14 Sep 2013

Wild-roads, Wildlife, Wilderness

Namibia: Namib-Naukluft National Park

About five kilometres inland from Walvis Bay the C14 deteriorates suddenly from smooth tarmac to the ubiquitous gravel which characterises most of Namibia’s roads.  Much of the time these gravel roads are in excellent condition, and allow us to maintain about 60mph – almost Tonka’s top speed at the best of times. 

But about two hours from Walvis Bay we had our first experience of Africa’s notorious corrugations.  These are ripples in the surface of the road and, as any skier will relate to, behave much like moguls on a piste – the more they are travelled over, the more pronounced they become.  The result on a gravel road can be a surface akin to driving on a corrugated iron roof – a bone shaking vibration that goes on for miles.  The secret is to try to find the elusive “sweet spot” speed at which the momentum of the vehicle is most in sync with the rhythm of the corrugations.  This is easier said than done however.  The best that can generally be hoped for is somewhere between a moderate shaking of the steering wheel and a full on dashboard detaching hissy-fit.  So far the door of our glove box has fallen off and our radio has tried to escape by retreating into the nether regions of the dashboard!  But these are minor annoyances and Tonka shows his pedigree by ploughing on dutifully.

By late afternoon, both the car and ourselves were covered in a layer of super-fine dust.  Dust that permeates every nook and cranny and heralds any approaching car, long before the vehicle itself is visible – a plume half a kilometre long and many metres high billows out behind before enveloping us as it passes.  So by 5pm, having just crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, a sign reading Rostock Ritz Camping was more than enough to lure us off the road and down an even dustier 6km trail.  


The pitch we arrived at was a postcard wilderness view – a truly vast desert horizon stretched before us, punctuated by shrubby bushes and rocky outcrops.  And not a trace of anyone else to share it with.  As the fire crackled and the boerwurst sizzled on the grill, Josi languidly scanned the landscape with her binoculars until…”zebra!!” Looking incongruous in this seemingly barren environment, half a dozen mountain zebra drifted past 100m from our tent.  From this distance their black and white stripes camouflaged them surprisingly well against the parched landscape – similar to battleships in their dark and white stripped livery.


Engrossed with our first game sighting, we almost missed the huge African sun sliding rapidly under the horizon, casting long fingery shadows across the desert.  Sunset here happens much faster than we are used to, and within a minute the ochre glow had given way to an inky twilight.  And then darkness.

In the small hours of that night we were awoken by noises just a few metres from our tent.  Shining our torch into the blackness, we were greeted by startled pairs of glowing green zebra eyes, suddenly transfixed on us.  After a few moments, they ignored us and continued munching.

Dawn arrived as quickly as night had set in  - our cue to initiate our, still not well rehearsed, routine of boiling water for tea, breakfast, taking down the tent and packing everything away.  After an hour and a half we were back on the road aiming for Sesriem, the gateway to Namibia’s most visited tourist attraction, the great dunes of Sossusvlei.

Animal sighting: Mountain Zebra, Ostrich, Springbok, Oryx.
Km driven: 240
Km total: 283

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