Featured image: Spotted Hyena in Waterhole, Central Etosha National Park, Namibia, 6 October 2023
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 2 January 2024
This is the fourth article in a series on Southern Africa inspired by a birding trip to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls with Rockjumper and two safaris to Chobe National Park in Botswana with Kalahari Tours and Kruger National Park in South Africa with Lion Roar Safaris.
The articles in order so far are: 1 A Lark in Africa, 2 Welwitschia, 3 Safari to Namibia Part 1, 4 Safari to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls Part 2 and 5 Large Raptors.
A Birding Safari to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Part 2 Etosha to Victoria Falls
Bird Trip Overview
Our Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls Overland … investigate[d] the gravel plains and Red Dunes of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the seemingly inhospitable Etosha National Park and the desolate, vast Etosha Pan, the Burkea woodlands on the dry, hot Kalahari sands of the Caprivi Strip and, finally, the antithesis of the Okavango Panhandle and the Victoria Falls where water is in abundance. (Rockjumper Trip Report)
This rather dangerous looking white rock surface is typical of large parts of Etosha National Park.
The eye-sight of big cats is wider than humans, but they don’t see the richness of colour. They see shades in blue and green, but red and pink can be confusing. They also tend to be more short-sight focused. Movement is as important, as it is in humans, to see things which blend into the landscape. But, the eyes of lions and especially leopards are much more dark-adapted than humans. They can hunt in very low light.
In the picture of zebras above the bold stripes can be confusing, as shown by the strangeness of the turned neck. Could lions and leopards have some trouble judging the distance of their prey when in hot pursuit of a zebra? Certainly, zebras are not as vulnerable as prey animas as springbok, impala and wildebeest are.
- Etosha National Park
- Caprivi Strip
- Okavango Panhandle
- Victoria Falls
The trip to Africa was a Rockjumper birding tour. Our guide was Greg de Klerk. The tour was for 18-days through Namibia, Botswana to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. This is a description of the second part of the trip. Part 1 covered from Windhoek to Etosha.
We arrived in the Etosha area on 3 October at the end of day 6. Etosha National Park 4-7 October, days 7 to 10 (4-full days), was a major focus of the tour.
All prices below are indicative rates for independent travellers, per couple per night.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park (established in 1907) in the northwest of Namibia is one of the largest national parks in Africa (22,270 sq km). Etosha means ‘great white place’ and is centred on the Etosha Pan a vast salt lake which is mostly dry. Etosha Pan is 110 km long and about 60 km wide. In comparison, Australia’s great salt lake, Lake Eyre, at 144 km long and 77 km wide is not that much bigger. Only certain animals venture far out into the pan or are able to cross it.
The rains hadn’t come yet when we arrived at Etosha. It was very dry and very hot (45°C on two days) when we were there. Hence we found many animals at water holes and sheltering under trees during the heat of the day.
The entire park is surrounded by a sturdy electric fence to keep animals in. At night heavily-armed anti-poaching squads are dropped at key places to patrol on foot. Nevertheless, poaching of rhinoceros continues to be a problem.
South-western Etosha Pan
2 Etosha Safari Lodge (2 nights)
Etosha Safari Lodge (~ $400 AUD) is a very large game lodge with 65 bungalows on the borders of Etosha National Park (~ 250 km from Omaruru.) The back deck of the main buildings and dining area has an excellent view over the park.
The bungalows were well-designed and pleasant to stay in, because of the large size of the lodge there was a shuttle bus from the main building though the walk wasn’t long.
The food for breakfast and dinner, the usual buffet, was as always excellent.
Virtually every lodge we stayed at from Etosha on had a swimming pool and in the heat we found them very necessary.
The Okaukuejo Gate entry into the Etosha National Park is 28 km from the Etosha Safari Lodge. Okaukuejo is located at the southwestern end of Etosha Pan.
The day after our arrival, the first day in the park we explored the area surrounding Okaukuejo Gate. On the second day we explored the route from Okaukuejo to Halali (71 km) along the bottom or southern side of the pan.
Central Etosha Pan
3 Halali Camp
Halali Camp (~ $ 225 AUD) is a large camp far from any gate into Etosha National Park. It caters for many people in huts and camping, day-in day-out.
