Etosha National Park
*This section is currently being revamped with additional pages containing general information, including details on the park`s individual waterholes and images which will hopefully be of interest to anyone planning to visit.*
The word Etosha means 'Great White Place', the colour being a reference to the massive clay-covered pan which is usually dry and seemingly devoid of life, or occasionally a place teeming with birds after exceptional seasonal rainfall. The natural springs around the periphery of the pan were known and utilised by the indigenous Ovambo, Herero and Bushmen of the Kalahari. The first Europeans to describe the spectacular geographical feature were Charles John Andersson and Sir Francis Galton, who reached what is present-day Namutoni in 1851.
Later, German colonists began to arrive in droves and settle in what became German South West Africa. By 1907, the then governor Dr Friedrich von Lindequist, alarmed by the impact of the unrestricted hunting of wild animals, proclaimed three massive Etosha Game Reserves, totalling almost 90,000 square kilometres. At that time it was the largest protected area in the world and the animals were free to migrate without restriction.
In the mid-twentieth century, a tourist infrastructure was established but unfortunately much of the protected zone was de-proclaimed and the reserve shrunk by almost 80% to its present-day size. The new boundaries were formalised in 1973 and the Park was fenced-in. This disrupted the migration patterns of most herbivores, forcing them to feed and find water within the park.
The vast Etosha salt pan is believed to have been formed over a 100 million years ago and up until around 16,000 years ago, the Kunene River flowed down from what is now Angola to create and feed a huge lake. Due to tectonic plate action the course of the river changed, diverting its life-giving waters to the Atlantic Ocean and causing the lake to gradually dry and evaporate, leaving a desolate expanse of salt and clay behind.
The Pan, by far the largest in Africa, covers an area of approximately 4,800km², and occupies almost a quarter of what is now the Etosha National Park. The indigenous Ovambo tribe named the pan 'Etosha' which means ‘great white place’ and this title was relayed to explorers Sir Francis Galton and Charles Andersson in 1851 when they came here in the company of local traders.
Etosha first gained official park status in 1907, when the Colonial Governor of what was then German South West Africa, Dr von Lindequist, proclaimed the pan and masses of surrounding territory a game reserve. This protected the animals and their seasonal migration routes and the reserve remained largely intact until the 1950s and `60s. From then on, the boundaries were repeatedly changed and Etosha was whittled down to its present size, a reduction of 77 percent. (to edit - incl Pan image*)
Now covering an area of approximately 22,900 square kilometres, the Etosha National Park contains almost 60 waterholes with a network of gravel roads totalling more than 1,000km. Game viewing in Etosha is good at any time of year, but wintertime, between May and October, and early spring are excellent - with no rain for many months the veld is bone-dry so most animals have to visit the waterholes to survive. The summer grass has long-since faded to yellow and has been flattened by countless hooves, making visibility excellent for spotting predators and their potential prey.
Water sources include natural springs and those fed by man-made boreholes. Find a good position, pull up, switch off the engine, and wait and see what appears. With a bit of patience and a little luck you can often be rewarded with some spectacular sightings. If a waterhole initially appears deserted spend a few minutes checking the surroundings with binoculars. There will usually be some interesting birds around and there`s always the chance that a big cat or other predator has concealed itself, intent on an ambush.
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Visitors wishing to enter Etosha or any of the other Namibian national parks are issued with a permit at the main gate for the number of days required. The appropriate fees must be paid before leaving, usually at a separate reception building, often located in a rest camp. The permits are valid for 24 hours after issue rather than per day. Visitors must ensure that they vacate the park before the gates close at sundown, or for those staying within the perimeter, are back inside the relevant rest camp.
I`ve divided Etosha National Park into three sections: The West covers the previously restricted western section of the park including Dolomite Rest Camp, the Centre takes in the west end of the main Etosha Salt Pan and along its south shore, from Okaukuejo to Halali. The East section takes in the waterholes between Halali and Namutoni, Fischer`s Pan and the road north from the latter rest camp to Andoni and the Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate at the Park`s northeast corner. Each of these sections feature additional images and information which will hopefully be of interest to anyone planning a visit. There is also a summary of the park`s individual waterholes, with several of the most productive covered in more detail on a dedicated page. Due to the volume of material, a some of the content may appear on more than one page.
Although there is a fairly wide choice of accommodation outside the perimeter the main advantage of staying at one of the rest camps inside Etosha, apart from their floodlit waterholes, is that you can access the surrounding terrain at first light when staff open the rest camp gates. Even the private lodges, hotels and camps closest to the main entry gates are a usually at best a 15-20 minute drive away while others are over an hour away, so visitors are missing out on the brief period around dawn which not only has the best light for photography, but is also prime hunting time. Firstly, here are brief details of the four Rest camps within the National Park...
Dolomite Rest Camp
Dolomite camp is situated in the remote, previously restricted western section of Etosha National Park and its reception building, restaurants, bar and 20 chalets are dotted along a rocky ridge affording stunning views across the plains. As the whole complex is unfenced, staff operate a golf buggy shuttle serivce 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! Sitting out on your veranda to watch the stars isn`t recommended either as lion and leopard often pass by during the night and you could end up as their supper!
More information and images taken at this stunning location and nearby waterholes can be found (LINK(S))*
Okaukuejo Rest Camp
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 with an upper floor and balcony but they are 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.
Photography * The Okaukuejo waterhole is a superb place to watch Elephants and Rhino during the hours of darkness.
Halali Rest Camp
Halali, is roughly midway between Okaukuejo and Namutoni and many people travelling from one side of the park to the other use Halali as a convenient lunch stop. It`s the smallest and probably the least busy of Etosha`s three main rest camps and occupies a picturesque woodland setting at the base of a dolomite hill. Halali lies around 70km each of the other two camps and rather than drive straight there along the park`s main road it`s best to take your time and make a few detours to check out some of the superb waterholes on the way.
