Friday, 17 March 2017

Namibia 2017 Part 11. Etosha N.P. Dolomite Camp

It was hard to believe we had been in Namibia for 9 nights already, the time had flown by so quickly.Still not to worry we had plenty more time including a potential 8 days in Etosha alone.
Today would be particularly interesting as we were heading west to Dolomite Camp.
Dolomite Camp. I was not sure what to expect as the reviews I had read on Trip Advisor were so bad. The camp is only about 5 years old but it was reported to be falling apart due to lack of maintenance, was manned by miserable untrained staff who cared little for their guests. It was even reported that they ate the food intended for the guests so at breakfast there wasn't a lot on offer.
We were leaving behind the land of plenty at Etosha Village but what would be, would be. I could do with eating less anyway!
It's a long drive to Dolomite from the Anderson Gate, somewhere in the region of 150 kms I seem to recall. My plan of not entering via the Galton Gate after leaving Grootberg had been criticised as not making sense and on paper it didn't but my accommodation bookings were inflexible so that was the way it was. I now had to drive to Dolomite, had a full day there, then I'd drive back again, next stop Okaukuejo Camp. This wasn't like driving on the public roads though , it was driving through the national park. No different to driving around when staying in or near to the park.
We probably were on our way by 9.00am. I don't like to rush Claire through breakfast etc, it's her holiday too after all.
She was in the driving seat but for this trip I sat alongside her rather than in the back. The Photographer's Guide Book suggested that there were a lot of dry waterholes along the way and that the best ones were on the road south leading towards the Galton Gate. I was hoping to check them out as we travelled and we ignored the signs for  Grunewald as it was too far off the main track and also got the thumbs down in the book. Suddenly I spotted a bird stood in the middle of the road and asked Claire to slow down.
It was a bird of prey, that much I was confident.
We approached very slowly and on the wrong side of the road to enable me to get a shot. I decided from distance to use the 7D with it's crop factor mounted on the 600mm lens.
It was eating something, what I couldn't tell
Bateleur   Terathopius Ecaudatus
As we got closer I changed to the 1D full frame
Bateleur   Terathopius Ecaudatus
The original mouthful looks like a moth's wing but later shots suggest it has a bone at it's feet. Maybe a birds leg and feathers?
Bateleur   Terathopius Ecaudatus
Anyway, it was immediately obvious to me that this was a juvenile Bateleur. The head feathers give the game away even though I had never seen a juvenile before.
The bird looked quite happy with our slow approach and I was hoping to get even nearer when I heard another car coming up behind us.
The first we had seen in 30 minutes.
Typical! The bird flew in to a nearby tree
Bateleur   Terathopius Ecaudatus
and as the car went past took off altogether. Still, I was happy with the shots I had already got .
We seemed to be driving for a long time and saw little until we arrived at a small dam. It's more a causeway as there was hardly any water but it did hold a single Wood Sandpiper. Where were all these waders that the NP is famous for during the summer months?
Wood Sandpiper    Tringa Stagnatilis
Beyond the dam the vegetation changed quite markedly from the sparsely covered ground to the east and became more dense.  It was hard to see anything other than Larks and Shrikes sat on the bushes. When we arrived at Bitterwater waterhole we diverted to take a look. It wasn't dry as had been suggested but it wasn't occupied by much either. What we did see though was a Pied Crow, my second sighting of the trip and this time in camera range.
Pied Crow   Corvus Albus
Pied Crows are common in The Gambia, not so Namibia from what I saw.
Continuing on we next came across a lot of water to the side of the road. It wasn't marked as a waterhole so it must have been the results of rain that had fallen in recent days. Interesting we hadn't seen any since Grootberg but we were heading in that direction and we had seen storm clouds in the distance on previous days.
The water was well attended too.
Blue Wildebeest
Not only Wildebeest but good numbers of Hartebeest.
Far more than I had seen previously, it was quite a big herd and they had youngsters with them too.
Not far down the road we got to Tobiroen waterhole and there were even more.
In the foreground you can see an Abdim's Stork, there must have been about 50-60.
Abdim's Stork   Ciconia Abdimii
They were happy to get very close to the car too.
Abdim's Stork   Ciconia Abdimii
I'd seen a single bird previously several days before but now I was spoilt for choice.
