A South West African Traverse

It all started with a trip to Etosha, but then some birders said that any trip to northern Namibia would be incomplete without visiting Kunene River Lodge to see the Cinderella Waxbill.  So the priority changed and the itinerary was extended accordingly.

We left Hermanus on 4 August and made our way to the Angolan border over a period of five days, covering around 2500 km in the process.  This journey took us via overnight stops at Kamieskroon, Keetmanshoop, Okahandja and Ondongwa.  It is a long way, but we enjoyed the vast open plains of the Kalahari and proto-Namib.  We had never been north of Etosha previously and it was a revelation to see Ovamboland with its burgeoning towns and a population much denser than anywhere else in the country.  Kunene River Lodge was a haven after the dryness of the surrounding area.

Regrettably we did not find the Waxbill, probably because its numbers have been severely reduced by the drought in the region.  We also missed the Angola Cave Chat as we did not feel inclined to undertake the nine hour round trip required to reach its habitat, however, we did get to see a new lifer in the form of a Rufous-Tailed Palm Thrush, so were not too disappointed.

The trip to Etosha meant retracing our steps a bit; there were no new birds so we took in the local culture – i.e. we noted the many bars along the way!  There were scores of them, attesting perhaps, to a population driven to thirst by the arid environment!  The names given to some were quite amazing, such as “Good Struggle, Never Loose (sic) Bar”, “Every Year Comes Change Bar”, “BBC Entertainment Bar” and “Three Sisters in Beer Garden Bar”!!

Etosha was dry!!  The facilities are very poorly maintained.  Despite this we spent a week there in four different camps and saw many birds and huge herds of animals, but virtually no cats.  This was a pity as I had hoped to do some action photography around the waterholes, where we spent many hours waiting and watching.

Etosha Waterhole
Etosha Waterhole

From there we visited the Waterberg area and spent two nights at the Waterberg Guest Farm, where we met many interesting visitors.  The Waterberg is a very good birding area, but once again, we found it very quiet.  Another lifer, in the form of a Violet Wood Hoopoe was a bonus.  Then the long road south was once again tackled and we traveled to Mariental, staying over at the new and pleasant African Safari Lodge.  A walk there brought us close to kudu and impala and we walked in very fresh rhino tracks which caused us to keep our eyes and ears wide open!

Then we visited the Fish River National Park and stayed at the well-appointed Canyon Lodge, whence we visited both the canyon look-out area and Ai-Ais; the latter once again looking a bit run down.

Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon

Our final stop over was for four nights in Kamieskroon, giving us plenty of time to take in the magnificent Namaqualand spring flowers.  These were especially abundant in the Namaqualand National Park, however, trips to the coast also provided breathtaking spectacles and we were sad to leave for home on the 27th.

Skilpad panorama
Skilpad panorama

We returned tired after more than 7000 km in a by now very dirty car, but we had seen 213 bird species – not too bad for a winter trip, and we had enjoyed our south west African experience greatly.  I have hundreds of photographs which I would love to share, but will only be able to include a few here.