Monthly Update – March 2019
At the end of February we’d just kicked off our self-drive experience in Namibia and we still had plenty of driving ahead of us in March. So we had that to look forward to, followed by an amazing finale to our African leg to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary.
In March we visited three new countries on top of Namibia. They were Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. We also popped back into South Africa before leaving the continent and heading over to Europe. We then managed to squeeze in a few days in Rome before the end of the month.
The Rest of Namibia
Klein Aus Vista
After leaving the Canyon Roadhouse we headed down to the Klein Aus Vista lodge next to the small town of Aus. Although it felt like we were still in the middle of the desert, we were only about a hundred kilometres from the coastal town of Luderitz.
We made a day trip down to Luderitz and spent a lovely couple of hours out on the water visiting the African Penguin colony which is slowly starting to rebound after mining for guano (bird poop) devastated its numbers (penguins need to burrow into the bird poop to build their nests).
On the way back to the lodge we stopped off at the Kolmanskop, a diamond mining ghost town which has been turned into a museum.
Just twenty minutes down the road from our lodge was a watering hole where you can see Namibia’s famous Wild Horses coming down for a drink, along with large groups of Ostriches. It was very relaxing just sitting back and watching them drink and bathe in the water. However, we didn’t stay too long because the temperature was scorching!
We also managed to fit in a short hike up to one of the surrounding peaks to watch the sunset and managed to just make it down in time again before it was dark.
The drive to our next lodge, the Namib Desert Lodge, was long and bumpy. It was almost entirely on gravel roads and the last section of the road was very corrugated and uncomfortable.
The main reason for heading there was to see the amazing sand dunes at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.
Because our lodge was outside of the national park, we had to get up early before sunrise to arrive by the time the park opened at 7 am. Then we had another 60km drive into the park on sealed roads and 5km over sand.
Driving on sand was a totally new experience for me but miraculously we didn’t get stuck on the way in. However, on the way back we got stuck twice, including one time where we needed to be pulled out by rope.
Still, we managed to climb to the top of Big Mama and walk down to the amazing white clay pan of Deadvlei. But by 10 am it was so hot that we had to head back to the lodge or risk getting heat exhaustion.
Fun on the Way to Swakopmund
We headed next to the coastal town of Swakopmund. Again the road was horrendously bumpy and we barely managed 50km/hr for a lot of it.
Then, when we were still over a hundred kilometres away from Swakopmund, our clutch pedal broke and we were briefly stranded in the middle of the Namib Desert in the midday heat.
Fortunately, we were able to call our rental company who arranged for a tow truck to come and pick us up. Some friendly Namibians helped us get started again in second gear so that we could limp towards the tow truck with the air conditioner on.
Carless until the morning, we spent some time walking around Swakopmund which has a strong German influence. The next morning we picked up a replacement car that had been driven down from Windhoek.
That same day, we did an amazing 4WD experience out over the massive sand dunes of Sandwich Harbour. The sand dunes come right down to the water and for a while we drove between the water and the dunes, dodging the waves. Driving on the dunes was a lot of fun (especially with someone else doing the driving) and the views from the top of them were breathtaking.
Our First Self-game-drive in Etosha
After an overnight stop in Damaraland, we headed on to Etosha Safari Camp right next door to Etosha National Park.
On our first afternoon, we decided to take the easy option and do a guided drive within the park so that we could see what the roads were like for self-driving and how easy it was to spot wildlife. We saw plenty of wildlife and we also saw our first male lion. He was by himself and looking rather hungry without his lionesses to hunt for him!
We decided to give self-driving a go the next day and after buying a map of the park we set off. We managed to see some more lions and plenty of other wildlife and cover quite a lot of distance.
All was going well until we discovered that we had a flat tire! You’re not allowed to exit your vehicle in Etosha for obvious reasons but as luck would have it, we discovered the flat tire while we were taking a break inside one of the fenced off rest areas. Once we changed the tire we decided to call it quits for the day, just in case!
