Etosha National Park (Centre)
This section covers the Okaukuejo area and includes the Wolfsnes - Okondeka - Adamax loop to the north and waterholes east of the rest camp as far as Halali which is the central of the three main Park administration and accommodation centres, the other being Namutoni Rest Camp which is included in the Etosha National Park (East) section. Information on Dolomite Rest Camp and waterholes in the remote, previously restricted Western section of the Park can be viewed here: Etosha National Park (West). Also, a complete list of the publicly accessible waterholes within the park can be found on a dedicated page (see link below)...
Okaukuejo is the main administrative centre for Etosha National Park. Originally the site of a German fort built in 1901, the round watchtower is a remnant of this complex. The road in the above shot taken from the top of the tower, continues south to the Andersson Gate which is probably the busiest entrance to the national park. Unless staying in one of the rest camps, visitors have to ensure that they leave plenty of time to exit the park before the perimeter gates close just before sunset.
The precise opening and closing times are clearly displayed at the park entrances and rest camp gates. These times change weekly as they are based on sunrise and sunset which gradually changes throughout the year. The summer months therefore offer the widest window to enter and exit the park. Visitors who don`t heed the curfew are subject to a hefty fine.
Above: Another view of the rest camp gate, on the east side of the complex, seen from the top of the tower. The road branches just beyond, with the Dolomite / Western Etosha route first left and the main road to Halali and Namutoni continuing on into the far distance. Although Okaukeujo, Halali and Namutoni all have shops, I would advise against using them if at all possible and purchase everything you need in one of the towns before entering the Park. The restcamp shops are poorly stocked most of the time although some essentials and other useful items can be found, but there are always plenty of empty shelves during peak season.
Another concern is that it's clear that at least some of the staff working within are set on skimming tourists at every opportunity. Very few of the items have price labels on them, tills seem to be ‘out of order’ quite a lot, and receipts can be hard to come by, especially when ludicrous prices are charged for small, basic items. Obvious scams were experienced by my wife and I at both Okaukuejo and Namutoni on our latest visit.
The above view shows Okaukuejo`s restaurant and bar, swimming pool, the main public toilet block and filling station which is just visible, top right. In the shot directly below, the hangar at Okaukuejo`s airstrip can be seen in the distance to the left of the tallest radio mast. Cessna 182 V5-ISE belongs to Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism and is used for elephant monitoring and management.
Don`t be surprised if you see a Jackal coming to take a drink from the pool here, especially in the evening.
Each time my wife and I stayed at Okaukuejo, we`d managed to secure a Waterhole Chalet. Each standard chalet is split into two accommodation units although there are superior versions (above) with an upper floor and balcony but they`re usually reserved for families. Some tour operators have an ongoing arrangement to reserve the waterhole units for their clients at peak periods and the others go fast, therefore it`s advisable to try and book these a year or more before you intend to travel. There are of course many more chalets within the camp, just a bit further away from the action.
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The Okaukuejo waterhole is a superb place to watch animals come and go, especially during the hours of darkness and it`s reputed to be one of the best places on the African continent to see Rhino - I can confirm, with a bit of luck, that it can be fantastic!
The Rest Camp meals are buffet style and it`s advisable to dine early so that you`re in position on a decent bench when the animals start to appear. A fleece and a few drinks help combat the chill. Although the waterhole is floodlit, getting decent shots is quite challenging, unless you have one of the latest professional digital SLRs with a mega low-light capability which I didn`t have at the time.
It was a tremendous buzz, on our first night here, to see a family of three rhinos ambling down to drink, then a dozen elephants with three babies strolled into view, all this within the first hour!
We reckon we saw eight individual Rhinos in total over the course of the evening, one really curious animal, coming right up to the edge of the viewing area, obviously trying to figure out what he was looking at. Their eyesight is very poor and they have to rely on their hearing and sense of smell. The family of Rhinos eventually waded in for a paddle.
Many people are content to sit at Okaukuejo`s waterhole all day to see what appears. You won`t see much activity here after the rains come but otherwise there`s usually plenty going on. Shots have to be taken into the sun for much of the morning but there are potentially some nice effects to be had, especially with the giraffes when they give themselves a shake after slaking their thirst.
Below left: This elephant outside the restcamp, close to Okaukuejo`s east gate, was struggling in the mid-afternoon heat and sought the only shade available under this isolated tall tree which, like many of the others in the area, is home to a couple of very large Weaver Bird nests.
