NAMIBIA scouting Trip - April 2015
Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 2nd May 2015
I have finally managed to get to Namibia to take a look at this amazing country and to see and photograph some of the many photo hotspots it has to offer. The aim of this trip was to choose the most productive photo locations for next year's "BEST of NAMIBIA" photo safari that will run for the first time in April 2016.
During this trip I wanted to determine a number of things at each of the locations I visited. Namibia, is without doubt, the most beautiful country I have visited in terms of its varied and interesting landscapes. There are photos around every corner and over each rise and it is difficult to return without some fantastic shots. My big concern though, was to make sure that everyone in the potential group of 6 participants for next year's trip would be able to get their own shots at all the different locations. I have detailed my findings below and although some of the locations I photographed were beautiful, it would not be possible to ensure everyone in the group would be able to get their best shot. Standing in the only spot to get the best angle for the sunrise or sunset is great - if you are on your own - but in a group scenario, it is not possible. I have taken this into account and feel that the places I have chosen for the trip next year, will offer everyone enough space to be able to take great shots.
I have also taken into consideration, the ease of getting to the actual photo locations. In a lot of cases it is possible to drive to most of the good locations, but there are some cases where a walk in thick sand is necessary. You would not need to be super fit to be able to cope on the tour, but a basic level of fitness is required to reach some of the locations.
We drove to Namibia from Nelspruit, and in total we covered 7643 km (4750 miles) in 19 days. Namibia is a big country and the drives between the different locations are considerable. The roads are a mix of tarmac and gravel, but the gravel roads are in very good condition - nothing like the experience in Kenya ( for those of you who have been there )
I have taken these long drive times into consideration and there will be one or two flights included in the final itinerary.
Our first stop on the trip was at the Fish River canyon, staying on the western rim and not the busier Eastern side. This is the second biggest Canyon in the world after the Grand canyon in the USA. Simply put, it is not nearly as breath - taking as the Grand canyon, so this might disappoint those who have seen the biggest canyon in the world, but as with every place I visited, there are always photos available. A huge storm added excellent drama to the skies and the unusual Quiver Trees that are found around the canyon made for some excellent photo opportunities.
I think this is quite a productive place, but the down side is that it is a little out of the way to stop for just one night. Two nights would be needed and this then adds more nights to the overall trip. At the moment I am still deciding whether to include it or not, taking into account the length and the cost of the trip.
The coastal town of Luderitz was our next stop. It was a bit of a drive from the canyon, around 6 hours, but we arrived in time for lunch. Due to the warm air from the interior and the cold Benguela Current that runs up the coastline of Namibia, there is a lot of FOG at the coast, so having a clear day in Luderitz is not common, but Mother Nature smiled on us and provided a beautiful day for us to see the interesting town with its German influence clearly evident in the old buildings and church.
Our main reason for staying in Luderitz was to visit the extremely interesting ghost diamond mining town of KOLMANSKOP, just 10 km out of town. As most of you know, I am a wildlife guy at heart and I was not that excited to photograph a ghost town, but this place had an amazing effect on me and I thoroughly enjoyed walking through all the old buildings and houses, now filled with sand. It really was one of the highlights of the trip for me and will certainly be in the final itinerary. Not only was the place very interesting, but the camera equipment and techniques were tested to the extreme.. I shot a number of images in HDR and this feature is invaluable in this scenario. Most cameras now have this feature built in and if you have never made use of it before then this is a great learning opportunity for this technique. The latest version of Lightroom now has this feature built-in and it is very easy to use. Thanks Lighroom, that's what I call perfect timing !!!
From Luderitz we headed towards the central part of Namibia and had to take an overnight stop at the Namtib Biosphere Reserve. This was a great place to stay, one of the most endearing small lodges I have ever been to, with wonderful owners and great food. There are good morning and afternoon opportunities for some extra landscapes at this reserve.
From Namtib we drove 3.5 hours to the Namib Rand, a private reserve of unprecedented beauty !! We started in one of the Wolwedans Camps for 2 nights. This was a real highlight of the trip. The scenery and sweeping vistas, together with a smattering of wildlife, (mostly Oryx and Springbok) is a photographer's paradise. Here the Red sand dunes mix with yellow grass-covered plains, rugged mountains and the most amazing blue skies.. the colours are magnificent. This will also be in the itnerary for sure !