A Brief Visit to Zimbabwe
We flew from Windhoek to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The main reason for this was to catch a glimpse of Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side.
Zimbabwe is going through some turbulent times at the moment but because Victoria Falls is a major tourist centre for the country, we felt totally safe there. In fact, the main reason not to walk alone at night in Victoria Falls is to avoid running into a lion or an elephant!
The Magnificent Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls was in fact pretty stunning from the Zimbabwean side. We visited early in the morning and were treated to some beautiful rainbows over the falls. We were glad we’d brought our cheap plastic ponchos with us as we finally had a chance to use them. There was so much spray from the falls that at one point it felt like we were in a heavy rainstorm!
A Cruise on the Zambezi
Another highlight of our time in Victoria Falls was a cruise on the mighty Zambezi River where we saw crocodiles, hippos and we also saw an elephant swimming from one side to the other. Who knew that elephants could swim? But apparently, they are excellent swimmers. They seem to do a sort of dog paddle, dipping their head under water occasionally, with just their trunk showing above water. Very cute!
The next day we crossed over into Zambia for the start of our 11-day safari through Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. We were staying at four separate lodges run by Sanctuary Retreats. As we would discover over the next week and a half, these were all excellently run lodges.
Sussi and Chuma, our lodge in Zambia had a beautiful setting down by the river. Our huts were raised up above the ground so that the Impalas and Hippos could graze below us. At dusk, we could hear the hippos getting vocal as they prepared to exit the water in search of grass to munch on. In the morning we could watch a family of cheeky Vervet Monkeys playing around down below.
We had a chance there to visit Victoria Falls from the Zambian side and we actually thought it provided a better viewing experience, even though the Zimbabwean side has more of the falls visible. We also saw a lot more rainbows so maybe that’s why!
But the best view of the falls we had was from the air when we took a brief but spectacular helicopter ride over them. We could see just how long the falls are (1.7km long in fact) and of course, we were treated to some more rainbows.
At Sussi and Chuma we had a chance to do a game drive where as well as seeing plenty of Zebra, Impala and Giraffes, we were also able to do a brief walking safari to see a group of White Rhinos up close, just as we had in Uganda. These ones were equally as beautiful and well guarded against poachers. Unfortunately, that’s still a sad necessity.
Finally, we took a wonderful late afternoon cruise along the river and then enjoyed a beautiful sunset beside the water.
After that, it was time to head across the border to Botswana, to our lodge right next door to Chobe National Park. To do this we had to cross the Zambezi river by boat. Right next to where we crossed they are building a bridge across the river. Currently, cars and trucks need to use a ferry to cross the river and trucks can wait up to two weeks before they have a chance to cross. There’s going to be some very happy truck drivers when that bridge is finished!
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park was frankly amazing and it was our favourite of all the national parks we did game drives in while in Africa. While there we stayed at Sanctuary’s Chobe Chilwero Lodge which was fantastic.
In Chobe we watched a pride of Lions hunt down by the waterfront over multiple days. On the first day, we spotted their cubs hiding under a tree where the lionesses had left them overnight. On the second day, we watched the Lionesses take the cubs with them on an overly ambitious attack on a group of Water Buffalos. That hunt ended with the Buffalos chasing the Lions away into the bushes!
Finally, we saw the lions make a kill. They found a baby Water Buffalo that had fallen in the forest. It wasn’t much of a feed for them but it was an easy target. Unfortunately, we watched as they slowly suffocated it. You’d hope that they’d put it out of its misery quickly but that’s not the way they rumble. Cats can be mean sometimes!
At Chobe, we finally saw our first Leopard. In the morning we saw it from a distance up in a tree, too far away for a decent photo. But in the afternoon we were fortunate to arrive back at the tree at exact moment that the Leopard climbed down to the ground.
