Saturday, 18 March 2017

Namibia 2017 Part 13. Etosha N.P. Okaukuejo Camp.

Our stay at Dolomite was over in no time and I have to say, of all the places we stayed it was the best location. The views equalled Grootberg but the surrounding viewing opportunities were better, better still in the dry season I suspect.
My overall opinion of the place is positive. The room was excellent, OK, the one standard plug didn't work, the lights were difficult to figure out, maybe they all didn't work , but our enjoyment of the room wasn't in the least bit diminished . 
The staff were fine, even if they went missing at times, they were always there when I needed them.
The food was OK, in fact other than Claire's choice of a half roast chicken which was too dry to eat, everything else was very good. The advantage at Dolomite should be that with just 40 guests to cater for food can be cooked to order. My steak was excellent and cooked to perfection.
There are two dining tents and two bars although only one bar was open. They were showing footy on the TV too! Both dining rooms had a big table for the tour groups and one or two small ones for the likes of us.
Dolomite Camp
Breakfast was self service with the exception of the orders taken for eggs and bacon. Our table was next to the window flap and true, the zip was broken and the draught came in. The previous evening the wind had been strongish but it didn't bother me in a short sleeved polo shirt. Some people on the tour table complained and were even wearing anoraks for dinner. I thought they had severely cold winters in Bavaria ? Maybe not. Anyway they were no older than this old pensioner who toughed it out easily!
Would I recommend a stay? Yes, I would. The west is worth a visit and to be honest there are not many alternatives to staying here unless you have a tent. Meals and drinks are the same at all the NWR camps. 230NR for a 3 course dinner. If the food is good enough to eat it's not expensive. However, when you look at Peak season prices our room is £300 per night including dinner. I'd think twice about that depending on the alternatives. Grootberg had better facilities on site, and better food too. We had paid £172 per night there. Dolomite must have been around £230.
Having now been I might not return, but the same applies to Grootberg too.
So far Etosha Village was winning the overall best accommodation competition by a substantial distance. Right outside the park gates, superb food, great facilities, excellent room, the best so far other than the view. How much is a view worth though? At £91 per night it worked out that Dolomite's view cost £140 and Grootberg's £80 without other considerations.
Now that is food for thought!
Anyway today we were heading to the main camp in the NP at Okaukuejo. The waterhole here is considered the finest viewing in the park. Floodlit at night, you can watch the comings and goings from a reasonably close distance, and if you have a waterhole chalet you can even nip out in the middle of the night to see if there is anything about.
I'd even packed pyjamas just in case!
First though we had to get there.
I decided to not bother with a revisit to the southern waterholes, instead taking the most direct route. I wanted to get to the next camp with plenty of time to view the waterhole in daylight.
Whilst Claire finished packing our gear I stepped outside to have another attempt at capturing the Swifts on camera.
I was amazed at the size of a moth that was on our door frame.
Big moth!
It was a real stunner and as big as anything I have ever seen in the past.
This time I was going to try the 1D on the 600mm for my flight shots. Should give me better results ...if I can hold the camera outfit for long enough. 
Common Swift   Apus(European)  Apus
A winning combination for sure, but the body still aches now! Mind you my hit rate was probably no better than with a smaller outfit. I deleted 200 shots to get a handful!
Ready for the off we bade farewell to Dolomite and as we were passing we nipped in to take a last look at the waterhole below the camp. A few Mountain Zebra, probably the last we would see on the trip but wait a minute... A Ludwig's Bustard was wandering off, in fact there were two of them.
Ludwig's Bustard     Neotis Ludwigii
A much better image than the previous night too. That was worth the 2 minute detour. 
Arriving back on the road we appeared to flush a Black-backed Jackal.
Black-backed Jackal
It was the first I can recall seeing at the west end of the park but I'm sure there will be plenty.
This one posed beautifully and pretty close by too. Best shots to date!
Black-backed Jackal
Not far along the road we came across another Tortoise only this one wouldn't move whilst we were there, choosing to hide in it's shell instead.
Leopard Tortoise
We couldn't hang around and there was no traffic on the road, besides it was on the very edge so comparative safety.
Next stop was for a Hornbill, my second Yellow-billed one.
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill   Tockus Leucomelas
but basically that was about it for quite along way. No vultures at Duineveld this time, nothing in fact as was virtually the case in all the waterholes we looked at until we got to Ozonjuitji m'Bari.
There we found all the Abdim's Storks that were moving slowly eastwards it seemed. There were quite a few Springbok about and my first decent opportunity for Helmeted Guineafowl shots.
