Etosha – Namibia’s greatest wildlife sanctuary

Saturday 29 to Monday 31 October

Our host at Toko Lodge suggested that we could easily reach the Etosha National Park from the Galton Gate on the west side of the park.  According to the maps and information we had been given, this gate was not open to the public, but from a travelling perspective, it made a lot of sense to travel from west to east, with an overnight break near Andersson’s Gate. So we took the chance.

The drive from Toko Lodge was short.  The day was already hot as we waited for the typical bureaucratic entry passes. We had arrived at the same time as a group of French tourists who aren’t necessarily known for their patience.

A sign offered a map of Etosha for about $AUD3. That seemed a worthwhile investment. When I went to purchase it, I was told ‘no charge’. It was a poorly photocopied version of the out-of-print original. Well it was free.

Etosha National Park is Namibia’s prime wildlife location and home to a large variety of mammals and birds. Etosha means the ‘great white area’ which refers to the large dried pan in the middle of the Etosha Park. The park is large, more than 22,000 square kilometres.  The Etosha pan covers about one quarter of the area.


On this journey we have visited many safari parks, but always with driver/guides. This was a self-drive experience, and we were concerned that we might miss a lot of animals, as our eyes are not so finely tuned to spotting the animals in their natural habitats. This certainly proved not to be the point – it was a wonderful journey from waterhole to waterhole, each with its own group of animals.

Even before we reached the first waterhole, we saw a herd of elephants sheltering under trees and a lone giraffe grazing.

There are approximately 56 waterholes in the park. Some of them are ‘dry’ with little or no water. Some of them are artificial with bores or water brought in by truck, and others are natural. Of course this is a desert area in the middle of a serious drought, so even the larger waterholes have limited water.

We stopped at seventeen of these water holes – five on the first day of our visit and twelve on our third day.

  • At the Dolomietpunt waterhole we saw a herd of elephants drinking water. There were Oryx, Springbok and Zebras watching. Elephants are the real kings of Africa, and the other animals simply had to wait their turn until the elephants moved on.
  • The Duineveld waterhole was overtaken by a colony of vultures. It seemed that the giraffes. ostriches and zebras were waiting their turn, while springbok sheltered from the hot sun, under the few trees in the area.
  • There were vultures again at the Nomab waterhole, however a ‘wobble’ of ostriches with their wings outstretched to keep cool, were competing for water.
  • Bull Elephants were enjoying a mud bath at the Olifantsrus watehole. Once again, other animals such as oryx and zebras were waiting for the elephants to leave. Just one stray eagle insisted on ignoring the elephants’ authority.
  • There was quite a menagerie at the Ozonjuitji m’Bari waterhole. Wildebeest were nearby and we came across oryx, springbok, ostriches and a crane. All was calm, until the elephants arrived. Just one eagle stayed behind, as the others fled.
  • Our last stop for the day was to see the Ghost Tree Forest. The Moringa ovalifoliais is a bit like a boab or baobab, but is unrelated. When we saw the trees they were without foliage and looked truly ghost like with knarled roots. Apparently the elephants like them, and like many other trees, make quite a mess of them.

Our accommodation at Andersson’s Lodge in the Ongava Private Game Reserve was a luxury lodge just outside the park near Andersson’s Gate, which is midway along the park’s southern border. Our tent was raised from the ground, with an interesting interior, especially the bathroom which was decorated with lots of corrugated tin and hessian. It was just a short walk to the reception and dining facilities, which were built in an old farmhouse overlooking a waterhole. Ongava was four farms bought up by developers and turned into a private reserve.

There was a waterhole close to the reception area and there was a steady stream of animals and birds. We enjoyed a restful day watching the animals come to visit us, including a very wary young giraffe.  We later learnt that his brother had been taken down by a lion just a few months ago.

We watched giraffes, oryx, black faced impalas, springbok, and even some birds such as to Kori Bustard, hornbills and numerous waddling guineafowls.

The staff were exceptionally nice and considerate. Definitely one of the better places. Water was offered with the meal – this is really unusual. Some places don’t even give you bottled water.

One of the guests, Jake was from the very upmarket British tour operator Bailey Robinson. He was doing a very quick reconnoiter of the more upmarket African accommodation – what a life!

In the comfort of a private park we took a Sundowners Safari which leaves in the late afternoon with a view to having cocktails with the setting sun.

This was a guided tour, so we were back in the hands of an expert wildlife watcher, with a two way radio to share sightings with other photo hunters. We didn’t see a lot of animals, we were in fact looking for a black rhino, but not successfully.  We did learn a lot from our guide, Michael.

