DESERT TO WETLANDS (20 Nights/21 Days)
This itinerary is for individuals with more vacation days or time. It covers three countries viz. Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. We will spend more time in Namibia mainly because of the variation in landscape and wildlife to be seen. Northeastern Namibia, Chobe (Botswana) and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) is a homogeneous habitat but slightly different in terms of activities offered. Because of the different habitats, activities, people and cultures, in a period of 3 weeks, one feels like you have been away from home for 3 months! The Kalahari is a semi-arid savannah environment with very small red sand dunes and vegetated, Fish River is much more dry, mountainous and very rocky and Sossusvlei has very high red sand dunes. The Namib Desert represents a true desert with less precipitation and unique flora and fauna. We will get a taste of the Skeleton Coast National Park. We will still experience dry conditions around Twyfelfontein area but changes immediately after an hour drive to little more vegetation. Etosha is one of the renowned national parks in Namibia and game drives are more in wide open gravel roads around waterholes. As we proceed more northeastern, perennial river system start to appear and more vegetation. Game drives here are more on little tracks, sandy and sometimes require heavy 4 x 4 driving. Herds of game tend to be bigger, water antelopes and birds implies more species to tick off your list. Boat Cruises, optional helicopter flights and White-water rafting can entice this ultimate trip throughout Southern Africa. We will cover 10 different national parks in 3 countries, each of them unique and special in its own way.
Scenic Drive from Windhoek to Kalahari
Fish River Canyon
Quiver Forest, Giant Playgrounds, Mesosaurus Fossil Site, Fish River Canyon
Dias Point, Kolmanskop Ghost Town, Lüderitz Town
Wild Horses, Birding
Scenic Drive to Sossusvlei, Dead Vlei, Sand Dune Climbing (“Big Daddy” or Dune 45), Sossusvlei, Sesriem Canyon
Scenic Drive, Walvis Bay Lagoon
Catamaran Tour, Sandwich Harbour Tour, Living Desert Tour
Drive through Skeleton Coast National Park, Bushman Rock Engravings
Desert Adapted Elephant Tracking, Sundowner Drive
Desert Adapted Rhino Tracking on foot, Game Drive
Afternoon Game Drive
Full Day Game Drive through Etosha National Park
Morning and Afternoon Game Drive
Day 14 & 15
Scenic Drive to Northeastern Namibia, Game Drive in Kwando Core Area, Game Drive in Buffalo Core Area, Morning Boat Cruise on the Okavango River.
Game Drive in the Kwando Core Area,
Day 17 & 18
Game Drive in Mudumu National Park, Game Drive in Chobe National Park, Sunset Boat Cruise on the Chobe River
Day 19 & 20
Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
Matetsi Safari Drive, Victoria Falls, Helicopter Flight, White-water Rafting, Bungee Jumping
Outbound Flight from Victoria Falls Airport
Day 1- Kalahari
After meeting your guide in Windhoek or airport you will head southwards past towns of Rehoboth and Mariental. The Kalahari Desert covers most of Botswana and only a third of it is within Namibian Borders. The true desert of the Kalahari is experienced more on the Namibian side as there is much less precipitation compared to Botswana. This is a 4-hour drive from Windhoek including photo/scenery stops. We should be there for lunch and a bit of relaxation before the afternoon sundowner drive. Wildlife around this area include Greater Kudu, Hartebeest, Springbok, Eland, Giraffe, Steenbok, Blue Wildebeest, Ostrich among others.
Day 2- Fish River
This morning we will continue our journey further southwards towards the Fish River Canyon. Before stopping for lunch in a small town of Keetmanshoop, we go past the Quiver Forest and Giant’s Playground on our way to the Mesosaurus Fossil Site. The Quiver Forest is a dense stand of Aloe dichotoma trees. These trees occur in southern Namibia and northern Cape, but a few places are so many together. The Giant’s Playground consists of marvelous balancing dolerite (black granite) rocks. One would think they were put there by humans! This drive will take us to the Mesosaurus Fossil Site. We will see the fossils of the huge Mesosaurus that inhabited freshwater lakes of Gondwanaland (270 million years ago). After lunch, we will proceed to our destination for the night, the Fish River. We can enjoy a sundowner before dinner. Although not so easy to spot in this rather barren habitat, wildlife here includes Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Greater Kudu, Klipspringer, Dassie, Chacma Baboon. It might not be the centre for bird watching as only around 60 species have been recorded, but one can record specials including Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Chat, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Black Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Speckled Pigeon, Yellow-rumped Eremomela among others.
