Okonjima, Damaraland, Etosha National Park, Ongava, Waterberg
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
On this journey, take a self-driving adventure through the heartland of northern Namibia, where awe-inspiring landscapes, thrilling encounters with desert-adapted elephants and rhinos, ancient rock art sites and the incredible big game and wildlife of Etosha and Ongava await you. Finally, you spend two nights deep in the Kalahari wilderness with a remote community of San Bushmen, where you gain a remarkable insight into an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle that has remained unchanged in millennia.
Okonjima Reserve – Welcome to Namibia
On arrival at Windhoek International Airport, you collect your rental vehicle, which will be a large and comfortable 4x4, guided by a GPS system. You then set off on a beautifully scenic drive northwards to Okonjima. Once you have settled in at your first safari property, you can wander over to the main building for a delicious high tea and to meet your guide for the afternoon’s game drive. The Okonjima Reserve was created specifically to rehabilitate large carnivores, and the 20,000- hectare reserve hosts a number of free-roaming cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena that are radio-collared to allow researchers to monitor them. These animals freely hunt oryx, zebra, duiker, and impala that are present on the reserve. Your activity for the afternoon involves radio-tracking leopard, where you take a game drive in an open, custom-built game-viewing vehicle to track down and encounter these magnificent cats.
Tracking will be the primary focus of the afternoon, but along the drive you will also see many of the other species that call this reserve home. The rolling hills, acacia thickets and open grasslands provide a beautiful backdrop as you encounter giraffe peering curiously at you over low trees, eland, the largest antelope in Africa, wildebeest, warthogs and greater kudu, along with many more smaller but equally fascinating creatures.
Discovering a leopard will obviously be the highlight of the afternoon, and the sight of one is an awe-inspiring experience. Beneath their beautifully spotted coats, their superbly muscled bodies move with a feline grace belying their incredible ferocity, agility, and power. Their greenish eyes are like searchlights into your soul, constantly picking up any movement, their ears pricking up to the slightest sound. After a few breathless minutes, they regally move off, disdainfully ignoring the vehicles, and slip into the undergrowth like a wraith, their superb camouflage concealing them in an instant.
With your nerves jangling and a huge sense of elation, you return to the lodge for a much-need sundowner drink, where you stand gazing at the glorious colors of sunset, reliving every moment of your extraordinary experience.
Okonjima Reserve – Enjoy the Marvels of Okonjima
After an early start with a delicious breakfast and welcoming cup of coffee, you set off into the wilds on foot with one of the rangers, in search of the radio-collared spotted hyenas. Walking through the reserve gives you a wonderful perspective of the area, where you are able to closely observe the smaller details of the bush that you would normally miss from a vehicle, and your guide will provide fascinating information on the flora and fauna that you encounter. Once the spotted hyena is located, you approach cautiously so as not to startle this amazing predator. Generally harmless to humans, they are however formidable hunters, and the myth that they scavenge from lions is sadly untrue. Lions scavenge from hyenas as much as the other way around- it all depends on numbers as to which species holds the balance of power during a squabble over a kill. As hyenas tend to be more active at night, you will have ample time to observe the animals and learn more about their fascinating ecology and behavior from your guide. You learn of their fascinating matrilineal and female-dominated society, their strange sexual organs giving rise to the African myth that they are hermaphroditic, and their strict hierarchical social organization, with females at the top, and males at the bottom!
Eventually, after an educational and entertaining experience, you return to the lodge to enjoy a welcoming and hearty brunch with an appetite sharpened by your endeavors. You spend a peaceful afternoon lazing at the pool or keeping watch over the comings and goings at the waterhole from your veranda, lulled by the sound of cicadas and birdsong drifting through the trees.
In the late afternoon, you visit the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST), where you learn more about the carnivore rehabilitation and rescue program. The main endeavor is to ultimately return the animals to the wild, but some have become too habituated to humans due to being rescued at a very early age. These animals are then the ‘ambassadors,’ and remain at the rescue center for the remainder of their lives. You take a game drive with one of the researchers to meet the lions, leopards and cheetahs that are here, and their lack of collars and very relaxed demeanor allows you fantastic opportunities for photographing them. Once you have admired these beautiful cats in perfect afternoon light, and filled up several memory cards on your camera, you depart the center and return to the lodge as the sun begins to set.
