120 Hours in Etosha National Park – What to See, Eat & Do

Africa

Ten or twenty cars cluster around Chudob watering hole, eyes searching beyond the dense foliage. The wind picks up the dust, creating a sheen of white. In the distance, the trees rustle, making way for giants. There is silence. Nobody stirs. There is an air of anticipation as several grey masses emerge above the treetop. As they move towards the watering hole, their shapes become visible. Elephants. Not just one but a herd. Everyone angles their cameras towards the elephants as they quench their thirst and cool off in the waters.

There is something intimate about the uninhibitedness of nature-watching. Then there is the thrill of the unexpected. That while the elephants are engaging in their frivolous fun at the waters, a pride of lions could be eyeing the calf, watchful for the right moment. No one knows what the next second will bring as we wait for the magic hour. 

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THE SAFARI

Etosha National Park is aptly named the animal kingdom. The bone-dry winter means that wildlife of all shapes and sizes congregate at the waterholes. Prides of lions encamp at Okondeka, Nebrownii and Salvadora while elephants are regulars at Olifantsrus, Chudob and Klein Namutoni. The skittish and nimble damara dik dik is a frequent sight along Dik-Dik Drive or en route to Von Lindequist Gate. Between Salvadora and Namutoni, immeasurable herds of plains game can be found grazing. But the one waterhole to watch is the legendary Okaukuejo. Anyone who has ever been to Etosha would have heard of Okaukuejo – the stage for a perpetual parade of wildlife that continues through the night. Access to Okaukuejo after dark is reserved only for those staying in the Okaukuejo Camp, where booking a room can feel like a race against time. The rooms, especially the ones with a front row seat at the waterhole, can fill up as early as a year before. 

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THE PRIVATE RESERVES

Unlike South Africa, Etosha is not big on the private reserve scene but there are still one or two top drawer reserves. Stays at the Ongava private reserve will yield some of the most mind-blowing sightings on off-road drives. The nights are primal at Ongava as lions roam the watering hole and tented camps. Its location just outside the Anderson’s Gate will get you closest to sunrise in the national park. At the eastern side of Etosha, Onguma private reserve is slightly smaller but it does not hold back on sightings. Cheetahs from Etosha are known to periodically move into the reserve for protection against predators. 

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THE FOOD

Emanya is where all would want to unwind after a long day of game viewing. Four course dinners of African-European flavours are served under the starlit sky with place settings to match. Their oryx steaks are just the right amount of game. The afternoons are best for tea and cake, a complimentary respite from the lodge.

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THE ROOMS

Camps and lodges are concentrated around the southern and eastern gates of Etosha. Etosha Village occupies a cosy corner of the southern side of the national park. The rooms are awash with near-neutral tones with modest fittings. At dinner, the freshly grilled steaks and stir fry are crowd-pleasers. Doubles start at N$1553 per person, including breakfast and dinner.

Ongava is a classic safari outfit with an ace in their pocket – their highly raved about private reserve. The exclusive Little Ongava has only three suites for low-key stays. Each suite opens up to a private deck overlooking the veld. Doubles start at N$14140 per person fully inclusive. The Ongava Tented Camp is a favourite for its wild-in-Africa atmosphere and a busy waterhole. Doubles start at N$7848 per person fully inclusive. 

In the east, Onguma Bush Camp maintains the charms of old world southern Africa. Its fenced up grounds means child-friendly rules. Never miss a second of game-viewing as dinners and sunbeds are set in front of a massive waterhole. Tired of an all day drive in Etosha? Just kick back your safari boots at the pool while the wildlife comes to you. Doubles start at N$1530 per person for bed and breakfast. 

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72 Hours in Thoddoo – What to See, Eat & Do

Asia

The balmy air in Thoddoo is perfumed by the sweet scent of ripe papayas. Flying foxes flit in and out of palm tree fronds interspersed with rambling wild bushes. Clusters of coral reefs fringe the island as the sun scatters diamonds on the ocean blues. Below the surface, life abounds in infinite forms. Hawksbill turtles glide past bluestripe snappers, narrowly missing the moray eels nestled amidst the corals. The brimming reefs bring a flurry of psychedelic colours as reef fish scamper for their share of grub.

No one would have heard of Thoddoo a mere 10 years ago as it sits unnoticed among the resort islands. Everything is new and untouched. Today, travellers would take the two hours speedboat ride for a slice of this self-effacing local island, giving it a new breath of life. 

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THE SIGHTS

The island is cosily small – a mere two kilometres at its longest length. No traffic, paved roads or grand swimming pools. Stripped of modernity, the island is the epitome of the simple life where lying on a hammock or taking a 30 minutes amble is a mundane thrill.

Sunbathe at Thoddoo’s bikini beach, where clear-as-glass water washes against a milky stretch of sand. The house reef encircling the beach will keep you occupied for hours. Turtles frequent the western edge of the house reef for breakfast. To venture out of the island, boat trips will take you to sandbanks for snorkelling in reefs free from settlements.

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ROOMS

The minuscule size of the island means it does not house a string of big time hotels, but what bed & breakfasts it has are warm and intimate. Holiday Cottage Maldives is a row of cottages set on the island. Dinners are rich with local fish and lobsters on the grill. Doubles start at US$80.

