Etosha National Park takes us by surprise. Springbok prance across the plains, lions linger in tall grass meadows, giraffe munch the tops of acacia trees and elephants stretch their trunks into the silvery coolness of waterholes. Namibia’s jewel, Etosha reigns as one of Africa’s largest game parks. Its nearly 8600 square miles shelter 114 species of mammals plus more than 380 species of birds. At the park’s heart is the Etosha Pan, a shallow former lake bed covering nearly 1,738 square miles or 25% of the reserve’s surface. In the rainy season, pelicans and flamingos flock to the pan and impala, gemsbok, kudu and other animals drink at the springs along its edge.
What you won’t find in Etosha are crowds. Despite visiting in high season, we almost never encounter more than one other van alongside us when we stop to gaze at the animals and frequently our van is the only vehicle around.
The flat terrain also enables us to see large expanses, making critter sighting easy. Almost as soon as we enter the park, we spot zebras on our right, ostrich just beyond, wildebeests on our left and two lanky giraffes in front of our jeep, crossing the gravel road.
In Etosha, it is said, “the animals come to you.” That’s because of the park’s waterholes. Both natural and man-made, these draw animals into the open, especially in the dry season. At Gemsbokvlatke, a waterhole just off the main road, we watch 11 black-backed jackals finish off a springbok, dragging its ribs a few feet into the dusty sand before devouring them.
Okaukuejo, like several of Etosha’s wildlife resorts, features its own waterhole. Abenteuer Afrika Safari, our tour company, wisely books us into one of the camp’s premier waterhole chalets. Each of the duplex, two bedroom units come with a sitting area and a balcony fronting the waterhole.
My daughter and I can hardly get our luggage into our room because we don’t want to look away from the mother and baby elephants drinking yards from us. In the cool of the evening when more animals come to the gently illuminated waterhole, we join the scores of people sitting quietly on the benches, observing the remarkable scene.
A baby rhino splashes in the water while his mother on the bank keeps an eye on him and several warthogs dart back and forth. Two hyenas lurk in the distance. Later on a family of four elephants arrive as do giraffes and more rhinos.
Namibia, as part of the 2007 centennial celebration of Etosha National Park, totally revamped its wildlife resorts, raising the standards to attract more international tourists. The newest lodge, Onkoshi, slated to open fall 2008, offers luxury chalets along the edge of Etosha’s pan.
Etosha’s vast distances plus its solitude and abundant animals enable us to sense the Africa of long ago, before development while the park’s comfortable lodging and good services give us the modern conveniences that make this wildlife safari enjoyable for us.