For the enthusiastic volunteer, this 15-day package is the perfect combination of touring Northern Namibia and wrapping up with a week of volunteering at the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. Enjoy sightings of wildlife at the Mount Etjo Game Reserve and Etosha National Park before immersing ourselves in the rich culture of the Himba tribe. We explore Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and visit the seals at Cape Cross before enjoying our last night of the tour in Swakopmund, Namibia’s adventure capital. Here we can enjoy any number of adrenaline-inducing optional activities from sandboarding to quad biking and more before returning to Windhoek where our tour ends and our volunteering adventure begins.
Day 1: Friday -Windhoek International Airport -Chameleon Backpackers, Windhoek -50 km
We will be collected from the Hosea Kutako International Airport on arrival and transferred to Chameleon Backpackers centrally located in Windhoek. Time permitting, we have the opportunity to join one of the optional activities that Chameleon Safaris has to offer.
Tonight’s meal is at your own expense in one of the many restaurants in Windhoek or order in and enjoy the evening at the Chameleon Backpackers’ bar before having an early night in preparation for the next 6days exploring Nothern Namibia.
Day 2: Saturday Windhoek – Mount Etjo Game Reserve
You will be collected from your accommodation within the Windhoek city limits at 07:15 and transferred to Chameleon Headquaters 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 Mt. Etjo campsite which is located adjacent to the private Okonjati Game Reserve. After making camp and preparing lunch we will drive the three kilometres to the lodge where there will be time to explore the grounds and have a dip in the pool.
The lodge is built in an attractive Moroccan style with red terracotta buildings and abundant palm trees and lawns. Around the lodge, and throughout the Okonjati reserve, rainwater dams have been built creating, after good rains, many large pools and small lakes. Around the main lodge area the lake is extensive and supports a small population of hippopotamus. The habitat that these huge ‘water cows’ enjoy at the lodge is artificial as hippos do not occur naturally in this semi desert region of Namibia. It does however offer us the privilege of perhaps seeing and photographing this iconic African species without having to travel many kilometres to the far north of Namibia.
Time for our first game drive, we meet our local guide and climb aboard open game viewing vehicles for our, about three hour, excursion into the reserve. The reserve is big 36,000 hectares, (nearly 90,000 acres), and it is as abundant in magnificent scenery as it is in wildlife. The overall terrain is dotted with truly huge copper red and grey termite mounds and is rich in native vegetation, dominated by Vachellia, (formally Acacia), thorn scrub and standing mopani trees. Okonjati reserve is largely free of invasive vegetation, thanks in part to the healthy appetites of the resident pachyderms and other shrub browsing species found here. This allows for areas of open and semi open grassland savanna, criss-crossed with many dry streams and riverbeds. Perfect for the game and perfect for us as the open landscape makes game viewing and photography a pleasure.
We are hoping for Big Game, elephant and rhino in particular but we are also watching out for giraffe and other, smaller species as well. Springbok, wildebeest, impala and kudu are numerous, but also mammals like warthog, steenbok and damara dick-dick are all waiting to be spotted by sharp eyes. In the bush and around the seasonal waterholes the game and birdlife is abundant.
Not to be outdone by the wildlife, the scenery remains dominant. Pristine bush under truly iconic African Big Sky’s and with a backdrop of towering red and grey sandstone massives. It doesn’t get much better than this.Around sunset we will stop for some refreshments before returning to the lodge and then heading back to our campsite and dinner tonight will be cooked by our guide over an open fire.
We are not done yet though!
After dinner we head back to the lodge to watch some of the resident lion enjoy their evening meal. These Big Cats are permanent residents at Mt. Etjo and have their own large secure enclosure where they live and where they are able to hunt naturally. From a secure hide that offers a close-up view we can watch and photograph these magnificent cats as they arrive to enjoy the extra snack that is laid out for them.
From here we once again head back to our camp where we can, after a jam-packed day, finally settle down for our first night under canvas.
