On the Road again: from Damaraland to Etosha and the Okavango River - News - Gondwana Collection

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On the Road again: from Damaraland to Etosha and the Okavango River

Avatar of inke inke - 19. mars 2019 - Gondwana Collection, Tourism

The Okavango River at sunset. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

Ron Swilling

‘Follow your heart’ must be some of the best advice that there is in life, and it definitely applies to road journeys. So, if itineraries and time allow, and you find yourself in a place that soothes the senses and warms the cockles of your heart, it’s always a good idea to stay put for a while.

After a visit to the Twyfelfontein rock engravings in north-western Namibia, I take heed of this good counsel. Damara Mopane Lodge - with its chalet gardens bursting with vegetables, sunflowers and marigolds - calls for another day. Luckily, the travel gods are on my side and altering my travel arrangements proves easy. I have extra time to enjoy the pocket of Mopane woodland and the refreshing Damaraland lodge.

Vingerklip. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

Vingerklip rock formation

After a good rest I am full of beans for the next leg of the journey – the Etosha-Cuvelai Route, which leads from the heart of the country to the north, and I head eastwards towards the town of Outjo, the gateway to Etosha National Park. But, first I make a quick detour to explore Vingerklip (Finger Rock), the rock that juts out above the Ugab terraces as if it’s disobeying planetary orders to erode, standing strong and proud after its contemporaries have weathered away into dust. I like it immediately, recognising the stubbornness of a kindred spirit, and walk the path up to its base to gaze in wonder at the land extending so elegantly to the horizon. Yes, I say to myself, emboldened by this sign of unconformity, rebellion and grandeur. And, I shout ‘Yes’ to Life from the foot of the rugged rock with my arms outstretched. I feel like my words catapult into the sky with a momentum of their own.

Etosha blessings 

With life affirmed, I am eager to get to Etosha and the well-loved Etosha Safari Camp, ten kilometres from the national park. Every visit to Etosha is a surprise, revealing something new, and entering this sprawling animal sanctuary is nothing short of the icing - and cherries! - on a scrumptious chocolate cake. I check in at the relaxed down-to-earth camp and then take a drive into the national park to Okaukuejo. A kudu cow locks eyes with me, an elephant surprises me on the road and a dazzle of zebra delights me. It’s an invigorating Etosha beginning and I wear a grin on my face all the way back. The sun winks at me before drawing its blanket for the night.

Elephants in Etosha National Park. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

Supper in the courtyard at Etosha Safari Camp’s quirky Shebeen restaurant is always a fun-filled experience as the musicians strum their guitars around a small fire, sing a few local tunes and guests - or staff - wiggle hips or stamp feet to the music. Tonight is no different and the lively outside venue is an enchanting place to savour the delicious array of food before strolling back to my room in the starlight and the buttery glow from the sliver of moon.

Taking it slow is my plan for exploring the waterholes as I drive eastwards across Etosha. And it is slow-going, with many zebra crossings and deviations off the main road to the waterholes with their distinctive chalky character. There’s something incredibly satisfying about sitting at a waterhole in the heart of Africa watching the wildlife come and go. Patience reaps rich rewards when a hodgepodge of sleek species arrives to slake their thirst.

A young lion at a waterhole in Etosha National Park. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

To the Owambo regions for a taste of culture

I’ve chosen to follow the more adventurous route to Rundu on Gondwana’s Etosha-Cuvelai Route, which continues through the Owambo regions that crown Etosha National Park, so I veer northwards at Namutoni towards King Nehale Gate where a new lodge will open its doors on 1 July 2020: Etosha King Nehale. As soon as I exit the park and pass into the grassy townsland plains, herds of cattle replace the wildlife. And as I near the town of Omuthiya, I suddenly find myself in a bustling area as if I’ve just been propelled through an invisible border. Colourful shebeens with wacky names and small shops line the roads. Street sellers display their produce on small tables and well-balanced heaps on the ground. 

The word Cuvelai refers to the Cuvelai Basin, a massive drainage area, comprising hundreds of channels that drain from the Angolan highlands, and end - in years of good rainfall - in the Etosha Pan. These oshana that fill with water during the rainy season at the tail end and start of the year form part of the unique character of this low-lying area.

An oshana. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

Overnighting at Ongula Village Homestead near Ondangwa, I have a chance to taste the local mahangu (a type of millet) porridge, eaten with a local spinach relish or tasty chicken, and to walk around the sandy village. The sinking sun sets the makalani palms ablaze with fiery colours, lighting up the landscape in gold. It’s a peaceful night with the braying of donkeys punctuating the stillness, until they are joined in the morning by the choir of roosters welcoming the return of their faithful friend, the sun.

The new day brings new purpose and I take a leisurely drive along the B10 that skirts the far north of the country. It has been tarred over the last few years, making it an easy alternative route to the B8 to Rundu – and providing the opportunity for a taste of the northern regions and the Owambo culture along the way. 

A haven on the banks of the Okavango River

A tree-lined road dotted with homesteads eventually leads to a more inhabited area. I catch glimpses of the blue water of the river and begin to spot people selling fish along the roadside as I approach Rundu. 

Anticipation starts to build up as I enter this greener part of the country with its perennial river systems, which balances the arid stretches of Namibia so well.

Hakusembe River Lodge. Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia

And my heart does a little jig when I turn onto the access road to Hakusembe River Lodge, a favourite retreat on the banks of the Okavango River, where thatch-roofed chalets under large leafy trees line the grassy riverbank. It’s a short drive through communal land to the green oasis and entrance of the lodge where I feel the familiar Hakusembe wave of peace wash over me. All stresses and worries drain away. It’s once again time to attune to the rhythm of the river. Peace takes me gently by the hand and escorts me in.

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