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Popa Falls Camp- Another Hidden Gem in Namibia

  
  

In the north east of Namibia, perched at the top of the Okavango and overlooking the uniquely beautiful Popa Falls you can find NWR’s Popa Falls Camp. The camp is the perfect place to use as a base for exploring Namibia’s Okavango Delta and Caprivi Strip.

The camp, which had fallen into disrepair, was recently re-opened by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts and is now welcoming tourists once more.  

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The falls, and the camp are nestled between Zambia and Botswana.
(Image courtesy of Namibia Bookings)

What are the Popa Falls?  

Rather than a classic waterfall the Popa Falls are a serious of unique and beautiful cascading rapids that run over a series of quartzite ledges. In the wet season the series of rapids is a must-see if you are in the north east of the country.

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A section of the rapids that make up the Popa Falls.
(Image courtesy of Dr Klaus Dierks)  

Because the Okavango is perennial, the region close to the falls is awash with diverse flora and fauna. Many different species of fish, birds, antelope and other large mammals have made their homes on the shady and lush banks of the mighty river.  

namibia adventure, Okavango, Wildlife, Caprivi, Namibia tourism, Namibia, safari, safari namibia  

It’s not always all about the fauna-
there is some astonishing flora along the banks of the Okavango.
(Image courtesy of Roxanne Reid)  

Exploring Mahango Game Park  

More than just a place to stay, the Popa Falls Camp is perfectly positioned to break your trip as you head north from the central or southern regions of the country. Close to NWR's camp you will find the Mahango Game Park. The park, much like the rest of the Caprivi Strip is home to a variety of fauna from large mammals to exotic birds. 

The park is famous for its collection of wetland birds; including egrets, cranes, herons, pelicans, storks and various birds of prey like Pel’s Fishing Owl and Montagu’s Harrier. The park has even been designated as an “Important Bird Area” by BirdLife International.

So if you are keen on birding and find yourself on a day trip through the park remember to bring a pair of binoculars and bird book to make a note of all the different species you spot.  

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The park has a large population of African Skimmers.
(Image courtesy of Loretta Aminus)  

Mahango is also one of the few reserves in Namibia, and by extension the world, that is home to a pack of African wild dogs. These notoriously shy and incredibly endangered animals are always a treat to see and the opportunity to catch a glimpse of them should not be passed up on.  

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Three wild dogs seeking some respite from the baking noon sun.  

Other large mammals in the park include bushbuck, reedbuck, tsessebe, sitatunga, and the rare and beautiful roan and sable antelope. There are also, according to reports, migratory elephants that pass through the park, but sightings of these majestic beasts are rare.  

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Herds of various antelope can be seen all over the park.

(Image courtesy of Roxanne Reid)  

**Note that the park is only open for day trips and there are no overnight facilities so it is best to stay at a lodge or a camp nearby if you wish to explore it.**  

Other things to do at Popa Falls Camp

The Okavango is a popular destination for fisherman as the river is stocked with abundant Tigerfish, Threespot and Greenheaded tilapia. Staying at the Popa Falls Camp will give you an excellent place to base yourself if you wish to launch a fishing expedition on the upper sections of the Okavango in Namibia.  

The camp is also a good place to just take a few days off and let off some steam by the riverside. Sometimes travelling around can be hard work and a day or two of solid relaxation can go a long way to making your trip around Namibia even more enjoyable.

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Have a refreshing drink at the Popa Falls Camp's jetty bar.

The Popa Falls Camp also offers safari cruises on the recently launched “Queen Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah” houseboat. On one of these excursions you may well spot some of the local fauna including hippos, crocodiles and the endemic antelope as you wind your way up and down the river.  

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Another striking sunset over the Okavango
(Image courtesy of Dr Klaus Dierks)  

Staying at the Popa Falls Camp

The camp has over 40 beds for sleepy travellers and these are divided across 10 river chalets and three family chalets. The camp itself has all the facilities you need including a restaurant and bar.  

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Pictured above: A traveller's best friend.

If you don't particularly like having a roof over your head then there is also space for you to camp, and there is also a designated area for overland tour operators where they can leave their overland vehicles as well.

