Well, I say ‘charged’, but it was more that we’d been caught up in the middle of a small herd, inadvertently separating two giraffe from the rest. When these two realised they’d been left the wrong side of the waterhole there was a sudden rush to re-group. My guide and I watched in awe as two huge 700kg long-legged animals came hurtling towards us on our horses! Apart from a little side-step our horses bravely stood their ground, and that’s testament to the care and attention put into the training of the horses at Kambaku Safari Lodge.
Giraffe spotting on horseback
I first visited Kambaku for three days back in August 2017 after a hurly-burly riding adventure across the Namib Desert. This lodge based ride was the perfect place to relax, rejuvenate and reflect on the challenging trail ride I’d just completed. In June 2019 when I returned for a week-long stay, I was really looking forward to experiencing the full spectrum of what this family-run lodge has to offer.
One of the three family rooms at Kambaku
During the week I went riding at first light across the reserve in search of impala, kudu, ostrich and those cheeky giraffe. I lounged by the pool in the warm winter sunshine and experienced guided game drives in the golden afternoon light; that magical time of day when the sun dips towards the horizon and the Natal red top grasses are highlighted into little orbs of gold.
Sundowners at the end of the day
Early on in my stay we ride to the south side of the reserve where a bush fire raged in late 2017. It is amazing to see how the land has recovered and regenerated. We spot four big eland and carefully follow them, but their gnu lookouts spy us and they all dart away. On another morning we are enjoying a lovely canter along a sand track when a red hartebeest appears in front of us. We stop our horses to watch as one antelope becomes a herd of about 15 as they emerge from the cover of the bush. Once they see us they canter gracefully away. It is these wildlife sightings and the information about each species given by our guides that makes a stay at Kambaku so memorable.
A graceful red hartebeest
The non-riding activities at Kambaku are really varied; you can head out on bush walks, game drives, spot game at different waterholes, learn about tracking or conservation and even attend ‘bush school’ sessions for more in depth information. Rather than riding twice a day, I chose a more relaxed programme which combined out-rides with non-riding activities. Being more used to riding all day on a trail ride or mobile safari, it was really refreshing to mix safari rides with time spent exploring the bush from another perspective.
Heading out on a game drive
During an afternoon bush walk we learnt how to differentiate between the camelthorn tree and the shepherd bush, recognise the tracks of oryx, impala and eland and we even spotted evidence of leopard and brown hyena. On another afternoon we tracked the giraffe by vehicle and then when we got within sight, we approached closer on foot. Being so near to these huge animals was amazing!
Guided bush walks are offered at Kambaku
As I was staying a week, there was time to dedicate a full day to visit Etosha National Park and I’m so glad I did. Etosha is Namibia’s premier wildlife area, which spans a huge 22,000 km² and is home to more than 113 mammals including species that you won’t see at Kambaku like rhino, elephant and lion.
A thrilling lion sighting at Etosha
After an early 6am start it is a 2.5 hour drive to the eastern gate of Etosha where we stop for breakfast. We are accompanied by a guide from Kambaku and our meals and drinks are included today, even though we are away from the lodge.
You are not allowed to venture off-road in the national park, but even so we saw a huge variety of game during the day including black-faced impala, giraffe, zebra, kori bustard, bat-eared foxes, gnu, kudu and eland. The most exciting sightings were three huge male lions who were lazing in the sunshine and a female black rhino hiding amongst thick bush. Most special of all for me was spending time at three different waterholes observing elephant herds come and go. There seemed to be a pattern whereby one or two ‘scouts’ would approach the water as if to check for danger, then after a few minutes more elephant would appear as if by magic out of the cover of the trees. Finally the remainder of the herd would come along, with the youngsters in tow.
It was great seeing the younger elephants play in the mud, watching the very smallest exploring within reach of their mothers and the old bulls who just seemed content to drink and stand in the water. There was lots of drinking, mud baths and wrestling going on, which was lovely to watch. After an exciting day it was a long drive back to the lodge, arriving just in time for dinner at 8pm.
Elephant & giraffe at Etosha
Speaking of dinner, you are really spoiled at Kambaku! For early risers there is tea, coffee and muffins available on the veranda at first light. Breakfast – consisting of eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, yoghurt, toast, cold cuts and cheeses – will be before or after your morning activity, depending on the timings. Lunch is at the lodge and could be oryx steak, fish with roasted potatoes or homemade burgers. Afternoon tea is on offer soon after lunch to set you up for your next activity. The three course evening meal is served on the roof terrace, (we are visiting in winter and there are blankets and heaters, but you do need to dress warmly for the cold evenings).
Dinner on the roof terrace
Kambaku is very proud of the game meat produced on the reserve and we eat like kings! There is eland steak, kudu meatballs, warthog and oryx sausages, as well as prawns, fish and vegetarian dishes. Dessert is varied and delicious – chocolate fondue, kaiserschmarrn and sour apple cake. There is an extensive wine choice with a recommended wine each evening to accompany supper, plus a recently launched cocktail menu which we are encouraged to sample.
After a full day spent in a vehicle at Etosha it is great to get back in the saddle for the next few days. On an early morning ride one day we watch a herd of zebra out on the open plains. The zebra canter all the way across the horizon from left to right, but despite the action our horses simply graze contentedly. They may have seen it all before, but its a great experience for those of us on top!
A ‘dazzle’ of zebra at Kambaku
The following day, after a fun afternoon ride this time with fellow guests, we stop at a picturesque spot, un-tack the horses and let them loose to find their their own way back to the stables. Watching the sun go down whilst sipping a cold gin & tonic you really feel as though you are in Africa as the sounds of the bush are all around and dusk begins to fall.
It has been a magical week at Kambaku. I’ve loved the non-riding activities and enjoyed the well-schooled, responsive horses. They are safe and sensible, but always up for a good long canter! The food, hosting and guiding has been great and I feel as though I’m coming home having learnt quite a bit about the Namibian bush and its wildlife. I’ve also learnt a few words of German, although whether I’ll retain them is another thing!
Kimmy the gorgeous golden horse at sundowners one evening
Having spent a whole week at Kambaku this time, I feel that I can really appreciate how special the lodge is. Families, couples and groups are made equally welcome. The activities are interesting and varied, whether you are a non-rider, novice or competent rider. If you are an expert rider who has completed full-throttle horseback safaris in Botswana or Tanzania, then Kambaku might not suit you unless you are planning a trip with a non-riding partner or someone less experienced in the saddle. But for most, especially those planning their first trip to Africa, a safari at Kambaku is just perfect.
A sundowner ride – the ideal end to a wonderful trip