For the mindful traveller, this 24 day package is the perfect combination of touring the main attractions in Namibia and volunteering at the Elephant Human Relations Aid. Overnight in well located lodges in and near Etosha National Park and outside Namib Naukluft National Park and includes a few nights in Swakopmund in between. You will be able to experience the amazing sand dune sea of the Namib and Sossusvlei region as well as Etosha National Park, renowned as one of the best game reserves in Africa.
DAY 1: Friday -International Airport – Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek 50km
Today we are collected at the Hosea Kutako International Airport, and brought into Windhoek to Chameleon Backpackers, our accommodation for the night.
Tonight’s meal is at own expense in one of the many great restaurants that Windhoek have to offer.
Day 2: Saturday Windhoek – Okonjima Nature Reserve – 220 km
You will be collected from Chameleon Backpackers at 07:15 and transferred to Chameleon Safaris Head Office for a short pre-departure meeting.Heading north we will make our first stop in the small town of Okahandja where we will find Namibia’s largest wood carving market. Craftsmen from all over Namibia come here to showcase a wide variety of items both large and small. Here we have the opportunity to collect a truly Namibian souvenir and at the same time to support the local artists and communities.
Onwards to our overnight destination at Okonjima Nature Reserve, a vast area of 20,000 hectares, (almost 50,000 acres). Okonjima is also the home of the Africat Foundation, an organisation dedicated to ensuring the long-term survival of Namibia’s large carnivore species, some of which we are intending to see during our stay here.
We aim to arrive at Okonjima around midday giving plenty of time to set up our camp and enjoy a picnic lunch.
This afternoon we have two activities to enjoy. First we will meet some of the resident cheetah here at Okonjima. Above all the many species that have a home here at Okonjima, cheetah were the first love and, with a specialist guide, we will learn all about this fascinating species and the pressures and challenges they face to survive in the modern world.
Later in the afternoon we will be taken on a more general game drive on the property. It is time to start spotting and learning some of the names and habits of Namibia’s extraordinary and plentiful wild residents.
Returning to camp in the late afternoon, our dinner will be cooked by our guide over an open fire.
Day 3: Sunday – Okonjima – Okaukuejo – Etosha National Park – 220 km
Departing after breakfast we head back to the main road to continue our journey north, en-route to Etosha National Park. We make a short stop for essential supplies in the small town of Otjwarongo before continuing on to Etosha’s main camp at Okaukuejo.
We are introduced to the park with a short game drive between the main entrance gate, (Anderson Gate), and Okaukuejo Camp with a good chance to spot big game right from the very start. Etosha is huge, just over 22,000 square km and is home to 114 species of mammal, 350 species of bird, 110 species of reptile, uncountable numbers of insect and, somewhat bizarrely, one species of fish.
After setting up our campsite we will head out into Etosha in search of big game. Elephant, rhino, giraffe and the big cats are often seen in this area. We also look for the smaller species, several types of antelope and gazelle abound, zebra are common and the bird life can be spectacular.
All visitors must be back in camp at sunset, but the ‘game show’ doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Assessable on foot and only a short walk from our campsite, Okaukuejo is justly famous for its flood lit waterhole where we are afforded the chance to see all of Etosha’s treasures. Big cats, elephant and the whole spectrum of smaller game, but in particular, this is our best chance of getting up close to a black rhino. Namibia is the last stronghold of these critically endangered creatures but here, at Okaukuejo, they are regular visitors.
Day 4: Monday – Okaukuejo – Halali – Okaukuejo – Etosha National Park
We have the whole day to explore Etosha and we want to make the most of it. The park gates open at sunrise and after a quick cup of coffee and a snack we will aim to be on our way as the sun breaches the horizon. Early morning is usually a productive time for game viewing and first thing in the morning is a good time to catch big cats returning from the hunt.
Etosha is desert landscape and water is the most scarce natural resource. There are however numerous waterholes here, both natural and man-made, and our game driving technique is to take in as many as of these possible. Here we hope that the game will come to us as the animals attend for an early morning drink.
Along the way we will make a stop at a designated picnic area for a quick breakfast before continuing our game drive en-route to the camp at Halali. The name for Halali is taken from a bugle refrain that was originally used during sport hunting with horse and hounds in Europe. The bugler would sound the Halali to signify that the hunt was over. This was considered appropriate for Etosha as inside the protection of the park, the hunting of animals is over forever.