**Note: SADC citizens get a 25% discount when staying at any NWR camp, while Namibian NamLeisure cardholders will receive a 50% discount. Internationals also get a 10% discount so be sure to enquire ahead before you get to the camp.**

For more booking information contact NWR here.

For a list of a few other places to stay in the region check out this link.

Namibia's Sesriem Canyon: Just before the dunes of Soussesvlei

  
  

Sesriem is often only thought of as just a gateway to the famous and amazing Sossusvlei, but it is also home to the Sesriem Canyon, a natural gorge carved millions of years ago by the once mighty Tsauchab River.

If you are heading into the Namib and you find yourself in the Naukluft National Park of Namibia, you will no doubt hear talk of Sesriem, a small settlement with a filling station and general supplies store close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains.

 

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Sesriem Canyon, Namibia

Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

 

Some Sesriem Canyon Facts

The canyon’s birth dates back between two and four million years, when continental upheavel resulted in the creation of most of the westward flowing rivers in the Namib Desert region.

Today the Tsauchab River only runs after good rains fall in the nearby Naukluft Mountains, but the canyon is a testament to the rivers long-past prime some 15- 18 million years ago when the gorge was created by the river’s once sweeping movement.

The canyon is up to 30 metres deep at points and is roughly about 1km long- with a width that ranges between one and three metres wide, flattening out as it approaches the iconic Sossusvlei.

The name Sesriem is derived from the Dutch/Afrikaans words for “six (zes) belt (riem)” and was given to the settlement by explorers returning from the Dorsland Treks. “Six belt” is a reference to the six belts, usually made of Oryx hide, that a thirsty settler would have to tie together in order to reach down into the deep hollows in the canyon floor to extract the crystal clear cool underground water which collects under the canyon’s floor.

 

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Take a stroll along the river bed of the Sesriem Canyon

Photo courtesy of summitpost.org

 

What is there to do?

Sesriem canyon is an interesting place to walk and appreciate the canyon’s multiple layers of exposed rock. It is best appreciated at sunrise or sunset, where the changing shadows and soft light foregrounds the area’s breathtaking scenery, setting up excellent photography opportunity or offering a weary traveler a chance for some quiet reflection.

For those visiting by day, a walking trail leads into the canyon from where the layers of the different sedimentary layers are more clearly visible.  A variety of tree species also grow within the canyon, such as the unique laurel fig.

Do note though, if you are visiting in the warmer months of the year, do try and avoid walking around during the hottest parts of the day. Rather beat the heat and leave for your walks through the canyon very early or later in the afternoon when the Namib begins to cools down.

 

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If you're staying in the park, ask your lodge to organise a special sundowner over the canyon for spectacular views

 

The Sesriem Canyon’s hidden treasures

After good rains, pools of water collect in the narrow, sheltered sections on the floor of the canyon. These pools of crystal clear water are an invigorating sight in the barren and stark surrounds, and some of the larger pools even present adventurous explorers with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim.

Deeper hollows in the canyon’s floor hold supplies of permanent water, even in the dryer months, which many animals use to survive in the harsh land. The pools are filled with species of fish, so be on the lookout for the barbell which call these pool’s their homes.

A campsite managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts is situated close by under huge camel-thorn trees, and right by the Sesriem gate, hot air balloons depart in the early morning, providing scenic flights over the Sossusvlei dunes.

 

Visiting Sossuvlei via Sesriem

The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from the entrance the Sesriem gate of the Naukluft National Park, and the drive to the famous dunes will take about an hour.

The gate into Sesriem only opens at sunrise, so if you are staying outside of the park (which you will be unless you are staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge), you will have to wait until sunrise to begin their journey to Sossusvlei.

 

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Never-ending views over the Namib at Sossus Dune Lodge, a stone's throw from Sesriem Canyon

 

More stories

If you like nature walks: read about the Waterberg

If you like canyon hikes: read about the Fish River Canyon 

 More on the Sossusvlei area

 Waterberg Fish River Canyon Deadvlei 

 

Safaris and Conservation in The Waterberg

  
  

The Waterberg is a vast and tremendously steep plateau in Central Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo. The Waterberg plateau has stood fast and has silently watched as the land around it has been submerged in water, choked in massive sheets of ice and eroded over the millennia. The plateau is made of a much harder rock than all that surrounds it and as result it now rises 200 meters above the surrounding savannah. 

