Damaraland Elephant Safari
Remote, rugged and inaccessible: Namibia has a wealth of natural assets and dramatic landforms etched with poignantly delicate colours that combine to create a pristine wilderness. Such is the Namib Desert. To the north lies another rugged area known as Damaraland which has everything the Namib offers plus a remarkable population of desert-adapted wildlife. The sheer remoteness of this challenging horse riding safari makes it unsuitable for inexperienced riders since encounters with Elephant, Rhino and even Lion are possible. On the other hand, this could be the most thrilling riding adventure of your life!
Damaraland horse ride Namibia
Day 1: Getting to Namibia
The overnight flight from London travels via Johannesburg and on to Windhoek.
Day 2: Windhoek.
Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, has a refreshingly small airport, Hosea Kutako! None of the mayhem of Heathrow, passengers walk across the concourse to the terminal building, complete immigration and customs formalities and in no time you’re with your guide heading to River Crossing Lodge.
The lodge is on a private 6,000 Ha ranch and consists of cozy rondavels, each with private facilities and stunning views out across a huge valley. At dinner we’ll meet Andrew the vastly experienced guide and owner of the horses and listen to the plan for the next ten days.
Dinner and overnight at the lodge.
Day 3: drive Windhoek to Twyfelfontein
After an early breakfast drive due north, stopping en route for lunch before reaching camp at Twyfelfontein, which means “Doubtful spring”. In this arid land water sources are crucial, so if one is seasonal, or unreliable, it was named accordingly. Twyfelfontein has been inhabited for an astonishing 6,000 years. The spring has been a site of shamanistic ritual during this time with the result that there are dozens and dozens of rock engravings and painting. The San Bushmen and Khoikhoi (later derogatorily referred to as ‘Hottentots’ by the Cape-Dutch) people worshipped here. Older than Stonehenge, but with an equally mystical and a spiritual feel to it, this is a great place to begin the Damaraland encounter. Also like Stonehenge, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
7 hrs driving.
Overnight Aba Huab camp. FB.
Day 4: The Huab River.
This is the River Huab watershed, where good going invites a few brisk canters and allows you to get acquainted with your horse and the terrain. With the rising sun at our backs, we begin our westward journey to the distant Atlantic. The rivers in this part of Namibia are ephemeral: most of the time there is no visible surface water, but the large, mature camelthorn and leadwood trees prove that permanent water exists beneath the surface. The cycles of rainfall dictate the seasonal movement of game, which is rarely concentrated, but we can encounter elephants, giraffe, rhino, gemsbok, springbok and other desert-adapted game.
5 hrs riding.
Overnight back at Aba Huab camp. FB.
Day 5: Following the Huab
The Huab valley has a magical feel to it: just like other parts of Namibia, Boer farmers tried to make a living farming cattle here; extracting water and erecting fences, both of which had a devastating effect on indigenous wildlife. Just like other parts of Namibia, farming proved fruitless and the farms were abandoned, to be purchased by individuals committed to turning back the clock and reinstating natural fauna. The conservation efforts are being successful with the result that today you may see desert elephant, rhino and giraffe. You are virtually guaranteed to see a variety of boks (Springbok and Gemsbok in particular).
6 to 7 hrs riding.
Bush camp. FB.
Day 6 and 7: From Huab to the Ugab watershed.
During the next two days we ride from one water shed southwest into another. The two rivers are both ephemeral and the fauna is similar. The Ugab is longer, rising in the mountains a long way to the east and ‘flowing’ parallel to the Huab to reach the Atlantic Ocean on the infamous Skeleton Coast. The birdlife is probably better in the Ugab and includes shrikes, bee-eaters and babblers. The Pale Chanting Goshawk and pearl-spotted owl are also resident here, and the latter is unusual because it tends to hunt by day and is tiny! About 6” high with a belligerent, quarrelsome expression (probably small bird syndrome!).
6 to 7 hrs riding each day.
Bush camp. FB.
Day 8: following the Ugab River.
Today is a day of metamorphosis as we descend from the rugged mountainous country onto slightly flatter land. The huge glacial valleys, tabletop mountains and the tortured folds and fractures caused by ancient volcanic eruptions and restless tectonic plates are left behind.
8 hrs riding.
Bush camp. FB.
Day 9: onto the Great Plains.
This morning when you open your eyes you’ll see that the surroundings are dramatically different: the vegetation, such as it is, is at ankle level, the horizon is a long way off and the flat, sandy-gravel plains stretch away into the far distance. Inland the view is dominated by Brandberg, the ‘Burning Mountain’ (2,570m). The name comes from the glow the mountain exudes some evenings when the setting sun strikes it just so.
7 hrs riding.
Bush camp. FB.
Day 10: Crossing the Great Plain.
Leaving the river valleys far behind we now cross the vastness of open plains, reminiscent of the Namib Desert ride. Brandberg continues to form the dramatic backdrop and wildlife is seen less frequently. The endless plains allow for some fast-paced riding as we approach the dramatic Messum Caldera, named after a British sea captain from the 1850’s. A caldera is the eroded remains of a massive, collapsed volcano. Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is also a caldera, but there the similarity ends. Ngorongoro is clearly a natural amphitheater, whereas this caldera is heavily eroded and it’s tricky to discern the original structure. This one is 18Km in diameter which is a tad smaller than Ngorongoro.
7 hrs riding.
Bush camp. FB.
Day 11: Reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Our last ride takes us to the ocean and the spectacularly formidable Skeleton Coast. Just off shore the Benguela current flows which makes the waters rich feeding grounds for marine life, but hazardous for shipping. There are wrecked hulks of stranded ships all along this shore which is where the macabre name comes from. The cold, upwelling Benguela Current also creates diverse weather conditions from hot desert easterly winds to cold south Atlantic westerlies; this is a place of extremes!
We overnight in the small coastal town of Henties Bay in a private house with the most spectacular view over the Atlantic Ocean. Our last meal together is freshly caught Atlantic fish done to perfection over the coals.
6 hrs riding.
Day 12 Departure
After breakfast the transfer leaves early for Windhoek (a 6 hour drive) arriving at Windhoek International Airport in time for the evening flight.
Day 13: arrive London.
We can cover anything from 20 to 50 km riding per day at all paces and sometimes over rough terrain. Please note that this is a desert so routes can change due to unpredictable weather, the discovery of a new trail and other unforeseen circumstances.
The backup truck does not accompany the ride for days 5, 6 and 7 because there are no roads. It is therefore important to pack two smaller bags instead of one large one. Please keep luggage to no more than 20 kg per person (total) divided between two bags.
Included in the price
All riding, meals and drinks while on the ride.
Twin share accommodation on first and last night.
Full board and lodging on the first and last night.
Airport transfer from Windhoek to start of ride and from Henties Bay back to the airport.
An excursion to the World Heritage site of the Twyfelfontein Rock Engravings
Not included in the price
International flights (please call for details and a quote)
Bar bill on first and last night.
Safari staff gratuities.
10 nights, 7 days riding.
2 nights (first and last) in lodges
8 nights camping ‘wild’.
Please be aware that Namibia has a minus 1 hour daylight saving time from April to September.
Due to the remoteness of this ride emergency evacuation insurance is provided for all riders. This insurance would medi-vac a casualty to Windhoek hospital. However, all riders are required to carry comprehensive medical insurance, including repatriation, to dovetail with this facility. Travel insurance is mandatory.