Self Drive in Namibia Self Driving in Namibia

Wildfoot Travel's Simon Rowland Reporting From his wildlife safari in IndiaWildfoot Travel’s Simon Rowland took a self-drive trip through Namibia recently. Here we gives us his first hand advice on how to organise your own self-drive adventure along with some great photographs form his own trip.

The thought of a self drive in any overseas country can be daunting but a self drive in Africa is usually dismissed immediately especially if you are not a confident driver in the first place. I agree that some locations could be extremely difficult and testing especially if you are driving in diverse locations, perhaps on the opposite side of the road you are used to at home, or close to wet regions such as deltas or during a rainy season.
The following is a personal account of a recent adventure through Namibia which will offer practical, sensible advice but above all hopefully dispel any pre-conceived worries and assumptions already formed.

Self Drive through Namibia

These are some of the most popular questions we receive from clients considering a self drive in Namibia.

1. Is it safe to drive in Namibia?
2. Are the locals friendly and do they speak English?
3. What happens if you break down in the wilderness?
4. Are there likely to be dangerous and wild animals lurking if you stop?
5. Which side of the road do they drive on?
6. Do we need to carry water incase we are stuck overnight in the vehicle?
7. Whats the longest journey I will have to make?
8. What happens if we run out of fuel?

Let’s try to dispel any negatives so we can focus on the positives of driving in such a diverse, exciting picturesque country.

How easy is the driving in Namibia?

Firstly, Namibia is an extremely dry desert country and even in the non dry season it is difficult to come across natural dangers on roads or tracks. Yes there are extreme cases where flash flooding takes place but as Namibia and other parts of Africa have experienced a severe drought over the last two years, even if you wanted to find them its quite improbable you would come across them.

Self drive holiday in Namibia

Self drive vehicles are Automatic, air conditioned 4 x 4 trucks. We drove an automatic Ford Truck which was around 18 months old and in excellent condition, a four seat cab with covered compartment in the back. As there were only two of us we kept our luggage actually in the cab whilst driving with any valuables hidden and out of sight. If we stopped our main camera bag with valuables came with us and we left nothing in the vehicle we could not replace if necessary. Our first nights stay is usually at Windhoek and WILDFOOT Travel arrange for the vehicle to be delivered to you at your accommodation in daylight hours. At the same time we arrange our ground handler representative to meet you who also drop off practical items –

  1. Large cool box for drinks inc freezer blocks to keep water cool
  2. Mobile phone pre programmed pre paid (pay as you go) with all the numbers you may need; emergency 24/7 number, all pre booked accommodation, car hire company emergency plus more.
  3. Eco Refill cold drink canisters. You can refill and avoid plastic as in most regions tap water is exceptionally clean and drinkable.
  4. First aid kit
  5. Country road map with you route and accommodations featured already
  6. Detailed maps for the main towns where you will be staying with your accommodation marked.

The self drive company representative then shows you a safety video featuring do’s and donts. This is extremely helpful. You are then taken over the vehicle in detail and you are shown where everything is and how everything works, where the spare tyres are, the jack, fuel type, 4x 4 facility. Nothing is left and you even go around ensuring there is no existing minor damage on the vehicle or wind screens, after all you don’t want to be blamed for existing minor scratches. You have lots of time to make notes if necessary and if there are two of you, both listen and carefully take note. Accident triangle and torch is also supplied.

Is Namibia a safe place to travel independently on a self drive?

The simple answer is yes Absolutely and without a shadow of doubt. Like anywhere in UK, USA and the rest of Europe one has to be careful where you drive, park or pull over. English is the first official language of Namibia but as you can imagine there are many local dialects depending on where you travel in Namibia. Locals are friendly and helpful but may not understand your accent straight away so be patient when asking directions or for assistance. Accidents are usually limited to off road situations where drivers start to feel over confident and then speed. There are strict speed limits and they need to be followed. In the south of the country yo should expect a great deal of off road journeys. These are usually very wide, gravel roads, sometimes smooth and sometimes a little bumpy. Gravel roads are generally maintained well and you my see roads being flattened whilst driving through these regions.

