Larking About in Namibia. Part 7.

Part 7. Larking About in Namibia – Nambwa and Katima Mulilo.

Our next stop was Nambwa. A 4×4 only community camp about 15 kms off the main road just this side of the Kwando bridge on the way to Katima Mulilo.

Before you enter you need a permit and they are currently only available at Bum Hill. Bum Hill of course is on the opposite side of the road and about 10 kms drive past some interesting wetland areas. Don’t follow the T4 maps to Bum Hill or you will get lost as I did! Turn into the gravel road opposite the entrance to Nambwa. Stay on the gravel road until you see a sign to Bum Hill on your right.

The permit office is about to change. They are building a reception on the main road – probably ready during the summer. It looked almost complete.

So ever onward we start the 15 kms to the camp. The road is very narrow, quite hilly and in places quite sandy. Anyway I beetle along and manage for a long way without having to use low range. Meanwhile Sally is whispering in my ear every so often “Are you going to let the tyres down?” Me, not wanting the hassle of having to blow them back up again with a rather slow pump and having gone so far already – only 4 kms to go, ignore her advice to our cost. Sure enough down a rise we go and as we hit the bottom, despite being in low range, we hit a very sandy patch and the momentum stops.

I try a quick reverse but nothing doing especially with the trailer behind. Out comes the shovel and I dig the sand away from all 6 wheels. Air out of the tyres to 1.3 bar. Try and fail. More digging. Look for rocks , anything to go under the tyres but there is nothing about. Once more Sally comes up with good advice and this time I listen to her. “Why not put the car’s rubber mats under the wheels”. “Sounds a good idea”, I say. “If I get out, I’ll stop at the top about 100 metres away. Will you please bring the mats”. Sally agrees and sure enough it works and I stop at the top of the hill.

Sally is slowly coming up the hill carrying the mats and the thick sand slows her progress. So I get out and start to walk down the hill to help her. I look down and there in front of me are the paw marks of a rather large cat! Not wanting to scare her I shout, “Quickly”. No change in pace, “I’m going as fast as I can”. Again I implore but still no change in pace. “Fresh Lion tracks here – hurry”. Immediate change of pace and I hurry to help her. Saga over. On to the camp.

Lesson. Listen to your wife! I was stupid as we needed to have the tyres let down to enjoy the trails around the camp anyway. Eventually we arrive at the camp.

Now Nambwa is a very wild campsite with no fences. At this time of the year the water levels are high and there is plenty of game about. We choose our campsite – No. 1 close to the entrance. On arrival we are told by guests not to use the path between campsites 2 and 3 – as there is a hippo enjoying the shade there. And, oh yes, last night the elephants and the lions came and caused chaos in the camp.

We chat to the staff and they confirm this and say they come every night and oh, by the way we are off to a party nearby tonight! And, take care at night as we have an old leopard which likes to roam about around and in the ablutions.

It all sounds very exciting – well for those of you who enjoy an adrenaline rush!

We settle in and very soon a party of Brown Firefinches come and inspect our camp.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the camp and going to the lookout they have built beside a wetland area just outside the camp.

Here we enjoy the rest of the evening sun. As we decide to climb down we notice a herd of elephants with young in the distance circling the camp. We are both thinking the same, hope they are passing and don’t circle back.

Our wishes are not heard. As we start preparing dinner we hear them in the other end of the camp. Dinner is prepared and quickly eaten outside. The sound of the elephants seems to get ever closer. We light a fire to hopefully keep the animals at bay.

Smart decision. Go inside and have a game or 2 of scrabble. You cannot go to bed at 7pm!

As we are playing we hear something. We go instantly silent and this animal whatever it was, brushes past our tent breathing with a wheeze – cat we both think and freeze. In the morning we find that whatever it was had tripped over one of our guy ropes and loosened it.

Once the adrenaline had settled we finished our game and had an early night.

The next day we were up early. I nip down to the loo with my torch scouring every part of the 50 metres I had to go. No problem but when it is Sally’s turn I go with her. I look through the open ablutions from one side and there only 10 metres away is a herd of elephants with young! We back track quickly and decide to go for a drive immediately otherwise we feared the elephants would soon entrap us in our tent.

We leave and have a good morning birding down and around the Horseshoe  Bend. On the way back we almost reach the camp when we meet traffic coming the other way. The elephants had only just left enabling them to get out – some 3 hours after us!

The birdlife in the camp was exciting enough for us so we relaxed there for the rest of the day getting prepared for the elephants return.

Fire well prepared and loaded with a huge log which we hoped would last all night. Dinner at lunchtime.

However as luck would have it, we had a silent and peaceful night.

The final morning we packed up early and drove back following one of the other tracks alongside the wetland area but joining up much further along with the road we came in on. This way we managed to by-pass the thick sandy area where we got stuck. It was the way we should have come in as it was very scenic and interesting birdwise.

Almost out of the Park in the hilly section (no elephants to confront us thankfully) and Sally yells “Stop”. She has seen a Roller – maybe an early returning migrant European Roller. Slowly we get out of the car as I cannot reverse with the trailer. Binoculars focused and there before us a great sighting of a Racket-tailed Roller – some 20 metres away. However each time I get my camera on him he moves off. After following him for 100 metres, reason returns and I retreat back to the car.

Our next destination was Katimo Mulilo to find the Schalow’s Turaco. But first we buy diesel and have our tyres re-inflated at the garage in Kavango on the other side of the Kwando bridge. Apparently they sometimes run out of diesel. And we saw why. All the local game parks send their vehicles loaded with empty drums to be filled.

At Katima Mulilo we investigated the local campsites just outside of town where we had heard the Schalow’s Turaco is often seen. Kalizo Lodge some 40 kms from Katima (with its reputation for Shelley’s Sunbird) was our fall back.

We knew of Hippo Lodge so headed there first – however it has been closed for a number of years. We continued down to the end of the gravel road to Namwi Island Lodge. This is a very grassy, flat and well manicured campsite on the river. If you have a tent you can camp on the grass but not caravans nor trailers. They however can park on the interlocking paving stones which are laid down. All lovely but when we tried to hammer our pegs between the paving stones it proved impossible. So after bending 3 pegs we abandoned the camp.

The management told us that they only knew of one other campsite – Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge – back up the gravel road. We had passed it on the way but thought it did not have camping.

Back we went. Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge is a small place with several chalets and 4 campsites – all sandy. We chose the most sandy as it was shady. The lodge has a nice deck overlooking the river.

Over sundowners we chatted to one of the owners and was told they have the Schalow’s Turaco visiting most days. Good news. They also were able to do a private sunset boat ride the following day to find African Finfoot and White-backed Night-Herons. We booked.

The next morning was spent in the gardens birding and waiting for the Schalow’s to arrive. We waited without luck. However we did hear a Tinkling Cisticola calling in the nearby dry scrub. This would have been a lifer for both of us – however it was to remain only half a tick as we were never able to see it.

We visited the Protea Hotel and Caprivi River Lodge in search for the Schalow’s. Both said they saw it there regularly. The owner of the Caprivi River Lodge suggested we come back later. He did also suggest we explore the area beyond the end of our gravel road – there are lots of tracks all accessible by car. So we did although the area was sparsely populated. (South African security concerns notwithstanding).

As we turned off one track we almost reached the river. We stopped and Sally heard a Schalow’s calling and another replying. I think we got too close to the first and being concerned he called his mate so they could get together. A sudden movement from where the sound of the first was heard and we were on to them – following them to try and get better views. In the end we managed but my photos were poor – they kept moving (my excuse). Another lifer for both of us.

After that we relaxed – but first had to get one of the new tyres repaired (it had done less than 1000 kms). It had a small thorn in the top – my bad luck with tyres continues.

We also visited Kalizo Lodge as we had been there before and enjoyed the birding. There were good sightings of African Skimmers on the sandbanks. However the Shelley’s Sunbird had not been seen since last November- we were told.

It is important to note that the clocks in the Caprivi (east of Divundu) keep South African time unlike the rest of Namibia. It was only because Sally double checked the time of our boat trip that we learnt this!

That evening we set out on our sunset cruise out with the owner Curt with Steven as his help. Nightjars greeted us as the sun went down. Then out came the spot lights. Within a short while we started to find the African Finfoots (Finfeet?) and White-backed Night-Herons. We saw many of each and were able to get quite close. Photography in the dark is not my forte so the quality of our pictures is poor – sorry.

Another highlight on the sunset cruise was the sight of Little Bee-eaters sitting on reeds all cuddled closely together – 6 to 10 together.

Little Bee-eaters cuddling together
Little Bee-eaters cuddling together

The next morning we were up early to bird round the camp and to slowly start packing . Some of the birds found in and around are shown in the next gallery.

It was while we were packing that one of the garden staff called us to come quickly. He had noticed we were keen birders so when he saw the Schalow’s he thought of us. And there in the early mist of the morning were another pair of Schalow’s Turacos – with the sunlight sparkling on their long crests.

Then it was time to say good-bye to Namibia and start our long journey home via Botswana. At Kasane we planned to stop for 2 nights then make the long stretch down to Francistown before entering RSA at Stockport. A further 2 nights in Marakele NP before the final leg Home. More on this in Part 8.

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