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Entries about eagles

Our stay at Huab Lodge

Namibia Days Eight to Ten


View Namibia road trip 2004 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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At Huab Lodge

We arrived at Huab Lodge quite hot and dusty after our morning visit to the Petrified Forest and a long drive on Namibia’s gravel roads. And straight away we knew we were somewhere special. This was one of our real ‘splurge’ choices on this trip and it was worth it. Here’s what I wrote for my Virtual Tourist review:

A visit here is more like visiting friends than staying in a hotel. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can afford it it's unmissable! The rooms are fantastic, with huge picture windows with a view of the Huab River (dry for most of the year). Even the showers come with a view (the rooms can't be overlooked by anyone apart possibly by a stray elephant or kudu). The lodge itself is beautifully designed, completely in keeping with the surrounding countryside. There's a natural hot spring, a small pool and a hide for bird-watching. Apart from the birds and the chance of seeing the elusive desert elephants (we weren't lucky) the wildlife isn't as great as elsewhere in Namibia, but don't let that put you off.

What really makes a stay here special are the people. Jan and Suzi will make you so welcome you won't want to leave! Jan is so knowledgeable about the local environment. He can imitate all the birds, identify animals at a glance, and will describe in detail how he and Suzi have restored this former farm-land and given it back to the wildlife. And in the evenings, everyone eats together by candlelight at the long table in the lodge. The food is fantastic and is washed down with a selection of fine wines, lovingly presented by Jan.

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Our room

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Chris on our terrace

On this first afternoon, we had a chat to Jan over a welcome cold drink and discussed what activities we were interested in. At his suggestion, after settling into our lovely bungalow, we headed out with him on a drive around the property. As we drove, he told us more about the land. When he and Suzi bought it in the early 1990s, it had been in use for commercial farming for some time. The farmers had fenced it in, driving away the desert elephants that habitually roam this region and turning them from their traditional migration routes. Other animals had been hunted (the Huab website says that, ‘Some of the previous land-owners shot every animal in sight to make biltong’) and what little water flows here had been diverted to the crops rather than the water-holes on which wildlife relies.

Dismayed by what was happening here Jan and Suzi bought three of the farms along the Huab River. They pulled down the fences and restored the waterholes, to encourage the animals to return. Their aim was to create a private nature reserve which would act as a buffer zone for the desert elephants in particular, and wild animals in general, between the conflicting farming interests. By gradually returning the land to its original condition through anti-erosion measures, and operating a strict hands-off and no-shooting policy, they brought about significant changes.

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Huab Lodge bungalows
(from their website, which I trust as I am recommending the place they will forgive!)

They started to take in paying guests – initially at a simple rest camp, then at the luxury lodge they built here. The proceeds paid for more improvements to the land and they set up the Huab Conservation Trust which financed the purchase of ten giraffes and eight ostriches. But unlike other reserves, Huab isn’t fenced, so these animals and others are free to roam where they want. Their intention in reintroducing game is not to fence it in and manage it for a selected few, but to assist nature in restocking itself.

And it’s working. The numbers of species such as kudu, oryx and mountain zebra are growing and the elephants now sometimes pass through, following their ancient paths, although we weren’t lucky enough to see them.

Jan also told us lots about the different trees we passed, including the bottle tree, Pachypodium lealii. These striking trees are distinguished by their thick bottle-shaped trunk, which is almost branchless until the top. The branches are few and covered with thorns up to a foot long. The flowers appear in the spring, when the tree is leafless, which is why they look so dramatic. Jan told us it was quite unusual to find a tree with as many blooms as this so early in the spring (i.e. mid July).

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Bottle tree in bloom

The Bottle tree is an endemic species of Namibia, growing in semi-desert areas and dry bush, especially Damaraland. Jan described how local people have traditionally used the latex as arrow poison for hunting. In contact with the eyes this latex can produce blindness.

I also liked the white bark of the Mountain Chestnut glowing in the late afternoon light.

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Mountain chestnut tree

Back at the lodge we freshened up and went to dinner in the large main building called the Lapa. It is a large open-sided space, partly built into a granite outcrop and covered by an enormous thatch roof which echoes the shape of a nearby mountain. The meal was served ‘family style’, with all the guests sitting at one long table with Jan and Suzi. Before the meal the menu was presented to us by the chef in her mother tongue, Damara, which intriguingly for us is one of the so-called click languages, helpfully followed by an English translation. Jan then introduced his recommended selection of wines for the evening – both these and our meals were included in our stay. The food was excellent and afterwards we went out on to the verandah with Jan while he pointed out some of the stars and planets, using his telescope for another look at Jupiter and his moons.

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Huab Lodge Lapa at night
(again from their website)

Over dinner we had discussed plans for tomorrow with Jan. The other guests were leaving, and new ones arriving, so we were the only ones accepting his suggestion that we join him on an early morning walk around the property – something he does every morning to check all is well. With that in mind we didn’t linger too long after dinner but headed back to our lovely bungalow to enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep.

