showers, reading and napping. High tea was served at 3 pm and the afternoon game drive left around 3.30 during which a stop is made for sundowners before returning to camp around 7.15. The last hour or so of these drives is used for spotlighting. The tents had been zipped shut and lamps placed on the verandah and in the bathroom during the game drive – it was so cosy to return ‘home’. Dinner was served in the boma and the party broke up about 9 pm when guides took us to our tents. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything other than bushbuck and impala at the hide during dinner and was pleased to hear from other posters that eles sometimes visit during dinner. Staff place a hot water in the beds while guests are at dinner, so with a routine like this its no wonder Mashatu was an equal top favourite of mine for the whole trip. Throughout the day the guides and managers are around the camp and eat most meals with guests. Richard, Jacks, Hilda and Mapula were always around whilst Dan recovered from a cold. I was impressed with the way the staff treated each other – they were all friendly and teased and laughed together which enhanced the ambience of the camp even further.

    I was there on a long weekend so was fortunate to meet some Botswanan residents. Mapula’s uncle and aunt came down from Gabarone and bought some of her things for her room – she was very excited about this. A Sri Lankan guy who worked for the Botswanan stock exchange and his son who was attending university (both keen photographers) were interesting safari companions as were an Italian couple who worked for the UN and a German NGO. Meal times with Mapula’s family were very lively!

    Mapula summed up the camp’s appeal neatly when she commented that Mashatu had retained the essence of the bush in its accommodation, food and service.

    Next morning we saw a herd of eles grazing peacefully on Mopani, a female lioness and her adult daughters and later 2 young males and their sister, so 6 lions on the first morning :-D . Also saw zebra, kudu, giraffe, wildebeest, Namaqua sandgrouse, crested and Swainson’s francolin and many leopard tracks but no leopard. Returning from lunch I startled a shy bushbuck in front of my tent. I went to the hide where a young giraffe couldn’t decide whether to approach and drink or not – not as it turned out. Buntings and canaries were the main birds on this day. I had an unscheduled private game drive that afternoon, just Richard, Onalenna and me when we saw a leopard, 2 hyena, a bat-eared fox, a purple roller, eland, a kurrichane thrush and klipspringer.

    Next morning it was just the 3 of us again and we began with the same eles as yesterday. Next were the 3 female lions still with blood on their faces and paws. Richard pointed out 3 tree squirrels huddled together against the cold morning, more klipspringer, another crested barbet, gray louries and a fish eagle. The highlight of the morning game drive was a visit to the white-fronted bee-eater colony where the birds were all ‘fluffed-up’ due to the cold. That afternoon at the hide notable sightings included a male violet-eared waxbill, common waxbills, double banded sandgrouse, red-billed ox-peckers, guinea fowl, Swainsons francolin and a family of warthogs. Walking back to my tent I heard a rustle in the undergrowth and saw a bushbuck warily nursing a greedy youngster. Later in the day I saw black-eyed bulbul, a female red-headed weaver and a bushbuck drinking from the water feature in front of the terrace.

    The last day at Mashatu delivered a couple of treats. Firstly, early in the morning game drive Richard received a call to say that the wild dogs had been spotted near Pont Drift and asked if we wanted to travel that far to see them. Well of course we did! Wild dogs were introduced to Mashatu early in 2008. After release into Mashatu 3 males deserted and haven’t been seen since and the alpha female disappeared and also hasn’t been seen again. Richard was wondering if she had been snared. There are 14 remaining dogs in the pack and the pups were due out of the den at any time – not while I was there though. We watched the dogs hunting, and finally following an impala scent which they later abandoned.

    The second treat was 2 cheetahs, a male and female on a dam wall where they were silhouetted against the sky. These 2 had become separated from the other 2 in their group and were chirping madly to locate them. The cheetah left the dam area and walked into light scrub where the female began to stalk a young kudu until a nearby flock of guinea fowl sounded the alarm.

