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Question re: Okonjima

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For those who have stayed at Okonjima, I have a question. The least expensive accommodation they have available for our one night in early September is $840 per night for two of us including dinner and breakfast. That is a lot to us, and we will have to leave very early the next morning to catch a 12:30 pm flight out of Windhoek. So my question is, for those who have stayed there, is it really worth it? We would be able to arrive pretty early the day before, probably by 2pm.

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    I might be in the minority to say 'no' I don't think it's worth it if you're on a tighter budget. You would get a game drive in the afternoon but no time to do anything next morning (I wouldn't think), which might mean you don't get the opportunitiy to see the cheetahs close up. However you could contact Okonjima directly and ask what a visit could look like in your circumstances. We were actually a little disappointed on our last visit to see that the place had changed from a kind of family run friendly and fairly casual organisation to a slick safari lodge operation - I'm sure the experiences on offer are still excellent and the changes will appeal to many people but it has lost its attraction for us. If it's cheetah you're after you could try a visit to CCF instead.

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    We stayed at Okonjima in May 2005. We arrived from Etosha and stayed one night on our way back (driving) to Cape Town. We were lucky to be upgraded to the Bush Camp, truly one of the most memorable/beautiful camps we have stayed in. We certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Bush Camp. As I recall, even the Main Camp was a splurge for us, although I don't recall the exact amount we paid. I had booked us there as a treat for my cat-crazy daughter during a year-long stay in Africa.

    Our schedule was much like yours would be. Knowing that we weren't with them for very long, the staff at Okonjima, to their credit, packed a lot of activity into our short stay. We left exhausted! Arriving in the early afternoon (1:30pm), we settled into our tent and then enjoyed tea (3:00pm), an afternoon game drive (3:30pm to 6:30pm), dinner (7:00pm)and then a night drive (15 minutes after dessert according to my journal), and were back in our tent at 10:00pm. The following morning (up at 5:30am to leave at 6:15am), we visited the lion enclosure, the leopard enclosure, and then went to the cheetah reserve. We were back at camp at 9:30am for brunch at 10:15am - we left Okonjima at 10:40am. From there, we drove 7 hours to Keetmanshoop (well south of Windhoek). So, your schedule is certainly doable, and I have no doubt that Okonjima will pack a lot of activity in whatever time you have.

    Here is the description of our visit to Okonjima that I sent back to Canada to family and friends. I leave it to you, based on my description, to decide if we thought it was worth it. My apologies for the length of the post! Robin

    From Etosha we turned south, beginning our long return trip to Cape Town. We had one final stop to make, a destination that I had chosen with (daughter) in mind. We visited Okonjima, home of the AfriCat Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the long term conservation of Namibia’s large predators, particularly leopards and cheetahs. We arrived at Okonjima’s Main Camp early afternoon to discover that they had upgraded us to their more exclusive Bush Camp 5km away. After a welcoming drink, we were escorted to our chalet, a unique combination of earthy ochre walls and khaki-green canvas under a high thatch roof. The front 180o of the canvas paneling was rolled up so that we could enjoy the surrounding desert. Our chalet had its own bird bath, and after we scattered bird seed about, we soon had two species of finches feeding at our feet. The chalet took camping to a whole new level! The central lapa, with the open dining room, reception and bar, was no less appealing, having been built in the shape of a camelthorn pod. It overlooked a large pond and beautiful gardens and, as we sat enjoying afternoon tea, an African wildcat wandered by.