Self drive holiday in Namibia

Planning the distance.

With pre booked accommodation, this is already taken care of and there is little need to drive long distances if you don’t want. I cant imagine one needing to drive more than 3 to 4 hours every time you move to a new region but these distances can be shorter or longer incorporating stays if necessary en route. WILDFOOT Experts will assist in your planning depending on what your needs and interests are. We plan your journeys so all of your driving is day time driving, there is no need to drive after dark and this should be avoided only to avoid wildlife on the road or lack of visibility. The car rental company state you should not drive at night only in emergencies.
Petrol stations are always manned and you just need to advise how much fuel you need. Its advisable if you are half full, to fill up totally when you can. This is only a precaution in case your next fuel stop is not available for whatever reason. We found that every fuel station on the map was in deed open. Fuel stations dont take cards normally so take enough Namibian Dollars to fill up through out your journey (South African Rand is also widely excepted by fuel stations as the NAD is common rated with the Rand). You can usually find a good choice of food and drinks at stops with clean WC’s readily available.

What happens if there is a break down

All the way around Namibia there was a wire fence which stopped larger wildlife from straying on the the road, however, wild pigs and larger feeding birds were prevalent so do not speed and drive carefully.  In the unlikely evert you experience a vehicle breakdown, simply stay with your vehicle and call the car rental team on the pre programmed number on the mobile phone provided. Poor phone coverage is rare indeed. If you experience an accident depending on the type of emergency either call the emergency services or our Ground handler partners emergency number immediately.

Getting from A to B

We didn’t need a Sat Nav at all and road markings were clear all the way around the country. Road distances are always in Kilometres and signs are in English. Most tracks off road tend to be quiet and you see only a few vehicles of your journey. Driving in Namibia is on the left so no problem for us Brits.

Traffic is usually minor but care must be taken when you are overtaking vehicles on off road situations as stones my flick up and crack the windscreen, its rare but it happens. Punctures are rare but occasionally happen. You will find that its common for fellow drivers to stop and help or at least slow down and ask if you need help. The only time you should not get out of your vehicle is if you are in a National Park where there are signs advising you to stay in your vehicle at all times. This is usually in northern regions and in National Parks or wildlife private concessions where there could be big cats and larger game prevalent. This being the case you simply put your hazard warning lights on and wait for a ranger to come by and help which is never too long. You are provided two spare wheels with good tyres with every rental. If you use one just get the other fixed when you pass the next tyre place just in case.

My wife, Tina and I shared the driving and in 11 days we covered 2000 kms of which half was on off road tracks as described. Self driving in Namibia is an exciting adventure and one we would strongly recommend even if you are a little nervous. It some how liberates you as an independent traveller and at the end of it our epic journey our confidence in driving overseas had increased significantly. This type of trip provided us a structure (all accommodation we pre booked) but a great sense of freedom whilst travelling from A to B, stopping and exploring in our own time en route. We both loved the experience and its provided a level of confidence where we will do the same again maybe in another African region or even back to Namibia on a different itinerary.

 

Exclusive to WILDFOOT Travel

At no extra charge you can feel confident you have all emergencies covered if there is a problem and back up isn’t too far away. Emergency air evacuation to the nearest hospital is generally covered on all WILDFOOT Self drives in Namibia (* please check at time of booking). This does not take the place of good travel insurance which is highly recommended every time.

 

A few More Photos From The Trip

 

 

Cheetah Cheetah at Okonjima

 

An update on the AfriCat’s Cheetah Rehabilitation programme – the story so far….

The AfriCat Foundation developed on a cattle farm in Namibia called Okonjima in the early 1990’s, which is now a tourist lodge that you can visit www.okonjima.com . The area 100+ years ago was home to the usual array of African wildlife. Once cattle farming arrived, many of the large carnivores notably the lion and spotted hyena were shot out by the famers as they killed their cattle. Cheetahs are the lightest, smallest by body weight and fastest of the big cats. Any injury means they cannot hunt.  To thrive they need to be very wary of the other carnivores. Anyone who has been privileged enough to see a cheetah in the wild will have noticed how alert they are; ready to flee when they sense danger. They eat very fast and will give up their ‘kill’ if another predator comes along. Cheetah cubs stay with Mum until about 14-18 months old. They learn/refine their hunting skills through observation.

