Etosha & Swakopmund
per person sharing
Departures on this 3 day and 2 night accommodated adventure are from Windhoek every Tuesday and this itinerary is a fantastic way quickly to ‘’Snapshot’’ three of Namibia’s greatest highlights.
Amazing wildlife opportunities abound in Etosha National Park where in many cases the animals come to us as we seek out the myriad of waterholes. We are looking for predators and prey alike, lion and leopard, elephant and giraffe, black rhino and eland are all in the mix of possible sightings together with so many more species of mammal and birds that it is impossible to mention them all.
The mineral pan ‘’The Great White Space’’ from which Etosha takes its name is 22,000 square km of desolate, dazzling expanse, so big it can be seen from space.
Beautiful Damaraland gives us a unique ‘’Big Sky’’ experience, where the towering pink granite koppies seem to touch the very sky on our horizon. Stunning in every season this region of mountains and grassland, trees and riverbeds, desert elephant and desert rhino, puts real meaning into the words ‘’breath taking’’.
We meet some of the locals as we travel through Damaraland, Himba, Herero & Damara people, often in traditional dress, welcome us to their makeshift roadside stalls where they sell traditional handcrafts to the passing traffic. Onwards, westward, passing under the shadow of Namibia’s highest mountain, The Brandberg, we make our way down to the Atlantic Ocean.
Reaching the wild and rugged Skeleton Coast, we follow the ocean road into the unusual and quirky town of Swakopmund. Referred to by some as the adrenaline capital of Namibia, there are certainly some hair-raising experiences on offer, but Swakopmund is also a place where you can relax and recharge.
Walvis Bay Lagoon, an internationally recognised Ramsar site wetland, is home to spectacular flamingo flocks before heading back to the city and journeys end.
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Day 1: Tuesday Windhoek – Halali, Etosha National Park – 500 km
You will be collected from your accommodation within the Windhoek city limits at 07:00 and transferred to Chameleon Headquarters 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 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 our 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 2: 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 a 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 3: 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 4: Friday Swakopmund – Walvis Bay – Swakopmund – Windhoek – 420 km
We have a more leisurely start this morning and lie-in, a big breakfast and a wander around town might well be the order of the day. There are some great curio shops, excellent book shops and there is a real café culture going on here with plenty of small eateries serving delicious food.
For anybody who would like to be a bit more active there is time for an excursion with our guide to the port town of Walvis Bay, and to the impressive Dune 7, located 7 km outside the town.
Just 40 km along the coast to the south, Walvis Bay, (Whale Bay), lagoon is an internationally recognised Ramsar site, (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat) and is justly renowned for its birdlife and in particular flamingos which are usually abundant and found within easy photo distance from the shore.
There are two types of flamingo to see, lessor and greater and they accumulate here because Namibia’s Atlantic coast is abundant with both phytoplankton and zoo plankton. Flamingos do not enjoy a solid diet, they live on micro-organisms such as plankton and they are filter feeders, almost like an oyster. They rinse the seawater through their beaks and tiny filaments filter out the nutrients as it swishes by. Flamingos are unable to eat unless their heads are fully inverted and, while feeding, they walk around in a circle stirring the sand and mud with their feet to release the nutrients. Certain types of these micro-organisms turn reddish pink when they die and this accounts for the pink colour of the birds.
Flamingos do not breed in Walvis Bay. The tides here are not usually very steep, but occasional spring tides can bring deeper waters and this in not suitable for the specalised nest constructed by the birds. Flamingos build a nest, called a cone, out of sand and mud which has a hollow top into which they lay a single egg. This cone is designed to keep the egg out of the water and so a tidal environment does not work. Instead, for breeding, huge flocks of birds head typically for the Etosha Pan or to the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana. Both these mineral pans are seasonal and are usually dry but can flood when there is sufficient rain. It is still not properly understood how the flamingos know when there has been suitable rain fall in these relatively far away catchment areas, but somehow they do know and they leave the coast in great flocks that streek the horizon pink as head inland.
Heading back to Swakopmund in the early afternoon we then take the main tar road back to Windhoek. We will have a light lunch en-route and on arrival in Windhoek you will be dropped off at your accommodation anywhere within the Windhoek city limits.