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Patty & Mark's Namibia trip with a little bit of South Africa

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Oct 1st, 2007, 04:11 PM
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Thanks for the tip on Tommy's Living Desert Tour!
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Oct 1st, 2007, 05:24 PM
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Patty... The coffee wasn't generally very good in Namibia.

I've been pretty busy at work recently - before that I "banned" myself for a couple of months for being a silly ...... I'll participate in this thread to warm up for a return. ;-)

I've also been playing with my camera. Once the rains stop here maybe I'll start doing some Thailand trip reports while I wait and wait for next September ... I was planning a trip to a national park next week but a flash flood warning has just gone out for that park, so I might wait a while longer.

I see you ignored my advice that a trip report wasn't needed after the photos. Good for us.
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Oct 1st, 2007, 05:46 PM
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Thanks, Paul... noted
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Oct 1st, 2007, 07:42 PM
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Kuangukuangu (aka home of Meerkat Valley) – On our way to Kuangukuangu, we stopped at the lagoon in Walvis Bay where there were more flamingo and other birds along with many, many washed up jellies. Driving inland from Walvis Bay, the road is only tar for a few km before becoming fairly smooth gravel. The landscape is flat and changes to canyons as the road goes through Namib Naukluft park. We saw some ostriches along the way and stopped for lunch and fuel at Solitaire, trying a piece of their famous apple pie. We thought it was decent apple pie but nothing particularly noteworthy (sorry, Solitaire apple pie fans!). We then backtracked north on C14 from Solitaire to take D1275 to our destination. Because we made a couple of stops, I’m not sure exactly how long the drive actually took, but I think it was around 3.5 hours from Swakopmund to Solitaire, then another half hour or so to Kuangukuangu. We could’ve gone straight to Kuangukuangu but we’d left Walvis on half a tank and weren’t sure we had enough gas without going to Solitaire first. Only 6 days into the trip and we had already violated our own rule of never leave a town without filling up.

Kuangukuangu is located on Barchan Dune, home of Vlooi, Koerie and Stokkies, along with a couple of humans named Willem and Hannetjie and some assorted dogs and horses. Kuangukuangu cabin is situated about 800m from the main farmhouse and 3 other guest cottages but is completely out of sight so that you don’t feel there’s anyone else around. It was built as a retreat for a former guest who now lives in Paris and returns to Namibia when he can. It’s located in a valley surrounded by mountains and you can hike or walk anywhere. The cabin itself has glass on two sides with wonderful views of the valley. It has everything you need (including a few resident geckos) with the option to self cater or take your meals at the farmhouse (let them know in advance).

We had dinner at the farmhouse our first evening. The food was delicious, the best we had in Namibia, and Willem and Hannetjie were such great company and hosts that we decided to dine with them the second night instead of making use of the braai pit outside our cabin. We also got a sneak preview of the meerkats before dinner just as they were retiring to their burrow for the night. Here it started to get noticeably drier as we traveled south. I found it a bit hard to get used to at first, waking up several times during the night to drink water because I was so parched. And here I thought LA was dry.

The next morning we walked over extra early before breakfast as the sun was rising over the mountains. The meerkats were already awake doing some housekeeping around their burrow. They came up to greet us and Vlooi climbed on my arm. They spend their day foraging and maintaining their burrow in front of Willem and Hannetjie’s house, napping in the house during the hottest part of the afternoon, and sleeping underground at night. Actually, I think there’s a lot more playing with the guests than any real foraging or burrow work going on. Shoelaces, buttons and necklaces were fascinating play things. Be careful though they have sharp claws. I nearly got my eye poked out a couple of times.

Aside from the meerkats, it’s a great place to do some hiking (according to Mark) and they offer a farm drive (which we didn’t try), but why would anyone be interested in doing anything other than playing with meerkats?


Dinner the second night was just as good as the first and we also enjoyed the company of a French couple who just arrived on their first night in Namibia. They rented a 4x4 with roof tent and were going to tackle the Kaokoveld heading as far north as Marienfluss and Hartmann’s Valley near the Angolan border. Willem tried to convince them that they should attempt to find another vehicle to convoy with. I hope they made it!