    After tea, we climbed into a 4WD game-viewing vehicle and joined two guides, Dietrich and André, as they tracked a radio-tagged leopard which roamed freely in Okonjima’s 10,000 acre rehabilitation park. DH felt right at home, watching Dietrich use the receiver to follow the collared leopard. Both guides were most intrigued to learn how DH uses very similar techniques and equipment to track bats (albeit with much smaller transmitters!). Tracking the leopard through the dense bush was quite an adventure! We held on for dear life as we “went bush” and were tossed and bounced about as we crossed over fallen trees, drove over bushes, dodged around aardvark holes, and struggled down a riverbed of deep, loose sand. I was thankful to be sitting between DH and (daughter), who were constantly dodging left or right to avoid being stabbed, slapped or scraped by the unforgiving, thorny vegetation. It was better than any ride at an amusement park. After a bone-rattling hour, André spotted the leopard in a tree and we pulled up close to it. It leapt down from its branch, rested its front paws on a termite mound next to the vehicle and stretched lazily. (Daughter) was ecstatic and trembling with excitement! We all found the fully grown, female leopard much smaller than we had expected. It eventually wandered off and we followed it for a brief period, watching it hunt, before leaving it in peace. We headed back to camp, stopping to watch another spectacular desert sunset.

    After a delicious dinner on the outdoor terrace with the other guests, the three of us went on a night drive with André. We drove to a hide, passing several springhares, tiny rodents that move and look much like a kangaroo. Very cute! When we reached the hide, (daughter) was startled when told by Andre that, as the smallest, she would be the likely target of any large predators lurking about, so she was to walk the 30m from the vehicle to the hide between he and DH. Safely reaching the hide, we settled into chairs and watched as André spread food scraps from dinner in front of the hide. He had not even managed to reach the hide before three honey badgers and five porcupines moved in. We were immediately struck by the porcupines’ large size and odd Mohawk-haircut-like shape. Very bizarre! We watched in amusement as they jostled for position. The honey badgers, with their white backs and low, squat bodies, were very cute, and not in the least bit intimidated by the much larger porcupines. It was most entertaining! We returned to our chalet around 10:30pm to find hot water bottles tucked into our beds. Sigh! We collapsed into bed, exhausted, having been up since 4:45am, and painfully aware that, in less than six hours, we were to be woken up so that we could watch the cheetahs being fed. We fell asleep in our cozy tent listening to the yapping of jackals and the roaring of lions.

    The following morning, after quickly devouring what (daughter) declared to be the best muffins and quaffing steaming cups of tea, we again climbed into the 4WD vehicle and headed (with Dietrich driving far more sedately this time) to the cheetah welfare area, armed with a large bucket of tasty donkey bits and a stun gun. We made two stops along the way. First, we stopped at Main Camp, where we admired three resident lions, two males and a female. Not yet terribly awake, they paid us little heed as we peered at them from a platform above their enclosure. After enduring much ogling and many photographs, the female decided that she’d had enough and she mock charged DH, who happened to be standing closest to her. The look in her eyes was terrifying, and we were very thankful that he was beyond her reach. From the lions, we drove to a large hide, where we watched as a male leopard devoured donkey bits that had been stashed in several trees. We sat mesmerized for over half an hour as it leapt from tree to tree with such ease and grace, and shuddered as we listened to it gnawing on the bones. We were struck by how much larger it was than the female that we had tracked the day before, and by the beauty of its shiny coat with those lovely rosette spots. (Daughter) was speechless! Next we entered the 15,000 acre cheetah reserve, where we drove around until Dietrich spotted a group of six cheetahs. He parked the vehicle quite close to them, and they immediately approached and surrounded the 4WD, well aware that breakfast was in the bucket on the hood. With his stun gun at the ready, Dietrich tossed each cheetah a piece of meat, and we watched in awe as they each devoured their morsel. Their hunger satisfied, three settled in the long grass near the vehicle, two lay under a nearby tree, and the last, a mischievous female, sat beside us, willing us to give her more food. Dietrich warned us that occasionally she mock charges or goes so far as to put her front paws up on the side of the vehicle, but she was on her best behaviour this day, and simply sat beside us, peering at us. (Daughter) looked as contented as the cats! For DH, ever the keen photographer, the visit to Okonjima was most profitable, and we have many wonderful lion, leopard and cheetah photographs. After brunch at Okonjima, we were back on the road, making one less than memorable overnight stop on the long 1700km drive back to Cape Town.