    My very last Mashatu game drive led us to a large clan of hyenas that were on the move, looking for a shady place to rest. They had fed during the night and it may have been this group that left footprints along the boma path that morning. Dan drove us back to Pont Drift with a stop for shopping at the Main Camp and at the airfield to drop off a couple of guests who had driven from Gabarone for the long weekend. Mike from Copper Sun drove me back to Polokwane where I caught the plane to Johannesberg.

    Cheetah Lodge and the De Wildt Sanctuary, 21-22 July

    I was met by Johnny Bezuidenhuit from King Cheetah tours and driven to the Cheetah Lodge near the De Wildt Sanctuary which took about 90 minutes, arriving just on dark. The Lodge was built during the 1950s in the English country house style and features stone interior walls and French-style doors leading to the terrace and gardens. The original owners were a couple from Zimbabwe, the husband was a builder and the wife a naturopath who planted many medicinal plants in the garden. The bedrooms are large with ensuite (some have baths) and each has a separate theme such as blue crane, cheetah cub. The food was home cooked and delicious. There were 2 other guests, both vets from the Australia Zoo who were spending some time at the De Wildt sanctuary working with the cheetahs.

    Next morning I watched 4 cheetahs chasing a mechanical lure for 240m at the Sanctuary. It was interesting to watch the different running styles of the individual cheetahs and easy to see the difference between the slower cats who ran first to the small speedy female who finished the show. Marilyn explained that some of the De Wildt cheetahs have been suffering from a gastro virus (not the ones that were running!) and they were hoping to identify any benefit of running cheetahs and then feeding them 30 minutes later as occurs in the wild.

    Other animals seen at de Wildt were African wildcats, caracal, brown hyena, Egyptian and Cape Griffon vultures, 3 14 week old wild dog pups and honey badgers. There is a blind albino honey badger who manages to sniff out his breakfast of 2 day old chickens hidden in his compound as part of an enrichment program that keeps him busy for most of the morning. He is a skillful climber capable of reaching half-way up the fence in search of food. After the morning program King Cheetah Tours transferred me to the Hartebeesport Elephant Sanctuary where I was the only one booked on the afternoon show and had 3 of the 4 elephants to myself.

    I was uncomfortable with the show at Hartebeesport. I didn’t like it when the elephants had to ‘perform’ part of which was to lie on the ground, it looked such an effort for them get down and then back up again. Similarly, I wondered about their lives when the guide asked the elephants if they were happy and they put their trunks in their mouths and nodded :-? . I wasn’t too keen on the elephant kiss either :-o and seemed to be wiping mud from my face and arms throughout the afternoon!

    The guide said that the elephants were rescued from circuses and export to zoos and that early each morning they were allowed to graze freely in the hills behind the Sanctuary. It was good being able to stand close to an elephant and feel the soles of their feet, the tail hair and toenails – not something you get to do everyday. I also liked being able to walk hand in trunk with an elephant and to be able to feed them at the end of the afternoon. This involved tipping handfuls of pellets into their trunks as they jostled each other in front of me. One smart elephant had worked out how to jump the fence to get to a tree that was forbidden – he laboriously lifted each leg over the single bar fence, chewed at the tree and slowly climbed over the other side and ambled back to the water.

    After the show King Cheetah Tours returned me to the Metcourt Laurel where I spent one night before heading off to Namibia.

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    23rd – 26th July, Windhoek

    I had a pleasant flight to Windhoek on South African Airlines and a to the Safari Court Hotel. The Hotel is a bit tired, however, the food is fine, the staff friendly and the hourly shuttle to Maerua Mall and downtown Windhoek was a bonus. My 2 days in Windhoek were quiet – I did a half-day township tour and some shopping. The Bushman Gallery in Windhoek where I bought some pottery and a CD of safari sounds has a range of good quality and interesting souvenirs.
    I also visited Thimbi Thimbi to make my last payment for the Northern Namibia trip. I was travelling solo in Namibia and definitely didn’t want to hire a car by myself, so finding an operator who had 2 nights at Hobatere and 4 nights in Etosha was a good transport option for me.

