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?