Wild Places

The Art of Landscape and Travel Photography

Namibia 2017 – Part 2 (Landscapes)

If you haven’t read part 1 of my Namibia travel report I suggest to start there first.

After spending one week in the Etosha National Park watching wildlife we went to the Spitzkoppe.

 

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe is the most spectacular und famous mountain in Namibia.
The images that I had seen on the internet had already raised my expectations of this place. Most of the time you are rather disappointed, if you go somewhere with such high expectations. But in the case of Spitzkoppe, it was the other way round: in reality, it is even more beautiful than most photos show.

The campsites are spread far apart on the whole area. We chose a beautiful site just below the famous stone arch.

Spitzkoppe

The infrastructure at the campsites is very simple. There is no water and only very simple outhouse toilets. Nice showers and running water are available only at the entrance next to the reception. But that’s not really in walking distance from the campsites. Therefore you always have to take the car if you need a shower.

Here is a picture of our rented Landcruiser in front of Spitzkoppe:

Spitzkoppe

What didn’t really convince us was the restaurant at Spitzkoppe. The decoration was positively creative, but the steak was inedible chewy and the rest of the food wasn’t great either. Of the ten drinks listed on the menu, there were two available. After we finished eating, there was nothing left but water. So it’s best to be completely self-sufficient there.

For a photographer Spitzkoppe is a real dream, especially in the morning and evening light:

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

When we stayed overnight there, it was new moon. Since the next city is very far away, there was no light pollution at all. It was extremely dark at night and the starry sky accordingly really spectacular. I used that to gather my first experiences shooting the Milky Way. There is certainly a lot to learn here for me. But for a very first attempt, I am quite satisfied with the result:

Milky Way at Spitzkoppe

Milky Way at Spitzkoppe

Milky Way at Spitzkoppe

After 2 nights at the Spitzkoppe we continued to Sossusvlei.

 

Sossusvlei

Although we had already visited Sossusvlei on our last trip, Linnéa and I really wanted to return to climb the Big Daddy dune at sunrise, which we didn’t manage last time.

Halfway between Spitzkoppe and Swakopmund on the B2, there was suddenly at about 100 km/h on a paved road a strange noise. Shortly thereafter, the car began to lurch heavily. At first I didn’t realize what was going on but soon it was pretty clear:

Flat tire on the B2

You could easily see and reach through the whole side of the tire. It was completely bursted. The fact that I used to participate in offroad and rallye competitions in the past and already spent a dozen winter tests in Scandinavia, certainly helped in this situation to react properly.

A few minutes later, the tire was changed against a spare tire, which was also quite a bit down and looked not very trustworthy. Since I did not want to drive around the rest of the trip with just one spare tire, I called Africa On Wheels with my satellite phone and briefly described the situation. The suggestion was, that they would try find a new spare tire in Swakopmund where we would get through anyway. That worked out great. Altogether we lost about 2 hours for buying and mounting the new tire in Swakopmund. Since it is only possible to enter the Sesriem campground until 6 pm, it was now a bit tight in time. But it all worked well in the end.

The Sesriem campsite is quite nice. The pitches are very far apart and often Oryx antelopes run directly through the campground. Only when it’s windy, it quickly gets uncomfortable, because a lot of sand flies through the air.

Sesriem Campsite, Sossusvlei

The big advantage of the Sesriem campsite is that it is located between the first and the second Sossusvlei gate and you can leave for Sossusvlei one hour before sunrise, while all those who stay overnight outside of the outer gate will only be allowed in at sunrise. Even in the evening you have an hour more time and this is for photography of course extremely helpful.

Last time we stayed at the beautiful Sossus Dune Lodge which is for photography even better since it has direct access to Sosssusvlei without having to go through the gates. But that was during the off season with reasonable prices for the lodge. In the main season, unfortunately, it is unaffordable expensive. But it worked quite well with the Sesriem camp. We were the first at the inner gate on the next morning (about 30 minutes before the official opening). Despite driving quite fast on the track to Deadvlei we have of course been overtaken by about half a dozen other cars (they were driving at nearly 120 km/h in the darkness with an allowed speed limit of 60 km/h). It’s really crazy what’s going on in the morning in Sossusvlei.