The plateau

The symbolism of the Waterberg Plateau is important to note. It has stood against time’s greatest tests and remains steadfast. It is fitting then that this plateau and the national park that sits atop it now stand steadfast in the battle for the conservation of some of Namibia’s most endangered species. 

namibia geology

The Waterberg Plateau seen from the savannah.

The plateau and 405km2 of the land around the plateau were declared a national park in 1972. The plateau’s steep cliffs make it an extremely difficult region to access so the government at the time decided to designate the plateau as a space for the preservation of endangered species. In this newly formed park it was felt that at-risk and endangered species could recuperate and eventually flourish safe from the threat of poachers and human encroachment.

 namibia savannah

A view of the surrounding savannah from the top of the plateau.

The government officials were right. In the Waterberg Plateau Park populations of black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, and antelope such as tsessebe, sable and roan are all on the increase. These species are being brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the geological features of the plateau and the never failing hard work and dedication of the park officials.

Rhino conservation

Black rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in Namibia and the world and their proliferation in the Waterberg is one of the major conservation success stories in recent times. There are only about 3,610 Black Rhino still left in the wild and thanks to programs such as those run in the Waterberg Plateau Park Namibia has 1,750 of them. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism does regular censuses in the Waterberg but keeps the numbers confidential to deflect any potential interest from high-level and well-organized poachers.

black rhino

Black rhino taking a dip in the Waterberg.
(Image courtesy of Africa and Beyond

You may not drive, but you can walk

Access to the Waterberg is strictly controlled and is only possible through a series of checkpoints. As a result one cannot simply hop in one’s car and drive around the Waterberg Plateau Park. If you want to drive through the park you will need to book a place on one of the twice daily safaris the park offers (see below).

The Waterbeg Plateau Park is however accessible in ways other national parks are not. A visitor to the park can choose from any of the many walking trails found all over the park. These trails crisscross the plateau and extend from its base to its summit. A map of the trails can be found at the NWR reception near the entrance of the park.

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Map of the park's many walking trails.
(Image courtesy of African Reservations)

The big advantage of being able to walk through the park is that you are able to experience the wildlife in a way that is totally different from other national parks in Namibia. By foot not only do you get to get up close to some of the animals that live in this park but you also get to experience the varied and beautiful flora of the park.

hiking namibia
Our guide Makondjo had an expert knowledge of the local flora.

Weeping WattlesKalahari Christmas Trees and the protected Leadwood Tree, can all be found in the park, growing alongside the trails and even on the face of the plateau.

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Much of the plateau's face is dotted with trees like this one.

There is even a chance that on one of these walks you will come across some of the mammals that have taken up residence in the park. Kudu, cheetahs, leopards and water buffalo are just four of the 26 species of large mammals that can all be found in the park. If you are attentive (and quiet!) you may spot and/or hear some of these animals as you traverse the park on foot. Keep a look out for tracks in the sand as you make your way along the trails and you may get lucky.

describe the image

This dik-dik was kind enough to pose for us as we made
our way along the Mountain View trail.

The bird life of the Waterberg is nothing short of astounding. With over 200 species of birds it is a birdwatchers dream. Numerous raptors such as peregrine falcons and tawny eagles are found in the park and chances are high that you will see one up close. Various vultures, including the critically endangered Cape vulture nest within the park's boundaries. According to our guide Makondjo the best walk for avid bird-watchers is the Fig Tree walk.

birding africa

Follow these signs for the Fig Tree walking trail.

All the walking trails are all clearly marked by route markers and none of the trails require you to be an expert hiker. Being in good physical condition is advisable but many patrons of the park, young and old, can navigate most of the trails with ease. If at any point you feel the going is getting too tough then simply turn around and head back the way you came. 

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When on any of the trails up the plateau just follow these painted feet.

For those who are more adventurous (and are in better shape) than most check out some of the longer multi-day hikes that the reserve has to offer.

