Desert Rhino Camp

Desert Rhino Camp: Our full report

Rooms
8 tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (96%) From 59 reviews
Children
Best for 16+
Open
All year

Remote, exclusive and specialised, Desert Rhino Camp is a joint venture between Namibia's Save the Rhino Trust and Wilderness Safaris and has been operating now for over 20 years. Run by a reliably superb and committed team, activities here, as you'd expect, centre on tracking black rhino.

Desert Rhino Camp formerly known as 'Palmwag Rhino Camp', is situated in the Palmwag Concession area (also known as the Palmwag Reserve), which covers about 5,000km² between Etosha and the Skeleton Coast. Few camps are so remote, and have such a large area that they can call their own. This semi-desert reserve has a number of tree-lined, fresh water springs that support good populations of the rare Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe, oryx, springbok and kudu. This is also one of the best places to see desert-dwelling black rhino and elephants, as well as predators including lions, cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena.

Desert Rhino Camp has eight tents accommodating a maximum of 16 guests. These large walk-in Meru-style tents are raised up on wooden decks and have a veranda at the front where you can relax in one of the directors' chairs. Double wooden doors lead into the tent. The beds are made up with crisp, white linen and have a wooden headboard wide enough for a couple of reading lamps, and a luggage rack at the foot of the bed. Each room has a small writing desk and leather director’s chair. On another low table is the tea and coffee station with a flask of hot water and a coffee plunger to make your own coffee. An electronic safe, an air-horn for emergencies, insect spray and some mosquito repellent are also available. Tent flaps open to reveal mesh on the windows, which lets the breeze through – but not the insects. At night it can get very cold here, and extra duvets and blankets are available.

Behind the headboard are twin copper basins on top of a wooden cabinet. Above this is a large mirror creating a screen between the bedroom and the bathroom area. To one side, behind a cream coloured curtain is the shower, and on the opposite side, also behind another curtain is the flush toilet. Complementary toiletries and dressing gowns are provided.

Sandy pathways lead from the tents to the V-shaped tented main area which has a lounge on the one side, and the dining area on the other side. There is also a small bar tucked into a corner. Raised up on a low wooden deck, the construction is open plan and completely open at the front offering views of the nearby waterhole which is floodlit at night and the mountains beyond. On our first evening, while enjoying a pre-dinner drink, we saw a hyena and jackal coming to the waterhole for a drink.

In the lounge are a large leather sofa and two soft, comfortable armchairs dotted with colourful cushions, and a big wooden chest supporting an array of interesting books on Namibia. On the side is a tall wooden glass-fronted cabinet, which houses a selection of curios and safari clothing. Beside this is an easel with some maps of the area showing the work done by the Save The Rhino Trust.

In the dining area are modern pale wood tables and chairs which can be pushed together for communal dining, or separated for those who would prefer to dine on their own. On a table against the canvas wall is a permanent supply of tea and coffee, and freshly baked cakes and snacks are laid out in the afternoon for tea. In front of the main area, facing the waterhole, is a clearing where a fire is lit in the evening and a few directors chairs placed in a semi circle around it. This is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink and to watch the sun setting behind the mountains in the distance.

Outside the main tent, tucked around the corner, is a small plunge pool set into a timber deck. A few sun loungers are placed under a reed covered area – it can get very hot here in the middle of the day!

This Palmwag Reserve is a particularly rich area for wildlife, despite its relatively low rainfall, and sightings of general game here have improved steadily over recent years. Game sightings here can be remarkable; really far better than we'd expect, but perhaps they were simply a reflection of very real improvements in the game densities.

On our last visit here in December 2015 we stayed at Desert Rhino Camp for two nights, and were lucky enough to see a female black rhino with her baby calf, as well as a large herd of elephant congregating at the springs for a drink.

The Save The Rhino Trust has been soley responsible for helping to protect the rare, desert-adapted black rhino. There are now reported to be about 120 individuals; up from about 40 in the early 80's and the Palmwag Concession boasts the largest concentration of black rhino anywhere outside of a national park. The Trust trained local people to patrol and monitor the rhino and it is with these trackers, some of whom are seconded to the camp, that you go out tracking with. A portion of every guest's revenue goes to the Trust. (Read more about the Save the Rhino Trust…)

Activities at the Desert Rhino Camp concentrate mainly on rhino tracking. The evening before the morning rhino activity guests are met at camp for a chat with the trackers from the Save The Rhino Trust. They will explain the work they do and what you can expect on your activity the following morning. You start out early in the morning in a 4WD vehicle, driving around enjoying whatever wildlife you see. Meanwhile, the trackers are out and about, looking for the rhino. When they find one, they radio your guide, and arrange to meet somewhere and decide whether its better to drive or walk towards the rhino. You then go in closer on foot, with your guide, at a slow and steady pace. The trackers will always ensure that you stay a safe distance away, but the sheer exhileration of being within a couple of hundred metres of a rhino whilst on foot more than makes up for the fact that you do not get right up to it – this isn't a safari park! Note that given the open terraine and rarity of the rhinos, the trackers are not armed – but they are well-trained!

