Casually Cruising The Khaudom National Park - North Eastern Namibia
Once again, we set off as early as possible. We had a big day ahead and knew the going wasn’t going to be easy. By all accounts, we were breaking all the rules. It’s suggested that one does the Khaudom in a convoy of at least two vehicles, preferably three. We have a Honey Badger, a Butch, and an eager learner Maricha, which makes three. Right?
While Butch checked us in at the reception I went scouting about but heard the official mention that we may not ride our bikes in the park. Keeping a straight face I sauntered in and asked Butch to unleash my bike. Well, the official went into a flat spin waving his arms about saying "Madam, no please! You'll be eaten by lions and we'll be locked up!" I tried assuring him that I was fast on my bike. That made him more anxious explaining that food on the hoof is exactly what the King of the jungle enjoys most!
“Stuck up in Namibia’s north-eastern Kavango Region, the Khaudom National Park is not to be sniffed at. Rarely visited, considerable, extremely wild and with only a rudimentary tourist infrastructure, it could be described as Namibia’s ‘forgotten wilderness’. However, forgetting it would be a big mistake if you have an adventurous streak!
A visit to the Khaudom National Park is all about adventure, discovering a true African wilderness and perhaps a bit of self-discovery. Master the challenging and rugged 4x4 trails weaving through plains and thick Kalahari forests. The extremely sandy trails may come as a shock to those used to ‘the path well travelled’ – the park receives fewer visitors than elephants in a year. Relax at one of the state-of-the-art hides and enjoy watching the wildlife that congregates around the 12 established waterholes. The Khaudom National Park is home to large herds of elephant, African wild dog, Africa’s most endangered large predator, rare sable antelope, and over 320 species of birds.”
We spent three days in the park discovering and adventuring from the southern gate to the northern exit gate. We found that we could concentrate on the small things e.g. dung beetles, butterflies and soon found there was even the possibility of new growth and life in old elephant dung.
Namibia Country Lodges group has recently taken over the Sikereti and Khaudom camps within Khaudom National Park and have made extensive upgrades to the sites. They are also in the final stages of building two small lodges at both Sikereti and Khaudom. They don’t want to tame the park, though. The lodges will be constructed apart from the campsites, remaining rustic and untamed.
On a loop, Butch repeated the phrase, “I’ve never negotiated sand like this.” And he’s experienced sand along our coastline, the Namib and Botswana. Our handicap was trying to stay within the ruts, our truck’s wheel span is wider, and the tyres are broader. The result was that only one set of wheels could run in a groove. The other side clung to the “embankment”.
These tracks aren’t formal roads but two spoor made by vehicles, not graders. Vehicles loop around obstacles like a fallen tree or broken branch in the road, creating new tracks. On occasion, Butch would drag heavy branches onto the siding to clear the road, showing that he still has strength in those arms.
Although the GPS with Tracks for Africa was a help tracks change at the drop of a hat, thunderstorm, or drought. On occasion, we had to get out and do the legwork to find alternate routes.
The grind was constant, and our maximum speed was approximately 18kmph. Putting time limits or agendas in place is out of the question, which is when “self-discovery” happens.
We wondered how Livingstone and Stanley did it and what their route was. It’s while we adventure that our quest for knowledge broadens. According to Wikipedia, it went something like this:
“Livingstone departed from the village of Linyanti, located roughly in the centre of the continent on the Zambezi river. Livingstone had come from Cape Town on his way to the northern frontier missionary post. He set out from Linyanti to the northwest, up the Zambezi, believing this would map the best “highway” into Africa. He had the help of 27 African guides and warriors loaned by Sekeletu, chief of the Kololo in Linyanti. They reached the Portuguese city of Luanda on the Atlantic after profound difficulties and the near-death of Livingstone from fever. Livingstone realized the route would be too difficult for future traders, so he retraced the journey to Linyanti. Then with 114 men, loaned by the same chief, he set off east down the Zambezi. On this leg, he became the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) waterfall, which he named Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. Whether he adventured into the Khaudom is unknown.
We spent three nights in the Khaudom setting up our camp on campsite 4. Large, pristine and private, with our own private ablutions with uncompromised views over the veld.
At night we’d light our fire under the gigantic Acacia tree. When the sun crept over the horizon at first light, we’d have our coffee overlooking the omurambas (flood plain), enjoying elephant and wildebeest ambling down to the waterholes. Always running ahead would be the energetic warthogs with their antennae cranked up fully alert. It's important to note that although the sites have lovely ablusions there's no electricity. A donkey which is fired up at night (not that one needs hot water, but for crockery its good).
Later I told Butch if I had to name just one element that impressed me most about the Khaudom, it would undoubtedly be the trees. These included: leadwood, evergreen false mopane, various acacia, including Camel thorns, Zambezi teak, tamboti, and baobab.
We were always conscious of the road, and we were often surprised by large herds of elephant, wildebeest, giraffe, the old warthogs. We also spotted zebra, eland, tsessebe, kudu, gemsbok, waterbuck, a single roan antelope, and the ever loved ostrich.
During the summer months, most of the plains animals in this region migrate to Botswana, searching for water and new green grazing. Fortunately, we witnessed a thunderstorm and enjoyed the cool breeze after the rain. The sight of a large herd of elephant magically appearing on the plains having foraged in the forests is a sight to behold. They're so photogenic and one never tires of them. All wildlife photographers must have thousands of photos of these amazing animals.
On the 12th of December, a day to remember, we celebrated Butch’s birthday with all the bells and whistles, birthday cake, champagne and candles. My wish for him is that he never loses his spirit of adventure, and may his life always have meaning and purpose. Never lose your yearning to learn.
We only saw a convoy of three rental vehicles travelling from north to south. We only had time to wave madly and smile broadly.
Be warned: Tyres must be deflated to 1.8 bar, hubs are locked, and full-on four by four must be engaged. We certainly weren’t planning on getting stuck.
If I ever have an opportunity to return, I would. April – August would be my recommended months, and I’d stay for a lot longer.
“The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about the two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger, and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the belly, but the Great Hunger, the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning.
There is ultimately only one thing that makes human beings deeply and profoundly bitter, and that is to have thrust upon them a life without meaning.
There is nothing wrong in searching for happiness. But of far more comfort to the soul is something greater than happiness or unhappiness, and that is meaning. Because meaning transfigures all. Once what you are doing has for you meaning, it is irrelevant whether you’re happy or unhappy. You are content - you are not alone in your spirit - you belong.”
― Laurens van der Post
There are villages and farms situated within the park where one can witness first hand how well integrated humans and wildlife can be. The Khoudom is home to the Khoisan and other indigenous peoples.