09/2016 - Namibia & Botswana Safari
Thanks to Wendy & Karen for making the map
After more than 2 years of planning, we finally went on our Botswana & Namibia trip in September 2016! There were 10 of us - eight of us (Debbie, Terry, Lori, Molly, Suzanne S, Suzanne G. & us) had traveled together in the past with Olivia Travel & on an Un-Cruise vacation, while the other 2 (Wendy, Karen) were friends we had met in Phoenix several years ago. The planning for the trip began in early 2014 when Suzanne G. put out a call for anyone interested in an African safari in 2016. We selected Rothschild Safaris to coordinate the trip & Suzanne G. took the lead on choosing the outstanding locations we would visit. We selected 5 camps (most of which only accommodated 12-20 guests at a time) & planned to stay 2-3 nights at each. Rather grueling, but it was our intention to see as many birds & animals as we could, & the trip certainly exceeded our expectations.
Though our destinations were Namibia & Botswana, we had to fly to Johannesburg, South Africa in order to get to the other countries. We left Phoenix in the morning on September 1st & arrived in Johannesburg the following night. It was a 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, one of the 5 longest non-stop flights in the world & the longest flight we have ever taken. Eight of the ten of us were on the same flight, so we were able to start sharing the adventure & our exhaustion right away. Our total travel time from home to hotel was about 29 hours. We stayed at the luxurious Residence Boutique Hotel & spent the next day relaxing & shopping & adjusting to the time change. South Africa was 9 hours ahead of Pacific Time. The official language in South Africa & Namibia was Afrikaans, a western Germanic language evolved from Dutch. "Hallo" was their general greeting.
Sossusvlei - Namibia
Our true adventure began on September 4th when we flew by commercial flight to Windhoek, Namibia to take a 12-passenger charter plane to Sossusvlei, Namibia, where we checked in to the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Sossusvlei is in the Namib Desert, one of the driest & oldest (80 million years) deserts on earth. It is known for the immense red sand dunes, whose ever-changing shapes & shadows are a favorite subject for photographers. The Namib Sand Sea that makes up the dunes is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. We climbed just the first leg of Big Daddy, which in total rises about 1000 feet above the desert pan. After going as far as we could climb, we ran down the steep side of the dune. At the base of the dunes lies the Deadvlei, with its blackened, dead camelthorn trees on the white salt pan creating a surrealistic landscape. The remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to have died 900 years ago, are now black because the intense sun has scorched them. Though not petrified, the wood does not decompose because it is so dry. After climbing the big dunes we 4-wheeled through many areas of smaller dunes & actually got stuck in the sand for a while. Our guide calmly & repeatedly let out air from the tires as most of us watched from the safety of a dune & he finally worked the jeep out of the shifting sands (with Candy whooping & hollering from her perch in the back of the jeep).
We also witnessed the phenomena of Fairy Circles, which occur only in Namibia & Australia. They are indented circular patches across the landscape, devoid of vegetation. No one knows what causes them though many theories have been put forth; perhaps a forest of trees poisoned the ground when they died; maybe the feeding or breeding activities of sand termites caused them; or they might be radioactive elements from the granite that flowed in circular patterns. The Himba bushmen even believe they are the footprints of the gods.
The night sky in this part of Namibia is breathtaking. It has been certified as an International Dark Sky Reserve, which means it has one of the darkest skies measured on Earth. There is a total lack of light pollution, so you can see the Milky Way galaxy, planets & constellations clearly with just the naked eye. Our villas had skylights above the beds so we could see the night sky all night long. As an accompaniment to stargazing, the barking geckoes made a repetitive, tapping sound all night long.
At Sossusvlei we were introduced to 2 safari customs that continued throughout our trip. The first was a breakfast break in mid-morning and the second was the sundowner - cocktails & hors d’oeuvres while watching the sun set. Most were set up on the front of the jeeps; some were elaborate while others were simple; all were extremely enjoyable! We were also introduced to the high quality of guides we were to experience at each of our stops - knowledgeable, friendly, accommodating, flexible & fun.
Onguma - Namibia
We flew by charter plane to Onguma Game Reserve to begin the animal safari part of our trip. We stayed at Onguma Tented Camp, with a watering hole nearby that drew birds & animals for a much-needed drink. Here we began the safari routine of “up by 5:30, coffee at 6:00, out on safari by 6:30”. We would return by around 11:00 or 12:00 for brunch & have siesta time until 4:00. We then met for tea & were off on safari again at 4:30. We stopped for our sundowner at sunset & returned to the camp by about 7:00 for dinner. On our first morning, however, we were awakened by staff with lanterns due to a power outage caused by an elephant pulling down the power lines during the night.
On our first afternoon drive we left the camp & encountered a tall giraffe in the road in front of our jeep - what a welcome! We spent a lot of time at watering holes inside of Etosha National Park, where families of elephants drank & took dirt baths. The baby elephants were enchanting & we watched them for long periods of time – playing with each other & any object nearby, learning how to use their trunks, taking face-plants as they tumbled around at their mother’s feet. Though we had seen some animals & birds in Sossusvlei, now we started seeing dozens of species. We compiled a list of all the mammals & birds we saw on this trip & have included it on the blog's sidebar.
