Etosha National Park to Palmwag
Travelling west from Etosha National Park towards Palmwag was, to me, the trickiest section of my safari. I didn’t know what to expect as neither the Internet nor other travellers had been able to help. We departed Toshari at around 9am hitting the “C” road to Kamanjab. This was Damara heartland, where Oshivambo was no longer lingua franca.
There were also Himba women, with their distinctive hairstyles and ochre-tinted bodies to be seen by the side of the road, along with reptiles (a big monitor lizard sunning itself in the middle of the road)* and birds clearly with death wishes.
*see my note in Part 1 about driving slow. For the record, I didn’t hit the large rock monitor lizard as I managed to brake in time. Fortunately, there was no one else on the road at the time – our friends were miles behind as they drive even slower than we do!
Pro tip #1: Speed limits vary from 80-100kmh on Namibian roads outside of towns. You’d be wise to stick to this. Factor in plenty of extra time to reach destinations as there are roadworks, police stops and many photo ops along the way. It’s not like driving at home!
Hoada: A spectacular stopover
En route to Palmwag, we stopped over for a night in Hoada, a community-managed campsite set amid boulders in the bush. Just before we hit the C40, we filled up on diesel in the dusty, tiny village of Kamanjab, where I met a lovely old woman who dabbed some ochre on my wrist and tried to show me through sign language that it was the local equivalent of sunscreen. She and other women nearby squealed with laughter when I rubbed some on my cheeks and she gave me a bracelet carved out of a PVC pipe for my antics. I bought a wooden carved giraffe from her in return and gave her an apple.
Pro tip #2: Money doesn’t mean nearly as much as food/clothing to Namibians in these remote parts. I traded apples, rice and canned food in addition to small amounts of cash for bracelets and quartz throughout my trip. It’s hard to understand until you see for yourself just how bad roads are, what distance really means and how many Namibians are barely ekeing out a living in this harsh, dry land.
Also carry lots of cash in small denominations as credit cards are rarely accepted here and few people have change.
Hoada was a visually striking campsite, with sites set in the shadow of rocky outcrops inhabited by rock hyraxes and colourful lizards. The private shower was located in amongst boulders with water warmed by a wood burner lit by camp staff twice a day (early morning and around 5pm). There was also a small shaded area with a kitchen bench/sink (very handy for cooking and washing up) as well as the usual faucet and firepit. Perfectly adequate.
What’s more, Hoada has a fabulous swimming pool wedged between boulders up on a small rocky hilltop. It’s cold (like all pools in Namibia in my experience!) but so pretty. Behind it is a fantastic sunset bar with reasonably prices drinks and a sweeping view of the plains. Both these places offer a bit of respite from the searing afternoon heat and incessant buzzing of flies. Read my in depth review of Hoada here.
Pro tip #3: Water takes about an hour or more to heat up in “donkeys” like this. Time your shower accordingly! If you’re relying on solar, don’t use up all the hot water at night else you won’t have any come morning.
Next up, we headed to Palmwag by way of Grootberg, an eco-lodge (that ran Hoada) with a breathtaking position atop an escarpment. It had a series of thatched guest chalets and a jaw dropping rim-flow pool that looked down onto rolling bushland. It was truly a shame we couldn’t have stayed here (no availability again!) but Hoada was pretty nice.
We arrived in Palmwag just over an hour after departing Grootberg, with time after making camp for a dip in the pool followed by an afternoon game drive. Palmwag is a lush oasis in the desert dotted with makalani palms from which the lodge takes it’s name. To find out more about the campsite, read my review here.
Palmwag: Where we witnessed the Circle of Life
Game at Palmwag isn’t at all plentiful or easy to spot but the owner assured me there was plenty of life out there. If you didn’t already know, Palmwag is part of an area that harbours Africa’s last free ranging rhino population as well as desert-adapted lion and elephant.
Our first game drive was relatively quiet – just Hartman’s zebra and giraffe to see. It was also very hot and dusty to start, but the particles in the air made for a soft, dusky sunset. The next afternoon was something else however.
We set off to Palmwag’s sleepout site located at the foot of a hill that afternoon, taking a back road. Stopping to admire a herd of majestic kudu, we then set off over a crest into a small valley to observe a mother and baby giraffe, the latter barely six days old. In fact, the mother still had afterbirth hanging outside of her. It was a tender sight, watching the young giraffe totter about, unused to her long legs. So engrossed we were, nobody noticed the lioness charging down the slope until she’d grabbed the infant by her neck and barrelled her into the ground.
Her mother leapt into action, landing a swift kick on the lioness’ abdomen and stamping on the big, powerful cat until she let the baby go. The lioness retreated a few metres, sitting quietly in the grass.
The mother then stood over the baby, and it was like watching a Mexican standoff. Neither moved, yet both kept their eyes locked on each other. Then, the baby got up looking bloodied and dazed. With some nuzzling and nudging, she got unsteadily to her feet and the pair turned their backs on the lioness. Big mistake.
In a split second, the lioness pounced on the baby giraffe, smacking her back into the dust and dragging her prone body beneath a thorny bush, away from the mother giraffe’s thrashing legs. We were aghast, yet transfixed, unable to make a sound in our open sided gameviewing vehicle. I wiped away tears for the baby, yet I understood deep inside that the scrawny lioness had to eat.
Painfully slowly, the mother turned and walked helplessly away from the scene, and the lioness picked up the limp, lifeless baby and ran in the opposite direction. Tonight, she would feast and hopefully not have to share her prize with hyena and jackal.
I’d never seen anything like this and upon reaching the sleepout campsite, I felt like I’d just been lucky enough to witness something amazing, moving and rare. Two GnTs later and my only thought was whether there’d be hyena out and about our campsite or the bush toilet that night. There weren’t. But the stars sure were.
Pro tip #4: Listen to your guide and be quiet whilst watching wildlife. While we were in Palmwag, some imbecile Italian tourist called out to her travel companion, aggravating a black rhino who proceeded to charge our guide, narrowly missing him. We also saw fools come out of their car to photograph zebra, not far from where the lion attack had taken place.
We drove out of the Palmwag Concession the next morning after a restful night and generous breakfast spread out in the wilderness. My opinion of this well-established lodge is that it’s worth a visit if you don’t have expectations of seeing the Big 5 or masses of game like in other major African game parks. It’s splendidly wild, off the beaten track and when you do come across game, they are usually rare species so it’s wonderfully rewarding. Also,the night skies are sublime.
Pro tip #5: Plan to drive or hang out by the pool during the hottest parts of the day (11am-4pm). All the lodges we stayed at or visited in Namibia’s interior have great swimming pools and shaded bar/dining areas where all guest, campers and lodgers alike, are welcome.
Game drives in Palmwag take place in vehicles such as the one shown so be sure to protect yourself from the sun.
Our review of Hoada can be found here:
For a review of Palmwag Campsite, read this:
To read about our trip, the entire three week self-drive safari is chronicled on these pages:
For tips on driving in Namibia, read these two posts: