Etosha National Park is meant for self drive safaris with vast flat salt pans and gravel roads that are easily navigable (even with a 2WD). It makes for great wildlife viewing and a very personal experience.
But it’s all about the waterholes in Etosha especially during dry season where all the action happens and you are pretty much guaranteed to see wildlife in abundance. Armed with his handy mammals and birds of Africa books, G was ready to start his new career as safari guide.
We planned on spending over 5 days here, starting in the more wild and less visited western section, then moving on to the more established and touristy eastern section of the park. We would be staying at three different campsites each with it’s own floodlit waterholes for night game viewing: Olifantsrus, Halali and Namutoni.
The lodge and campgrounds in the park are fenced in and the gates only open between sunrise and sunset. Driving after sunset is not allowed and visitors need to be either in their camp/lodge or out of the park by then.
The Wild West
The western section was previously restricted but was opened to the public via the new Galton Gate in 2014. The opening of the western section was part of an Etosha tourism infrastructure improvements project which was funded by the US under the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The project was extensive and took over 5 years to complete. The project included the gate, new entrance facilities, staff housing, the Olifantsrus campsite and an awesome state-of-the-art hide/lookout. A bit of trivia for you.
More hilly and greener than the east, the west is the only place in the park to see the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. The safari tracks are not as extensive and limited to two large loops with the park planning for future routes. There also seem to be less density of predators here as well.
This was a phrase that Kim kept repeating throughout our safari drives. It seems everytime we spotted an animal she would burst out with where, where? Usually our response was right in front of you, see it’s over there, that big thing walking towards us, under the tree in the shade. You get the picture. Her spotting did improve over time as she did manage to spot a few lions off in the distance on her own. GO Kim.
Enter At Your Own Risk
We liked it when we saw the animals standing around waterholes, not drinking and looking skittish because it meant that there was a predator around. Taking our cues from their nervous stance and following the directions of their intense stares, we would scan our surroundings in search of the big carnivores. And sure enough we saw lions lying under the tree or lying by the edge of the waterholes. Of course, we stayed fixated on the spot hoping to see a lion make a killing but it never materialized.
Only the bravest or very desperate animals would leave themselves vulnerable and take a drink with a lion around. We would be nervous too. What sometimes happened was that animals would fight and spar among themselves as they all tried desperately to see both the predators and have an avenue of escape.
Olifantsrus Campsite Hide
This dual level state-of-the-art hide is stunning and offers unobstructed and close-up views of the man-made waterhole and the animals. From the second level you can see the surrounding plains for miles. The ground level viewing area, unfortunately, is not as good as the plexi glass is so scratched up you can barely see outside.
Our first night we saw two male rhinos growling and huffing before charging at each other as they fought for territorial rights over the waterhole. The standoff lasted over an hour until one of the rhinos back down.
We also saw an African wildcat, a rare sighting. Kim spotted it and we thought it was someone’s house cat. Another sighting was a big cat drinking from the waterhole. Possibly a leopard, most likely a young male lion. We couldn’t quite make it out in the dark.
The next morning we saw large migrations of wildebeest, kudus, zebras, hartebeest, guinea fowls, springboks and our favorite the oryx coming in for their morning water break. It was amazing to see these animals flow in from different directions of the plain.
The following are some highlights from the trip
- Colorful Agama lizards at Galton Gate picnic facilities
- Trying to differentiate between the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras and their cousins the Plains Zebras by comparing their distinctive stripes. Can you tell?
- First close-up sighting of the rare Black Rhino at Jakkals waterhole. We would eventually see lots of Black Rhinos during our time in the park as Etosha has one of the largest Black Rhino populations in the world.
- First sighting of lions crashing the waterhole party. Who invited them in the first place?
- Seeing elephants eating acacia trees.
- A Lion charging a herd of springboks at the Duineveld waterhole. Interesting to see the behavior of the animals as they cautiously approach the watering hole to take a drink and avoid being the evenings meal. The zebras, although nervous, really needed a drink.
- The African yellow hornbill lurking in the bush.
- Oryx locking horns
- Mistaking steenbok for diks diks. We kept seeing these little antelopes around the park and kept calling them diks diks. We even cross-checked with the handy mammal guide. Well it turned out that we were wrong. They were actually steenboks. But seriously who can tell the difference. Look them up.
Etosha National Park
Only campsite that is only for campers. The hide is state-of-the-art. Small kiosk that serves light meals.
Campsite 7 was too close to the bathrooms.
Etosha Safari Camp
9km outside of the Etosha Park’s Okaukeujo Gate
Open sites. Grassy area. Can eat at the lodge restaurant. Buffet style. Zebras and steenbok wandering the grounds.