Far & wild
African Birdlife|January/February 2022
Road-tripping in Namibia
MIKE BUCKHAM

The Covid third wave was fast approaching and with climbing infection rates in early June, it seemed to be on a collision path with our June/July family road trip during the school holidays. Our 2020 jaunt had been shelved and it looked increasingly likely that the same would happen in 2021. Road trips are our favorite holidays as a family and we knew this may be the last one the six of us would enjoy together, with our oldest son heading to university in 2022 and the divergence of his holidays from his siblings’. We have honed our road-tripping skills to fine art and our time together is in general conflict-free, despite the close confines in a vehicle. Roadside picnics, sundowners, game drives, music playlists, and quizzes (carefully designed to make sure I win) are the perfect tonic to relieve the usual stresses of day-to-day life.

This time we decided to head for the open spaces of Namibia, one of our favorite destinations. It also seemed like a logical way to avoid Covid, given our isolation as a single unit and within a country that has such a low population density. The major problem, however, seemed to be the looming PCR tests that we would need before boarding the plane. Even more worrying was that Namibia was at the peak of its worst wave of infections and the chance of getting there was looking slimmer by the minute. We had all our accommodation booked and we controlled what we could with our self-inflicted quarantine to ensure negative test results. Against the odds, we received negative tests and boarded the plane to Windhoek.

We had been to Namibia on previous holidays, but we chose it again as it ticks all the boxes for us. It is a truly wonderful country to visit, with wide-open spaces, a safe and reliable road network and dramatic scenery, as well as plenty of great birds, which is always a necessary component for our itineraries. The two weeks available to us would not give us nearly sufficient time to cover all the attractions that the mostly arid landscape has to offer, but having visited some of the other sites on previous trips, we were able to edit our selection to include a few new locations.

Ngepi Camp was our first destination and we decided to stay for three days to unwind from the stresses of setting out from Cape Town and its Covid drama. The rustic property is positioned on the southern bank of the Kavango River, a few kilometers downstream from the Popa Falls near Divundu. There is a mixture of idyllic campsites on the banks of the river and memorable ‘rooms’ overlooking the river. The ‘rooms’ only have the semblance of a single reeded palisade backing a timber deck that stretches out and overhangs the river, with no other barriers to the elements and wild animals. At night we lay in bed listening to the grunting hippos, trumpeting elephants and roaring lions, wondering if we’d be carried off into the night.

The river course and teak and riparian woodlands of north-eastern Namibia are very different to the rest of the country and this was the reason we chose to extend our trip that far. We ticked a completely new suite of Namibian birds, with those typical of the Okavango and Zambezi River system boosting the trip list. The woodland around Ngepi provided comfortable birding on foot to find species like Meyer’s Parrot, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Yellow- and Red-billed oxpeckers and Brown Firefinch. Hartlaub’s Babblers and Swamp Boubous were lifers for our birding son, Adam, and proved to be ubiquitous in the camp. Obligatory river cruises from Ngepi and Popa Falls gave us views of Coppery-tailed Coucal and a sighting of two pairs of White-backed Night Herons.

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