Cheetah with kill

Namibia holds over 35% of the world’s population of wild cheetah most of which live on cattle farms. AfriCat researched and developed approaches that helped farmers to reduce their livestock losses from the Big Cats.   As a result of their work AfriCat were asked to provide homes to injured or orphaned cheetahs, often as result of the mother being killed. The government asked AfriCat to look after confiscated cheetah that had been maltreated. Looking after a 100+ cheetah was expensive and ran counter to AfriCat’s desire to see the cats in their natural habitat. A decision was taken to see if any of the cheetahs could learn to hunt successfully – nothing like this had been tried at the time.

All images Copyright
Simon Palmer

A small area 2,000ha of Okonjima, with prey, was securely fenced and the first group of cheetah given their freedom. The collard cheetahs were closely monitored. Some cheetah took to the idea of hunting; others did not. With research that indicated cheetah could learn to hunt successfully. The next step was to introduce groups of cheetah into the then fenced 20,000ha Okonjima Nature Reserve. This had naturally occurring leopard and brown hyena populations plus three collared spotted hyena.  There were casualties as cheetah took on inappropriate prey, became injured or tried to defend their kills from the leopard or hyenas but there were successes too.  It was found for example that cheetah working together in coalitions tended to be more successful. The ‘siblings’ a trio did well for a few years. Being used to humans and vehicles the ex captive cheetah, now living wild, could be tracked through their collars providing guests a rare opportunity to get up close and on occasions walking to get closer.

The siblings

A pattern emerged that worried the team. Unlike wild cheetahs those released from captivity did have a tendency to try and defend their kills and were paying the price with injures and death.  Given the difference in preferred habitat of leopard and cheetah it was hoped that by opening up the bush it could be possible to give greater separation. A grassland management programme had been started to try to restore the land to what it would have been prior to cattle ranching. This project has increased the diversity of plant, bird and animal species.  With some cheetah successfully rehabilitated a decision was taken to allow breeding in the reserve, could a rehabilitated cheetah successfully rear young? The answer was yes in favourable conditions.  Dizzy was able to raise her cub called Spirit to maturity, she lived and independent natural life in the bush before she died.  AfriCat found that the mortality rate of cubs born to rehabilitated cheetah was higher than for wild cheetah. Nature in the raw is never easy. The chance to spend time on foot in the close proximity of cheetah in the wild has been a very rare and special privilege.

Cheetah

The research work on leopards indicated that that there was a very high density of leopards in the Nature Reserve. Research data has shown that big cats have a homing instinct which makes relocating them a bit problematic. The latest leopard study shows a very high density of collared and non collared leopards at Okonjima. While brown hyenas were known to be on Okonjima there has been a steady increase in sightings.  Undertaking research into Brown Hyena is now easier to do with collars and camera traps and revealing fascinating information about this little known species.

A detailed analysis of data showed that over 87% of ex captive cheetah being released into the Okonjima Nature Reserve were dying within a year and after some particularly difficult losses and incidents a decision was taken to stop the rehabilitation programme. It’s clear from the work undertaken by the AfriCat Foundation that captive cheetah can successful learn to hunt and raise cubs but they need space and low densities of other predators to succeed. Space sadly is becoming a rare commodity. Cheetahs growing up in the wild it would appear develop ‘better’ survival skills. The AfriCat Foundation does occasional get requests to ‘home’ a wild cheetah that would otherwise be shot. In such circumstances they would be offered a new home in the Okonjima Nature Reserve.

Guests at Okonjima will be able to visit the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre and see cheetah who will be  living in large ‘camps’ and helping to support AfriCat’s education programme and research work. Activities for guests staying at Okonjima Lodge will include the opportunity to undertaken wildlife trails in the Nature Reserve looking for a wide range of species including the opportunity to track leopard, and possibly see the white rhino and brown hyena. Bushman walks provide a wonderful way to learn more about nature and how local people like the bushman made use of the things in their environment.  A visit to the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre will give scope for photographers to learn about the challenges the Big Cats face in their survival.

