Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia is 22,270 square kilometres in area, is dominated by a 130 km by 50 km saltpan but has desert, savannah and woodland landscapes. There are 114 mammal species present in the park and over 340 species of birds at different times of the year.
That’s the statistics but the best thing to know about Etosha is that it is an African wildlife park where you don’t need to pay for a tour but can go on your own self-drive safari – in a hire car in my case. There are three campgrounds within Etosha that have swimming pools and waterholes where you can view wildlife in the evening, as well as a range of lodge accommodation. Check the visitors’ book for reports from recent visitors of the best places to see wildlife.
Spend two or three days going out for drives in the early morning and late afternoon. I visited picturesque waterholes scattered with pretty islands and elegant dead trees. I saw shedloads of springbok, beautiful zebra very close to the car, giraffes eating near the gate of the park and Black Faced Impala. There were quite a few young animals about also, always a bonus.
Gemsbok or Oryx with their huge horns look like the Push-me-Pull-You from Doctor Dolittle when standing back to back. Solid Kudu, ostriches and whiskered warthogs join the fun at the waterhole. Giraffes rock up from the empty plain, spread their forelegs and bend low to drink. Suddenly the circus starts and quickly retreats. A lion approaches to drink and all wait for him to finish and move on before returning to their fun.
On one drive a lion walked right across the road in front of the car. He had his eye on some distant giraffe as he padded away, stopping and scenting and looking again. On another day a big male lion settled down to rest after a successful hunt and a big feed. See the blood around his chops.
At the end of the day the typical skyline is of trees silhouetted against a band of golden orange light in the sky. Orange that fades to gold, then to pale lavender, then to the dusky blue of an almost night sky. The colours finally melt away and the evening star appears. Then the rest of the constellations appear as faint pinpricks through a dark sheet. Leave the flysheet off your tent and enjoy the magnificent night sky of Africa. And the sound of jackals howling in the bushes.
You can drive out onto the Etosha saltpan – I went about one kilometre into the saltpan and looked out into the khaki nothingness. My feet sank into the crazy-paving cracks of the slimy mud. The algae floating on the surface of patches of standing water threw delicate colours and reflections.
It is difficult to choose but the most beautiful sunset was at Okaukuejo Camp. The waterhole with fenced off viewing area is right beside the camp and the flaming sky silhouetted a tree, the reflecting pool, a wooded skyline and great banks of clouds.
When to visit Etosha National Park
As with many places I’ve travelled, choosing the best time to go to Etosha is a matter of weighing up personal comfort with scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. The temperatures in this part of Namibia are going to be most pleasant, especially at night, from April to September. During this time the landscape of Etosha gets increasingly dry and while this may not be to everyone’s taste, it is the best for wildlife viewing. More and more animals gather to the shrinking waterholes, whereas in the wetter months they disappear into the vastness of Etosha. For bird watching the wetter summer months are best with migratory birds arriving to wade in the shallow waters of the Etosha salt pan.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Etosha in Namibia? Where’s your favourite African safari destination?