Etosha National Park (West)
In the eastern part of Etosha National Park, the terrain is mostly flat, with only a few isolated hills (koppies) in the vicinity of Halali, plus a small range to the west of the Andersson gate. The vast western section features several ranges of these irregular dolomite ridges and has a different atmosphere with its own communities of animals, some of which like Baboons and Hartmann`s Mountain Zebra are absent from other areas of Etosha.
Although a few of the waterholes in the west can be visited in a day from Okaukuejo this entails a long drive, therefore it`s far better to stay at one of the two accommodation options, Dolomite Camp being the best known, and having stayed there it comes highly recommended. Recently opened and becoming increasingly popular, Olifantsrus Campground is the Park`s first `camping only` experience. I passed close to the site en route to Dolomite, but didn`t call in, even though there’s a good shaded picnic spot that`s open to day visitors.
Dolomite Rest camp and Dolomietpunt waterhole from the approach road.
Dolomite Rest Camp
Dolomite camp, situated in the remote, previously restricted western section of Etosha, comprises a reception building, restaurants, bar and 20 chalets, all of which are dotted along a rocky ridge affording stunning views across the plains. As the whole complex is unfenced, staff operate a golf buggy shuttle service between the car park at the bottom of the hill and reception. Fine when someone`s available but if not, or if you want an early start, then there`s nothing for it but to walk down and hope any dangerous animals are busy elsewhere!
The low-resolution photo (© NWR) on the right shows the camp from the air with the car park at the very top of the shot in the centre. The reception area is also at this end of the ridge with the Dolomietpunt waterhole just out of shot, bottom right. The main road isn`t visible either and the orange coloured track running across the scene is just a service road with no public access.
Within 10 minutes of arriving and starting to unpack, we were under siege from the resident baboons! The cheeky monkeys clambered onto the roof trying to tear through the thatch, repeatedly looked in the windows and even tried the door handles a few times despite my wife or I holding onto the handle from the inside! Later, when we mentioned to one of the staff that the baboons had been causing mayhem and much of our chalet's thatch was now lying on the path, she just laughed and said 'Yes, they like to play don't they!'.
The camp and car park at the bottom of the hill are unfenced so animals can wander in and out at will, passing right next to the chalets. This Kudu was snapped as it passed below our veranda while the Baboon was staring in through the bathroom window!
Staff advise guests to be down in the main dining area before darkness falls then, after you've eaten, a guy in a golf buggy drops you off. Sitting out on your veranda to watch the stars isn`t recommended either as lion and leopard often pass-by during the night. They weren`t kidding - around 4 a.m. on our second night here, we were woken by a loud grisly squeal and panicked cries as a lion snatched a young baboon on the rocks right outside our chalet. Brick walls, rather than canvas would have been preferable as he or she stayed for a while, and we could hear its every breath!
The following slideshow features more general views of the camp...
This small raptor which I think is an Ovambo Sparrowhawk was sheltering from the sun on the branches of a tree immediately below our balcony. We saw several larger raptor species during our stay including a Bateleur Eagle enjoying the thermals, and plenty of vultures.
After the Baboons had finished winding-up my wife and I they turned their attention to the chalets on either side. A German couple had just moved into the adjacent waterhole unit and soon saw their outside deck cushions disappear along with a light cord which one of the culprits had reached in and grabbed! We watched one individual try to find a way to break in via their veranda door.
Other accommodation options within Etosha National Park, and most of those outside the perimeter, offer an early breakfast so that guests can take advantage of the prime game viewing period around dawn. Possibly due to the fact that there are no gates at Dolomite, the earliest you can breakfast here is 7 a.m. which is just when the sun comes up.
Luckily, the two nearest waterholes, Dolomietpunt (above) and Klippan, are less than a 10-15 minute drive away, which allows over 2 hours of wildlife watching before returning to eat. The only disadvantage, as we discovered, was that there`s unlikely to be much left on the buffet table when you get back!
We left the chalet just before first light, picking our way over the thatched roof debris left by the marauding baboons, and walked down for the car, warily checking the shadows as lions and leopard periodically wander through the camp grounds - you`ve no chance of outrunning a big cat so just make sure you can outrun the person you`re with!
Our early start paid off, finding this lion and lioness, obviously on a mission, just a few hundred metres along the Klippan waterhole road - and there wasn`t another car in sight.
The pair crossed and re-crossed the road several times before locking their sights on a mixed herd of Oryx and Wildebeest beside a distant tree-line. With no one else around it was just like watching your own real-life wildlife documentary.
Rather than utilise the area with thicker vegetation to their left for cover the lions made a direct approach but their intended prey took flight, throwing up a big dust cloud in the process. Ostriches looked well within range but fortunately for them, they weren`t on the breakfast menu.
The lioness burst from cover and charged on ahead but her attack failed.
Exhausted, the pair wandered back towards our position then lay down and had a short nap.
The big guy must have had some energy left, however, and despite having nothing to eat for a while....
Time for seconds!
It certainly looked as if missing out on breakfast once in a while isn`t too much of a problem! The local vultures, however, rather dining on some fresh meat, had to make do with the scant remains of a putrid zebra carcass, which had no doubt been killed by this pair of lions a few days earlier.
Image © NWR Etosha National Park
I`ve never visited this location personally but the recently opened Olifantsrus campground, the Park`s first `camping only` experience, comes highly recommended by people who have stayed there. It is far more scenic and has a real wilderness feel, especially when compared with the rather shabby designated campgrounds within Etosha`s main restcamps. The fenced complex consists of just 10 camp sites with a maximum group of 8 people per site. Amenities include an information centre, a kiosk selling drinks and light meals, a communal kitchen and toilets. The main draw though is the superb two-storey hide overlooking a man-made waterhole. Day visitors can pop-in to use the camp`s facilities but this is another location where you need to leave sufficient time for the long drive back to either Dolomite Camp, Okaukuejo, or one of the exit gates and ensure you get there before darkness falls.
Image © NWR Etosha National Park
The site has a dark past, however, and the remains of an old elephant culling station which `processed` the animals on a grand scale can still be seen. Huge steel frames used to hoist the dead elephants for butchering, and a few sun-baked skulls, are a haunting reminder of the activities that went on here. The camp`s name translates as `Elephants` Rest` and relates to this practice rather than comfort and relaxation provided by the waterhole. Poaching in Namibia is increasing at an alarming rate but this was not always the case. Back in 1967, during the dry season, the first aerial survey of Etosha counted around 500 elephants within the national park, but in 1973 the number rose to 1,300. By 1983 the amount had swelled to 3,000, the animals taking advantage of the lack of persecution. Many had moved from northwestern Namibia to join resident herds, mainly to avoid South African military operations and widespread poaching in that part of the country.
Although, even in the dry season, you can drive for a while without seeing much, there are usually some memorable encounters along the Dolomite - Okaukuejo road. A full list of all the waterholes in this section of the park, including photography tips and additional images, can be found on the Etosha Waterholes page.
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