We visited Desert Rhino Lodge as part of our honeymoon trip flying in with Wilderness Air. Welcomed at the airstrip by Moses, who was a fabulous guide with a great sense of humour (and gave us a fantastic afternoon drive complete with desert elephants, hyena and sundowner). The game ranger vehicle was always equipped with blankets and cushions for warmth and comfort.
This part of Damaraland is rocky desert - beautiful and incredibly dry and we learned about the wildlife and how they survive in these conditions, as well as the flora and geology of the area. The focus here is rhino conservation but we saw other wildlife as well despite the drought conditions. There are a number of information boards in the lounge area providing an outline of the great work that the Save the Rhino Trust undertakes here.
We were also welcomed at the main lodge by Jacques, Nicola and Gertrudia. All the lodge staff were lovely and very attentive - in fact, a very friendly team who made every minute of our time spent here very special. On our last night, we found our cabin decorated with candles, potjies filled with dried apricots, cashews and biltong, a farewell card and a chilled bottle of champagne which was such a lovely thoughtful touch. There was a very relaxed ambience, whilst maintaining a thoroughly professional approach.
We particularly enjoyed having the meal menus presented in both English and the local Damaraland language which folks will generally recognise as one of the clicking languages spoken in this part of south-west Africa.
Our room was a tented cabin which was clean and very comfortable with a lovely welcoming card. The cabin also had Peaceful Sleep mozzie spray, Doom and an air horn in case of an unexpected emergency. We enjoyed a fantastatic evening having dinner in a boma beautifully decorated with chairs round the fire and entertained by the staff singing some lovely harmonies and dancing. The food was delicious - a great achievement given such a remote location - and an excellent wine selection.
We spent a day following the trackers (again, a very friendly bunch of guys) to see rhino both by vehicle and foot stopping off for a bush picnic lunch in a canyon, surrounded by stunning scenery. This was a long 12 hour day on some very bumpy tracks so remember your sports bras, girls!!
Turn-down in the evening also included hot water bottles and an extra warm blanket on one night that was cold, so it was so cosy to get into a warm bed. The night sky here is wonderful - although we had a full moon so star gazing was limited to the brightest ones... but we still saw a shooting star!
On the day we left to get our next aircraft flight, the staff assembled next to the vehicle to sing farewell - again, a very touching gesture. My lasting memory will be of a wonderful team and community with outstanding hospitality supporting a great cause - thank you for making this such a special time for us and keep the good work up for rhino conservation.
Our warmest wishes
Cath & Steven
PS - Let's see what happens next in the RWC!
This is a great little camp and I normally would have given it a much more positive write up. Not sure whether they were having a turnover of staff but management seemed a little less than efficient compared to other Wilderness camps.
To the positives first - room and en suite bathroom were clean and very comfortable. The guides and trackers were superb and it was good to see their passion for looking after these wonderful creatures facing such hardship. Nothing but superlatives for them.
On overall coordination - we did not get the regular water bottle handed out as you get to camp until the following morning since they were being sterilized. One would have expected sufficient bottles to meet the needs of rapid turnover of guests. Similarly the capes to keep you warm during the evening drive were not available since they were being cleaned. Additionally no blankets were placed in the Jeep either and one of the people sharing our Jeep was completely frozen by the end of the drive.
On the day of our arrival - the two of us plus another couple arrived for a late lunch and were expecting an evening game drive. We were told to be ready to depart at 5:00pm but nothing happened and then at 6:00 we had a ten minute drive for a sundowner.
Clearly none of these issues are major. It just takes a little bit better coordination and management to get an exceptional rating.
We had a tight schedule and only 24 hours to stay at this lovely quiet lodge. We wanted to see Desert Rhinos and only had the evening to see them. The guide and 2 trackers were superb in finding 2 shy but lovely Black Rhinos only an hour's drive from the lodge. We were able to get within good visual range, about 100 meters away and took some fine photographs. The lodge itself and our room was delightful. All the people at the lodge made us very welcome and after dinner gave us a seemingly spontaneous 20 minutes of entertainment of local songs and dance.
