The Etosha National Park
The Etosha National Park is located in Northern Namibia and is part of the Kalahari Basin; in prehistoric times, this area was occupied by a vast lake fed by the Kunene River, that, after telluric movements, modified its course, diverting to the Atlantic Ocean before reaching the lake.
As a result of this fact, the large lake drained, leaving on the ground a huge expanse of salt of about 5,000 sq. Km; every year, during the rainy season, this immense basin returns to be filled with water, that then evaporates completely during the dry season.
In the vicinity of the saline expanse vegetation is not growing, with the exception of very few alofite plants, but, as you move away, there is more and more vegetation, passing from low grass to shrubs to acacia trees and mopane.
In the Etosha National Park, covering an area of 22,270 sq. Km, there is a main road running along the edge of the pan from North-East to South-West; the road connects the four gates that allow the entrance to the park and the lodges that are present inside the park.
Moreover, from the main road all the deviations that lead to the secondary roads, that usually lead to the various ponds or take a ring route, start; in total the dirt roads of the park have a global extension of 3,550 km.
The waterholes are divided into artificial and natural springs, all of them are 86, most of which are accessible through the slopes, while some are located in the remote places of the park where you cannot venture out.
The best time to visit the Etosha National Park is the dry season, in the months of June to October, when animals are concentrated at the few sources of water available in the park and the vegetation is less dense.
There are 114 species of mammals in the park, including lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, rhinos, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, springboks, black impalas, a kind of impala found only in Northern Namibia and South of Angola, black-backed jackals and many others.
In the Etosha National Park there are as many as 340 species of birds including bustards and korhaans, secretary birds, hornbills, various vulture species, many birds of prey such as bateleurs , hawks, kestrels, ostriches and many more; the best time to spot birds is during the rainy season in the months of November to March, when species also migrate here from the Northern hemisphere.
We spent four days in the Etosha National Park and visited it all, starting from the North to the South-West.
On the first day we visited the area around Namutoni, the Namutoni fort, besides being the place to pay for the entrance to the park, is one of the areas where you can stay inside the park, here there are both a camping site and a lodge; there are also some amenities for park visitors such as a petrol station, a grocery store, a restaurant and a museum.
The Namutoni's fort was built by the Germans during the colonial period and is now a national monument.
From here three roads start, one leads to the King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate which is in the North; one goes to the Fischer Pan and the other leads South, heads to Halali and Okakuejo and allows you to visit the rest of the park.
First of all we decide to drive the 27 km of the ring route that traces the perimeter of the Fischer Pan; here are a couple of waterholes but they are both empty, so we only notice some springboks.
We drive along the track and at some point in the acacia bushes we see a dark shadow that we immediately recognize: it's a black rhino!
How beautiful, we turn off the engine and stay there silently to admire it, it does not seem to be bothered by our presence but, by precaution, we try not to make any noise and enjoy this moment.
When he walks away and hides in the vegetation we continue our path and see several giraffes and a lone elephant who was heading to the Namutoni pond.
After completing the Fischer Pan loop we return to Namutoni and head South; first of all, we go to the artificial pond of Kalkheuwel, that is usually always frequented by animals, when we arrive there are several oryxes and soon afterwards come several zebras, springboks, wildebeests, many black impalas and a giraffe.
We remain here a bit of time to enjoy the show and look around with the binoculars, on the branches of shrubs and trees we see many birds.
Kalkheuwel's waterhole never disappoints us.
From here we go back North and go to the natural source of Chudop, besides being beautifully landscaped, here there is always water, since it is a permanent source; so the animals, knowing it, often come here.
When we get there we find a bunch of giraffes, they are drinking, their profile is reflected on the surface of the water; we take wonderful photos.
It's not easy to drink for giraffes, they have to take a very uncomfortable position, bending over their legs or widening them in order to get their head down to the water; they are very vulnerable in this position and therefore, before dropping to drink they are very cautious.
Here again we have seen several black impalas, zebrsa and springboks, that in turn, go to the waterhole.
There are also many helmeted guineafowls hanging on the edge of the puddle, then suddenly, without any apparent reason, they fly all together, then return, running to the water; this movement has occurred several times, creating a bit of confusion even among the impalas and the springboks who, in the uncertainty of not knowing what was happening, run away as well.
In the distance, we see a pair of black-backed jackals walking fast looking around the area for something to eat; usually the jackals are saprophagous but sometimes they hunt small mammals and birds, in fact shortly afterwards, one of them manages to catch a dove.
It is almost the hour of sunset and we must reluctantly leave the source of Chudop, the orange light of the sun that is descending on the horizon colors the sky and illuminates the Pan of the Etosha, coloring it with warm shades; in the Etosha National Park it is forbidden to circulate after sunset and so we must go to the gate.
This does not prevent us from enjoying this wonderful light and admiring a huge pack of oryxes walking on the pan; their long shadows, created from the sun at sunset, are wonderful.
We chose a campsite just outside the gate, so to be ready tomorrow morning to get in early inside the Etosha National Park.
The next morning, in fact, we got up before dawn, we had a quick breakfast and then we went straight to the entrance of the Von Lindequest Gate.
