For the enthusiastic volunteer, this 21-day package is the perfect combination of touring the main attractions in Namibia and volunteering at the Elephant Human Relations Aid. Whilst on safari, overnight in well-located lodges in and near Etosha National Park and outside Namib Naukluft National Park and includes 1 night at Swakopmund in between. You will be able to experience the amazing sand dune sea of the Namib and Sossusvlei region. Renowned as one of the best game reserves in Africa, Etosha National Park is a haven for wildlife and supports one of the most important ecological and wildlife systems on the continent. At 22,270 km sq this huge park hosts an impressive collection of game including the white rhino and endangered black rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, giraffe and numerous species of antelope as well as an impressive 340 species of birds – enough to keep any nature and wildlife enthusiast happy. Combine this with the chance to explore the worlds oldest desert, the Namib, and the chance to take in the mesmerising beauty that is Deadvlei, Sossusvlei as well as climbing some of the largest sand dunes in the world. Then, head out to the Elephant Human Relations Aid for 11 days of action. 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.
DAY 1: Monday- International Airport- Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek -50 km
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 your own expense at one of the many restaurants in Windhoek, or stay at the Backpackers and order in.
Day 2: Tuesday – Windhoek – Halali, Etosha National Park – 500 km
You will be collected from your accommodation within the Windhoek city limits at 07:15 and transferred to Chameleon Head Office for a short pre-departure meeting. Heading north from Windhoek, we stop briefly at the small town of Otjiwarongo to gather some last-minute supplies before continuing on to Etosha and we enjoy a light lunch pack whilst “on the move”. We enter Etosha National Park and game drive our way to our overnight accommodation at Halali Camp.
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. There are good chances of spotting many of these different creatures as we tour through the park, stopping at the various waterholes along the way.
All visitors must be in camp by sunset and we aim to arrive at our lodge at Halali just before sunset and with time to settle into our rooms, with en-suite bathroom and tea/coffee facilities.
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 National Park, the hunting of animals is over forever.
The ‘game show’ in Etosha doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. All the Etosha camps have floodlit waterholes for extra game viewing opportunities. The Halali waterhole is called Moringa, after the moringa trees that are abundant here, and it is located within walking distance from our accommodation. A visit, or two, is highly recommended this evening as we can expect many species to visit Moringa during the night and this waterhole is known to be very popular with elephant and the critically endangered black rhino.
Day 3: Wednesday – Halali – Etosha Village near Anderson gate – 70 km
We have the whole day to explore Etosha and we want to make the most of it. The park gates open at sunrise and we aim to be on our way just 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.
We return to Halali for breakfast and to load our vehicle before heading out into the park once again in search of big game. 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 thirsty animals attend for a much needed drink. On our way today 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.
We exit Etosha at the Anderson gate close to sunset and it is just a short drive to or accommodation in a comfortable spacious twin share room with modern en-suite bathroom facilities. An ideal space to sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. A fantastic dinner is prepared by our guide this evening.
Day 4: Thursday – Etosha – Swakopmund, Hotel A La Mer – 510 km
After breakfast we aim to be on the road by 07:30 today. We are heading for the Skeleton Coast and we are taking the scenic route. We first head south on the main road, passing the small town of Outjo, then onwards towards the west and picking up the gravel road as we travel through an area known as Damaraland.
Damaraland is famed for its scenery, mountains, open grasslands, tall koppies, (small hills), of round pink granite boulders, wide open spaces and big sky. We also have a chance to meet some of the locals as there are several places along our road today where we can find informal shops selling locally made, hand crafted souvenirs. Represented here we usually find ladies from the Himba, Herero and Damara tribes and most often they are wearing their traditional dress. Here we can interact with some of the colourful local characters who live in this harsh environment. Making a small purchase here is a good way to inject some cash directly into the local economy.
We continue on through the beautiful landscape, making a stop for a light picnic lunch, under the shadow of Namibia’s highest mountain, the Brandberg. Rising up from the desert floor, this giant monolith is 2,573 m above sea level and is formed of pink tinged granite.
We continue our journey west and soon arrive at the coast and the chilly Atlantic Ocean. The whole coastline of Namibia is known as the Skeleton Coast and it is easy to see why this barren seaboard is so named 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.
Heading south on the coast road our next 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.
We complete the final leg of our journey into Swakopmund, we check into our accommodation, the centrally located A La Mer hotel and the town is easily explored on foot from our central location. Swakopmund was founded by Captain Kurt von François of the imperial colonial army of the German empire in 1892. (He also founded Windhoek in 1890). It is an interesting town to say the least, bounded 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.
Swakopmund boasts some truly excellent restaurants and again your guide will be able to help you with recommendations and bookings.
Day 5: 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.
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 those with a love of adrenaline quad biking and sand boarding is very popular if you fancy careering down the slip face of a sand dune at 60 km per hour.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.
Departing Swakopmund 11h30 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.
From here we continue on through the desert landscape to the tiny town of Solitaire where we can stretch our legs and sample the apple pie that has made this homestead famous. 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 6: 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 river-bed 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 river-beds. 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 river-bed. 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 river-bed, 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 7: Sunday -Desert Camp – Hotel A La Mer, Swakopmund 350 km
Our last day today but excitement is still on the menu. 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. You have time the sample the world-famous apple pie.
We head back to Swakopmund at 13h00 with a shuttle and are dropped off at our accommodation. We join the pre-project talk at the hotel in the evening for more in-depth information on our project and get to know the other volunteers and coordinators.
DAY 8- 18: Monday Swakopmund Hotel A Lar -EHRA volunteer project -250km
Today we join the Elephant Human Relations Aid volunteer project and get our hands dirty for the next two weeks, 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, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At the EHRA base camp everyone sleeps 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 weeks but you can enjoy a shower at the EHRA base camp when we return for the weekend in between the two 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 in the same spot for the duration of the build project, we can set up a private long drop style toilet. However, the camp locations change every night on patrol week – a true wild camping experience 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 19 : 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 and 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 meal is at own expense
DAY 20: Saturday – Hotel A La Mer Swakopmund – Chameleon Backpackers, Winhoek -360 km
Enjoy an early breakfast before we are collected by Carlos Shuttle for our drive back to Windhoek, Spend the evening at the Chameleon Backpackers bar or go out for an evening meal, tonight’s meal is at your own cost.
DAY 21: Monday -Chameleon Backpackers -International 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. Your driver will collect you and transfer you to the airport with ample time for checkin and formalities.
Fly home knowing that you have made a small difference in the lives of the free roaming Namibian Desert Elephant and the local people that live within this region.