 

9 GETTING TO THE TOP IS EASY

Getting to the top of the plateau is easy, leaving the views behind is not

Safari drives

If walking and hiking is not really your thing then fear not! You can take a guided safari drive led by the resident game rangers. There is both a morning and a late afternoon drive. All you have to do is let the NWR reception know that you wish to book a place on one of these drives.

11 giraffe copy

Giraffe seen from the road whilst on the late afternoon safari drive

The drives include a visit to some of the park’s seven watering holes. These watering holes are specifically designed to be non-intrusive areas from which to watch animals in their natural environment.

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Looking out of a watering hole hide deep in the park-
patience and silence are needed if you want to capture some of the rarer game

The Waterberg's multifaceted history 

The Waterberg’s attractions are not limited to its flora and fauna. There are both anthropological and archaeological sites of interest as well. The Waterberg was the site of a major battle during the Herero uprising against the German colonial forces. There is a graveyard near the entrance to the park which commemorates soldiers lost on both sides of the conflict. The exact location of the park is on the map you can pick up from reception. 

A little harder to find are the dinosaur footprints found in the surrounding area. You will need a guide in order to find these and enquiries in this regard can be made at the NWR reception.

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Dinosaur footprint
(Image courtesy of Richard Desomme via Panoramia) 

You can stay at the NWR lodge or the private Waterberg Wilderness lodge both these lodges have the advantage of being located in the national park. The NWR lodge also has a rich history closely associated with the early German settlement in the area and is definitely worth checking out. Many of the buildings found in the park are from the early 1900's. Besides these two options there are many other options that will put you within striking distance of the park as well.

 NWR lodge, accomodation namibia

The Waterberg Plateau Park's NWR run dining hall is a former police station that has been
reconditioned and aesthetically preserved

Why you should visit the Waterberg

The Waterberg’s unique blend of flora and fauna, and its sociological, anthropological and archaeological points of interest make it a must visit for anyone touring around Namibia. It is a bastion of conservation and relaxation. It is also a hideaway from the crowds of the bigger and more over-visited safari spots in Namibia. This park is suited for the traveller who is looking for something a little out of the ordinary on their journeys around Namibia.

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A massive tree that has grown into the rock and formed a natural slide

Bizarre Desert Plants of Namibia

  
  

Trees that cut their own branches? Jurrassic plants? The Namib Desert sure is home to some of the world’s rarest and most interesting flora and fauna. Guest blogger K Kristie has pulled together the facts on these strange life forms found in Namibia...

 

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Namib Desert, photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

 

The Namib is a largely unpopulated and inaccessible desert in Namibia and southwest Angola which forms part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Nicknamed the world’s oldest desert, it stretches 1,200 miles in length with an average width of only 70 miles along the coast of Namibia to form one of the most spectacular and richest deserts in the world. It’s also called the Skeleton Coast as many ships have been marooned on its treacherous coast. The Namib Desert is also home to the highest sand dunes in the world and some of the world’s rarest and most interesting flora.

 

Welwitschia Mirabilis

 

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Welwitschia mirabilis in Namibia (Damaraland) photo by Nanosanchez via WikiCommons

 

This plant is one of the few things on earth that can be truly called one of a kind. It consists only of two leaves and a stem base with roots. Both leaves that grow from opposite sides of the stem will continue to grow and never drops and instead gets brown by the sun and torn by the wind which will eventually look like lots of individual leaves. The stem gets thicker rather than higher although it can grow up to six feet high and twenty-four feet wide. At the age of 20, cone-like flowers appear. The female plant produces up to 100 flowers in a season, while the male produces an abundance of pollen.  Its lifespan is estimated to reach 2000 years.

Welwitschia mirabilis was discovered by botanist, explorer and medical doctor, Friedrich Welwitsch, in 1860 in the Namib Desert. He wanted to name it Tumboa, its native Angolan name but the plant was still named in his honor. The specie mirabilis means marvelous or wonderful in Latin. This plant is considered a living fossil and Charles Darwin was reported to have described it as “the platypus of the plant kingdom.”  

Click here to see one of the biggest Welwitschia caught on camera.