I spent our final morning doing what else? At one point all 3 climbed into my lap and fell asleep. Unfortunately we had to leave at some point and I had to disturb their sleep by forcibly removing them, but just as I was removing the next one, the other would climb back on my lap. It was like a comedy skit. I hated to leave. Kuangukuangu was our favorite place, so beautiful and relaxing, with wonderful hosts and I’m not just talking about the meerkats
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Oct 1st, 2007, 07:54 PM
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If you want to experience real Namibian wind, visit Luderitz. It is almost always very windy there and is a real "wild coast". I was getting blown around and that is saying something. Sometimes the road in is blocked by blown sand. I had to follow a grader in as he plowed a path. I enjoyed it although I imagine many would not.
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Oct 1st, 2007, 08:43 PM
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Desert Homestead – We left Barchan Dune and hadn’t even made it out of their driveway when Mark noticed that the trunk lid was flapping up and down. We stopped the car and saw that the latch had broken (it looked like it had been broken and fixed before) and drove back to the farmhouse where Willem gave us some wire so we could jury rig it together. Hannetjie suggested that I contact Hertz and ask for a replacement car. They’ll do that? The thought hadn’t even occurred to me but I call Hertz only to be told they didn’t have any automatic transmission cars available and to call back on Sunday (this was Friday). We started off again hoping that our temporary fix would hold and that we could actually limp along for the rest of the trip without having to swap cars.

As luck would have it, the stretch of road between Solitaire and Desert Homestead was the bumpiest we’d encountered so far. We were told it was pretty rutted due to the heavy traffic over the high season months. We had to stop 2 more times on the way to Desert Homestead to re-wire the trunk lid shut as the wire wouldn’t last more than 40km on the jarring road. This entailed taking all of our bags out of the car, folding the rear seats down so Mark could climb into the trunk while I held the lid down from outside, and putting our bags back into the car. By the third time we did this, we got to be pretty quick at it, like a well oiled pit crew.

Somewhere along the way one of our hub caps also came off and started rolling down the road. How Mark saw it I don’t know, but he went back and retrieved it and threw it over our pile of luggage that was now in the back seat. That’s when we noticed that the other hub caps were cabled tied to the car Heavy duty cable ties, wire, Leatherman…

OK our “fix” wasn’t really working so I got back on the phone with Hertz saying we’d take any car they have this time, only to be told they don’t have any cars of any kind right now, but if we call back Saturday evening, they could have a car delivered to us on Sunday morning. I got the feeling that I’d need to keep at them if we wanted to see a replacement car or else they’d just rent it out to someone else. It took over 2 hours to drive to Desert Homestead which considering our adventures wasn’t too bad. Along the way we saw ostriches, many springbok and a black backed jackal crossing the road.

We arrived at Desert Homestead and were offered a welcome juice to which Mark proclaimed thanks, but no thanks, he needed a beer! We were assigned cottage 4 (there are 10 on each side of the main lodge). They’re pretty much all identical and I don’t think one or the other is better or worse in terms of view or anything else. In addition to the woman that checked us in, Collin and Sam, our riding guide, came by to talk to us at lunch so we related our car story a few times. At the end of the re-telling of the story, each person would say something to the effect of “you must keep hounding the rental company” confirming my earlier thoughts. After lunch, I took a refreshing swim in the 65 degree pool.