Nevertheless, we were the first who started the hike to Big Daddy from the Deadvlei parking lot. The hike up the dune was surprisingly easy. My physical condition is unfortunately pretty bad and I had feared the worst. Kerstin did not even dare to come up with us. But everything went smooth. We met no other people during the whole hike and were also the first on that day on the the top of the largest dune in the world and arrived there shortly after sunrise. It was a really nice experience. The view from up there is awesome.

View from Big Daddy Dune, Sossusvlei

On Top of Big Daddy Dune, Sossusvlei

View from Big Daddy Dune, Sossusvlei

View from Big Daddy Dune, Sossusvlei

View from Big Daddy Dune, Sossusvlei

Ten minutes later, the next hikers arrived and then it was getting really busy in Deadvlei. Therefore, I can only recommend to start very early, then you have the desert all to yourself. It is even better in the evening at sunset, but this is only possible if you stay at the lodge.

From Big Daddy we slid down the dune to Deadvlei on the direct and steepest path and Linnéa had a lot of fun doing it.

Deadvlei, Sossusvlei

Deavlei, Sossusvlei

The hike on Big Daddy in the early morning was absolutely worth it for us.

For photography in Sossusvlei my favorite place next to Deadvlei is the area between the 2WD and the 4WD parking lots. There are many interesting shaped trees with lovely dunes in the background. In addition, there are often quite a few Oryx antelopes which can act as a nice foreground in landscape images.

Deadvlei, Sossusvlei

Deadvlei, Sossusvlei

Oryx in Sossusvlei

Oryx in Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

Directly in front of the Sesriem campground we found a beautiful horned puff adder (Bitis caudalis):

Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis), Sossusvlei

After two nights at the Sesriem camp we went on to the Fish River Canyon.

 

Fish River Canyon

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the US. Since I had visited the Grand Canyon several times in the past and also hiked down to the Colorado, I was curious to see the Fish River Canyon. Before the trip I had read some negative things about the canyon (especially in comparison to the Grand Canyon) and also the pictures, which one finds on the internet, were not really convincing. Therefore, my expectation was rather low. But it was not that bad and I did not regret going there.

The first stretch on the C27 from Sesriem to the Fish River Canyon along the NamibRand Nature Reserve is for me so far the most beautiful road in Namibia with spectacular views.

NamibRand Nature Reserve, C27

NamibRand Nature Reserve, C27

The further drive to the canyon was rather uneventful. But the Landcruiser did extremely well on the sometimes quite pronounced washboard slopes. It offers great ride comfort on really tough tracks.

We stayed at the Hobas Campsite (again two nights), which was a great choice. When planning the trip, I had briefly considered whether we should stay in Ai-Ais instead. But the interesting part of the canyon is quite far away from Ai-Ais and the big spa hotel there does not really add to the atmosphere of this place. From Hobas you can get by car in a few minutes to the main viewpoints of the canyon. And the Hobas campground is located inside the national park gates which is especially in the early morning or evening a huge advantage for photography along the canyon.

Nevertheless, the regulations of when you are allowed to be at the canyon viewpoints led to some confusion. When I checked in at the front desk I asked if I am allowed to stay at the canyon for another 1-2 hours after sunset, to take photos there. The clear answer was: no problem.