The airy rooms at Coco Villa are just ten minutes from the bikini beach. Your arrival will be sweetened by fresh coconuts and papaya jelly. The chef does an eclectic breakfast menu – shredded pancakes are dipped in chocolate sauce with a side of devilled eggs, waffles topped with breaded cutlet, and tuna masuni with roshi. Doubles start at US$100.

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120 Hours in the Namib Desert – What to See, Eat & Do

Africa

The first rays of dawn peeked over the horizon, colouring the sand in a deep ochre. The panting sound of tenacious dune climbers was distinct in the whistling wind that swerved through the shapeshifting sand dunes in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. They were determined to reach the top of the dune for the sunrise. Minutes flew by and they pressed on, determined to be a spectator of one of nature’s great spectacle. And it was sublime – a mix of red and orange spilling across the immeasurable desert. For a breathless moment, everyone stood in awe of the sight. Orange star dunes partially hidden in the black shadow. The shimmering heat waves danced on the pan. Miles away, a lone oryx grazed on the scarce vegetation dispersed in the parched sand. 

For decades, the Namib Desert has been a subject of intrigue, an arid region covering most of Namibia and parts of South Africa and Angola. A small number of roads cut into the world’s oldest desert where desert-adapted species such as lions, elephants and oryxes roam free. With striking landscapes, exclusive lodges, soaring dunes and 55 million years of history, Namibia is finally ready to come out of her shell. 

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THE DESERT

For the spectacle described above, head to Sossusvlei for the orange hued dunes that seem to touch the sky, with Big Daddy dominating the scene at more than 300 meters high. The climb up the dune is onerous but the view is breathtakingly worthwhile. After ascending the top, slide down Big Daddy to Deadvlei, a clay pan where startling bare trees stand on a barren white clay pan. Other noteworthy dunes include Dune 45 just 40 minutes from the gate. For the most accessible dune, Elim Dune is just 10 minutes from the gate and best seen at sunset for views of the Naukluft Mountains bathed in burnt orange tones. The lush vegetation of its surroundings also beckons herds of wildebeests and oryxes. 

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THE COAST

In western Namibia, the coast of the Namib Desert is a world of difference from Sossusvlei. Here, the temperature drops and a dense fog lies thickly upon this coastal stretch of increasingly vibrant civilisation. A short drive away from Swakopmund, the hostile climate makes the Skeleton Coast in the northern reaches of the desert an eerie setting for shipwrecks and beached whale bones. Just an hour away from the south of the Skeleton Coast, hundreds if not thousands of seals congregate at Cape Cross. This unprimed tourist spot is nature at its best.

Move further south and you will end up at the Sandwich Harbour where off-road adventures are the norm. Take a 4×4 ride with Turnstone Tours for an all-day drive on the roaring dunes. In the afternoons, dig into a homemade picnic of oryx lasagne, tuna salad and pumpkin cakes while watching the ocean waves glide against the desert sand. 

While Sossusvlei’s dunes are a larger than life spectacle, Dune 7 near Walvis Bay holds the title as Namibia’s tallest dune at more than 380 metres. Park your car under the palm trees and opt to go quad biking or sand boarding. A short drive away from Swakopmund will take you to the Moon Landscape. At this outlandish panorama, you can see miles and miles of cracked bedrock washed out in leaden shades. 

THE FOOD

The coastal town of Swakopmund is the heart of the food scene in the Namib. Farmhouse Deli On The Mole does a morning pick-me-up with yogurt and granola power bowls and egg white omelettes. For local fare, Village Café is a familiar haunt amongst the locals for its no frills Village breakfast of boerewors, eggs and toast. You will be kept entertained by the upbeat atmosphere and an amusing café menu that knows a joke or two. For candlelit dinner dates, The Wreck does sea view dining without the chilly temperature. Go for the seafood – squid stuffed with spinach or grilled fish on mushroom risotto. It will not disappoint. And of course, steaks are a must in Namibia and the Namib Restaurant does a mean steak fillet.

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THE ROOMS

Stay inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park for the dramatic sunrise from the top of the Sossusvlei dunes. andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodges does blissful desert living to a tee with impeccable rooms, 4×4 safari drives, star gazing and dinners in the dune. Also located within the national park, Sossus Dune Lodge is an austere abode with eco-friendly thatched rooms in the middle of the desert. A stay at the smartly dressed Sossusvlei Lodge just outside the gate to the national park is worthwhile for the sundowner drives in the private reserve, dinners at the open-air braais and dips in the pool with desert views. Just 10 minutes away from the gate, Desert Quiver Camp and Desert Camp have contemporary rooms with a tinge of camping vibes. All rooms are outfitted with a kitchen, and fresh food can be ordered for a meat grilling fest overlooking the savannah.

Near Walvis Bay, Bay View Resort Namibia is fast to catch up to the hotel game with sizeable rooms and a penthouse that is dressed to kill. Take your breakfast al fresco and watch the kids frolic on the beach. Evenings are best spent in the balcony hearing the rhythmic crashing of the waves as the fog rolls in from the sea to rest upon the darkened shore. 

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