At dinner this evening, we met our guide, Sydney, for our Sossusvlei excursion the next day and set a time to depart. It would be just the two of us, so we’d have a lot of flexibility in what we wanted to do and when we wanted to come back. Sam also came by and let us know that we’d be riding Daisy and Kavita, described as well mannered, responsive and moderately spirited horses, on our sleepout ride tomorrow.
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Oct 2nd, 2007, 03:14 AM
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Patty - your report and photos are wonderful. I have been flirting with the idea of Namibia since we first went to Botswana last year, and then because we loved it so much, again this year. I am already collecting info for a trip which will be in the fall of 2009. (I lost the coin toss so in 2008 its Peru and Galapagos but who is complaining!!!) Did you book it all yourself? Anything you would have taken care of in advance that you hadn't thought of or anything you would do differently next time?
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Oct 2nd, 2007, 07:57 AM
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A sleepout ride? Sounds intriguing. Hope the horses are more reliable than the car.
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Oct 2nd, 2007, 10:14 AM
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ajy733,
Yes, everything was self booked and I really can't think of anything else that we should've taken care of in advance other than bring our own coffee

Things we'd do differently - as I mentioned earlier, if it'd been possible, I would've liked to have gone earlier in the year in June/July for cooler temps. I might also rent a sturdier car next time Not that there's ever any guarantee but I think the gravel roads take their toll on these little cars. Also when we were on our Sossusvlei excursion through Desert Homestead traveling the same section of road that we did on our own the previous day, we noticed how much more comfortable the ride was in their Toyota Condor. But for the most part it was fine. Really only the stretch between Solitaire and Desert Homestead and from Desert Homestead to Wolwedans did we wish we were driving something else. Elsewhere on our route we found good gravel roads and excellent tar roads and I understand it's pretty much all tar up to Etosha from Windhoek. It's really a toss up. A bigger car is going to cost more to rent and use more gas.

What month do you go to Peru and Galapagos? Have a great trip!

Lynn,
The horses were great. Mark got a last minute switch from Kavita to Kalahari Ferrari for reasons unknown to us. She was a little frisky but fine. We joked we could've ridden Kalahari down to Wolwedans and made it there quicker. That road was slow going.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 03:09 AM
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Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and giving us some Namimbian insights.

You just answered my vehicle question, as it seems that I've heard about a few people breaking down or having car problems in Nam. Are most of the rental vehicles 2 wheel drive - seems like 4 would be better.
If you don't mind me asking, was this trip less costly than Kenya. Do you know prefer one over the other?
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 10:47 AM
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Thanks, Sherry! There are 2WD and 4WD vehicles for rent and judging by what we saw on the road and in parking lots, I would say two-thirds opted for 4WD. Everything we'd read previously for the areas that we covered and the time of year (dry season) indicated that 2WD would be fine and it did get us everywhere. There are places where you need 4WD (we didn't go there) and in rainy season I would think you should get a 4WD. Actually, if your budget allows, I'd go for it anyway. It will be about twice the cost of a small 2WD sedan and you'll probably use twice as much gas.

If you do have problems there's no guarantee of getting a replacement vehicle right away. We were able to get one in 2 days though we could only get a manual. Of all of the problems we could've encountered, ours was the least worrisome and though an inconvenience, we could've continued on with our trip and not been stuck. Maybe that's why we had to wait 2 days, they were hoping we'd just stop calling

While I'm on the subject of cars, look the car over carefully! It literally took us an hour and 15 minutes to return the car and only after much back and forth were we let go without being charged for any damage. We didn't buy the rental car company's CDW or Super CDW (using Amex's premium rental insurance instead), so it's possible they're not as picky with customers who have purchased waivers from them although I noticed there were still some exclusions in their coverage (as there are with Amex's coverage so read and compare carefully so you understand what's covered and what's not).

We were very careful on inspecting the first vehicle and making sure everything was marked on the damage form but made the mistake of being lax on the replacement one. The guy who delivered the replacement vehicle already had the form completed, and as he had little scribbles everywhere, we just signed off on it without taking a very good look over the car. It was also very windy that day and the car was covered in sand, so any minor scratches, chips and dings wouldn't have been visible anyway. Luckily after the guy left, I actually had the sense to take photos of the car which came in handy later.

On return, it went something like this - "you have 2 chips in the windshield, the right front fender is sticking out, there's rim damage on one wheel, and the left front wheel well is dented". Here's where the fun began. Mark hates this stuff so I did most of the "negotiating" which I kind of get a perverse kick out of.