Photos captured we moved on but whilst doing so made a mistake. We found ourselves passing a building which seemed to house NP vehicles and we assumed it was some sort of depot for the wardens. It may well have been but we didn't find out until our return journey it's also Olifantsrus Camp, a tenting only accommodation. Opposite the entrance is the road south to Galton Gate and the one we had intended to take. It's totally unsigned, or at least it was in February, and we sailed on past.
Not to worry, it meant we'd get to the Dolomite a bit quicker as it is the most direct route from the east.
Had we not missed it I would however not seen several things we did so it turned out well!
A family of Ant-eating Chats were worth stopping for, here's one of the youngsters.
Ant-eating Chat   Myrmecocichla Formicivora
but just bit further we found another flock of Coursers and yet another new species.

Burchell's Courser   Cursorius Rufus
This time it was Burchell's Courser.
Burchell's Courser   Cursorius Rufus
and amongst them  a Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark.
Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark  Eremopterix Verticalis
The scenery was changing again, the vegetation more sparse once again.
We were just at the turning for Duineveld waterhole when I spotted this beauty.
I mistakenly thought it was a Damara DikDik.
It's not, it's a Steenbok. DikDiks are apparently shy, this one wasn't!
and when I had the opportunity to photograph more in a weeks time I thought I already had the photo in the bag but that's another story. I never did get a photo of a DikDik and consequently I don't know if I saw one!
Anyway, we headed up to the waterhole and there to my surprise were more vultures than I have ever seen before in one place. Certainly a lot more than the two previous single bird fly pasts I had photographed in Namibia.
According to my guide book Duineveld has a resident pride of Lions, were the vultures feeding on the remains of a kills? 
Lappet-faced Vulture   Torgos Tracheliotus
There were definitely Lappet-faced individuals but the majority were White-backed Vultures.
White-backed Vulture   Gyps Africanus
They weren't eating either, they seemed to be sunbathing!
They were some distance away and the heat haze presented me with problems photographically. 
White-backed Vulture   Gyps Africanus
Or maybe that's just me at fault. 
Lappet-faced Vulture   Torgos Tracheliotus
In groups of two and threes the birds took off.
White-backed Vulture   Gyps Africanus
There seemed to be less distortion once off the ground.
White-backed Vulture   Gyps Africanus
and you also got to see the top view as well! That had been an excellent find and it was the only time we saw vultures in numbers. Never did see a Lion there though and unfortunately I didn't have the time to try a second time.
Moving on we were getting ever closer to our destination. Another stop to photograph a Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle  Aquila Rapax
and from what I can recall at the moment the second of only two we saw.
Tawny Eagle  Aquila Rapax
We had had a disappointingly low count of some birds, raptors amongst them.
Suddenly though we were there! Dolomite Camp laid out on the hillside in front of us.
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
The individual huts/ chalets well spaced apart.
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
Only one room ( not sure what you'd call them) has a view of the waterhole below but as its 350m away it's too far for photographs. Would I be the lucky one with the view?
We'd soon find out.
We took the wrong turning again and found ourselves actually at the waterhole. It was deserted!
Back on track we found the right turn off and arrived in to the Dolomite Camp car park.
There's a sign informing you that you have been seen and a vehicle will come to collect you but if it doesn't arrive within 5 minutes honk your horn! 
I'd heard reports of the vehicle being broken down all the time and sure enough there was a golf buggy with a flat tyre parked underneath one of the canopies. Maybe the reports about the whole camp would be accurate. It's a long haul up hill to reception, maybe 200m or so, maybe it feels longer than it is, anyway I was going to start walking when a vehicle came down the hill to greet us. They loaded us and our bags, well the bags I decided to take to our room, some we had organised so as to leave in the car. I had heard security was an issue too at Dolomite. You couldn't lock your doors. Would things be safe in the car? These are the questions that go through your mind when the seeds of doubt have been planted!
Anyway, the buggy/jeep took us so far and we walked the final 30m to the reception and the grim faced receptionist we had heard about.
I entered with a big confident smile and warm greeting.... and got exactly the same back. We exchanged a few pleasantries whilst enjoying the refreshing drink we were offered on arrival and had a laugh about taking the wrong turn off as others had done before us. It was all very nice indeed. We were given our room keys and carried on up the hill, another 30m perhaps.
We were met by the lads who had driven us up, they had just dropped our bags outside our room.
There was an extremely secure lock on the door and once opened in we went.
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
I was impressed. It was lovely.
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
Seperate loo and shower rooms, a balcony with a stunning view
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
and I'll admit we paid extra for one of the two Deluxe rooms which had your own private plunge pool on the terrace.
