Etosha and the Namib Road Trip

“Hey man, can you hear that?” asked Rinaldo, “something seems off, not right.” It was 5:30am and my tired eyes were attempting to focus on the road ahead as we drove through the bitter predawn cold trying to catch the sunrise over the Sossusvlei dunes. We never made it.

I kept driving for about a minute contemplating the new smell and weird muffled noise coming from the back of the truck. “It smells like burning rubber.” And that was about the exact moment my brain finally decided to kick in. “Shit.” I pulled the car off to the shoulder. “It’s the fucking tire. Fuck.” We got out and there it was the back tire of the truck hanging onto its last shreds of life, literally. The tire had completely blown out. I’ll try to put the situation into perspective. Rinaldo and I were on a deserted road in the middle of the Namib desert, in the centre of a Namibian National Park at 5:30 in the morning, it was cold and dark and I had not had any coffee, and of course the best part, neither of us had ever changed a tire in our lives. City kids and our first world problems.

Luckily, the rental truck came with a jack, spare tire and wrench needed to get the bolts off the existing tire. Turns out, changing the tire was super easy and after 30min of crawling around under the car and kicking some bolts, our shredded tire was in the cab, new one was on tight, and we were off again destined for Sossusvlei with the rising sun at our backs. Unfortunately we were going to miss the perfect morning light needed to get the best shots of the Sossusvlei dunes at dawn, but I was able to sneak out a couple of good photos later that morning. This is one of the most photogenic landscapes in Africa. The Namib-Naukluft, National Park.

Dune 45 sunrise
Dune 45 sunrise
Early morning Sossusvlei scene.
Early morning Sossusvlei scene.

Right so I’m going to step it back a week and start from the beginning of this Namib road trip.

The Crew; Five people in total, three girls and two guys. Olivia, Anna, and Lexi are three friends from Australia backpacking central Africa. I met them in Malawi and what do you know, one month later we meet again in Namibia and decide to join forces on splitting the cost of the car. Rinaldo is a Dutch guy I met in Zambia and then again randomly in Zimbabwe. On the train in Zimbabwe we decided to meet again in Namibia and split the cost of a rental as well. By pulling the girls and Rinaldo together, and adding myself, we created The Crew.

The Truck; The vehicle was a Toyota (something) seven seater manual with 450,000km on it when we picked it up. It turned out to be a bit of a bitch, but all in all it was cheap and good enough on gas. We never named it. Anna and I were the primary drivers as no one else could drive stick, nor wanted to.  This was cool with me, as I have done some long distance driving in the past and actually kind of missed giant road trips across incredible landscapes.

The Itinerary; The idea was a giant circle of central Namibia spanning 8 days and covering 3,200km. Ambitious, but possible. We decided to hit the highlights of Etosha National Park, Cape Cross, the Skeleton Coast, Sossusvlei, and the Namib-Naukluft, National Park. Eventually returning to Windhoek before taking a 22 hour bus directly south into South Africa.

Etosha; This was a huge highlight for me. I had wanted to visit Etosha National Park ever since I learned of the area working for G Adventures in 2009. Etosha is a very unique ecosystem and supports an incredible array of wildlife. We decided to spend three nights and four days touring the park self-drive style with the Toyota. I’m super glad we decided to see the park this way and had an awesome experience. Etosha is set up with three main camps which each support a natural watering hole. At the time of our visit (late Sept.) the area was almost completely dry and most animals were forced to travel across the park to drink from the limited supply left in the camp waterholes. This meant that all we needed to do was sit back behind the fence and wait for the wildlife to come to us. Awesome. With two beers and my camera in hand, these were some of the shots I got from those watering holes.

An elephant stands alone.
An elephant stands alone.
A Rhino stands alone.
A Rhino stands alone.
Elephants and a Giraffe sharing an evening drink.
Elephants and a Giraffe sharing an evening drink.
This is not the best quality photo, but the stand off was awesome. A lion testing the waters against a mother Rhino and her young. Nothing happened, but the tension was high.
This is not the best quality photo, but the stand off was awesome. A lion testing the waters against a mother Rhino and her young. Nothing happened, but the tension was high.
Zebras drinking in a small wateringhole
Zebras drinking in a small wateringhole

Etosha was once a giant inland sea. The current Salt Pan within the park ranges 5,000km sq and the park itself 22,000km sq. The area is enormous and the landscapes create incredible backdrops for out of this world photos.

Jumping on the surface of the moon. Etosha Salt Pan.
Jumping on the surface of the moon. Etosha Salt Pan.

We also went on a few game drives within the park and were lucky to view Lions, Hyenas, Cheetahs, Elephants, and countless Kudo, Springbok, Antelope, Stienbok, etc. etc. The four days were filled with incredible wildlife encounters and memorable African safari experiences. It was more than I could have asked for and surpassed my expectations of the park.

