Sunday, 18 December 2016

Desert Safari: Etosha National Park.

This is the second in a series about our African Safari trip. Read Part 1 here.

Living the dream in the African desert areas of Namibia!

Starting Out

We had met up with our fellow travelers in Capetown and were now embarking on the second part of our tour into the Namibian desert. Our countries of origin were Australia, England (UK) and Belgium; and over the next 21 days, we became firm friends..

Starting out, outskirts of Capetown.

Roadside picnic lunch.

Lending a hand to tidy up!

Safari Truck Life

For those who haven't encountered a safari truck or trip before, I thought I'd include some details about daily life on safari. Our well-cared for truck catered for all our needs during the often long days of driving. It was air conditioned - a necessity, not a luxury in the heat of the desert days - and had a good sized freezer for our larger 5 litre water bottles, which we could not do without!

As well, it had extremely big windows for observation of wildlife and accommodated all our baggage and food for lunches and dinners on the way. Lunches were often by the roadside in a shady spot. Some dinners were catered for at the lodges, but some were prepared by our Zimbabwean guide and driver who were expert cooks. Beautiful salads supplemented with a variety of cold cuts and dessert items were produced for lunch and wonderful African dishes were often on the menu for dinners at night. Topped with wonderful local vino and beers, all tastes were well satisfied!

A fine local wine to accompany our meal.

Visiting a Himba Traditional African Desert Village

Continuing on from White Lady Lodge, (see last post: Desert Safari, Capetown to White Lady Lodge. Part 1) our trip included joining up with a native guide to show us the daily life of a Himba village.


Our guide told us that at the age of 7, he was given the choice to either stay and continue in the traditional farming way of goat herding, or go many miles away from his family to boarding school to gain a further education. This was what he chose, but later came back to guiding to help his people. We were shown a small one room primary classroom set up with very basic equipment, a few books and pencils. We came equipped with all these and other goods to gift to the school, having bought them nearby. As a teacher, it was very though provoking to see this small one-room school.

We had also seen children by the roadside markets with their mothers who should have had access to a school, but the distances were too far to travel by foot each day. We did see lots of schoolchildren in larger populated areas coming in by bus, all happy, some singing and unfazed by the dusty roads, walking along in their beautifully clean uniforms.

Village Life

The Himba women rise early to prepare themselves for the day, before dawn. They need time to prepare the elaborate cleansing and hair braiding that is so important to their status. The Himba never wash, but rub red oxide, animal fat and ochre in to their bodies. They also use a smoke sauna to wash themselves and open the pores each morning. The women all  wear ankle rings which are increased in number as they grow and older women wear elaborate  headdresses.

Intricate braiding of the hair takes hours of work before dawn.
There are no modern luxuries in this traditional African Himba village.
 The young children take the goat herd out each day to forage on grass. The women have to cart water on their heads to the village and we saw them making jewellery and crafted goods for the tourist trade. The children, our guide explained, can make a choice at age 7 or 8, to leave home and get an education by going away to boarding school as he did, or stay in the village situation. A hard decision to leave your family at such a young age.

Goat farming is the main source of meat, milk and skins for the village.


ARRIVAL: Etosha National Park

Etosha game reserve at last! Strict rules apply as can be seen on the sign.

At last after many miles of a dead-straight gravel and dusty road, we arrived at the gates of Etosha National Park! Strict rules are in place to protect both animals and visitors. These include enforcement of a 60km driving speed rule throughout the park and keeping within the confines of the bus, truck or car in observation areas  such as waterholes and roadside stops. We also kept silent at observation stops but for the click of camera shutters!

It soon became obvious who were good at spotting wildlife, some were good at finding well-camouflaged animals and others like myself able to find birdlife in the tree tops! On the way in, first up we were treated to 2 male lions who were brothers, sleeping under a tree. They had been kicked out of a pride and were collared for tracking. Also we saw a giraffe close up eating lunch right next to our bus!

