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Trip Report Namibia January 2-16, 2011 Trip Report

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Just returned from Namibia and wanted to offer my thoughts while it was all still fresh in my head. This isn't going to be a play by play, just overall opinions on certain parts. Please email me if you would like greater explanation of anything!
FIRST OFF- Gemma Dry of Discover Namibia Safaris helped us with all our bookings, and was an incredible help with all our questions and concerns. I am not sure how much I am allowed to say about that on this forum, so please contact me separately if you want more information on her services.

JANUARY 2-16, 2011

My husband and I had the following SELF-DRIVE Itinerary:
1x Frans Indongo
2x Mushara Lodge, outside Eastern gate of Etosha
2x Okaukuejo, inside Etosha by Andersson Gate
2x Camp Kipwe in Damaraland/Twyfelfontein
1x Erongo Wilderness Lodge
3x Brigadoon Cottages in Swakopmund
2x Sossus Dune Lodge inside Sossusvlei park
1x Terra Africa in Windhoek

1. Car Rental: We arrived at Windhoek Airport ended up renting a brand new xtrail 4x4 from Hertz. We had absolutely NO problems on the entire trip. The car was brand new though, so that and probably a little luck contributed to the ease of the driving. We were happy not to deal with a blown tyre which we had heard so much about prior to this trip:) We also had a sun roof which helped immensely with photo taking in Etosha. We were upgraded on the spot at the airport for only a little bit more than the kia sportage 2x4 we originally booked. We also kept the car an extra half day and Hertz didn't charge us AND came and got the car from us while we were at joe's beer house for dinner in Windhoek. SO, good experience for us at least with Hertz.

2. Etosha in rainy season: Despite the arrival of rainy season before we got to Namibia, we were able to see a LOT of animals. We saw all the big game but a leopard. Of course, none of the animals were at a single watering hole, but we were lucky that we spent 4 days in the park so that we eventually had everything cross our path.
We saw 2 different black rhinos, elephants, 2 lions and then another pride of 16 lions and cubs a different day, zebra, giraffe, kudu, ostrich, springbok, warthogs, fox, jackal, wildebeest, oryx, secretary bird, get the idea! ALSO, by visiting in rainy season, you not only see the country covered in GREEN but you see all the babies! We have tons of pictures of baby zebras, springbok, wildebeest and even elephants! We basically just drove around until we saw the animals. Pretty simple.

3. Weather: We were incredibly lucky with the weather, at least based upon what we were told to expect before arriving. We never crossed a rainstorm except for some quick ones the first 2 days in etosha. But the cloud cover was probably what contributed to all our sightings since it wasn't that hot. Even when we traveled out of the park through damaraland, the weather was warm but never THAT hot. We also had cool, foggy mornings in swakop and then sunny afternoons. Really lovely weather overall. Once we got to Sossusvlei, it was a bit warmer, but AGAIN-nothing unmanageable. So, not sure if this is usual for early January or if we lucked out, but we were so pleased!! All these people tried to dissuade us from going to Namibia in January due to heat, rain, no animals, etc. but getting to see the country covered in green was quite a treat.

4. Lodges:
Camp Kipwe in Damaraland was the favorite. The view from our room and private deck was lovely- desert and a pile of rocks in the distance:) Once you do Twyfelfontein (about an hour) and see burnt mountain and organ pipes (2 seconds), you have covered all the local attractions that you can do on your own. But the lodge is very nicely decorated and relaxing. The rooms are lovely with decks and outdoor bathrooms. They also have this sundowner area up from the lodge with steps carved into the rocks with a magnificent view of the entire area and they bring up snacks and cocktails for you with chairs. The manager Adrian also burned some african music cd's for us, complimentary, which was great for driving! Finally, we went on their Desert Elephant trek and managed to find them up in the mountains with our persistent and wonderful guide Taffy. Overall, great experience.

Mushara Lodge in Etosha and Sossus Dune Lodge in Sossusvlei- probably tied for 2nd favorites. Mushara had a really lovely lodge area, but the rooms were a bit bland. Sossus Dune lodge had enormous rooms and gorgeous balconies over the desert from where you could watch the sunset on your own recliner chair (or even from the bathroom or shower!). The food at both was generally good with a few misses, although we were overall EXTREMELY impressed with the food in Namibia, perhaps because we didn't have that high of expectations. At Sossus, we did the early morning hike which left at 4:30 am to watch the sunrise over the sand dunes. It was lovely being the first people in the park, and we also found out we were lucky since the guide said that generally that time of year, the sunrise is blocked by fog/clouds, but ours was a perfectly bright blue sky! They then stop for a picnic breakfast and you see some other areas of the park before heading back. It is a LONG morning though, so we were exhausted by the time we got back to the lodge. Just laid by the pool the rest of the day.

