Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness Safaris’

Namibia: Unique Destination, Universal Appeal

Posted July 29th, 2011 by Molly Demmer

Written by Molly Demmer and Jayme Madson for Tonka Times Magazine

Credit Wilderness Safaris and Mike Myers

At first glance, Namibia might seem like one of Earth’s most desolate places and may appear to offer little to interest the average traveler. Yet within its borders there are treasures and startling beauty not found anywhere else on the planet, such as the largest subterranean lake in the world; the largest meteorite ever found (Hoba); the oldest desert (Namib Desert), which is also the only desert with elephant, lion, giraffe and rhino; the highest sand dunes in the world; the oldest living fossil plants (Welwitschia mirabilis); and the largest free-roaming cheetah population. Namibia was the first to include protection of the environment in its constitution. Namibia is an intriguing destination with universal appeal.

Sossusvlei: A photographers dream

Roughly 230 miles from Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek is Sossusvlei, a destination located in the southern portion of the Namib Desert and made famous by its massive red dunes that rise dramatically from its flat valley floors. The dunes of Sossusvlei can reach heights of up to 1,000 feet (roughly 20 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower). In addition to the dramatic dunes, visitors to Sossusvlei will likely see many of Namibia’s desert-adapted animal species, including oryx, springbok, ostrich, hyena, bat-eared fox and jackal. Combine the country’s 300 days of sunshine with mammoth red dunes and unique wildlife, and you’re in for a photo treat.

Swakopmund: multicultural influences and coastal cruises

Swakopmund, a misty and cool coastal city northwest of Sossusvlei, is a popular retreat from the heat of Namibia’s inland deserts. It is here where Namibia’s unique history shines. Until its independence in 1990, Namibia had been governed at various times by Germany, Great Britain and South Africa. Today, customs, art, architecture and food reflect these African and European influences. The waters off the coast of Swakopmund prove that Namibia’s allure extends beyond the land alone. Visitors here can enjoy a boat cruise to view Cape fur seals, rare Heaviside’s dolphins and unique birdlife that call Namibia’s Atlantic shores home.

Copyright Wilderness Safaris and Martin Benadie

Damaraland: stark desert beauty

Travel up the coast, away from Swakopmund and you’ll be introduced to yet another landscape: the rocky and rugged desert region of Damaraland. Despite its aridity, Damaraland hosts a surprising variety of flora and fauna that are sustained by the morning mists that drift inland from the coast. The dramatic hills of Damaraland interspersed with sweeping valleys are also home to one of Africa’s few populations of desert-adapted elephants, as well as the desert-dwelling black rhino that some authorities regard to be a distinct race. Visitors to Damaraland have a rare and special opportunity to take an active role in protecting these rhinos by participating in rhino tracking on foot or by vehicle. These tracking activities provide useful data, including movement patterns and health information to Save the Rhino Trust, an NGO actively seeking to save the rhino population from poaching and other threats.

Copyright Wilderness Safaris and Michael Poliza

Etosha: Where animals and imaginations run wild

East of Damaraland is Etosha National Park, Namibia’s best-known tourist attraction and one of the most interesting game reserves in the world because of its unusual terrain. Etosha is a combination of dried lake (salt pan) in the north and grasslands, dense brush and open plains in the south. When the sun glints off the 6,500 square mile blindingly-white salt pan it provides an eerie backdrop for animals moving through the shimmering haze. Dust in the air adds to the mystery by making everything slightly indistinct; and since mirages are common, visitors may occasionally question what they’ve really seen. Etosha is widely regarded to be a photographer’s paradise, especially during the dry winter months (May – September) when wildlife congregates around waterholes that line the pan. It is here where herds of springbok, impala, zebra, giraffe and elephant gather and thus attracting their known predators—lion, leopard and cheetah.