Accommodation: Twin share tents, shared ablution at campsite
Meals: Lunch & Dinner
Day 3: Sunday – Mount Etjo Game Reserve – 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: Wednesday – Palmwag Camp – Cape Cross – 360 km
The next leg of our journey today is truly spectacular as we head towards the mighty Etendeka Mountains and the Grootberg Pass.
Etendeka translates as ‘flat top’ and indeed many of the surrounding mountains have flat table-tops. 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.
We reach the limit of our northern adventure this morning, turning briefly south, then directly west to the Atlantic Ocean and then finally south again, following the coastline to Cape Cross.
We really are now in the land of contrasts with beautiful ever changing scenery. We are also 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 on 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 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 on to Cape Cross seal colony. 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.
Moving o to our campsite at Cape Cross Lodge, we aim to be there in time for a sunset walk on the beach.
Day 7: Day 7: Thursday – Cape Cross – Swakopmund – Hotel A La Mer Swakopmund
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, no tents tonight we check into our accommodation, the centrally located A La Mer hotel.
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).
Swakopmund is an interesting place 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 offers many opportunities to keep us busy during our time here. The toun 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. 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.
Lunch and dinner tonight are for your own account, Swakopmund boasts some truly excellent restaurants and again our guide will be able to help you with recommendations and bookings.
Day 8: 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.
From the lagoon we head a few kilometres out of Walvis Bay to the impressive Dune 7 where we can get a taste of the sand dune desert. Argued by some that Dune 7 is the highest in the sand dune world, it is certainly an impressive feature and it is easily the tallest of the coastal dunes. Wind is king where sand dunes are involved, all the dunes in the Namib Desert are formed of wind blown sand and the dune crests are re-sculped on a daily basis by the chilly south-westerly breeze blowing in from the Atlantic. There is time to climb the dune if you wish, and from the top you will be rewarded with a fantastic panorama of the surrounding countryside.
Heading back to Swakopmund and then taking the main tar road back to Windhoek. We will have a light lunch en-route and aim to be back in Windhoek in the late afternoon where we will check into our accommodation at the Chameleon Backpackers hostel. Dinner is for your own account and the staff at Chameleon will be happy to recommend many of Windhoek’s excellent restaurants and assist with bookings.
Day 9: Saturday -Windhoek -N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary -50 km
A early start this morning, we will be transferred to the volunteer centre at N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary, which provides a safe haven for injured, orphaned or conflict animals. Whenever possible the goal is to re-introduce the animals into the wild. Only animals too ill, abused or habituated remain at the sanctuary.
After arriving we get a briefing from the staff of what to expect over the next couple of days and have the opportunity to meet some of the other volunteers and some of the animals that we will be working with before we join the N/a’an ku sê team for a lovely welcome braai as our evening meal.
Day 10: Sunday -N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary
Our morning starts with an early breakfast and Sundays are rest days but not before we prepare and feed the orphaned and injured animals.
This usually takes between 1 and 2 hours in the morning. The rest of the day we can spend enjoying the beautiful outdoors, around the pool reading a book or learning more about the conservation work done at the volunteer centre.
Day 11 – 14: Monday – Thursday -N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary
We enjoy early morning breakfast and a quick morning meeting with the team to start the day off. The next couple of days is the perfect opportunity to learn about and actively participate in the conservation, rehabilitation, care and research of African wildlife.
The wildlife team takes us out for group based morning activities, such as feeding orphaned and injured animals, cleaning enclosures or project work and animal enrichment. After a morning full of fun and work, we enjoy a light lunch at the Lapa.
After lunch we start the afternoon activities with a presentation from the research team before we learn about the ongoing projects N/a’an ku se is involved with to support wildlife conservation. Research activities may include; monitoring free roaming carnivores, analysing camera traps, and analysing GPS data or game counts.
Dinner each night is a delicious home cooked meal served at the Lapa.
Day 15: Friday -N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary -International Airport – 50 km
Enjoy breakfast before transferring through to the International Airport approximately 3 hours before our scheduled flight departure.