A park half the size of Switzerland is a pretty big place to protect and conserve animals and this is Etosha National Park. One of the largest parks in Africa and for over 100 years Etosha has provided a vast sanctuary for wild animals within its protective borders. The main attraction here is the large water pan that covers half the park which fills up for half the year. Because it is so big and provides water all year round, wildlife thrives here – Zebra (18K+), cheetah (85K+), giraffe (3K+), Oryx (7K+), springbok (28K+), Lion (300+), elephant (3K+) – making this the big Safari!
We decided that we would spend one night outside the park then one night in the park as its so big. The campsite in the park had the bonus of a waterhole that was lit up all night so you could observe the animals drinking. We entered Etosha NP (3240km) bright and early bought our 2 day passes and set off to look for wildlife. Etosha is very different from Okavango Delta as Etosha is open for all types of vehicles not just 4×4’s. Wide dusty gravel roads, vast open spaces and lots of little drinking holes are the first thing you notice. We were visiting during the dry season where there is no water in the large pan so the chances of spotting wildlife is reduced but we soon encounter large number of zebras and gazelles.
Using our extensive map we set off at a leisurely 20kmph and started searching for the big stuff. The handy map guides to you to the spots where you are most likely to spot the animals you most want to see. First on our list were the leopards!! We meandered to a small watering hole and hung around for about an hour searching the bush (from the safety of our vehicle of course!) for our favourite cat. No luck though, they must have been sleeping off the heat of the morning under or up a tree far from the road. We then set off round the criss-crossing roads looking out for Lions, Rhinos and Elephants. Unfortunately many of the smaller roads are lined with thick bush so the chances of spotting anything are slim unless it’s in the road or crossing it. We travelled about 100km over the next 4 hours stopping at a few watering holes, squinting and peering into the vast dry scrubland in the hope of finding anything interesting. Sure there were plenty of gazelles but after a few safaris now we and thousands of gazelles we were after the big stuff.
We stopped for lunch in Halili campsite where we would camp later that evening. To get some guidance from the rangers and possible spotting that day but nothing much was happening apart from info on rabid Jackals. A quick bite to eat and we headed more towards the centre part of the pan. You could see how massive the lake would be as it covers around 3/5’s of the park during the rainy season. But with no water there it was a dusty bowl devoid of life bar a few Onyx trying to find shelter. You could feel the immense heat as we gazed out into nothingness and with such a area of water we tried to imagine what it would be like during the wet season. With the odd Jackal popping in and out of the scrub we headed to another watering hole and were greeted by a very large herd of Zebras and most we had ever seen in one go. They were quite wary of us many due to the new infants around but still quite curious. At another waterhole before we headed back to camp was a small herd of Buffalo and the last of the big 5 to knock of Sarah’s list.
We headed back and set up camp, yet another night of a decent brai and good wine only to be interrupted by a honey badger searching through the bins near our camp! I thought it was a large cat but only on reflection did we realise how close we were to one of the most fearless animals in Africa! After a good meal we headed up to the viewing spot on high ground looking down at the floodlit watering hole. We waited around an hour before we got our first sighting of gazelles then followed by Rhinos. A mother and baby were followed by another Rhino and a fight ensued. Whether she was protecting her young or suppressing male advances we were unsure but the scene that enfolded before us was great! A lot of huffing and puffing and grunting and a few drinks later they had made their peace and wandered back into the dark bush. A visit by a herd of Zebras was our last treat of the night before the waterhole became silent, but a great treat to watch the animals. We were greeted by one last surprise though as we had a nightcap, a honey badger aimless wandered through our camping area. Being very weary of one of the most aggressive animals on our planet, it quickly scurried past us and into the bush.
The next day we were up early again and off back around the park hunting for cats and elephants. Amazingly Sarah spotted in the far distance 3 large male Elephants wandering through the bush. We noticed that they may be heading towards a watering hole nearby so we sped off to set up a viewing spot nearby the watering hole. Elephants are never in a hurry and about 45 mins later they finally reached the watering hole. We were treated to a great display of mud bathing and the males having a chat. They wallowed around for about an hour cooling down and discussing the day ahead, a fantastic display of how intimate they really are. We then drove to the far ends of the park and looked out for anything vaguely interesting. Our only other find of the day was finding a Cheetah about a 150m from the road heavily camouflaged in the scrub, looking out upon a couple of gazelles, but it didn’t really seem that interested. It was very hard to spot it as it blended in so well with the bush around it. Hoping that it would get up and pounce on them but after an hour of watching and waiting – nothing!! So after 450km of driving around Etosha it was time to leave as we had a bit of distance to go before we got to our next campsite. It had been a great safari and the size of the park is unbelievable! Same we didn’t visit during rainy season but you can’t have everything and we saw plenty of animals. It was great to camp overnight in the park and get to see some display of nocturnal activities. For us we then headed for the coast, the Skeleton Coast to be exact and unimaginable breathtaking scenery and coastline.