Two brothers having a siesta in the extreme heat!

Giraffes are so well camouflaged: for such tall animals that they are hard to find!


This was a good omen and we were happy to be shown our well appointed cabins in Okaukeujo Lodge. We found a large indoor and outdoor area for dining, a huge swimming pool and most importantly a fenced waterhole where you are able to observe animals coming in to drink at any time of the night or day. Many people drifted in and out to observe the elephants, rhinoceros, giraffe, springboks and jackals to name just a few types of thirsty wildlife. Silence is observed here as well, and it makes the whole experience magical, especially at night.

Arriving at the Etosha National Park Okaukuejo Lodge

Night visiting elephants at the waterhole at the lodge. A magical experience!

Game Drive

After lunch, we quickly got our cameras and binoculars ready for our first major game drive. We were hugely lucky to see the mud covered elephants coming in to drink at our very first waterhole.

It was a truly amazing sight to see these huge "ghost" elephants recoating themselves with mud which is a white clay covering that protects them from the heat and insects. The waterholes come alive in the late afternoon with springbok and waterbirds, black rhino, giraffes, plains zebras, ostriches and even jackals trotting through the whole crowd of thirsty animals.

The ghost like mud covered elephants of Etosha.

Endangered black rhino at the waterhole.

An unusual sight, a giraffe and black rhino together for a drink.

Magnificent sight of a mud covered elephant surrounded by hundreds of springbok and a few ostriches!

Afternoon Safari Drive

During the afternoon drive, we managed to see the majority of animals we had hoped to see and more! Just on sunset, we came across a male lion roaring amazing to hear. He was following a lioness and sat down so close to us, only a few metres away, to observe her drinking at the waterhole. Eventually, he followed her as she set off for some scrub in the distance, a truly memorable afternoon!

It had been truly a magical experience, we were so lucky to see so many animals in the wild at Etosha National Park in Namibia and will cherish those memories forever. I really enjoyed the safari style of trip and would recommend you try one. We had good accommodation and the food was excellent, it's fun to travel with a small group and we had the added bonus of easy observation of  the African animals in their natural environment. 

Lion following a lioness to the waterhole.

Lioness looking cautiously around before preparing to drink.

Plains zebra in the desert afternoon light.

Just For You:

Have you ever wanted to see African animals in their homeland, when a trip to the zoo just doesn't fit the bill? And would you like to participate in a safari trip?

If you would like to leave a reply, I would love to hear what you think of my safari trip!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Serenity in Sandakan: Memorial for WWII POWs

The city of Sandakan is in Borneo. It had been on my travel wish list for quite a time as it was the place for a remarkable story of a forced march from Sandakan to Ranau that was made by Australian and British Prisoners of War under the Japanese in World War II.


We arrived from Kota Kinabalu on our Air Asia flight, luckily only 2 hours long, as hubby, being typically taller, was squashed into a seat custom designed for a smallish built person... perfect for me!

Arrival in Sandakan.

At once, the oppressive heat hit us like a wall, the humidity was so bad that I reneged on some of our usual long walks and sat in air-con admiring the foreshore from our lovely waterfront hotel with a cool drink.

Admiring the view from our hotel on the Sandakan waterfront.

Peaceful waterfront scene.

At this stage I wondered how on earth the Australian and British Prisoners of War from WWII in this heat, on rations, weak and in barely liveable conditions, could have survived at all for any length of time.


Sandakan itself is a very picturesque town and our Swiss Inn Hotel was pretty luxurious for us. Our room overlooked the bay, such a peaceful spot.

High on the hill is Agnes Keith's house. Agnes was a famous American author who wrote autobiographical accounts of her life in Borneo pre-WWII, during her imprisonment there as a Japanese prisoner of war, and her life afterwards. Three Came Home, her second book, was later made into a film.

We were infuriated to find that after walking quite a way and climbing a huge number of steps in the heat, the tickets we had bought in Kota Kinabalu were only valid for the day before we got there!