For more information on Africat check out https://africat.org/cheetah-research

For more information on our wildlife trips to Nambia click here

Giraffes in Etosha National Park Etosha National Park

The story of the area now known as Etosha National Park began being written after Charles Andersson and Francis Galton made the discovery in 1851. Andersson recalled being astounded by the thousands of animals and birds contained in this area and the splendid surrounding land.

When Namibia (then known as South West Africa) fell under German occupation, Dr. Friedrich von Lindequist, the governor of South West Africa, proclaimed the area as a game reserve in 1907. The reserve encompassed an area of 100 000km2 – which is an area larger than the Netherlands and Switzerland combined!

Throughout the following years, the size of the reserve greatly decreased until the current size of 22 270km2 was agreed upon, and in 1967 the reserve officially became Etosha National Park while under South African Administration.

One might question the existence of seemingly misplaced forts in a game park,but adding to the history of Etosha, military forts were built by Germans in 1889 at Okaukuejo Camp and Namutoni Camp. These were later destroyed and rebuilt but there remains a fort standing at Camp Namutoni which has now been declared a National Monument.Map Of Etosha National Park

Early tourism in Etosha was decidedly a unique and slightly parlous affair, with guests sleeping in open bomas in the large expanse of the grassland or camping near the fountain at Okaukuejo Camp. While camping, guests often had to seek protection in, and even under,their cars when lions approached!

Thankfully, (or maybe not so much for the intrepid adventurers) Etosha has since established secure camps and lodges within the park. After Namibia gained independence, conservation and sustainable use of resources became an integral part of operating Etosha National Park. The park has now become a premier tourist attraction of Namibia with more than 140 000 visitors recorded annually.

Etosha is largely characterised by a great, dried up salt pan of 5 000 km2which briefly divides the surrounding brown grass area with a splash of parched white colour. Owing to this, the name “Etosha” is derived from the Oshidongo language, meaning “Great White Place”.

Etosha National Park is the 6thlargest national park in Africa. The game park is predominantly composed of golden grassland and savanna filled with dwarf shrubs and thorn bush. Different acacia, mopane, camelthorn and moringa tree species make up the vegetation.

Wildlife in Etosha National Park The wildlife is varied and plentiful, with Etosha boasting 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and 1 fish species. Etosha plays a major role in the conservation of animals such as the South-western black and white rhino, elephant, black- faced impala (Aepyceros melampus  petersi ) and lion. Namibia is home to almost half the worlds population of black rhinos and most of these are found in Etosha. The sub species of black-faced impalaisn’t found anywhere else in the world, with an estimated 3 000 left in the wild and half of this population found in Etosha.

Wildlife in Etosha National Park Furthermore, Etosha is also involved in vital research programmes pertaining to black rhinos and elephants in Namibia. Etosha Ecological Research Institute enables scientists from all over the world to study these animals and collect necessary data. Etosha Game Park has undoubtedly proven to be a conservation success story. Many of these animals were declining, very low in numbers or on the brink of extinction before being moved to Etosha and allowed time to recover.

Giraffes in Etosha National Park Other animals that can be found in Etosha include; Angolan giraffe, plains and mountain zebra, various antelope, leopard, cheetah, various wild cats, honey badger, pangolin, spotted and brown hyena, black-backed jackal and various mongoose. As well as diverse bird species such as; ostriches, vultures, hawks, owls, cranes, flamingos, storks, herons, bustards, larks, white pelicans, shrikes, sandgrouse, waterfowl, blue cranes, horn bills, crows and falcons. There are numerous more animals not mentioned above, waiting to be spotted during a visit to Etosha!

Zebra in Etosha National Park Etosha has various natural and artificial water holes throughout the park which provide the wildlife with much needed water. These waterholes also provide opportunities for great game viewing, a few are equipped with flood lights for night time game viewing. All of this makes Etosha a spectacular safari destination, while also allowing one to aid the conservation of these beautiful animals.

