Part 1: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Windhoek to Helmeringhausen, Namibia.

Day 1, October 11: Dar es Salaam to Windhoek.

Our flight from Dar es Salaam to Windhoek, went via Johannesburg.

It was on this first leg of our flight that I read Australia had been thrashed by the Proteas in their fourth ODI.

The article was in a South African newspaper, and were they gloating. It looked like the series could be a whitewash and as it turned out it was.

I certainly wasn’t going to enjoy discussing cricket with the South Africans, once we reached there in a months time.

Having been up since 3am, for our flight to Windhoek, we needed an early night. We found an Italian restaurant a short walk from the hotel.

It was full of Western faces.

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Day 2, October 12: Windhoek.

Namibia, well at least Windhoek, is very German. The faces look German, they speak German and everything has a German efficiency about it.

Even the breakfast at our hotel, Palmquell Hotel Pension, was typically German with fruit, bread, cold meats and a selection of cheeses.

We were served by a very pleasant, but serious, woman with a very German accent.

Most of the hotel guests were also German. In fact 80% of tourists to Namibia are German.

Getting a new SIM card was the easiest we have experienced.

MTC (Make The Connection), the local provider, put Vodaphoney to shame.

Picking up the car was also very efficient. They knew our name as we walked through the door and then they proceeded to take us through a very thorough process of legalities and responsibilities. We were then passed on to another person who briefed us on the vehicle.

Our rental vehicle was a rather large, white, Toyota Fortuner 4X4, equipped with two spare tyres, an air compressor (for inflating and deflating tyres), towrope, two jacks and jumper leads.

Hopefully I will never have to use any of it.

After picking up the car we drove to Maeria Mall to get some supplies.

We were told not to leave anything visible in the boot of Fortuner. This was made difficult as there was no cover supplied, so we decided to buy a black sheet to put over our luggage. Plus we need a good supply of water and snacks for our days on the road.

The meal on our second night was at a Portuguese restaurant.

The food was very basic.

We decided to have some of the local meat and chose Oryx. It was an island of overcooked meat in a lake of rich, salty sauce and lacking in taste.

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Day 3, October 13: Windhoek to Kalahari.

Before driving south towards the Kalahari Desert we spent some time motoring around Windhoek.

With a population of less than 400,000, it’s a bit like a large regional town, rather than a capital city.

But then the entire population of Namibia is only 2.2 million.

As we drove south the geography changed to a semi-arid red sandy savannah.

The road was good and it was only when we reached the turn off at Kalkrand did we hit the gravel.

It was only 262 km from Windhoek to Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge, so our first drive in Namibia was relatively easy.

The lodges sat along side a dry lake bed, or vlei and there was a small water hole about 150 metres from our veranda.

We were expecting wildlife to visit the waterhole in the evening but they didn’t come until the next morning.

There were four large blocks, that looked like concrete, scattered around the waterhole. When a family of Eland came to drink at the vlei, we discovered that these were blocks of salt.

They are there to give the animals extra minerals.

Late in the afternoon, when the temperature had dropped below 30°C, we went for a bike ride.

The lodge has a number of ‘Fat Bikes’ that they encourage you to take out into the dunes.

The super large tyres make it easier to ride on the soft sand.

Unfortunately my bike didn’t have an adjustable seat. It had been set for someone far taller than me, which is most people, so I struggled.

We returned just on sunset and managed to get some hero shots of the sun setting behind the ubiquitous Acacia tree.

The evening meal at Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge was a fixed menu.

Oryx filet was our only choice.

Having had the very badly prepared Oryx steak in Windhoek, I wasn’t happy.

I needn’t have worried, as our meal was in total contrast to the one the previous evening.

It was a small portions with just the right amount of a creamy pepper sauce and plenty of fresh vegetables.

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Day 4, October 14: Kalahari.

Even though we had our own 4X4 we decided to take the afternoon game drive, provided by the lodge.

Jonathan was our driver and guide for the drive, which started at 4pm, when the heat of the day had subsided.

We were out for three hours, meandering around the park, but not really straying too far from the main camp.

As Jonathan explained, there are no predators in this part of the Kalahari so the animals can wander around in small herds without fear.

And so can the visitors.

There are many walking and hiking tracks around the lodge, which the Germans, being great walkers, love.

We saw oryx, Blue Wildebeest, Common Springbok, Ground Squirrels, ostriches, Black Springbok, Common Zebra and a Yellow Mongoose.

Apart from having an excellent knowledge of the animals, Jonathan also knew about the flora and especially its relationship with the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari or San people.

The San are believed to be the first inhabitants of Botswana and Southern Africa and were traditionally nomadic hunter gatherers.

There were eight guest from the lodge on the drive, all of them spoke German, except Thea and me. Of course they also spoke excellent English. Jonathan’s, sometimes amusing commentary, was in English so everyone could understand.

