Four old tjops tackle the bundu

Self-con­fessed “old tjops” Wendy (71) and Eric Thor­burn (80) and their friends Gilly (76) and An­gus Mor­ri­son (79) – all from Joburg – went on a road trip through Da­ma­r­a­land, Kaokoland and Etosha, prov­ing that even se­nior cit­i­zens can have a great self­drive hol­i­day in Namibia.

DAY 1: Swakop­mund to near Khorixas (325 km)

The early morn­ing mist made the sur­face of the C34 slip­pery, so it made sense to lock the cen­tre diff to keep the ve­hi­cle sta­ble. Us Thor­burns were in our diesel Toy­ota For­tuner, while Gilly and An­gus drove a Prado.

When we turned in­land from Hen­ties onto the C35, a land­scape of flat, bar­ren plains opened up. But as the dis­tant peaks of Spitzkoppe lifted over the hori­zon, small herds of spring­bok be­gan to ap­pear, and we came across three Rüp­pell’s ko­rhaan – a species en­demic to this part of the world. This was our first trip to north­ern Namibia. Gilly and An­gus had last vis­ited 30 years ago, so we were all ex­cited.

By now the tem­per­a­ture was ris­ing rapidly, and the Brand­berg mas­sif be­gan to dom­i­nate the ris­ing ground to the north.

We reached our des­ti­na­tion at about lunchtime. Da­mara Mopane Lodge is 25 km east of Khorixas along the C39. This would be our base for ex­plor­ing the re­gion over the next few days. The lodge is owned by the Gond­wana group and we made good use of our Gond­wana Card to get dis­counts here and at their other lodges.

We didn’t do any camp­ing on this trip. We wanted com­fort­able beds, and ice to go with our G&Ts. A lodge like Da­mara Mopane ticked all the boxes. Each chalet has its own walled veg­etable gar­den. Urro Li­longa, the chief gar­dener, takes pride in this unique en­ter­prise. De­spite nightly kudu raids, he is able to pro­duce an abun­dance of fresh veg­eta­bles.

DAY 2: To Twyfel­fontein and back (250 km)

Driv­ing west along the C39, we re­fu­elled at Khorixas. Af­ter about 40 km we came to the “of­fi­cial” Pet­ri­fied For­est (there are “in­for­mal” ones too). If you haven’t al­ready seen them else­where, the unique wel­witschia plants are also found here.

Con­tin­u­ing on the rea­son­able gravel road through a stunning land­scape, we pulled out our binoc­u­lars at one point to study a group of Mon­teiro’s hornbill – yet an­other en­demic and a first sight­ing for us.

An ice-cold Wind­hoek Lager at the Twyfel­fontein Lodge for­ti­fied us for the scram­ble around the nearby am­phithe­atre of jum­bled rock, cov­ered in in­cred­i­ble rock art. Twyfel­fontein is a World Her­itage Site and pre­serves a re­mark­able le­gacy of Stone Age hunter-gath­er­ers, and more re­cently, Bush­men. Other at­trac­tions nearby are the strange do­lerite rock col­umns called the Or­gan Pipes, and Burnt Moun­tain.

We stopped for a pic­nic lunch on the banks of the dry Aba-Huab riverbed and saw fresh tracks in the sand – the elu­sive desert ele­phants!

DAY 3: Ugab and Vingerk­lip round trip (185 km)

Af­ter break­fast, we set off south along the D2743, through an area of flat-topped moun­tains and strik­ing rock for­ma­tions.

Our first stop was Ugab Ter­race Lodge, perched high above the plain. Then on to Vingerk­lip, set apart from the other tow­er­ing mesas. The en­er­getic scram­ble to its base opened up yet an­other stunning

vista in this re­mark­able coun­try. At Vingerk­lip Lodge we sat among the rocks, took out our flask and lunched on ba­nanas and rusks. In­stead of re­trac­ing our steps, we did a cir­cuit along back roads like the D2752 in the di­rec­tion of Outjo, through a rugged land­scape of re­mote farm­houses.

DAY 4: Khorixas to Opuwo (380 km)

We’d seen lots of “low-tech” tyre-re­pair shops by the road­side, which re­in­forced our re­solve to drive with great care. Be­ing old tjops with arthritic backs, we took com­fort in our pre-trip prepa­ra­tions. We’d de­signed and tested a rope-and-pul­ley sys­tem to take much of the strain out of man­ag­ing the dead weight of a 4x4 wheel when chang­ing it. Luck­ily, we never had a flat tyre.

We took the C35 tar road to Opuwo, a rough-and-ready Kaokoland fron­tier town. We spent the night at Ohakane Lodge, a peace­ful haven in the cen­tre of town.

DAY 5: Opuwo to Epupa Falls (180 km)

A roller-coaster ride lay be­fore us on the gravel C43 head­ing north. As there are no cut­tings or culverts, the road fol­lows the con­tours of the land – you sud­denly come upon a steep de­scent into a dry riverbed, with a dis­con­cert­ingly nar­row cause­way. An­gus and I chuck­led to see that our wives spent much of the jour­ney cling­ing to the grab han­dles!