When I did this, shortly after sunset a couple of rangers arrived and told me that after sunset for safety reasons no one is allowed to stay at the viewpoints. A real pity, I just wanted to start shooting some Milky Way images. The reason for the different statements was apparently that the employee in the reception was new and didn’t know the regulations well. But even without night photography, shooting at sunrise and sunset at the canyon edge was really nice.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

(click on the above image for opening a larger size pano image on flickr)

Particularly interesting was the small 4×4 track, which branches off to the left just before the first official viewpoint. It leads to many other beautiful viewpoints along the canyons rim. The track is not very challenging to drive, but you should definitely have a four-wheel drive car, because two sections are a bit steeper paired with some large holes in the track. But this side trip is definitely worth the time and effort. There is a lot to see and you have to drive very slowly. Therefore planning 3-4 hours just for this side trip including some small hikes is a good idea.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

A real highlight that we discovered by chance was the Canyon Roadhouse of the Gondwana Collection. The hotel and restaurant is a real gem. Decorated with great attention to detail and serving excellent food. We went there twice for breakfast.

Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon

Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon

Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon

Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon

Canyon Roadhouse, Fish River Canyon

(click on the above image for opening a larger size pano image on flickr)

After two days at the Fish River Canyon we went on to Lüderitz.

 

Lüderitz

Shortly before Seeheim we heard the already known noise from the rear of our car:

Flat tire, D545

We now had some routine and accordingly the tire was changed in a few minutes. At the Seeheim Hotel we made a short stop and called Africa On Wheels again. This time, their motivation for getting us another spare tire was unfortunately very limited. Their statement was: „There is only one week left, you don’t need two spare tires anymore“. Oh well. That the owner of the Seeheim hotel wanted 5€ for the 30 second local telephone call didn’t really improved my mood. Calling AOW with my satellite phone would have been much cheaper.

Next we went to Aus. After the good experience with the Canyon Roadhouse, we stopped for lunch at the Desert Horse Inn Klein Aus Vista Lodge. This also belongs to the Gondwana Collection and the food and atmosphere were again outstanding.

Then we made a short stop at the wild horses of the Garub plains. However, their condition was really sad. They looked extremely skinny and emaciated. That’s probably because it hasn’t rained in the Garub plains for ages. Without artificial water supply and occasional feeding probably most of the wild horses would already be dead.

Wild horses at the Garub Plains

On the way to Lüderitz we found various street signs which are quite different compared to what you can find in Germany.

Signs in Namibia

In the late afternoon we arrived in Lüderitz. The first impression was anything but positive. On the streets lurked some dockworkers and on the corners, prostitutes and their pimps were waiting for customers. Our motivation to park the car somewhere unguarded and walk through the city was close to zero. Therefore, we just did a short city tour by car and then went straight to the Lüderitz Nest Hotel for dinner.

In principle the old colonial buildings of Lüderitz are very beautiful, but we really could not enjoy them.

Lüderitz

Lüderitz

We also did not really like the NWR campground on Shark Island: very windy and desolate.

Shark Island Campsite, Lüderitz

Shark Island Campsite, Lüderitz

Lüderitz was somehow not our place. Actually, we had planned to spend there three nights, but spontaneously decided after the first night to leave the city and visit the Tiras Mountains instead.

But first we had to visit the old mining ghost town of Kolmannskuppe. Just in time for the opening in the morning we arrived at the gate and for the first hour we had the whole ghost town all alone for us, without any other tourists. We really liked it there. Highlights for me were the hospital and the ice factory (built 100 years ago in the middle of a desert!).

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

 

Tiras Mountains

From Kolmannskuppe we continued on the B4 and C13 to the D707. In many travel reports the D707 is described as the most beautiful road in Namibia. Accordingly high were our expectations. Slightly disappointed by reality (we liked the C27 from Sesriem to the D707 junction much better) and without a reservation for the next night (because of the spontaneous rescheduling) we had to try to find a nice camp in a timely manner. After a short search on the internet in Lüderitz our top favorites were Namtib, Koiimasis and Kanaan.

At the gate of the Namtib farm was a large sign that guests without prior reservation are not welcome. So we went on to Koiimasis.

When we arrived at the Koiimasis Ranch it was already quite late. Luckily there was still a campsite available for us. The owner of the farm needs a bit of getting used to: she is very helpful but rules must be adhered to under all circumstances, even if they may seem rather pointless at first glance. The family in front of us at the check-in had accidentally ignored one of the many entry-forbidden signs and was then admonished like a group of schoolboys. Somehow I felt reminded of the caretaker from my elementary school.