Eventually, she came down onto the road and walked in front of our jeep. Until then I hadn’t been sure what all the fuss was about Leopards (apart from how hard it is to spot them), but she was a truly stunning creature. Watching her move through the bush so majestically gave us memories of when we first spotted a Bengal Tiger in Ranthambore National Park.
Even though we had plenty of big cat sightings in Chobe, what the park is mostly known for is the absurd amount of Elephants that you can find there, especially down by the waterfront. Whether it was cruising around the waterfront by boat or by jeep, we were always able to watch families of Elephants coming down to the water to drink, bathe and to generally have a lot of fun.
We even saw a big bull Elephant mating with a female. Plus there were plenty of tiny little babies, some only days old. It was an Elephant bonanza!
Going Remote out at Stanley
To get to Sanctuary’s Stanley Camp we had to take a single prop Cessna plane which stopped three times along the way. Unfortunately, the journey was fairly hot, stuffy and turbulent which didn’t make Cindy very happy but we did get to see some amazing views of the Okavango Delta down below. Even though it wasn’t yet in full flood, it was still pretty impressive.
Accommodation at Stanley was glamping. We had the last of the ten tents at the edge of the camp. As with other lodges we had to be walked back to our tent after dark, in case we ran into an elephant, a leopard or a lion. This was especially true for Stanley because there were no fences at all to keep animals out of the camp.
Elephants – Expected and Unexpected
It turned out that being escorted back to our tent was a great idea, because on our first night at Stanley we came across a large bull Elephant happily grazing just outside our tent. Fortunately, our guide heard him munching and we made a quick retreat. If it was just the two of us we probably would have run straight into him and been squashed flat!
One of the highlights of our time at Stanley was meeting Morula and Jabu, two orphaned Elephants who are being looked after wonderfully by Doug and Sandi Groves and their Living with Elephants Foundation, not too far from the camp. We spent an amazing morning getting up close and personal with these two beautiful creatures and learning a lot about African Elephants in the process.
A Leopard Hunts
We were also fortunate enough to see another Leopard at Stanley on two separate evenings. On the first evening, she walked straight past our jeep while we were stopped photographing some giraffes.
She was so quiet that she could have jumped into the back of the jeep and we wouldn’t have heard her! We followed her as she hunted a group of Impalas. It was amazing to watch how she crept up so close to them without them realising.
The next night we saw the same Leopard up in a tree, which gave Cindy a chance to take some amazing photos of her. You can see her looking out into the distance trying to find some prey. At one point she came down from the tree straight towards our jeep and for a few seconds, we thought she might jump in with us. That was rather unnerving but fortunately, she just headed over to a taller tree for a better vantage point.
Back to South Africa
Our final safari destination was back in South Africa at Sanctuary’s Makanyane Safari Lodge, just inside the border with Botswana. After all the hassles we had getting into South Africa the first time, we were prepared for the worst, particularly as we thought we were flying into Johannesburg and then back out to the lodge.
However there was a change of plans and we ended up been driven across the border from Gaborone airport, which is closer to the lodge. Getting back into South Africa was a five-minute affair, which was just as well because our driver was chasing the clock to get back into Botswana after dropping us off, before the border closed on him!
Makanyane Safari Lodge
While Makanyane’s private reserve and the nearby national park were not quite as scenic as some of the other parks, we had some great wildlife encounters. We saw our first Cheetah, a deadly Black Mamba and some young male Lions. We also tracked Lions at night which was an incredible experience, although it was pretty spooky.
On our second safari outing, our guide pointed out a massive snake track crossing the sandy road ahead and leading into a bush. He thought it looked like a trail from a Python. He jumped out to look into the bush to see if he could find it. Some of us followed him and we got quite close to the bush.
After a minute or so the snake decided it should run away and came darting out of the bush away from us. Turns out that it wasn’t a python, it was a 2 to 3 metre long Black Mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world! It probably wasn’t that wise for us to have come so close to it!
Our first Cheetah Sighting
Something slightly less scary was our first ever Cheetah sighting. She had just made a kill and was resting before eating more of it. Because she was the park’s only female Cheetah left she had been radio-collared and was easy to track. She looked pretty knackered; it’s hard work being a solitary hunter.
Sleeping Under the Stars
One of the options our lodge offered was to sleep exposed under the stars on the third storey of their “hide”. This was a few kilometres away from the camp in amongst all the wildlife, including the lions and leopards.
Things didn’t start so well when just a few hundred metres away from the lodge our guide had to stop and change a flat tire. We jumped out and held the spotlight for him, hoping that neither the pack of Wild Dogs we’d seen nearby earlier in the day, or the pride of Lions that are frequently in the area would come around in the meantime! Fortunately, he changed the tire in literally 7 minutes and we were quickly off again.
After that little hiccup, it turned out to be an amazing experience, although when we reached the hive the wind was blowing a gale and we thought that we might get blown away. We were also a little concerned that it seemed fairly easy for a hungry Leopard to climb up to find us but we were assured that it wouldn’t happen. In the end, we managed to survive the night although, we didn’t get that much sleep!
A Trio of Young Male Lions
Another highlight of our time in Makanyane was on our last safari when we managed to spot a group of three male Lions and their mother. These young males were just starting to grow their manes but you could already see how magnificent they would become. If you watched them roll around and play fight with each other as we did, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were just big kittens. But we learnt that they were already big enough to team up and beat up two fully grown male Lions only a few days previous.
Spooky Lions Tracking at Night
One of the coolest but spookiest experiences we had at Makanyane was on the way back to the lodge. We’d just finished our sundowner drinks after spotting the young male Lions and we headed home in the dark.
Our guide told us that one of the other guides had spotted another pride of Lions, four females, quite close to the lodge. They were out hunting.
We headed off in the dark to see if we could spot them. It’s a strange feeling driving around in an open top jeep in the dark with hungry Lions around you. The other guide said that he no longer had a visual on the Lions, so our guide stopped the jeep and turned on his spotlight to see if we could find them.
In what was probably the luckiest sighting we had, his spotlight straight away illuminated a massive Lioness, silently walking parallel to our jeep, no more than twenty metres away! It was certainly rather disconcerting to know that these Lions had been moving around us the whole time and we had no idea.
A Johannesburg Surprise
We’d only scheduled a couple of days in Johannesburg to end our African experience and mainly because we were flying out of there to Rome. To be perfectly honest, we had heard only warnings about Johannesburg and we weren’t expecting much from it. In fact, we were mainly hoping that we would survive our time there without getting mugged!
But the day after we arrived we took a tour of Johannesburg and of Soweto with Ilan from Tour Soweto. As well as being taken to see some amazing street art, we also had the opportunity to get a sense of the culture of both places and we loved it. Both JBurg and Soweto are bursting at the seams with people from multiple African countries, injecting a great atmosphere into them.
The End of Africa and a Bit of Rome
So that was the end of Africa for us for a while as we headed across to Europe for April and May. But we’ll definitely be heading back to Africa as soon as we can. We absolutely loved it.
We spent the last few days of March in Rome. Landing in Rome was certainly a shock to the system, both in temperature and atmosphere. To be honest, Rome had never been high on my list of places to visit but I was hoping that I would be proven wrong and that visiting outside of peak season would make a big difference.
It did and it didn’t. In the end, I quite liked wandering around Rome on foot. It’s a pretty city and there are some lovely places to have a meal or an expresso. I can’t say any of the main attractions really appealed to me (and the Vatican was horrendously busy) but it was certainly worth a visit. Still, for me it paled in comparison to Africa’s raw beauty and the passion of its people.
Coming up Next
So that’s it for March. To say it was a bumper month for us would be an understatement. We certainly packed a lot in. Stay tuned for next month’s update as we battle more of the cold in Italy and France!