Agnes Keith's home in Sandakan.


Next morning we set off in a taxi for the War Memorial in the suburb of Taman Rimba, as the heat prevented walking long distances. The memorial has been funded partially by Australia. It is the most moving memorial I have seen in Asia, with stained glass windows portraying the beauty of Australian flowers. It is an area of reverence and peace where not a word was exchanged while reading the harrowing story of how the men were forced to march from Sandakan to Ranau.

Only six men escaped from this camp in 1942. With local help they stole a boat and sailed to the Phillippines. They alone survived out of the 2400 British and Australian POW soldiers. Originally the internees were sent to build an airstrip at Sandakan, but by 1944 Allied forces were advancing towards Borneo and the Japanese decided to send 2000 Australian and British prisoners to Ranau in the interior jungle. Many died on the 240km walk, sick and weak before they even started out. The "death march" as it became known was the greatest single wartime atrocity against Australians in wartime.

Every year, Australian veterans or their relatives now, attend a memorial service here. We kept thinking as we trekked back a kilometre in the heat to find the local bus, how these prisoners did not have the benefits that we had of a hotel, cool drinks and wonderful food to look forward to.

The approach to the well kept tropical garden  Memorial.

The beautiful reflection pool which is a feature of the well kept gardens.

Lest we forget.

Rusting remains of an excavator at the site.

Map of the compound as it was in 1942-1943.

The memorial was a perfect area for reflection on the heroism of wartime. While this type of destination may be off the usual tourist route, we really enjoyed our visit and it certainly is well worth the effort to include some important wartime history in your travels. Lest we forget.

Is there any place or memorial you have visited that affects everyone so much that words are not necessary?

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Desert Safari: Capetown, South Africa to White Lady Lodge, Namibia

Part 1

There isn't a word to describe the beauty of the Namibian desert region of Africa! It has its own unique beauty and is always steeped in that unusual light that comes with the desert brightness. Contrasted with the unbelievable sand-swept redness of the Sossusvlei sand dunes and you get pictures of incomparable beauty. This is where we were heading for:

The stark beauty of the Susslevei sand dune No. 45 in the Namibian desert.

Capetown to Clanwilliam

Leaving Capetown, getting supplies for our trip north to Clanwilliam.

We ventured forth from Capetown in our safari truck, none of us aware of what a safari was going to be like! Loaded up and on the way, we stopped off to get last minute supplies. But in reality there are many stops, even in remote places, where you can get basic things such as toiletries, food, nibbles etc and the 5 litre bottles of water necessary in the heat. From the truck we took in the scenery, a patchwork of green cropped farming fields with canola and vineyards. After crossing the Cedarberg Mountains, we drove through vast areas of citrus orchards watered by dams fed from mountain streams.

Vast patchwork of canola and mixed farming fields.


We arrived at our first overnight stay by afternoon. Clanwilliam Lodge was over 100 years old, but quite comfortable and well appointed with a pool and separate dining room nearby. We were taken to taste the variety of teas that have made this Nooridoof tea area famous. This included the South African Rooibos tea which is sold worldwide. On our return, we had a delicious meal and enjoyed a nightcap of the famous "Amarula".

Clanwilliam Lodge in the heart of the tea growing area.

Vast wildflower areas beside the road to Clanwilliam.

Native wildflowers flourish in the sandy soil.

Orange River, Namibia

Our next stop was the Felix Unite Lodge over the border from South Africa. Border crossings can be a great trial, but we managed to get through them all with minimal fuss due to the good management of our native Zimbabwean guide and driver, who knew every trick in the book like getting there early and being very respectful to the authorities.

This lodge was so beautifully situated above the river, with separate thatched roof huts, restaurant, pool and bar, a small shop all located close by. It is basically built on just the grey soil that looks like something from outer space, barren and devoid of plant life. But the Namibians have turned parts of it into whole areas of green with grape growing and fruit trees, date palms and other suitable crops for irrigation in these hot conditions. It was a haven, as were most of our lodges which appeared out of the desert miraculously after many hours of driving! Next day we took a canoe trip down the river enjoying the bird life on the way.