Copyright Wilderness Safaris and Dana Allen

Skeleton Coast: shipwrecks, seals and nomads

Located in the northwest corner of Namibia, the Skeleton Coast is one of the Earth’s most remote, starkly surreal and peaceful places. It is home to misty shores, rolling dunes, rare fossils, rugged mountains, ancient valleys, unique wildlife and endless space. One trip here and you’ll understand the strength of the Atlantic currents, which have washed up the skeletons of historic shipwrecks and bleached whale bones. The combination of ocean fog, shipwrecks and enormous scattered bones give the deserted beaches a haunting façade. However, the beaches of the Skeleton Coast are brought to life by Cape fur seals that draw the attention of many predators like brown hyenas and jackals, creating a truly unique coastal experience.

A visit to the Skeleton Coast also brings a remarkable opportunity to visit the Himba people of northwestern Namibia. As one of the last semi-nomadic groups in the world, the Himba have adapted to Namibia’s often harsh environment while still keeping true to their longstanding traditional customs and attire. The Himba live in small dwellings with extended families, which surround their livestock enclosure and an ancestral fire, an important element of ancestral worship. Their customary skirts, shelled jewelry and unusual reddish skin tone (created by a special applied cream called otjize) are only part of their unique lifestyle. It’s their conversations about keeping traditions alive in an ever-changing world that visitors will never forget.

The Great Namibian Journey

For travelers who yearn to explore all that Namibia has to offer, we recommend the Great Namibian Journey, a 13-day luxury safari adventure offered by Wilderness Explorations. No other itinerary will afford guests with an opportunity to move experience so much of this captivating country.

    The Great Namibian Journey at a glance:

  • Days 1 & 2 Sossusvlei (Kulala Desert Lodge)
  • Days 3 & 4 Swakopmund (Hansa Hotel)
  • Day 5 Damaraland (Damaraland Camp)
  • Days 6 & 7 Damaraland (Desert Rhino Camp)
  • Days 8 & 9 Etosha region (Ongava Tented Camp)
  • Days 10, 11 & 12 Skeleton Coast (Skeleton Coast Research Camp)
  • Day 13 Fly to Windhoek

Posted in Africa, Namibia, Tonka Times | 2 Comments »

The Ultimate Safari – A Namibia and Botswana trip report by Bob Fuehrer

Posted January 7th, 2010 by Matt Bracken

Is there such a thing?  Last year, our good friends and traveling companions agree that we did reach that dream – a month long trip thru Namibia and Botswana, all in Wilderness Safaris camps, seven in all. By way of background, the four of us met on a Lindblad Expeditions trip to Baja California nine years ago.  As sometimes happens, we “hit it off” and have traveled every year since, to destinations as different as Antarctica, Malawi, Chile from Patagonia to the Atacama, Tanzania off the beaten track, and Rajasthan and Bhutan.

A happy coincidence among the four of us is that three are not especially interested in planning trips while I revel in the opportunity.  Thanks to the skills, know-how, and attention to detail of Travel Beyond, we’ve worked through, modified and finalized some fabulous trips – including our Ultimate Safari.  Africa “grabs you”, no question about it.

This trip was special in many ways – Namibia is a fascinating country, the second least densely populated country on earth (after Mongolia).  The open spaces, the unique ecosystem and wildlife and the fact that you can be off in incredibly remote areas and have a first-class operation, as are all the Wilderness Safaris camps we encountered, is a real plus.  The fact that our entire trip was built around their camps made coordination and transportation virtually seamless. We can’t say enough about all of the Wilderness Safaris operations, their staff and their whole approach to stewardship of the land, the inhabitants and all of the natural resources.  First class in every way!

We are conscious of how lucky we were to be able to make as extensive a trip as we did, spending nearly a month visiting seven different camps.  For anyone considering a shorter safari, any one of the camps or any combination would be well worthwhile.  All are unique and more than comfortable.