We will have lunch at Halali. There is a small shop with basic merchandise and a few souvenirs and there will also be time for a swim in the pool. There is also time to visit the Halali camp waterhole before we head back out into the park for our afternoon game drive.
On our way back to Okaukuejo we will stop to have a closer look at the Etosha Pan. The name Etosha translates as ‘great white space’ but this name does not do justice to the immensity of the pan. Over 4,700 square km of dazzling white mineral pan, so big that it can be seen from space.
Keeping a sharp look out for game as we wind our way back to Okaukuejo, we aim to arrive back at our camp just before sunset and just in time for the best hour of the day at the Okaukuejo waterhole.
Day 5: Tuesday – Okaukuejo – Palmwag – 320 km
Time to leave Etosha and concentrate on some of Namibia’s other highlights. We will have an early breakfast and game drive our way out of the park and back to the main road.
Our first stop of the day is a fascinating cultural visit the Otjikandero Himba Village located close to the small town of Kamanjab. The Himba people traditionally have their homeland in the very far north of Namibia in extremely remote yet beautiful areas.
Because their communities were so isolated, the influence of the modern world took a little longer to reach these people and they kept on living their traditional lifestyle much longer than did other ancient cultures.
With the advent of tourism and the natural flow of change many Himba have migrated further to the south but traditions die hard and amongst all the other ethnic groups in southern Africa many Himba tribes people retain and live their traditions to this day.
The Otjikandero Himba Village is a living village, meaning that people live there on a permanent basis and largely adhere to their traditional cultures. It is not a time capsule, the 21st century has arrived here as well, but it is a good representation of traditional Himba life. We will be invited into the village, our visit will be guided and we will be encouraged to take photos and ask questions so there are no feelings of invading anyone’s privacy.
After our visit to Otjikandero we will have a short stop in Kamanjab before continuing on with our journey. The next leg of our journey today is truly spectacular, we turn to the west and head towards the mighty Etendeka Mountains and the Grootberg Pass.
Etendeka translates as ‘flat top’ and indeed many of the surrounding mountains have flat tabletops. The terrain here is covered with small uniform boulders, a legacy of the break-up of Gondwanaland when, what is now Southern Africa broke away from what is now South America around 180 million years ago.
A time of massive volcanic upheaval and the same identical rocks, (Etendeka basalts), can be found in great abundance in Brazil. As we travel through this rocky landscape we can enjoy the sweeping views and spectacular landscapes of this ancient land.
Palmwag is set out abreast of the Uniab River and under waving makalani palm trees which often provide a refuge for Namibia’s unique desert adapted elephants. Sometimes coming very close to our camp, and sometimes coming right in for a visit, the elephants have been known to drink water from the swimming pools. We arrive in the late afternoon and set up our camp in time to enjoy a sundowner and to hopefully see some of the resident elephant herds.
Day 6: Day 6: Wednesday – Palmwag – Cape Cross – 320 km
We have reached the limit of our northern adventure and today we first head west to the Atlantic Ocean and then directly south, following the coastline to Cape Cross.
We set off through more beautiful scenery and passing many weird and wonderful species of vegetation that this area is famous for. In particular we will see Namibia’s National plant the amazing and endemic Welwitschia Mirabilis. This species is in fact a dwarf tree and is found only in Namibia and southern Angola. The Welwitschia is a drought resistant superstar and almost as old as the landscape itself. Some specimens are known to be over 1,500 years old.
We enter the Skeleton Coast National Park through the northern Springbokwasser Gate and soon afterwards we meet the chilly Atlantic Ocean. It is easy to see why this barren seaboard is called the Skeleton Coast with its forbidding mountains and barren beaches. The wind, the waves and the huge fog banks all conspire to push ships onto the beach. The countless mariners that, in olden times, found themselves shipwrecked here faced the stark prospect of no fresh water, no food, no rescue and a slow death by exposure. Their Shipmates who went down with their ship were thought to be the lucky ones.