  • Waterbuck with one horn. Waterbucks will safely travel up to a kilometre from water because they are safe from predators – they have a layer next to their skin which has an awful taste. Female waterbucks don’t have horns.
    Waterbucks are also distinguishable by their white rump. The story goes that the waterbuck sat on the toilet for too long, which made him late to line up for Noah’s Ark.
  • Red hartebeest males have larger horns and a bigger body in a darker colour. Their white bottom reflects sun to keep them cool. They are the second fastest antelope
  • Then we came across a lion drinking water at a creek. What an amazing sight that was. He then defecated and sprayed to mark his territory and then roared for his family.
  • The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird in Southern Africa. They seem to take off and land like a jumbo jet.
  • We missed the black rhino, but came across a ‘crash’ of white rhinoceros grazing. Two females with young, approximately one and a half to two and a half years old with one bull. The females move around at will and the calf stays with its mum until it is about four years old, then it is kicked out to fend for itself. Mum then comes on heat and the bull that controls the area she is in will mate. Bulls stay within their territories, but cows can cross territories.

Michael told us that the Oganvo is small and can’t support the current mix of prey and predator wildlife, so they need to buy in prey. Etosha, on the other hand, is large enough to support a balance of prey and predators.

We stru7ggled all the way to identify the various antelopes – eland, kudu, oryx, hartebeest, springbok, gazelles and so on.  The range is astonishing.

We were out of our luxury lodge the next day and on the road, doing some more self-drive safari. As we travelled in the eastern side of the park we visited 11 waterholes and also the lookout on the salt pan.

  • Our first stop on our return to Etosha was at the Gemsbokvlakte waterhole. It was a busy place with giraffes, elands, sprinkboks, zebras and kudus. The giraffe was watching and waiting for a safe opportunity to take some water. They are totally vulnerable when they stretch their long legs out to reach down for water.
  • Next we stopped at Olifantsbad waterhol, where a jackal wandered down to the water. A couple of ostriches were moving in unison, almost dancing and kudu wandered in, drank and left.
  • There were more kudu at the Aus waterhole. A young pair seemed to defy their elders and walk the other way.
  • The Ondongab waterhole was empty, the only one where we saw no animals. Here we got our first view of the Etosha pan.
  • Sueda is a grassy area, a run off from Etosha pan after rain. Here we saw giraffes amongst the grasses and wildebeest on the saltings.
  • Springbok were enjoying some quiet time at the Charitsaub waterhole, they were kept company by a Kori Bustard.
  • The Salvadora waterhole was the most exciting. There were herds of wildebeest, zebra, and springbok, there were ducks and eagles and a Kori Bustard. Suddenly two female lions appeared and the animals were on high alert. The lions sauntered up to the waterhole. The wildebeest, not known for intelligence, ran, creating a dust storm. The springbok and zebras remained at a distance, keeping watch. I am not sure if the lions wanted food, they simply lapped some water and moved over to a large tree where they took up a watching position. The wildebeest lost their shady spot.
  • We came across a white rhinoceros at the Rietfontein waterhole. White rhinos get their name through a misinterpreted description of their WIDE mouth. But this rhino was nearly white, of the mud variety. A baby giraffe was watched over by its mum and a baby elephant was wallowing in the water. Springboks were comfortable in their surroundings – such a difference from the previous waterhole.
  • The drought in southern Africa has taken its toll. Everything was dusty. As we followed other vehicles through the park it was wise to keep a distance and let the dust settle, so we could actually see the road. When vehicles passed you you could expect a cloud of dust, sometimes 500 metres long.
  • We drove out to the lookout on the Etosha pan. There was not a tree in sight on the pan and the horizon followed the earth’s curve. When it rains the pan will fill with water, but that is a rare occasion. We hadn’t realised how difficult it is to photograph a mirage – the camera simply can’t focus on the haze.
  • Springbokfontein and Batia waterholes were the most entertaining – silly stuff like ‘zebras crossing’ the road and ‘white elephants’ caked in mud to keep the vicious sun off their skin. We laughed at the sights.
  • On the road to the Okerfontein waterhole, to the east of the park we watched as an elephant partly destroyed a tree. They are vicious in how they attack the growth. We were later told that it is a symbiotic relationship with the elephants and other animals and their destruction of trees. Less trees allow grass to grow which feeds the many antelopes that are native to this part of the world.

Etosha was a magical and unforgettable experience – we felt proud that we had identified so many animals and understood more about their behaviour and their living conditions.