Celia's Namibia trip

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Jun 5th, 2003, 11:19 AM
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Celia's Namibia trip

Following Kavey's suggestion, I've copied my response to Hanl's message here as a separate posting. I've added some info about car rental and maps.

We've just returned from a wonderful three weeks in Namibia and South Africa. It was our first trip to Namibia, 10th to SA. We made our Namibia arrangements through Cardboard Box Travel, whom we found on the web. I did a lot of research myself so as to tell Cardboard Box what I thought would meet our desires best, and also followed their advice, as they are local and know the local situation.

We spent two nights at Sossusvlei at the Namib Naukluft Lodge. We were picked up at our pension in Windhoek and driven there by van. There was only 1 other traveler besides my husband and me. The drive was lovely, especially when we reached the edge of the desert and were able to stand on a high mountain and look out over it.

The lodge itself was charming, with lovely rooms with one glass wall looking out on the plain, and with a nice dining room and verandah. Our meals were all served on the verandah. The food was very much German influenced except for the one night when we had a traditional braii served in the boma.

The drive into the park to explore the dunes was great! Our guide was knowledgeable, and the group of 8 or 10 people was a congenial one. The dunes were awesome, and I use that word in its old sense of inspiring awe, not just the slangy meaning it has today, though that would be true too.

Others in this forum have done a wonderful job describing other lodges at the dunes.

Etosha National Park was a peak experience. Within minutes of entering the park we were seeing large numbers of herd animals, all kinds of antelopes and zebras, springbok, oryx, ostrich, giraffe, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, etc, etc. On each of our three days in the park we saw huge numbers of zebras and every kind of antelope, and big herds of elephants. At the waterhole in our campe at night we saw rhinos, elephants, jackals, and hyenas. We did all this in our own rental car, not with a ranger.

We stayed two nights in the park at Halali rest camp. It was pretty basic, but the restaurant had good food. We also stayed two nights at a private lodge, Etosha Aoba Lodge, which was superb. Very lovely thatched rondavels (sort of), and a beautiful open air dining room and pool area. The night drive offered by the lodge was very good--we saw the tiny Damara dik-dik, giraffes, a caracal, and more. But in addition to the fabulous animal life, the pan itself is indeed something to see -- a vast stretch of flat, white expanse, with shimmering mirages in the distance.

We really liked Windhoek. It's small, clean, hospitable. We had an incredible dinner at the Heinitzburg Hotel, and interesting African food at the Africa Restaurant, and we really enjoyed the Alte Feste museum. We stayed at Pension Christoph, which was recommended in Footprint Namibia, and we were very happy with it.

We had talked about going to Namibia for years, but never seemed to get around to it, until I read Kavey's posts here about a year ago and said "that's it, we're going NOW".

I found Footprint Namibia to be an excellent guidebook. The one by Brandt wasn't as helpful. Before we left for Africa I ordered the Globetrotter Travel Map of Namibia from Amazon.com. It was very useful in helping us plan our driving. After we got there we bought a map put out by the Roads Authority, which was also useful, and had a good map of Windhoek too. We were then given this same map free by Cardboard Box and by the company that took us to Sossusvlei, so we had plenty of maps.

Our car rental was from Tempest, also called Sixt. They operate in South Africa as well. The car was a small Toyota Tazz. It held the two of us, our two suitcases, and our cameras, picnic bags, and assorted stuff, pretty comfortably, but we had to keep one suitcase in the back seat as the trunk wasn't big enough for both. We drove from Windhoek to Etosha and back in it, drove it in Etosha park, and on some remote gravel roads. It was fine.

We were impressed with the quality of handicrafts available for sale in Namibia. We bought baskets, carvings, and wooden bowls.

We found food to be more expensive than in South Africa -- more like what we pay in the US. Lodging prices were comparable to SA.

One of my favorite things was seeing the contrast of the elaborate dress of Herero women in Windhoek, and the very modern dress of schoolgirls and young women on the same sidewalks.
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Jun 5th, 2003, 11:52 AM
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Celia,

It was nice to read your report about Namibia. We will be spending time in WIndhoek and Sossusvlei during an upcoming trip to Southern Africa. This will be our first destination before heading to Botswana for safari and ending our trip in Cape Town.

We are spending 3 nights at the Heinitzburg Hotel so it is great to hear that the food was good at their restaurant. We have a few days to explore Windhoek and I'm sure it will be interesting. In the Namib desert we will spend 3 nights at the Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp. Really looking forward to seeing those fabulous dunes and also any wildlife we may be lucky enough to encounter. Were you able to do a hot air balloon ride over the desert. We are hoping to do this during our visit if possible. Did you get to see the dunes at sunrise. I know it's a very early morning excursion.

I am definitely looking forward seeing this region along with the rest of our itinerary. Thanks again for posting your comments.
 
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Jun 5th, 2003, 01:39 PM
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Celia

Thanks and I know I will have some questions for you once I read your report a few more times.

I really am so pleased you loved Namibia - it's a beautiful land isn't it?

Your report is so great that you've answered many questions I might normally ask!

Welcome home!
Kavey
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Jun 5th, 2003, 03:10 PM
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thank you Celia. After seeing Kavey's breathtaking photos and the beautiful photos in my recently purchased book on Safari Chic, I am determined to go to Namibia on one of our trips. (In all this time I have never been!)I am saving your report for when I do.
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Jun 6th, 2003, 06:29 AM
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DE, we didn't do a balloon ride, and our trip to the dunes got us there a bit after sunrise. I understand that to be there actually at sunrise, you have to be staying at the one lodge that has a private gate into the park so you can get in before the public gate opens. I can't remember the name of that lodge -- I'm sure someone else will know it.

The early morning time was wonderful for seeing the dunes, though. The contrast between the sunny side and the shady side was really beautiful. Hours later, as we were leaving the park, we noticed that with the sun overhead, there was not that same early morning magic.

The other thing I loved most about Sossusvlei was looking at Dead Vlei. This is a vlei that has some dead trees sticking up out of it, and the sight is breathtaking -- white vlei, black tree trunks, red sand, and over it all a sky of intense blue. The only trouble is, you have to cimb up a dune to see it. It's worth the climb, but I was panting when I got to the top. Coming down is even harder, because more sand gets in your shoes on the way down than on the way up. There was a photography crew there at the same time we were, shooting something for a Belgian magazine, and one of the young crew members, a boy in his twenties, told me how exhausted he was from climbing the dune every morning at 4 AM carrying all his tripods and lenses and whatnot. (I assume, given his age, that he had been up till 2 or 3 AM partying each night!) I don't think I would want to do it every day, but it was great as a one-time experience.

As to medical insurance, no, we didn't get any, we just relied on our regular insurance. The only time I've ever needed medical attention outside the US was 23 years ago, when we lived in Johannesburg. Back then, you could afford to go to the doctor and just pay the bill. I don't know if it's the same now. Of course, that was in a city, not out in the wilds.
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Jun 6th, 2003, 06:54 AM
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Celia

Read the report again and really enjoyed it.

You mention when in Windhoek you ate "an incredible dinner at the Heinitzburg Hotel, and interesting African food at the Africa Restaurant" - can I ask - were you staying at the Heinitzburg or did you get a cab/ walk there from where you were staying? What was teh Africa Restaurant like - what kind of food is African food - I ask because I'm not really sure.
We have just one night in Windhoek on our 2004 trip and will be staying in a hotel that doesn't really have it's own restaurant (I think it does serve light snack style meals) so we're looking at options on where to eat.

Lastly, where are you going next?

Thanks
Kavey
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Jun 6th, 2003, 09:19 AM
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We were staying at a small pension about 2 blocks from the Heinitzburg, Pension Christoph. We walked up the hill to the Heinitzburg. We had intended to go there for a sundowner, having read that their verandah had the best view over the city. But as it turned out we didn't get there till after sundown. (The verandah looked great, and we will definitely do sundowners there next time.) We didn't realize that this place is so incredibly gourmet, and although we weren't wearing shorts, my husband had on sandals, and they told us that they don't seat anyone in the main dining room wearing sandals or shorts. We would have to be content with seating in the wine cellar! We said wonderful, and ate in a delightful room with a fireplace at our backs, and a view through the glass wall of hundreds of bottles of wine, framed by wrought iron grape vines. There were two other tables in the room; one had people at it when we arrived, and the other filled up soon after we got there. The food would have impressed Charlie Trotter, and the service was impeccable. The only reason for not wearing sandals next time we're there is that the main dining room has lots of windows with a great view, but we didn't feel the least bit deprived! We had oysters, mushroom soup (to die for) an entrecote and a springbok steak, and a cheese platter. We drank a Southern Right red wine.

At the Africa restaurant, most of the dishes had either spinach or peanut butter, and some had both. Mine was a beef stew served over either rice or mealie pap. I chose rice, because I've had pap before and don't really like it. Cooked spinach was served with it. Jim had chicken in a peanut sauce with rice and spinach too, I think. Bread was served as a first course, and we drank beer with the meal.

Windhoek is small enough that you can walk everywhere if you want to, I think.
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Jun 6th, 2003, 11:49 AM
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Oooh thanks Celia - I think you've sold me on that dining experience.

(Since Pete doesn't have a love affair for either spinach or peanut butter, though he will eat both, I don't think we'll opt for the African restaurant).
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Jun 6th, 2003, 12:14 PM
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Celia,

Thanks for the additional informative comments. The desert area really sounds quite stunning and should make for some wonderful photographs. I am definitely getting more keyed up and enthusiastic as the time for our trip gets closer.

Also your dining experience at the Heinizburg ( re: wearing sandals ) was quite amusing to me as my spouse will only have a pair of hiking boots and a pair of Birkenstock sandals with him on our trip. I'm sure HE INTENDS to eat in the dining room each evening wearing his comfortable sandals.
 
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Jun 6th, 2003, 01:03 PM
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Celia - The lodge at the entrance to the Sossusvlei is the Kulala Desert Lodge, and the guests here do get in early, however, the excursion to the Dunes is not included in the room rate (est. price $70/person)

This lodge is considered in the "high-end" about $300/nt. - more than Namib-Nauklift or Sossusvlei Lodges, but less than Wilderness Camp.

From the other lodges the trip to see the Dunes at Sunrise can start out at between 4:30 to 5am depending on when the "sun rises", as it can take up to an hour to get there.
 
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Jun 8th, 2003, 12:53 PM
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We are going to Naminis for a month in September and are using Cardboard Box travel also. We are renting a 4X4 wheel drive and will be combining camping and lodges. Did you see any of the camsights and what were they like? Did you go anywhere other that Etosha and the dunes? Sounds like a great trip. Any helpful hints would be appreciated.
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Jun 9th, 2003, 09:02 AM
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We saw only Windhoek, Etosha, and the Dunes, and we didn't see any campsites, so I can't be of help there. I'm sure you'll have a great driving experience with a 4X4.

Celia
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Jun 9th, 2003, 10:44 AM
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We spent an amazing two weeks in Namibia during late October 2002. We also used Cardboard Box to book our reservations- Rachael was honest and very helpful with all inquiries. My husband and I rented a 2WD car for our self-drive adventure around a majority of the country. We drove a 12 day loop begining in Windhoek, a few days in Sossuvlei, a couple days on the Skeleton Coast in Swakopmund area, couple of days in Damaraland, four days in Etosha, day at Okonjima Lodge(home of the Africat Cheetah Rehabilitation and Conservation Center) and ending back in Windhoek. Our trip was a combination of budget and luxury- our favorite lodge was Mowani Mountain Lodge in Damaraland- highlights were ballooning over the dunes, seal colony at Cape Cross and viewing game at Etosha. I have to agree with Celia that Namibia is more expensive than SA, but worth every penny! Some of our photos and detailed daily journal entries can be viewed at www.slrobertson.com. We can't wait to return!
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Jun 9th, 2003, 12:53 PM
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Nicci,

You mention doing a balloon ride over the dunes. We will be in Sossusvlei in the next while and also want to do a hot air ride over the dunes etc. Did you have to arrange this before your trip or were you able to just reserve once in the area.
 
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Jun 9th, 2003, 01:59 PM
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DE,

We arranged our hot air balloon flight with Cardboard Box about a week before the flight-around $500 for two people. There is only one company that operates ballooning over Sossusvlei, so space is limited. The basket we were in contained 12 people, plus the pilot. We were in the air just as the sun was rising over the desert. After an hour in the air, we landed on the side of a dune and enjoyed a champagne brunch prepared by the drivers who followed from under us. Location of the landing depends on the winds that day. One of the locals told us they had been three times and still had not landed on the dunes. We felt very lucky.
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Jun 9th, 2003, 05:43 PM
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Nicci,

Your ride sounds like it was just great. We will try to arrange for a balloon flight during our stay in Windhoek ,before heading into the desert area and our camp. Again Thanks for the added info.
 
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