    I bought two inexpensive camping trips from Thimbi, joined the itineraries and upgraded the accommodation at Hobatere and Etosha, everywhere except for one night in Spitzkoppe. The food and guiding were better with the second group than the first. I ate all meals at Hobatere at the Lodge as the camp ground where the rest of the group was staying is about 20 kms away. Some meals at the NWR were included in my accommodation. The Thimbi guides were patient and knowledgable, Malis the second guide often worked as a photographic guide for another company and had a deep knowledge of herd behaviour and an interest in all the antelope species. I also had the option of doing game drives with the Thimbi group or with Namibian Wildlife Reserve Rangers. As it turned out I only opted for one NWR drive as the time on the road and at the waterholes provided good game viewing. This was a return trip for me to Okaukeujo and Namutoni the first being in 2005.

    The half day city highlights tour visited Christ Church, Houses of Parliament, view over the city and Klein Windhoek before leaving for Katatura township. This was my first township tour and it was a thought-provoking experience. The guide lived in Katatura and he took us to the local market where the barbers and hairdressers were in demand. The developing part of Katatura is built of inexpensive corrugated iron homes. The guide said that many people who rented the original 4 room ‘matchbox’ homes in the old township were converting them to 4 bedsits, paying rent from half the profits and keeping the other half while living in ‘new’ Katatura. It was a really interesting couple of hours,followed by a trip to Penduka, a women’s craft co-operative where locally produced items were for sale.

    26-31st July Swakopmund

    I travelled to Swakopmund on the Townhoppers Shuttle ably driven by Andra. There were only 2 other passengers so I had a great time talking to Andra about living and working in Namibia and how the country was developing. I arrived at Brigadoon B&B around 6.30 pm and was welcomed by Margaret. The next day, a Sunday was fairly quiet in Swakop. Some of the shops were open until 1 pm, after which I walked down to the pier past the Tug restaurant and then to the breakwater and to the northern beaches. It was a fine day and the locals were out and about, including many dog-walkers. The late afternoon golden sunset over the surf was memorable.

    Brigadoon is a quiet and cosy B&B within easy walking of the Lighthouse, downtown Swakop and the Spar. Margaret is the ‘secret weapon’ at Brigadoon – she is so helpful with tour bookings, early breakfasts, directions and suggestions for activities. My room had cable television, a kitchenette, bath and shower and a table and chairs on the verandah for eating breakfast (in warmer weather (-:) . I enjoyed my stay here and would be happy to return.

    Next day I was collected by Ernest from Turnstone Tours for a full day Desert Discovery itinerary. My travelling companions were 3 generations of a family from Maryland. There wasn’t much wildlife in the desert, although Ernest worked hard trying to find creatures for us – animals, birds, insects. We saw 2 klipspringers and a few dusky sunbirds and not much else although closer to Swakopmund we saw a tractrac chat, pied avocets, kittlitz plovers, fighting chameleons and springbok on the golf course (-: . However, the plants were interesting and these included lithops, rough-leaved aloes, Namibian edeilweiss, welwitschia, ostrich salad and a quiver tree. The ostrich salad has spongy ‘leaves’ with watery blisters that broke when touched.

    The chameleons were a highlight as I had hoped for some good sightings this trip. Initially, Ernest thought it was the same mating pair he had seen 2 days previously, however it soon became obvious that this was a fight between 2 males and one was certainly taking a beating. The smaller male had turned a sandy pink, whilst the aggressor was larger and changed from green to black when we approached.

    Next day the same group set off for Sandwich Harbour driving first past the coastal development at Long Beach and a fishing boat that ran aground in 2006 until we reached Walvis Bay, skirting the salt works and finally reaching the sand. We drove down the coast, and at times were actually on the beach until we couldn’t get the vehicle any further south due to the tide. On the way we passed patches of beautifully coloured red garnet sand that was about 4” deep. We climbed the sand dunes to get a view of Sandwich Harbour which is a large bay protected by a spit to the southwest. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to do the 8 km return walk into Sandwich as the family were leaving mid-afternoon for Windhoek. Ernest drove us over the sand dunes which the kids loved until we stopped at Jackals Water, where jackals regularly dig for water. We were lucky to see a jackal amongst the dunes and were sad when we saw he was lame. After lunch among the dunes we headed back to Swakop.