Despite the vast numbers of animals and birds that reside within the confines of the Park, you can drive around for a while without seeing any obvious signs of life, even in the dry season which is by far the best time for game viewing. During this period, the landscape is arid, hot and dusty and any rain-filled depressions will have long evaporated leaving the waterholes, whether natural springs or man-made boreholes as the only sources available.
On my wife and I`s very first self-drive day in Etosha, an early morning anti-clockwise circuit starting with Wolfsnes and Okondeka proved fruitless, as did Adamax with only some distant antelope and Ostrich to be seen, however, on the way back we discovered this Wildebeest carcass close to the roadside. The animal had apparently fallen victim to lions during the night although they were nowhere to be seen. Often, it`s just a case of turning a corner, especially on seldom used detour roads or tracks leading to less popular waterholes.
Nebrownii is one of several waterholes east of Okaukuejo and south of the main Pan`s southwest corner. It takes its name from the water-thorn acacia, Acacia nebrownii, which grows in thickets to the west of the site. The waterhole here opened in 1992, primarily to relieve grazing pressure around Okaukuejo, and a solar pump was added in 1997 to increase the borehole`s efficiency.
The supply, which should be available all year round, attracts a wealth of animals and the wide open spaces, elevated parking area and it's proximity to Etosha’s busiest restcamp, make it an extremely popular venue with human visitors too.
I`ve seen Elephants and Rhino at close quarters here but even if there aren`t many animals in view, there are usually plenty of birds, either coming to the waterhole to drink, or in the case of the smaller species such as Sabota and Red-capped Larks, hopping between the stones and piles of elephant dung in their search for beetles and other insects. At the other end of the scale, Ostrich and Bustards are frequent visitors.
It is of course the lions that most people want to see, especially first-time visitors, but most are unaware that the local pride often sets up home in the culverts below the main road immediately north of the site. When the lions aren`t in residence hyenas like to move in, so it`s not the best place to change a punctured tyre!
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Salvadora, just a few kilometres further east along the Pan`s southern edge from Sueda is Salvadora, one of Etosha`s most picturesque locations and home to the most photographed tree in the park. It`s an evergreen Mustard Tree, Salvadora persica which makes a fine backdrop to proceedings and gives this waterhole its name.
Salvadora is another well-known lion hotspot and the big cats regularly ambush their prey here after lying in wait among the bushes and reeds that surround the waterhole. Cheetah hunt here too, when the lions aren`t around.
As previously mentioned, there are many waterholes in this central section of Etosha which merit a visit, only a few of which are mentioned on this page.
A full list of the waterholes within the National Park can be found here. Additionally, many of the more productive sites are covered in more detail separately.
Halali, lies roughly midway between Okaukuejo and Namutoni and many people travelling across the park use Halali as a convenient lunch stop. It`s the smallest, usually least busy of Etosha`s three main rest camps and occupies a picturesque woodland setting at the base of a dolomite hill, or Koppie. The Moringa ovalifolia, better known as the phantom tree, or fairy-tale tree, which grows on the slopes, lends its name to this camp’s waterhole. The original mopane trees that surrounded the waterhole reached up to 15m high but elephants have long since bulldozed and destroyed them.
Above: The tourist shop and toilets within Halali Restcamp.
Halali`s Moringa Waterhole, created in 1992, is far quieter than its counterpart at Okaukuejo but lies in a more natural setting. The lighting is best in the mornings although most animals tend to appear later in the day. Elephant, Hyena and Rhino are regular visitors and there’s a good chance of seeing a Leopard coming to drink after dark when the location is floodlit. Honey Badgers are often present, not only at the waterhole but foraging around within the camp`s perimeter during the night.
The covered seating area at Moringo is elevated but quite small so it`s best to dine early and secure a space before the floodlights come on. There is additional standing room along the walkway itself which some photographers may prefer as this puts them a bit closer to the action.
The short trail from the camping area leads past the waterhole viewing area and climbs the dolomite kopje to a viewpoint near the summit - supposedly a great spot for watching the sun rise or set over the surrounding countryside although I`ve never stayed overnight here, preferring Okaukuejo or Namutoni.
On my first holiday in Etosha, the National Park airstrips at Okaukuejo and later Namutoni appeared to be deserted when I passed-by but there were a few aircraft at Halali, the most interesting being this military-looking MD OH-6A, V5-HUG of Expedite Aviation and Piper Cub V5-DSH. The latter aircraft is normally based at Eros Airport in Windhoek but was likely engaged in aerial survey work.
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