Doing a Nature Oriented Tour of Namibia

Some time back I wrote a blog post called Ten Reasons to Visit Namibia. The post has been one of my most read posts, and I still get a visitor or two there till now. I have also found that I spend a lot of time dispensing advice to people who write to me directly or through social media, such as Twitter. Over the last few weeks my wife and I have been working on using Frantic Naturalist to set up a web based booking office. We are still working on the details of that and I'll tell you more about it in the coming days. But the basic idea is to create an information platform to sell various things such as activity bookings, hotel and lodge bookings and so on through it.

As a result of building the website, I have been doing a lot of reading and talking about Namibia, it's various bits and pieces, the tourist routes, stuff like that. Namibia really is a wonderful country. I have been so fortunate to have seen more of the country than most Namibians would ever have the chance to do.

I am guessing that I can assume with some confidence that if you are reading this blog you have some clue as to where Namibia is (if not, I'm sorry...look it up).

I'll also assume you enjoy nature...since you are reading a blog called Frantic Naturalist.

So, just for fun, here is a mock-up Namibia tour itinerary for the Nature Enthusiast. I'll be sort of vague where I can, so that this can be used for either a top end trip, or more middle budget. I don't think it will fit to well for a cheap trip, but with a bit of help, it could be done fairly cheap.

Day 1. Land in Windhoek, travel in to town, stay (I would recommend a guest house over a hotel). If you have the energy, go out to Avis dam for a walk around. You may be interested in the botanical gardens, though they are not that interesting. Sleep well...lots of travel to come.

Day 2. Travel to eastern Etosha. If it is the dry time, basically you just want to get this done with. It's a really long drive. You could even fly it, and get a guide to meet you at a lodge east of Etosha or perhaps even organise delivery of a hire vehicle there?

If you are a birder, doing this now (rainy season - Feb, March, April sort of time) slow that first day down just enough to spend time stopping for raptors.

With good timing you could do a drive in Etosha.

Day 3 (and maybe even day four) spend doing drives in the eastern part of Etosha. I could (and probably will elsewhere) write a great deal about how to do game drives in Etosha if you are there self drive. The basic plan usually is something like:
Cover ground early in the morning, both at waterholes and away. This is the time to see a lot more of the exotic things, including cats and rhinos, that you are not likely to see later on.

Once it gets hotter and animals are slowing down, make a deliberate effort to change your approach. I think it is a good idea to go for a toilet stop at Namutoni. Then head out, but this time plan to head to waterholes and no longer aim for the exotic things. Now spend time watching whatever is there. Zebra, Springbok, Ostrich, Giraffe, Kudu, Guinefowl, Tawny Eagle, Parrots, the terrapins in the water trying to take Red-billed Quelea...basically, get the mad rush out of your head and take time to REALLY enjoy, experience, absorb the experience.

When you feel a bit sleepy/hot, head back to camp, have some brunch, take a walk around the lodge grounds/campsite. I like a place like Kempinski Mokuti Lodge for that. It is not a typical game lodge...more sort of resort/hotel...ish, but because of that there are huge grounds that you can walk around in. By mid morning there are actually lots of birds around...look for water spots. If you are at Mokuti, go to the snake/reptile park. It isn't the best (not much in the way of small stuff) but it's grounds are good for birds too.

Take some time to relax and head out for the afternoon. My afternoon plan always depended on two things, 1. What we had already seen (and what my guests still wanted to see), 2. What I had found out earlier in the day. As a guide, Etosha is always fun because you have a huge number of people who can give you an idea of whats happening where in the park.

But, usually you will want to plan your afternoon around doing about three waterholes, saving the best for last. I would say, without any knowledge of something at another waterhole, you should end with Chudop. Leave enough time for the gate - don't make a mad rush for me, you don't want to run into an Elephant...not good for health or insurance.

Day 5(ish) - the 'cross the park' day. Trust me, this day is tiring. Driving 160 km is very easy. Doing a game drive is a whole different story. So, what you want to do is do it just like any other day. Get up early and spend time looking for cool stuff while making good progress for the first hour or so. Then slow it down at the waterholes as it warms up. Then take a good break for lunch at Halali. I advise a rest there, and a swim just before you head back out to cool yourself down (remember to keep your swimming stuff handy). You could even spend a night in Halali. Sometimes the grounds staff can find owls for you...ask the security guards. And give them something for their efforts.