There are some remnants of human activity along our road today. In the early 1960’s two pioneering entrepreneurs, Jack Scott and Ben du Preez found themselves convinced that both oil and diamonds were to be discovered along the Skeleton Coast and that this was their chance at fame and fortune. At huge expense a massive drilling rig was set up and managed a bore of 1,700 meters before they could finally admit that there was no oil. Not daunted and encouraged by reports of huge diamonds at Cape Cross the same pair constructed a diamond mine and processing plant at Toscanini, close to where their abandoned oil rig was already rusting away. Some diamonds were ‘found’ but there was great suspicion that the diamond processor had been ‘seeded’ with diamonds from elsewhere. A ploy to keep the investors happy for a little bit longer. Both enterprises ended in failure but we will pass by Toscanini and we are able to stop and have a look at the now collapsed oil drilling machine.
Exiting the park at the Ugab River crossing with its Instagram worthy iconic gates, we continue onto one of the largest seal colonies in the world.
Nobody knows exactly why the seals chose Cape Cross as their home, but there must be a good reason as there are usually upwards of 100,000 seals basking on the rocks or swimming just off the beach. These Cape fur seals are found only in South Africa, Namibia and Angola and are near endemic to Namibia. Cape Cross is the largest Cape fur seal colony in the world but there are many smaller colonies also to be found on the Namibian beaches and the Namibian Skeleton Coast hosts by far the majority of the world’s population. Cape Cross is an amazing sight, and a challenge for your nose, the smelliest stop on our safari.
Cape Cross takes its name from the stone crosses that proudly sit close to the seal colony. The first cross to be erected here was done so on the orders of the Portuguese mariner Diego Cao in 1485. In those days the cross would have been called a ‘Padrao’ and the location was thus named Cabo do Padrao or Cape Cross. The original cross is in a museum in Germany and the two crosses visible today are replicas, erected respectively by the German government and the monuments council of South Africa. The concrete discs set around the two replica crosses are in fact set out to represent the stars of the southern cross. A tribute to the navigational skills of the tough breed of men who made the first voyages of discovery. Diego Cao never made it home to Portugal from this voyage and his death is shrouded in mystery.
After visiting the seal colony it is only a short drive to our overnight stop at Cape Cross. We aim to arrive in the late afternoon and there should be time for a sunset walk on the beach.
Day 7: Thursday – Cape Cross – Swakopmund – 120 km
We have a more leisurely start today and after a cooked breakfast we head south along the coast to the adventure capital of Namibia, Swakopmund.
Heading south on the coast road our first stop is a more recent shipwreck. 15 km south of the small town of Henties Bay a fishing trawler, The Zeila, was beached in 2008. She was an old vessel that had been sold for scrap and was under tow at the time. The cable snapped and, as so many vessels before her, she was caught in the swell and currents and ended up on the beach. She lays quite close to the shore and is well positioned for photos.
Continuing south along the coast road there is another interesting stop to make before we arrive in Swakopmund. Namibia is home to a world-record number of lichen and along the coast here we find vast lichen fields. Examples such as we have here, of this nature and scale are very rare around the world.
Lichen often look like plants and do to some degree function like plants but they are not a plant and can be well described as a composite organism. The lichen we find in such abundance along the Skeleton Coast are called macro-lichen which typically refers to lichen that are bush like or leafy. The curious thing about lichen is that it is made up of two separate organisms, algae and fungi. Neither organism would be able to survive in this environment on its own, (separate them and they will both die), but together they form a symbiotic relationship within which both can thrive. The fungi is responsible for collecting the moisture that they both use and the algae is responsible for the food. Unlike plants lichen have no roots, but they do perform photosynthesis, or rather the algae part of the lichen, which is green, performs photosynthesis. The chemical sugars produced by this process keeps both fungi and algae well fed. It almost never rains on the Skeleton Coast but the region is famous for its foggy weather. Heavy mist is common, occurring up to 250 days of the year, and all the organisms, including lichen, that survive on the Skeleton Coast, are specially adapted to be able to utilise fog as their main source of water.
Lichen is extremely fragile. Typically with a growth rate of around 1 millimetre per year, and it is very easily damaged. Off road driving is a major problem for the conservation of these unique lichen fields, but a lot of damage is also done simply by people walking on the lichen. Our guide will direct us as to where we are allowed to walk as he introduces us to the lichen fields and great care must be taken that we do not inadvertently cause any damage during our visit.