Cheetahs on the look out for something in Etosha
Cheetahs on the look out for something in Etosha
A lion crosses the road early one morning in Etosha
A lion crosses the road early one morning in Etosha
A wildebeest in Etosha
A wildebeest in Etosha
An elephant stands alone in Etosha.
An elephant stands alone in Etosha.
Hyenas devouring the corpse of a Zebra with Jackals in line for their fill.
Hyenas devouring the corpse of a Zebra with Jackals in line for their fill.
Springbok in Etosha.
Springbok in Etosha.

From Etosha we decided to head back towards the Atlantic and hit up the famed Skeleton Coast Cape Cross seal colony.  The drive that day was just over 800km with 250 on dirt roads crossing the northern Kalahari. Incredible landscape ending at the Atlantic coast.

The sunset over the Atlantic from the Skeleton Coast.
The sunset over the Atlantic from the Skeleton Coast.

The Skeleton Coast is actually a national park in north western Namibia. It is famous for claiming the last voyage of many a cargo and fishing ship. It is said that the Portuguese explorers of the early 16th century called the coast line, The Gates of Hell. Even to this day the 1,00plus km stretch is dotted with shipwrecks and shallow hidden rock walls just waiting to puncture any wayward vessel and quickly put an end to its seafaring days. It is a formidable and unforgiving place. It is also home to the Cape Cross seal colony. Cape Cross supports a population of about 60,000 Cape Fur Seals which live primarily along the Atlantic coast of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola. Visiting the colony is a pretty awe inspiring scene.

Skeleton Coast Shipwreck.
Skeleton Coast Shipwreck.
The Cape Cross Seal Colony
The Cape Cross Seal Colony
This is a favourite. A mother Cape Fur Seal grieving her dead young. The baby must have been killed the night before or that morning and it looks like the mother had a bit of a fight in the process. I caught this while she was hiding him under the viewing boardwalk. Incredible.
This is a favourite. A mother Cape Fur Seal grieving her dead young. The baby must have been killed the night before or that morning and it looks like the mother had a bit of a fight in the process. I caught this while she was hiding him under the viewing boardwalk. Incredible.

We spent one night and two days exploring the Skeleton before heading back towards civilization in Swakopmund for one night. The girls treated themselves to a dorm bed for the night where as Rinaldo and I continued camping. I got back in touch with the Skydiving crew in Swakop and joined them (again) for their daily after jump beer drinking session. They were all stoked to see me again and we proceeded to have another kick ass night drinking in Swakopmund. Read more about the skydivers in my last post.

After only one night in Swakop, we headed 300km (on a dirt road) south to Sesserim and the gateway to Sossusvlei, Dead Vlei, and the Namib-Naukluft, National Park. This is another area of Namibia unique to none other found in all Africa. It is home to some of the biggest sand dunes on earth and a popular spot for international photographers. The contrast found in the colour of the dunes (especially in the early morning) against the trees, sky and earth is like none other I have other scene and created the perfect back drop for some great shots. Dead Vlei is an ancient miniature salt pan with fossilized trees still found in its dry basin. It is the cover of any Namibia tourism pamphlet, magazine, and marketing campaign, whatever. The Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei areas are luckily within a short driving distance of another and can both be reached in the early hours of the morning. The girls, Rinaldo and I got up at 5am our first day within the park and caught Dune 45, Sossusvlei, and Dead Vlei during the early hours of the morning. It was amazing! The next day Rinaldo and I tried to do the same, however the blown out tire sitch prevented us from making the sunrise for a second time. Anyway, I’m glad we at least got the first day.

A classic Dead Vlei shot of the fossilized trees in the central pan.
A classic Dead Vlei shot of the fossilized trees in the central pan.
A pano of the Sossusvlei dunes.
A pano of the Sossusvlei dunes.

From Sossusvlei we headed back to Windhoek, dropped off the truck and jumped right on an overnight bus headed 22 hours south to Cape Town.  The road trip over all was a great success, I was stoked on the experience and that we were able to work everything out making the most of our time in Namibia.

Etosha National Park was the original goal behind the writing of this blog and now that it has been reached and I have made Cape Town, I am beginning to re think how to document my travels in the future.  I have loved having this blog and I believe that there are people out there who have loved reading it. I am going to continue writing and documenting my travels as I return to working as a tour leader in South America. I may only slightly change the name to reflect this move.

I am now sitting in a hostel common room in central Cape Town, SA. I went diving with Great White Sharks yesterday and plan on climbing Table Mountain either this afternoon or tomorrow. I will document these experiences in my next post.  I hope you have enjoyed this one. Cheers! Gregor.

The beautiful Olivia, Anna, and Lexi enjoying the sunset as seen from the Namutoni camp in Etosha National Park.
The beautiful Olivia, Anna, and Lexi enjoying the sunset as seen from the Namutoni camp in Etosha National Park.
Walking up one of the Sossuvlei dunes.
Walking up one of the Sossuvlei dunes.
Sunset as seen from the Namutoni camp in Etosha National Park.
Sunset as seen from the Namutoni camp in Etosha National Park.

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