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Thread started 07 Dec 2016 (Wednesday) 09:55
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Northern Namibia: Etosha and Beyond

 
buddy4344
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Dec 07, 2016 09:55 |  #1

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/photographer​s.
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!


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Dec 07, 2016 09:55 |  #2

More shots from Erindi


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Dec 07, 2016 09:57 |  #3

More shots from Erindi. Since the antelope were eating the feed and I didn't see this as a great shot, I focused on getting guinea fowl in mid-stride.


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Dec 07, 2016 09:58 |  #4

And a shot of a very tired me with a San Bushman (he is the shorter one).  :p

More to come!


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Dec 12, 2016 14:47 |  #5

Entering Etosha

Within our group, excitement was really building. Erindi was very good, but we had all read a lot on Etosha and expectations were enormous. After entering the gate, we were instructed to go to Okaukuejo to make payments for nights at the park and to get room keys. No problem. We proceded, stopping here and there to watch springbok. Two of my fellow travelers had never seen springbok so they were shooting photos left and right. We got to Okaukuejo’s reservation office to find a significant queue. Upon listening to the office personnel, it was clear all lodges were completely booked and there were people at the front of the line wanting rooms. This slowed things for everyone. 45 minutes later, we got to the front of the queue only to be told we needed to go to the Halali office since that is where we were to stay the first night. TIA

We quickly decided that it was ‘photography time’ and that we should shoot our way to Halali rather than rushing over to pick up room keys and then back track into the park. That was my only smart move of the day.

Okay, back to reality. We hit the road leaving Okaukuejo headed east toward Halali. We were amazed by the barren and austere the landscape. We quickly hit Nabrownii waterhole … and there they were! The giant white ghost bulls I had seen in photos by so many. Wow, what a thrill the first time you see them. We shot a lot of photos of these guys. Also at the waterhole were ostrich, gemsbok, springbok and jackal. What a start!


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Dec 12, 2016 14:48 |  #6

more from that first day


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Dec 12, 2016 14:50 |  #7

We then came to a fork in the road. Should we head to Salvadora or stay on the main track? I chose the main track and made an attempt to radio the car somewhere behind us of our decision. I heard some garble and assumed that meant ‘okay’. I loved our decision as the main road passed near some dried grass fields full of Burchell’s zebra. The light was perfect. I will now bore you with a lot of zebra photos. For folks from African countries, I know these are extremely common and you ignore them like we Americans ignore cattle in a pasture, but for Americans …. Well I’ve probably sold more zebra photos than the sum of all my other wildlife images combined and that’s a lot of photos. Americans love zebras.


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Dec 12, 2016 14:51 |  #8

My vehicle shot zebra’s for about 45 minutes and the other vehicle never came into sight. I got on the radio and called, got a reply they had gone to Salvadora but were ‘on their way’ and assumed that meant on the road I was on. We shot another 20 minutes. Where is that other car? We said, “they are big boys and you can’t get lost, so let’s head to Halali and get checked in.” and we proceeded onward. Now it was getting late, so, even though we were passing some nice black faced impala, steenbok and giraffe, we rushed onward, assuming we would shoot those another time.

When we finally got to the check-in office at Halali, we learned that our other vehicle had arrived 45 minutes before us. Salvadora has two entrances and we had assumed there was only one way in and out. We also learned that the two in the other vehicle were quite upset. They had felt panicked because they had never been ‘alone’ in Africa before. They were quite mad at me.

I was mad also, because I couldn’t see a reason they had been so upset. Hours later, I reflected on my first time ‘alone’ in Chobe. I recalled getting stuck in sand, I recalled the stress. Yes, for many American’s even the safest of parks can stress you until you’ve been out there. Over an early dinner (or very late lunch), we worked things out, but we made the decision that a) the radio range was too short and b) we would travel in tandem the rest of the trip.


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Post edited over 5 years ago by buddy4344.
     
Dec 12, 2016 14:54 |  #9

After food, we grabbed tripods, cameras, transmitters, flash, cable release and headed for the Halali waterhole called Moringa. We were prepared. We had read on the internet all of the correct off camera flash settings, we had tested our gear and technique in America. We had read the eBook by Mario and Jenny Fazekas and Katheryn Haylett, “The Photographers Guide to Etosha Park” and seen their photos. We had seen a beautiful flash night shot of a leopard in the Halali reception office. We were extremely excited and were going to get award winning shots!

FULL STOP!

As soon as we brought out our flash and transmitters we started getting rather blunt and rude comments from the others at the hide. We hadn’t even turned on the power switch and we are seeing problems. Further, it’s pretty clear that the fellow viewers have an amazing strict ‘no talking, not even a whisper’ policy. We quickly decided we didn’t want to offend others, so we shot with high ISO and long exposures to keep the peace. Our plan was to reconsider our flash plans for the following night, but let tonight go easy.


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Post edited over 5 years ago by buddy4344.
     
Dec 12, 2016 14:56 |  #10

One more showing the rhino along with the lions at the waterhole.

I’m probably opening up a debate here, but I’m still confused if the fellow viewers were more concerned with having a moment in quiet observance or whether they thought whispers from 50 to 100 meters were going to stop highly habituated wildlife. I also wonder if those at the waterhole were concerned that the wildlife at a waterhole lit with 10,000 watts of spot lighting would be blinded by a AA battery powered flash (and Better Beamer) from 50-100 meters?

That first night was magic as we watched numerous black rhino, a pride of lions and even a porcupine come and go at the waterhole. As we left the waterhole, we all agreed Etosha is special and we were in for a great stay in the park. Then we got back to the rooms and the power went out for two hours. TIA


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Dec 12, 2016 15:19 as a reply to  @ buddy4344's post |  #11

Great writing and pics, all very interesting stuff, keep it up!

cheers




  
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Dec 12, 2016 16:25 |  #12

Thanks Buddy.

Don't stop now. Love this stuff.

Yeah, TIA. :mrgreen:




  
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Dec 12, 2016 21:53 as a reply to  @ buddy4344's post |  #13

What did the next day at Etosha have in store ?


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Dec 12, 2016 22:36 |  #14

Ahazra wrote in post #18211516 (external link)
What did the next day at Etosha have in store ?

Patience grasshopper.


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Dec 15, 2016 09:02 |  #15

Day 2 in Etosha

For this day, our plan was simple: Since this was to be the furthest east we would be staying, we planned to head to Goas waterhole to start the morning and then, depending on viewing, head back west toward Rietfontein waterhole.
Goas in the early morning was amazing. As soon as one herd of zebra left the waterhole, another herd would take their place. We really liked that this waterhole had a roadway that allowed one to position the vehicle on either the north or south side of the waterhole and we took advantage of both as the sunlight was coming from the east (again, it was early morning).

One thing about this waterhole and several other waterholes at Etosha is that the edge of the parking area is still a good distance from the water. In particular, this waterhole is quite wide, so shooting wildlife on the far bank was tough for me. At 400mm, I was a little limited on getting that classic shot of zebra lined up drinking. On the positive side, since there is roadway west of the waterhole and parking north and south, it’s easy to get into position to photograph a lot of the wildlife coming and going. A photo tip: It seemed the highest percentage came from either the north or the west.


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