We continued further north to one of the most iconic regions in Namibia - the Sossusvlei area. The dunes here are very red and very big. The scale of the place is actually quite difficult to capture, but the odd Oryx and a few trees help to convey this scale and add impact to the images. I also visited "Deadvlei" a most surreal place in the middle of the dunes, where ancient, dead trees still stand. I stayed until after dark and Namibia is the first place I have been where starlight on its own is enough to allow you to see where you are walking without a flashlight !! This location will also be on the itinerary. I managed to do a hot-air balloon ride too, hoping to see if this might offer a few extra shots and it did. It will be an optional extra for those interested. My only wish was that the balloon had gone over the dunes instead of landing at the bottom of the first dune, but as was pointed out to us, recovery of the balloon from a location in the middle of the dunes is impossible !
The next location was Swakopmund, again on the coast. This was a long drive - close to 6 hours and there will be an option to fly this leg for those who want to. The flight would be a scenic flight over the dunes and the coastline. Swakopmund, being a coastal town, has to deal with fog on an almost daily basis. We went out and spent a morning in the coastal dune belt on a tour called "The Living Desert" This was most interesting, and on the actual tour next year we will book a private excursion for our group only, so that we can focus a little more on the photographic opportunities that are out there. The small animals that manage to survive in one of the most hostile environments imagineable. Shovel-snouted Lizard, Namib Sand Snake, Peringuey's Adder, Horned Adder, Black Hairy Thick-tailed scorpion and Namaqua Chameleon.
From Swakopmund we drove to Spitzkoppe, a location that, although offering quite a bit, would prove difficult to provide the space for a group of 6 to have individual opportunities. Added to this, was a steep, rocky climb to get to the best vantage points. As you will see, some of my shots were taken at night and this would also prove to be a bit of a danger hazard for 6 people with tripods and equipment clambering around in the dark. The location has no lodge so a mobile camp would have to be set up for just one night and the logistics of this and comfort level for clients made me decide to leave it out of the actual itinerary for next year.
Instead of Spitzkoppe, I have decided to add a two night stay in an exceptionally beautiful area near Twyfelfontein. This will allow us to cover two more exciting and interesting activities, the Desert Elephants and a visit to a Himba village, to see how these very interesting indigenous people live. I did not do this personally, but I know it will be another highlight and very productive.
This two night stay will also cut up the long journey from Swakopmund to Etosha National Park.
My next stop was Etosha National Park where we stayed in both private and National Park camps. The National Park camp at Okukuejo has the famous floodlit waterhole and this is a great place to sit and wait for the animals to come to you. On the official tour, I have planned for one night at this camp. The camp itself and the service levels, are not as good as the private camps, but they have very comfortable accommodation, especially the waterhole chalets which we will be booking. These have a view over the waterhole. We then drove across the park to the Eastern side where we stayed in a camp in the private Onguma Reserve which was perhaps my favourite camp of all. This camp is 11 km from the entrance gate to the park and we travelled from this camp into the park for our game drives. At sunset we returned to the camp and enjoyed a much higher level of comfort and service, not to mention excellent food. I have two nights planned at this location on the trip next year.
On the planned trip, from Etosha, we would have a fairly long drive back to Windhoek, all on good tarmac roads and have a final night in Windhoek before catching our flights back to JHB the following late morning / early afternoon.
I had some concerns about visiting Etosha in April, but I was pleasantly surprised. I do think the peak time for Etosha would be in August / September, when the water holes would be busier. However, taking all things into consideration, April is a month when the skies are very clear and crisp, is much better for all the landscape photography we will be doing. August and September, although great for animals, are dry and dusty months and the clarity of the air is not very good.
So although there will be wildlife opportunities on this safari, the main bias will be on Landscapes and places, and therefore it will be run at a time which is best for this.
I visited the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop which was pretty good for photos too, but I would be quite happy to leave it our as it adds two additional big drives, one to get there and one from there to Luderitz, both around 5 to 6 hours. We will get to see and photograph Quiver trees at other locations.