Helmeted Guineafowl    Numida Meleagris
When we passed over the dam it seemed there was quite a bit more water than the previous time we went over the causeway, still not a lot, but the bird numbers had improved. Some new species for me too, well new for the trip anyway.
Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt  Himantopus Himantopus Williams[/url], on Flickr
and Pied Avocet
Pied Avocet   Recurvirostra Avosetta
By now the sun was pretty intense so photography was difficult again. Claire was the loser though, we always seemed to get good weather when we were travelling from A to B.
Looking in the distance though it appeared that the clouds were gathering once again.
Etosha NP.   Namibia
Although the sun hadn't shone in the west it hadn't rained on us. Sitting on the hill in Dolomite Camp we had seen storms and lightening flashes over the middle of the park. Maybe the Gods had been on our side after all.
There was evidence of standing water on the roadside, and this in an area that is very arid too.
Perfect in fact for our next little gems!
Double-banded Courser! That made three new Coursers for the trip.
Double-banded Courser   Rhinoptilus Africanus
Elegant little birds the Coursers are too.
Double-banded Courser   Rhinoptilus Africanus
Nearby we also spotted some more Namaqua Sandgrouse.
Namaqua Sandgrouse      Pterocles Namaquav
both the female as well as the male of the species and so much closer than our other sighting.
Namaqua Sandgrouse      Pterocles Namaquav
Even on a relatively uneventful day there seemed to be something new. I was still loving every minute, I was in photographer's heaven in fact.
We got to the camp mid afternoon and checked in at the reception desk. We were given the keys to Waterhole Chalet No 1. Probably the best chalet of the lot although the bigger family ones do have an upstairs and balcony view over the waterhole. We were advised to book a place for dinner as table space was limited due to improvements currently underway in the dining room. We would be eating outside which to me is always a big bonus. I requested 8.00pm I think but was advised to make it 7.30pm as rain was expected later.
Off we went to the room and again we were more than happy with what we found. The chalet rooms are semi-detached with a shared outdoor seating area outside the front door.
Inside the room was spotlessly clean and as with Dolomite had a fridge too.
20170217-IMG_3120 2
The decor might be basic but that isn't a problem.
20170217-IMG_3121 2
The whole reason for booking is the proximity to the waterhole which was right in front of us.
All set then I wandered over to the bench and set up camera and tripod and waited for some action.
It was quite a while before these Impala came down to drink, 
Black-faced Impala
There were four in total, the same number of Springbok followed from the group behind then it all went quiet. 
Over on the far side I spotted a Roller so I lugged my gear over there.
I had cracking views too
Purple Roller  Coracias Naevius
I thought it was Rufus-crowned but as they don't occur in Namibia it had to be Purple.
Purple? Well in normal daylight it's difficult to see why but as the sun went down and shone on the front of the bird, suddenly you can see why!
Purple Roller  Coracias Naevius
I took loads of shots, the bird was more than co-operative. Shame the sunlight was coming in from the wrong angle but that's why my chalet was my considered favourite, well for evening light down that end anyway.
I spotted four Zebra coming down to drink so I decided I would take some shots of them.
Common Zebra
Yes, everything was in fours! I think I probably had four beers before heading off for dinner too. There might not have been anything to look at but at least it was pleasurable just sat by the waterhole.
Unfortunately the next thing wasn't. Dinner.
Disgusting. We vowed that we wouldn't put up with that again.
The buffet was an indescribable soup, light brown in colour, it was labled Cauliflower but after several guesses Claire gave up trying. It didn't taste anything like it should do. The choice of meat was lamb or something game, kudu perhaps. It was tougher than the proverbial old boot and the accompanying vegetables the opposite. Murdered! Pudding ? Well at least there was ice cream to accompany the dried up Swiss Roll. Remember them!?
My comment about the food at Dolomite was that if it was edible it was good value for 230NR per person. It was priced exactly the same here and was a total rip off. 460NR was £30 wasted. They have a shop selling food, there are BBQ's available to use too. That would make better sense for the following evening!
Back at the waterhole it had now started to rain so we climbed the steps in to the covered viewing area. All I can say is there is no way it would pass UK safety regulations ! Still, despite the precarious  entry and exit in the pitch back we still survived and didn't spill a drop of the G&T's I fetched and carried. We were told we hadn't missed a thing during dinner and in fact we didn't see a thing in the next hour or so either. Still we shared good conversation with some German guests to while away the time before eventually giving up and heading for bed.

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