After the body shock of swapping the glorious Namibian sun for a wet and windy Heathrow airport, it is time for me to reflect on a hugely successful tour of Namibia.
Our first Specialist Wildlife of Namibia Tour focused on the rare and endemic wildlife that inhabits Namibia’s great wilderness regions. From the smallest creatures in the boundless deserts of the south to desert adapted giants in the valleys and riverbeds of the north, this tour went further than most in its quest to find and observe animals in the wild.
Our guests started their journey in the south and for the first few days, we spent time searching for reptiles, small mammals, birds, and insects amongst the dunes and grasslands of the NamibRand Nature Reserve and the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Just some of the wildlife we encountered included; Oryx, Springbok, Ostrich, Palmato Geckos, Dancing White Lady spiders, Dune Larks, Jamieson’s Red Rock Rabbit, Herero Chats, Tok Tokkie Beetles, Shovel-snouted Lizards, and many other bird species. It became clear from the start that our guide was tuned in to the environment around us – always on the lookout for something special and able to explain the subtleties of the landscapes around us. Our days were spent on foot amongst the dunes and our nights under a canopy of stars at the desert camp – cold G&Ts, comfortable beds, great food, and the best night sky in Africa. The guests all agreed that sleeping out in the open was a wonderful highlight of the tour.
Shaking the sand from our shoes and moving north, our focus turned to the large mammals that inhabit the arid regions of the Palmwag Concession in Damaraland. During our stay at the wonderful Desert Rhino Camp, we were fortunate to track and encounter Black Rhinos on foot (3 different Rhinos in total during our stay) and witness first-hand the critical conservation work done by Save the Rhino Namibia. Rhino conservation is such a hot topic at the moment and hearing about the challenges and successes in the region proved inspirational. The landscape where the Rhinos roam is unlike anything I have seen before in Africa. Dry valleys and rocky outcrops give way to lush riverbeds that run like a green seam through rough terrain. This is awesome wildlife habitat and it felt wonderful to be the only visitors for miles around.
Once we left Palmwag, our guide sets his target on one of the most difficult to see animals in Africa, the desert Lion. Although the chances of seeing these animals is low, we put our faith in the skills of our guide and set off 70 KM down the Huab River bed to see what we could find. This was a journey into the unknown! Once you see the 4×4 tracks starting to disappear ahead of you and the animals becoming more and more skittish around the vehicle, you know that you are in the untouched areas where few tourists visit. Oryx, a family of Elephants, countless birds, Ostrich, Kudu, and Springbok were all spotted along the riverbed, as we slowly made our way further away from camp.
Our guide found the Lioness from an impossible distance. You know that you are not quite up to the local standard when your pair of 8×42 binoculars does not match the naked eye of your guide! Moving closer and with constant attention paid to her behaviour, we took a position where we could observe her and the Zebra she had killed in the small valley below. These animals, very unused to humans, are part of one of the wildest population of Lions left in the world. She sat with her head low, eyes fixed on the vehicle, the slightest movement causing her to tighten her muscular frame. After a few minutes, she relaxed and at a safe distance, we sat mesmerised. Seeing a desert Lion, unhabituated to humans and vehicles, is a rare privilege and cast against the rolling hills and mountains she was a wonderful spectacle. Thanks to our guide, we had seen something that other visitors to Africa rarely see.
The last few days of our tour were spent tracking desert adapted Elephants and learning about big cat conservation at Okonjima. Here we were able to track Leopard and Cheetah in the 24,000-hectare reserve and hear about AfriCat’s ambitious conservation programmes. This was an interesting phase of the tour as we could contrast the experience of viewing truly wild animals with the more managed wildlife reserve at Okonjima. On leaving Okonjima, we spent time at the Rare and Endangered Species Trust and were able to see a resident Pangolin that will shortly be released back into the wild (one of the most incredible animals on the planet and a rare treat for our guests). Seeing this conservation work first hand throughout the tour gave our safari experiences context. We were shown the realities of wildlife conservation in modern Africa and, although challenging at times, it enriched the whole tour experience.
Our tour group benefited greatly from the vast experience and intimate local knowledge of our guide and it’s thanks to him that we had so much success on this tour. Always willing to go further into the wilderness areas, we experienced wildlife moments that only a handful of tourists are lucky enough to have. Our wilderness adventures were also complemented by the exceptional accommodation we stayed at along the way, including Mowani Mountain Camp, Desert Rhino Camp, and Okonjima. All of these offered us comfort, a warm welcome and a touch of luxury after a day in the bush.
Namibia is diverse, vast, and as beautiful as any other country I have visited in Africa. It is a country of extremes, where cool sea air mixes with the arid heat of the desert and pockets of lush vegetation give way to arid moonscapes. This is true African wilderness and a sanctuary to some of the most amazing wildlife on the continent.
Our specialist tours take you off the beaten track, to the very heart of the country. For those people who have experienced a safari before and now want a wilder, more specialist experience I urge them to join us on our Specialist Wildlife of Namibia tour. For those new to African adventures or looking for a taste of unspoilt African wilderness, Namibia is a fantastic place to start your next adventure.
We have a number of set departures to Namibia for 2014 and our team can design bespoke tours to suit any budget or requirements. Please visit our Namibia page for more details.