I want to thank my mom for joining me on this recce trip and for keeping me company ! Also, a huge thanks to Tristan Cowley for all his help in setting up this itinerary and allowing me to see some of the amazing places that Namibia has to offer. Thanks also to all the lodges who hosted us and to the very kind and friendly people we met on our travels, especially Pieter Mostert, Torstein & Lynn Thiele, Erich Simons and Sean Braine.
Full details of the trip will be going up on the website as soon as I receive the costings from the ground operator in Namibia.
In the meantime, here are some of the images I took on this recce trip, enjoy !
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My wife Joanie and I joined Wild4 for the Best of Kruger and Big Cats in August of 2014. It was our very first trip on an African safari. I’m a serious amateur photographer and my wife’s a non-photographer but both of us enjoyed the trip thoroughly ! To this day, we still regularly recall the highlights of sightings and events fondly. True to Wild4’s brand promise, Stu Porter delivers maximum photographic times spent chasing photo opportunities out in the field - out 6am as soon as the camp gate opens and back only 6pm when the gate closes. Having no more than three photographers on each of two jeeps allows every photographer immediate access to both sides of the vehicle. Stu always knows where to position the vehicle for the best vantage points. Every day has its highs – big cat chases and kills, grazers sparring, herds of elephants and buffaloes appearing from nowhere at water holes... Thanks to Stu and the enthusiasm and knowledge of experienced senior guide Mike Lentz. Camps in Kruger are basic (by first world standards) but hey this is a safari ! There’s the important benefit of being only a short drive away from dams, good spots to catch the first light when the sun rises. This is important as the gates do not open till 6am so there’s little margin for being late. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand, the Wild4 team’s dedication and commitment to a successful photo trip for guests, beyond the call of duty. The Wild4 team helped solved a major photographic equipment problem. Early afternoon on Day 5, the lens AF motor on my 400mm telephoto lens failed. This was really a disaster on a trip like this, as (like everyone else) I had a spare camera body but not a spare super telephoto lens ! The other lens I had was a medium telephoto zoom, hardly a lens to use with tele-converters. Murphy’s Law indeed ! This happened with seven more days to go ! I enquired with Stu about hiring a lens from the nearby towns. Stu sprang into action immediately whilst still on the afternoon game drive - got his back-office team to make enquiries back in Nelspruit town. This was something new to the Wild4 team as they never had to hire a lens but they found a lens on the same day, a 200-400mm that’s also ideal for safari. The lens had to be dispatched from almost 200 km away and Mr John Porter helped to drive south to collect the lens sooner. I had the use of this lens by the morning of Day 7, with one-and-half day “downtime” in a remote location. Service excellence lived by as a core value indeed. After eight nights I left Kruger National Park with the feeling that I was just warming up and was leaving too soon. I would have gladly extended a few more days if that was possible. But we were bound for the next destination. I notice Wild4 has not been static. More new trips were added. I see the enterprise is growing fast ! Joanie and I are now looking forward to a trip to Kenya, again with Stu and the Wild4 team.
Steve Seow, Singapore
I was fortunate to be on Wild4's "Best of Botswana" trip in May 2014. It could well be the Best of Africa. This trip featured two expert guides (Stu Porter himself and Nkosi from Letaka Safaris) and the abundant wildlife of four different Botswanan hot spots, with relatively few other vehicles around. Those features alone are worth the price of admission, particularly since they include Stu's vehicle modifications that ensure the best possible photographic experience. But if that isn't enough, we spent the first ten nights in expedition style mobile camps, roughing it with bucket showers and drop toilets, and listening to the leopards, elephants and hyenas wandering in and around the camps at night. But don't worry about the "roughing it" part. The expert staff prepares perfect meals, including fresh baked breads and cakes, and ensures that the camp is safe and clean. We finished the 12-night trip in a luxury lodge on the Chobe River, where we photographed from a boat customised to accommodate serious photographers (i.e. people with lenses bigger than their legs) and a waterway full of hippos and elephants and lined with Africa's most iconic birds. If you can only go once to Africa, go to Botswana with Wild4 Photographic Safaris. They will take care of every detail of your safari to ensure that everything is just right. If you are an old Africa veteran, ditto. You just can't go wrong with Wild4.
George Cathcart, USA