One of Africa’s famous safari sites, the 22 000-square km wilderness of Etosha National Park is a major highlight for many tourists visiting Namibia. Made largely of grasslands and forest savanna and dominated by a vast salt pan, Etosha is home to 114 species of animals, including four of the Big Five and the world’s greatest concentration of black rhino.
Today we are going to learn everything there is to know about Etosha National Park and what makes it such an excellent destination to travel to from our very one private game lodge.
Imagine a landscape so strange it was used in the classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey as a set. A site where heat and light create mirages, allowing bone-white elephants to shudder into view. Giraffes soar over bleached plains where lions and cheetah lurk, while vast herds of springbok and gnu kick up dust like mist. The huge salt pan that covers over 25% of this 22,935 km2 national park is an empty stretch of cracked white mud visible from space during the dry season.
The cosmos revolves around water, and Etosha revolves around its galaxy of waterholes. Rather than going in search of game, one might drive up to a peaceful pan and watch as large and little species alike gather to share a drink. The red-billed quelea clouds whirl overhead like omens, and you get the feeling that anything, anything, may happen.
Lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, cheetah, hyena, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, kudu, gemsbok, and eland are among the major animals found in Etosha National Park. Jackal, bat-eared fox, warthog, honey badger, and ground squirrel are among the smaller species. The park is home to 114 different animal species.
The Perfect Pan
Many of the area’s water holes have their own personalities and are known for specific sightings; some even have ‘regular’ leopards (though never believe a guide who guarantees a leopard sighting; they can’t be guaranteed). Etosha’s game is accustomed to crowds. Finding a peaceful location to sit and listen, watch, and wait for activity, whether it’s zebra fighting for a drink, streams of beautiful sandgrouse fluttering in as black-backed jackals try to catch them in the air, or unexpected drama as elephant approach in rumbling groups to quench their thirst, is pure delight.
Salvadora, a magnificent watering hole with views reaching over the river to the horizon and the white mud that elephants coat themselves in, is a terrific choice. Salvadora’s scenery allows for excellent photography, and the surrounding grassland is usually ideal for observing lion prides, cheetahs, hyena, and a variety of antelope.
Other places to visit are Chudob, near Namutoni, for the sheer diversity of wildlife that congregates there, particularly during the dry season (it’s also great for giraffes drinking with their legs spread wide). Nebrownii is a great place to see ghost-white elephants — and lions. Halali and Goas are known for leopard sightings, as is Rietfontein, which is also a lion hotspot. When you cover a Fischer pan in flamingos, it looks fantastic.
A causeway north of Halali camp and adjacent to Nuames Waterhole leads out into the Etosha Pan’s crazy paving fractured white mud (usually, one cannot drive on the pan surface). It’s the nearest we’ll ever get to seeing a lunar landscape. Mirages may cause the horizon to become motionless, and it’s an excellent spot to get a sense of the pan’s vastness and age: 100 million years old, the Kunene River originally fed a vast lake that abruptly shifted channel in some ancient tragedy. PS: If the road is blocked due to rain, it might get muddy; this is a dry-season activity.
A city that is a nest: Keep an eye out for the amazing buildings that social weavers have created. The name pretty much says it all: these ordinary-looking birds know how to form communities. Their massive complex nest – the world’s largest – is packed with several chambers for young families, and a few neighbors assist in feeding any babies. Because the nests are used by other species in ways we don’t completely understand, birdlife refers to them as “ecological engineers.” Although nests can weigh down larger trees around the park, the Okaukuejo rest camp is an excellent place to start looking for them. The nests are also home to pygmy falcons.
A Magical Forest
Sprookjeswoud, some 30 kilometers west of Okaukuejo on the way to Grunewald waterhole, is the driest, least populated “forest” you’re likely to encounter. It features several twisted African moringa trees (Moringa ovalifolia), which look like lumpy figures in the strong light. It signifies ghost or phantom woodland. The San used to claim that the trees were flung from heaven and fallen upside down in a fit of rage (they have something a little baobab-like about them, with sparse leaves, but are not related). The ideal shot Mirages, zebra stripes, water, and sky: Etosha is a photographer’s dream, especially in the winter when animals willingly trot down to waterholes.
The strong light that bounces off the mostly white dirt and pan surface makes Etosha difficult to photograph. Early morning and late afternoon provide the finest light, with stunning sunrises and sunsets to boot. It’s advisable to carry a long telephoto lens for distant sightings and a wide angle lens for capturing the scenery or the size of the animals that frequents the waterholes.
— Bronwyn Reynolds, Fizzin