So much of our experience was due to the wonderful staff. The great attention provided by super friendly folks is a treasure. Esther has a wonderful staff, which provided us with a great experience.
Our room was lovely and very comfortable, although with our ‘bush drives’ we did not have much time o enjoy the relaxing porch.
A unique location with a great camp.
After a succession of 4 separate flights starting from Windhoek (i.e. taking off from and landing on a succession of ever smaller airstrips) we had a leisurely drive into camp with our driver, Herunga, stopping to point out a variety of bird and plant species en route. We were met by a welcoming choir comprising most of the camp staff who were, without exception, friendly and eager to please. (There are only 8 tents and even when the camp is full the staff to guest ratio is 2:1.) The camp manager, Esther, is one of the best we have encountered; Winnie was the most enthusiastic singer; Johannes was a superb driver and guide for the rest of our stay.
Accommodation is at the more rustic end of the camps operated across Southern Africa by the excellent Wilderness safari company. 'Tents' are mounted on wooden platforms: they have canvas walls and roof but also possess many mod cons: electricity for lights and camera charging points as well as running water (hot dependent on solar panels) and a flush toilet behind a curtain. By design there is no Wi Fi for guests although it is provided in the staff quarters so that the day after the UK General Election a member of staff was able to end our suspense.
A large and comfortable bed faces the striking red hills characteristic of this part of Namibia. The rooms are furnished in a distinctly African colonial style with simple but stylish wooden and leather furniture and copper wash basins. There is ample storage for clothes and an inclusive laundry service collects dirty items in the morning and returns them clean and ironed later the same day. An in-room safe is provided as well as an electric fan for hot days and hot water bottles for cold nights. Similarly, flasks of hot and cold water enable you to make a drink to accompany the jar of home-made cookies.
Given the isolation from anywhere with significant population, the food is always at least satisfactory and sometimes very good. Breakfast (taken around 6.00 when you go out on game drives) is a buffet, though hot dishes are available. Lunch is equally simple, usually served cold whether in camp or in a shady spot when it is too far to return. For those with the appetite there is tea and cake mid-afternoon. Sundowners are central to the programme with a refreshingly old-fashioned dinner at a communal table: the 'choir' strikes up again, dishes and wines are described in advance in both English and the local dialect, and invariably comprise soup, some form of roast or barbecued meat with a vegetarian option and rounded off with dessert and coffee.
Compared with the Kruger or Botswana, wild life is very elusive and trackers work that much harder. Our first game drive lasted 11 hours over broken and uneven terrain, albeit with a lunch break, and by the time we returned to camp we were exhausted. There is an abundance of bird life in the concession: we saw about 30 species new to us over our 3-day stay. In what is the Namibian winter we saw plenty of Hartmann's zebras, oryx and springbok; fewer jackals and giraffe; single species of brown jackal, elephant, ground squirrel and meerkat. We saw no big cats although fresh tracks confirmed that there were cheetah and leopard about.
The main event, however, as the name of the camp implies, is tracking and then walking (under close supervision) to a suitable spot to photograph the endangered black rhinoceros. Success is never guaranteed but we struck lucky on both days out, the first after 5 hours' driving, the second after only 2. The first encounter was with a female and her 2.5 year old calf at a distance of 100 metres; the second with an adult male at only 30. As rhinos could outrun Usain Bolt (and maintain the same pace for several miles) viewing on foot is potentially dangerous but it is clear that you are in safe and expert hands. Trackers go on ahead, initially in their own vehicle but at times covering miles on foot. They are actually employees of the 'Save the Rhino Trust' which in this area works closely with Wilderness Safaris and the local community to ensure that the economic benefits from tourism outweigh the potential gains from poaching. (Mature adults are also de-horned which gives them a slightly unexpected appearance - though much better that than being shot.) As with all encounters with genuinely wild and rare animals, it was a humbling experience and, along with the impromptu choir assembled again when we left the camp, afforded memories that will last for the rest of our lives.