First, the front fender damage was one of the few things I did notice and make sure was on the form, so I asked them to review it again and yes, it was there so that got crossed off. Next were the 2 chips which must have been tiny because we didn't notice them in the 5 days we had the car. We insisted nothing hit the windshield and after a couple of phone calls, they agreed the chips were there before.

For the rim damage, we looked at the photo I'd taken to see if anything was present and couldn't see anything so Mark went out to look at the car again. That's when we discovered we couldn't have possibly caused it since we hadn't had a flat and the hub cap with cable tie still intact was undamaged and they agreed.

Finally, it was just the front dent. I was about to give in when I decided to zoom in on the photo on that side and there it was. It was very faint on the photo and hard to make out but enough. We were let off the hook with a promise to email them a copy of the photo when we got home and I haven't heard anything since.

I didn't intend for this to go on so long but wanted to relate our experience since I hadn't read much about how critical the inspections were prior to our trip, but one of our hosts had warned us so we were prepared. And like I said perhaps if we'd taken their waivers, we wouldn't have had any issues. Their super waiver was about the same cost per day as the car itself and we saw no point in taking their mid-level waiver as it contained a list of exclusions most likely to happen to your vehicle anyway (damage to windshield, rims, tires, undercarriage, etc).

It would be interesting to hear other's car experiences.

I'm going to tally up our costs and get back to you on that. I haven't added it all up yet!
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 11:44 AM
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Trip cost breakdown:

Rental car (smallest automatic w/AC) for 13 days - 4400 NAD
Fuel - 900 NAD
1 night Etango Ranch DBB (dinner, bed, breakfast) - 960 NAD
2 nights Erongo Wilderness Lodge DBB - 4200 NAD
2 lunches - 220 NAD
Nature drive - 400 NAD
2 nights The Stiltz B&B - 2440 NAD
2 lunches and 2 dinners in Swakopmund - 1100 NAD
Tommy's tour 920 NAD
Lunch in Solitaire - 95 NAD
2 nights Kuangukuangu - 1300 NAD
2 breakfasts, 2 lunch packs, 2 dinners - 980 NAD
1 night Desert Homestead B&B - 1200 NAD
Dinner - 240 NAD
Sossusvlei excursion - 1200 NAD
Sleepout ride - 3600 NAD
2 nights Wolwedans Dune Camp FI (fully inclusive) - 7940 NAD
Lunch at Hardap Dam - 170 NAD
2 nights Kiripotib B&B incl. farm drive - 1724 NAD
1 lunch, 2 dinners - 590 NAD

So 34,579 NAD if I've added right. I didn't include drinks, tips, shopping, etc. which is variable. The NAD exchange rate is pegged to the ZAR so roughly $5000 total at today's rate, though it was better when we were there. Divided by 13 nights = $385 per night for the two of us, so yes, cheaper than anything but a budget camping safari in Kenya/Tanzania.

Too hard to compare with East Africa as it's so totally different. I will say that I don't regret having a Kenya trip planned next (I was a little worried that I'd want to go back to Namibia right away).

Hope this helps.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 11:49 AM
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I wanted to add that it's possible to stay in even less expensive accommodation than we did (not including camping), but if you start looking at fly-in safaris with Wilderness, the costs do go up dramatically.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 12:14 PM
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Patty, you're amazing. You should hire yourself out as an organizer and travel expert.
Thank you.

Your accomadations looked top notch IMHO. Seems however, that you just can't pull yourself away from Kenya.

As for the Seychelles, I just had a yard sale and my travel stuff is in disarray - I will get to it.
Not to dissuade, but compared to some of the islands you may be accustomed to in the Pacific, the Seychelles may leave you disappointed.
They truly are still recovering from the Tsunami. The food is so -so b/c of this and everything can be costly.
It wasn't so bad for us b/c we were on a catamaran - very enjoyable - more of a fun in the sun type of vaca rather than a cultural experience. Wonderful nature preserves as well.
I'm not sure if your into being on a boat the whole time as it was a wonderful way to see all the islands. You can do a cabin charter for a decent price - much less per day than a hotel.
Great if you like to fish, lay around, scuba, hike and bike on islands. You'll also be able to find your own private beach. Another major plus are the wonderful Creole islanders.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 12:20 PM
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Just caught up with this again - Thanks Patty - it sounds like a great trip. I can just imagine how wonderful/exciting it must have been to be able to actually play with those meerkats! And thanks for the info on the hunting at the lodges - gives me pause, and I had not read that before.

