Heading east from Ongula, on a surprisingly good road, we stopped for the night at a lodge on the river that forms part of the Namibian/Angolan border. The Rio Cubango rises in Angola’s highlands and heads south-east to form that border for a while, before being joined by the Cuito, another Angolan river, and later becoming the mighty Okavango. It was quite surreal looking across the river into Angola, something that would have been totally out of the question when I was younger and the area was still ravaged by war.
Heading east towards Rundu on an amazing road
Cubango River from our tent, looking towards Angola
Taranga Safari Lodge is perched right on the edge of the Cubango, with permanently erected tents on platforms high enough to avoid having to worry about hippos or crocs. A floating bar on the river was a good spot for sunset photos with local people moving around on their traditional mokoros and lots of birds to be seen.
Wire-tailed Swallow on the roof support at the floating bar
Lesser Striped Swallow
Young boy in Mokoro on the Cubango River
The birding was great, in fact. Between the river’s edge and the 11 hectares of bushveld with a self-guided walk and watering hole, there was a lot to find. I added at least nine new species and rediscovered a few that I hadn’t seen for a long time. Of course, I only managed decent images of some but I’m really happy that one of those I did capture was the stunning Violet-backed Starlings (still prefer their old name of Plum-coloured Starling).
Violet-backed Starling male in early morning sun
African Grey Hornbill
Very friendly Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Rufous-bellied Heron from our tent
Early morning drink at the waterhole – Violet-backed Starlings and Red-eyed Bulbuls
After Etosha, our next stop was a more cultural destination. Over 40 years ago, my husband was conscripted into the South African Defence Force and spent a large part of his two years service in the Ovamboland region of what was then South West Africa. This trip gave him the opportunity to revisit this part of Namibia under much more pleasant circumstances. A “memory-lane” drive into the town of Oshakati was followed by a night at Ongula Village Homestead Lodge, where the local community share their traditional way of life while providing some very comfortable accommodation.
Eucalypt trees planted 40 years ago when Will was working with Forestry as part of his national service.
One of the village ladies working on a clay pot
Some amazing baskets used in decorating the dining area
The very friendly Ongula ladies
Ground mahangu in grass basket
Traditional fence construction
Our guide Erik showed us around the homestead (kraal or eumbo), introducing us to the women who spend some part of the day underground (for the cool/damp) making clay pots. He explained the significance of the layout of the different areas of the homestead, and we met another group of women who demonstrated how they grind the mahangu (millet) and crush marula fruit for oil (by hand with wooden implements).
A pile of mahangu or pearl millet drying
Mahangu growing in the fields
Man with his dog
Beer enthusiasts at the cuca shop
Friendly man at cuca shop
The tour took us past the family’s lands where they grow and harvest their crops, and around the market with its cuca shops (small bars selling homemade beer) and other small stores selling food and clothes. As the sun began to sink, we returned to the homestead to be entertained by the dancing prowess of a group of very colourfully dressed young girls. Dinner was a selection of traditionally prepared dishes, including marathon chicken, bean stew and mahangu porridge, with mopane worms on the side. Some of it was delicious, while other dishes required a bit more intestinal fortitude (I did eat one mopane worm!) A fascinating insight into a traditional way of life that can hopefully hang on in the face of modernisation.
Young girl drumming
The colourful dance troupe
Cattle returning home as the sun sets
Being lucky enough to have more time than usual for our visits to South Africa, we added on a trip to Namibia and Botswana. From Cape Town we flew to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where we hired a vehicle and headed north to Etosha National Park. Etosha is dominated by a huge salt pan but has plenty of wildlife in the areas you can access in your vehicle. Our first afternoon travelling from the entrance at Okaukeujo was productive for birds and other animals.
Gemsbok at artificial waterhole
Chat Flycatcher (I think)
Springbok in a sea of grass
Red-headed Finch in a thorn bush
We spent one night at Halali camp and the waterhole at the camp delivered some special sightings, including African Elephants drinking, a Black Rhino and a group of the endemic sub-species of Black-faced Impala.
Black Rhinoceros late in the day at Halali waterhole
Black-faced Impala coming in to the waterhole at Halali
Backlit African Elephant drinking at Halali waterhole
Halali is a lovely old-fashioned camp with chalets as well as a campsite. It proved a good spot for birding, with a couple of interesting new species added to my list (the Wood-Hoopoe and Hornbill), as well as a few old friends.
Smith’s Bush Squirrel in camp at Halali, Etosha
Damara Red-billed Hornbill in camp at Halali
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Young Violet Wood-Hoopoe at Halali Camp
Cape Glossy Starling at Halali
On the trip from Halali to Namutoni we had some good elephant sightings (they are so pale, presumably from the dust) and saw quite a bit of other game on the edge of the pan. Conditions were a bit challenging for photography, with bright sun and strong shadows, and the glare from the pan.
Lizard on windowsill of a very rustic ladies toilet
Very pale Etosha elephant
A herd of zebra crossing Etosha Pan
Solitary Gemsbok on the Etosha Pan
Namutoni has changed a bit since I was last there ( a very long time ago) with the accommodation more upmarket (but not in a hugely successful way) and other things, like the old German fort, rather rundown. A drive around Fisher’s Pan was interesting (not the best season for birding, sadly) and we did find a couple of Damara Dik-dik just as we headed back to camp before the evening gate closure.
Mind your eyes – mating pair of Gemsbok
The beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller
Damara Dik-dik peeking through the shrubbery
View over Namutoni camp from the top of the old German fort
Being winter, it was quite chilly overnight and we had to waste some time the next morning waiting for the fuel pumps to be able to deliver diesel, so I found a few subjects warming up in the sunshine inside the camp environs. Then farewell to Etosha, until next time (I hope).
Banded Mongoose family in Namutoni camp
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver in Namutoni camp