Our original plan for Namibia was to check out Etosha NP. We skipped it on our last trip to Namibia in 2015 so thought we should check it out. However, everyone we met along our trip said it was a waste of our time and recommended skipping it. I had looked into Khaudum NP which would be a convenient place to stop enroute from the Caprivi strip to Kaokoland. However there were a lot of mixed reviews. And to top it off, everything I read said that you were required to drive in a convoy of at least two cars to be allowed in the park – yikes! However, days before entering Namibia, we met a couple who had just come from Khaudum and liked it much more than Etosha. They confirmed the convoy requirement was out of date and told us the park was totally abandoned. There was no one at the gate and no one at the campsites so you could just camp wherever for free. This was all very enticing so we decided to just go for it!
We entered the northern gate of the park. From the main road there isn’t even a sign marking the entrance. You just have to know where to turn off (thankfully we were given this warning by the aforementioned couple). Then there is a long winding DEEP sand road. This was the most difficult part. I guess this is where the majority of people get stuck even before they get into the park. It took over an hour for this tiny stretch of road….we were starting to have some second thoughts and fears about what the roads were like inside. Maybe the convoy requirement was right!
Then we pulled up to the gate and were surprised at how fancy it was. We had expected no one to be there so we just went ahead and let ourselves in. But we were very suprised that there was actually one guy in the office! We did need to check in and pay a small fee (I think it was something like a few dollars). There are only two working campsites in the park, one in the north and one in the south. They both had been previously abandoned by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) but recently another company had taken over the northern site. The guy at the gate warned us that it was very expensive to camp at the north site…but we didn’t really believe him.
We headed out into the park around before sunset. The best features of the park is that it is home to the only wild dogs left in Namibia and the largest population of Roan antelope. Thus far we had only seen a dead roan (lion kill) so that was the main draw of going to Khaudum. And of course Wild Dogs are always a favorite! We weren’t in the park for more than 10 minutes before seeing two roan – soo exciting!! However they took off so fast I didn’t even have time to pick up a camera!
We heard that there are so few visitors to Khaudum that the animals are very skittish and scared of vehicles. I didn’t really process what this would actually be like. In other parks the animals could absolutely care less about cars being around and the noise doesn’t bother them. This was like nothing we had ever seen. Everything ran away so fast you couldn’t even get within 100 feet of them. I started getting pretty worried I wouldn’t even be able to get a picture of a roan!
Right as sun was about to set we had a cheetah cross the road in front of us. Even though it was really quick and not the best sighting, we were still really excited because this was our first cheetah of the trip!
We reached the northern Khaudum Camp after dark and almost just drove to a campsite because no one was at reception and it was sooo incredibly dark. But at the last minute someone came running out and we had to pay $33 per person to camp which was insane for this park. For an area which has difficult game viewing and is not very popular, I could not believe they would charge some of the higher campsite rates we had seen across Southern Africa. Also, the campsites were small and packed closely together. Our neighbors were being so loud we had to spotlight them to ask them to quiet down (first time we’ve had to do that on this trip). Then we noticed that there were newly constructed private ablution blocks at each campsite with sit down toilets, sink, outdoor showers and a covered picnic pavilion. These are nice features, but totally unnecessary. I would have rather had a site with no facilities that was $10. The last straw was that they charged an extra $10 per vehicle. No campsite has ever done that! Ugh. Wish we had just listened to the guy at the gate and bypassed this campsite! What really made us angry is that the donkey boiler did not work and even with a whole bundle of wood the water would not heat up. Typically camp staff light your donkey boiler – they even offered this service at the $5 campsites in Zim! We were very frustrated and disappointed with this campsite.
We left early the next day and headed to the southern side of the park. We only saw 2 cars all day. The landscape looked similar to CKGR. There are a series of waterholes which you can drive to and each has a raised platform for game viewing. Some were better constructed than others but it is always nice to see efforts being put into building game viewing hides.
We saw a few more roan, some impala and started seeing elephants as we got closer to the south end of the park. Also lots of oryx.
We had planned to stay at the Sikereti camp near the south gate. We arrived to find the reception building totally abandoned. It looked like something you see in a movie when people flee in fear of an approaching apocalypse. There were filing cabinets dumped over, cups still sitting on tables, papers strewn about and clearly no attempt made to clean anything up. How strange that they would just suddenly leave everything as it.
We planned to set up camp there but as we were pulling towards the campsite a group of 3 cars sped past us and seemed to be racing over to the campsite to claim their spot and set up their stuff. We found this really annoying. We were hoping for some peace and quiet after our loud neighbors the night before. So we decided to head out to a waterhole for our evening drive instead of setting up camp.
On the way out we found two roan who were quite close on a ridge right next to the road. Instead of running immediately, they just froze. They froze long enough for me to climb on the roof with my camera to finally get some pictures! Fantastic. I decided these are my new favorite antelope. You just can’t get over how unique they are. Their faces look like they have been painted. They have these black eye spots then a long shaggy neck which looks like a scarf. Their ears are the most distinctive because they are elongated like elf ears. As I was sitting there watching them they were staring me down and wiggling their ears. The most expressive and animated animals I’ve seen. I love them!
The waterhole was much farther than we thought and the sun was setting as we arrived. The waterhole had a really nice raised platform built above it. We decided that it would be more dangerous for us to drive back in the dark than it would be to just stay there (the roads are not well marked and very overgrown). So we camped at the waterhole platform for the night. You definitely aren’t supposed to do that but we didn’t want to get stuck in a worse place driving back in pitch black and also did not want to be stuck camping next to those group of jerks that would most certainly be loud.
This was our first experience bush camping, although I would hardly call it bush camping because we had a nice structure next to us. However, my head started to swirl with scary thoughts. I realized that we could easily be stalked by a leopard so decided we best not be outside running around late into the night. We cooked our dinner and I took some star photos then we retired to the tent. My ears were perked all night but we did not have any visitors (that we know of!).
We exited the park the next morning and made a stop in a San village. We had hoped to do a village tour and a bush walk with some of the tribe. However, there was no one around and only a few tents with tarps that made it look like a refugee village. The history of abuse towards the San people across Southern Africa is so tragic. Seeing with my own eyes how they are now forced to live was very heartbreaking.
We stopped for gas in the largest village in this area which is inhabited by mostly San. I bought some ostrich shell jewelry from the San ladies. We were amazed at the incredibly distinct body habitus and facial features are of the San. They are shorter, thinner, lighter complected and have a flatter face with wide set eyes that almost look Asiatic. Thankfully we had a chance to spend time with and learn from the San in another area at the end of our trip.
Khaudum was a very unique experience and I am so glad we made this last minute decision to visit. To this day we have still not visited Etosha and I am not sure we ever will. If given the choice – I always prefer to go more “wild” and off the beaten path. Khaudum is wonderfully wild and untouched but don’t get your hopes up of too many animal sightings. I am certain there is an abundance of wildlife there – but the animals do their best to avoid humans. I don’t blame them!