Once we are in, we head straight to the South, go back to the source of Chudop, it is one of my favorite and as always it does not disappoint us: even today there are several giraffes and some oryxes, there is also, perched on a branch of a tree, a beautiful tawny eagle; we also see some Kori bustards, the heaviest bird in the world that can fly.
From here we continue South, today we will explore the part of the Etosha National Park between Namutoni and Halali.
We take a short deviation to return to the permanent waterhole of Kalkheuwel where there are several zebras with some foals, the inevitable giraffes and some elands; all gathered here to drink.
Going South we meet some huge elephants crossing the road and heading towards the Pan of the Etosha; their skin is very clear, they seem almost white, the reason is very simple, the sand here contains a lot of salt and is white, so, therefore, elephants, who have the habit of spraying earth and mud on themselves, appear to be of the same color; the Etosha elephants are called, for this very reason, "Ghost Elephants".
We stop several times along our path to observe a bunch of oryxes or a bird that attracts our attention; we meet some cars, after all, the Namutoni area is one of the most popular in the Etosha National Park, but as we move South we find fewer vehicles.
At some point we take a secondary road and we cross the track leading to the pond of Okerfontein, where there is a source; we just come in time to see a young male lion that is moving away from the puddle and walking in the pan, sometimes the safari is a matter of moments, if we had arrived just 10 minutes after the lion would be too far to admire it in all its beauty and majesty.
Shortly afterwards we see a small bunch of elephants and some red hartebeests among the acacia bushes, looking at us somewhat amazed, almost curious; maybe we disturbed them while they were eating, but it was certainly not our intention.
We return to the main road and shortly afterwards we stop in a very nice picnic area that looks directly onto the pan, the tables lie under a straw roof where a series of information panels are on the Etosha National Park and on its elephants.
We have lunch, relax a little and plan the itinerary for the rest of the day; when we start, we head for the first time to the Etosha Lookout: a road that goes down a few kilometers into the pan, where the track ends, you can get off the car and, paying attention, you can venture on the immense expanse of white salt.
With the reverberation of the sun the white salt is almost blinding, it is a unique place, a difficult landscape to describe and even the photographs do not get all its splendor.
From here, we drive South-East in the direction of Halali, we visit a couple of waterholes, but there is not much water and therefore there are no animals.
In the distance we see two hills covered with trees, the two hills that lie at Halali, our destination tonight, and the trees are moringa ovalifolia that is often confused with baobabs, especially at this time of year, where they have leaves, though, looking at them well, baobabs have more massive trunks while moringas are more slender.
Shortly after we arrive at the Halali's campsite, it's a fairly large facility, and it houses the camping, chalets, a restaurant, a grocery store, a gas station and the Moringa pond that is famous as it is often in the evening visited by animals, particularly rhinos.
We go straight to the waterhole, the sun is coming down the horizon, we park our car and armed with cameras, and Savanna we walk through the path leading to the observation point.
We are just in front of the sun setting and below us lies the puddle; there is a surreal silence, the few people present are all waiting for something to happen and, suddenly, a black rhino makes space between the shrubs and goes to the puddle to drink.
It's a beautiful specimen, silence is broken only by the noise of cameras that capture it, but we are far enough not to disturb it.
We enjoy this wonderful scene with a spectacular sunset, but it's not over; soon afterwards it comes another black rhino, but it is not alone, it is accompanied by its puppy; wonderful.
As if it were not enough, a fourth rhino comes, we do not believe it, a spectacular scene; the sun has fallen, and the rhino silhouettes stand out in the reflection of the puddle.
It starts to cool, but we stay until the rhinos, after drinking, leave, returning to the bush.
We are delighted with this sighting, we were hoping to see the rhinos, but seeing four, has far exceeded our expectations.
The next morning we woke up before dawn and returned to the Moringa pond hoping for some other lucky sight, but no one was there; as you know safari is like that, you cannot predict what you will see.
We take our car and leave, on this third day we visit the part of the Etosha National Park between Halali and Okaukuejo.
The part of the park around Halali is little attended, especially in the early morning, because it is far from the entrance, so either you sleep at Halali or you cannot get here until the central hours of the day; indeed on the road we are alone.
We see many animals including giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, red hartebeests, and the ubiquitous springboks; often some of them cross the road, we are cautious in driving and never exceed the speed limit of 40 km / h.
We take the deviation that leads to the Rietfontein; here are several antelopes and, partly hidden in the vegetation, there are two lionesses who carefully observe everything that happens, they do not seem interested in hunting, but still have a watchful eye, an unmissable occasion could always happen.
Our attention is caught by a cattle egret who is pointing to something, in fact right after it succeeds in capturing a scuttle that seeks in vain to get rid of the strong catch of the beak of the volatile, the heron can still swallow it alive.
We continue our exploration but some puddles are without water and therefore they are completely uninhabited.
Soon after we arrive at Sueda and the view opens up on some spectacular salt formations, here is a source, but the water is so salty that no animal comes here to drink, though the scenery is spectacular, it almost seems to be on the moon; a curiosity: in the Etosha National Park were shot some scenes of 2001: a space odyssey.
