My first trip to Africa was a self-drive trip to Chobe National Park, Botswana in the early 2000’s. I went in with a group of acquaintances from South Africa. On the nights before, I had a lot of discussions about what I would see. Chobe was said to be one of the greatest destination in Africa to see abundant wildlife. That sounded great, but often I would hear ‘the only place where you will see more wildlife is Etosha!”. That trip to Chobe was all I had dreamed it would be and more. Africa was in my blood and I’ve been into the bush more than two dozen times since then; however, I never got to Etosha … and I continued to hear about how great it could be.
Today, I lead small groups to Africa locations like Chobe, Timbavati, Sabi Sands, Hwange, Zimanga and Madikwe. I only take folks to places I’ve visited first hand so I really can share with them what to expect. I’m hoping to lead a group to Namibia, including Etosha in 2017, so I decided it was time for a scouting trip.
In addition to Etosha, I wanted to check out a few other regions in northern Namibia. In particular, I’ve had great interest from travelers in getting a chance to visit villages, meet indigenous peoples and have a more cultural experience. Since I would be ‘moving quickly’ to check out several locations, I decided to make this a self-drive trip. To share the experience and to have a little ‘back-up’ for the trip, I enlisted 3 friends to go along. We took two vehicles, that way one person could sit up front and shoot left or right and one person could sit in the back and shoot left or right without interference. In addition, the second vehicle would provide a little safety insurance in case of vehicle troubles since we were going rather remote.
Just a little more background and I promise to get on with the primary story and some photographs. For my 2017 Namibia trip, we will be with a larger group of photographers via train visiting the Quiver Tree forest for night photography, Kolmanskop for some ghost town taken over by desert shots, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei for the classic sand dune shots.
Considering the size of Namibia and the travel times, I am concerned that following the first portion of the trip, travelers will not want to go too far before a stop and to see some wildlife. Basically, I wanted to find one high quality stop between Windhoek and Etosha.
The two best options seemed to be Africats (Okinjima) or Erindi. AfriCats is a non-for-profit organization that rehabilitates cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas. While I have heard good things, that sounded a bit zoo-like. In my research on Erindi, it sounded a bit like a variant of the private reserves around the Kruger. Write-ups noted that Erindi is known for big cat sightings and has both self-drive regions and also off road tracking. In addition, they have a few animals I know I won’t be seeing elsewhere in northern Namibia such as crocodiles, hippopotamus and wild dog. While I’ve seen these many times, some of my 2017 travelers will be taking their first and possibly only trip to Africa so these are a nice add.
I finalized upon an itinerary as follows:
• Day 1 - Arrival night in Windhoek with overnight at a Guest House
• Day 2 - Drive to Erindi in the mornig, afternoon game drive and overnight.
• Day 3 - Morning game drive at Erindi, mid-day drive to Etosha, afternoon drive to Etosha, stay first night at Halali.
• Day 4 - Morning and afternoon game drives and 2nd night at Halali
• Day 5 & 6 – On the 3rd and 4th nights in Etosha at Okaukuejo Lodge.
• Day 7 - Etosha game drive to the western gate (Galton Gate) then proceed to Grootberg Lodge for overnight stay.
• Day 8 & 9 - From Grootberg, head north to Khowarib Lodge, just south of Sesfontein for two nights. On one day I wanted to visit a Himba settlement and on another full day I wanted to look for desert elephants along the Hoanib River.
• Day 10 - On the last morning, we would drive back south to Otjiwarongo for a night
• Day 11 - The next morning, drive to Windhoek to fly out that afternoon to Jo’berg and back to the States
That’s a pretty grueling week and a half with 2000 miles of driving including 1500 miles of driving on gravel and dirt. I would never do that schedule with a tour group, but this was a scouting trip and I was taking along some seasoned travelers/photographers.
Now, let the story begin!
Arrival in Windhoek
On October 24, 2016, we arrived in Windhoek. We collected our rental vehicles. I had originally arranged for two 4 door HiLux bakkies, but due to my adding some time to our trip, these were not available, so we were treated to two Landcruisers. As I noted before, my preference for photography is to have one person sitting in the back seat and one in the front; thereby allowing both travelers to easily shoot out windows of either side of the vehicles. While very nice, the front seat console of the Landcruiser does make photographing through the passenger side window slightly more challenging. Not a big deal.