Day 3- Lüderitz
Before we leave for Lüderitz, we will visit the Fish River Canyon. This canyon is the least visited Africa’s wonders, stretching about 160km and 550 meters at its deepest, it is arguably second in size to Arizona’s Grand Canyon. This Canyon lies in the Fish River Canyon and Ai-Ais Richterveld Transfrontier National Park. There are a couple of interesting xerophytic plants like Elephants Trunk (Pachypodium namaquanum) and some drought resistant succulents. Water flows intermittently hence there is always water in some pools except in drought years. Water Monitor Lizards frequent these pools in search of Small and Large-mouthed Yellowfish, Sharptooth Catfish, Tilapia among other fish species. The Ground Squirrel, Rock Hyrax, Chacma Baboon and Klipspringer are often seen. Tracks of Leopard and Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra are often seen around waterholes but very difficult to see these animals. Birds special to the Canyon include Olive Thrush, Cape Robin Chat and African Black Duck. After this activity, we will drive and spend a night in Lüderitz. We should be in time for one to enjoy a stroll around this truly unique coastal town of Namibia. Lüderitz is famous for its delicious fresh seafood, the west-coast rock lobster (locally known as crayfish), oysters and much-sought-after delicacy Abalone. Enjoy dinner if one is a seafood fanatic.
Day 4- Aus
This morning we will visit Diaz Point and the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop before leaving for small little town of Aus where we will spend a night. At the Diaz Point is a replica of Bartolomeu Dias, a famous Portuguese explorer who initially named the area Angra Pequena in 1487 before it was renamed Lüderitz in honour of Adolf Lüderitz in 1884. Birding is also excellent here. The Ghost Town of Kolmanskop is situated in the Sperrgebiet National Park. It was named after a transport driver, Johnny Coleman who abandoned his ox wagon around this area after a fierce sandstorm. In 1908, a local worker found a diamond then the town developed quickly with influx of fortune hunters. By 1915, it had a butchery, bakery, furniture factory, soda water and lemon plant. It became one of the richest town in the world. It became a ghost town after more diamonds where discovered further south in today’s Orangemund town. After lunch here at the Ghost Town, we will make our way to Aus, past a place where if lucky we will see the Desert Wild Horses. There is still a mystery of their origin and several theories have been put up. We have a leisurely afternoon at Aus, which is a meeting point 3 main ecological Biomes, the Succulent Karoo, the Namib Karoo and the Namib Desert.
Day 5- Sossusvlei
After a relaxed morning and breakfast, we will make our way to Sossusvlei. It is quite a scenic drive past a couple of privately owned concessions and ranches with very low human population. Animals that might be seen on the way include Oryx, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Springboks among others. Photographs are worthwhile because of the background where these animals will be. After lunch at one of the most isolated places “Deep in the South”, the Betta settlement, we will continue our way to Sossusvlei for the night.
Day 6- Swakopmund
An early morning start will see us getting into the Namib Naukluft Park. Early morning light shining on these red sand dunes gives one great photographic
opportunities and memories of the magnificent Namib Desert. The Namib Naukluft Park is the third largest National Park in Africa covering and area of 50 000 km2. The Namib desert has been arid for about 80 million years, with true desert conditions predominating the last 15 to 20 million years. Various wildlife thriving in this area includes Gemsbok, Springbok, Brown Hyaena, Black-backed Jackal among others. If lucky you might see the only true Namibia Endemic bird, the Dune Lark, among various birds in this area. We will visit the most photographed sand dune in the area, Dune 45. Depending on your energy levels, climbing one of the highest sand dune in the area, the Big Daddy, is quite fun. A visit to the Dead Vlei is worthwhile. This a white clay pan with dry Camel Thorn trees that are believed to have been dead 800 years ago. The area is so dry that the trees have not decomposed. After a visit to the Sossusvlei we will then visit the Sesriem Canyon. It is about a kilometer long and 30 (100ft) meters deep and might have some water, quite important for animals to drink it. After lunch we will make our way to the Coast past scenic Gaub and Kuiseb passes. We will go past Walvis Bay Lagoon for some interesting Water Birds including Flamingoes. We will then overnight in Swakopmund and enjoy some dinner in some of the best restuarants.
