Etosha National Park
This section includes information on Etosha, including its history, accommodation options, the wildlife and a list of all publicly accessible waterholes with tips on photography and sample images which will hopefully be of interest to anyone planning a 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 consequently 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. Elephants for example used to migrate all the way to the Skeleton Coast each year but this is no longer possible, although some herds, acting on instinct, still occasionally try to bulldoze through the perimeter fence along the western boundary.
The vast Etosha salt pan, by far the largest in Africa, 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, covers an area of approximately 4,800km², and occupies almost a quarter of what is now Etosha National Park.
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 1,000 km. 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 will 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.
More information on Namibia and additional images taken there can be found on Clydeside Images.com. Utilise the blog`s search box or the `Overseas-Namibia` fly-out label on the right-hand side of the blog page. Please bear in mind that my Stock Photography Archive has even more shots taken in Namibia.
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If you wish to purchase any image(s) please email using the Contact Form and I will respond at the earliest opportunity.
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.
There is a permanent souvenir stand with handmade crafts offered by Himba women at the Andersson Gate entrance to the Park. The Himba are indigenous with an estimated population of about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region (formerly Kaokoland) and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola.
Each permit lists the National Park rules which are also displayed on large billboards at the entrance gates. Visitors who infringe these conditions risk a hefty fine, expulsion from the park or both. One day on our latest holiday, my wife and I returned to the Nebrownii waterhole mid-afternoon and found that the parking area wasn’t too busy so I got a good spot, cut the engine, and settled down for a long wait.
The calm didn’t last long though and soon, numerous cars, 4-wheel drives, and large purpose-built safari trucks had gathered, the occupants all focused on a group of lionesses that had exited from the culvert below the main road. One of the cats was on her own, well back from the others as they approached the waterhole, scattering Springbok and Zebra in the process.
Unbelievably, this man and woman got out of their 4x4, lifted the tailgate and calmly started rearranging the contents of their boot! The vehicles were so tightly packed that the pair would have been unable to see the last lioness which unknown to them wasn’t too far off.
The couple appeared oblivious to the shouts from the occupants, including private guides, of other vehicles, and I’d be surprised if someone didn't report the blatant breach of National Park rules to the authorities. I’ll bet more than a few people had recorded their idiotic behaviour on camera.
I`ve divided Etosha National Park into three sections: The West covers the previously restricted western section of the park including Dolomite Rest Camp and Olifantsrus, 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.
Alhough 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 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. 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. This was the scene from our chalet...
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! Predators can wander in and out at will, passing right next to the chalets, so 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 and you could end up as their supper! 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!
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'!
More information and images taken at this stunning location, plus nearby waterholes can be found here.
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.
Image © NWR Etosha National Park
Following a prolonged drought which lasted from 1980 until 1983, large tracts of grass and vegetation throughout southern Africa were in danger of turning to desert, placing not only the elephants` long term future at risk, but also species such as the Black Rhino. As a result the authorities decided follow the example of Kruger National Park in South Africa and drastically reduce the elephant population. The result was that between 1983 and 1985, 525 elephants were killed in the western section of Etosha and their carcasses were brought by flat-bed truck to Olifantsrus for disposal. The policy was to dispatch entire family units swiftly, supposedly to minimise trauma, and although the meat was used to feed poorer sections of the community, many people find this troubling episode upsetting and refuse to stay here.
Okaukuejo Rest Camp
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 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 in position on a decent bench when the animals start to appear. 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` eyesight is very poor so they have to rely on their hearing and sense of smell.
Although the waterhole is floodlit, getting decent shots is quite challenging, unless you have one of the latest professional digital SLRs with a decent low-light capability which I didn`t have at that time. I never took a flash, trying to capture the action using maximum ISO number and a sturdy mini-pod, but most shots were grainy and noisy with a fair degree of blur. The mixed light sources create dark shadows and achieving the correct white balance can prove a challenge. There are a couple of benches under the centre light and this is the best spot for night-time photography. Although there are other lights around the rim of the viewing area they don`t provide sufficient illumination and their lens covers create a horizontal banding effect, particularly noticeable on the larger species. It`s worth noting that if you intend to use flash during a close-in elephant dust bath it will likely highlight every sand particle in the air rather than focus on the animals.