Frans Indongo- This was our first stopover on the way up to Etosha. Really nice grounds, lovely staff and a great deck overlooking their reserve. Rooms were large as well with bathtubs. We didn't go on their drive though, as we were about to spend 4 days up in etosha. Perfect for a 1 night stay.

Erongo Wilderness Lodge- This place was the most overrated for us. We had heard so many amazing things about it and almost switched our itinerary in order to stay another day, but we couldn't since we had paid for everything in advance. We were glad we only had 1 night there ultimately. The rooms were fun as tents on stilts. The bath was also part outdoors which we love. There wasn't really any good common area to hang out in and read or relax though, like there was at mushara/sossus/kipwe. That is key, I think, if there isn't going to be a lot to do around an area. We did their sundowner hike and free nature walk in the morning, which was nice and included in the price. Food was not very good though. New ownership as of December, so maybe that had something to do with it? BUT, we did visit the Winery nearby, on the way to swakop, which was fun, as they had an assorted plate of cured game meats and home baked bread to go with the wine.

Brigadoon Cottages in Swakopmund- LOVED the rooms. Really relaxing feel to the whitewash decor and clean feel of the rooms. No doors on the bathrooms though, which some might find annoying. A nice change from the lodge atmosphere of all the places we had been at so far. Plus you have the little deck for breakfast outside each morning. The only thing off was the reception- the lady that initially greeted us told us absolutely nothing about the area and wasn't unfriendly, but wasn't particularly warm either. We had to pull info out of her, and she actually gave us wrong info 2 days in a row regarding restaurants being open (when they were in fact closed upon us showing up there). However, we didn't really expect to rely on her to begin with and had a car and other dinner ideas, so it didn't matter all that much. Just not the best customer service.
We found 3 nights in swakop for us was necessary in order to have one free day in town to shop and go to the beach, and another day to quad bike and do the moon/welwitschia drive. ALTHOUGH- there wasn't any nightlife to speak of, and we had expected there would be thinking it was summer season. We ended up eating at Erichs (old school style, good food, too much sauce though, ask for it on the side), the jetty (the newest and flashiest restaurant. We live in NYC so something like you might find here. And it is over the water which is fantastic). Also ate at Kucki's Pub. All were way better than we expected. And we LOVED the oysters:)

Terra Africa- Great choice for our last night in Windhoek. They were helpful at the front desk, reasonably priced and the rooms were cute as was the outdoor pool area in the back. Ate at Joe's Beer House that night which was a really fun finale to our trip.

Okaukeujo- I mention this one was last since it was by far the least enjoyable. The food the first night was ok (actually just one thing in particular, the lamb off the grill). The second night it was TERRIBLE. There were moths and bugs flying all over the food they had laid out and it seemed we were there during some kind of bug storm, as huge rhino beetles were dropping out of the sky all evening. Not that this was their fault, but the door to the room was not flush with the ground, so after the first night, we woke up to having about 20 large bugs crawling all over and under our stuff on the floor, as well as in the bed. YUCK. I laid towels down on the exterior and interior of the door the 2nd night to keep the bugs out (which worked.) A tent would have less bugs since it would've zipped up. Also, the rooms were the smallest of all we had encountered. We were in a waterhole chalet. PLUS the staff were the pits there. Unfriendly, unprofessional. The maids hung out on OUR patio, despite knowing we were in the room, for almost 40 minutes after cleaning our room. We finally had to go out there and ask them to leave because we wanted to eat lunch on our patio (we had made some of our own sandwiches rather than spend money in the dining hall)!! The only reason I wanted to stay there originally was because of the supposed amazing waterhole and chance to be inside the park, but since it was rainy season, it ultimately didn't matter. So, if I went back in rainy season, I wouldn't bother staying there for the hole, only if it was dry season would I consider it. Also, we saw a lot less wildlife in the surrounding area than we did in the eastern part of the park. Finally, I had some medication stolen from my toiletries bag. I had to report it the day we left.

ALL IN ALL, a fabulous trip. The scenery was great, the driving wasn't so bad since we downloaded books on tape before leaving and had plenty to listen to. Although the pacing sounds fast- 2 nights here and there, there really isn't THAT much to do in each spot, so unless you just want to sit and read books, we found it preferable to get up and go and see more of the country. Perhaps 3 nights for those that like to take it a bit easier, but I personally wouldn't recommend more than that in any one spot. The driving is part of the fun since the scenery is so lovely in so many areas.

Let me know if anyone has any questions!!

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