    The following day I transferred to Villa Weisse where I was to meet the Thimbi group and with hindsight, it would have been better to stay at Brigadoon and join the group next day. Margaret very kindly drove me to Villa Weisse and saw that I checked in OK. I spent my last day in Swakop shopping and bought books and gifts for home and enjoyed lunch with Andra and in the evening met the Thimbi group for dinner.

    31st July – Spitzkoppe

    We left Swakop for Spitzkoppe around 1 pm and stopped for lunch on the coast outside Henties Bay where black winged stilts waded in the shallows, arriving at Spitzkoppe in the late afternoon. The setting sun threw a golden-red light over the granite rocks and turned the grass a soft pink colour. Due to the heavy rains there was a sea of golden grass in the Spitzkoppe area, similar to the Central Kalahari. There were lots of pale-winged starlings around the camp, especially as Fares prepared dinner.

    1-2 August, Hobatere

    Next day was a long drive to Hobatere where I arrived with 5 minutes to spare for the afternoon game drive. We saw many Hartmann’s zebra – one was enjoying a dust bath, oryx, springbok and not much else. However, the evening game drive was exceptional with a pair of porcupines, an African Wild Cat, a small spotted genet, a chameleon and a white-faced owl. Hobatere is managed by Steve and Louise Brain who have lived there for 13+ years. Steve kept saying that not many animals were being seen on the night drives but I didn’t think it was too bad. Steve is a world renowned ornithologist who leads international birdwatching expeditions to unusual destinations such as Bhutan and Venezuela. One of the nice aspects of Hobatere (there are many) is that Steve and Louise spend most of the day at the Lodge and always have time for a chat, a wine and often one of Steve’s stories.

    Next morning Steve took me and 2 other guests on a game drive during which we saw swallow-tailed bee-eaters, a brown snake eagle, a gray hornbill with a chameleon in its beak and trees full of rosy-faced lovebirds near a waterhole. Returning to the lodge we saw a giant plated lizard sunning on a rock, an African hawk eagle, and Ruppell’s parrot, but sadly no leopards. Back at the Lodge male and female rock agama lizards basked in the sun, a yellow-bellied sand snake visited during lunchtime and down at the swimming pool hide red-billed francolin and black-throated canaries gathered.

    After lunch we were driven over to the main hide that overlooks a waterhole where zebras and oryx provided the main activity. I saw how aggressive the oryx were to each other and also to the zebra, some of which waited for almost an hour before approaching the water when the oryx were nearby. The evening game drive was disappointing with a big-eared mouse being the highlight.

    Next morning started well at 5.30 with the black-maned male roaring at the waterhole, although there was no sign of the lionesses and cubs. Later a Giant eagle Owl flew overhead while I was at the swimming pool hide, all I was aware of was a whooshing sound as he swooped over the hide to roost in a tree opposite. Shame he disappeared so quickly. A red-billed francolin and chicks arrived for an early drink and bath.

    Hobatere has been refurbished this year. The pink rondavels are now a safari beige and natural wood features and metal sculptures that draw inspiration for the local fauna are hallmarks of the new décor. Hobatere is a very comfortable and relaxed lodge with the upstairs lounge, bar and outdoor dining areas providing a focal point for guests. Dinner was eaten under the stars, the buffet-style food was good quality and tasty with a number of choices each evening. The mornings were cool but it was still pleasant to sit outside and watch the birds enjoying grain on the lawn during breakfast. The generator is switched off at 10 pm, and shortly after the lions begin to roar. The roaring continued intermittently through the night and began again in earnest both mornings of my stay. I always had a good look around before making my way to the Lodge for breakfast because the lions do come into the lodge grounds during the night and early morning.