The whole place is otherwise absolutely beautiful. I think it’s probably the nicest campground with infrastructure that I’ve ever visited in my life.

Koiimasis Campsite, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Campsite, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Campsite, Tiras Mountains

There was a large barbecue area, tables and benches, a beautiful private bath, which would have made a good impression even in a 4 star hotel, and an absolutely gorgeous landscape around it. We were completely impressed by the location and can really recommend it.

At the farmhouse we bought fresh eggs, some meat for barbecue and smoked oryx.

The next day we explored the area with our Landcruiser. The landscape is just awesome there. Directly behind the farmhouse is a small hill where you can drive up and have a fantastic view over the surrounding area including the Tiras Mountains. We enjoyed the sunset from up there.

Also very interesting was a quiver tree forest, which is about 30 minutes by car from the camp on the side of a mountain (GPS coordinates: 25°53’7″ S 16°18’40” E).

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

(click on the above image for opening a larger size pano image on flickr)

(click on the above image for opening a larger size pano image on flickr)

It was also very pleasant that in the middle of the night you could easily move around in the whole area. There were no restrictions and dangerous situations (with humans and/or animals) were not to be expected there either. Ideal for shooting a few more Milky Way images.

Milky Way over Quiver Trees at Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Milky Way over Quiver Tree at Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

Milky Way at Koiimasis Ranch, Tiras Mountains

After two nights on Koiimasis we sadly had to leave. I could have imagined spending another 2-3 nights there. On the departure day we had decided to go to the Kanaan farm for a late breakfast. A really good decision. This farm is awesome too. The landscape is less diversified compared to Koiimasis, but still extremely spectacular and the Kanaan restaurant is a real highlight with a super-friendly service, fantastic views and a beautiful, stylish interior.
From Kanaan we finally went on to our next destination, the quiver tree forest at Keetmanshoop.

 

Keetmanshoop

After a quick visit of the Duwisib Castle (we were only moderately impressed) and the obligatory apple cake break in Helmeringhausen we reached Keetmanshop in the late afternoon. The city was not very interesting so we went straight to the Mesosaurus Fossil Camp. The owner is a very nice and sympathetic guy. We chose a campsite in the shade of a tree directly under a huge bird’s nest. During the day it was quite lively there. Birds were always flying in and out of the nest. At night, luckily, it was quiet.

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

On the site many quiver trees were spread around. The “forest” was not quite as dense as the official quiver tree forest close to the city of Keetmanshoop, but in my opinion Mesosauras was even more suitable for taking images of quiver trees.

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

In addition it was very easy to take a few more starry sky photos right in front of the tent. Since compared to the beginning of our trip the moon had increased quite a bit, the Milky Way was only weakly recognizable anymore. But for the same reason you could see the landscape and especially the quiver trees in the bright moonlight at night much better. Also hiking at night in the moonlight was now much easier.

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

Mesosaurus Camp, Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

We also explored the quiver tree forest and the Giants Playground at Keetmanshop.

Quiver Tree Forest, Keetmanshoop

It was a bit too busy there. Large groups of Asian tourists somewhat diminished the experience of nature. In Mesosaurus we were almost alone.

Then we went to the Central Lodge restaurant in Keetmanshoop for lunch. In the beautiful courtyard you can sit comfortably. There are also private parking spaces inside. From the Central Lodge we called the Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch and booked a camp site for the next two nights. After two nights at Mesosaurus Camp our plan was to spend the last two days of our trip at the Kalahari desert.

 

Kalahari

Without question, everything at the Bagatelle Game Ranch is perfectly organized. Everyone who works there is extremely friendly. Everything is highly polished and styled. Any dust lint will be wiped off immediately and any footprints on the sandy soil in front of the lodge will be removed with brooms and rakes several times a day.

But for me it was a bit too perfect. Something was missing there. It felt a bit like being in an artificial Disney world and not in Africa.

