A highlight of our November programme: a wonderful journey to discover the fascinating geology, flora and wildlife of southern Namibia, led by Susan and accompanied by our excellent Namibian guide/driver, Siggi.
Namibia has been an independent country for 25 years and, along with Botswana to the east, it has concentrated on developing sustainable, rather than mass, tourism that is sensitive to the needs of a fragile environment.
Our first destination is the rolling red dunes of the Kalahari desert. This is the home of the ancient San People, or Bushmen, and we have the good fortune to be accompanied by a number of them on a dune walk where they introduce us to numerous plants and bushes, and their traditional uses. Giraffes, oryx and kudu are sighted late afternoon, and even meerkats and ostrich with their young.
We travel south through the Schwartzrand Mountains to Alte Kalkofen lodge. Here, the owners show us their national collection of indigenous stone plants (Lithops) ; their aim is to introduce rarities back into their natural habitat. Further to the south we come to Fish River Canyon, a majestic geological wonder where plant life survives in spite of the arid and inhospitable conditions. Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) and the deep red aloes (Aloe garapiensis) cling to the rocky descents, while clumps of silver-grey Euphorbia are eye-catching.
From the Canyon we head into the Namib desert, where we encounter enormous sand dunes created by the strong westerly winds. Their colours at day-break are a photographer’s dream. Some of our group ascend the ridge of the ‘Big Daddy’ dune for a spectacular view from the heights. In Dead Vlei nearby we find ancient camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba). An al fresco brunch in the shade of a huge tree is truly welcome, and later on we opt to spend the night outdoors as well, sleeping under the star-spangled sky. What an experience !
The tour is full of contrasts and our next destination is a guest farm high up in the mountains near the Gamsberg. Keen star-gazers appreciate the clarity of the sky here, at an altitude of over 2000m, and we enjoy the planetary walk and sundowner with amazing views. Next day, we start early with an energetic botanical walk to discover the variety of plants growing in the harsh environment, including a stunning coral tree (Erythrina decora) in bloom in the dry riverbed.
Heading west towards the coast we cross gravel desert where we find a number of Namibia’s very special plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, growing in tough, arid conditions. We are enthralled to see the plants in flower and covered with beetles, which act as pollinators. We travel on to Swakopmund, a coastal town where the dunes reach the shore; among the wildlife are a rich variety of insects, side-winder snakes and Cape hares. Flamingoes and many seabirds can be seen on the shore enjoying rich feeding in the shallows.
Our final destination is inland: The Old Traders’ Lodge at Erindi Game Reserve. The viewing terrace overlooking a large waterhole provides superb sightings of elephants, giraffes and wildebeest which must somehow avoid the crocodiles and hippos wallowing in the water. Myriad birds are building nests and trying to impress with melodious tunes. Our game drives in the 79,000 hectare reserve are fascinating. In the bush we come across elephants, lions and even a honey badger in the early evening, whereas in the savannah we see giraffes browsing among flat-topped acacias (Acacia mellifera) and cheetahs feeding on a carcass.
Namibia is a country with an extraordinary natural heritage, where the visitor feels welcome and safe. In addition to magnificent flora and wildlife, the geology is as astonishing as it is varied. The regions visited on this tour are malaria-free, the lodges well-appointed and the local cuisine delicious.