By Bridget Mcgrouther
CONSIDERING there are so few black rhinos left in the world, I couldn’t believe that we were staring at four of them in Namibia’s magnificent Etosha National Park under the cover of darkness. Like a range of other animals, including a jackal that had slunk off when the larger beasts appeared, the rhinos had come to drink, wallow and swim in a waterhole.
Our intrepid guide, Malven Chiriseri, was a mine of information. After picking us up from Windhoek Airport, he had taken our group on the road trip of a lifetime to the national park. Described as the best game reserve in Africa, Etosha covers an extensive 12,400 square miles.
Yet even in this enormous landscape, Malven didn’t miss a thing. He spotted four lions hidden under bushes and then managed to manoeuvre our four-wheel-drive vehicle into position without disturbing the big cats. Relaxed in the shade, the lions lazily watched us with amber eyes, their tousled manes magnificent in the sunlight. And their sharp teeth and claws were a sobering reminder of the park rules not to exit the vehicle or extend any body part out of the window. As if. Every night or two we’d move on, staying in a variety of guesthouses, self-catering accommodation and safari camps, often situated miles from anywhere.
My favourite was Dolomite Camp, perched on the crest of a hill, with a refreshing breeze and ice-cold infinity pool. Through binoculars, we caught sight of a troop of baboons enjoying the view from rocks high above us. Eland, springbok or kudu steaks were often on the menu, served with some tasty South African wines. The barbecued meat was delicious, but I much preferred seeing the antelopes roaming free – some even springing over what seemed like impossibly high fences. As I lay in bed, listening to the night sounds, I suddenly heard a low, rumbling growl. We were in leopard country. No wonder the hotel staff had insisted on driving us to our tents as it seemed that at least one big cat was on the prowl. Next morning, the leopard grunts were the talk of the breakfast buffet. Most guests had heard the growls, though nobody had been brave – or crazy – enough to peep outside. I was certainly discovering that Namibia was an exciting and unforgettable destination. In Soussusvlei, it was hard to believe anything could survive in such a harsh desert environment. But we witnessed the incredible adaptability of plants and those animals that lived on water droplets blown in on the fog or river floods during the rainy season.
The birds were equally spectacular, especially the lilac-breasted roller, a yellow-billed hornbill (nicknamed ‘flying banana’), and the majestic martial eagle. A highlight was the optional extra scenic flight above the rocks, desert, dunes, canyons, shipwrecks and empty beaches stretching for miles along the Skeleton Coast.
Despite the fog creeping in, we spotted flocks of vivid pink flamingos, huge-beaked pelicans and seal colonies in Walvis Bay.
A night in the colourful and relatively contemporary beach resort of Swakopmond gave us a chance to shop for hand-crafted souvenirs at the market. We were also tempted by The Tug Restaurant by the jetty, which served the freshest seafood. The grilled calamari, and fish in coconut milk smelled – and tasted – divine.
In complete contrast, the powerful aroma of thousands of Cape fur seals lounging around the rocks when we arrived at Cape Cross wasn’t so pleasant. A boardwalk allows visitors to safely make their way through the sea of blubbery bodies. Squabbles often break out among the seals and there is a cacophony of barking, but this soap opera is fun to watch, especially when they dive through the waves.
Namibia is a powerfully emotive country and one that gets under your skin. I can’t wait to return, but hope that the critically endangered wildlife that the country’s national parks are trying so hard to preserve is still there when I do.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015