Walvis Bay, Namibia

After Etosha, we took drove back down and towards to the coast for our fourth stop of our tour of Namibia to a place called Walvis Bay. Walvis Bay is the second largest city in Namibia, but we weren’t here to see Namibia’s cities, for we had booked a boat tour of the bay to sea seabirds and their famously large populations of seals.

We arrived at the port, and you could see a seal already bobbing around in the water so we boarded the boat and set off. We had just started leaving the port when one of them jumped onto the back of the boat and was fed a fish by the one of the crew. He fed him some more and then a smaller seal emerged which pushed its way to the front and over the door. The other one, feeling cheated, did the same and the two of them seemed quite excited as if they had never seen this part of the boat before and the smaller one ran up to the front of the boat to check it out. The man then got a broom and pushed the fat one back through the door and into the water so the smaller one, having lost its confidence, jumped over the side of the boat. After that excitement, we left the port and followed a spit of land out to sea which was home to a large sea colony that spanned a couple of kilometres. These were fur seals and many of them had pups that were learning to swim but also on the beach were groups of jackals which were too small to eat the seals but seemed to have fun chasing them in and out of the water. We also had seals diving into the waves our boat made, and they followed us as the spit ended and we entered open water as we briefly caught a glimpse of a humpback whale coming up to breathe. I used to pretend to like birdwatching because it made me feel mature, but I’ve recently come to the realisation that, bar a few, I find birds to be incredibly boring but maybe I just don’t get and when one day I do, i’m sure i’ll regret the times I didn’t bother to look up because if I knew what I was looking at, i’d already have an enviable list of species. My dad on the other hand is a very keen bird watcher so I took a seat and enjoyed the bumps of the waves for a good hour or so as he held on, looking through shaking binoculars at the different seabirds flying above us. We did eventually find an interesting bird being an African penguin. It would pop its head up, inspect the boat, then dive down again to re-emerge in a different spot. This game of whack-a-mole is a common characteristic of looking for wildlife at sea and would happen once again because as we turned back in the direction of port, we found a group of other tour boats circling an area which, as we approached, was teaming with life as a pod of Heaviside’s dolphins swam in front of us. My dad then spotted a sunfish floating on the surface which looked quite surreal and finally, what everyone had been looking at, the humpback whale that had re-emerged to swim alongside our boat as we left. In my time looking for wildlife, I’ve been able to stay in some very nice places but never had the actual task of looking for wildlife been so fancy then at Walvis Bay since before the tour ended, a table mat was put on the seats and what followed plate after plate of little pastries, snacks, seafood, tarts, drinks and even champagne. It was very random and unexpected, but I thought id leave it in there for anyone who wants to see wildlife in style they can book at Catamaran Charters (not sponsored but id be happy to be😊).

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Our third stop on the tour of Namibia took us to the most famous national park in the country: Etosha. The park is made up of open grassland that surrounds a salt flat which makes up most of the park, providing an incredible opportunity to see animals walking miles out.

Our first of two days at the park saw us following the back roads to the right of the camp as we drove to the various water holes on the map. Etosha has an incredible number of gazelles that adorn the sides of the road and can be found at almost every opening in the park. The first water hole we visited was one of the more popular ones with just as many jeeps as there were zebras, wildebeest, oryx and ostriches who walked in between the cars as well as fighting and taking sand baths. After this, we tried to go where there were less cars so we drove to various smaller water holes, some of which didn’t contain water. You aren’t allowed to leave your vehicle except for in certain fenced picnic spots so we stopped at one of those which had a large gap in between the gate and the fence that any leopard or lion could slip through, so I guess it was more of a placebo, but it was a necessary stretch nonetheless. The day was exiting but the novelty of seeing a gazelle began to wear off and they became quite annoying when your mind tricked you into thinking they were something interesting like a cheetah. We had to be back by sunset, so we directed ourselves towards the exit but on the road in the distance we found the safari signal for something impressive being a mass of parked jeeps. We drove up and spotted through the bushes a lion standing up under a tree. My brother enjoys his photography but unfortunately, I don’t think he understands that animals move and that you can only capture them in certain positions for a couple of seconds so one by one the lions stood up and walked into the bushes and each time my brother was changing some settings or even reading a book. One of the great entertainments of Etosha is seeing the battle between professional safari jeeps who follow some unwritten rules of right of way, how to park, when to move, etc. verses people who bring their own cars and happily pile in front of someone else’s view or into another vehicles exit route and have to revers back whilst being staired down by all the other drivers. Fortunately, the lions became so lazy that many people’s attention spans had expired in the time we were there, so we were able to drive through the cars until we found the spot that they had all retreated to which, though slightly further back, was not covered by any bushes and provided a much greater view of the pride.