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 they 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.
No less than eight rhinos were present together at the waterhole on the second night, most staying for around five hours. One even ambled over towards the spectators, lay down and fell asleep under the spotlight! All in all, the two nights we spent at the Okaukuejo waterhole on our first Namibian holiday were superb and without doubt one of the highlights. 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, when I visited, and October are usually the best times to visit for big game sightings.
More info and shots taken at Okaukuejo can be found on a dedicated page: Click here to view.
Each standard waterhole chalet at Okaukuejo 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.
Although Okaukeujo, Halali and Namutoni all have shops, I would advise against relying on them and if at all possible 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 was 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 Okaukeujo and Namutoni on our latest visit.
Halali Rest Camp
Halali lies roughly midway between Okaukuejo and Namutoni and many people travelling from one side of the park to the other use its facilities when making 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 70 km away from each of the other two previously mentioned 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 Moringa 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 which is apparently a great spot for watching the sun rise or set over the surrounding countryside. The swimming pool at Halali is quite small but looks inviting, especially on hot days.
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 military-looking MD OH-6A, V5-HUG of Expedite Aviation, Piper Cub V5-DSH and Cessna V5-ISE.
I believe privately-owned planes are not permitted to fly over the park and therefore assume that all these aircraft including the helicopter are 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 brief information on just a few of the numerous animal species that reside in the National Park, starting with the largest by far, the Elephants. The large Namibia section including Etosha National Park is now complete apart from a more detailed animal gallery and bird gallery which are under construction but may take me a little while to complete.
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.
Etosha’s elephants number about 2,500 and occur either in breeding herds numbering up to 50, or in bachelor herds of two to eight males. These unattached males are usually found on the open plains and in Acacia Nebrownii thickets. The breeding herds, consisting of females with their calves and young males prefer the acacia, sandveld and mopane woodlands.
Although the Park`s elephants usually prefer to visit the waterhole during the hours of darkness, they are frequently seen during the day, especially at Olifantsbad, Aus, Tsumcor, Kleine Namutoni and Kalkheuwel. All elephants must cool themselves by spraying water over their backs and by bathing in mud, leaving them in a variety of shades depending on the location. It can be quite nerve wracking when these giants pass very close to your vehicle particularly if there are calves in tow as the adults will be extra wary and ready to jump to their defence at the least hint of a threat.
Big cats are amongst the iconic species that symbolise Africa and its diverse wildlife. They also play an essential role in maintaining ecosystems. The populations of all these cats are declining rapidly due to uncontrolled human population expansion and the resulting encroachment on their habitat which reduces their natural prey. Poaching, disease, unsustainable hunting, and persecution by farmers and herders are just some of the many challenges they face.
Figures on how many lions there are in Africa today vary wildly, but what's clear is that numbers have decreased by around two-thirds in the last 50 years. According to the Africat Foundation there are just 600 to 800 wild lions left in Namibia, distributed between the Kunene Region, Etosha, and the north-eastern regions of Khaudum, the Nyae-Nyae Conservancy and the rivers bordering Botswana.
Around mid-day, this big male lion pictured below 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.
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.
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.
In Africa some 7,500 Cheetah still live in the wild today and of these Namibia has the largest population. A conservative estimate puts the figure at around 3,000 of which 95% live outside protected areas, mainly on farmland. It's thought that less than 50 Cheetah live in Etosha with this total declining every year. They`re unable to compete with lions for prey and are particularly prone to the naturally occurring disease anthrax which is mainly contracted by eating infected prey. The Cheetah with kill pictured above was photographed at Twee Palms, Etosha National Park.
Birds of Etosha Gallery
As previously mentioned I am in the process of compiling a `Birds of Namibia` Gallery and I`ll add a link in due course.