Namibia is no longer synonymous only with barren landscapes, dust and heat. The secret has been revealed, and most travelling photographers now covet the chance to traipse the sands, camera in hand, searching for a different angle, a unique moment of light, and a chance to capture the wealth of diversity and stark beauty this untamed wilderness has to offer.
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Day 1: Arrival in Windhoek. The tour starts in the small but significant city of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, which is nothing much more than a patch of civilization amid sprawling desert hills. We transfer to our accommodation for the night and if there is time start the tour with our first photographic session, focussing on some of the areas more common and photogenic subjects. If there is time, we may explore a nearby hotspot and target our first Namibian endemic birds.
Days 2-3: Sossusvlei. Next, we trade the thrill of ocellated spots, for the sensuous dune curves of the oldest desert in the world, the Namib. There is no better place for a desert photo shoot than amongst the grandiose charm of Sossusvlei. Timing, positioning and choice of subject will allow the imagination to run amok, capturing mesmerizing sand patterns and sweeping grass, amongst contortioned skeletal trees. Shapes, colours and shadows will entertain us whilst the soft light lasts, until our focus swings towards the birds like Burchell’s Courser or a handsome Ludwig’s Bustard.
Days 4-6: Walvis Bay area. Following the contours of the Namib dune sea, we reach Walvis Bay Lagoon – one of Africa’s most important wetland habitats. Teeming with shorebirds, terns, flamingos and squadrons of Great White Pelicans, there is never a shortage of photographic opportunities, just changing tides, and different clusters of feeding birds. When the light is too harsh to photograph birds on the glassy lagoon, we will explore the coastal dunes, hoping to encounter some of its most remarkable denizens, namely Peringuey’s Adder, the photogenic Palmatogecko, sand-dancing Shovel-snouted Lizard or even-tempered Namaqua Chameleon. One day, we’ll make an excursion north for the unforgettable sight of the huge colony of cape fur seals at Cape Cross.
Days 7-8: Spitzkoppe and Erongo Mountains. Leaving the coast behind we head east towards the magnetic beauty of Spitzkoppe. This desert inselberg is home to one of Namibia’s rarest endemic birds – Herero Chat, and here too, we hope to find the delicate Namaqua Sandgrouse, cryptic Rueppell’s Korhaan, and a fascinating legacy of San rock art. Atop the escarpment, teetering on the edge of a now extinct crater, Erongo, we will explore its jumbled, granite boulders and amphitheatres from idyllic comfort. Here, every effort to attract Namibia’s most remarkable endemics now allows the visitor to photograph once difficult species like Hartlaub’s Francolin, Damara Rockrunner, White-tailed Shrike, the recently discovered Black Mongoose, elusive African Porcupine, and dainty Damara Dik-Dik.
Days 9-13: Etosha NP. The grand finale, Etosha NP, promises not to let anyone down. Downloading images and keeping your battery from overheating may become a far greater challenge than finding ideal subjects to photograph. Day and night the struggle for survival is evident throughout the park, and more so during this period – the end of the dry season. With water dwindling, thousands of thirsty ungulates including Springbok, Oryx, Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, and Giraffe drag themselves to-and-fro risking their lives to reach the diminishing water holes. Aware and poised, opportunistic prides of Lion, and groups of Cheetah, are often seen reaping this bounty. As the heat of the day tempers, a distinct night shift awakens, and thanks to the legendary floodlit waterholes it is easy to witness and photograph a star studded procession including Black Rhino, hulking African Elephant, weary Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Hyaena and slithering genets as they approach the waters’ edge. This is but a brief summary of only a few of the many memorable photo shoots that await in Namibia.
Day 14: Etosha NP to Windhoek. After a final morning in the park, we take the several-hour drive back to the capital, where we spend the night in a comfortable guest house.
Day 15: Departure day from Windhoek.
Gallery of the Top 20 Wildlife Targets of Namibia:
PACE: Moderate. We’ll want to be out early, around 6 am, and stay out to around 5 pm, in order to take advantage of the best light and best times of day for birds and mammals. Where possible, we will use the middle of the day to rest up, or travel between localities. There will be a few days that are full days in the field. Namibia is a fairly large country and there are some long drives required, but the roads are good. The longest drive is about 6 hours on day 14, with drives of 4-6 hours on at least three other days. There will be packed lunches on a couple of days.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of our photography is done from easy roads or tracks, or from a safari vehicle. The maximum amount of walking will be around 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) on a couple of days.
CLIMATE: Pleasantly warm, though some mornings can be coolish, but it is dry and overall the weather is a delight (usually 55°-82°F, 13°-28°C). Rain is highly unlikely, but not impossible. In the north and in the Okavango it is a little hotter (usually 59°-87°F, 15°-31°C). The foggy coast can be quite cool at times.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent; all have private, en-suite bathrooms, and full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. Internet is fairly widespread, but not available everywhere.
WHEN TO GO: We often run the set-departure tour in October, when the birds all begin breeding and some of the Palearctic migrant have arrived. Also, it is the end of the dry season, when the mammals are being drawn into the many waterholes that are present in Etosha; it is the ideal time to see a great combination of animals. This trip can be run as a custom tour at almost any time of year, and in the austral winter (May – August) the mammals are excellent, while in austral summer (November – March) it is significantly warmer and the mammals are harder to find, but bird diversity is excellent and the landscapes green up nicely. Custom tours can be tweaked to make the most of any season.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This trip has a roughly even split between vehicle-based photography and photography on foot. There are excellent chances to photograph birds, mammals, and landscapes. On the coast, our photography will be mainly opportunistic, both on foot and from the vehicle. In the Erongo Mountains, we’ll have an excellent blind-like setup with feeders. Etosha is a classic safari destination where we’ll be seeking out big mammals from our vehicle. The camps in Etosha can also be explored on foot, and hold approachable birds.
GEAR: Long lenses are useful in the wide open spaces of Namibia, where subjects are often found quite far away. On the other hand, we will be close to many subjects, particularly big mammals in Etosha. So an intermediate lens or a flexible combination of lenses and bodies is best. Light is abundant, and we don’t do a lot of night photography, so a flash is not essential. A tripod will be occasionally useful, but far from essential. Bean bags and other such ways of stabilizing lenses inside of a vehicle are recommended.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of South Africa, USA, Canada, UK, most of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Visas are required for citizens of India, China, and much of the remainder of the world; please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s a good idea to double check six weeks before you travel.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 14; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 15 (if you have a very early flight on the last day, you may miss the included hotel breakfast); reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; Tropical Birding bird tour leader with audio playback gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 14; one departure airport transfer per person specifically on the departure day (transfer may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 14 in a suitable vehicle (depending on group size it may be driven by the tour leader); entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help you keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.