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Namibia”Desert Magic Tour”

15 to 27 November 2021

Sossusvlei-Spreetshoogte Pass and Namib Nauklift Park-Walvis Bay-Swakopmund-Brandberg-Spitzkoppe-Erongo Mountains

The Namib Desert has a fascinating array of plant, animal and bird species, surviving in sand dunes of all shapes and sizes and vast gravel plains stretching for as far as the eye can see. With ephemeral rivers flowing erratically, dunes, plains and rivers have all become vital components of the oldest desert on the planet, in existence for at least 43 million years.

The central Namib, an area confined by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the escarpment to the east, sandwiched between the Kuiseb River in the south and Huab River in the north, is the area that we will be visiting. This area provides several habitats for plants, notably expansive gravel and gypsum plains, rocky outcrops and dry river courses with associated drainage lines.

Red dunes, vast plains and rugged mountains make up the serene landscape between the inhospitable Namib Desert and the escarpment of the interior plateau. Most of this region is occupied by the Namib-Naukluft Park, totalling 50,000 square km and home to both Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. With warm tints of apricot, orange, red and maroon, these dunes offer abstract beauty unseen anywhere else in the world. Further north, Swakopmund & Walvis Bay both possess a resort town atmosphere attracting both tourists and locals.

More than 630 bird species have been recorded in Namibia and many of these are superbly adapted to desert conditions.

Fourteen species are exclusive to Namibia and are classified as national endemics.  Of these, two are found only in the strip of the Namib Desert adjacent to the coast, while the remaining twelve “inland” endemics thrive in the rugged escarpment parallel to the coast and the wooded savannah to the east.

The trip has been structured to include areas where the endemics are most likely to be found.  Previous trips have yielded most of the endemics and many other species classified as “near endemics”.

We leave Johannesburg on an early morning flight to Windhoek.

We travel via Rehoboth, the Remhoogte Pass and Solitaire to our first overnight destination near Sossusvlei.

Destinations 

Sossusvlei

The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Sossusvlei, located in the Namib Naukluft Park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world, is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia.

The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset when the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade while sunset also offers excellent photo opportunities at Sossusvlei.

During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, but normally it is bone dry. This particular ‘vlei’ is actually more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. However, the name ‘Sossusvlei’ nowadays applies to the whole area – an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels to south and north of the plain.

The second attraction of the area is Sesriem Canyon. The canyon derives its name from the fact that early Afrikaner trekkers had to use six (‘ses’) leather thongs (a thong is a ‘riem’) so that their buckets could reach the water far below. The canyon begins as an almost imperceptible but nevertheless deep cleft in level, stony ground, and then widens until it finally flattens out onto the plain. Because it is so deep and sheltered, it often holds water well into the dry season – an invigorating sight in such a barren and stark environment.

Despite the aridity of the area, it contains Namibia’s only true endemic bird, the Dune Lark. Birds of prey are well represented with Lappet-faced Vulture, Secretary Bird, Booted Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Pale Chanting-Goshawk and the tiny Pygmy Falcon among those regularly seen. Namibian specials such as Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-tailed Shrike, Ruppell’s Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard and Short-toed Rock-Thrush are among other arid area adapted species. Burchell’s Courser is regularly encountered.

We spend two nights at a charming lodge, situated approximately forty- five minutes’ drive from the main entrance to Sossusvlei.

Spreetshoogte Pass and Namib Nauklift Park

The Namib Desert and the Khomas Hochland are connected by one of the most scenic mountain passes in Namibia, the Spreetshoogte Pass, which is Namibia’s steepest mountain pass. The pass winds its way over the Great Escarpment with gradients between 1:4 and 1:6. The top of the pass has a viewpoint affording scenic views of the Namib Desert.

A rudimentary road through the pass was erected during World War II by a local farmer and has evolved from there into a district road that is only passable by vehicles without trailers due to the sharp turns and steep gradients

 

Our home for two nights is a lovely Guest Farm, situated on the escarpment and providing seemingly endless views over the Namib Desert.

Our main target species here is a tricky near-endemic, Herero Chat, which may be found on the lower half of the pass. The other “special” is the elusive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, here at the northern limit of its range.

We next travel on the C14, through the Namib Nauklift Park, towards Walvis Bay. The landscape is stunning, leading through rugged mountain massifs and wide gravel plains covered in desert varnish.

Apart from being the only route between Solitaire and Walvis Bay, three other aspects make driving the C14 worthwhile: the road itself, the “upside down” mountain passes (the Gaub and Kuiseb passes), and the history around the Kuiseb Pass. The Kuiseb Pass is much more substantial than the Gaub Pass, not so much because of the pass itself, but because of the history locked up between its rugged hills and canyons.