Halali Rest Camp`s Moringo Waterhole, created in 1992, is also worth a look. It`s far quieter than the one at Okaukuejo but lies in a more natural setting. The lighting is best in the mornings although most animals appear later in the day. Elephant, Hyena and Black Rhino are regular visitors and there is a good chance of seeing a Leopard coming to drink after dark. The covered seating area at Moringo is quite small so it`s best to dine early and arrive before the floodlights come on. There is additional standing space along the walkway which some photographers may prefer as this puts them a bit closer to the action. Honey Badgers are often present, not only at the waterhole but foraging around within the camp`s perimeter in a search for food.
A short trail from the camp leads past the waterhole viewing area and climbs the dolomite kopje to a viewpoint near the summit - a great spot for watching the sun rise or set over the surrounding countryside. 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. Piper Cub V5-DSH (above) and Cessna V5-ISE below. All these aircraft, including the helicopter, may be available for charter but are more liklely used by researchers or Park wardens on anti-poaching or game monitoring flights. *
Namutoni Rest Camp
The white-walled 'Beau Geste' style fort which forms the centrepiece of the Namutoni facility was originally built as a German Police frontier post. A small museum opposite reception displays various weapons and artifacts from the German colonial occupation and has information panels outlining the history of the fort and its garrison. Since our last visit the shops and bar located within the fort's walls have been relocated and it's now operates exclusively as an upgraded accommodation block. A meat burger sit-down lunch at the Namutoni Rest Camp restaurant was surprisingly tasty.
The camp waterhole is named after King Nehale, the leader of 500 Ndonga warriors that successfully attacked the German garrison and destroyed the fort in 1904 during the Ovambo uprising. The stronghold was rebuilt and reinforced the following year, however, and British POWs were incarcerated here for a time during the Great War.
This area experiences much higher rainfall than the other areas of Etosha but, as far as I know, following excellent downpours in 2010 and 2011, hardly any rain has fallen since. Like those at Okaukuejo and Halali, the rest camp waterhole at Namutoni is floodlit at night. It has the reputation of being exceptionally good for birding during the rainy season and snakes, including Spitting Cobra and African Rock Python are often seen hunting along the water`s edge, targeting the doves and smaller birds when they land to take a sip. These, and other species of snake, are often encountered in the rest-camp grounds.
Onkoshi, in the remote north-eastern section of the Park, is a low-impact camp that runs mainly on solar power. The entire lodge is built on wooden decks and faces the Etosha Pan. The 15 suites have a natural and organic feel with thatched roofs, canvas walls and a wooden framed door. There is a restaurant, bar, small curio shop and swimming pool. Visitors cannot drive to this location in their own vehicles and have to be shuttled there from Namutoni by a member of staff.
All Onkoshi images © Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR)
There is no waterhole here and consequently animals sightings are few and far between, but when the rains come this is a prime spot for waterbirds with some spectacular reflections thrown in. Thousands of flamingos can gather in the pan close to the chalets and these birds, along with amazing sunsets are a major draw for photographers.
A number of designated picnic sites are dotted throughout the park, all of which are listed as having toilets. The idea is that visitors can break their journey and get out of their vehicles to stretch their legs and use the facilities in safety. Many also have picnic tables, which sounds great but the reality is very different - the toilets we saw were usually broken or not fitted to piping but, a bit more worrying was the fact that only two picnic areas we visited had an intact fence.
The above example, in the eastern section of the park, shows why these sites are not always the best places to sit down with your picnic hamper and tuck-in to the Kudu sandwiches! It looks as though some of the park`s larger four-legged residents use these areas too!
The best rest area we stopped at, probably due to the fact that it`s situated in the seldom-visited western section of the Park, was off the main Okaukuejo - Dolomite Camp road - the fence was intact and everything was reasonably clean and tidy although there was no running water.
This section has some general information on just some of the numerous animal species that reside in the National Park, starting with the largest by far, the Elephants.
The above shots were taken near Halali, the one on the left at Goas waterhole, while the right-hand shot features an elephant fitted with a tracking device.
Please bear in mind that all images on this website and my blog are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark.
Around mid-day, this big male lion just sauntered up amongst hundreds of animals at the Ozonjuitji m`Bari waterhole and took down this Oryx which had been drinking contentedly at the water`s edge. This was the scene once the other animals had scattered and the dust had cleared.
Hunting for Breakfast, near Klippan, Western Etosha
I saw lions mating on two separate occasions during my 2015 trip: At Nebrownii near Okaukuejo and near Klippan waterhole in Western Etosha.
Antelope species include * etc - More information and images can be found here.
Etosha National Park`s Chacma Baboons: The Dolomite Demolition Crew!
Dolomite camp is situated in the remote, previously restricted western section of Etosha National Park and its reception building, restaurants, bar and 20 chalets are dotted along a rocky ridge affording stunning views across the plains. Only two chalets, number 13 and 14 at the north end, offer a view of the waterhole and my wife and I had one of them - we could see for 20 miles from the veranda and watch herds of elephant, giraffe, zebra and ostrich come and go.
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! 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. 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 am on our second night here, a lion snatched a 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 every breath!
This Baboon pulled a cardboard sheet out from under the concrete ridge weighing down the thatch and looked at it as if he was reading a Sunday newspaper! An example of the gang`s handywork (our chalet the morning after the lion encounter) can be seen on the right.
Birds of Etosha Gallery
Please bear in mind that all my images are subject to copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark.