One of the most amazing experiences in Africa must be standing atop a rocky outcrop, looking over a vast and seemingly endless horizon. And if there is a cold gin and tonic to quench your thirst, then that’s the icing on the cake.
Erongo Wilderness Lodge in central Namibia offers numerous opportunities for this magical experience from the tops of granite ‘kopjies’ strewn across this ancient landscape. The lodge includes guided walks for all guests, you can choose between the hardcore 6am start, the 7am for those wanting a little lie in, and the sundown 6h30pm for guests who prefer a really long lie in. This time we were there, I had decided to really take advantage of this, since on previous occasions our kids had been too young to manage much more than the uphill hike to the restaurant.
As we set off on our first, sundown, hike the youngest member of our intrepid group was just 3 years old. Toilet stops not withstanding, he stormed to the top, and still had energy to attempt throwing himself off the summit several times over drinks. Our guide had worked at the lodge for 10 years and was born nearby, his passion and affection for the region were obvious and infectious. And his top trump was carrying all of our sundown drinks, ice, lemon, glasses and snacks all the way to the top.
Settling down on the warm, smooth boulders and sipping my G&T, I looked out over the landscape and felt the stresses of the previous weeks and months dissipating into the apricot coloured sky. The best thing about travelling in Namibia during the rainy season is the sunsets. Bruised clouds, pockets of streaming rain streaking towards the parched ground in the distance, and the smoothly sinking sun disappearing behind the mountains in a final blaze of glory. Returning to the lodge in twilight, we sat outside on the restaurant deck and tucked into a fantastic dinner of tender game steak.
The following morning saw us up with the sunrise, raring to go (almost) and determined to make the most of the opportunity. After a quick breakfast of fresh muffins and homemade rusks (so much more than the traditional teething biscuit), we were off on the ‘Eagle Walk’. I enjoy walking on my own, but having a guide feels like a treat as there’s always some interesting nuggets of information to be gleaned along the way, like the acacia that was recently reclassified as it’s only pretending to be an acacia, by growing thorns which aren’t really thorns but actually the buds of new branches.
Our guide has never seen rhino in the vicinity of the lodge, but they are definitely around in the greater concession area. This is one of the highly successful conservancy areas in Namibia, in this case private landowners working together to provide protection for the local wildlife, and training and employment for local people. Our guide hasn’t seen leopard here either which is the other animal he would love to find, but there is plenty of evidence of these amazing predators. Not least the abundance of some of their favourite snacks, baboons…
On returning to the lodge we found the manager standing waiting for us outside the restaurant holding a beautiful dwarf rock python that he had found beside the bird bath. These stunning snakes are non venomous and apparently very placid, my perfect kind of reptile. We tried setting up our new Go Pro next to where the snake was returned, but unfortunately only managed to get some interesting shots of granite.
That afternoon we opted for the nature drive, feeling that we perhaps our calf muscles deserved some time to recover. Although Erongo is not a wildlife rich area like Etosha, there are still plenty of fascinating things to see and we were lucky enough to watch a couple of beautiful dik-dik (they mate for life and are always seen in pairs), a bambi-like Steenbok with paper thin, huge ears, kudu, oryx and a small herd of mountain zebra kicking up the dust. We stopped for another (short, thankfully) walk up to Paula’s cave where some well preserved examples of San Bushman rock art can be found. Bow and arrow hunters, kudu, giraffe and zebra were carefully painted onto these walls around 2500 years ago, a visual diary of their day to day struggle for survival. Peering deep into the cave interior, it’s easy to imagine firelight flickering, maybe a haunch of kudu slowly roasting while a leopard barks in the pitch darkness outside. Glancing deep into the cave with bright sunlight outside, all we could see, and smell, were the nests of rock pigeons. On the way out we were brought well and truly back to the present when the baboons sitting on the rocks above the entrance decided that they couldn’t wait any longer for a toilet break. The member of our group who was in the firing line was persuaded that it was good luck, but we still asked her to shower before dinner…
The following morning we lingered over our sumptuous breakfast, watching the rosy faced lovebirds ‘kissing’ as they huddled together weighing down the branches outside the restaurant. Time to head back to Windhoek and reality, but taking with us Erongo dust on our shoes and Erongo sunsets in our hearts.