Once again we enjoyed our time in Swakopmund, Namibia, and made use of this very westernised town, by getting the rear rack on Colonel K welded and strengthened (the box section had snapped/cracked in two places), and our spotlight supports stiffened up with a very smart piece of stainless steel welding.
We also had a full service done on the truck (we have rigidly stuck to oil and filter changes every 10,000km or 6,000 miles on this trip), Midvaal Garage also did a few minor repairs too. So with Colonel K in tip top condition before we headed south into the Namib Naukluft what could possibly go wrong, especially as the Daf has been so well behaved on this trip!
Swakopmund really is unlike another African town or city that we have been to, for one thing the climate is so nice after the scorching heat of Damaraland. Then there is the main attraction of this coastal town……. SlowTown Coffee, oh my god can they make a cappuccino?
Here we met some great people, including a nice German couple that are travelling in Africa in their very smart Iveco truck. The living cabin was previously fitted to hi sold truck, that was actually a Leyland Daf T244, the same as our Colonel K. The first night we met Artur and Conny, they insisted that we drink his homemade Apple Schnapps, this was after we had drunk copious amounts of wine…. we woke up the next morning with bad heads and they didn’t!!! The second time we met them (about a week later with their son and his wife), I insisted that this time we drunk MY drink, a bottle a Ballantines Scotch Whiskey…. Ha I thought, see how these Germans can take a “proper drink”…… We left them with an empty bottle, and we both had sore heads, and they didn’t!!!
One afternoon, we had just got back to the campsite after a cheeky SlowTown and a walk along the coast, when a “Bobo Camper” pulled in (these are a normal 2wd european style motorhomes), and we quickly noticed an English accent, they of course spotted our GB plates, and we started chatting, the next moment another two “Bobo’s” pulled in, also English. Eventually there were 13 or 14 of them on the campsite. It turns out that it was an organised tour, with a “guide” and a full time mechanic from Bobo Campers (complete with a spare camper), and it was organised by the Camping and Caravan Club of Great Britain (or something similar). Now we knew tourism in Namibia was changing!!! More of this later…..
Anyway we ended up having a really nice time with some of these guys, but especially Nigel and Sue who we had a braii with a couple of times in the evenings.
Before we left Swakopmund we had to say goodbye to a semi-wild cat that befriended us, “Bluey” was very scared of us at first, but after Jac insisting that we buy it tins of “Pampers” (yup that wasn’t a spelling mistake), it arrived on the dot at 5.00pm every evening and wouldn’t leave us, even taking to sleeping under the braii (barbecue to us Brits). The reason it would arrive until 5.00pm was it was petrified of the local staff, this was reinforced once when one of the cleaners was late leaving and “Bluey” saw him in the distance and ran under the truck and hid behind the wheel until he was gone. Strangely “Bluey” also knows his days of the week, because the staff only work half days on Saturday and Sunday, and old “Bluely” would tentatively appear about an hour of so earlier on these days.
We had a few trips to the nearby town of Walvis Bay, which is a bit more industrialised than Swakopmund, but we enjoyed it all the same.
But it was time to move south, and boy does it change very quickly. Its a very gradual climb up from the coast on the gravel road, but you quickly go from sea level to over 3,000 feet (in about an hour), and the climate has suddenly gone from the cool moist air of Swakopmund to the intense heat and dryness of the Namib desert. The following photo was taken about 100km (60 miles) inland and looking back towards the coast.
Personally, we love this arid environment and its raw natural beauty. Yes it can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially travelling without air-conditioning in the cab, but you do get used to it.
We decided to stop in the Gamsberg Mountains, which was the first time for us, and it didn’t disappoint, Rooisand Lodge is in a stunning quiet valley near the base of the mountain, and we ended up staying two nights here (we were trying to work out a way so we could kidnap the owners stunning young Weimaraner dog, no chance!).
After rejoining the main gravel road that continues south, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the last time on this trip (probably), and of course had to do the photo thing….