Kuiseb Pass
Kuiseb Pass

To most, the Kuiseb Pass will simply be a mark on a map, but not if you’ve read Henno Martin’s “The Sheltering Desert” about the daring of two German geologists who preferred trekking into the desert for more than two years during the Second World War to being locked up in an internment camp. In his book, Martin relates how − with a shotgun, a pistol and a pavement special, he and Hermann Korn fled into the safety and isolation of the Kuiseb Canyon, one of the most desolate places on earth, and how they had to survive Robinson Crusoe-like off the desert. Just after the pass there is a turnoff to the Kuiseb Canyon viewpoint and Carp Cliff, the first of Martin and Korn’s three shelters during the 2½ years they spent in the desert.

We spend one night at the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, situated within the Namib Nauklift Park, some 120km from Walvis Bay.

It is ideally situated at the convergence of three different ecosystems: the Namib sand sea, containing some of the highest dunes in the world; the Kuiseb ephemeral river, flowing only briefly each year, and the gravel plains. We will be taken on a nature walk to get a closer look at the flora and fauna and their adaption to this harsh environment. We will also have the opportunity of going on a guided night walk to get a glimpse into the rich and often misunderstood world of the desert night.

Gobabeb Training and Research Centre

Walvis Bay

The Walvis Bay wetlands-the lagoon, salt pans and bird sanctuary-constitute the single most important coastal wetland of southern Africa for migratory birds. Indeed, it ranks among the top ten coastal wetlands in Africa in terms of the numbers of birds.

The lagoon supports a great number of Palaearctic and intra-African migrants’ as well as numerous resident wetland birds. The sheer numbers and diversity of birds is a major attraction.

Walvis Bay is renowned for vast numbers of both Lesser and Greater Flamingos and has been listed by RAMSAR as a Natural heritage site.

Black-necked Grebe occurs in rafts of hundreds and at times thousands of migratory terns are encountered. The diminutive Damara Tern, which breeds in summer, is regularly encountered and Chestnut-banded Plover is common.

The chances of seeing rarities such as Red-necked Phalarope, Common Redshank, European Oystercatcher, Franklin’s Gull and Terek Sandpiper are good.

 

The Rooibank area with the Kuiseb river bed, Nara hummocks and sand dunes, is home to one of the Namibian endemics, the Dune Lark.

Gravel plains to the north of Swakopmund, some 30km from Walvis Bay, support another endemic, the Gray’s Lark and the pale Namib race of the Tractrac Chat.

 

Another highlight is a drive through the moonscape of Namib Naukluft Park to the Welwitschia Plain and back to Swakopmund via the oasis of Goanikontes. We pass several lookout spots with grand views of the moonscape before turning onto the Welwitschia Drive.

We will also enjoy a morning “Dolphin and Seal Cruise” on board a luxury Catamaran which departs from the Walvis Bay Yacht Club and continues into the beautiful bay area.

A shipwreck, lighthouse, oyster platforms, numerous bird species, seals and an abundance of marine life are just some of the attractions. Three different types of dolphins may be encountered, namely the Heaviside Dolphin, which is endemic to the coast of Namibia, Dusky Dolphin and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin.

We spend three nights in self contained cottages at Langstrand, situated between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

After some glorious birding and sightseeing, we take our leave of Walvis Bay and begin our journey northwards. We travel via Swakopmund and Henties Bay to the Ugab River valley, near the town of Uis, from where we explore the Brandberg area.

The Brandberg

Brandberg

The formation of the Brandberg massive unveils its treasures and secrets to the knowing eye of the geologist. Nobody can evade its sublime beauty. The Brandberg is a large granite inselberg that rises out of the Namib coastal plain in Damaraland.  It is most famous for the rock painting known as the “White Lady”, painted on an overhang in Maack’s Shelter in the Tsisab gorge, a wild and beautiful ravine amongst a vast jumble of rocks. A visit to perhaps the world’s most famous rock painting is highly recommended. The footpath to the site offers spectacular views into the open plains of the Damaraland.

The stone-age rock paintings of the San Bushmen give evidence of the presence of the famous desert elephants in the area many thousands of years ago, Especially during the drier periods of the year, groups of desert elephant roam in the valley of the Ugab River. Here, there is no worry for water and bush and trees to feed on. We hope to experience these majestic giants on a guided drive-a close encounter you will never forget.

This inhospitable and apparently lifeless region is home to more of Namibia’s endemic birds than anywhere else in the country. Specials to be found here include Benguella Long-billed Lark, Stark’s Lark, Ludwig’s Bustard, Ruppell’s Korhaan, Herero Chat, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Burchell’s Courser, Ruppell’s Parrot, Carp’s Tit and Bare-cheeked Babbler.

 

We spend two nights among large, shady trees in comfortable chalets at a charming lodge situated at the foot of Namibia’s highest mountain.

