Tailormade African Safaris by the Safari Legends
Late summer in Damaraland, Namibia
Independence weekend in Namibia at the end of March usually sees folks making a last dash to the coast or up north before winter sets in. But it’s also a beautiful balmy time to enjoy the green desert and last week I joined Wilderness Safaris with five local journalists to experience it first-hand.
Our guide for the five days is Franco Morao, a Children in the Wilderness (CITW) protégé, who was one of the first children that Wilderness Safaris in Namibia took camping in 2002 to explore the natural wonders of their home country.
Today he has been with Africa’s foremost ecotourism operator for 14 years and is one of their hand-picked Explorations Guides. We are lucky enough to have him show us one of his favourite areas, Damaraland. He is joined by Jermain Ketji (Community Liaison Officer for Wilderness in Namibia) and Nirvani Pillay, PR for Wilderness from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Late summer rains have just fallen when we arrive at Dora Nawas Camp, and little flash streams flow between the luxury tents, drying up as the afternoon progresses. Along the roadside we’ve been seeing green waving grasslands and plenty of yellow and purple flowers typical of a Namibian summer. I also spot a few Terminlia prunoides bushes still flowering, and their honey scent hangs sweetly in the air. The rain clears and we are able to sleep outside to enjoy the fresh, damp air.
En route to Twyfelfontein the next morning to view the rock engravings, swathes of grass soften the landscape and white Crinum lilies defy the baking red soil to hover delicately in the breeze. It seems that most of Namibia’s summer wildflowers are yellow, white or purple! In the path we pass more tiny yellow flowers and hairy maroon-coloured seeds, all freshly washed from the previous day’s rain.
Arriving the following day at Desert Rhino Camp we are in for a floral treat as the desert specialities are putting on a good show. Welwitschia mirabilis, those ancient two-leafed wonders, while not flowering now, are sporting bursting red orbes on the female plants, while the male plants have slimmer more demure pods. The female plants are starting to release a new generation of dry seeds, and the resident brightly-coloured beetles scurry around to hide under leaves and pods in response to my approach. These amazing plants can live for up to 1500 years or more, absorbing far-reaching fog that stretches inland from the sea, some 100 km away. How privileged we are then, to be able to see these incredible plants by just stepping out of our luxury tents!
As we head further west into the red rock country of Damaraland the following day in search of desert-adapted rhinos, we find ourselves deep in Euphorbia damarana country. This distinctive plant, so synonymous with Damaraland and black rhinos, is in fact one of their favourite foods.
Just as well as there is not much else to eat! Rhinos also love to use it as a mattress for a soft snooze in the heat of the day. Here and there a first tiny flower is appearing; these plants generally flower in April/May.
Damaraland boasts some spectacular scenery and Franco is ever obliging in stopping for photographs. He’s also incredibly knowledgeable about so many aspects of the desert.
Typical Damaraland scenery with Euphorbia damarana bushes.
On this trip we have three expert trackers and rhino-custodians from Save the Rhino Trust, an NGO that Wilderness Safaris has partnered with in establishing Desert Rhino Camp. Albertus, Denzel and Ismael spend their days tracking, recording sightings and observing the wellbeing of the black rhinos that we later approach on foot. Mamma rhino Top Notch is lying on her ‘mattress’ of euphorbia leaves, while son Troy is trying ever so hard to tell her there is something suspicious nearby! Rhinos have very poor eyesight, but a good sense of smell, and we stand upwind to avoid disturbing them with our presence. It is a truly amazing and unforgettable encounter!
On the final day of our trip, Ketji acquires permission for us to take a short cut through Wêreldsend en route to our last destination, Damaraland Camp.
Crossing the desert southwards, we pass the white silk-like flowers of the trumpet thorn Cataphraxis alexandria with its curious pods that rattle in the wind. But when we see a fine specimen of Hoodia currorii, we simply have to stop for more photos! These plants are difficult to spot when not flowering but at the end of March they are easily identifiable by their velvety maroon flowers.
There’s so much to see in the desert besides the wildlife, if one just gets down close to the ground and looks at the detail. The flora was just one of the many highlights of the trip and travelling with Wilderness Safaris was a luxurious, do-able and ethical way to experience Damaraland’s treasures.
Written and Photographed by Annabelle Venter
Tailormade African Safaris by the Safari Legends