We had a quick stop for coffee and massively over priced and over hyped Apple Pie at Solitare, where we also topped up Colonel K. While I was in the filling station, I took a photo of the piles of damaged wheels that had been dumped there, it was a timely reminder of how hard on vehicles even the more major routes in Namibia are.
As we decided not to go to the tourist trap that is Sesriem, and the Dunes of Sossusvlei, we took a more easterly route and headed for the campsite at Hammerstein Lodge, at the base of Tsarisberge Mountain. The campsite here really is an afterthought, and the lodge really doesn’t maintain it at all, the ablution facilities are basically the toilet and shower for the swimming pool (which was totally disgusting, even by African standards). But for some reason we decided to go on an evening gamedrive in the lodge’s safari vehicle, our expectations were low but hey it was very cheap (about £20.00 each), so in we piled with 6 German tourists that were obviously part of a large group and staying in the rooms.
What followed was without a doubt the worst safari experience we have ever had, and indeed was Africa shown at its very very worst. The drive took place on a private game farm, and there were very little in the way of animals, but what was there were encouraged to run to the safari vehicle that had a bale of hay in the back, this ended up with two zebra (the only two we saw), having to run in the afternoon heat to reach the Landcruiser, then the driver started to drive off so they had to run along side us. Then we stopped at the Rhino “enclosure”, and of course the Zebra started to get a little aggressive (frustration?), the driver then removed his belt and started hitting the poor Zebra, at this point I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer!! Then he gave the Zebra half a bale of hay and threw the other half into the two White Rhino. This was a terrible place and the Rhino were very stressed with the safari vehicle being there. The shocking thing for me was that the other guests really didn’t see anything wrong with this. One woman even asked the driver why the Rhino where so scared!!!! We hated the whole experience, and for once put a terrible review on the main travellers app that we use. I never took a photo in the whole time I was there, and well I guess you now know that I’m like with my camera ……..
By now we had realised that Namibia is changing (nothing to do with the safari trip from hell), two years ago, at roughly the same time of year, you would be lucky to see 4 or 5 vehicles an hour on the gravel roads, now its more 20-30 an hour, and there are so many more coaches and overland groups (just going to Namibia). Most of the campsites now have to be booked, you can’t take for granted that there will be space (this especially applies to the more popular places and those that have decent access roads). The other thing that has changed are the prices for camping, obviously supply and demand, many have increased by more than 50%, and they are still getting filled up.
Last time we were at the lovely Klein Aus Vista campsite was two years ago, and of the 10 campsites here, mostly there was only two or maybe three taken, this time we had to pre-book in advance, and of course it was full. This isn’t too much of a problem but on two of the camp sites the first night we were there were actually two groups. This meant that instead of maybe 20 to 25 people using 4 toilets and showers, there were about 60 people using the same number of facilities. This is a potential problem, the infrastructure just isn’t there in Namibia to deal with this massive extra capacity (especially in the government run National Parks such as Etosha). One Swiss guy that we met here in Aus summed it up by saying, everyone he knows in Switzerland went to Namibia this year and are also planning to go again next year.
Despite the relative overcrowding of the campsite we absolutely love this place, and 90% of people are only here for one night and then move on, so after 8.00am the place is pretty silent, until the next lot arrive in the afternoon. It is in such a beautiful place, and fortunately we were allocated the best campsite here, no10 right out on its own, and under a huge tree complete with its own massive Sociable Weaverbirds nest.
These birds (maybe 50-80 in each nest), are so active from dawn till dusk and you can even hear them chirping away during the night, and it is fascinating sitting and watching them working to constantly maintain their nest and to bring food back, better than any telly this…..
We put down a water dish for them and boy were they grateful, with dozens of them on the ground at a time for the first couple of hours it was there. It wasn’t long before others were also attached to the tiny dish of water, with this Desert Striped Mouse appearing from the base of the tree.
For us one of the highlights of this place is the walking up in the mountains behind, on various mapped trails, and on one particular walk we spend over 4 hours up in the hills, leaving early in the morning trying to miss the worst of the heat, but by 8.00am the sun was already very hot, and our 2 litres of water was all gone long before we returned to the truck. Stunning but very inhospitable.