    I stayed in Room B which was at the furthest end of the property near the boundary fence and boardwalk which was an excellent gameviewing area early in the morning. The room was very comfortable with a shower, loo and new basin. It was decorated in warm terracotta tones and looked out over the grasslands towards the main hide. Unfortunately, my stay at Hobatere was over too soon – I would happily return for a longer stay sometime in the future.

    3-7th August – Etosha NP

    Thimbi collected me around 7.30 in the morning and we returned to the campsite where the others had almost completed packing up. The campsite has large sites, flushing loos and showers. We entered Etosha through Galton’s Gate (the western gate) and drove slowly towards Okaukeujo with stops at numerous waterholes along the way. There was plenty of game around with large numbers of zebra, oryx and springbok and frequent sightings of elephant and giraffe. I enjoyed being with other travelers who were seeing elephant for the first time and to share their excitement and wonder.

    During the morning I saw a white-backed vulture and a secretary bird fighting, the vulture was hovering over the secretary bird and jabbing with its feet and beak and the secretary bird was ‘kicking’ towards the vulture. I asked Steve about this later and he said it was an unusual interaction as the species don’t usually interact. Another first for me was a pair of mating ostriches. There was a pride of lions close to the road near Okaukeujo and later a large rock monitor was seen on the road.

    I checked into a waterhole chalet for 2 nights while the others set up camp. Later Martin drove us back to the lions where we spent what remained of the afternoon. Sightings around the campground included a Southern white crowned shrike and a tree squirrel. That night the waterhole was rather quiet compared to the animals seen during my 2005 visit – elephant numbers were definitely down. There were good black rhino sightings, 8 different rhinos before 9 pm. A mother and calf were the first to arrive, and possibly her older calf, as they seemed to know each other and the older calf looked a bit lost and unsure when the other 2 left. I watched 2 elephant see off 2 male black rhinos, one even used his trunk to flick water at the rhino [-X
    Around 9 pm 2 magnificent male lions were drinking at the waterhole and their faces and golden manes were perfectly reflected in the black water – it was truly a wonderful sight. In addition to seeing 3 of the big 5 at the waterhole, numerous black-backed jackal drank during the evening.

    The group departed early in the morning, well before I was up and about. There wasn’t much action at the waterhole around 8.30 just a couple of springbok and an impala. After a so-so breakfast at the dining room I spent some time birding. There were many crimson-breasted shrike, southern white crowned shrike and a very busy greater scimitarbill. I spent some hours watching the plains game at the waterhole during the day – mostly zebra with springbok, impala and kudu and a single elephant. Dinner at NWR was an unremarkable carvery after which I did the evening game drive. This was a big disappointment with jackals and spring hares being the main animals that we saw in addition to a Cape fox and two spotted eagle owls that quickly flew off. It was a miserably cold night and I was very pleased to arrive back at camp around 10.30 pm.

    Next day we drove slowly towards Halali stopping at several waterholes where the predominant species were red hartebeest, kudu, black-faced impala, elephant and zebra of course. Malis pointed out the rutting behaviour of the animals that included a springbok blocking off a ewe’s escape from his harem, a male wildebeest lying in the baking sun guarding his territory, giraffes necking and nuzzling and the ‘greeting’s between jackal partners. During the afternoon game drive we saw mating lions at Goas waterhole where there were 2 ‘spare’ males in attendance.

    We returned to Goas next morning and found the lions again before leaving for Namutoni. Sadly, a pearl spotted owl at the side of the road flew away before I could get a photo. There was another pair of mating lions along the road. The male looked old and battle-scared and had a fresh puncture wound between his eye and ear, we speculated that the lioness might have inflicted this injury. The unusual sight of the morning was a giraffe chewing on a bone and he looked to be really enjoying it. I read recently in Safaridude’s repot that this is known as osteophagia and that the animals are obtaining phosphorous from the bones which are easily found at old kill sites.

