Southern Africa - Namibia to Home

It was too far to drive from Ai-Ais to Windhoek without a break, but with little of interest in between, we aimed for Mariental and the Hardap dam. There is a small game reserve over the other side of the dam which we drove around in the morning before leaving for Windhoek. The capital is a standard, modern city, but is disconcertingly like Johannesburg insofar as the houses are wrapped in razor wire, and the people who live there are very cautious about going out onto the streets. Even when we just wandered out to go to the shops the lodge manager suggested to Geoff that he take his day pack off because it looked like an invitation to be mugged. Great place to live. There was a pet meercat at the lodge, but sadly it disappeared the first evening we were there. I imagine that it got out when someone left the gate open, and the kestrel hovering over the empty paddock next door probably had a feast.

We had a bit of business to attend to in Windhoek. Apart from the usual money changing, we also had to book our camping places in Etosha National Park. Once we settled on the dates, that determined when we left to go north. With plenty of time in hand we went out to the coast at Swakopmund, experiencing a dramatic front tyre blowout on the way. Carmel's car was a mess, with two panels mangled by the impact of flying steel mesh, but it was still drivable, so we replaced the tyre and carried on. The coast is rather spooky, thick rolling fog blanketing the ocean and softening the meeting of sea and land. Our hostel was an architect's home right on the edge of town, looking like the last house on earth, with only sand to the horizon.

Once we had the car sorted out, with a new spare tyre, we could have a look around. We spent a day down at Walvis Bay, where the flamingos flock in their thousands, wading in the shallow, pond-like ocean. The pink colour is everywhere - the salt works have soft pink salt pans, and even the pelicans glow pink. Swakopmund is renowned for its sand dunes, but they were hidden in the swirling fog. It is also renowned for being the home of the welwitschia plant, related to pine trees but looking nothing like a tree, each plant consisting of just two leaves whose ends are shredded by being blown around in the desert sand. The oldest welwitschias are said to be over 1500 years old despite being only a few metres across and less than a metre high! We drove out on the Welwitschia Plain scenic drive where there are hundreds of plants, but the really old one has an ugly fence around it, and a silly little viewing platform.

Bushmen paintings
Our car wasn't really suited for driving up the skeleton coast, but we could take the back roads to Etosha, stopping off at Khorixas. All the way up the coast the fog persisted, but we could see little buildings at regular intervals along the deserted beach - hundreds of loos! Once we turned away from the coast the fog was a murky cloud behind us, and we took to the dusty roads across the desert. Geoff spotted a meercat family, and we pulled to a halt in the middle of nowhere to watch them bobbing up and down, keeping an eye on us, before disappearing behind a sand hill. There wasn't much choice of places to stay in Khorixas, and we set up camp in what was a rather pretentious caravan park run by the parks board. We were there to visit a couple of nearby places. The petrified forest is about 40 kilometres from Khorixas. Its pretty good. We have a so-called "petrified forest" nearby to where we live, but this was a real one, with large pine trees turned to stone, still largely intact and showing the growth rings and medulary rays of the original wood. However, the real attraction was Twyfelfontein, where there is an extensive gallery of rock art, or bushman paintings. With a local girl acting as guide, we walked all around the site, see engravings of elephants, giraffe, lions, rhinos, and other animals. On the way back to the camp we stopped for lunch at the nearby campsite, and were surrounded by hungry birds, with louries eating from my hand and lots of glossy starlings and yellow-billed hornbills flying in for the feast of crumbs.

Our last major stop in Namibia was Etosha National Park, where we spent three days driving along the edge of the salt pan, seeing lots of animals, including a sleepy lion, just off the side of the road. We were booked into each of the three campsites for one night, and they all had their own attractions. The first camp had ground squirrels during the day and jackals wandering around all night, tipping over the bins and making a general pest of themselves. The second camp had a real surprise; as we were washing up a honey badger came up quite openly and dived into the rubbish bin. It sneered at our offerings of pear cores and went for the chop bones. When we tried to discourage it from spilling the contents of the bin everywhere it looked downright nasty, and Geoff ended up on top of the table, getting out of its way (we all laughed until we read that they had been recorded as attacking lions and elephants!). All of the camps had a lit waterhole, where we could sit and watch the animals come in to drink.

The AA had assured us that the roads were OK for a standard sedan, so we were going back to South Africa via north-west Botswana. Well, the AA were right, and the roads were OK, but the great bang that heralded our second blowout in nine days was a very unwelcome sound. Once again Carmel brought the speeding car to a gentle stop, and Geoff went about doing mens things. Sexist, but he is better at changing tyres than we are. We were closest to Grootfontein, so turned around and (somewhat slower) headed back to get yet another new tyre, extracting a promise from Carmel that she will never again buy retreads, before driving on to Rundu. The car now had matching smashed in panels and was beginning to look like a rent-a wreck. No greater love has a big sister that she wrecks her car in order to give her little sister a good time.

Ground Hornbill
We crossed into Botswana at the edge of the Caprivi Strip. Botswana is boring. Expensive and boring. Geoff took two photographs - one of some old bones and one of vultures making something into old bones. We stopped off in Maun, but found that trips into the Okavango were too far outside our budget, and only stayed a day, looking around the local nature reserve, before moving on. Carmel is a keen birdwatcher, so there was one place we did want to see in Botswana - the Sua Pan. We stopped in Nata, and drove out to the pan. There were lots of flamingos - pink to the horizon in all directions and definitely not boring.

The next day was Carmel's birthday, and we spent it in a frustrating search for a drivable road crossing the border into South Africa. We were heading for Martins Drift, but the direct road was very cut up with lots of loose sand, and we had to backtrack a considerable distance, then cut across on roads not much better, before we found a sealed road to the fontier. Once across the border we had hoped to find somewhere to camp for the night, but there was nowhere at all suitable, and we ended up in Potgiestersrus, staying a very upmarket tourist hostel and pigging out on take-away ribs and Carmel's birthday chocolates.

We had a couple of days free before flying home. Anyone who lives in South Africa will tell you that you shouldn't leave without visiting Kruger National Park. Carmel agreed with this, so we sped across the country to Hazyview, through some very pretty areas, and spent our last day there, driving around the southern part of Kruger, before going back to Johannesburg, straight to the airport, and heading home to Perth.

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