Friday, 13 September 2013

16th - 17th August, Okahandja, Namibia - "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road"

As we come to the end of the trip, today saw the last real journey, from Epacha to the interestingly named Elegant Farmstead just outside the town of Okahandja.  The journey was to be just over 350 km, and as a result we did not rush to get up early in the morning.  In fact for the first time at Epacha we were able to see the lodge in the early morning sunshine, and as I looked out from the balcony, I was reminded once again of scenes from Out of Africa.

After breakfast and checking out we were back in the truck, and heading down reserve drive to the main gate.  We finally signed out from the lodge after struggling to find the last entry, and made the guard very happy by giving him my Swakopmund hoodie, I imagined him modellingit after we had passed through the gate.

After the 25 km of the gravel road from the lodge to the C38 we turned south and headed off on tarmac.  The road was very good, and we made good time.  We had timed it just right, and we finished the last Danny Baker podcast on this journey.  I had to be aware of the road though, as it was alright where the grass was short, you could see any animals, but where it was above a few feet high you could be surprised by a Warthog bursting from the scrub, and across the road.  We were twice, the first time being a little too close.

The C38 took us through two towns, Outjo, and Otjiwarongo, the latter was where we stopped to fill up with fuel once again.  It was then on to the B1, the main road north and south through Windhoek.  Everything was fine until we came to Okahandja.  I had selected the sister property to the Farmstead in the sat nav, and this was located in Windhoek.  Reverting to the instructions and the map threw up confusion so we had to call the property.  Once we had the directions it was clear there was an error on the instructions, so we were able to set off once again.

We turned off the B1 on to probably the worst road of the whole trip.  our instructions describe it as a scenic drive, I wouldn't know as it took all I had to keep hold of the steering wheel.  They were constructing bridges over the dry rivers, and we would be diverted through sand and rock.  the truck shook, and we collected even more dust.

We finally pulled into the Elegant Farmstead, which looked from the outside like a working farm, which it obviously had been, there were chickens crowing, and cattle in the distance.  We were shown to our room, and around the property.

We had a nice lunch on the deck, and a welcome beer.  The rest of the afternoon we set out to just relax in the sun, again there was a pool but it was very cold.

The farm was set alongside a dry river bed, and there were water holes around the grounds.  I had itchy feet and couldn't sit still fro too long, so I went for a walk around the grounds.  I found one water hole that was covered in pond weed, but it was attractive to small groups of Red-billed Francolins, and they would creep down the bank to drink.

When I returned to the sun bed, i was immediately distracted by bird calls that could only belong to a parrot.  I could see them flying into a tree, but I couldn't immediately identify them.  So I was up again for a closer look.  It took a while but I finally managed to get one in the open long enough to identify it, a Ruppell's parrot, not one of the prettiest, but a parrot nonetheless

Mission accomplished it was back to the sun bed, only to be distracted once again by a small bird perched in a tree by the fire pits.  When we had arrived at the farmstead, as Helen opened  the gates she saw and pointed out an owl box.  We were told when we checked in that this belonged to a White-faced Scops Owl, and that there was an owlet around the buildings too.  When I got the binoculars on this small bird I could see it was an owl, so I was up again, camera ready, taking shots as I crept closer.  This is a Pearl Spotted Owlet, and was quite happy for me to approach it, I even had to squeak to make it look at me.

As I was up I decided to explore a bit more, and walked by the fence that ran alongside the river.  I was intrigued by the electric fence and razor wire all over the tree trunks close to the fence.  As I scanned across the river bed I suddenly realised why as I saw a small group of Baboons, with one acting as look out at the top of a tree.

by four o'clock the sun was beginning to go down, and was losing its strength, so we decided to take the option of walking around the trail the farmstead had.  We were not sure what it was going to turn up, but we saw it as a chance to stretch our legs on what has been a quite sedentary trip.

As we set off their was a couple in front of us, and they immediately stopped as there was a large cow sized creature in front of them.

It was an Eland, the largest of the Antelopes, and not something I had expected to come across.  they are big animals, with substantial horns.  This one had one broken, probably as a result of a fight.  It looked at us as we watched it, then it walked across the path and away into the scrub.  We could hear others and we waited to see if they would show themselves.  They did but not the best of views.

A little further on we came across a small group of Ruppell's parrots feeding in a nearby tree.

Helen agreed not the prettiest parrot!

The couple walking in front of us stopped again, and we wondered what hey had found this time.  It was any thing new, but a nice close view of a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.

it was calling, and I was bale to imitate it, and hold a conversation. 

The path was very dry and dusty as we approached the river bed.  Coming around a corner I was completely surprised by what I found in front of us, just like the Eland I did not expect it.

There were in fact two giraffes, and they stood watching us with no real concerns.  As we turned on to the river bed, they turned away from us and walked up the bank.

A little way along the bank we came across another new antelope, the Blesbok.

A very smart looking antelope, but they are not native to Namibia, but have been introduced here from South Africa.  It stood watching us as we walked along the sandy bed.  Every so often it would run away, only to turn and continue to watch us again.  The face markings stand out against the rufous brown body.  In all we probably saw three individuals on the walk.

As we watched the Blesbok, there was some bird activity in the surrounding trees.  Grey Louries were everywhere, they have another name, the Go Away Bird, due to their call, which sounds like "go away".  they look very smart with their crest of very fine feathers, and the long tail.

Another bird to catch the eye was the Crimson-breasted Shrike.  I had seen them in the Kalahari, but was not able to get a photograph.  This one hopped into the sunshine at just the right time, the sun enhancing the beautiful red chest.

We walked along the river bed, and then around to the air strip, as mentioned we continued to attract the attention of the Blesbok, but apart from that and a small group of Helmeted Guinea Fowl, there was little else.  As we turned onto the air strip there was a pair of Glossy Starlings at the top of a bush, enjoying the last warmth of the afternoon sun.

the walk back was into the setting sun, and it cast a glow on the grasses around us, and also provided a fitting end to the trip as we walked slowly back to our last sundowner in Namibia

Dinner was very nice, and once again we were able to make the staff smile, as Helen this time made a present of her Swakopmund fleece.  After dinner we sat by the fire, and finished our scrabble with a night cap, then we retired to our room, where the mosquito netting had been turned down, and our last night here in Namibia.

The next morning it was sunny and cold, in fact we were told that the water in the fountains was frozen first thing in the morning.  After a good breakfast we packed our bags for the last time, and settled the bill, and set off on the final leg of the journey.  I took it easy on the road from the farmstead, and we passed a herd of Eland by one of the fences.  The car wheels did not bump so much on the gravel road this time, and when we turned on to the B1 to head north, we had a bout 100 km to go.  The journey took us through Windhoek by the route we had arrived 14 days earlier, and then on to the airport.

it has been a wonderful trip, made even better by the fact that we were able to drive ourselves, and set our own plans, yes we had some organised trips,and they were good, but the best time was when we just did it ourselves, just as we did in Fish River, and Etosha.  We managed to see a total of 137 birds along the way, not a huge number, but there were 75 new birds for me in the total.  Of the animals we saw 26, including the two species of Dolphin with the experience of the elephants at Rietfontein water hole in Etosha standing out as the absolute highlight.

If I amasked in the future of the African trips we have made what is the best, it would have to Namibia, if you want a wonderful safari experience this is the place to come.  There are not the numbers of people you have to contend with in Kenya, the landscape is better for viewing tahn in South Africa, and it is safe.  Would we come back, yes we would.

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