Beautifully appointed thatched roof huts at Felix Unite Lodge, Orange River.

Beautiful sunrise view from outside our hut.

Early morning canoeist on the Orange River.

Fish River Canyon

Next day, we set out for Fish River Canyon Roadhouse, a most amazing lodge in the middle of the barren gibber desert and only 13km from the canyon itself. It has an immense amount of old abandoned and rescued motor vehicles placed throughout the whole site together with an amazing bar area and dining room decorated with road signs, garage signs, bowsers and number plates and more vehicles!

Old trucks and cars are everywhere on the Lodge grounds.

Everywhere you look there's a number plate!

Where else can you have a vehicle with a built in dining table?

A  quiver tree growing out of an old relic car. Bushmen use them to make quivers.

In the afternoon,we headed out to the Fish River Canyon itself. The area we visited has an uncanny resemblance to the Horseshoe Bend of the Grand Canyon in America. It is equally deep but without the immensity of the Colorado River. The views were to die for and you can hike along the rim of the canyon to the lookout point where we had snacks and champagne while watching the sun go down on a most remarkable African day!

Amazing view of the Fish River Canyon.

View from the scenic rim walk.

Sossusvlei, Deadvlei

We had arrived at last at one of the highlights of our trip. I had seen many travelers' pics of these desert dunes and had wanted to visit them. We arrived at Agama River Camp Lodge on schedule and surveyed our accommodation, an adobe type room with an outside staircase leading to a rooftop view. We looked out to the pool area and to our amazement saw some warthogs availing themselves of a quick dip before sundown! This rather put me off a quick swim despite the heat and I decided on a wander around the main hotel area and drinks on the veranda of our suites with our friends instead.

I don't think the warthogs took any notice of the signage but we did!

Dune No. 45

Next morning we set out for a sunrise deadline at the sand dunes made famous around the world. We were the first out to the Dune No. 45 in Namib Naukluft Park. Everyone who could, set out to climb the 250 metre high dune. I suffer still sometimes from vertigo and so only ventured up the first slope about three quarters, with encouragement from my friend! Just viewing these dunes is an amazing experience, they stretch in endless wave like patterns, their symmetry shifting with the wind each day.

After this fantastic sight and a breakfast in the car park, we pushed on another 20km to Sossusvlei where we transferred to a trailer pulled by a tractor for a pretty bumpy ride through the sand tracks. By this stage, it was getting very hot when we walked over the sand to Deadvlei area. This is an area of claypan and dead trees where the Tsauchab River used to run. Sand dunes blocked off the river 300 years ago and the trees remaining have not rotted due to the dry air. The last time there was water in this area of Sossusvlei was 2012.

Climbing the dizzy heights of Dune NO 45 in the Namibian desert.

Deadvlei with its stark desert landscape and remains of trees from centuries ago.

On the way back to base camp, we stopped at the amazing Sesriem canyon, carved out of the desert by a river millions of years ago. It is only 5 metres wide in places but 30 metres deep.
We experienced oryx steak for our night meal, together with soup and dessert, a lovely finish to the day. All the meals on this trip are very wholesome and delicious, even the lunches often out in the bush setting. After our meal, we were entertained by the serving staff and chef who gave a wonderful dance with harmony singing African style, such a lovely impromptu concert which was often repeated throughout our trip and so enjoyed by us all!

Sesriem Canyon.


Next stop was Swakopmund, a German town on the west coast that is still immersed in its German heritage. The German language is still spoken here and there are German street signs, architecture, cafes and an interesting museum. It's the second biggest town in Namibia, with a population of about 45, 000.

We saw massively big beautiful flocks of perhaps 2000 flamingos on the shoreline, and were fascinated by their flight and feeding. Our hotel was comfortable but the weather was quite cold and windy, such a contrast to the heat of the desert areas we had come from and were going to next.