Cyn
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 01:21 PM
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Thanks for the Seychelles info, Sherry. we're basically just looking for a few days of post-safari relaxation. The air and hotel are freebies so I have very little outlay in adding it on, just our food and excursions. I've only done a boat charter once in the BVI, and we had really bad weather so bailed mid-trip and Mark won't let me do it again but I wonder if a day charter is possible?

Cyn,
I just want to clarify that the hunting is only done on private ranches and farms and not parks and reserves and it's not so much that they take guests on hunts, though some do. There are some that are purely guest farms, some that are hunting farms and some that take both hunting and non-hunting guests (which could cause possible friction at dinner). But even at the guest farms, game meat is often served and that usually comes from their own or possibly a neighboring farm, so if you're uncomfortable with any kind of hunting, including for food, this is something to be aware of.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 07:37 PM
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We got up at 5:30am for our Sossusvlei excursion to find Babes, the cat, next to our bed. We’d left the windows open for cross ventilation while sleeping, and I’d heard something in the room in the middle of the night but was too lazy to get up and check figuring nothing too big could have gotten through the window

We left around 6:20am for the drive to the Sesriem gate getting there just before the gate opened (Wilderness guests on guided excursions can use the private gate near Kulala Desert Lodge bypassing Sesriem). We watched the sunrise in the park, drove to a lookout point, watched the balloons flying and stopped for photo ops along the way before making our way to Dead Vlei. At various points in the day we also saw springbok, oryx, ostrich (we started calling these the Namibian 3 as they’re everywhere) and a black backed jackal. We climbed the dune next to Dead Vlei and sat at the top for a while enjoying the views and the cool sand up here. It was so nice I didn’t want to head down though we eventually did and it was fun going down. We spent some time taking photos in Dead Vlei before making our way back to the parking area. It was late-morning and with the sun overhead the walk back felt like much more work and seemed to take a lot longer than climbing the dune!

Afterwards we went to Sossusvlei which was kind of anticlimactic after Dead Vlei. We had a nice champagne brunch in the picnic area under a camelthorn tree. I’m glad we opted for the guided excursion vs DIY. On the way out of the park we saw the new NWR Sossus Dune Lodge inside the park from a distance. If my only reason for coming here was to see the Sossusvlei area, I’d stay here for the best access. Our tour also included a visit to Sesriem canyon if we wanted, but we needed to get back to Desert Homestead to get ready for our sleepout ride and I was feeling a bit nauseous and flush from being out in the sun too long. I pretty much felt that way for the rest of the day until early the next morning. Any sensible person would’ve skipped the ride, but of course, I went anyway.

We got back, took a quick cold shower, and packed an overnight bag for the evening. I called Hertz again to see if we could get a replacement car the next day. They faxed me a form to fill out and fax back and arranged a delivery for the following morning. We walked over to the stable and met our horses. I was still on Daisy but Mark got a switch to Kalahari aka the Kalahari Ferrari. What happened to nice sounding Kavita?

We started off toward the campsite riding through stunning scenery with some nice canters until I realized I was absolutely exhausted and walked the rest of the way arriving at the camp around 7:00pm. This was definitely a day where I had too much planned! We saw some springbok along the way and Sam, our guide, saw a family of bat eared foxes but we missed them. The campsite location was great at the base of a hill. I was still not feeling great so skipped dinner and lied down and looked at the stars.

