Magnificent safari in Namibia's Etosha National Park

Pip
October 26, 2015

Waking in the pre-dawn cold and clambering out of my tent in a state of daze, I couldn’t predict anything was worthy of forcing me from the cocoon warmth of my sleeping bag. But when the first of the sun’s rays finally peaked over the horizon as a herd of elephants lumbered past our jeep, I was reminded of the spectacular beauty nature offered at the break-of-day. The heat soon penetrated my body and I was bathed in the warm glow of the sun as the landscape of Etosha National Park unfolded before me. I had been assured by other travellers throughout Southern Africa that Etosha was a ‘must-visit’ destination, and now I understood why.

Namibia’s premier wildlife-viewing destination

Day 1: With more than 100 mammals and 340 bird species recorded, Etosha National Park is Namibia’s premier wildlife-viewing destination and we had arrived late the previous day, making the six hour drive from Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. From the southern Anderson Gate we drove to the park headquarters at Okaukuejo, passing groups of zebra and black-faced impala en route as we captured our first glimpses of the park.

Black Rhino, Ethosha
Black rhinos have been slowly increasing in number in Etosha through relocation programs, while White Rhinoceros had recently been re-introduced after a long period extinct from the park.

After settling into the camp and eating dinner at Okaukuejo’s restaurant, we navigated our way to the watering hole and spent the evening captivated by the comings and goings of Etosha’s resident wildlife as they refuelled in the cool of the night. Elephants with young wobbling between their legs sauntered in to hang their trunks in the water, warthog snuffled in and out, and gemsbok stood gracefully on its edge. Like a television you can not switch off we watched entranced, and late in the night were rewarded when a rare Black Rhinoceros stepped into the picture. We had read that these magnificent animals were slowly increasing in number in Etosha through relocation programs, while White Rhinoceros had recently been re-introduced after a long period extinct from the park.

Taking advantage of Etosha’s camp grounds and lit watering holes

Day 2: On our sunrise safari the following morning I looked out across the savannah, dotted with Acacia trees, as the great Etosha salt pan spread towards the horizon, a massive expanse of white desert-like haze, whipped by the dry Namibian winds. A group of energetic springbok leapt away at the sound of our engine while elegant giraffe slowly chewed on the elevated branches. The great wildlife of Etosha was making the most of the cool dawn hours.

As the sun began to rise high in the sky and temperatures soared, we returned to Okaukuejo Camp. The middle of the day was time to relax, swim in the pool, and catch up on sleep before the late afternoon drive that would take us further east into the park towards Halali Camp. Many opt to self-drive Etosha, but we were eager to take advantage of every photographic opportunity available and the freedom of having a local and experienced guide with us. We followed the southern edge of the salt pan, our eyes set intently on the surrounding savannah as our driver-cum-guide slowly meandered along. A spotted hyena peaked through the grass while dik dik grazed en masse, but the afternoon’s excitement peaked when our driver’s keen eyes found a pride of lions lazing not far from the road. To see these powerful beasts up so closely was a true pleasure.

Animals came and went during their evening ritual, their soft grunts penetrating the otherwise silent night, and giraffes awkwardly spread their legs to reach the refreshing waters.

We arrived at Halali, run by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts, late in the afternoon, with plenty of time to set up camp before nightfall. While we could have splurged at one of the luxury chalets and lodges available within Etosha, the facilities at the camping areas were excellent and nicely distributed across the park, allowing the drive between each to be a safari itself.

We spent the evening at Halali entranced around its lit watering hole, elevated over the surrounding mopani shrubland. Animals came and went during their evening ritual, their soft grunts penetrating the otherwise silent night, and giraffes awkwardly spread their legs to reach the refreshing waters. While we had seen plenty of giraffes in other wildlife parks throughout Southern Africa, those in Etosha form a separate subspecies, making their sighting even more special.

The migratory and resident birdlife of Etosha

Day 3: Our final morning in Etosha started before day break, loading into the car and departing Halali just as the sun began to rise. Our drive took us to the far eastern camp of Namutoni where Fischer’s Pan stretched out to the northeast. At Okaukuejo we had picked up not only a map of the park detailing what animals we could expect to see, but also an illustrated identification book, including the birdlife found in the park. While we weren’t visiting during the right season for the migratory wetland species, such as flamingos and storks, found wading through the shallow waters that cover the pan following the rains, we were rewarded with the sighting of a magnificent Bateleur eagle, together with goshawks nestled in the tree branches flanking the pan.

Etosha-Yellow Billed Hornbill
An illustrated identification book, including the birdlife found in the park, is a very useful tool to carry with you while game driving.

As we drove towards the park’s eastern exit we again encountered large herds of elephant, for which Etosha was famed, as well as our first glimpse of immense ostrich striding in the distance. Looking towards the horizon as we said our farewell to this magnificent wildlife sanctuary, large groups of kudu and wildebeest grazed between zebra - a stunning panorama of the abundance offered by Etosha.

Why Etosha is a stand-out African wildlife park

In the days and weeks that followed as we continued our journey through Africa, I understood why Etosha has become a favourite national park for those over landing through this great continent. Not only were the landscapes magnificent, but both big game and birdlife were abundant and readily spotted compared to other parks. In addition, the well-equipped camps with their stunning lit watering holes offered a special and intimate experience with the spectacular wildlife Africa hosted.

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