 

Halfmens

 

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Pachypodium namaquanum, photo by Winfried Bruenken from WikiCommons 

 

Pachypodium namaquanum, more commonly known as elephant’s trunk, clubfoot, halfman or halfmens is a succulent plant that can sometimes look like a tree when fully grown. The name halfmens (this is how they spell it) is an Afrikaans word meaning semi-human which came from the fact that from a distance the plants look like people walking up a slope. This spiny cactus-like plant which can reach up to 4m tall can also attain an unmistakable bottle-like appearance. The flowers which appear from July to September are red on the inside and yellow-green on the outside. The crinkled leaves found at the top are velvety to the touch.  Fruits are horn-like and brown in color. Halfmens are found in dry rocky deserts at altitudes from 300-900 m above sea level. It can live up to more than a hundred years old. The name Pachypodium is a Greek word meaning ‘thick foot’, an allusion to its swollen base, while namaquanum is a reference to Namaqualand, an arid region in South Africa.


Baobab Tree

 

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Baobab in Northern Namibia (Kunene) photo by Hans Hillewaert from WikiCommons

 

If there’s one tree you will never forget, it’s the Adansonia digitata. This is the most amazing plant in the planet. It’s capable of providing food, water, shelter and medicine for both animals and humans giving it the title “The Tree of Life.” It’s been called “grotesque” and “botanical monster” by some. The tree is leafless during most time of the year giving it an appearance as if its roots are sticking up in the air thus one of its common name—the upside-down tree.

The humongous white flowers last only a day and are pollinated by fruit bats. The fruit, called monkey-bread is a large, egg-shaped capsule covered with grayish green to yellowish brown hairs. It has a hard, woody outer shell with a dry, powdery substance rich in vitamin C which when soaked in water provide a refreshing drink that resembles lemonade thus giving another one of its common name—lemonade tree. This drink is also used to treat fever and other common ailments. The cork-like bark is fire resistant and is used to make cloth and rope. The leaves are used for condiments and medicines. The tree is capable of storing hundreds of liters of water, which is tapped during dry periods.

Mature trees are frequently hollow, providing living space for animals and humans. Trees are even used as houses, prisons, pubs and barns. Its broad trunk which can measure up to 15 meters in diameter doesn’t have annual growth rings. Its age can only be measured through radio carbon dating which found that baobabs can be over 2,000 years old.

The name Adansonia was named in remembrance to French naturalist Michel Adanson; the specie digitata meaning hand-like refers to the shape of the leaves. Other nicknames include cream of tartar tree, bottle tree and even dead-rat tree from the fact that it’s woody seed pods with furry coating look like rats hanging by their tails. Adansonia has six species in Madagascar and one each in mainland Africa and Australia. The biggest specie is the digitata or the African Baobab.

See images of a Baobab toilet and a Baobab pub.

Read about the different uses of one particular Baobab in the Owambo region of Namibia

 

Quiver Tree

 

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Quiver tree forrest, photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com

 

Another bizarre desert plant is the Kokerboom or Quiver tree. It has smooth branches covered with a thin layer of whitish powder that helps reflect away the hot sun rays. The bark has beautiful brown scales with razor sharp edges. The tree has blue-green leaves and the flowers which bloom in the months of June and July are bright yellow in color. The branches and bark are used by Kalahari San Bushmen to make quivers for their arrows thus the name. Large trunks of dead trees are also hollowed out and used as a natural refrigerator where water, meat and vegetables are stored inside. The fibrous tissue of the trunk has a cooling effect as air passes through it. The branches and trunk of the quiver tree are filled with a soft fiber that can store water. But in severe drought, it seals off its own branches to save moisture loss through the leaves. The branch end looks like an amputated limb. The quiver tree is in fact not a tree but a giant aloe. Its height can reach up to seven meters and has a lifespan of more than 80 years old.

 

About the author

K Kristie is a full-time mother of two and a part-time freelance online content writer from Malaybalay, Philippines. Her subjects are mostly about health and nutrition, plants, animals, and geology.

See K Kristie's full profile here

Follow K Kristie on Twitter @HeyKKristie

 

This article was originally published on scienceray.com and has been republished with consent from the author, K. Kristie.

 

To learn more about the weird and wonderful plants and animals of Namibia, visit our website for more info here or follow us:

            
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