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Stuck in the mud

Easter weekend saw us heading north for a friend’s 50th birthday and the prospect of tackling a new self-drive 4×4 route between Hobatere and Etendeka. Due to recent rain, driving into Hobatere was a very different experience from the one we’d had in Feb 2020 – read our report on that visit to Hobatere – everything looked amazingly green. However, this meant that we did not see a single animal on the 16 kilometres to the lodge. The warning about lions being on the prowl was sadly redundant on this occasion. However, our sundowner drive was more fruitful, with large herds of springbok, zebra and gemsbok happily frolicking in the fresh grass.

Kudu at Hobatere

Kudu near Hobatere Lodge

Elephant along 4x4 route

Elephant along the Ombonde River

After enjoying a relaxing day at Hobatere on the eastern edge of Etosha National Park, the real adventure began. With a journey such as this, it is crucial to make sure you have all the necessary kit – spare tyres; tyre gauge; tow rope; sand tracks; compressor; spade; energetic child to dig; sufficient drinks and snacks; and GPS. According to our host, previous guests had driven the 100km trip in c.4 hours. We later discovered that they might have been somewhat creative with their timekeeping!

Setting off just after breakfast, it was an easy jaunt along the Otjovasandu River with just one slightly tricky uphill section before reaching the vet control at Kamdescha. These control points are situated along the ‘red line’ a veterinary fence to control the spread of foot and mouth disease in Namibia. It seemed odd to find such a large compound of buildings in the middle of nowhere, but after a few minutes, the necessary official was found and duly waved us through. Because we were crossing north, there was no check for contraband. However, it’s important to remember that red meat cannot be transported back south over the vet fence.

Mountain zebra

Mountain zebras in Little Serengeti

Driving in Little Serengeti

Driving in Little Serengeti

There was evidence of elephant activity along several sections of the riverbed, but with thick vegetation, we didn’t have great expectations of seeing anything. Therefore, it was wonderful to spot a lone bull happily munching on the river bank.

After passing a few deserted kraals, we returned to the riverbed close to where the Otjovasandu joins the Ombonde River. By this stage, most of us felt pretty confident about the terrain and started to pay more attention to the beautiful surroundings. This was a mistake – as we rounded a bend, we found the front vehicle well and truly stuck in the mud! After hooking up a kinetic tow rope, deflating the tyres and digging around the wheels as best as possible, the next hour was spent cajoling the vehicle back on to more solid ground. After this heroic mission, finding a shady spot for lunch was a fitting reward.

In comparison to the Sea of Sands 4×4 trail, we’d recently done through the Namib Desert, driving along the sandy riverbeds was simple and easy, allowing for plenty of time to take in the scenery.

The next section of the 4×4 trip took us out of the river and on to the spectacular open plains of ‘Little Serengeti’. Probably stark in drier months, we were lucky enough to find swathes of silver-green grass and carpets (even if very spiky) of duwweltjies as far as the eye could see. We were not the only ones attracted to this scenery – suddenly there were animals everywhere! Large herds of springbok, a dazzle of zebras, and a tower of giraffes.

5 giraffes in Little Serengeti region

Giraffes in Little Serengeti

Driving in Little Serengeti surrounded by duwweltjies

Little Serengeti drive

springbok on 4x4 trail

Springbok

Once we left Little Serengeti, the terrain became rockier and slow-going. By this time, it was clear that the 4-hour time frame was woefully incorrect as it was already mid-afternoon. Although to be expected, this fact was not helped by two vehicles acquiring punctures over the next few hours. The desire to be at camp before sunset was becoming more pressing. However, rains meant that a section of track had washed away, so everyone had to get out and search for where we should be heading. Thankfully this did not take too long, and we were once again on our way.

Little Serengeti

Stretching our legs in Little Serengeti

The final leg of the trip took us up a steep, rocky track just as the sun was setting. This had been reported as the most challenging portion, but thankfully no one seemed to struggle with it. We then just had to circumnavigate around ‘crystal mountain’ and down another very steep section (beautifully paved with rocks and chicken-wire) to Etendeka Lodge. What a welcome sight! And what a delicious cold beer!

The Hobatere to Etendeka 4×4 trail is both beautiful and rewarding. The early sections along the (normally) dry river beds are relatively straightforward. However as one leaves the river beds and nears Etendeka the track becomes extremely rocky and taxing on drivers, vehicles & tyres!  We would not recommend it for inexperienced off-roaders, as one needs a fair bit of experience, patience and equipment to negotiate it safely!

Sunset as approaching Etendeka Mountain Camp

Sun setting as we approach Etendeka

4x4 on the final section of the trail, near Etendeka

Last uphill section

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