DAY 6 & 7: Epupa Falls

Epupa Falls is a Kaokoland high­light. Wind­ing through the desert, the placid Kunene River picks up speed as it threads be­tween is­lands, be­fore plung­ing into an in­cred­i­ble gorge. If you’ve driven all this way, it makes sense to spend a cou­ple of lazy days here be­fore you drive back south. We stayed at Omarunga Lodge.

Most lodges of­fer a guided visit to a nearby Himba vil­lage. We were con­cerned that very lit­tle of our R400 per per­son fee for the tour ac­tu­ally went to the Himba – we only saw a small par­cel of mealiemeal be­ing handed out by our guide.

Dur­ing our two days here we also vis­ited Epupa Pri­mary School, about 15 km south of the falls, just off the C43. The mod­ern teach­ing build­ings had been fi­nanced by Nor­we­gian donors and the staff were most en­thu­si­as­tic. The pupils spend the week at school – they walk there on a Mon­day and walk home again on Fri­day. De­spite this, there is no ac­com­mo­da­tion. Both pupils and teach­ers sleep on the floor in the class­rooms (the teach­ers in a tent, in the cor­ner). The gov­ern­ment pro­vides only two meals of pap a day. It made us re­alise how lucky our chil­dren are in South Africa.

DAY 8: Epupa to Toko Lodge near Ka­man­jab (452 km)

We headed south, via Opuwo, along the C35 tar road and stayed at Toko Lodge, on a game farm out­side Ka­man­jab. A comfy bed, a good meal and a charm­ing host made up for all those hard kilo­me­tres.

DAY 9: Toko Lodge to Okaukuejo, Etosha (278 km)

From the lodge we fol­lowed the D2695 gravel road to­wards the An­der­s­son Gate into Etosha Na­tional Park.

Etosha is spe­cial be­cause of the string of wa­ter­holes that fol­lows the south­ern edge of the pan. As the dry sea­son pro­gresses, ever-in­creas­ing herds of game are drawn to th­ese oases. We found the best time for game view­ing to be dur­ing the heat of the day, as the an­i­mals are forced to the wa­ter – even though they know that preda­tors are ly­ing in wait. We drove from wa­ter­hole to wa­ter­hole and mar­velled at all the game.

A fea­ture of Okaukuejo rest camp is the flood­lit wa­ter­hole, where you can see shy noc­tur­nal an­i­mals. Ele­phant, jackal and lion are also fre­quent vis­i­tors. We saw 11 black rhino one evening!

DAY 10 & 11: Etosha

Day 10 was a leisurely one, dur­ing which we had a close sight­ing of a honey bad­ger. We also saw huge herds of ze­bra and spring­bok and the rare black-faced im­pala.

Halali camp has been re­fur­bished, and you can now en­joy a buf­fet-style break­fast. A word of warn­ing: The buf­fet can be­come a bit of war zone. Hold on to your toast if there’s a big tour group in the area…

Head­ing out in the morn­ing from Halali, we stopped at Sal­vadora wa­ter­hole where Wendy spot­ted a lioness crouch­ing in the grass, just me­tres from the wa­ter’s edge – and a leap away from a pair of stupid tourists stand­ing out­side their ve­hi­cle. When we alerted them to the dan­ger, the speed at which they dived back into their SUV was re­mark­able.

Mean­while, hun­dreds of ze­bra were form­ing a long, ner­vous line. They took three paces for­ward, and then two back. They knew death was lurk­ing. We were spell­bound, hold­ing our breath…

When it came, the ac­tion was ex­plo­sive. The lioness burst from cover, the ze­bra leapt and piv­oted, the dust swirled and hun­dreds of pound­ing hoofs re­sounded!

The lioness missed. It seemed un­be­liev­able at the time, but not so im­prob­a­ble when we stud­ied our pho­to­graphs later. Those ze­bra could teach our rugby play­ers a thing or two about evad­ing tack­les!

Yes, Etosha is ev­ery­thing and more than one could wish for, and it de­serves the top spot on your bucket list when you plan a trip to this part of Namibia.

For ac­com­mo­da­tion list­ings for Da­ma­r­a­land, Kaokoland and Etosha, see page 119 – 122.

SE­NIOR TOUR. Wendy and Eric demon­strate their nifty rope-and­pul­ley tyre-chang­ing sys­tem (op­po­site page). At Sal­vadora wa­ter­hole (top) in Etosha Na­tional Park they saw a lioness attack a herd of ze­bra. The north­ern­most point of their epic tour was Epupa...

TRUNK CALL. If you want to see large num­bers of wildlife, Etosha should be your num­ber one des­ti­na­tion in Namibia. Wa­ter­holes draw an­i­mals such as th­ese ele­phants, es­pe­cially dur­ing the dry sea­son.

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