Once we were back down from the mountain, we had to skirt around the back of the rocky outcrop to get back to Colonel K, it was here that we saw quite a bit of game (obviously completely wild and free roaming), and we walked past a male Kudu, but he quickly disappeared behind a huge rock before I could get a photo of him, so we carried on. Jac glanced back to see the stunning animal almost framed in a rock formation that appeared to completely enclose it, he was in the shade and feeling safe, though he never took his eyes off of us.
Back at the truck our new friends were waiting for us…..
Speaking of new friends, while we were sat in the lounge of the Lodge using their wifi for “research purposes”, an English couple appeared and introduced themselves. We spent that evening with Gordon and Linda, talking about theirs and our travels (they shipped a Landcruiser to Namibia 11 years ago and still love coming back each year). We had a lovely time with them and realised that we would also meet up with them again in a couple of days time down at Fish River Canyon.
On our way down to Fish River we stopped for coffee shop at a distillery, yes a distillery in the middle of nowhere, but right next to the newly built Naute Dam which is obviously supplying water to these vast agricultural areas, growing every thing from figs to grapes etc.
It was here in the carpark out the front that we were once again reminded of how much this country has changed, yet another large group of “Bobo” campers, about 14 this time, mostly German but also a few Swiss.
The trouble was, with all these campers parked outside it was very difficult to find Colonel K in amongst the others that look the same!!!!
Their “speciality” here is their own gin, but at well over £20.00 for half a bottle (350ml), it was a little bit to “salty” for our budget. We didn’t even get chance to try the stuff as the lady was so preoccupied with the large group, that the furthest we got was with a cappuccino…..
Sections of this route are quite corrugated, especially if you take the old route past Seeheim. There is a new route which was built for the building of the Dam at Haute (actually they just upgraded a more minor track), but unfortunately the old signpost is still there telling you this is the way to Fish River Canyon. We did about 20km down this route before we decided to call it a day and find an alternative way round, if the Daf didn’t break, I’m sure my teeth would have fallen out. The corrugations can be seen in the foreground of the photo below, its just like a short sharp speed hump every foot of travel.
Fish River Canyon was just as beautiful as the last time we were here, but there were a few differences, firstly there are now fences to stop you walking over the edge……mmmm, and of course there were the coach loads of tourists this time. But we got there early in the morning, (it was Jac’s birthday), made coffee and had our toast and peanut butter while overlooking this magnificent wonder of the world.
You can still drive along the edge of the rim (though I’m not sure for how much longer NWR will allow this), and it was at the far end of the track I noticed a patch of diesel under Colonel K. We have suffered a few fuel leaks over the past couple of years but have had most of the fuel lines replaced, so wasn’t sure where to expect this leak to be coming from. It didn’t take long to find out… there was a hole on the leading front edge of the diesel tank arrrrr….
It wasn’t a huge hole but was large enough for a regular drip, but I was confident that I could temporary fix it until we got to a decent sized town. So after driving back to The Canyon Roadhouse campsite, I set about fixing it with some epoxy resin that I had……. no chance, the weight of the diesel in the tank and the fact that it was pushing through what ever I applied meant that it wasn’t going to work. Then two members of staff from the lodge came along and promptly declared that they had some stuff in the stores that would definitely fix it……..An hour later and that didn’t work either for the same reason. Removing the tank wasn’t an option either as it had about 200 litres in there, and with the tank thats probably about 250kg in total.
As I was lying under Colonel K trying any little trick I knew, Gordon and Linda pulled up in the camp next door. Unbelievably Gordon had on board his Landcruiser a special putty/paste that is described as suitable for fixing fuel tanks and will even stick to oily surfaces, optimistic Gordon declared “this stuff will definitely work”, after trying on and off all day, it definitely didn’t work!!! Oh well we tried… How we tried…..
In between attempts to fix the tank we shared the pool for a cool off with the other residents.