We complete the final leg of our journey into Swakopmund, an interesting place to say the least, bound to the north, the east and the south by the mighty sand dunes of the Namib Desert and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. There are still many examples of colonial German architecture to be seen and the German language is still widely used. The town was founded by Captain Kurt von François of the imperial colonial army of the German empire in 1892. (He also founded Windhoek in 1890).
Swakopmund offers many opportunities to keep us busy during our time here. The town centre is small and easily explored on foot but there are also many extra, optional activities available. Scenic flights over the desert are very popular and for the more adventurous perhaps try sky diving or quad biking over and in the Namib dunes.
For the more leisurely minded there are bicycle tours and the very popular ‘living desert’ excursions. Here you will join a group in a vehicle with a specialist guide who will take you into the sand dunes sea and introduce you to some of the amazing creatures and plants that survive in one of the toughest environments in the world.
Our guide will discuss all the options with you in advance and will be able to facilitate any bookings that we would like to make. Tonigts dinner is at own expense and you guide can recommend one of the great restaurants in Swakopmund.
Day 8: Friday – Swakopmund – Desert Camp, near Sesriem – 350 km
We have the option to have a more leisurely start this morning as we are only leaving Swakopmund in the middle morning. Your guide will let you know the exact time of departure.
If you choose not to have a lie in then Swakopmund offers many opportunities to keep us busy during our morning here. The town centre is small and easily explored on foot but there are also many extra, optional activities available.
For the more leisurely minded there are scenic flights over the shipwrecks and the desert which are very popular, as are bicycle tours and the excellent ‘living desert’ excursions where you will join a group in a vehicle with a specialist guide who will take you into the sand dunes sea and introduce you to some of the amazing creatures and plants that survive in one of the toughest environments in the world.
For those with a love of adrenaline quad biking and sky diving are on the menu, and sand boarding is also very popular if you fancy careering down the slip face of a sand dune at 60 km per hour.
Departing Swakopmund in the mid-morning we head east into the desert. We first cross the Namib gravel plains, large areas of flat and seemingly barren terrain broken up by huge mountain inselbergs.
We have two mountain passes to traverse this afternoon, first is the mighty Kuiseb Pass and we follow the road from the top of the mountains, dropping steeply down into the canyon carved over eons by the Kuiseb River on its way to debouch into the ocean at the port town of Walvis Bay.
We climb up from the banks of the river and over the pass, travelling through the mountain peaks and on to the second, smaller canyon of the Gaub River, a tributary of the Kuiseb. We emerge from the mountains onto a flat road and almost immediately we cross the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 south degrees. There is a signpost at this auspicious spot and we stop along the road for photos.
Onwards again to our destination for today, Desert Camp, located very close to the National Park entrance at Sesriem which is the gateway to the dunes at Sossusvlei.
Overnight is in twin rooms with en-suite bathroom facilities.
There is a pool and bar available, and dinner is prepared by our guide over an open fire.
Day 9: Saturday – Desert Camp, Sossusvlei – Desert Camp – 120 km
Sunrise in the dunes is the name of the game this morning and that means a pre-dawn start and a very early breakfast.
The best time to photograph the dunes is around sunrise and sunset. This is when you can see towering sand dunes illuminated a glowing orange, apricot red on one side and swathed in shadow on the other. The depth of field is amazing at this time of day.
From Sesriem we cover the 60 km into the dunes quickly and arrive at the 2×4 car park where all 2 wheel drive vehicles have to stop. From here we enter the ancient Tsauchab River-bed for the last 5km leg to Sossusvlei itself.
The Tsauchab River is ephemeral, it only flows seasonally, when there is enough rain, and for the most part the riverbed is dry. Eons ago, during these rare floods the Tsauchab sometimes received enough water to flow all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. However, as the millennia passed and the dune fields began to form, (around five million years ago), wind -blown sand invaded the riverbeds. The rivers became more and more constricted by sand until eventually the occasional floods could not break through the sand barriers that had been erected by the wind. The valley we drove along this morning to get here is kept free of sand by the Tsauchab but Sossusvlei is now permanently waters end.
Sossusvlei does still sometimes flood, (perhaps once in a decade). After good rains in the Naukluft Mountains where the river rises Sossusvlei can become inundated, and the lake that this creates can last for many months, but no longer can the river find its original path to the Atlantic.