    I stayed in a bush chalet and Namutoni which was amongst the nicest accommodation of the trip. The banded mongoose are very busy around the chalets and I saw one running along the boardwalk with a stolen biscuit. The afternoon game drive located a large rhino quite close to the road and a 2 month old oryx that was watched over by a cautious and wary mother. Even at this early age the thick, strong neck needed to carry those long horns in later life was evident. Next morning we left Namutoni early and exited the park around 9 am, sadly the beginning of the long trip home.

    The renovations at Etosha are very unpopular with the locals. One guide told me it would cost $N600 per night for him to take his family camping at Etosha now, and that doesn’t include the cost of fuel or food. He says this fee structure is beyond the means of most Namibians, which is very sad. I stayed at Okaukeujo for 2 nights in a waterhole chalet that was one row back from the ‘dress circle’ Premium chalets. I had a clear view of the rise behind the waterhole from my verandah and could walk down if something interesting was around. The chalet was small but very comfortable with bathroom (shower, basin and loo), a small sunny private ‘courtyard’ and a verandah. The bathroom was polished concrete with a decorative stone edging in keeping with the surrounding environment. The bed linen was good quality and tea-making facilities and a fridge were provided. All the accommodation buildings had been painted a beige colour and unsightly fixtures like air conditioners, pumps and gas bottles are surrounded by wooden screens made of native timbers. The old motel style accommodation has been revamped to look like separate units. Decorative metal sculptures are used throughout the camp with great effectiveness.

    Halali – I hadn’t been to this camp before but there was evidence of a general makeover. I stayed in a one-bedroom bungalow with bathroom, lounge area and outdoor braai/dining space. Despite the new decorations the place had an air of the 1970s.

    Namutoni – this was one of the nicest places that I stayed all trip. There has been extensive re-modelling here with the old campsite screened by hessian and separated from the accommodation. The chalets have a private entrance gate, double sliding glass doors, large lounge/bedroom and a very modern chrome and glass bathroom. There were 2 modern shallow sinks, a sunken bath and indoor and outdoor showers. I did question the wisdom of providing so many bathing options in such a dry place where people are increasingly concerned about the level of the water table.

    I spent the last night in Windhoek back at the Safari Court where I did a major re-pack and discarded unwanted toiletries, food and clothing much to the joy of the housekeeping staff before returning to Johannesberg and a final night at the Metcourt Laurel. I just had time for a mega-shop in duty-free before it was time to board the flight for Perth.

    Namibian photos are available at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Namibia2008#

    Accommodation photos are available athttp://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Accommodation2#

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Pol

    Delighted to hear of what a great time you had at Mashatu - I shall be visiting for my 1st time Jan 2009 and cannot wait! Good to hear you saw such a variety and a lot of things that I do not see in South Africa that I am really looking forward to seeing again!

    Kind regards

    Kaye

  • Report Abuse

    Hey Pol,

    Just read your report, and I must admit my sentiments about Ewan Masson are about the same as yours.

    (my trip report - in progress - is somewhere on here too)

    I sincerely hope that more people try the private tented camp style of safari (as opposed to lodges). And Ewan and his team are as good as it gets!

    Ciao,

    Jochen

  • Report Abuse

    Oops!#-O

    The correct link for the Namibian photos is http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Namibia2008?authkey=uUSuNMj81Z0#


    Pixelpower,

    I agree with you, the private mobile safari offers a great opportunity for a flexible tented safari to less visited places. I hope one day to book with Massons again.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    It is a very strange world indeed, we found the new accomodation at Etosha posher but nowhere near as nice or cheap. Namutoni was awful whereas it used to be OK. How could anybody like the new "stoops" surrounded as they are by sticks which allow you no view of the outside world. As for the golf carts words fail me.

    We also thought nothing of Mashatu,

    Proof if any is needed that everybody has different views and expectations.

    Your Kudu and calf is in fact a Gemsbok (Oryx).