Sunrise walk at Huab

We were up early as planned and were glad of the hot coffee served by the Lapa before leaving on our walk with Jan. We set out in the half-light of dawn. It was still pretty chilly so warm clothes were needed. Of course Jan knows this land intimately and as we walked was looking for any signs that all might not be well, but thankfully it was.

We followed the dried-up river-bed for part of the walk and Jan described to us the very different scene in the wet season when for a few short weeks the water (usually) flows through the farm. We also climbed a small outcrop for a wonderful view of the sunrise.

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Huab sunrise

Jan is an expert on the local birds, as on so much else, so was able to tell us which birds we could hear in the bush and even imitate them to encourage more calls and singing.

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Landscape near Huab

Heading back to the Lodge Jan took us up the hill behind the accommodation bungalows and showed us the extensive solar panel system and small generator that keep all the buildings supplied with light and hot water. We arrived back at the main building just as breakfast was being served, a wonderful spread: home-made breads, fruit, various meats, cereals etc – all served on the terrace under what is by then a beautifully warm sun.

We then decided to have a relaxing rest of the day, enjoying the lodge facilities and surroundings. We took books, cameras and binoculars to the hot spring a short walk away, where Jan and Suzi have built a stone shelter and added comfortable seating. We enjoyed a dip in the springs followed by a laid-back couple of hours, although we didn’t spot any passing wildlife.

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At the hot pool

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Helmeted guinea fowl

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Grey Go-away bird?

I did manage to get a decent photo of a Helmeted Guineafowl and a very poor one of what I think may be a Grey Go-away bird, based on a photo I took of one years later in Botswana: https://toonsarah.travellerspoint.com/239/ (unfortunately I wasn’t interested enough in birds back then to have noted its name anywhere).

A black eagle chick changes our plans

By dinner time the new guests had arrived – a woman a little older than us, her adult son, and her brother. As we all ate, they were naturally discussing with Jan their plans for the following day. We were due to leave after breakfast so had no such plans to make, but were interested listeners. The conversation turned to eagles and Jan mentioned that a pair of black eagles was nesting on the property. The nest was high on a cliff face, but he had climbed up a couple of times to check all was well. Last time he was there the egg looked almost ready to hatch and the new baby should have arrived by now. By the way, he did reassure us that unlike other eagles, black eagles won't desert a nest that has been visited, hence his regular trips to check up.

The woman asked if this was something they could see tomorrow and was told yes, if you’re able to make the climb. She assured Jan that she was, as was her son, while the brother said he would be happy to relax at the lodge while they went. I was sensing that Chris was a bit disappointed that we were leaving and wouldn’t be able to join them on this adventure, when suddenly Suzi asked if we’d like to stay until after lunch so that we could do so. With only a fairly short drive to our next destination of course we accepted the invitation. This is one example of why I said in my review that staying here was more like staying with friends as that’s just the sort of thing a friend might do – ‘Stay for lunch, don’t rush away, there’s something interesting happening this morning’. How many hotel owners do the same?

[Incidentally, I’ve read in recent reviews that although Jan and Suzi still own Huab Lodge they are no longer so actively involved in running it, and guests no longer get these personal touches, nor is the guiding quite so good now Jan has stepped back from that too.]

Jan suggested that, instead of waiting at the lodge as he had planned, the brother/uncle might like to come along for the ride and wait at the foot of the cliff, something I was also keen to do (no way could I climb a cliff face!) So we stayed below to watch and take photos of the climb, while Chris and the others started up the cliff.

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The climb to the eagles' nest

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Seen near the eagles' nest

The nest was perched on a rocky ledge high above the dried-up Huab River and wasn't easy to reach. Once up there they could no longer see it, but Jan had left me with a walkie-talkie and using that I could direct them from below so that they went up past the nest at a little distance and then approached quietly from above. The climbers’ efforts were repaid by some stunning views of the young chick, who was about seven weeks old and already the size of a hen. Obviously all the photos here were taken by Chris or others of the party!

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View from the eagles' nest
(taken by Chris)
~ you can see the lodge's jeep and perhaps just make out the figures of the uncle and me beside it?

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Jan & Chris by the eagles' nest

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Chris by the eagles' nest

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Baby eagle chick, 7 weeks old
(by Chris)

We learnt later that the chick continued to thrive and took to the skies a few months later, none the worse for the invasion of his privacy!

Meanwhile we headed back to the lodge for a lunch of spaghetti and a useful chat with Suzi who suggested a better route to Etosha, our next stop, than that proposed by our tour company. So with the route mapped out we loaded the car and somewhat reluctantly said goodbye to Huab and our wonderful hosts!

Posted by ToonSarah 11:01 Archived in Namibia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds road_trip wildlife hotel africa namibia eagles Comments (16)

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