Mid afternoon head through to Okaukuejo for the remainder of the cross park journey. Usually this bit feels especially long. I advice just doing it straight, especially if you have a couple days on that side of the park to do all the loops and waterholes.

Once you get back into camp settle in and relax a bit. Unless it is rainy season, you want to really spend a good amount of time at the waterholes at night.

Your days here would be much like I explained for the other side of the park except that you really want to spend a lot of time at the waterhole at night, so give yourself plenty of time to rest in the day.

Day 7 or so: Heading out from Etosha, you could go a number of places, most of which are far to the west. I would suggest going to Etendeka Mountain Camp. It is a very simple, small camp on a huge area getting into the drier regions. Etendeka (and the nearby Palmwag area) is unique. One of the reasons for doing Etosha first is to get the 'mega-fauna' stuff out of the way, but the Etendeka area still has a good bit of wildlife, especially considering how dry the area is. Here you could find things like the Desert Elephants, Black Rhino, Giraffe, Cheetah, Leopard, Lions and Hyena. But you may not see any of these in a visit to the region. It is the setting, more than anything, that is just so amazing. Etendeka is set in a massive 1km thick layering of Basalt. The lava had actually flowed enough to make the volcanic rock appear to be sedimentary. It is a dark red landscape. It is one of those places that a person in a rush comes to and sort of thinks "Why did I come here" for one afternoon, and then over the next day you settle in, your mind slows down, and you find, actually, that visiting that place is the reason you came to Namibia in the first place.

Let me emphasise it, because in my experience, it is important. I learned so much of this stuff from the couple hundred travel agents I have had the pleasure of driving around in Namibia. I can probably write an interesting book about travel agent psychology, but one of the main thing is the percentage of them (lets say 30%...I think 60 or perhaps its 99%) who have the 'checklist' mentality.

It is not their fault. Most of these people don't own the company they work for. They are on educational trips and are told "Find out why people should go to ....". They come to make lists.

Etendeka isn't good for lists. But it is good for visitors for exactly that reason. It is simple. No decoration. Simple tents. Simple canvas structure main lapa. Some of the food is cooked on an open fire or in a solar oven. Water is budgeted. Have you ever taken a bucket shower? Visit Etendeka, it's special.

With enough time, you could head north from there and visit some of the more remote parts of Namibia. That is the area where you find the Himba people. You'll probably want to travel there with some of the tour operators who know the area well.

Day...after leaving Etendeka: Okay, back on my tour, we are heading back to the Twyfelfontein area, to the south of Etendeka. It isn't a long drive, so you can take it easy. In the evening perhaps do a drive with the lodge you are staying at. If you are interested in Geology, the area has some interesting sites...well documented elsewhere, so I am not going to go into detail here.

You could stay at Mowani Lodge if you are looking for a nice place. Stay one night, and, after packing up, get going early for the walk at Twyfelfontein in the morning. Then you want to make your way down to the coast.

Swakopmund and the coast is strange and foggy, but there is a lot of stuff to do. There are a whole range of adventure activities, there are some nice shops for those who are interested in stuff like that. But for the nature enthusiast, there really are lots of things to do. I would suggest going down to Sandwich Harbor, which I wrote about before.

You could also do a boat trip. Perhaps go with Mola Mola...I can't really advise at this time which is the best company.

I would stay at the Beach Lodge if you have transport. It is a little out of the center of town. Not that town is really busy, but when you have been out in the bush, it's just nice to still keep out of the center of town.

You could spend a two or even three nights in Swakopmund with ease.

Last leg: Head down to Sesriem and Sossusvlei. If you can afford it, stay on NamibRand Nature Reserve, where three nights would be very worth while. At some of the more simple places, perhaps two nights are better. I have written about Sossusvlei a few times - here is one Sossusvlei post, and you can search for others.

From there, head back to Windhoek for your trip out.

This is somewhat of a standard route, but would be a great trip.
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