Okonjima - Namibia
After another charter flight we arrived at the Okonjima Game Reserve, home of AfriCat, a wildlife conservation foundation dedicated to education, conservation & rehabilitation of large carnivores. Some of the leopards, cheetahs & wild dogs (endangered) are collared so the staff can keep track of them as they prepare to be rehabilitated. As such, our guides were able to track them so we could get up close & personal. The leopards & wild dogs we tracked in the jeeps, as they might attack humans. The cheetahs we tracked on foot since they go for smaller prey. When on foot, we walked single file through the brush, with one guide at the lead & one at the back. It was very exciting to be in such close proximity to these carnivores!
Linyanti - Botswana
After a commercial flight from Namibia to Botswana & a charter flight to the Linyanti Reserve, we arrived Duma Tau Camp. This was our favorite camp, with outstanding management & staff, set on a lagoon within the Linyanti swamp system & raised off the ground to take advantage of the river views. This area is known for the abundance of elephants & it did not disappoint! We were able to watch large herds of elephants as they fed, played & drank at watering holes. We also watched thousands of cape buffalo as they crossed a river, amazing even the guide with their numbers. This camp had a barge on which we navigated the lagoon & enjoyed animal sightings during our sundowner. The official language of Botswana is Tswana & the general greeting is "Dumela mma" for greeting a woman & "Dumela rra" for greeting a man.
Okavango Delta - Botswana
We reached our final destination via another charter flight & stayed at Little Vumbura Camp, on an island in the Okavango Delta. The Delta is another UNESCO World Heritage site, bringing the total we have visited to 45. This is an exceptional place to see many species of birds. One of the highlights was the African Hoopoe, though the Southern Carmine Bee-eater was pretty special as well. In addition to game drives we had boat rides, either motorized or mokoro (dugout canoe). On one boat ride we came across a resting hippo as we sped back to camp to avoid being out on the water at dark. The hippo leapt out of the water just in front of our boat & ran off into the marsh. We weren’t sure who was more startled, us or the hippo! On our last evening we had a very special, elaborate sundowner on a small island within the delta. By this time most of us had a new favorite drink – Amarula Cream over ice. The liqueur is made from the fruit of the Marula tree, which only grows in southern Africa. Elephants love the fruit & are known to ram the tree to dislodge the fruit. We were in good company…
Though four of our group went on to one last camp, six of us headed home at this point. For a special goodbye on our final morning, we had a bull elephant grazing around the tents. As we headed to breakfast we were stopped in our tracks when he took notice of us & started approaching us on the path & flapping his ears. Luckily we were able to take refuge outside of our friends’ nearby tent until the elephant decided to move on. Our return trip was by boat, then jeep, then charter flight, then commercial flight & finally by jet from Johannesburg. The travel time from camp to home was 32 hours. We arrived exhausted but thrilled to have experienced such a special adventure with a group of wonderful friends! We hope you enjoy our photos below & forgive us for including so many! Thank you to our fellow travelers for providing some of the shots (the ones without the K&C watermark).
Click here to go to a page with 3 videos.
33 Species of Mammals
The Big Five:
African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Black Rhinoceros, Lion & Leopard
Southern Giraffe, White Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Cheetah, Plains Zebra, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Oryx, Eland, Greater Kudu, Blue Wildebeest, Common Impala, Red Lechwe, Southern Reedbuck, Tsessebe, Common Waterbuck, Southern Duiker, Springbok, Steenbok, Damara Dikdik, Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Hyena, Wild Dog, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Common Warthog, Bush Pig, Banded Mongoose & Ground Squirrel
2 Species of Reptiles
Nile Crocodile & Monitor Lizard
143 Species of Birds
(in taxonomic order)
Common Ostrich, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-backed Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, African Pygmy Goose, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Guineafowl, Crested Francolin,Red-billed Spurfowl,Cape Spurfowl, Little Grebe, African Openbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Purple Heron, Black Heron, Slaty Egret, Little Egret, Hamerkop, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle, Kori Bustard, Ludwig's Bustard, Rüppell's Korhaan, Red-crested Korhaan, Northern Black Korhaan, Black Crake, Allen's Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Wattled Crane, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Long-toed Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, African Jacana, Common Sandpiper, African Skimmer, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Green Pigeon, Grey Go-away-bird, Coppery-tailed Coucal, White-browed Coucal, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Lilac-breasted Roller, Striped Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Green Wood Hoopoe, Southern Ground Hornbill, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Bradfield's Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Crested Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Meyer's Parrot, Pririt Batis, White-tailed Shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Swamp Boubou, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Magpie Shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Ashy Tit, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Dune Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Banded Martin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow, Icterine Warbler, Green-backed Camaroptera, White-rumped Babbler, Southern Pied Babbler, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Wattled Starling, Cape Starling, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Burchell's Starling, Pale-winged Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Marico Flycatcher, White-browed Robin-Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Familiar Chat, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Dusky Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Sociable Weaver, Cape Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Holub's Golden Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Blue Waxbill, Bronze Mannikin, African Pipit