  • Report Abuse

    treepol,
    very interesting travel reports!

    regarding mashatu and

    "The male had a slight limp that Richard thought might have been caused by a thorn in is paw"

    did the guide mention whether there is a vet on call if needed?
    that would be interesting to learn.

    div

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    just tp post how governors care" about the cheetah üopulation in the mara.
    fine example what can be done for these gracious cats and their survival in the wilds:

    "In July an extraordinary event took place: one of or resident cheetah, Shakira, gave birth to six cubs. With such a high infant mortality rate among cheetah, Shakira’s cub litter is really significant. We recognised the vulnerability of this little family and set about immediately to assist the Masai Mara Reserve Rangers to protect them. The Reserve rangers do not have enough vehicles at their disposal to monitor animals such as this cheetah, so we provided them with a vehicle and our former head guide who knows the Mara intimately and has a deep understanding of the ecosystem and its fragility. They established an exclusivity zone to protect the cheetahs and monitored their movements without interfering in their lives at all. This was done to ensure that we helped to give them the best possible chance of survival"

    div

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    Providing rangers/ support to protect endangered animals from poaching or overzealous visitors is a world apart from getting a vet in to interfere with a natural event such as a thorn in a paw.

    I would hope for intervention where injuries are caused by man's actions (such as snares or rubbish) but not when the natural order is simply playing out.

  • Report Abuse

    kavey

    in case you are a safari novice and haven't educated yourself in view to conservation especially in view to cheetahs your lack of knowledge and understanding the situation is an excuse. but then you shouldn't state such a nonsense!


    sorry - you are simply lacking insight and understanding.

    as a safari tourist you should know that cheetahs lose 80% of their kills to other predators.
    having 2 cheetahs means one has to hunt for both of them as long a the one cheetah cannot hunt.
    an incident as such might probably drive both cheetahs at the edge of starvation causing their death.
    and based on the extrem naroow gene pool any death of a cheetah is devastating.

    pls do yourself a favour and don't mention such a rubbish while in africa being led by knowledgeable guides.



    div

  • Report Abuse

    gosh....

    good that we have such wise american tourists around who preach for whatever reason the actions or better non-actions of greedy camps which simply exploits the wildlife without caring for it.

    very good solicitation for a bad cause!

    div

  • Report Abuse

    Welcome to America Kavey, we would be pleased to have you!

    Div: any thoughts on how well medical intervention worked out for Honey. This has nothing to do with safari experience, although those you are talking down to have plenty of it, and everything to do with philosophies on wildlife management techniques. The prevailing view in most places is hands off for anything natural and intervention for direct human caused impacts, just as Kavey has stated. In some heavily managed places with rare species they might be more willing to interfere (they don't in most wilderness areas) but in a case like this its probably more risky and stressful to the cheetah to capture it than to let it deal with the thorn.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks PB but I think I'll stay put! ;)

    I dont think div is interested in prevailing view, having dismissed it as "such rubbish". Clearly, things are different in her own little world.

    Treepol, back to your report. MOST MARVELLOUS!

  • Report Abuse

    8 black rhinos before 9 pm!?

    Did you feel you spent about the right amount of time in Etosha?

    After the stress of the barbs thrown around here, I was looking forward to some Namibia pics, but could not get in, even copying and pasting.

  • Report Abuse

    So I'm looking for some desert tranquility and immediately come upon more conflict with the fighting chameleons. What a variety of chameleon shots, even serving as prey. More conflict with the sparring oryx--you don't see that action shot very often. Loved the zebra snout closeup.

    A delightful desert collection.

  • Report Abuse

    Lynn - I though that 4 nights was good. I'd recommend 2 at Okaukeujo because the waterhole is quite active at night and the large herds of plains game coming in during the day are awesome.

    I particularly enjoyed the drive in from Galton's Gate through the western sector which has more vegetation than the eastern side.

    This was a return trip, and there was noticeably less wildlife in June than in October. Elephant numbers at Okaukeujo were right down this year and there wasn't an elephant in sight at Namutoni whereas in October 2005 we observed good elephant action there.

    If I were going again I'd investigate lodges outside the park in the eastern sector such as Mushara and Onguma and combine with Namutoni and Okaukeujo.

    Kavey - glad to read that you liked the chameleon. Accommodation photos are at:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Accommodation2#

    Cheers,



    Pol

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