Damaraland – Drive Into Damaraland
After a delicious breakfast, you bid Okonjima farewell, and take the road into Damaraland to your next destination. Perched on the lip of the Klip River Canyon, your next lodge boasts incredible views down the valley to the riverbed below. Entirely owned and staffed by members of the local community trust, this property is a shining example of a sustainable eco-tourism model that benefits both people and wildlife in the wilderness areas of Africa.
Once you are settled, you can explore the area on foot or by vehicle following the course of the riverbed. Oryx, springbok, ostrich, and kudu are often seen taking advantage of the nutritious grazing along the often-dry watercourse. You will also have a chance to see the enigmatic klipspringer antelope, which are able to navigate almost sheer cliffs on their specially adapted, tiny hooves. Desert elephants and lions are occasionally found here, and encountering them is an incredible experience. Adapted to life in these harsh surroundings, they need to keep moving along routes learned from generations of their forebears in a constant struggle for survival.
Damaraland – Visit the San Rock Art
Today you visit the nearby World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein, where carved rock art made by San hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago shows you a window into deepest human memory and experience. Looking at the beautifully carved figures of animals and people, you feel a connection stretching across the vastness of time when our ancestors roamed this wilderness, very much a part of nature and the landscape itself. It is both humbling and uplifting, gazing across the plains around you, to think those early hunters stood exactly where you are now.
In the afternoon, you join the game scouts for a desert elephant tracking experience. You might find it hard to believe that animals as large as elephants and rhinos can eke out a living in these harsh surroundings, but a small number of them have lived through countless generations of adaptation in order to survive here. Although they have to cover vast distances on a semi-migratory route, there is always a chance for you to encounter them in the Grootberg concession. Physically different than their cousins, the desert elephants have longer legs and a thinner physique to help them curb water loss and march long distances between food and water sources.
To encounter these enigmatic animals is an awe-inspiring experience. Dwarfed by a landscape so alien from where you would expect to find elephants, there they are, moving silently and purposefully over the dunes and rocky ground at a surprising pace. Once they are gone, it might seem like a trick of your imagination that you had seen them, but their giant footprints remain in the sand until the desert wind blows them away.
It is with a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye that you return to your lodge in the evening. After a delicious dinner, you sit out at the fireside, gazing at the stars, and contemplating the magic of what you have seen.
Damaraland – Visit the Himba
Today you drive to the Himba settlement near Palmfontein. Closely related to the Herero tribe, the Himba are one of the last semi-nomadic peoples in Africa. They follow seasonal routes to graze their herds of cattle and goats, which to them are their wealth. The women rub a mixture of fat and ochre over their braids and bodies, giving them a coppery sheen, and coupled with their striking hairstyles and elaborate jewelry, the effect is of statuesque proportions. These proud nomads live in small villages constructed from wood, palm thatch and cow dung- the materials most readily available to them. Extremely hospitable by nature, you will be welcomed into the village central circle, where they will readily show you around. The interiors of their huts are dark and cool, and often have a fire of aromatic herbs smoldering inside, which in this waterless country is their method of bathing. You will see how they extract ochre from stone, how their jewelry is made from metal, leather and other materials, and be offered other insights into their daily lives, so different from our own.
Ongava – Into Etosha National Park and Ongava Reserve
Today you set off on the road northward to Etosha, with Ongava Private Nature Reserve as your destination. Bordering on Etosha National Park, the Ongava Reserve is a vital buffer zone between the park and farmland, providing a habitat for a multitude of species, including both black and white rhino, which have thrived due to Ongava’s conservation efforts.
Your home for the next two nights is a tented camp, a delightfully intimate and authentic safari camp deep in the reserve. Constructed of stone, wood, canvas and thatch, the lodge is a stylish blend of the old and the new, while remaining true to its original pioneering safari roots. The main building houses the bar, dining room and lounge, and alongside is a secluded pool area which overlooks an active waterhole where animals often come to drink.
Your canvas suite is built up on a raised wooden platform to enhance the view and catch the cooling afternoon breeze. Although it appears to be a tent, this is a tent unlike any another- it is more like an en suite hotel room made from canvas!
In the afternoon you set off with your guide in a game-viewing vehicle to take in the sights of the reserve. The terrain is richly varied, from mopane woodlands to open plains and calcrete depressions called ‘pans’ which hold water long after the rains and become a focal point for animal activity in the dry season. The hilly slopes on the reserve hold dense stands of trees that provide ample habitat and nesting sites for a number of birds, including the endemic Rüppell’s parrot.