    My DH's thoughts after our visit:
    The AfriCat centre was also very interesting, and will help in some of my Conservation Biology lectures. Cheetah are endangered and Namibia has between 25 and 40% (depending who you read) of the world’s population. They do well there because of the sparse human population and because farmers don’t mind cheetahs as much as they do leopards and lions. Thus the bigger cats are often shot or poisoned on farms, leaving the area available to cheetah. Cheetahs also rely on small antelope as prey and again farmers are less concerned with those species as they do not compete with livestock for food. None-the-less the Centre receives about 100 cats (mainly leopard and cheetah) each year. These are either trapped by farmers or are orphans whose parents were shot or poisoned. The Centre manages to relocate about 85% of the cats they receive, primarily onto farms where the farmer is happy co-existing with the native cats. The other cheetahs and leopards that can be saved, are housed in several reserves at the Centre. Although a large part of the cost of the Centre goes towards maintaining these captive animals, and they do not play any role in direct conservation of either species, they do attract tourists and photographers such as us and the money they spend funds the other rehabilitation, release and educational programs. An interesting insight into conservation in a developing country.

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    I think it might be best to check with Okonjima what they can offer you, especially for a morning activity.

    We also first visted in 2004 and stayed at the Bush Lodge (at the time same price as main lodge) and I agree with robin that the staff couldn't have done more for us and we felt like one of the family, and had an action-packed couple of days. On the most recent visit (2008) the activities were much more structured, and there was no night drive or visit to the hide, instead you could wander out onto a terrace near the lodge and next to the new lodge accommodation to see what might be passing, but we didn't see a thing (lots of noise from other guests - a party of teenagers on a school trip).

    However I agree the game drives are excellent, and I would still recommend Okonjima, but I'm trying to balance value for money! I also appreciate that it would be a great finale to your holiday, I haven't been able to find a good alternative near Windhoek for a memorable last night in the bush.

    It would be useful to hear from a more recent guest though, and maybe suggestions for an equally memorable alternative?

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    We had some friends visit overnight in July 2010 - they stayed at the Main Camp. Below is their description of their visit to Okonjima. They were taken to the hide - don't know why tockoloshe wasn't. I agree with tockoloshe (hi, by the way!) - contact Okonjima, give them your schedule, and see what activities would be included for the the price. Robin

    Okonjima (Herero for place of baboons) is 48 km south of Otjiwarongo, Namibia. It is home to the Africat Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization committed to long term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores, especially cheetahs and leopards. Together they create conservation awareness, preserve habitat, educate, research and support animal welfare.

    We arrived at a gate, were announced to the lodge via security and granted permission to enter….we had 24 km and many more gates to pass…so there is some fairly stringent security. On the way up we saw the name truly fit as a troop of baboons scurried across the road….lots of warthogs too.

    We were met in the parking lot and invited in for some freshly made iced tea. We were upgraded from the 2 garden rooms to two view rooms…giving us a view over the bushveld and all the critters who come in for a drink at the waterhole. Ghemsbok grazed as we looked out our large picture windows…very modern buildings were only constructed in 2008…neat cement and steel bathrooms with a seated shower area and folksy giraffe art on the counters.

    We got settled into our cabins and then walked back to reception for cake/pizza and drinks. Nigel was our guide…an older man with lots of knowledge. A couple from Belgium joined us. Jonas was our driver, who really knew it all, and not only drove, but radio tracked as he drove- not an easy feat given that we were riding in a standard transmission extra long Munstermobile.

    We first went to some land east of the reception…where two radio-collared leopards resided. We found the male Nkora in thick bush, and then went off road, with some impressive driving to actually get photos of it. Very cool. Then we went to see MJ…the female, who has a cub with her. We spotted the uncollared cub and we finally determined that this was not the fully grown leopard. The leo MJ had actually just recently made a kudu kill and was lying fat and happy not far away. We spotted the kill under some tree branches…..then found MJ. She was not overly concerned by our presence- especially as we bashed about in the bush trying to turn around, until something went for her kill. Her cub was feeding as we turned to leave. We were able to get within 6 feet of this thing feeding and this generated some awesome shots.