Greg had warned us that Halali Camp was government run and possibly not up to the standard of where we’d stayed previously, especially the food. He wanted to lower our expectations. Actually, in the event, the food wasn’t bad and the accommodation was fine. We had lunch, dinner and breakfast at Halali.
The bureaucracy was evident, however. The organisation of the dining area was chaotic. The staff were excellent and tried to do everything well, but things ran out all the time like the cutlery and crockery, and someone would run to the kitchen to find the missing ingredients or wash things up.
Similarly, in booking for the night safari. It had been organised as Greg suggested, then it hadn’t and while we were overcoming our disappointment, an additional trip was arranged.
The night safari was excellent, our only opportunity on the trip. We had extra pairs of eyes and saw several birds, including a nightjar and game. We also saw lion at the waterhole and even an interesting interaction between a lion and a brown hyena.
Eastern Etosha, Namutoni Camp and Gate
4 Mokuti Lodge (2 nights)
Next day we drove further along the bottom of the pan to Namutoni (70 km), where we had some lunch and drove around some more. In the late afternoon we exited through Namutoni Gate to Mokuti Lodge not far from the gate on the right.
Mokuti Lodge (~$420 AUD) had been recently taken over and renovated by a Namibian conglomerate and was by far the plushest and most upmarket accommodation we had on the trip — definitely a five star resort.
The buffet dinners and breakfasts were superb, just a cut above the excellent food we’d become used to.
There was good birding in the grounds. Parties of banded mongoose frolicked around the lawns. There were also tame antelopes, not native to the region and we even saw Kirk’s Dik-dik (a tiny antelope) just inside the lodge gates.
At almost every place we stayed wild, but often tame, Helmeted Guineafowl frequented the area nearby the lodge. Although ubiquitous these birds are always a delight to see and observe.
Some key birds in Etosha National Park were: Common Ostrich, Crested Francolin, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Ludwig’s Bustard, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Black Crake, Spotted Thick-knee, Burchell’s Courser, Double-banded Courser, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Kalahari Scrub Robin and others.
On departure we drove to Rundu, about 420 km and four-and-a-half hours.
The Caprivi Strip is a narrow strip of land in Namibia bounded by Angola, Zambia, Botswana and virtually Zimbabwe (which misses by 150 metres).
It was an area of armed conflict from 1964 until the turn of the century. And, is now an area of concentrated population in northern Namibia. It is also rich in natural wildlife and mineral resources.
The Caprivi Strip was exchanged with Britain in 1890 supposedly to provide German South West Africa (Namibia) with a navigable route to the Indian Ocean. The vagaries of water levels in the Zambezi River and in particular Victoria Falls made the land swap a bad bargain, then.
5 Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
Hakusembe River Lodge (~$405 AUD) at Rundu is just outside the official Caprivi Strip but it is on the Okavango River and overlooks Angola. You could theoretically almost walk across to Angola. It is a pretty spot and a pleasant lodge to stay at, good for birding and fishing.
Some key birds were: Kurrichane Thrush, African Jacana, African Hoopoe, Violet-backed Starling and Hartlaub’s Babbler.
The next day we drove into the Caprivi Strip bound for the Okavango Panhandle. The distance to Shakawe, Botswana was not that far (263 km) but the border crossing was slow. We also spent a limited time in the Bwabwata National Park on a dirt road on the way to the border posts.
Okavango Panhandle and Okavango Delta
The Okavango Panhandle is that part of the Okavango River that drains into the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango Delta is one of the most famous game areas in Africa. It is a UNESCO world heritage site as one of the few deltas that do not flow into a sea or ocean. All the water reaching the delta either evaporates or is transpired.
The animal life is both resident and seasonal. Each year a large volume of water spreads over the 6000 to 15,000 sq km area of the delta following the rains.
Unfortunately, much of the water comes from Angola and, as happens everywhere, Angola has dammed the Okavango River and less water comes year on year. Climate change may exacerbate the situation.
6 Xaro Lodge, Shakawe, Botswana (2 nights)
Shakawe, Botswana is a village located at the start of the Okavango Delta, in an area of the Okavango River known as the panhandle (for obvious reasons). We parked at Shakawe and were transferred by boat to our accommodation.