The lodges we recommend

Ongava lodge Etosha National Park

The sun goes down on Ongava Lodge, deep in The Etosha National Park

Central Etosha

  • Ongava
  • Ongava Tented (upmarket)
  • Ongava Lodge (upmarket)
  • Little Ongava (luxury)
  • Anderssons at Ongava – New property opening in 2019 with research centre, focused on eco-tourism (upmarket)
  • Okaukuejo– overlooking best waterhole for game viewing (budget)

Western flank

  • Hobatere Lodge– (midmarket)
  • Dolomite Camp– (midmarket)

Eastern flank

  • Onguma
  • Onguma Tented (midmarket)
  • Onguma Tree Top (midmarket)
  • Onguma the Fort (upmarket)
  • Onguma Bush camp – family friendly (midmarket)
  • Mushara
  • Mushara Bush Camp – family friendly (midmarket)
  • Mushara Lodge (midmarket)
  • Mushara Outpost (upmarket)
  • Villa Mushara (luxury)

Etosha Top Tips:

  • Pumped waterholes offer better game prospects in the dry season. These are marked on the Etosha maps by a black spot in the centre of a black circle.
  • Patience is a virtue; find a good watering hole and wait for the game to come to you!
  • Check the sightings book located at Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni Rest Camps for hot tips.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask professional guides, who are often linked by radio to other vehicles in the park, for pointers.
  • If staying inside the park, pick-up some quality fruit, snacks, drinks and maybe a good bottle of wine to enjoy while on safari.
  • Only pay park-fees at the ministry offices located at Okaukuejo, Halali & Namutoni, and not at the gate.
  • Carefully check and adhere to the park and rest camp gate closing times, these are strictly enforced.
  • Plastics are now banned in all national parks in Namibia, make use of alternative packaging such as paper bags.
  • The speed limit in the park is 60km/h
  • Watch out for pot holes while driving and keep a good distance from crossing animals.

Rhino in ongava lodge Etosha National Park

When to travel?

  • June to the end of October offers the best game viewing opportunities with large congregations commonly seen at watering holes.
  • The rainy months of November to the end of February is the best time for bird watching, with migrants retuning and breading plumages on display.
  • The best value time to travel is the green season from March to June.

Written by: Nicole Brendell, Namibia tour specialist

Find out more about our trips to Namibia here

Lions Eyes AfriCat – Making a big difference in Africa

Did you see the Lion episode of the ‘Dynasty’ series narrated by David Attenborough which was shown on BBC1 on  Sunday the 25th November  ? If so were you moved by what you saw? If you missed it then why not  watch it on catch up!  Those heart wrenching pictures of ‘Charm’ having to leave her poisoned cub behind….all so sad and actually with understanding and a support unnecessary….
In Namibia, like in Kenya, AfriCat is working with the local farming communities to reduce the incidents of poisoning, trapping and shooting of lions for their perceived and real threat of killing the farmer’s livestock. Farming successfully alongside predators takes courage; understanding and a support programme like AfriCat’s Protect our Pride. Working with local people does produce positive results with a reduction in the numbers of livestock and lions being killed.

The Protect our Pride programme includes: an education and livestock management programme; research; building strong kraals; an alert system from collared lions within local prides that can let farmers know when the pride is in their vicinity and a support team (AfriCat Lion Guards) on hand to help farmers defend their livestock and to ‘chase’ the lions back to safe areas. The AfriCat Lion Guards community members and farmers themselves offer advice/support to help other farmers.

With the drastic fall in lion numbers as mentioned in the Lion Dynasty program helping a single lion to survive can make a big difference, as was evident in the programme. To find out more about AfriCat’s support programme and to make a donation go to Protect our Pride and look at the AfriCat Uk website www.africat.co.uk.

Africat, proetcting big cats in Namibia Africat – Big Cat Conservation in Namibia

Chris-Packham

Chris Packham, one of AfriCat’s patrons, said
‘I have the great fortune to visit many conservation projects around the world and AfriCat is in the premiership. Its whole ethos is founded upon securing practical solutions to problems in the field. It’s about really making a difference, not talking about it. It’s about intelligent and effective solutions being implemented now, not tomorrow. ‘

This short video taken at AfriCat gives an idea of what it takes Chris to get a particular image.