We ended the drive with drinks and snacks, watching the sun set over the Kalahari.

Our first Namibian ‘Sundowner’ experience.

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Day 5, October 15: Kalahari to Quivertree Forest.

We continued our drive south on the B1, which was arid with sparse vegetation.

We could be forgiven for thinking we were anywhere in the world that was dry and rocky. That’s until we came across three largish black baboons crossing the road.

We knew we were still in Africa.

Then, just after we arrived at the Quivertree Forest Rest Camp, a warthog wandered past.

It seemed to know its way around, as it headed straight for the restaurant kitchen.

Apart from the warthog there were three Border Collies and a very large, black greyhound hovering around the common area.

Two of the Border Collies like to chase dragon flies around the pool.

The next morning we discovered another three collies, now there were six.

That wasn’t the total menagerie as their was also at least one black cat and two small dogs that seemed to control the inside.

The Quivertree Forest Rest Camp is on the Farm Gariganus, which is 13 km north east of Keetmanshoop. It’s a very large working sheep station and like any farm, domestic animals are always present.  However I don’t think any of these animals did much work around the farm.

Just on sunset we went for a walk in the Quivertree Forest.

The Quivertree or Aloe Dichotoma, got their local name from the San people who used to hollow out the branches to make quivers for their arrows.

The tree is native to Southern Africa and protected there. There are fears of it becoming extinct due to climate change.

Isolated trees are spread around Southern Namibia but only three areas of forest are left in all of Africa.

Quivertree Forest in one of them, the others are a different variety of Aloe Dichotoma and on the east coast.

The forest is set in a Luna landscape of rocks and boulders and in the twilight the trees looked prehistoric.

Once we got over our excitement of the trees we started to see small brown creatures scurrying over the rocks and bounding up the trees.

We had seen rock rabbits, dassies or rock hyrax, as they are variously known, but certainly nowhere near as many as were here.

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Day 6, October 16: Quivertree Forest.

The next morning we had an early breakfast as we wanted to visit the Giants Playground before it got too hot, which it never did.

As we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted by the local cheetah who had wandered in for a feed.

She was 18 years old, which is a great age, even for captive cheetah.

Abandoned as a cub, she has lived on the farm all her life. Once rehabilitated she couldn’t be reintroduced back into the wild, as she would have posed too big a risk to the domestic livestock.

She wouldn’t be much of a threat now, as she has hardly any appetite and only eats small portions.

That evening she returned but this time she brought a friend – a seven year old female.

And she could eat.

She finished off both her dinner and that of the old cheetah.

The Giants Playground displays impressively weathered dolerite dykes which form part of the Keetmanshoop Dolerite Complex or Dolerite Swarm.

They were formed when volcanic magma rose to just below the earth’s surface. This was in the form of hundreds of individual dikes or sills that radiated from a single volcanic centre.

Over time, erosion has revealed these columns and blocks of basalt to create an unearthly landscape.

From the Giants Playground we drove a further 25 km to the Mesosaurus Fossil site.

Here the owner of the farm Spitzkoppe, Geil Steenkamp, discovered the fossils of an ancient crocodilian type creature named as a Mesosaurus.

The Mesosaurus came from the Early Permian period and became extinct over 299-280 million years ago.

The Mesosaurus Fossil site is convincing proof to support the theory of drifting continents. The same genus of Mesosaurus, in the same rock formations, can also be found in South America.

Geil was an old bushman who could spin a good yarn and told many stories about discovering the Mesosaurus.

Half of which were believable.

He could also play a tune on the Dolerite rocks that were on his property. These rocks are so dense that they resonate like chiming bells.

Adjacent to the Mesosaurus Fossil site is the grave of J. Splittgerber, a German soldier killed in action on November 13, 1904.

More evidence of Namibia’s colonial past.

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Day 7, October 17: Quivertree Forest to Fish River Canyon.

The owner of the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge suggested we take the more scenic route to Ai-Ais Hot Springs on the D545.

We stopped at Naute Kristall for coffee. This is a small vineyard and distillery with a newly installed espresso machine. It’s just next door Naute Fruit Farm, a huge government complex that grows dates, pomegranates, prickly pear and pecans.

Some of the fruit from the farm is used in the distillery. And apparently the dates from the farm are of such a good quality that they are exported to the Middle East as well as Europe.

Not far from Naute Kristall is the Naute Dam, a lunar landscape of rugged rocks and an acacia tree that looks very similar to Australian Wattle.

Water from the dam is used to irrigate the Naute Fruit Farm.

On the way to Ai-Ais, Thea decided that we should make a detour to the premier viewing point of the Fish River Canyon.

This was a great decision as the views were spectacular. The Hobas View Point is situated 820 metres above the canyon and was very well designed with excellent facilities for picnickers.