    We stopped for sundowners and then made our way back for supper. It was great to sit by the fire, and then have grilled Oryx and a myriad of wonderful food. We had a tomato tartlet garnished with tiger prawns and drizzled with a balsamic reduction; main course was grilled oryx with a pepper sauce with seasonal veg and roast potatoes. Dessert was lemon mousse berry compote and we had Pinotage wine…very lovely.

    After supper we went with Jonas to the hide. They put out scraps from the kitchen and these attracted a male kudu, and 3 porcupines. In the background a hyena skulked around and then we watched an aardvark meander around. It looked sooooo funny, like a cartoon which came to life…love those ears. During the night, lions roared, and hyena and jackals argued over the state of life on the veld. It was a wonderful place to visit and we had wished that we had stayed for an extra night.

    July 7/10

    A morning wakeup call sprung us out of bed in the darkness and we walked to reception for a quick coffee/tea and hot muffins. Matthew from New Zealand joined us, as did the Belgian man, with Nigel for a morning with the cheetah. We drove to the giant enclosures and on the way, we laughed as a family of 3 warthogs erupted out of a hole in the ground for their morning sun.

    Another enclosure had 3 cheetahs present, sitting on the tops of termite mounds sunning and eagerly eyeballing some ghemsbok wandering outside the enclosure. These cheetahs had been removed from farmers’ properties for being nuisances and were awaiting reintroduction to another wilderness site. We reached the enclosure we were going to explore and immediately found one very large cheetah atop a termite mound also eyeing the ghemsbok. We drove into the enclosure and around to the termite mound, where we realized that there were actually 3 cheetahs present. Serious photo opportunity…we were less than 5 m away from them in an open vehicle….amazing. We then left them alone and drove to the back of the enclosure where we found 5 other cheetah and burned through some more camera card memory space.

    Nigel taught us about some of the native plants…i.e. the bushman’ popcorn…we put a seed in our mouths and soon after the saliva penetrated it, the casing popped open; African aftershave…smelled like lavender; the ‘iced tea’ berry. He also took us to their education center so we could see some of the nasty traps poachers leave out for animals and saw a holding cage they use to inoculate animals etc.

    Back at the restaurant, we tucked into a bushman’s breakfast…an omelet with boerwoers, bacon, onion, tomato, and mushrooms…very tasty. Then we had to pack up, drive back to Windhoek....

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    Hmm, another satisfied customer! (Hi back at ya Robin, how's the trip planning going?) The activities might depend on the number and type of guests, but yes, check what's included and what you can expect to do.

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    @tockoloshe -- We have a 12:35pm departure time for our flight out of Windhoek to Joburg. So would probably try to be at the airport around 10:30ish. And I think it's around a 3-hour drive from Okonjima to WDH airport? So would probably need to plan to leave 7:30ish?

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    So, it doesn't sound as though you will have much time in the morning to participate in any activities, even if you skip breakfast and ask Okonjima to pack you one for the road (to Windhoek). They might be willing to take you out on the morning drive a bit early, so that you may enjoy a couple of hours - we left at 6:15am - but it will depend on when the sun rises in early September.

    I would email Okonjima, give them your schedule, including what time you need to be at the airport in Windhoek, and ask what they would offer in the way of activities on the day of your arrival and the following morning, and what the rate pp would be. They might offer you a better rate given that your time/activities will be limited. Robin

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    Don't wish to divert the thread, but much planning underway for our year which begins in July - trip to Kgalagadi and the dunes booked; second trip that starts in Windhoek goes to Maun, then through Moremi & Chobe and on to Zambia (Lower Zambezi NP & South Luangwa NP) also booked. Lots of small trips within SA - Addo, Storm's River, Kruger, St. Lucia, Augrabies, Tswalu, Karoo NP. Final fling to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. All self-drives. :-d Robin

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