The AfriCat Foundation in Namibia is working to save the large carnivores of Namibia. It is committed to the long term conservation of these animals and the environment they inhabit. It does this by protecting endangered species, education, research and working with the communities who live along side them. The greatest threat to these animals comes from habitat loss/degradation and increasing competition and conflict with people. AfriCat listens to local people and works with them to find sustainable solutions. When visiting Namibia you can stay at the Okonjima, the home of the AfriCat Foundation, learn about the conservation programme while tracking rehabilitated cheetah and seeking the elusive leopard in their ‘wildlife reserve’. The 22,000 hectare reserve/park is itself a project in rebuilding a sustainable ecosystem. Okonjima was a cattle farm with the ensuing issues of bush encroachment and degraded grasslands. The grassland management programme being implemented has seen all forms of wildlife benefiting. Now even a small herd of cattle are back within the park helping to enrich the soils.cheetah running in Namibia

In the past the threat to livestock posed by the large carnivores meant that farmers regularly shot or trap them, so much so that lions and spotted hyenas have been eliminated from most farms and thus much of Namibia.  Currently it is estimated that there are less than 900 lions left in a narrow band along the Zambezi strip, through Etosha National Park and westward to the coast. AfriCat North has been working tirelessly with local community farmers running a human wildlife mitigation programme on the Western Boarder of Etosha National Park developing solutions that work locally. For example AfriCat has been supporting communities to strengthen or build kraals so livestock are better protected at night.

The lion guards in Namibia

The community Lion Guards, local farmers themselves, are providing advice, information and support to fellow farmers. The information gained from the lion research programme has given valuable insight into the movement of local lion populations and enabled AfriCat through the Lion Guards to alert villages to the presence of lions    AfriCat is now seeking funding to create a sustainable operational basis for developing and expanding its lion research, education and community conservation programmes in the area.

 

You can donate to special appeals

There is scope to ‘adopt-a-carnivore’ at Okonjima.

More information can be found at www.africat.co.uk or contact the AfriCat UK team at [email protected]

saving the lives of big cats in Namibia

Book an epic African adventure with Wildfoot Travel

As leading wildlife travel specialists, Wildfoot Travel can help you plan the perfect informative, yet fun journey around sourthern Africa. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic African destinations.

Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, the Selinda Reserve, the Chobe National Park and the Makgadikadi Salt Pans. Popular activities in Botswana include watching meerkats at the Makgadikgadi Pans, taking a helicopter ride over the Delta, sleeping under a blanket of stars in the Kalahari Desert and watching elephants at Chobe National Park.

Namibia is another one of Africa’s best-known and most fascinating destinations. Activities that you may be interested in during a trip to Namibia can include flying over the Skeleton Coast, quad-biking at Swakopmund, seeing the cheetahs and leopards at the Africat Sanctuary, kayaking with cape fur seals at Walvis Bay or looking for desert-adapted wildlife at Damaraland. Taking a balloon ride is another popular activity – fly over Sossusvlei Dunes to enjoy a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In Zambia, you can head out on a canoe on the Lower Zambezi, watch the fruit bats at Kasanka National Park, take a bungee jump at Victoria Falls, go on a sunset cruise or dabble in a bit of tiger fishing on the Zambezi River, look for leopards at South Luangwa NP or watch rare birds in Bangweulu Wetlands.

Africa is synonymous with epic, life-changing experiences. It is home to some of the world’s most interesting and iconic wildlife, as well as some of its most stunning scenery. Here at Wildfoot Travel, we want to help you if you are interested in exploring Africa in style and require a first-class service to help you make the most of your endeavours.

Our team possesses expert knowledge of Namibia, Zambia and Botswana, and is eager to use this knowledge to help you plan a magical trip to the continent and experience it in all of its glory. Why not get in touch with us today to find out more about how we can help you to plan a bespoke trip to Africa and witness some of the world’s most outstanding scenery and wildlife up close?

Contact Wildfoot Travel to discuss your ideal African adventure with us.