Okaukuejo, Etosha`s oldest and most popular rest camp, houses the Park`s administrative headquarters as well as a shop, filling station and various accommodation options. My wife and I have stayed there twice, for a couple of nights at a time on our first two Namibian holidays, having opted for one of the waterhole chalets. Although they are a bit distant for decent shots, (no chance at night) the edge of the viewing area is only a few metres away. The view from the door of our waterhole chalet is pictured below (top right) and a few steps takes you to the edge of the terrace for an unobstructed view.
Since the camp opened in 1955, visitors have been camping under the trees, where the rondavels are today, to enjoy the sights around this waterhole which is considered one of the best places in Africa to see the rare and endangered Black Rhino. The source is a water-table spring, but boreholes drilled nearby to supply the camp with water soon robbed the spring of its flow. Now, these boreholes are used to replenish the waterhole which is available all year round. When the giant mopane moths hatch at the beginning of the rainy season they flock to the floodlights at night, attracting a various species of birds and bats which feed on them. Rock monitors are often seen gorging themselves on any moths that have been left behind by morning.
The first time my wife and I stayed at Okaukuejo, the waterhole after dark was fantastic. The Rest Camp meals are buffet style and it`s advisable to dine early so that you`re settled on a decent bench to watch the nighttime action unfold. A fleece and a few drinks help combat the chill. We reckon we saw eight individual rhinos in total over the course of the first 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. Rhinos have very poor eyesight so they have to rely on their hearing and sense of smell.
Individual Hyenas came and went, then a tower of giraffes with two youngsters in tow appeared out of the darkness. The adults moved into position to cover all approaches and stood rock still for what seemed an eternity. It was only when the sentries finally considered the area to be free of predators that the members of the group took turns to drink, babies first. We sat until well after midnight, reluctantly turning in to snatch a few hours sleep before our first early morning self-drive in Etosha, recognised by many as one of Africa's largest and best national parks.
My Digital SLR only had a modest low-light capability, certainly nothing approaching the sensitivity of modern-day cameras and although the waterhole at Okaukuejo is floodlit, photography was still a challenge, resulting in lots of grainy, underexposed and often blurred shots - still amazing to see the wildlife though. For wildlife enthusiasts and photographers the experience is hard to beat. It should be borne in mind, however, that outwith the Dry Season, the animals no longer need to rely on the Park`s main waterholes so there`s far less activity at Okaukuejo. September and October when I visited are usually the best times for big game sightings.
At the waterhole after dark on our second holiday a couple of years later, there was a brief glimpse of a leopard running along the front of a distant tree-line. The wind picked up, and possibly sensing there was a big cat in the area, very few animals came to drink that evening, just a herd of elephants followed by a couple of individual bulls and two Rhino.
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For most people, getting here entails a very long drive so some visitors are content just to chill-out at the waterhole all day and watch the activity. The two-storey waterhole chalets with balconies, like the one shown below, are usually reserved for families.
The bird life at Okaukuejo is excellent all year-round so, even during the rainy season when few animals appear at the waterhole, there`s plenty of avian activity. Many of the smaller species are used to people and will pose quite happily on the trees and shrubs throughout the camp. There are also a couple of large on-site Weaver Birds` nests and raptors are never far away.
Don`t be surprised if see the occasional Black-backed Jackal taking a drink from the swimming pool, especially in the evening.
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The restaurant at Okaukuejo.