A great many plains animals are found on the reserve, including the endemic black-faced impala and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. Other species include oryx, giraffe, springbok and wildebeest, among others, all of which are preyed upon by the region’s lion prides that are the dominant predators here. Other predators include leopard and spotted hyena, although they are more nocturnal in their activities and harder to find. The prospect of encountering them is what makes the dusk drive back to the camp, using a spotlight, all the more exciting. Their eyes reflect the light from a distance, glowing red in the dark. A hyena’s loping stride will give it away, while a leopard may gaze regally from the bough of a tree, scanning the area for any sign of prey.
You return to the lodge in the evening, bathed in a warm circle of fire and lantern light. A delightful meal is served in the dining room and easy conversation about the day’s adventures flows around the table, while the sounds of primal Africa reverberate through the night outside.
Ongava – Rhino Tracking
The day begins at dawn, as you enjoy a delicious light breakfast on the terrace while watching the waterhole come to life with the new day. The morning chorus of birds rings out from the trees, and everything feels fresh and clear, filled with the prospect of adventure.
Your activity today involves setting out with an armed guide to track rhinos on foot- possibly one of the most exciting adventures to be enjoyed in Ongava Reserve. You follow your guide along game paths that might never have felt a human tread. While he searches the ground for sometimes imperceptible signs, using the ancient art of tracking perfected by the San Bushmen, you take in everything: the smell of the earth, the whisper of the breeze in your ears, the crackle of dry grass underfoot. This is sensory engagement on every level, where you feel entirely in the moment, breathing in the air of Africa, your eyes scanning the bush for your quarry, and alert to every sound in the air. Your guide points out a footprint in the sand, explaining the shape of the foot that made it, and which direction its owner was walking. Following the trail with your heart in your mouth, it leads you along, your excitement growing with every step as it doubles back and sometimes disappears over rocky ground; but your guide unerringly picks it up again, using a combination of skill, experience and instinct.
He finally comes to a halt, and silently motioning you to crouch, points out a shape in the shade of a thorn tree. Eyes straining forward, you stare closely into the thicket until the flick of an ear suddenly throws the rhino into sharp relief. Like a prehistoric leviathan, this huge and rugged animal stands motionless, blissfully resting and unaware of your presence. The wind is in your favor, and as long as you remain silent, he will not sense you, giving you ample time to study his thick skin, enormous bulk and sweeping horns.
To be in such close proximity to a wild rhino is a moment that will remain with you forever, and as you make your way back to camp, a huge bubbling sense of elation seizes you.
After a delicious brunch and a most welcome siesta, it is time to explore Etosha on a game drive. Driving into the western Okaukuejo sector of the reserve, you are met with a space so grand and vast that it defies description- the Etosha Pan is a calcrete depression measuring thousands of square kilometers, dotted with acacia scrub and open grassland. Waterholes are a center of activity in this arid region, and often it is possible to witness a parade of species arriving at the water to drink in a few short hours. Elephants come marching out of the shimmering heat haze, and gather pace as they draw nearer to the water. The white dust of Etosha covers their grey bodies, giving them a ghostly appearance, and the silence of their passage, despite their enormous size, adds to this strange illusion. They are the undisputed masters of the waterholes, and all other animals give way to their authority and size. Zebras, oryx, kudu, springbok and even rhinos stand aside and let the giants slake their huge thirst. If you search the area around the waterhole closely, you might make out the dun shapes of lions, resting deep in the shade, but always on the alert for potential prey that wanders too close.
Day 8 - 9
Etosha – Exploring Wildlife
Departing Ongava after your morning activity, you drive into Etosha to your next camp. Set in a grove of shady trees at the base of a dolomite hill in an otherwise flat landscape, your camp serves as the ideal base for you to explore Etosha on your own. A waterhole in front of the lodge serves as a focal point, and at all hours of the day you are able to observe the wildlife coming and going. Once it gets dark, floodlights illuminate the scene, allowing you a fascinating insight into the ‘nightlife’ of the park!
With spacious and comfortable suites, a central lounge, dining area and a welcoming swimming pool, your camp provides you a perfect place to rest up between your game drives and explorations of the park, while the friendly and attentive staff ensure that you enjoy every moment of your stay, including the excellent Namibian cuisine.
Etosha – Northeast to Namutoni
Today you continue your journey by driving east and north across Etosha, exploring and game viewing along the way to your next camp on the park’s eastern edge. The camp is housed in and around an old German fort, a large whitewashed edifice that is visible from quite some distance away. The building gives the camp an undeniable charm and character that is fitting with it being an outpost in the middle of the wilderness of northern Namibia!
After a full day driving through the park, you will find the swimming pool, lounge areas, bar, and restaurants a welcoming oasis for the evening. Take a stroll along wooden walkways under the stars to the King Nehale waterhole, where under the floodlights you are able to watch the passing parade of wildlife.
Bushmanland – Into Nyae Nyae Conservancy
Today you rise early for your journey eastwards to your next property in Bushmanland. After a hearty Namibian breakfast, you depart Namutoni and exit Etosha National Park. The drive takes you through the harsh but incredibly scenic landscape of northern Namibia, past the settlement of Tsumeb and the small town of Grootfontein. The land around you changes character into grasslands and scrub covering low rolling hills; this is the outer edge of the Kalahari Desert, and one of the last strongholds of the San Bushmen people.
Your camp adjoins the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, and is the home of the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen, whose village is a short walk away. This community was part of the camp project from its inception when Arno and Estelle Oosthuysen established the concept that the bush skills and ancestral knowledge they have would be a vital way for them to earn an income from visitors interested in experiencing their unique way of life.
Built on a hillside overlooking a riverbed, the camp has a delightfully earthy, rustic feel. A thatched central building houses a dining area, and alongside is a fireplace used as a focal point for gatherings in the evenings. Your canvas suite is a Meru-style tent built on a raised wooden platform with a private verandah for taking in the view. Comfortable beds, an ensuite bathroom and handmade furniture complete the room, and you will find there is nothing else that you need.
Your first afternoon is devoted to meeting the community and having a taste of what life is like here. The activities happen according to the circumstances on that particular day and to the needs of the people, and as such are completely uncontrived and authentic. You are encouraged to interact with and emulate your hosts for a more wholesome experience – the Bushmen are an open, lively and friendly people who will react positively to your curiosity. You might find someone cooking or preparing what has been gathered in the bush that day, someone curing and treating animal skins or another making rope or twine from fibers gathered from certain plants. Others may be busy making quivers and arrows, and some may simply be sitting telling stories and playing games with the children to keep them entertained.
You will gain an insight into their hunter-gatherer way of life that is unchanged in millennia, and so different from our own. In no way is this experience contrived, and the decisions and activities are entirely at the discretion of your hosts, the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen.
In the evening, a delicious, freshly prepared meal will be served in the dining room at the camp, and the communal nature of the village is reflected in the way you share a table with your fellow travelers, and thereby share each other’s experiences of this far-flung corner of Africa and its remarkable inhabitants.
If, while you are sitting out by the fire and looking up at the dazzling array of stars, you hear clapping and singing drifting from the village, chances are one of the traditional healing dances may be in progress. You are able to walk over and observe this enactment of the Ju/'hoansi ‘s religious and cosmogenic beliefs: where a healer performs the Giraffe or Elephant dance, and while in a state of trance, removes the barbs of illness from a stricken member of the tribe. The dance happens only when someone is ill, and often the entire village participates – to be able to witness an event like this, in completely natural circumstances, is something you will never forget.
Waterberg – Drive South into the Waterberg
You bid your Ju/'hoansi hosts a fond farewell, and depart with a deeper understanding of these fascinating people’s way of life, culture and customs.
Heading southeast on the road back to Windhoek, you turn into the spectacular Waterberg (Water Mountain) region, where you will spend the night at at a beautiful lodge. Arriving later in the day, you are able to take in a last afternoon game drive on the property, in search of the many antelope species and rhinos found here, or take a guided walk to stretch your legs. Another option is to visit the vulture restaurant and information center at the Rare and Endangered Species Trust, where you have the opportunity to observe rare Cape Vultures, one of the species the trust is actively involved in conserving.
Windhoek – Depart to Home
After a final hearty Namibian breakfast, you depart and make the final leg of your epic Namibian journey back to Windhoek, where you return your vehicle to the airport before catching your flight home.
- Interact with the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen in a meaningful and uncontrived way
- Join a hunt, and learn of their ancestral skills and bushcraft
- Visit cheetahs at the AfriCat Foundation
- Track desert elephants and rhinos in Damaraland
- Visit the enigmatic Himba tribe
- Experience thrilling big game encounters at Ongava and Etosha National Park
- Track rhinos on foot at Ongava
$6,105 per person (excluding international flights)
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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