Dolomite Camp   Etosha NP
What was there not to like?
As have all NP accommodations, there was a fridge and as you are asked to stay in your room after dinner in case you should be attacked by wild animals ( yes I know but it is an open unfenced camp) I was pleased we had plenty of gin and some tonics too!
Dolomite Camp
A fabulous spot to watch the sun go down. Well, not quite, we were facing east and we couldn't see the waterhole either but who cares. The biggest advantage was it was nearest to reception, if you are furthest away it's a fair old walk.
How much did we pay for all this luxury? Well in truth I'm not 100% sure. When you book you have to pay up front which I was pleased to do, especially as the £ had started it's free fall. I think it was around 17.85 per £1 at the time. Two nights at Dolomite and two nights in a waterhole chalet at Okaukuejo came to £645. There were cheaper options but this was my treat for Claire as the wildlife was my choice not hers. Dolomite is 50% more expensive than Okaukuejo for those rooms so I figure it must have been approaching the £200 per night mark. ( At today's exchange it's nearer £230 and that's off season) On top of that you have your meals to pay for too and they are 230NR per person per night as well as bar drinks. You can safely add £30pn. Not cheap then! But is it worth it?
Well it was a treat. We didn't need the Deluxe room, we didn't use the pool or the sunbeds, the weather turned out poor! But we did enjoy it. No advantage being inside the park from a waterhole viewing point of view, and we didn't actually see many animals heading that way either. In fact I didn't see any but that's another story too. I was in a hurry to get out and catch the last light of the day. Claire wasn't feeling her best so she stayed behind, I headed off to the nearest waterhole passing a Giraffe and stopping for photos on the way.
That done I continued on to Rateldraf waterhole, allegedly good for Lion and the possibility of Leopard up a tree according to my book. There were neither but there were quite a few Mountain Zebra there including a young one too.
Mountain Zebra
Mountain Zebra
I love the stripes on the Mountain Zebra, closer together than the Common Zebra and without the paler brown ones as seen in the photo below.
Common Zebra
There were Burchall's Coursers hunting for food on the ground but not a Lion or Leopard to be seen though and although there were several trees along the turnoff to the waterhole I never did figure out the supposed latter's favourite.
Time was running out as it was getting later in the afternoon. Still time to visit Klippan waterhole though. I'd passed the turn off already so it was on the way back, however, it was a much longer drive to get there. When I'd left Dolomite I'd seen a biggish group getting in to their tour bus and I caught up with them along this road. I decided to pass and what a good job I did!!!
The first vehicle to arrive I couldn't believe my eyes as to what was at the waterhole.
Black Rhinoceros
I edged slowly in to position not wanting to disturb the Rhino.
Black Rhinoceros
I'd driven in to the car park "the wrong way around "so that I would find myself on the right side of the car for photography. The coach followed closely behind meeting me head on, lucky me I had the prime spot though. The perfect angle for viewing.
Black Rhinoceros
The Rhino knew we were there but probably couldn't see us too well. We were about 60m from the waterhole and it did cross my mind that if it decided to charge I was trapped by the bus!
Black Rhinoceros
Fortunately it was more interested in having a drink.
What a stunning view of this formidable beast. It was there for some time, in no hurry and neither was I ! I decided to stick a 2.0x teleconverter on my 600mm lens.
Black Rhinoceros
With hindsight I don't know why as whenever it moved I was failing to get the whole animal in the frame. I think my obsession for detail once again got the better of me!
Black Rhinoceros
You can however crop your shot even further when it's big in the first place.
Black Rhinoceros
Eventually it moved away and I grabbed my 7D which was ready to go with the 100-400 lens on it.
Black Rhinoceros
What an experience that had been. Totally exhilarating , the adrenaline rush you get when you are a photography addict! I could scarcely believe what I'd seen, one of my best wildlife moments ever perhaps. The room at Dolomite Camp might have been expensive but it was now worth the price. I was so disappointed Claire hadn't been with me to see it and I felt guilty at the prospect of telling her as I knew I'd not be able to conceal my excitement!
There was only a solitary Egyptian Goose other than the Rhino so no point in hanging around. The weather had gone quite dull, the wind had picked up, it was all very bleak at stony Klippan waterhole.
Time to head back to camp although I did stop for some Zebras again . Bit ordinary though compared to what I'd just seen!
Mountain Zebra
For now it was sundowner time, check out dinner, and in the morning I'd investigate more of the local waterholes.

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