Day 7- Swakopmund
We have options for this day. All optional activities start in the morning after breakfast:
The Living Desert Tour
This tour is done in the Dorob National Park, in the sand dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay towns. “Dry bone, without a trace of moisture and as dry as a weathered bone”! These terms may be used to describe this unique Biome with sneaky creatures that have adapted to living in harsh environment. For these little creatures either camouflage or agility, to faking deaths, helps in serving food on the table or avoid being someone’s meal somehow. This is a 4 to 5-hour tour conducted by passionate and experienced desert specialists who are desert conservationists as well. If lucky you might see the desert “Little Five”; Shovel-nosed Lizard, Namib Sand Gecko, Namib Desert Sidewinding Adder and the Cartwheeling Spider (“Dancing White Lady”). Birds of interest include Gray’s Lark, Tractrac Chat, Damara Tern among others. You should be back around lunch time and either enjoy a stroll around Swakopmund city or take any optional activities that we can arrange for you in advance.
Catamaran and Sandwich Harbour Combo.
This takes the whole day and is done in Walvis Bay Town. Your guide will drive you to Waterfront in Walvis Bay after breakfast. You start with the Catamaran tour and might get entertained by Cape Fur Seals and Pelicans on the cruise. Depending on the time of the year and luck, one might encounter Whales, Dolphins, Leatherback turtle and Seals.
After lunch you then proceed to the Sandwich Harbour, on an adventure 4 x 4 sand dune driving. This is one of the 5 RAMSAR sites (Wetlands of International Importance) where the dunes meet the sea. The coastal desert environment is characterized by pale sand dunes with traces of black shades of magnetite, implying they are of greater aesthetic value as well being a photographer’s playground. You might encounter the Black-backed Jackal, Oryx, Springboks on along the way in dry riverbeds. In the wetlands and mudflats, there is great diversity of sea birds.
Day 8- Twyfelfontein
We will leave the Coastal environment, drive inland past a couple of Shipwrecks. This day we will visit the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. This is 60km2 Reserve and has the largest Seal Colony in the world, with numbers up to 240 000 at a given time. It could be the second largest city in Namibia if these animals were humans! After this activity, we will then go through the Skeleton Coast National Park. The Namibian Skeleton Coast National Park is renowned for its cold and unpredictable Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean that contends with the dune and desert landscape. It is described as the world’s largest ship cemetery because of various shipwrecks found along the coast. The Bushman called the coast “The land God made with anger” and early Portuguese explorers refer to it as “Gates of Hell”. However, the name Skeleton Coast refers to visible bones of whales that died when they get stranded on this coastline. This is a rarely visited park in Namibia with eye-catching landscapes that ranges from sweeping vistas of windswept smaller sand dunes to rugged canyons with walls of richly coloured rocks and extensive mountain ranges. Wildlife here includes Oryx, Springbok, Black-backed Jackal, Ostrich, Brown Hyaena, Desert Adapted Elephant, Black Rhino and Lion. Because of the harshness of the area, these animals do not occur in huge numbers and not very easily spotted, so let’s keep our eyes peeled.
Day 9 Palmwag
This morning we will visit the Bushman Rock Engravings around Twyfelfontein before making our way to Palmwag Concession. It is a 45-minute walk conducted by local guides. Afterwards we will search for the Desert Adapted Elephants in our own vehicle in the ephemeral riverbeds and enjoy our packed lunch. The drive to Palmwag goes past local villages that share the environment with wildlife, so we are not in a designated national park. Various wildlife that may be encountered include Oryx, Giraffe, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Black Rhino among others. Birding include mostly Namibian Near Endemics, Ruppell’s Parrot, Ruppell’s Korhaan, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Benguela Long-billed Lark, White-tailed Shrike, Bokmakierie among others.
Day 10- Palmwag
An early morning starts with a packed breakfast; we will head out in search of Desert Adapted Black Rhino. We will be taken by local guides and Rhino Rangers. The Namib Desert is home to the last truly wild stronghold of black rhino. This activity involves 4 x 4 driving in a rugged terrain, and walking safari to get to the rhinos if lucky. These mammals are not in a fenced area but in an open ecosystem. It is a joint venture of the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the communities, Save Rhino Trust and other Non-Governmental Organizations in conservation of Black Rhinos. The programme of Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) seeks to empower people living in rural areas to manage and benefit from their natural resources. This activity might take the whole day, however there is still a possibility of a late afternoon sundowner drive in our own vehicle.
