Etosha National Park – Desert Safari

So there we were…driving through Etosha game park when suddenly two spotted hyenas jumped out of the bush and in front of our car.  Slamming on the breaks, we watched as they crossed the road and disappeared back out into the flat, arid desert.  Self-driving the park was an incredible way to experience our Namibian safari.

After months on the road, our first visitors from home arrived to Windhoek, Namibia.  Luke and Lindsay, some friends from Arizona, made the long flight into the capital city.  Picking up a rental car and some camping gear, we immediately took off for Etosha National Park.  Its name means ‘Great White Place of Dry Water’ and it comes from the Etosha Pan, an enormous, flat, saline desert that spans almost the entire park.  The landscape was like nothing we have ever seen and very different from our first safari at the Masai Mara in Kenya.  The barren desert leads into sparse bush and grassland which provides a surprising home for so many game animals.  Since the land is so dry, small water holes have formed in unique areas around the park which is where we did most of our game viewing.

Also different from the Masai Mara, we camped each night inside the park gates.  Splitting our time between two different camps, we were able to enjoy our game drives all day and then head back to the gated camp to sleep.  Each camp also had their own watering hole which was open 24 hours a day for game viewing.  It was a great place to stop by early in the morning or just before going to bed to see what animals were hanging out.  You could just sit and let the animals come to you!

We saw plenty of antelope species: springbok, oryx, kudu, hartebeest, eland and wildebeest.  Lots of hoofed animals: zebra, giraffe and warthog.  And of course some of the big game.  Rhinos were most popular at the water holes after dark, but we also saw spotted hyenas and prides of lions.  At one point, we came across 8 female lions crossing in front of the car, which was rare to see during the middle of the hot day.

The park was easy to navigate around in our own car and having the freedom to do game drives when we wanted was very nice.  The experience was wonderful to share with good friends, we had plenty of laughs along the way.  After a few days in the park, it was time to head back to Windhoek.  We dropped off the rental car and boarded a bus with Luke and Lindsay.  It was time to head to Cape Town…

Highlights

  • Game viewing at the watering holes inside the camps, you could sit and enjoy a beer or glass of wine, all while watching rhinos and other animals come for a drink of water
  • Welcoming our good friends Luke and Lindsay to Africa
  • Having our own car to drive around the park, it was nice to have a more personal safari experience

Lowlights

  • Getting extremely close to running out of gas in the middle of nowhere
  • Eating at Whimpy Burger (the McDonald’s of Southern Africa) – yuck!
Beautiful zebras
Spotted Hyena
Giraffe and other game drinking at one of the watering holes
Female lion crossing with scared springbok in the background
Kudu and other animals drinking at another watering hole
Giraffe Crossing
The gang camping in Etosha

Swakopmund – The Namibian Coast

So there we were…in Germany?
 
 A long bus ride from Vic Falls brought us to Namibia, country number seven for us in Africa. Pulling into Windhoek, we realized our time in East Africa was officially over and we were back on more familiar western ground. Clean streets and tall modern buildings, more European than African, the capital city gave us a warm welcome to Southern Africa. Because of its German colony heritage, just about everyone speaks German, restaurants have wiener schnitzel as a staple on the menu and we had more beer choices than ever before. Arriving in Windhoek on Becky’s birthday, we treated ourselves to a nice meal at the local hot spot, Joe’s Beer House. Known for their specialized game meat (Zebra, Oryx, etc) and local house wine (Jager), we had a wonderful evening out to celebrate her birthday.
  
After recovering from too much of the “house wine” at Joe’s, we made our way to the coastal city of Swakopmund. Known as a small vacation town for the locals, red sand dunes sweep the coast line and create a dramatic entrance into town and out to the ocean.  Wide, quiet streets, tourist shops and plenty of adventure activities out in the dunes made it an easy place for us to settle in. 
  
First on our list was sandboarding.  Since we are big snowboarders, this was our chance to glide down the hill on a different kind of board.  After a few runs standing up, we were able to test out the lie down boarding as well.  With a speed gun, they clock you as you fly down the steepest part of the dune, nicknamed “dizzie”.  Our record speed topped out at just over 40 mph!
  
Wanting to explore the area outside of town a little more, we hopped in a rental car for a few days to visit the Cape Cross Seal Reserve.  Stepping out of the car, the overwhelming smell of stinky seal poo hits you smack across the face.  With over 100,000 seals lying on the beach and frolicking in the water, it is an incredible sight to see up close.  Masses of seals bobbed up and down out in the ocean looking for fish, while thousands more took a nap in the warm sun.  Only able to take the smell for so long, we soon headed back out on the road to visit the 5700 ft Spitzkoppe, one of Namibia’s most famous mountains.  Part red rocks, part Matterhorn, the mountain rises out of the surrounding white rock desert with impressive force.  
  
Heading back to Swakopmund, we were up for one more adrenaline pumping activity.  Hoping on 2 quad bikes, we cruised back out into the dunes, exploring the untouched fine red sand for miles along the coast.  It was a wonderful way to end our trip along the coastal area of Namibia.  It was then time to head back to Windhoek to meet our anxiously awaited guests visiting from home!
  
Highlights
 
  •  Cruisin’ down the dunes on a snowboard and then flyin‘ down on the lie-down board
  • Sundowners at the beach while enjoying the cool breeze from the ocean
  • Hearing (and smelling) the colony of seals livng at Cape Cross
  • Riding the quad bikes through the open dunes with no one else in sight
  • Enjoying some good German “weizen” beer
  • Tasting some awesome unique game meat

Lowlights

  • Our freezing cold overnight bus from Vic Falls to Windhoek, we should have known when locals arrived with huge comforters that it was going to be a cold ride
Becky's birthday at Joe's Beer House in Windhoek

Sandboarding
View from the top of the dunes
Cape Cross Seal Reserve
The Spitzkoppe
On the quad bikes
Swakopmund sunset