Our journey began with flights from the States to Frankfurt, with an overnight there – a buffer we like to include in case of weather issues.  From Frankfurt, a non-stop overnight flight to Windhoek, Namibia made for a very clean and simple start to our trip. A day in Windhoek prepared us for our flight to our first safari camp, Little Kulala, close to the famous red dunes of Sossusvlei.  The desert environment was a fascinating introduction to Namibia, and climbing among the sand dunes observing the flora and fauna with our knowledgeable guide Moses was a treat. To reach our next destination, in the far northwestern part of the country, we first flew to Swakopmund. The flight was directly over the Sossusvlei dune area and is a must-see to really appreciate the size, scope and beauty of this very unique area.

Skeleton Coast Camp, our next destination, is one of the most remote camps in all of Namibia, close to the coast and the border with Angola.  Skeleton Coast Park is a very special reserve, a huge area set aside for low impact tourism.  It is roughly the size of our home state of Vermont plus adjacent New Hampshire.  Believe it or not, we along with the camp staff were virtually the only ones there for the four days we spent at Skeleton Coast.  Daily drives, in a specially equipped (for sand) Land Rover were simply unreal, and the feeling of open spaces and emptiness were overwhelming.  We drove on endless sand dunes, had the thrill of floating down a 50 degree slope in our Land Rover and drove along the ocean beach for more than 20 miles with only bleached whale bones, birds and scurrying crabs to be seen.  Jonathan, our guide was as skillful as he was knowledgeable.

A visit outside the reserve to a native Himba village was a unique experience.  These people, one of the last truly nomadic tribes on earth, have a simple and unique life.  We felt as though we had stepped into the pages of a National Geographic magazine, privileged to have had a glimpse of their way of life. Animal life in the area is sparse, but adapted to that harsh environment.  Desert-adapted elephants, oryx, giraffe and lions were seen.  Also, we were able to deliver supplies we had brought to a small local school.  The nearest other school was some 150 miles away.

Little Ongava camp was next – a beautiful, elegant setting on top of a hill within a private reserve adjacent to the famous Etosha National Park. This area was much less arid, and game was plentiful, including sightings of both white and black rhinos.  Birds were plentiful and varied.  We had the very unique experience of getting stuck, really stuck in a muddy area made worse by recent rain.  It takes a lot to stop a Land Rover, and we spent a couple of hours before being extracted by two rescue Rovers, a lot of helpful and not-so-helpful suggestions from staff who came to the “rescue”.  Lots of laughs as well!  Guide Gabriel made our time at Little Ongava really special.

Next, it was on to Botswana by way of Maun, which is the pivotal town for the entire area.  Another smooth transfer and we were off to Duba Plains, which is perhaps the most remote camp in all of the Okavango Delta, accessible only by air.  This camp was the setting for the National Geographic film “Relentless Enemies” which documents the relationship between lion predators and buffalo prey.  The lions of Duba, some of the largest and strongest in all of Africa did not disappoint – we saw eating, sleeping, mating, stalking and socializing lions.  A leopard family was spotted, an exciting event as they seem to be re-colonizing the area after a long absence.   Of course, many plains animals, elephants, giraffes and again, birds galore.  At Duba, we saw what snorkel-equipped Land Rovers can do in a watery environment as we had to cross a marshy area on each drive. Our guide James “007” is a thirteen year veteran of Duba Plains, an unusually long tenure.  He explained to us that he had many opportunities to move to other camps as many do.  He clearly knows Duba like the palm of his hand and remains because he loves it deeply.

Next, we headed to Little Vumbura Camp, a unique camp located on a small island  reached by a short boat ride.  The camp is elegant, beautifully situated  with waterways (“Hippo Highways”) all around so we were able to have some special experiences on the water.  On land one day, we drove through a grassy area where there were many carmine bee-eaters.  They found that is was profitable to follow us closely as the wheels scared insects into flight as we drove.  They followed us on all sides alongside the vehicle like precision jet fighters, sometimes at arm’s length.   What an exhibition!   Our guide “K” was a bird caller supreme and one evening imitated a black cuckoo to the point where they had an extended running dialog.  Again, at Little Vumbura Camp, there was no shortage of animals, and we never tired of seeing them all in different settings.  Sable antelopes, an uncommon sighting, were spotted on several occasions.