Xaro Lodge (~$540 AUD) is located on a peninsula a few kilometres downstream of Shakawe. The area floods in the wet season and the lodge is closed. One of the key attractions of the lodge is exclusivity. Birders and fishermen are its main customers, but others are attracted by the adventure location.
A luxury 24-bed lodge nestled among giant mangosteen trees and accessible only by boat is how the lodge describes itself. The Meru Tented Lodge: describes solid rooms with canvas walls and a wooden deck facing the river. Our room was beside the track where hippos emerge from the river to feed on the green grass lawns. They didn’t come on the two nights we were there.
We were told strenuously on our first night not to wander beyond the green lawns and that we could come to dinner on our own, but after dark we had to be accompanied back to our rooms and must not leave them until breakfast.
We were welcome to observe and spotlight off our verandah but not to leave. The wooden ramps up to the room would not support a hippopotamus (one hopes).
The dangers were threefold hippos, crocodiles and elephants.
It was nice to be away from our vehicle and to travel by boat for two days. The boatman Tom was very knowledgeable and with our guide Greg, we saw many birds on the river. We also approached hippos for the first time on water and saw crocodiles of varying sizes frequently.
Some key birds we saw were: Goliath Heron the world’s largest heron (a huge bird 1.43 m tall), African Skimmer, Pell’s Fishing Owl, African Wood Owl, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Pied Kingfisher and many others.
The African Skimmer is an amazing bird that will be dealt with in a later article.
We also saw a Situtanga Antelope’s bottom disappearing into the reeds, a rare sighting.
But, the most exciting thing we saw was a large black mamba (over 2.5 m) moving in a medium-sized tree not far from Stephen’s room but a long way from ours (fortunately).
On our last morning bird walk we were allowed to walk out the back of the property with our guide and Tom. At one stage we were told to be quiet and obey instructions without question. We were brought forward and shown the elephants who were about 60-100 metres away, but unfortunately aware of us and alert. We were not within the danger zone, but withdrew because things can change quickly. We continued birding but saw the elephants again further away and they were still aware of us.
Later, in Kruger National Park on a guided walk we sat under a tree watching elephants 20-30 metres away but they weren’t aware of us and we had to keep very quiet.
7 Mahangu Safari Lodge, Ndovu, Okavango River
The Mahangu Safari Lodge, Namibia (~$300 AUD) run by a German family is only 33 km from Shakawe, Botswana.
After crossing the border back into Namibia, we spent most of the day in the Bwabwata National Park, which we’d dipped into cursorily on the way through. The park was very dry except along the river but we saw many large mammals and birds, some of which we’d not seen before.
We saw Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Tsessebe (or Topi) Antelope, Red Lechwe Antelope, Reedbuck, Kudu, Cape Buffalo (grazing in the distance) and many elephants.
We also saw more hippos in the river than we’d seen in groups together previously. We didn’t see any Cape Buffalo around the close reed beds not that far from where we had morning tea and lunch, but Greg told us that there were plenty feeding there and that one had to be careful.
From the deck of the lodge and eating area, across the river was still in the core area of the Mahango Game Reserve and Bwabwata National Park we could see many Cape buffalo grazing. At dawn we also saw briefly a family of African Clawless Otters as well as hippos drift past.
There was good birding around the lodge and on a flat dry swampy area and pondage, where we spent an hour or so wandering around in the morning.
Some key birds were: White-browed Coucal, Temminck’s Courser, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Spotted Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Mosque Swallow, Arrow-marked Babbler and others.
8 Caprivi Mutoya Lodge, Katima Mulilo, Zambezi River (2 nights)
It was a four hour 350 km drive to our next destination. The Caprivi Mutoya Lodge (~$107 AUD) was another pleasant location. This time on an oxbow lake or billabong of the Zambezi River that occasionally flows into the river after heavy rains. We went on an evening cruise on our second night.
The meals were again excellent but cooked for us rather than buffet as we were a small group in a small lodge. The owner was the host with a small staff. His wife was away.