Its as if an entire German town has been transported to Africa complete with German signposts and street names.

Hundreds of beautiful flamingos flock to the foreshores of Swakopmund to feed.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

On the road again to Brandberg Mountains, we traveled the salt-made road north. After passing the salt mines, we stopped to view a shipwreck close to shore. This is called the Skeleton Coast because of the amount of wrecks on the west coast of Africa. Then onto another highlight, an enormous seal colony at Cape Cross. Despite the smell, it is absolutely spectacular to see these seals everywhere you look along the beach including hundreds in the sea! The viewing platform is up high and the noise is also incredible with babies climbing over backs to find their mothers, bull elephants neck fighting and tossing their heads! All in all, a totally awesome experience.

Skeleton Coast. The coastline is strewn with ancient and modern ships wrecks.

Enormous coastal seal colony, one of 17 in this area.

Continuing over hot, dry dusty desert roads again, we passed many ladies in full German style 19th century colourful long frilled frocks with 3 cornered hats waving to us to stop and buy their roadside goods, which we did with the hope that our contributions went towards improving their living conditions and getting their small children to school.

Friendly ladies in vintage German dress sell hand sewn dolls and other handcrafts by the side of the dusty desert road.

Brandberg Mountain, White Lady Lodge

We finally arrived at White Lady Lodge, which had the most beautiful setting facing the west. It also had a very welcoming bar, dining room and swimming pool to lay the dust of the day!

The beautiful view of White Lady Lodge.

An oryx by the roadside.

We saw our first wildlife on the way- the mountain zebra, the oryx, then ostriches, kudu, springbok and other antelopes. This lodge was where we had our most amazing encounter of the entire trip!

But first we hiked up the canyon at Brandberg Mountain, the highest mountain in Namibia, to view the White Lady paintings which are thousands of years old and so sacred to the Bushmen tribes of this area. Our Bushman lady guide was a very friendly lady who kept us informed with the history of the paintings. Around the mountain there are over 50,000 ancient rock paintings, some over 5000 years old. The White Lady is actually thought to represent a shaman and was discovered in 1917 by a German topographer. 

It was very hot and hard going with boulders strewn throughout the trail to clamber over and going upwards all the time. Also we were on the lookout for elephants which use this steep trail early mornings and late afternoons. Their damage to the bushes and trees were evidence enough for me, and I was not particularly wanting to meet one that close up!

Heading up the trail to the White Lady paintings.

The famed White Lady rock painting which is revered by the Bushmen.

Next morning, I was up early with a couple of others, to get good shots of the sunrise over the rooms where we were staying, some distance from the main lodge. We had been told not to walk outside after dark as the elephants roam freely throughout the whole area at night. But as I was standing in the middle of the dirt track, I heard a strange loud noise which I guessed to be an elephant and then saw a herd of elephants not far behind our rooms, hustling through the trees and bushes.

I took a quick photo shot, but one of the party had a flash and elephants do not like them. We found out soon enough, as this bull elephant took objection and started to charge at us, fortunately stopping mid rush! As you can imagine, all of us took off. I think I passed the fastest 100 metre test, adrenaline and all... What an experience!

That same morning we had to come back to collect a mobile phone that had been left behind, when we happened to come upon a herd right next to our rooms, possibly the same one as before. They were peacefully grazing beside our truck. We were so close to them and we gazed in silent awe for quite a while.

Elephant herd at White Lady Lodge, grazing peacefully so close to our truck.

This part of our safari journey so far had been fairly easy days travelling, but we were about to be introduced to the ever-changing landscape of more desert areas, long drives and the prize at the end - Etosha National Park which was going to be the best reward for all that journeying on rough roads! More on that in the next blog.


Have you ever seen on your travels a place that is absolutely world-class breathtakingly beautiful like we found the desert dunes of Namibia?