Day 11- Etosha National Park South
After a relaxed morning and breakfast, we will head to the southern part of Etosha National Park. After lunch either enroute or upon arrival at the lodge, we will relax and during the late afternoon, we depart for a game drive in the park in our own vehicle. The game and birds found in this park are typical of the savannah plains of southern Africa but also include several species endemic to this western side of the continent, adjacent to the Namib Desert. Depending on the time of the year, the numbers of antelope around waterholes is amazing. Common antelope includes Elephant, Giraffe, Eland, Blue Wildebeest, Greater Kudu, Springbok, Black-faced Impala, diminutive Damara Dik-dik, Plains Zebra among others. Predators include Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Spotted Hyeana, Black-backed jackal among others. You will notice here the slight difference of elephants compared to the Desert Adapted elephants.
Day 12- Etosha East
We have a full day game drive in our own vehicle. This includes a lunch stop somewhere in the park. This park is semi-arid hence animals depend on contact springs, water level springs, artesian springs and a couple of man-made waterholes for water. We will be visiting these waterholes all day along as we drive from the southern to the eastern part of the park.
Day 13- Etosha East
We will have more of a relaxed day of morning and afternoon game drives in the eastern part of Etosha, with a 3 to 4 hour break in between. This implies we will be back at the lodge around mid-day and go back into the park late afternoon. Enjoy the siesta or swimming pool and the tranquility of the lodge. Besides mammalian diversity, 340 bird species are known to occur in Etosha National Park. About a third are migratory including European Bee-eater, and several species of waders. Ten of Etosha’s 35 raptor species are migratory. Those mostly commonly seen are Lappet-faced Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Hooded Vulture, and on very rare occasion, Cape, Egyptian and Palm-nut Vultures have been recorded. 8 species of Owls have been recorded, including Pearl-spotted Owlet and White-faced Scops-Owl.
Day 14- Bwabwata National Park (Mahango Core Area)
After breakfast we will make our way to the northeastern part of Namibia. This a whole day of driving as we enjoy the sudden change of scenery from desert to the wetlands. The Bwabwata National Park is 6100 km2 and includes the Mahango, Buffalo and Kwando (Golden Triangle) Core Areas. It earns its name from a village in the park and refers the sound of bubbling water. It forms part of the KAZA (Kavango Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation Area which is the world largest conservation area that incorporates joint management from 5 countries: Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is a new generation of Parks in terms of integrated approach towards park management. The part of the park is zoned for community-based tourism including human settlement and development. Mammals include Elephant, Buffalo, Common Impala, Reedbuck, Red Lechwe, Sitatunga, Hippopotamus, Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Tsessebe, Sable Antelope, Roan Antelope, Chobe Bushbuck, Red Hartebeest, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild dog among others. Compared to Etosha elephants which tend to have shorter and broken tusks, Elephants around here have much longer tusks.
It is thought due to mineral deficiency, the tusks of Elephants in Etosha tend to be more brittle and break easily.
Day 15- Bwabwata National Park (Buffalo Core Area)
We will do a morning game drive in the part of the Bwabwata National Park known as the Mahango Core Area. We will then come back for relaxation around the lodge and enjoy our lunch. In the afternoon we will cross the bridge of the Okavango River to access the other part of the Bwabwata National Park, the Buffalo Core Area. The Mahango Core Area is located on the west side of the Okavango River. The park is very small and has a size of only 245 km². Because of lack of surface water, wildlife is mainly found along the Okavango River (Kavango River as Kavango tribe prefer calling it on the Namibia side), and this is where we will spend more time. In the afternoon, we will spend time on the eastern part of the Okavango River, the Buffalo Core Area. It is 629 km2 and several game species including Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Plains Zebra and Blue Wildebeest do seasonal movements. They remain at the Okavango River during the dry season and move inland during the wet season. This seasonal cycle is an important natural mechanism that guarantees that the vegetation structure can be in a resting period during some part of the year. A part of the Buffalo Core Area is situated in the ruins of an old South African army station, so one will be looking at a couple of old deserted buildings, ironically there is lots game around this part of the park.