It was a very pretty spot overlooking the river. A civet came up onto the communal verandah on our first night but we missed it. The gardens were excellent for birding.
I was reminded by one of my travel companions of a lovely specimen of the Jackalberry Tree (African Ebony) in the gardens. This tree, which can grow up to 25 m, is found throughout Africa. It’s fruit is favoured by many animals and birds (nyalas, impalas, warthogs, baboons and hornbills, for example). The leaves are eaten by browsers, such as, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, buffaloes, and kudus. The name comes from Jackalberry seeds found commonly in the dung of jackals.
Near dusk on our first evening we went out onto the Zambezi flood plain to an amazing colony of thousands of Carmine Bee-eaters just beginning to dig their nests vertically into the flood plain. Each tunnel is up to two metres deep. The birds will lay their eggs and nourish their young in late November and early December. They come from a huge hinterland.
Previously, the birds as with other bee-eaters dug into the vertical banks of the Zambezi River, but they got flooded out to frequently. When we arrived the birds kept taking off and landing in large numbers because they were being disturbed by an African Marsh Harrier, which did manage to capture a bird while we watched.
On our second day, we had a morning walk in the Burkea woodlands inland of the river looking for special birds. Burkea africana or wild syringa is a deciduous spreading tree, from 4 to 20 m high. The woodlands are interesting and a good bird habitat in the Kalahari sands of the Caprivi Strip.
Key birds in the woodlands were: Red-headed weaver, Racket-tailed roller, Crested Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Brown-necked Parrot, Grey-headed Bushshrike.
We saw Arnot’s Chat near an African compound on a particular stretch of road that Greg knew. We also saw many other birds around the Caprivi Mutoya Lodge and in the general riverine habitat of the Zambezi floodplain.
Victoria Falls is big, 1078 metres wide and 108 metres high. It is one of the three best known falls in the world and supposedly the world’s largest sheet of falling water, whatever that means. David Livingstone was the first European to see the falls. The Sotho name Mosi-oa-Tunya — ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ — continues in common use. The first time I saw the falls in 1975 was in the dry season and on this occasion the water was low as well.
I think the falls are best seen at low water, because when the smoke really thunders you can’t see anything at all.
Victoria Falls is a pleasant and safe tourist town because virtually everyone in the community depends on tourism. We spent three days here between tours and enjoyed the stay.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
9 Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Enroute to Victoria Falls (209 km), we didn’t see much until we entered Botswana. After a slow border crossing on the Botswana side because of queues, we drove through Chobe National Park. We saw some game including kudu and elephants, but the most exciting thing we saw was a group of Southern Ground Hornbill. These amazing large birds, like the Secretary bird, will eat anything they can overpower. They are relatively rare, mostly restricted to game reserves, and endangered. They have inflatable throat skin, which is red in the male.
Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel (~$180 AUD) was pleasant enough though a trifle tired. We arrived late afternoon but early enough for a little birding near the river. Next day we visited the Victoria Falls National Park (50 USD entry fee) for some more birding and to view the Falls and the surrounding mist created rainforest. Outside the mist zone the vegetation was dry.
Key birds at Vic Falls were: Collared Palm Thrush, Schalow’s Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Bearded Scrub Robin, Tropical Boubou, and Jameson’s Firefinch.
Although the tour ended late morning, Denise Robyn and I stayed on a few days. We took a two night, 3-day camping tour in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Then we flew to Nelspruit in South Africa and took a similar tour in Kruger National Park.
We stayed at Furusa Guesthouse in Victoria Falls through AirBNB (~$150 AUD) a very pleasant location with nice owners and staff.