Also, the landscape of the Kalahari with its gentle red dunes is somehow too lovely for me. I missed the wild places of the Namib.

The campsites of Bagatelle are very far apart and are equipped with perfectly functioning infrastructure, but also have significantly less atmosphere than e.g. in Koiimasis.

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

You are not allowed to explore the various tracks on Bagatelle with your own car. Instead, you always have to book organized trips. They are quite interesting and well done, but still not quite my cup of tea. Fortunately, there are far fewer restrictions on where to walk. We went alone on a long hike through the dunes, which was very nice.

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Kalahari Desert, Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Cats and other animals are separated on Bagatelle. The two older cheetahs are locked in a medium sized fenced area, the young cheetahs are in a relatively small cage near the lodge, and the other domestic and wild animals are free to roam around on the fenced grounds of the lodge.

You can visit the cheetahs on two different tours. One with feeding them and one with focus on just watching them. We did both tours. The second one was better for taking pictures.

Cheetah, Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Cheetah, Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

But altogether I was much happier about the lion sightings in the Etosha National Park than about visiting the caged cheetahs on Bagatelle.

We had dinner at the lodge restaurant on both our nights on Bagatelle. The atmosphere there was very pleasant.

Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

The food was good, but not outstanding, and for what was offered a bit too expensive.

All in all, Bagatelle was a very nice and relaxed place to end our trip with an complete care-free package. But I would probably not go there again.

After two nights in the Kalahari we went back to Windhoek the day before our return flight and spent the last night in a guesthouse in the city.

On our last trip to Namibia we went twice to Joe’s Beerhouse for dinner. This time we wanted to try something new in Windhoek. The evening before the departure we went to the NICE restaurant and on the day of departure to the Stellenbosch restaurant. Unfortunately I did not like the NICE. The atmosphere was too stiff for me and the medium rare ordered steak was more like well done.
But the Stellenbosch was a very positive surprise. Friendly service, excellent food and nice, easy going atmosphere. In particular, the courtyard is really very cozy. And the steak was cooked perfectly this time.

The rental car return at Africa On Wheels and the return flight with Condor were again uneventful. Basically I can recommend Africa On Wheels for car rental in Namibia. For more critical tours in very remote areas, I would suggest that you check all 6 tires very thoroughly and insist on exchanging worn tires against new ones.

That’s it for now with our Namibia travelogue. Next, I will try to cut the many hours of video footage and then hopefully in a few weeks put together an interesting short video clip of our tour.

We will surely return to Namibia someday, but for the next two trips we have planned to visit New Zealand and Tasmania again.

You can find the best images of both my trips in my Namibia gallery.

3 Responses to “Namibia 2017 – Part 2 (Landscapes)”

  1. Dallas Thomas

    Hi Boris , I finally got around to reading this article and viewing your photos, which are excellent. Sounds like a greta adventure. I’m afraid my days of camping are over so if we venture to Nambia it will be adiferent trip to yours. The 18mm Zeiss is that the Milvus? if so whats you opinion I have the 21 sometimes I wish for slightly wide. Cheers Dallas

    Reply
    • Boris

      Thanks for your comment, Dallas. In Namibia it’s very easy to stay in nice lodges instead of campgrounds. Of all the places I’ve visited on my last trip, only in Spitzkoppe a tent is really helpful. The only downside of staying in lodges is that they are quite more expensive. While a campsite in Namibia is typically around 10-30€ per night per person, a nice lodge will be between 100 and 300€ on average per night and person, but can go up to more than 1000€ per night. Some of these lodges are extremely beautiful and are frequently visited by customers like Angelina Jolie (you can find images of her for example in the Kanaan N/a’an ku sê Desert Retreat).

      The 18mm Zeiss lens I’ve used is not the Milvus but the Batis. It’s a good lens, I just can’t get used to the focus-by-wire of this lens and I too wish for something wider.
      I will try the following superwide lenses in the next coupel of weeks:
      Samyang XP 2.4/14mm
      Sigma 1.8/14mm

      Reply

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