Day 16- Bwabwata National Park (Kwando Core Area)
This morning before we leave for a 3-hour drive to Kwando Core Area, we will do a morning Boat Cruise on the Okavango River. Besides mammals, the birding is excellent in this area as it is also recognized internationally as an Important Bird Area (IBA) to support bird species that are endangered or threatened. Some of the highlight species include Wattled Crane, African Pygmy Goose, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Southern Ground Hornbill, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Wood Owl, White-backed Night Heron, African Skimmer, Brown Fire finch and rare vagrants like the Northern Carmine Bee-eater have been recorded recently. After breakfast we will drive through the park on the main tarred road, this is a multiple use area with villages as well. After enjoying our lunch packs at a picnic site, we will explore the Kwando Core Area before settling for the night at the lodge. The Kwando River has several names, Kwando in Namibia, Linyati at the parts of Botswana and it becomes Chobe in Kasane area in Botswana. This part of the park is 1280km2 in surface area and serves the main migration corridor of wildlife between countries, hence huge concentration of game. The Kwando River system is different from the Okavango in that comprises a network of oxbows, some of which are several kilometers away from the river’s current course.
Day 17- Chobe National Park (Botswana)
After breakfast, we will take leisurely Namibian wrap up drive through Mudumu National Park, past a couple of Conservancies, cross the border into Botswana’s Chobe National Park. We will arrive at the lodge and have a relaxing afternoon. Mudumu National Park is 1010 square kilometre expanse of dense savannah and mopane woodlands bordered in the west by the Kwando River. This park is alive with more than 400 bird species and a home to a small population of elusive Sitatunga.
Day 18- Chobe National Park (Botswana)
An early morning start will take us to Chobe National Park. Established in 1968, this 11700 km2 area is Botswana’s first National Park, and also the most biologically diverse as it encompasses floodplains, swamps and woodland. The park is widely known for its large elephant population, estimated to be around 50,000 hence they tend to congregate in huge numbers up to 200 at a given time. Other mammals include Red Lechwe, Puku, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Roan and Sable antelopes, Common Impala, Warthog, Chobe Bushbuck, Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon, along with the accompanying predators such as Lion, Leopard, Hyeana and Black-backed Jackal, who are never far away. About 460 bird species have been recorded in the park, which include common species like Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Goose, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Spur-winged Goose, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, most members of the Kingfisher family, all 5 species of Rollers in southern Africa, the unmistakable Fish Eagle, Martial Eagle, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Collared Palm Thrush and many more.
In the afternoon we will enjoy the renowned Sunset Boat Cruise on the Chobe River.
Day 19- Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
After a relaxed morning and breakfast, we will cross the border into Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. It’s a short distance of an hour drive through Matetsi Safari Area to the small town of Victoria Falls that lies within Victoria Falls National Park. So, we are not in a hurry “Hakuna Matata”! After lunch, we will visit the Victoria Falls which is merely 2 km from the town center. Known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (local Lozi language) translating to “The Smoke That Thunders”; and in Tonga language, Shungu Namutitima, “Boiling Water”, this waterfall is one of the world’s largest waterfalls, with a width of 1,708 m (5,604 ft.). It is a riverine habitat containing plants rare for the area such as Pod Mahogany, Ebony, Ivory Palm, Wild Date Palm, Batoko Plum and Creepers and Lianas. The rich avifauna, over 400 species in the Victoria Falls region as a whole, includes White-browed Robin Chat, Knysna Turaco and the Trumpeter Hornbill in the Falls ‘rainforest’ area. Found above the Falls is the White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot and Rock Pratincole. The Taita Falcon (rare but widespread in eastern and central Africa) breeds in the gorges, as do the Black Stork, Black Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Augur Buzzard.
Day 20- Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
This is quite a Leisure Day of relaxing and Reflecting on your “DESERT to WETLANDS” Expedition in Southern Africa. However, there are various Optional activities depending on spirit of adventure and bucket list:
Helicopter flights over the Falls
White-water Rafting (depends on the season)
Zambezi Sundowner Boat Cruise
If willing to do any Optional Activity, do not hesitate to let us know in advance so we can arrange accordingly.
Day 21- Departure
This marks the end of your trip, and you may connect your flight from the Victoria Falls International Airport.