A Wild Cat Walk at Hammerstein Lodge

I petted a leopard today and a cheetah! We hadn't really expected our “cat walk” to be quite as up close and personal as it turned out to be. Let me backtrack a bit. We couldn't get reservations near Sossusvlei as we'd hoped, so instead we opted for the Hammerstein Lodge, about 60 km (36 miles) south. It was on the way and they mentioned a “cat walk” on their website page. We thought it might be a good night's stop. We knew when we'd arrived by their unique entrance gate. entrance to hammerstein lodge in namibia

The lodge was a kilometer or so off the road. A herd of sheep was meandering up the road as we entered and we slowly shooed them out of the way to head up to the lodge reception.

sheep traffic jam hammerstein lodge namibia

As we made our way to the parking area, we were a bit dismayed by the number of tour buses and vans in the parking lot. We checked in and were pointed in the direction of our room … quite a ways up the hill and pretty isolated from the rest of the lodge. Maybe that was good. The receptionist asked if we were having dinner with the “group”. Ummm … we'd had a big lunch and decided to forgo the buffet featuring local beast being devoured by 60 or so German tourists. He asked if we were interested in the cat walk … a tour was just leaving. No, we'd prefer the morning, if possible. “How about 7:30?  You'll probably be the only ones on the tour.” Yup, that's what we wanted. We headed to our room, then wandered around the property for a bit. There was a springbok named Honey that roamed about freely and a friendly oryx in an enclosure that came right up to us and offered his nose for a scratch.

hammerstien lodge namibia

We were up early with the sun and wandered down for coffee and breakfast. Arniston met us right on time and we set off to see the cats … just us and the guide. We walked about 200 meters and came upon a large enclosure and there was Lisa, the leopard. The Hammerstein's son, Matthew, had adopted Lisa when she was a cub and she lived with Matthew, in his room, for over a decade. She came up to the fence immediately and Arniston began stroking her fur. Really? We can pet her? “Sure, just be careful. She can grab you with her paws.” Petting a leopard … what a thrill. Her fur was soft. She purred loudly as we stroked her. We walked the length of her large enclosure and she followed us like a puppy, rolling in the sand, rubbing against the fence, looking for, and receiving, attention.

lisa the leopard at hammerstein lodge in namibia

At the next enclosure, Arniston opened the gate and we walked right inside to meet the caracals. Caracals look like very large domestic cats with long pointy ears, like a lynx. They're usually nocturnal, so we had to hunt for them. Romeo and Juliet were napping under a camelthorn bush and barely visible behind their camouflage. Again, these were rescue cats and though we prefer seeing animals in the wild, we'd probably never would have seen this species of cat at all.

juliet the caracal at hammerstein lodge in namibia

Next we headed to see the cheetahs. Once again Arniston unlocked the gate. “We're going inside?”, I asked incredulously. “Yes. You may pet them if they come up to you. They are quite friendly.” Oh, my!  Take a look at this short video.

As cubs, Oscar and Wilde were allowed to roam the grounds freely, however once they discovered that the farm's sheep made a tasty meal, they were confined to quarters. We stayed for quite awhile, observing, photographing. Oscar and Wilde were pleasant, but aloof. Arniston was knowledgeable and never hurried us in the least, although I doubt he would have let us spend the day as we would have preferred

cheetah at hammerstein lodge in namibia

As we exited the cheetah enclosure, Lisa the leopard, in the adjoining enclosure jumped up next to David and began rubbing against him, much like a domestic cat would. He petted her and she stuck out a paw, without claws, in a playful gesture. Perhaps, David reminded her of her old master, Matthew, but she certainly was attracted to David. We always found it difficult to distinguish a cheetah from a leopard … all those spots ... but seeing them next to each other, it was now easy to tell them apart.

david and lisa the leopard at hammerstein lodge in namibia

Time to get back on the road. From cats to castles … we're on our way to Duwisib Castle. Read about this castle in the desert in tomorrow's blog. It's Just A Little Further.

Farewell, Doris and Over the Pass

With lots of hugs, kisses and mutual thank yous, we bade farewell to Doris at Windhoek's  tiny, compact Hosea Kutako International Airport . Saying goodbye to new “old” friends is always a bit sad. Chances are we'll never see her again though we'll surely keep in touch. The airport is about 40km (24 miles) outside of the city and there were several unexpected pleasures en route … starting with wart hogs and baboons crossing the highway. baboon crosses the road in namibia

On the way to the airport, I had noticed a sign for Taxidermy/Souvenirs with a “stack” of sculptured animals advertising the shop reminding me of the Bremen Town Musicians. We stopped to take a photo on the way back and drove around the shop grounds, which were pretty bizarre, but the shop was unfortunately closed.

taxidermy animas in namibia

Around the same time as the city of Windhoek was founded, Windhoek's three castles, Heinitzburg, Sanderburg and Schwerinsburg were built by Wilhelm Sander. Originally built as private residences, the castles still stand today … one is a hotel, one is a private residence and one, Schwerinsburg, sits proudly on a hill overlooking the city and is the residence of the Italian ambassador to Namibia. Nice digs, Ambassador!

schwerinsburg castle in namibia

It didn't take long to get back to the city and once we left the main highway, the paved road abruptly ended and we were back to gravel roads again.

back to gravel roads in namibia

The road was hot and dusty, but never boring. We saw troops of baboons walking along side. A steenbok darted out in front of us and a pair of kudu jumped effortlessly over a cattle fence when we startled them.

steenbok in namibia

A grey lourie patiently posed in a tree long enough for me to snap his picture.

grey laurie in namibia

An unfortunate Hartman Mountain Zebra found its end near a dry river crossing. Its bones were mostly picked clean, but enough remained of its hide to identify it.

zebra carcass in namibia

We were heading to the Namib Naukluft National Park to the east. Windhoek sits on the Khomas Hockland plateau and the only short route to the west coast is via a mountain pass. There are three well-known, frequently used passes and since we got a rather late start, we decided on the shortest route, the Spreetshoogte Pass, which also happens to be the steepest pass. Our route would take us 230 km (140 miles) over gravel roads, over the pass to a tiny dot on the map known as Solitaire. We figured on 5-6 hours since we were limited to traveling between 50-60 km/hour  (30-40/mph) on steep, rough roads. A goshawk stood sentry on top of a road sign pointing to the pass and he gave us the eye as we passed. We wondered if he knew something that we didn't.

goshawk in namibia

As it turned out, maneuvering the pass was a piece of cake. We were anticipating Colorado 4x4 roads and, in actuality, though some parts of the road were rough, in general they were in good condition. The  steepest parts had been paved. The view from the top was outstanding.

spreetshoogte pass views in namibia

The descent was more thrilling than the ascent with switch-backed hairpin turns and more hills and dips than a roller coaster.

switchbacks on the pass in namibia

On the other side of the pass, the gravel road continued, and we neared our destination. We watched the sun begin to dip behind the horizon,  grazing gemsboks silhouetted on the hillside. It was a very fine day to be on the road in Africa.

gemsbok at sunset