Key Words: Africa, South Africa, Southern Africa, Travel, Rockjumper birding tour, Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Etosha National Park, Okavango Panhandle, Spotted Hyena, Zebra, Okaukuejo Gate, Etosha Pan, Lake Eyre, anti-poaching, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Warthog, Black Rhinoceros, Etosha Safari Lodge, Blue Wildebeest, elephant, Eland, Halali Camp, Lion, Brown Hyena, Cape Hare, Cheetah, Namutoni Gate, Mokuti Lodge, Koori Bustard, Banded Mongoose, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Helmeted Guineafowl, Common Ostrich, Crested Francolin, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Ludwig’s Bustard, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Black Crake, Spotted Thick-knee, Burchell’s Courser, Double-banded Courser, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Caprivi Strip, Rundu, Vervet Monkey, Hakusembe River Lodge, Okavango River, Angola, Kurrichane Thrush, African Jacana, African Hoopoe, Violet-backed Starling, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Okavango Panhandle, Okavango Delta, Shakawe, Bwabwata National Park, Xaro Lodge, hippopotamus, Springbok, Impala, crocodile, Goliath Heron, African Skimmer, Pell’s Fishing Owl, African Wood Owl, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Pied Kingfisher, Situtanga Antelope, Black Mamba, Mahangu Lodge, Sable Antelope, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Tsessebe, Topi, Red Lechwe, Reedbuck, Kudu, Cape Buffalo, Mahango Game Reserve, African Clawless Otters, White-browed Coucal, Temminck’s Courser, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Spotted Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Mosque Swallow, Arrow-marked Babbler, Caprivi Mutoya Lodge, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Nesting Site, Zambezi River Floodplain, Katima Mulilo, civet, African Marsh Harrier, Burkea Woodlands, Kalahari, Red-headed Weaver, Racket-tailed Roller, Crested Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Brown-necked Parrot, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Arnot’s Chat, Victoria Falls Rainbow Hotel, Schalow’s Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Bearded Scrub Robin, Tropical Boubou, Jameson’s Firefinch, Furusa Guesthouse
I mentioned that Rockjumper were our birding tour company and gave a link to them in the introduction. I just wanted to reiterate that they were an excellent organisation, the tour guide Greg de Klerk was terrific, the accommodation and food were excellent and everything went of well. We’d recommend them highly.
Birding tours, are usually conducted by individuals in various countries and by larger organisations. Rockjumper is one of the larger birding tour companies and offers tours world-wide. Rockjumper is based mainly in South Africa but headquartered (for valid tax reasons) in Mauritius.
Rockjumper uses local agents in the various countries in which they operate.
More Photography of Our Trip
Birds and animals of Southern Africa, Photographs by Stephen Kierniesky
If you want to look more at the birds and other animals of Southern Africa that we saw on the trip, Stephen Kierniesky has posted photographs that can be accessed on Exposure using the following links:
Information Part 2
I divided this into Part 1 and Part 2 because it was getting to be too long. As a consequence, I have also divided up the further information section.
I mentioned traveller safety in Part 1 and in this section will mention tourism the issue of wealthy tourists and poor locals. And, I’ll give a summary of economic conditions and governance in the four countries visited.
General overview of the four countries visited.
Looking at the price of accommodation above and estimating other factors, tourism in southern Africa and in East Africa is expensive. Most of the countries depend on the tourist dollar to some extent.
Some writers complain about the disparity of rich tourists and the poverty of the majority of the population. Tourism is a double-edged sword but it does provide employment and some of the money remains in the community. Nevertheless, I don’t believe in trickle-down economics.
I have experience in Nepal, Cambodia, the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. The tourist dollar whether welcome or not is essential to livelihoods. Sometimes tourism is the only work on offer. Becoming a guest-worker in another country has its own problems.
The following statistics are worth thinking about.
GDP per capita: 9-10,000 USD pp
Unemployment rate: 21-22%
GDP per capita: 14-15,000 USD pp
Unemployment rate: 23-25%
GDP per capita: 13-14,000 USD pp
Unemployment rate: 28-34%
GDP per capita: 2-2,300 USD pp
Unemployment rate: ?
Source: CIA Factbook
All four countries even Zimbabwe are resource rich. Namibia, Botswana and South Africa have a large middle class both black and white. Zimbabwe used to be called the bread basket of Africa, until the Mugabe regime over years virtually destroyed the country.
Namibia, Botswana and South Africa have high unemployment. All except Zimbabwe have roughly equivalent per capita GDP. Namibia’s is lower than the other two. Zimbabwe is a basket case on all levels.
With the possible exception of Botswana, South Africa and Namibia are not well-governed. Zimbabwe is barely governed at all. But, this is a world-wide phenomenon it seems.
Published in Canberra