In the early morning, a breeze picked up and I finally felt like I was cooled down. Mark didn’t tell me this until morning, but he was really worried all night and kept checking to make sure I was still breathing. Aaawwwww! By breakfast hour, the wind had really kicked up blowing over the camp chairs, glasses and anything else that wasn’t held down or sat on. The toilet paper holder also blew over and sent 2 rolls flying through the air. At first we tried catching it before realizing it was futile. The camp looked like it had been TP’d over. Eventually, we had to sit with our backs to the wind because we felt like we were getting sandblasted. Wisely, we opted to ride back in the truck instead of on horseback, so Sam took off with the horse beating us back to the lodge.

By the time we got back, our new car was already there, a hatchback and manual version of what we had before. I’d requested that the car be filled up in Solitaire or Sesriem but that was ignored so now we were faced with the dilemma of having to backtrack to get gas. We had enough to get to Wolwedans but not to the next gas after that. Luckily a call to Wolwedans was met with a reply that they could sell us 20 liters of petrol saving us from driving an hour out of our way.
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Oct 3rd, 2007, 07:58 PM
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Forgot to mention that one of the hub caps on the new car was missing cable ties so we made sure to tie one on. See we can learn. It also reeked of cigarette smoke and the driver forgot to turn the headlights off. Thankfully one of the staff noticed and informed us. BTW we really liked Desert Homestead and everyone we encountered there was friendly and helpful.
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Oct 4th, 2007, 07:13 PM
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So far I'd call this an energizing vacation rather than a relaxing one. As usual, I'm in awe of your attention to detail.

Next chapter, please.
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Oct 4th, 2007, 08:00 PM
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Wolwedans Dune Camp - The road from Desert Homestead to Wolwedans was rough going so it took us about 2 hours to cover the 95 or so kilometers. On the way we saw more ostrich, oryx and springbok. We parked our car at the Wolwedans reception area and met our guide Charlton who went over the typical program for a 2 night stay at Wolwedans with us which we proceeded to completely change. It was just as hot down here and I wasn’t about to go on a full day drive after yesterday!

Charlton drove us over to Dune Camp where I’d requested tent 3 a few weeks ago (thanks for the recommendation, Gaynor!). The tents had been replaced earlier in the year so aren’t the dome ones that they show on the website. There are 3 sets of 2 tents on raised platforms with a detached bathroom a few steps away. Tents 1 and 2 are to the right of the dining area (if you’re facing the dining area), tents 3 and 4 to the left, then the manager’s tent to the left of tents 3 and 4, and finally tents 5 and 6 located the furthest away from the dining area. The tents are well spaced for privacy though your bathroom does share a wall with your neighbor’s bathroom. We had lunch, took a nap and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the waterhole activity. We saw springbok and oryx come to drink and one oryx passed close in front of our tent. The view of the mountains from our tent was stunning.

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains and the sound of barking geckos. The sound that always reminds me of early morning in East Africa is the mourning dove. Here it’s the barking gecko. At breakfast there were many Namaqua sandgrouse at the waterhole. They’re amazing birds that can store water in their feathers and travel up to 40km with it. We headed out with Charlton around 9:00am for a 3 hour drive. We were originally supposed to share with 2 German women but it ended up being just us because everyone else wanted to go on the full day excursion which goes all the way down to their new Boulders Camp for lunch.

We drove through the fairy valley looking at the big fields of circles and made a brief stop at Dune Lodge. The lodge had burnt down in December 2002 and was rebuilt with concrete fire breaks in the raised walkways and a pool as an insurance requirement. Aside from the usual suspects, we saw 3 oryx calves and a pair of secretary birds on the drive and a shovel snouted lizard at the lodge. After lunch, we went back to the lodge for a dip in their pool (same 65 degree water) returning to the camp around 5:30pm. Overall, I would say I prefer the camp to the lodge given the smaller size and the fact that the tents are spaced further apart. The view from the camp is also slightly better than from the lodge IMO. The two are about 15 minutes drive from each other.

The highlight of the day was when 3 bat eared foxes came to drink at the waterhole at dusk. After reading raves about the food here, I must admit I was disappointed with the first night’s dinner. However, they redeemed themselves tonight. One of the guests was celebrating her 40th birthday, so the staff surprised her with a cake.
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