In January 2021, one of our Africa Specialists set out on a safari during Namibia’s Green Season to scout our newest trip, Namibia Green Season Safari, when the lands were lush and the crowds were few.
By the end of 2020, my wanderlust had gotten the best of me. I had to go somewhere. The world wasn’t exactly the oyster I was used to, but luckily one of the few places I could visit outside the U.S. happens to be my favorite: Namibia. I first visited Namibia in April 2019 during WT’s Namibia: A Vision for Wildlife Symposium and Safari Program, and to say I’ve been obsessed with it ever since would be an understatement. I could think of no better place to dip my toes back into international travel.
Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with only 2.5 million people in an area twice the size of California. Social distancing comes naturally in such a vast land. All of the lodges and camps are open to the elements, with large lounge and dining areas designed to keep the fresh air flowing—a feature people take for granted until there’s a pandemic and you’re told that being indoors with strangers is the worst thing you can do.
I had been toying with the idea for a green season itinerary for a couple of years to take advantage of great rates at lodges, see the famous wildflowers and migratory birds, and explore locations that really only shine during this special season. When the opportunity for me to scout these places for our newest Namibia Green Season Safari fell into my lap, I just had to go and see it all for myself.
Our first stop was Onguma, a private game reserve across the road from the eastern boundary of Etosha National Park. While the central and eastern part of the park is best known due to the ancient salt pan, most people enter through the southern gate because it’s closer to Windhoek and makes more logistical sense for most safari circuits. During the green season, however, east is where you want to be, as wildlife migrates here when the rains come. Fischer’s Pan, a hotspot for migrant waterbirds—including bubblegum pink flamingos!—as well as cheetah, was a short 25-minute game drive from Onguma Tented Camp, our home for three nights.
On our first game drive of the trip on the Onguma property, we came across a lioness stalking a giraffe. I’d seen the footage of lions hunting giraffe before, but I never imagined I would get to see it in person. She charged and ran off into the distance after the fleeing giraffe (who would not be dinner that night), and we continued five minutes up the road to our sundowner spot. Only six of those glasses are mine, in case you were wondering.
The next morning we headed into Etosha and were greeted with giraffe, zebra, baby black-backed jackal, elephant (with babies!), and a rhino with her calf. It really is an exciting time to safari, as each new baby you encounter is a sign of a thriving ecosystem full of life in what most people would assume would be a barren landscape.
After these three days of what feels more like a classic southern Africa safari, we turned west and delved further into the heart of what makes Namibia spectacularly unique. One of my favorite parts of driving from this point forward in our itinerary is seeing the landscape change throughout the day. To start the day in the savannas and salt pans of Etosha, and end it among the cathedral-like granite inselbergs of Damaraland, for example, is a real trip.
Onduli Ridge, our home in Damaraland, is named after the resident giraffe of the area, and we spent our days here looking not only for giraffe, but other desert adapted wildlife such as rhino and elephant. A drive down the Aba Huab riverbed will almost always reveal a herd of elephant. The herd is usually flanked by two males, so when we came across this fella having a snack of seeds pods from an ana tree, we knew we’d find the rest of the herd behind him.
From Damaraland the scenery changes yet again as we push deeper into the rugged northwest. The drive from Onduli to Hoanib Valley Camp during this time of year is a feast for the senses, with fragrant Namibian sage, varied shades of green, purple, and pink, and geology so ancient and diverse it’s almost hard to get your bearings. Mountain? Desert? Savanna? All of the above. This was single-handedly the most memorable day I’ve spent in Africa—and we only saw two elephants!
The Hoanib River is also home to the desert lion, and it’s in this remote northwest corner of Namibia that our friend Dr. Flip Stander makes his home researching this iconic population. I am pretty good about managing my own expectations while on safari, and maybe it’s for this reason that I seem to always be rewarded. On this morning, not 10 minutes into our game drive, we came across evidence of a gruesome scene; claw marks, lion prints, blood-stained sand, and a zebra ear. We followed the path of the dragged-away carcass to the bushes where it lay, and from there tracked the lions to their post-feast resting place. I’ve never been more excited to see a collar on a wild animal, as I knew that these were the famous desert lions, and the data collection their collars enable is what’s keeping them alive.
We continued west through the Hoarusib River to the ends of the earth, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. This drive was extra special, as Dr. Stander was escorting a pride of lions west and away from human settlements, and could never have guessed our “group of beautiful women” would surprise him at his office in the middle of nowhere. After a brief chat, we let him get back to work and continued our journey west through the riverbed as it twisted and turned through steep canyon walls of black and red volcanic rock before gradually being replaced with the towering dunes of the Skeleton Coast.
Our final stop was the relatively new (as of 2018) Shipwreck Lodge, the first and only lodge along the coastal dunes of Skeleton Coast National Park. I was particularly excited to stay here because I was excited to witness the union of my longest love, the ocean, with my newest, the desert.
Days at Shipwreck Lodge are filled with game drives in the Hoarusib, quad biking over the dunes, sand-boarding (if you dare), and swimming in the Atlantic (if you’re equipped). I was fortunate to be able to do all of the above.
The drive back to Windhoek came too soon and didn’t drag on as long as I’d hoped, but luckily I got to wait for my COVID test results at the lovely Omaanda, just one hour outside of Windhoek. The expansive view from the heated pool, bar, dining, and lounge areas was the perfect send-off.
There’s no doubt I love Namibia. I love it when it’s seven-year drought-stricken, but I bless the rains when they come, and the green season may just be my favorite time to visit my favorite place on earth.
—Text and photos by WT Africa Specialist Jenny Gowan, Namibia Green Season Safari.