We left the park and returned the next day having done a bit of last-minute research which told us that the water hole in the main camp was the place to be when the sun set so armed with that knowledge, we set off to see the expansive plains. These were a sight to behold for as barren as they seemed at first glance, looking through the telescope gave a completely different view; one of a plain teaming with life as huge herds of wildebeest and zebras marched on past giraffes and elephants. What was amazing was how far out the animals were (which is why you couldn’t initially see them) as there didn’t appear to have much water or vegetation. It was here that I made one of my proudest spots of the holiday being a spotted hyena walking towards the edge of the plain before it soon collapsed in the first bit of shade it arrived at. The second day was spent doing more of the same as but then we made our way back to the main camp ready end our time at Etosha at the aforementioned water hole. We read that elephants came here to drink which sounded cool but we had seen a fair few that day so I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary but just a around a minute after arriving, a heard of 25 elephants walked up to the water. The sound of their movements alone was amazing as everyone made an effort to be silent but then one elephant stepped into the water, then another, and another, and another, until every single one of the 25 elephants was fully submerged in the water at the same time. The smallest ones had their noses just above the water level like a periscope and the sound was deafening as their movements created waves in the small pond whilst they flapped their ears and sprayed water on themselves. The whole spectacle only lasted a few minutes before the group sprayed dust onto their backs again and set off in a mesmerising march; a fitting end to Namibia’s biggest park.

Rhinos of Waterberg, Namibia

The Waterberg plateau was our second stop and is one of Namibia’s more famous geographical formations. Best seen from the camp, it makes you feel small as you look out into its never-ending canyon and is a great place to play Africa by TOTO.

It does have to be said that you will se a lot less wildlife in Waterberg than most places you’d likely visit which does give it a more pristine and untouched feel which I prefer because finding animals by yourself in places they aren’t that common is more satisfying then being driven up to a water hole. Rhinos unfortunately, due to their systematic poaching to give China magical cancer-curing rhino dust, cannot be left alone because they haven’t exactly won the genetic lottery by being slow, big, unable to hide and having poor eyesight all accompanying a horn worth more in weight then gold and cocaine. This does though, provide a great opportunity to be walked right up to them since they’re used to human contact because they must be protected by armed guards 24/7 and require daily tours to pay for the huge costs of protecting them. If you book 3 or more nights at Waterberg, you get the rhino walk for free which is what we were pleasantly surprised by so on the morning of the second day we set off with a guide.

He would radio the guards who would tell him approximately where the rhinos were, and he would lead us down the trails to take us there. The guide said there was a 100% success rate and I guess I can confirm that on the one trip we went on we did see them. There are 6 white rhinos below the plateau which is the group you go to see on the rhino walk but on the top of the plateau, which you can only visit by booking the safari jeep at the national park office, (more about that later) the animals are actually trapped up there with the exception of monkeys and leopards (we saw leopard tracks but they were too sneaky) who are nimble enough to climb the rocky cliffs. This makes the anti-poaching teams job a little easier on the top of plateau as it offers a natural barrier and provides great habitat for the black rhino, which is rarer, more aggressive, and elusive; not allowing themselves to grow accustomed to humans. There are also white rhinos on top of the plateau too.

We walked for about an hour and a half only seeing an ostrich but then we walked into a fire escape which provided a long straight to look up. I assume the guide knew they were in the area, but I didn’t so I looked down the opening and saw a weird brown pile on the floor which turned out to be rhino crap. It was too far away so I handed the guide the binoculars se he could tell me, but he pointed them a bit higher then where I was looking and calmly said that there was a rhino. Somehow, I had missed the grey slab so unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be pursuing an illustrious career in poaching. It ran off and I thought that that would be it but we walked up nonetheless to try and catch another glimpse. They soon came back into view and I thought we should stop and take some pictures before they ran off again but the guide pressed on. We were getting closer and closer, and I thought they were going to run off at any moment, but we just carried on walking until we were probably about five metres away from a mother and her calf. They were eating hay that had been laid out for them alongside a water trough, so they didn’t feel very wild, but it was amazing to be so close and have nothing between you and them. Of the population below the plateau, two had been born in the 16 years they’d had them but one of them had been killed by a poachers bullet a week after being shot so a complete waste and another had been killed in a fight with another rhino, so the rhinos of Waterberg have achieved net zero in only 16 years. This was an incredible experience and in the evening, we went on the tour of the top of the plateau.

