Day 1: Little Ongava. It’s not uncommon for an African lodge to be a destination in and of itself. This is because many lodges protect private concessions of precious wildlife. Such is the case with Namibia’s Ongava. Its premier offering is Little Ongava – three villas with private swimming pools perched on top of a hill. The villas overlook a lighted watering hole frequented by Ongava’s many black and white rhinos. Try to arrive in time for lunch, and then enjoy a quiet afternoon of soaking in your private pool. Head out on the afternoon game drive, where you almost certainly will see both black and white rhino. Then do a night safari, spotting nocturnal animals, before ending at a rhino watering hole. There, you will be able to hide behind the safety of blinds and observe rhinos drinking just ten yards away.
Day 2: Ongava Concession. Take the morning game drive, and then after lunch, head out on a walking safari. The experience is different when you approach the animals on foot. After the night game drive, ask for a private dinner under the stars.
Day 3: Etosha National Park. Although Ongava’s reserve is part of the Etosha ecosystem, Etosha Pan is itself is controlled by the Namibian government and must be accessed through a separate gate. The pan is a 75-mile-long dried lakebed encrusted with salt that gleams white in the Namibian sun. No off road travel is allowed. The salt pan is surrounded by watering holes, and the routine is to drive from one to the next, observing the animals drinking (either before or after crossing the waterless pan). In the distance, the migrating herds are evident from the trailing clouds of white dust. The Gailles’ experience was mixed. Some watering holes were swarming with birds and animals, including lions waiting to pounce. Others had view, if any, animals. Still, the scenery of the animals against the white salt was worth the all-day trip.
Day 4: Sossusvlei. When most people think of Namibia, they picture its towering red dunes. Those are Sossusvlei, a two hour flight from Etosha. The andBeyond Sossusvlei lodge sits on a private concession overlooking the dunes. There are no big cats at Sossusvlei so this provides for more outdoor activities. On the Gaille’s first day, they hiked up into the cliffs to view ancient rock art. Then they spent the evening racing ATVs through the dunes. Afterwards, as night fell on the desert, jackals, foxes, and aardwolves appeared. The rooms at Sossusvlei also have stargazing skylights above the beds. Turn off the lights and lay back, watching shooting stars streak across the heavens.
Day 5: Dunes and Canyons. Similar to the situation at Etosha, the best of the sand dunes are protected inside a Namibian-controlled national park. It’s a short drive away from the lodge. The word Sossusvlei means dead-end marsh. Sure enough, at the end of the park road, a meandering stream eventually runs into a giant sand dune, ending as a pond. There, you can hike to one of the most photographed locations in Namibia – Deadvlei – a salt pan where the petrified skeletons of dead trees rise from the salt against a backdrop of giant red dunes. Climb one of the dunes on its edge for a panoramic view, and then run down its slope in giant leaps. It almost feels like you are defying gravity. On the way back to the lodge, stop at Sesriem Canyon, formed when there was more water flowing here. Walk along what’s left of the river.
Day 6: Air Safari. Don’t fly straight back to Windhoek. Pay for extra fuel and do an air safari first. Fly over Deadvlei, and then west to the skeleton coast. It’s the only way to get a feeling for the immense scale of the Namib desert and its sea of sand.
Hotels: Little Ongava (Etosha)
andBeyond Sossusvlei lodge (Namib Desert)
Photo tip: Deadvlei
Photo tip: On the ATVs
Photo tip: Air Safari