Namibia Cycling Trip!
This is the first blog of the year, an introductory one to Namibia and overlanding and therefore a bit of a longer one than normal. Feel free to skip down to photos for highlights.
Hadley and I arrived in Namibia in the second week of March and after orientating ourselves around Windhoek a little bit and finding our feet (as well as adjusting from European winter to African summer) we left on our first tour. This was to be a twelve-day 'cycling overlander' with guests from the UK coming to experience the scenery and wildlife from a bicycle and the truck. In this way it was different from previous and upcoming trips we will be doing. We also weren't technically the guides on this trip but rather the drivers and camp assistants and support vehicle for cyclists as Sven, the director of the company we are working for, and Enrico, a local guide, took the reins.
Once all guests had been picked up from the airport and briefed about the itinerary we left Windhoek and headed south. Basically each day would work like this. Pack up camp or depart from lodge, drive a short distance in truck, off-load bikes from trailer, follow guests and Sven/Enrico at a safe distance for a few hours before it gets too hot to cycle further, prepare snacks or lunch for guests, pack up bikes, drive several hundred kilometres to next overnight spot. And stop for wildlife/sightseeing along the way.
I must say that I didn't really understand or know what to expect from a cycling trip around a very arid country but the route we took was stunning. Going straight into the Khomas Highland region and past the Gamsberg, we spent the first night at a desert ranch called Rooisand, where we were greeted by the Namibian-German owners and treated to an Oryx lasagne for dinner in the evening. Delish! The only downside to this trip is that we have to set up the guests' tents when camping and in 38 degree Celsius heat (that's about 105 Fahrenheit, friends from the US) it really takes it out of you. Luckily there were four of us doing it. It was nice to be able to follow Sven's lead on this trip and 'ease ourselves' into the safari season as he knows the ins and outs of Namibia and the route we were taking as well as all elements of the cycling, camping and lodging and could therefore always prepare us and the guests perfectly.
From Rooisand we drove into the Namib Desert and Namib-Naukluft National Park, which, at 50-odd-thousand square kilometres is the fourth largest national park in the world. In fact, while we're on the subject, Namibia's entire coastline of two-thousand kilometres is either national park or a protected area. It was to be Hadley's first proper outing in Namibia and what a time of year to do it. Most parts of Southern Africa have received a lot more rainfall this summer than in recent years and the Namib was no exception. The normally dry beige/red desert had turned into a lush green grassland. Even Sven, who has driven these roads with guests for over twenty years, was extremely impressed. Driving through the Gaub canyon, we all went wading in what is normally a dry riverbed but just for these few weeks became a small river winding through the middle of the desert. With good views of monstrously large sociable weaver nests, Hartmann's mountain zebra and oryx and even a glimpse of a cape fox early the following morning, the desert was luring us in.
We camped at Sesriem that night, which is the gateway to Sossuvlei, one of Namibia's main scenic attractions. The barking geckos called all around us. We woke up very early (something Hadley and I are both having to adjust to again) and left for Dune 40. Normally visitors drive to Dune 45, which is so called because it is 45 kilometres from Sesriem but it gets very crowded so Sven suggested we tackle the larger and more quiet Dune 40. What a morning it turned out to be. Pictures don't even do it justice. We then cycled to Sossusvlei (I hopped on a bike too, which was great) and walked across to Hidden vlei, the quieter of the two vleis. Vlei is the Afrikaans word for marsh and both Hidden and Dead Vlei are iconic dried out marshes in the dune desert and one of Namibia's best-visited areas. After Sossusvlei we drove to Solitaire, a desert pit-stop if you will and camped at their guest farm.
The following day we cycled and drove a decent distance through the Namib, Kuiseb canyon and directly to the ocean and Walvis Bay lagoon. The lagoon, normally packed full of flamingos was rather quiet and I personally think it had to have something to do with the weather, which, though normally cool at the coast, was extremely warm due to an easterly wind that had blown all the hot air from inland. Plenty of interesting bird species still (see below) and Cape Fur seals and bottle-nosed dolphins were also out and about in the lagoon. We then continued on to Swakopmund along the coastal road, where we stayed at a hotel for two nights. Hadley and I explored Swakopmund a little bit, I bought a new pair of Vellies (desert boots) and we ate excellent seafood with our guests, who are a really nice bunch.
After a couple of relaxing and cooler days at the coast we drove north and past one of many shipwrecks that dot the northern 'Skeleton Coast' of Namibia before heading inland again and on to the Brandberg Massif, the highest mountains of Namibia. We camped at the base of these at the Ugab river, which is well known for desert elephants. Mind you, there are about 400 elephants roaming an area roughly the size of Britain and with all the recent rainfall they were no longer reliant on the riparian vegetation and moisture so we couldn't find any fresh signs of them in the area. We did, however, have a decent view of a genet that night and Sven showed us what happens when you heat up a piece of fluorite rock in hot embers.
The next day we cycled and drove on to Khorixas, which is in the heart of Damara-Land, a north-western portion of Namibia. We arrived reasonably early and Hadley and I were able to take the guests on a little bush-walk, explaining and interpreting some of the things we saw. A massive thunderstorm graced us in the evening and plenty of rain made for an interesting night's sleep. Luckily, we were lodging, not camping.
We passed through Outjo the following day on the way to Etosha National Park, a 25,000 square kilometre protected area in northern Namibia and definitely the safari highlight. I must admit that the last few times I have been here, I've been absolutely spoiled rotten with sightings but knew that with all the rain it would be far more difficult to spot anything. We also only had two nights there when on most of our upcoming trips we will have three. Still, plenty of giraffe, oryx, wildebeest, springbok, black-backed jackal, kudu, Plain's zebra, red hartebeest, impala and even several good black rhino sightings. I thought I saw an elephant in the distance at one of the waterholes but considering it didn't move for about 15 minutes, it was probably a log. Although our individual sightings weren't as good as the ones I've had in the dry season there, the sheer number of herd animals congregating on the lush plains was incredibly impressive. Hundreds of springbok and wildebeest as far as the eye could see in places. Hyenas and lions were only heard. For Hadley's first outing to Etosha it wasn't a bad one and we will be back in a few weeks time so hopefully it will only get better as it dries up a little bit.
After Etosha we camped one last time in Westrand, close to Otjivarongo and had another awesome braai (BBQ) dinner, courtesy of Sven, with some brandy-flame-grilled bananas for dessert before heading on to the Waterberg National Park. Here, the guests went for a game drive up to the plateau, something I still really want to do, while Hadley and I explored the forest at the base of the mountain. We kept almost walking into golden-orb spider webs along the paths, which aren't too well maintained and also encountered lots of tiny damara dik-diks, one of the smallest of Africa's antelope species, that walk around the bungalows and are extremely habituated to people. The baboons are also very habituated to people as we found out when one bared its teeth at Hadley and I had to prevent another one from jumping on and mobbing a lady going for a walk by herself. We had a bit of a farewell dinner with the guests that night and shared some memories and reflected on the trip with them. A really smashing group.
The following day we drove the last few hours back to Windhoek (we've basically done a massive clockwise circle through Namibia) and said our goodbyes to them. Hadley then had to quickly run to the doctor as her allergies have been playing up a lot and we only have one day off to repack bags, do laundry, upload photos and go over itinerary before the next trip starts, a 3-week hiking overlander excursion.
All photographs taken by Hadley Pierce