The Etosha National Park in Namibia is one of Southern Africa’s most popular wildlife sanctuaries. The park was established as a game reserve on the 22nd of March 1907 and it is in the northwest of Namibia, covering an area of 22,270 sq km. The word “Etosha” means place of dry water. The park gets its name from an enormous calcrete depression commonly known as a pan, which covers an area of about 5,000 sq km and the rest of the park land encircles this unique topography.
Having already visited quite a number of wildlife parks in Africa by that time, with the help of a travel agent in Windhoek (capital of Namibia), I planned my first safari to ENP from 1st to the 10th of November 2005. Lilani and her younger brother Anil Talwatte joined me on this trip.
There are three locations inside the park, namely, Okaukuejo (South Gate), Halali (Center) and Namutoni (East Gate) where accommodation and other logistic facilities are available. Accommodation inside the park needs to be booked well in advance due to the high demand, especially from August to November. I was able to get only two nights at Halali camp within the park, and for the rest of the trip we stayed at lodges outside the park which were of a 4 star standard. The lodging facilities inside the park were similar to that of Kruger National Park in South Africa, but not that well managed.
We arrived in Windhoek on the 1st November afternoon via Johannesburg. After an overnight stay in Windhoek, we drove a Volkswagen Kombi Van we had rented from the airport to ENP, a 415 km journey. The first two nights we stayed at Naua Naua lodge which was situated close to ENP; the lodge was built on a hillside, which gave us a spectacular view of the African bush. The dining area faced a water hole where animals came to drink. It was flood lit at night which us ring side view of the action at the water hole, after dark.
On 3rd November, the day after our long drive from Windhoek, we went in to ENP through its south gate. The land was arid and the foliage was sparse in this part of park. The wild life was seen around water holes. Here, we found the Oryx, an antelope designated as the national animal of Namibia. Incidentally, the national bird of the country is the Crimson-breasted Shrike. We had an interesting sighting of a male Lion holding an Impala kill in its mouth. We observed quite a few herds of Elephants at the water holes we visited, and we were struck by the distinctive difference in stature between these pachyderms and those in other parts of Africa. According to the web site of the park, the Elephant population here is estimated be about 2,000 strong while they are regarded as the tallest in Africa.
Early morning on the 4th November, we checked out from the lodge and proceeded to Halali camp, which was approximately 60 km from the south gate of ENP, for our next two nights stay. On the way, the game we saw were Oryx, Zebra, Giraffe, Impala and Elephant. The Etosha salt pan was visible all the way until the turn off to the camp. The pan demonstrates the mirage effect, where it gives a optical illusion of a water body as the sun shimmers on the reflective surface. Some animals get deceived by the mirage, but interestingly not the predators.
There is woodland in and around Halali in contrast to the barren southern section of Etosha. The accommodation at the camp is basic. There are many cottages of different categories here. The camp borders a flood lit water hole while the camp itself has an electric fence around it. There is a notice board with a map of the park at the camp registration office, where visitors mark their daily sightings, especially the big cats and the Rhinos. Our morning and evening drives were mainly towards a water hole near the camp where there had been several predator sightings. It was a rewarding exercise because we came across two Cheetahs, Lions and Elephants in this area. At night, at the flood lit water hole we had excellent views of both Black and White Rhinos that came to drink water there. Hyenas too.
After our two night stay at Halali, we had to move out of the park again. On the nights of 6th and 7th November, we stayed at Ongava Lodge which was situated close the south gate of ENP while we managed to get accommodation at Halali again for the 8th November, our last night at ENP. We managed to see a Leopard at last, at the same water hole close to the camp during our one night stay at Halali.
We drove back to Windhoek on the 9th and took our return flight home via Johannesburg on the 10th.