We didn’t see any rhinos on the top of the plateau which is accessed by a steep hill that is fenced off, so that the animals can’t get down the road, which might seem unfair but it provides a layer of ant-poaching as well as allowing buffalo to live there which are banned in the rest of Namibia due to diseases but since they can’t come down, they are allowed in Waterberg and we did see them. The format of the safari was that we drove up into the plateau and stopped at two hides. The bushes were much thicker and closer to the road than other places, so we really didn’t see anything by car bar a few kudus. The two hides gave us a chance to see two different groups of giraffes which, I feel bad for saying, are the most boring and dullest animal I could possibly think of being. They look magnificent and surreal when you first see them but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Their personalities are all the same and every step they take requires a minute of overthinking. They seem to live in complete silence which made the hide feet like a sensory deprivation room where every crack and creep was amplified by 10. We saw the buffalos leaving just as we entered the which were cool but the guide said that in the second hide, he could see a cloud of dust as he drove up and we walked through the tunnel entrance to get to the water hole and salt lick which he said was a black rhino which was running away as we arrived because it must’ve heard someone speaking or something but hey, gotta save something for next time.

Ovita Game Farm, Namibia

During the summer (winter there) of 2022 I travelled to Namibia to finally tick off Africa and experience a proper African safari. Usually, I focus on a particular animal and write about the process of finding it but I really had no plan in Namibia with the only animal I really wanted to see being a leopard. (I didn’t see one because you’d be shocked to find out that they’re very sneaky.)

The first stop on our tour of Namibia took us to Ovita, Namibias first pure game farm a couple of hours from the capital of Windhoek. On the drive there we had passed countless plots of savannah land which, though fenced up, were nowhere near as protected as Ovita or some of the bigger reserves and the difference was stark. We passed a group of 4 kudus which felt surreal to see such the animals from NatGeo just metres away and I thought that was a lucky encounter that wouldn’t be replicated since we hadn’t seen anything on the way there but just pulling into a protected reserve and the difference was clear. Quite notably in Ovita were their populations of impala which would stand in the road and even after their group had been split in two, the two groups on either side of the road looked just as big. The bungalows were the best positioned of all the places we stayed in Namibia as you only had to look out the window to look at the huge plain that surrounded the water hole which allowed you to follow animals for a few minutes as they walked to the water and back at a distance with which they were comfortable enough not to be skittish or nervous. In the 10,000-hectare reserve we were also able to see groups of kudus, which seemed to stay on one specific hill whilst we were there, down the road and turn right from the rooms as well as oryx which we saw twice. The first I spotted as we were driving, and it stopped and looked at us before running up and over an embankment kicking up a lot of dust as it showed us all its strength to run up the steep slope. The second felt quite magical as it was night-time, and we had finished eating when an Oryx began drinking from the watering hole. It was only lit up by the lights from the restaurant so all that could be seen clearly was its iconic silhouette against the water. The final day gave a great insight into the ins and outs of running a game farm. The day we left, a bunch of trucks had parked, and around 30 workers were setting up tents tents ready to stay the foreseeable days since today was the day a helicopter was coming to round up animals in the reserve, of which there were many, for them to be captured and sold live to be released into other game farms that needed to restock on their elands for example. This may seem like wildlife is simply being taken out of its land but this system of restocking animals which is quite unique to the Africa and its tourism funded reserves has meant that wildlife which had previously been hunted out of areas are able to return as reserves which have an excess can sell them off which is a key part of their funding. Ovita is also a hunting farm which to the city dwelling, middle-class, pet lover seems like a horrible thing for wildlife but its places like this where you realise that when nature has economic value, its numbers will explode. We ended our stay with a game drive to see the hippos which had been introduced in a similar way to fill the void of a fat grey animal after elephants and rhinos were poached out of the area in the early 2000s because unfortunately their value alive cannot be matched by the value they have dead in China and Vietnam with ivory as trinkets and rhino horn as one of the unlucky chosen materials written into Chinese medicine along with pangolin scales and tiger bones to name a view which act as magical fairy dust that cures anything.