The formation of the Fish River Canyon started about 350 million years ago.

Measuring 90 to 160 km long, 27 km maximum width and 549 metres maximum depth, is cited as the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Mexicans might disputes this as the Copper Canyon is reputed to hold that honour.

There was a dispute between the TomTom and MapsME on how far we needed to travel to get to the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, which is at the southern end of the Fish River Canyon.

The travel phone with MapsME won, as the TomTom was 50 km out.

There were hardly any guests at A-Ais Hot Springs at Fish River Canyon. However there was plenty of enthusiastic staff waiting to please us.

We decided to have a pre-dinner drink on the terrace, overlooking the campground and the river.

Our waiter had the dinner menu in front of us before we took our first sip.

They had a Hansa Draught on tap, which was very good and a pleasant change from bottled beer.

There is very little draught, let alone craft beer, in Namibia, it’s all bottled. The big brewers have a stranglehold on production and distribution. It’s a familiar story of the large breweries trying to restrict competition and then buying out any craft brewery that makes a success of it.

The camp ground was one of the best I have seen. Every site had a solid fuel BBQ, or braai, running water and electricity. Plus there were full camp kitchens and shower blocks every 50 metres or so.

All this was set in a garden area with a huge thermal swimming pool at one end.

The entire area of Ai-Ais is set against a backdrop of rugged mountains, that border both sides of the Fish River.

The dry river bed is etched with footprints, human and animal.

It’s interesting trying to identify the animal ones.

The trip, so far, has been very relaxed and that’s probably due to the fact that we are spending thirty days in Namibia, not five to fourteen as most people do.

We are seeing the ‘A’ sites and probably the ‘B’ and ‘C’ sites as well.

On some days there is nothing to do but relax and see no sites at all.

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Day 8, October 18: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon.

It’s great to be greeted by irony first thing in the morning.

There we were, staying at the Ai-Ais ‘Hot Springs’ and there was no hot water for our shower.

At breakfast almost everyone sat on the terrace, yet all the tables were set inside. It was the same with dinner the previous evening.

Either the guests are silly or the hotel hasn’t noticed where most people prefers to sit.

The customer is always right – allegedly.

Having spent many hours in the car over the last few weeks, Ai-Ais Hot Springs was a good opportunity to go for a long walk.

About 300 metres from the hotel is a dam wall across the Fish River. I fully expected it to be full of water behind the wall. However it was a sandy base with a intermittent springs along the edges.

How could such a relatively dry river have carved out the mighty Fish River Canyon we had seen the day before?

Namibia is in the grip of drought, but when it rains it must really pour down.

There wasn’t much wildlife on our walk but we did see a few family groups of baboons, one lone stallion, a pair of very frightened Kudu and a couple of talkative German tourists.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the hot springs, that were just below our room, and wallowed for a while.

Pale-winged Starlings were everywhere, especially around the restaurant. They have shiny blackish-blue plumage with fiery orange eyes.

I thought they were a member of the crow family at first, that’s until they opened their beaks.

They were definitely not crows as their call was much more melodic.

In Africa there are two types of tourists. The bird watchers and everyone else.

We have constantly run into ‘Birders’ as they are known. They have binoculars as well as cameras and always carry a complete field guide to the birds of whatever country they are currently travelling in.

We met a delightful South African couple in the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge. They had only been birding for three years but had managed to sight over 700 of the 900 birds species in South Africa.

They were very proud of this achievement.

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Day 9, October 19: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon to Helmeringhausen.

We left Ai-Ais and headed south towards the Orange River, the border between Namibia and South Africa. There was much more water in this river than we had been used to seeing.

The roads were all gravel but excellent and we could drive up to the 80kph speed limit quite comfortably.

The locals drive much faster than that.

Just near the ferry crossing, to South Africa, we headed north, onto a sealed road – this was still on the C13. About 105 km from Helmeringhausen, it reverted to gravel.

Strangely we found our next sealed road again at Helmeringhausen. It was a stretch of about 400 metres that ran through the tiny village, past our hotel.

Helmeringhausen Hotel is on the 11,000 hectare farm, Helmeringhausen. The farm was established during the colonial period, in the early 1900s, by Mr Hubert Hester of the Schutztruppe or German Colonial Infantry.

It was famous for Karakul sheep which originated in Central Asia.

We were certainly made to feel welcome an the Helmeringhausen Hotel, as our names were on the door to our room when we arrived.

Most hotels have their idiosyncrasies, the Hotel Helmeringhausen was no different.

All the staff are chefs, with a chef’s uniform of hat, jacket and checked pants.

Thea was greeted at reception by a chef. All the wait staff, apart from the sons of the owners were chefs. Even the cleaning staff are chefs.

I think they were trying to promote their culinary expertise.

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