As it was Jac’s birthday, we decided to eat in the Lodge restaurant, and asked Linda and Gordon if they would like to join us. We had a really lovely evening, and the food wasn’t too bad either, and of course this was washed down with a few glasses of wine.
We decided to get up early and head for the nearest decent sized town, in this case Keetmanshoop, to try to find somewhere that could mend the tank, but we couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to our fellow Brits. Well Gordon was up and about (sort of), but poor Linda was still in their roof tent, and was feeling a little worst for wear.
We were lucky with the garage that we first tried in Keetmanshoop, “Rassies” agreed to drain the tank (now down to about 140 litres), remove it and take it to a “specialist” who would place it in an acid bath, then carry out the repair, repaint the tank, then collect it, refit it and put the diesel back in the tank. We also agreed with them that we could sleep in Colonel K in their yard, as they had no idea how long the specialist brazer would take to do the repair.
We arrived at Rassies at 10.30am, carried our gas bottle to get it filled up (its about 50m outside their back gate), then walked across the road to the new Shoprite Supermarket and bought enough food for the next couple of weeks (we are heading to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park next). Got back to the truck, had a quick read, and before we knew it, our tank was back. The whole operation including me having to go and find an ATM as they don’t accept cards, took less than 6 hours, and cost just over £200.00, I was a happy bunny..
The guy at Rassies suggested trying a campsite just outside town, at the “Country Lodge”, well we did try it, but only got as far as reception. The very rude (we are getting used to this in Namibia now) receptionist told us that camping for two people would be 480NAD (nearly £30) a night, and bearing in mind its directly behind the Engen fuel station and close to a busy road, this is a ridiculous amount of money for Southern Africa. We offered to pay 240NAD, she said “no”, we said “goodbye”.
We ended up at Quiver Tree Rest Camp which is owned and run by a lovely Namibian guy that remembered us from two years ago, it was much busier this time of course, but we planned to stay for two nights as this would then leave us to drive to Mata Mata Border Post on the 17th November for our first night booked into Kgalagadi.
Next morning there was diesel under the truck arrrrrrrr! Looking underneath it was obvious that when removing and refitting the tank the guys had disturbed one of the fuel lines (the return pipe) and one of the joints was leaking quite badly. There was also a small weep from the tank outlet, but I was confident that this just need tightening, so we drove back to town and Rassies once more. An hour later we were back on the “road” and on our way to the campsite again, they declared it definitely fixed!
Next morning we packed up early to head to Mata Mata, and the pipe joint definitely was not fixed, oh well we will sort it later it wasn’t too bad. So off we went…… about 40km down the gravel road, Jac suddenly grabbed for her phone, oh dear we are a day early, its the 16th, not the 17th that we thought, so a quick u-turn and we are on our way to Rassies for a 3rd time. This time they replaced the fitting and all was well. I think they were glad to see the back of us and Colonel K.
Whilst at Rassies, I took a couple of photos of crashed vehicles that they are awaiting collection of, every single one had been rolled on a gravel road, there were no accidents involving other vehicles, and it just goes to show how people drive too fast on these strange surfaces, and very easily lose control.
The last night in Quiver Tree Camp Linda and Gordon joined us for a last time, another great night.
Next up we head to one of our favourite places on this trip Kgalagadi, and we are very excited about that, I hope it lives up to expectations
Thanks for reading
Brilliant as usual
So sorry to learn all those unpleasant things that happened to Namibia in just two years since we met you in Lüderitz – really horrible, and I am, as often, very embarrassed by the behaviour of my compatriots…
But, apart from that, I am amused that you still better don’t mess with Germans – drinkingwise 😉
Love to the three of you,
LikeLiked by 1 person
I enjoyed your article immensely. My wife and I travelled through the Namib in an old VW Beatle, having first traversed the Kalahari. We also visited Fish River and walked part way up. We climbed Spitzkoppe (incredible), and the massive sand dunes of Sossusvlei. This was way back in 1975 when it was still relatively unspoiled by tourism. What a fantastic country! Well done.