Spitzkoppe

We next head to Spitzkoppe, an extraordinary granite mass which dominates the desert plain near the town of Usakos. This 1728m high inselberg, sometimes referred to as the Matterhorn of Namibia, is known for its rock art and semi-precious stones, besides its abundant birdlife.

Birding around Spitzkoppe is usually rewarding and we have good chance of chalking up Ruppel’s Korhaan, White-tailed Shrike and Monteiro’s Hornbill. Stark’s Lark, Ludwig’s Bustard and Tractrac Chat are also fairly common, as are Karoo Chat and Short-toed Rock Thrush.  This is one of the few places in Namibia where Layard’s Tit-Babbler can be found.

Raptors are plentiful and Augur Buzzard, Black Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Rock Kestrel and owls nest on ledges on the granite cliffs, while Bradfield’s Swifts breed and roost in the rock crevices and fissures.

We leave Spitskoppe and head for the magnificent granite domes of the Erongo Mountains, which lie 60km to the east of Spitskoppe.

Erongo Mountains

Our main target bird in the Erongo Mountains is the localised Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, which is best seen in the rocky jumbles at the base of the huge granite domes that dominate the area. Other “specials” usually found are White-tailed Shrike, Rockrunner, Violet Wood-Hoopoe, Carp’s Tit, Ruppell’s Parrot and Rosy-faced Lovebird.

 

We spend our last two nights at a very comfortable Guest Farm situated close to Paula’s Cave, famous for its rock paintings.

Norotshama River Resort

The 13-day tour departs from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned VW Caravelle, 4-wheel drive Microbus.

Itineraries

Day 1

Date : November 15, 2021

Johannesburg-Windhoek Airport-Sossusvlei area

Early morning flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek.
Travel via Rehoboth Remhoogte Pass and Solitaire to overnight destination.
Overnight at Guest Farm, 40km north of Sesriem Canyon.

Day 2

Date : November 16, 2021

Sossusvlei area

Day spent exploring Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon.
Overnight at Guest Farm.

Day 3

Date : November 17, 2021

Sossusvlei area-Spreetshoogte Pass

Early morning birding around farm.
Depart after breakfast for Spreetshoogte Pass, via Solitaire.
Check in at Guest Farm and spend rest of day birding and sightseeing.
Overnight at Guest Farm.

Day 4

Date : November 18, 2021

Spreetshoogte Pass area

Day spent exploring Spreetshoogte and surrounding area.
Overnight at Guest Farm.

Day 5

Date : November 19, 2021

Spreetshoogte Pass-Gobabeb

Early morning birding around farm and on pass.
Depart after breakfast for Gobabeb, via Kuiseb and Gaub Passes.
Afternoon and evening activities at Gobabeb.
Overnight at Gobabeb Research Centre.

Day 6

Date : November 20, 2021

Gobabeb-Walvis Bay

Early morning exploring around Gobabeb.
Depart after breakfast for Walvis Bay.
Afternoon birding around Walvis Bay.
Overnight at Langstrand, between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

Day 7

Date : November 21, 2021

Walvis Bay area

Morning birding around Walvis Bay
Visit Welwitschia Plain and moonscape.
Afternoon birding around Swakopmund.
Overnight at Langstrand

Day 8

Date : November 22, 2021

Walvis Bay area

Morning Catamaran Cruise in Walvis Bay
Rest of day spent birding and sightseeing.
Overnight at Langstrand.

Day 9

Date : November 23, 2021

Walvis Bay-Brandberg

Early morning birding around area.
Depart for Brandberg after brunch.
Travel via Swakopmund and Henties Bay to Brandberg.
Arrive mid afternoon and overnight at lodge in Uis.

Day 10

Date : November 24, 2021

Brandberg area

Guided morning “Elephant Drive”.
Rest of day spent birding/relaxing around camp.
Overnight at Brandberg White Lady Lodge.

Day 11

Date : November 25, 2021

Brandberg-Spitskoppe-Erongo Mountains

Early morning birding around lodge.
Depart after breakfast for Spitskoppe, birding en route.
After exploring Spitskoppe, head for Erongo Mountains near Omaruru.
Late afternoon birding and overnight at lodge in Erongo mountains.

Day 12

Date : November 26, 2021

Erongo Mountains

Day spent birding in the Erongo Mountains.
Overnight at lodge.

Day 13

Date : November 27, 2021

Erongo-Windhoek Airport

Early morning birding around lodge.
Depart after breakfast and head for Windhoek for early afternoon flight to Johannesburg.

Includes

Return flights between Johannesburg and Windhoek

Road transport, all meals and accommodation, guiding, entrance fees

Specified activities at Gobabeb Training and Research Centre

Dolphin and seal cruise at Walvis Bay

Desert Elephant drive 

Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature

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