As we continue our path to Okaukuejo we visit some puddles and, oddly, we see few animals, even at Olifantsbad, where usually there are elephants, there are only kudus and springboks; who knows where the elephants are hidden today, nature is really unpredictable.
At the Aus pond we experience a crazy phenomenon, there is a flock of birds, consisting of tens of thousands of specimens, all flying in unison; they stand up, then get up, make spectacular evolutions and then set off again, to resume shortly thereafter.
We remain enchanted while observing them, almost hypnotized; they seem guided by an invisible force.
When we arrive at Okaukuejo we enter the complex and go for some shopping, here is the only shop in the area where you can buy food; we take some pictures of the tower that is inside and that was built by the Germans and then we decide to leave, this afternoon we did few sightings, but sometimes it happens.
We take the road leading to the Anderson Gate and, after a few miles, we see in the distance two animals crossing the street; we recognize them immediately, they are two lionesses!
We approach quickly and arrive in time to see them walk through the bush and head on a small hill little away; it's amazing, the best sightings happen when you least expect them.
We are happy to have seen the lionesses and, shortly afterwards, on our left we see a beautiful elephant family, they will be 15 and also have several puppies, including a really small one, it will have one or two months; here is where they ended up.
We stop by the road and wait for them, they are walking parallel to us, somewhere in the distance in a shrubbery area, but later the vegetation is less dense, once they reach the low grass we can see them very well .
What a wonder, they walk in line, illuminated by the warm sunlight that in the meantime is beginning to descend on the horizon; they are quiet, despite having the puppies, the herd is guided by a huge and wonderful specimen, it's spectacular to see it proudly moving ahead.
The two most beautiful sightings of the day we made them on the road leading to the exit; we are too happy.
The next morning, we are at the Andes Gate at the opening hour and we are among the first to enter; today is our last day in the Etosha National Park and we decide to explore the Westernmost part of the park.
Until 2015, this area was closed to the public, only those who stayed in a lodge or a camping site in the area could safari in this zone.
While since 2015 this area has been open to the public so anyone can venture into this part; despite this though, there are really few cars that come around here.
We first went to see the Ghost Forest or Sprokieswoud; this forest is called so since there are several moringa ovalifolia trees that, when they are stripped, they seem ghostly trees.
To tell the truth we thought we could find many moringa trees, but there are only a few and they have been clothed to protect them from elephants; we have seen more on the two hills that are close to Halali.
From here, we head to the Charl Marais Dam, during the rainy season there is plenty of water, but at this time of the year, in the dry season, there is no trace of it and therefore there are few animals.
Then we head to the artificial pond of Ozonjuitji m'Bari where good sightings are always made, when we arrive we find many zebras and many wildebeests, some of whom struggle with each other, several oryx puppies, springboks, a group of ostriches and a couple of jackals that always oversee the area around the puddles.
We stay here a while and then we continue our journey, anyhow in the afternoon we have to come back here and we will see again this puddle.
In this part of the park, both at the ponds and along the road, we see more animals, especially larger herds of herbivores; it is true that safari encounters are always unpredictable, but the feeling we have is that here, being less cars, animals are more relaxed.
We drive to the artificial puddle of Nossob where we get a sight that is a little emotional: there are about thirty vultures of different species in the puddle; there are some examples of lappet-faced vulture, many white-backed vultures, hooded vultures and some Cape Vultures.
Some have wet feathers, they probably bathed in water, others look around guarding; they are beautiful to look at.
From here we would like to go further but the way to go back is not short and in the park we can proceed at moderate speed; better to get back, we cannot run the risk of arriving late at the gate.
After a few kilometers, from afar, we see a bunch of elephants, they are at the Sonderkop puddle; we immediately take the deviation leading up to there and find a secluded place to park where to admire them without disturbing them.
When two more cars arrive, a couple of specimens begin to look at the vehicles a bit annoyed, perhaps because one of these has approached them a bit too much.
The herd has several puppies, some of them very small, and in some situations it is normal to be guarding because they feel more vulnerable.
The puppies roll in the mud and in the water of the puddle, while the older specimens spray themselves with soil and mud; some instead go to drink directly from the tank, they are too clever, they realize that water there is cleaner than in the puddle.
We would spend hours looking at them, but after watching them for some time, we must leave and go back to the main road; but at Ozonjuitji m'Bari, which is not far away, another show is waiting for us.
Here, too, we find a pack of elephants bathing, surrounded by some oryxes, springboks, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras and ostriches; every time an elephant exasperates a bit in the spraying of water, all the other animals run afraid as if anything major happened, a very beautiful scene to observe.
As if this was not enough on the opposite side of the puddle, a wonderful black rhino is sitting there in the sand with the light of the sun that illuminates it; at some point it got up and started walking in the opposite direction to the puddle, perhaps bothered by the confusion created by the elephants.
Satisfied by this second part of the day we return to Okaukuejo and then head to the Andersson Gate and leave the park.
We spent four intense days in the Etosha National Park, we did spectacular sightseeings and admired breathtaking views; the Etosha never disappoints and we hope to come back soon.
Etosha National Park: giraffe - Photo Credits: Romina Facchi