Our Southern African Adventure, Part 7: Namibia – Etosha National Park

Leaving Swakopmund in our tracks, we made the journey to Etosha National Park in north-western Namibia. Up to this point we had only seen one of the Big 5 animals, so the group of us were very keen to see if we could find the other four while driving around and camping in the reserve.

Day 15

Rolling through the gates of Etosha we were told not to expect to see much or really any animals in the reserve. Given the size of the reserve it can be hard to spot anything of interest. But we didn’t see nothing, instead what we found was absolutely incredible. Within the park, there are several protected campsites where people can spend a night, watching for animals. For the next two nights we’d be sleeping within the park separated from the animals by stone walls and a chain fence.

Almost as soon as we had rolled into the park, a mass of zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, orxyes, springbok, and all kinds of antelope made themselves known to us. It was lucky if we could get five hundred meters down the road before we came to a stop again to look at another herd of animals.

A giraffe on the side of the road in Etosha

A giraffe on the side of the road in Etosha

Driving towards our first campsite we were all thrilled to see two elephants walking away from a waterhole near camp.

2 of the Big 5 Down!

Seeing these two big guys wandering through the reserve I imagined that there must be more elephants and plenty of other animals around and  not too far from camp and the waterhole.

Two elephants in Etosha

Two elephants in Etosha

After checking in and setting up our tents for the night, which sadly was not in view of the waterhole, we were astonished to look up and find a herd of 33 more elephants running past the campsite. Approaching the fence that separated us from them, Rich and I couldn’t believe our luck as one elephant after another went past, sometimes with a screech and a gallop as a little one tried to keep up with the rest of the group.

Watching these elephants gave us some proper motivation, and once the last elephant had gone past we ran down to the waterhole. The waterhole is a bit like an amphitheater in how it is arranged. Looking out over the a large field, with the waterhole at the center, we sat only a few meters back. A chain fence and a stone wall acted as a boundary, keeping humans and animals separate. Behind the stone fence are several benches and some rising stands.

Catching up with other members of our group we plopped ourselves down on a bench and were greeted by the most fantastic sight – a rhino waiting in the distance for its turn at the hole.

3 Down!

A rhino waits in the distance

A rhino waits in the distance

To be clear, the waterhole is not exactly large but the number of animals that were there was staggering – birds, jackals, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and antelope all hovered around the hole, waiting to take their turn.

After not long, the heavens opened and rain came pouring down, causing most of the animals to flee away from us and into the safety of the forests beyond. Being nicely situated underneath a tree we chose to stick out the rain, wait for it to stop and for the animals to return.

When the rain did stop, the giraffes and zebras were the first to come back. Hiding behind a thicket of trees, they all seemed to be communicating with one another on their master plan for retrieving water. The lot of them, as if weary of a predator, would take a few steps towards the waterhole and then stop and wait for a few minutes, then take a few more steps and repeat.

Giraffes take a drink

Giraffes get a drink

The giraffes and zebras only seemed to feel at ease after a pair of jackals came prancing in for a drink and a swim. Once the jackals were gone, the giraffes closed in and the zebras began wading into the hole. The giraffes took their time to spread their legs and bend their long necks down to the water.

A baby zebra wades into the waterhole

A baby zebra wades into the waterhole

The sun setting over the horizon, the flood lights at the waterhole gradually lit up casting an orange glow around the waterhole. Not long after the giraffes and zebras all took off we could hear what sounded like a lion’s roar in the distance. Getting my hopes up, I was a bit disappointed when it was not a lion that came next – but rather two rhinos and a herd of fifteen giraffe.  After watching the rhinos either getting into a fight or enjoying a very intense love session (we couldn’t tell which) Rich and I went for a very hurried dinner at camp hoping not to miss anything exciting.

The waterhole under the glow of the floodlamps

The waterhole under the glow of the flood lights

Thank goodness we were quick because by the time we returned to the hole the lions were approaching. Two male lions strolled straight down to the hole and lay down lapping water up with their tongues.

4 Down – Only the water buffalo to go!

The lion pair were only there for a few minutes but were later joined by yet another rhino and an elephant. Had there been a giraffe or a zebra in the mix there I think someone would have been eaten, but none of these three species seemed to mind each other’s presence. In fact the lone elephant seemed to be having the best time ever, just slurping away.

A pair of lions invade the waterhole

A pair of lions invade the waterhole

Content with what we’d seen, Rich and I took the opportunity to sneak away and back into our tents – only to be woken by some jackals that seemed very intent on getting into our trash.

Day 16

Leaving the first waterhole behind after breakfast, we headed towards our second campsite within Etosha. Driving to the opposite end of the park, we stopped the truck whenever something interesting crossed our path, from zebras wading through water wells, to hyenas stalking their dinner.

A hyena stalks its prey

A hyena stalks its prey

The real highlight for us was a group of three lions – two females and a male – sleeping under the shade of a bush. We spent a good while watching these lions willing them to wake up from their slumber. One by one they picked their heads up to see what all the commotion was about, but panting under the hot sun they chose to cozy up and go back to sleep.

The lion sleeps today

The lion sleeps today

Not long after we passed the lions, CP, our guide, noticed a honey badger dashing across a grassy plan. Normally nocturnal creatures, this was the first honey badger she had ever seen in all her time as a guide. Honey badgers look something like an overgrown stunk and are notoriously nasty little buggers – absolutely fearless despite their small size, they have been known to take on lion cubs and eat cobras. Unfortunately we didn’t get to watch any smack downs, but I would not want to mess with those guys.

A honey badger dashes across the plain

A honey badger dashes across the plain

Passing by thousands of antelope and a multitude of giraffes, elephants and zebras, we eventually made it to our next campsite. Most of our group chose to go down to the adjoining waterhole, but after a quick scan of it I decided to get some sleep instead. The hot African sun is killer.

Day 17

Today, we knew from the get go was not going to be a very interesting day. We’d be leaving Etosha this morning and heading East towards the Botswanan border.

Of course we were to see one or two fun things along the way. Rocking up to a waterhole, we encountered a plethora of hyenas sunning themselves on the edges of the hole. Two giraffes were attempting to drink from the waterhole as well, but kept freaking out because another hyena would come out from beyond the trees and join the pack frolicking through the water. Giraffes are very vulnerable when they’re drinking water as getting their heads down to the ground and back up again takes considerable time and effort.

Swimming hyenas

Swimming hyenas

The hyenas however didn’t seem to have much interest in the two giraffes as they continued to lie out in the sun or chase each other around. The giraffes stood back from the hole for a good fifteen minutes before getting bored of waiting and taking the risk. The two giraffes alternated who would act as a look out and who would get to drink for a few moments before running off.

Cautiously taking a drink

Cautiously taking a drink

Our cutest discovery of the day though was a lone male steenbok – a tiny doe-eyed antelope with a white belly, probably about the size of a large house cat. The steenbok is the only type of antelope that cleans up after itself. Steenbok will dig a hole in the ground to urinate and/or defecate in and then will cover the hole up with dirt. Amazingly, we got to watch as our steenbok went ahead and hurriedly buried its feces with its hind-legs. Adorable.

A steenbok covering up his poop

A steenbok covering up his poop

From here we departed Etosha and were on our way – down the long road to Botswana.

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