Today was a big old drive. Had we known the western side of the park was now open to visitors we might have planned our route a little differently but everything we read suggested that it was still a “restricted area”. In fact it isn’t any more and there is even a campste in the middle of it, which is where we are now (but only just).
So we were up in good time and packed and off down the bumpy track in the sunshine and the cool morning air. We re-entered the park and the first stop was back in Namatoni where the bored Namibian Wildlife Resorts lady told me that that they couldn’t book the campsite for us, but they could in Okaukauejo at the southern entrance to the park. We had planned to stop there for lunch anyway so we set off, watching for animals along the way. There are plenty around in the morning before it gets too hot and almost immediately Philippa spotted a couple of bat-eared foxes by the roadside. Then there were giraffes having breakfast and warthogs snuffling about and endless springbok in their crisp cappucino colours. A little further on there was a huge herd of zebra which are always completely indifferent to everyone.
The real highlight of the morning though was not the animals as much as the landscape. We turned off to a track which goes right out into the salt pan. It was distinctly eerie and somehow like driving across a causeway at low tide, with a feeling that any minute now the water would come rushing in. It hasn’t done that for several thousand years although apparently the pan can flood during particularly heavy rains, which really would be something to see. It is quite something to see now though too; a barren, perfectly flat landscape stretching off in all directions unbroken by anything except for the occasional ostrich shimmering in the distant heat.
We spent ages taking it all in and taking pictures of us all horsing about. It was exhilarating being there, and amazingly we had the whole area to ourselves for almost the entire time.
Okaukauejo was still a couple more hours down the road and we listened to some of the podcasts we had downloaded. NPR’s “Serial” about a murder case was really gripping. We got to the south entrance and I offloaded P and T to have one of their famous cold-pool swims while I tried to book the campsite. “Oh no” said the friendly NWR lady laughing; “You don’t need to book that, it is always empty”. So, next stop the fuel station to see if we could fill both tanks of diesel. The Hilux has a long range dual-tank system which should be good for 1200 KM but only one of the tanks is filling.
West from Okaukuejo is the area that used to be restricted and is far less visited by the rest of the park. It felt like we were setting off into the unknown and the terrain was quite different. The ground looked like it had been smoothed with a rolling pin and planted neatly with generously spaced low-rise mopane trees.
Here and there we saw giraffe and springbok but there were fewer animals to be seen by the road and we soon settled in to Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” on the iPod.
There was a brief diversion to see a “ghost tree” forest and we assumed them to be the rather spindly baobab type trees that were scattered throughout the bush but it was hard to tell exactly what we were supposed to be looking at.
A few cars came passed us the other way but there was nothing at all heading west with us. The gravel road started out as well graded and smooth as the rest of the park but it eventually became quite rutted and slippery. Thankfully Ray Bradbury kept our minds off it. Around four we spotted elephants at a waterhole just off the road and pulled in. It was a large herd – at least twenty of them and the little ones were running about and splashing each other and sitting in the water. It was just lovely to watch and were were all transfixed. We could have stayed for hours but there was only about ninety minutes of daylight left and we still had to drive another hour to get to the campsite so we left as some of the herd started to do the same thing; kicking up dust in the low sunlight.