We spent the arrival night at Villa Moringa and I give them strong recommendations for comfort and view from the patio decks. Parking is a bit narrow, but not a problem. We left early the next morning and headed to Erindi.
Onward to Erindi
The drive north took about two and one half hours. The drive was a bit dusty as there is a lot of roadwork which appears to be focused on widening the road. Traffic was very light, so I’m not sure why a wider road is needed.
Once inside the Erindi property it’s about a 20 minute drive to Old Traders Lodge. During this drive I began questioning my decision to stop here. While we saw a few impala and wart hogs, we really didn't see a lot of large game. We did see a giraffe or two. As a photographer, I was very concerned with the large amount of thick sickle bush along the road. I have encountered this in the past and it really makes seeing and photographing nature deeper into the bush very difficult.
Upon arrival at Old Traders Lodge, we were surprised at the transformation of landscape. Outside of the lodge to the rear is a vast savanna and waterhole. At the waterhole were elephants, giraffe, rhino, hippo, crocs ... a little of everything. The viewing area was excellent. That said, it was clear that the drought in the region was significant. The water level was down several meters from the high-water marks. Out on the savanna, there were areas where hay/maize husks or similar 'cattle food' had been dumped to provide food for the elephants, rhino and other grazers.
I located one of the game drive rangers and asked the pro's and con's of self-drive vs. the game drive vehicles as well as morning vs. afternoon viewing. I was advised that self-drive trail is excellent in the cooler mornings with greater kudu, giraffe, impala, waterbuck, etc. plentiful. Afternoons, not so much. I was also advised that the best chance of seeing big cats would definitely be on their vehicles due to radio communications, knowing where and when to go, etc. I was also told that the cheetah in the area had not been seen by this guide in 3 months and that leopard sightings had become rare recently, attributed to the drought. This was a surprise as I had seen many images before the trip that showed collared leopard and cheetah and was actually worried that the collars would spoil my photos.
We had modified the schedule to only one night at Erindi and the purpose was scouting for future group trips, so I opted for using their ranger/vehicle for the afternoon game drive and to do self-drive the following morning. We hired a private vehicle and instructed the guide to focus on larger game as we would see plenty of birds, etc. on the rest of our trip. We were surprised when a San bushman jumped into the vehicle to be our tracker. The game drive was good. We saw lions twice: one group of females and in a different area, a large, older male lion. We also had two good white rhino sightings; however, these had been de-horned, which makes them less photographic. We saw plenty of antelope including eland, hartebeest, waterbuck and impala. We did off road tracking several times to the lions, rhino, etc. As at the lodge, we often found this game at 'feeding spots' where the maize husks and hay had been dumped for feeding. The reserve has 3 bore hole waterholes and is building a forth. Game was at each, but water levels were extremely low. At sundowners, the bushman told us a story in his native tongue of how bows and arrows are made, typical hunts, etc. Our guide interpreted the clicks and sounds. This was a treat worth admission and everyone loved photographing him mocking a hunt and recording video of his story. I will be putting this on YouTube later for others to experience.
Back at the lodge for dinner, we chose a table overlooking the waterhole. Great decision as a large pack of wild dog came to the water hole and provided us with nearly an hour of fun as they drank, played chase, etc. Rhino, elephants and giraffe all came to the water hole. Our rooms were amazing. We had rooms 51 and 52 and these had full views of the savanna area and part of the waterhole. In the evening, sitting at our room, we watched jackal, hyena, elephant and Giraffe just meters away. I've been to many lodges and this was by far the most impressive room view I have ever had. The rooms were big with an amazingly large shower in the very modern en-suite bath.
The next morning, we did our self-drive game drive as we headed north through the park with our next destination being Etosha. As advised the game viewing was good with sightings of baboon, warthog, impala, giraffe, waterbuck. A bull elephant blocked my roadway for 15 minutes, but finally moved for me to pass.
Overall, Erindi was a very good stop for our trip. Especially considering some of our group had never been on safari or experienced off road tracking of game (and I knew we would be limited to roads in Etosha). If the rains come and the drought conditions cease, this will be a true first class stop for future trips. I am very glad we went there.
More to come!