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The Etosha National Park is a semi-arid savannah, with grassland and thorn scrub surrounding a calcrete pan [calcium rich, impermeable earthen crust]. Etosha Pan is known as ‘the place of dry water’ due to the mirages that appear in the notoriously dry winter months. Animals that can be found here include black rhino and the endemic black-faced impala, which are attracted by perennial springs, and in the rainy season flamingos and pelicans congregate on the pan when it contains water for a few short months.
One of the largest national parks in the world, the Namib-Naukluft Park has four main conservation areas: the gravel plains of the Namib Desert Park, the enormous dunefields of Sossusvlei, the secluded coastal wetland known as Sandwich Harbour and the higher plateau of the Naukluft Park.
The wetlands arise from the river valleys and pans, which are dry on the surface but have permanent underground water which sustains trees and bushes such as the camelthorn, acacias and nara melon. These trees, along with others, make linear oases which sustain large numbers of insects and birds, as well as large mammals such as gemsbok, kudu and springbok. For nocturnal cats from leopard to caracal, these are the best places to look.
The Skeleton Coast is named for the bones of whales and seals which have been bleached in the sun, a relic from times when whaling was a much greater industry than it is today. The shells of more than a thousand ships which have been claimed by heavy fog and rocks also hauntingly cling to the coastline. Sandy rivers reach the sea in several places along this coast, marking a series of green ribbons that randomly streak the land. Beside the sea, highly specialised vegetation such as lithops and lichen thrive on the air-borne moisture, whilst there are large seal colonies at Cape Cross and Frio that’s worth a visit.
The Kaokoveld has been called “Africa’s last great wilderness” and can be found in the north of the country. This desert has a harsh, mountainous environment which supports some uniquely adapted species of animal, including the endangered Kaokoveld elephants. Some of Africa’s most famous examples of rock art are also in the region - see the imposing granite landmarks of Damaraland.
The Caprivi Strip is the north-eastern ‘finger’ of land between Botswana, Angola and Zambia. There are two regions of interest here, the Bwabwata East National Park with the Kwando River Area and Impalila Island.
Namibia is located along the west coast of Africa, neighbouring Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. With a land surface area of over 825,000 km² and a population of about 2 million people, Namibia is the least densely populated country in the world.
Despite this, there is extensive human history in the area and human fossils dating back to at least 40,000 years ago have been found in the Kalahari. These fossils are widely believed to be the ancestors of the modern Khoisan people living in Botswana, who are otherwise known as the Bushmen. This fascinating culture has been unfortunately very much misrepresented by the media, and exploring their cultural origins is especially enlightening. Bushmanland, found near the border of Botswana has many scattered Bushman villages of the Ju/’hoansi !Kung tribes that can be visited.
There are 20 National Parks and protected areas in Namibia, ranging from desert to montane habitats with various localised, more specialised habitats in between. In terms of wildlife, the adaptation of animals and plants to the harsh environment is fascinating and unique, and the world’s highest concentration of cheetah in the wild can be found here. Nearly 70% of Southern Africa’s 887 bird species have been recorded in the country, making it a hotspot for bird watching.
The Namib Desert has many flat expanses of rock and stone, which are covered with thin, tall grass and creeping yellow flowers after the rains. This vegetation attracts gemsbok, springbox and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. In the dry season, animals such as the black-backed jackal, bat-eared, Cape foxes and aardwolf can be seen at night, as well as, on lucky occasions, the rare brown hyena. Exotic birds like the ostrich, secretary bird and Ludwig’s bustard can be seen during the day.
The Namib is old enough for species to have evolved in order to survive, including several endemics - belying the typical lifelessness associated with other deserts. Vegetable matter blown in on the wind collects at the bottom of dunes where it is eaten by insects such as fish-moths, crickets and tenebrionid beetles. These are then eaten by spiders, geckos, lizards and chameleons, which provide food for sidewinder snakes. Rare species include the Grant’s golden moles, which eat any small beetles or larvae they catch, and the dune lark which is endemic to this region and is hardly ever seen outside the dune areas.
Namibia’s mountains are normally of granite or limestone, and many are buried under the dunes whilst others stick out in expanses of gravel plains, earning themselves the name of inselburg, or ‘island-mountain’. These support their own flora and fauna, including acacia, ale and lithops (which are often called living rocks due to their pebble-like shape). Pools in the crevices that can form temporarily host small water creatures which lay eggs that can wait in suspended animation for years. Raptors are common due to the open land, and lappet-faced vultures, greater kestrels and red-necked falcons are typical of the environment.
January, February, March and April:
Wildlife and game viewing: animals, especially in Etosha, tend to spread out and not gather at the waterholes. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t see animals. Many of the plains game like springbok and zebra, give birth during this time. Animals like lion, leopard and others stay in their territories and don’t move away. This period is the best time to visit the Namib Desert with its green grasses, open and clear skies with some beautiful cloud formations. This is also the best time for photographing the desert landscapes.
May, June, July and August:
Water levels are dropping and animals start congregating at waterholes for their daily drink. Still quite a lot of vegetation so animals are quite spread out. A good time for game viewing. The autumn and winter temperatures mean cool and chilly evenings bringing crisp conditions, clear skies and pristine dunes and landscapes. Photography is excellent with clear skies and little dust.
The Caprivi Strip is affected by floodwaters from the north between May and August, as water flows into the Okavango water systems.
From mid-July to late October, the main overseas tourist season hits Namibia and lodges will be full unless you book well in advance. If you go outside of this period, it’s much quieter and you will have many of the attractions to yourself.
September, October, November and December:
This period is VERY HOT which is excellent for game viewing and a wide range of animals at the waterholes. In north Namibia the rains can start early but game viewing is still excellent. Photographic opportunities during the heat of the day are not very good.
There are ‘little’ rains from October to December, which are characterised by high temperatures and sporadic showers, whilst January to April is the main rainy season.
To recap the best time for game viewing is from May to October, and for bird watching, November to March.
There are four main ways to take a Namibian safari: self-driving (a smaller scale version of a true African expedition), mobile (tents and vehicle convoys), “wing” and specialist safaris are all available.
For self-drivers there is an excellent road network, and this is the best way to get up close and personal with Namibia if you have a lot of time. The minimum recommended time is three weeks, and in places you will need to travel in a 4×4 convoy.
Mobile safaris are guided cross-country safaris that are suitable for accessing remote locations. With experienced local guides, groups normally only travel with 8 guests or less. Couples can join into existing trips, or if you’re a group of 4 to 8, tailor-made trips can be arranged in order to ensure you see what you alone want to see. The minimum recommended time is 13 days.
The best way to cover all the highlights of Namibia is by air. Wing safaris take a maximum of six guests, and the views over the Skeleton Coast and desert are once-in-a-lifetime. These trips take a minimum of 7 days, and stopovers are recommended at Sossusvlei and Etosha, which have some of the best lodges in the country.
Specialist safaris are ideal for those with key interests in photography and can be combined with mobile safaris or self-driving to get the most out of your time in Namibia.
There are regular and reliable links between Johannesburg and Cape Town Airports and Windhoek International Airport. From these airports you can connect to Frankfurt and London. In Africa, it is also easy to get to Harare, Lusaka, Maun and Gabarone. There are good air-strips throughout the country due to the necessity of air travel, making for easy transfers.
There are also 4500 km of good tarred roads which connect all the main cities, as well as an extensive network of gravel roads, making road travel easy.