Our next-to-last camp was Little Mombo Camp.  It has to rank at or near the top of the list of outstanding safari locations anywhere.  The camp itself is unique in that the lodges and the walkways between them are all built on stilts so that animals can circulate freely “in, under, around and through” the camp.  On several mornings we had a bull elephant eating leaves just feet away from where we ate breakfast.  There was an abundance of wildlife of all kinds everywhere.  Our guide “Tsili”, a big man with a most hearty laugh was yet another knowledgeable and friendly credit to the Wilderness Safaris organization.

The very special highlight of our Mombo visit was the surprise appearance of Sue Rovegno and her husband Marco, who were on a familiarization tour of a number of camps.  I had worked with Sue over the phone for something like seven years, in my role as trip planner.  Sue and I shaped the itinerary and she very capably handled the details.  Our friends Ursula and Walter had met Sue at an airport stopover in Minneapolis several years before.  My wife and I never had although I had gotten to know her “smiling voice” pretty well over the years.  We were in on the surprise, our friends were not.  We knew that some new guests were going to appear, and we played up the idea of checking the new folks out to see if we would allow them to join us at Mombo.  When Sue and Marco showed up, just seeing Ursula’s face as it slowly dawned on her that she recognized Sue, but there she was, completely out of context.

We had more fun, and more laughs over the following days… the kids would say, “a blast”.

We “met” the leopard that was featured in the “Eye of the Leopard” National Geographic film – with an impala kill up in a tree and two youngsters nearby.  This was a close-up encounter with them and with a number of hyenas eager to snatch scraps and clean up leftovers.

The finale at Mombo was seeing a buffalo kill by a pride of nine lions; a little gory, but an amazing thing to watch.  We witnessed the scene over two days, with the buffalo providing meals for all the lions, many hyenas, jackals, vultures, and smaller birds.  We learned later that by the end of the third day, there was nothing left of this huge animal but the skull and horns.

Outdoor evening meals and a surprise lunch set up by a hippo pool are among many special memories of Mombo.


Our final camp was King’s Pool, named after a visit some years ago by the king of Sweden.  It is located on the river which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia.  Another beautiful camp in a very special setting.

We had a very good leopard sighting with a chance for some close-up pictures.  The grandest of grand finales of our unforgettable trip occurred on the very last evening.  We were riding along on a trail at river edge just at sunset when our guide looked off in the distance and pointed out some elephants headed from the Namibian side to swim the river into Botswana.  He found a spot at river edge, and we watched well over 100 elephants, young and old, cross over close in front of us in a procession that lasted the better part of an hour……all as the light faded in a spectacular sunset.  Truly an unforgettable ending to our Ultimate Safari!!!

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Client Blogs, Namibia, Southern Africa | 4 Comments »

African elephants prefer luxury lodging

Posted June 19th, 2009 by Molly Demmer

We’ve all heard the adage “an elephant never forgets.” If you’ve ever had the slightest doubt about that statement, this story is sure to turn you into a believer.

Wilderness Safari’s Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia happened to be built next to a very special mango tree. Even though there are many mango trees in the South Luangwa National Park, a group of ten elephants prefer to eat from this particular one. In fact, their migration route now goes directly through the lobby of the lodge!

Mfuwe Lodge is one of the only places in the world where wild elephants get so comfortably close to people. It’s a rare and magnificent sight, offering guests once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities. In celebration of this event, Wilderness Safaris also has experts on hand to share their knowledge of elephant life and behavior.

The group of elephants returns every November to eat the ripened mangos (sometimes coming back up to four times a day). They are not aggressive, but guests are kept at reasonable distances to ensure their safety. Over the last ten years, there have been no incidents involving the elephants. They simply enjoy coming back to dine on the succulent yellow fruit from their favorite tree.

Posted in Africa, Southern Africa | Comments Off on African elephants prefer luxury lodging