There is a 4×4 shuttle service that will transport us through the sandy terrain of the riverbed. We will visit Dead Vlei, an ancient pan completely surrounded by dunes, that is strikingly populated with dead, skeletal camelthorn trees. These trees have been a feature on this landscape for over 1000 years. Sossusvlei is almost surrounded by dunes, just one narrow path kept open by the Tsauchab River.
We have time to explore the area on foot and to climb one of the highest dunes in the world, some towering 300 m above us, the views are breath taking and justly famous.
We drive back the way we came, (there is only one road), stopping at the iconic Dune 45, (so named as it is 45 km from Sesriem. There is time to climb Dune 45 if you still have energy, or perhaps just a sit in the shade at the base of the dune will suffice.
Driving back to Sesriem we take a short excursion to see the Sesriem Canyon. Only four km from Sesriem, this canyon has been carved out of the landscape by the Tsauchab River. Around two million years ago there was an ice age in Europe. This caused glaciers to form and resulted in a worldwide drop in sea level.
The knock on effect of this at Sesriem Canyon was that it increased the length and waterflow of the Tsauchab River. This greater force of water allowed the Tsauchab to begin cutting through the terrain resulting in the canyon we can see today. We can easily walk into the riverbed, it is usually much cooler in the canyon and we can follow the river for some way along its journey to Sossusvlei.
We head back to Desert Camp in the late afternoon.
Day 10: Sunday – Desert Camp – Swakopmund A La Mer – 350 km
Today we head back to Solitaire and join open vehicle to visit one of their local conservation projects, in this case cheetah. Solitaire is home to a number of cheetah that, for different reasons, are unable to be released back into the wild. for different reasons. This excursion allows us the chance to learn all about the cheetah, the work done by local conservation projects, and also get some incredible photos of the world’s fastest land mammal. Ther is time to smapl some of the world famous apple pie
We head back to Swakopmund at 13h00 with a shuttle and dropped off at our accommodation.
DAY 11 – 21: Monday – Thursday -Swakopmund – EHRA volunteer project -250km
Today is the start of the Elephant Human Relations Aid volunteer project and we get our hands dirty for the next 11 days, helping out at this project. EHRA works directly with local communities to provide hands-on conservation support by building protective walls around windmills, water tanks and/or pumps. This prevents the elephants from destroying property whilst searching for water.
Since their existence in 2003, they have constructed over 220 protective walls with the help of about 3500 volunteers. Expect to get sweaty, learn about conservation, make new friends, sleep under the stars and enjoy the natural surroundings. All cooking is done over the fire and we work in groups taking turns to be on kitchen duty, which includes providing ‘coffee-in-bed’ in the mornings.
At the EHRA base camp everyone sleep in a large tree on a wooden platform! There are also showers and long-drop toilets here. You will leave base camp and be camping in the African Wilderness for the duration of your time on each project. There are no washing facilities on either build or patrol week but you can enjoy a shower at the EHRA base camp when we return for the weekend in between the 2 weeks.
Tents can be provided, alternatively we all sleep on mattresses on a large tarpaulin under the stars. As the camp on build week is the same spot for for the duration of the build project, we can set up a long-drop style toilet. However, the camp locations change every night on patrol week – a true wild camping using the bush toilet! Your helpful EHRA staff will be sure you are comfortable and will explain how to do this safely and in an eco-friendly way.
DAY 22: Friday -EHRA volunteer project – Hotel A La Mer, Swakopmund -250km
Time to say goodbye to the group as our adventure comes to an end after breakfast we return to Swakopmund for one night before returning back to Windhoek.
Have a chance to download all your awesome experiences, enjoy a refreshing “hotel” shower and a last restaurant meal with our new like-minded friends, tonight’s dinner is at our own expense
DAY 23: DAY 23: Saturday -Swakopmund -Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek – 360 km
Enjoy an early breakfast before we are collected by Carlo Shuttle for our drive back to Windhoek. Enjoy an evening at the bar and pool at Chameleon Backpackers.
DAY 24: Sunday -Chameleon Backpackers -Internationa Airport -50km
For those flying out today, if flights are in the afternoon, keep busy this morning with a FREE city walking tour, or City & Township Tour at own expense. Your driver will collect you and transfer you to the airport with ample time for check-in and formalities.
Fly home knowing you have made a small difference in the lives of the free roaming Namibian Desert Elephant and the local people that live within that region.