Although the walking isn't very strenuous, the terrain is very uneven as the landscape is strewn with small rocks and boulders. Sure-footedness and sturdy walking shoes are therefore recommended.

On our recent trip we met up with the trackers, who had spotted the female rhino and her calf. We walked for about 30 minutes but they decided to return to the vehicle as she was heading quickly in the opposite direction. We then drove in the direction she was heading and were very fortunate to spot them from the vehicle. We then returned back to camp in the early afternoon, and then headed out later in the day for a sundowner drive.

If you're staying for three nights or more, then you might want to think about requesting a full-day game-drive, with a picnic lunch, to explore the further reaches of this beautiful reserve.

Our view

Desert Rhino Camp is one of our favourite camps in Namibia. It's very remote, and feels it; it's got tremendous character, as have the managers here when we visited; and it offers the chance to track black rhinos – which is something that's possible in very few places indeed. Rhino Camp does work as a two-night stop. However, to really make the most of it, you need three nights here. This may appear to be a big chunk of time, and it's not an inexpensive camp – but we think that the Rhino Camp is well worth it.

Geographics

Location: Damaraland, Namibia

Ideal length of stay: Ideal length of stay is 3 nights

Directions: For fly-in safaris the camp is a 15-minute transfer from the nearest Airstrip. If you are arriving by road on a self-drive trip, then you need to arrive by about 2.30pm in time to leave at 3pm. Guests need to park their car at the camps private parking area, only 2km’s from Palmwag Lodge. It is then a further three to four hour 4WD game drive from here to the Rhino Camp.

Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Lodge Management Company in conjunction with The Save The Rhino Trust

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: On our last visit in December 2015, we found the food at Desert Rhino Camp to be very good.

Breakfast is served in the early morning, before you set our for the rhino tracking activity. A small buffet offering cereal, yoghurt, freshly baked bread and muffins, as well as a cooked breakfast for those who want something a bit more substantial to keep them going for the mornings activities, is available.

Lunch is invariably a picnic out in the bush. On our last visit we had a good selection of dishes, including a green bean salad, a green salad, breaded chicken pieces, quiche, pasta salad and a variety of cheeses and fresh bread. We were also offered a selection of drinks ranging from soft drinks to beer and wine.

Back in camp, homemade cake or a savoury snack are available at around 4pm, with tea and coffee.

Dinner is a sociable affair enjoyed around one large table and consists of three set courses. It would be hard to pick out anything as memorable, as all of the dishes were wonderful! During our visit we were offered a tomato and feta filo tart starter, which was followed with a choice of either roast chicken or beef stew served in a “potjie" – a small cast iron pot with three legs. Both were served with corgettes and lentils. Desert was a tasty chocolate tart with chocolate sauce. Vegetarians are also catered for.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All drinks are included, except for imported and premium brand wines and spirits.

Special interests

Photography holidays: Desert Rhino Camp not only offers the opportunity to photograph black rhino that wander this semi desert region, but also great landscape photography. The ancient Etendeka lava flows of northern Damaraland make for dramatic scenery, with photogenic game which includes desert-adapted elephant and lion.

See more ideas for Photography holidays in Namibia

Walking safaris: Desert Rhino Camp's guided walking safaris concentrate on tracking desert-dwelling black rhino. They start in a vehicle, and after finding the animals, well-trained (and unarmed!) guides will lead you on foot as close as possible to these giants – it's a thrilling experience!

See more ideas for Walking safaris in Namibia

Wildlife safaris: Desert Rhino Camp is one of the best places in Africa to see black rhino roaming free, and to track them on foot. There are also good populations of desert elephant, Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe and plains game, including oryx and springbok. Lion, cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena are also sighted here.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Namibia

Children

Attitude towards children: Desert Rhino Camp do not take children under the age of 12. Please note though that children must be 16 yours of age or older to track rhino on foot.

Property’s age restrictions: Children need to be over 12 years of age. Families visiting with children aged between 12 and 16 years must pay for a private vehicle.

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: None

Notes: Children are very much the responsibility of the parents. The Camp has a policy that if children older than 12 misbehave on activities, then they reserve the right to ask them to remain back in camp. Parents should also be aware that this camp is not fenced and wildlife can pass through, and there is obviously is an inherent risk whilst tracking rhino on foot!

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Power supply notes: The generator is on between 8am and 1pm and again between 3pm and 7pm. An invertor is used in the evenings. Solar electricity is used for hot water only.

Communications: There is no cellphone signal and no WiFi. The camp has a satellite phone for emergencies only.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The borehole water is purified for drinking

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: They have a medical kit on site. The nearest doctor is in Outjo. In the case of an emergency guests are air lifted to Windhoek.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Guests need to be escorted by a member of staff to their tents after dark. In case of emergency there is an air-horn in the tents.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in each room and in central areas.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: They do not offer a currency exchange here.

Accepted payment on location: The camp accepts payment by Visa or MasterCard as well as cash in Namibian dollars and South African rands.