Etosha National Park
Day 8 – Jun 26: Palmwag – Etosha National Park
We arrived at Etosha’s Galton Gate at 15.30, perfect and enough time to visit some waterholes, before we have to check in at Olifantsrus campsite for our first night in Etosha.
Etosha is unique in Africa. The park’s main characteristic is a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. Yet there is abundant wildlife that congregates around its dozens of waterholes.
The waterhole at Olifantsrus is dimly lit with some red light, but only early in the evening. Later at night they switched it off, until early morning. I visited the waterhole at night, after the lights went out. It was almost full moon so visibility was quite good and I didn’t want to disturb any wildlife with my flashlight. I guess I was rewarded and was fortunate to see a leopard come to the waterhole for a drink. It turned out to be the first and last leopard we saw in Namibia.
Day 9 – Jun 27: Etosha National Park
Before sunrise we were on our way and first drove back to Jakkalswater, which was so good the day before, and then to Renostervlei.
From Renostervlei we drove to Grunewald, with a lunch break at a picnic place along the road, somewhere half way the road from Olifantsrus to Okaukuejo.We drove through the so-called Fairy Tale Forest, looking for leopard, but no luck. Somehow this didn’t surprise me, as we also didn’t see any potential leopard prey…
Then to the Okondeka’s natural waterhole, hoping to find the residential lion pride.
Time was ticking, so we had to drive to Okaukuejo where we wanted to enjoy sunset at the waterhole. the sun was setting slowly and as the direction of the herd was predictable I was able to put myself close to where they would cross the road and be right behind them to take some photos into the sun, hoping for some nice silhouettes...
The sun was now almost gone, so we kinda ran straight to the waterhole. And not a minute too early did we arrive at Okaukuejo, they must have closed the gate right behind us. I was just on time for a few sunset photos.
The rest of the evening we spend at the floodlit waterhole, a magical setting, the animal action and sounds of nature seem to naturally silence anyone watching this spectacle...
Day 10 – Jun 28: Etosha National Park
Early morning we did the Wolfsnes - Okondeka - Adamax - Natco - Leeubron loop, with a spectacular sunrise and most of the early morning the sun in our back.
After this loop we drove back to camp for coffee and toilet, in that natural order, before driving to Nabrownii, Gembokvlakte and then to the beautiful scenic natural waterhole of Olifantsbad (with picnic place and toilets) and then Aus, before returning back to our camp for lunch and mid-day break.
Refreshed and with high hope to find lions we took off again towards Gemsbokvlakte. A kilometer before the waterhole we saw a group of 4 or 5 bat-eared foxes foraging over the savanna, but way too far for any decent photos, we could hardly see them without binoculars! I’m still not even sure how we spotted them in the first place… From their direction we knew they were probably slowly on their way to the waterhole, so we decided to wait for them there. We had a great time watching particularly the giraffes.
All of a sudden the giraffes all stood up straight, backed-off from the waterhole and looked to somewhere behind our car: a lioness with 3 cubs walked right from behind our car straight to the waterhole in front of us, front row seats!
Half an hour later the lioness and cubs decided to have a nab in the grass just next to the waterhole. There were only about 5 or 6 cars, who then decided to leave. We waited patiently for the bat-eared foxes.
They arrived 10 minutes later. We thought that the lioness maybe might be interested, but I guess she was too lazy..? It was obvious that the foxes were not really concerned when they passed the lioness within less than 20 meters.
The sun was setting fast now, time to go back to camp for sunset and our second and last night at Okaukuejo.
Day 11 – Jun 29: Etosha National Park
Today we move to Halali, with stops at Homob, Sueda, Salvadora, Charitsaub and Rietfontein. One of the animals we really wanted to look for today was cheetah.
We had lunch at Halali and then decided to do the loop of this morning again, now the other way around: Rietfontein, Charitsaub, Salvadora, Sueda, still hoping to find cheetah. Unfortunately no cheetah, and no other cats. We slowly had to make our way back to Halali, as the sun was setting fast.
The next half hour was a bit crazy and I guess mother nature’s way to thank us for our perseverance and make up for some disappointment… Bat-eared foxes again..! But wait, that’s not a fox, that’s a honey badger…!
That was a pretty cool end of our afternoon, or so we thought... One more surprise awaited us and 5 minutes after the honey badger we thought so see another bat-eared fox, but wait, that’s not a fox… “Binoculars please..!” I couldn’t believe my eyes; this was something I had NOT expected in Etosha, in fact I cannot recall reading about any other sighting in the many reports I’ve read…
What a great end of the afternoon! Because of the Aardwolf we arrived exactly at the time the sun was almost gone, but hey, who cares…!
Our last night in Etosha we spend at Halali, where you are much closer to the nearest water edge and therefore potentially much closer to the animals. I wasn’t very satisfied with my Rhino photos at Okaukuejo, so I was hoping to have another chance.
An hour after sunset and no animals. Nothing… It was getting cold and most people had left. Another hour passed. Still nothing… Unbelievable. Dio and Stan left and it was only me and 1 more photographer. Then he also left.
I had now been waiting at the waterhole for more than 3 hours, now all alone; it was almost midnight. I sat on a rock, tucked away under my fleece blanket. It was getting very, very cold now... But I knew that with more patience and some luck I might still see a rhino a bit more up close...
My patience got rewarded - out of the darkness came a Black Rhino: he walked straight to me and then stopped, just a few meters in front of me, as if giving a silent salute for my patience! He could not see me. He could not hear me... He turned to the water and started to drink. I spend another half hour watching him, before he walked back into the dark of night.
Day 12 – Jun 30: Etosha National Park – Grootfontein
Our last couple of hours in Etosha, so today we HAD TO find cheetah, as chances in Botswana would be extremely slim. Research send us early morning via Helio and Goas direct to where it had to happen: the savanna between Springbokfontein and Okerfontein.
I’ll never forget the moment… I was driving. Stan sat next to me and kept his eyes on the extensive savanna left of the road. Dio was covering my side of the road, which had a lot of small bushes and much more likely to overlook something. I generally looked further ahead of us, as it won’t be the first time everybody is looking only left and right, to almost miss any action right in front of you... An hour had passed, no cheetah. In fact, completely nothing, meaning no potential prey either. Time was ticking… Suddenly I noticed that for a very brief moment Dio did not look outside and I immediately told him “keep looking!”…Less than 30 seconds later Dio suddenly sat straight up and tried to yell something but all that came out of his mouth was some weird stuttering; for a few seconds he was literally lost for words and then yelled “there..!”, pointing into the bushes. That same second I saw it; “cheetah…!”. We couldn’t believe it… About 10 meters away a cheetah walked through the bushes towards the road. “Another one..!”. It was getting even better…. “Another one..!” And out of the bushes came 3 cheetahs, stepped on the road now 10 meters behind us and stopped. We didn’t want to scare them whatsoever, so we drove a bit further and then turned the car, to slowly drive back towards the cheetahs. We spend the next one and a half hours in their company. They were obviously on a hunting mission, but there just wasn’t anything to hunt… Unfortunately. But that would have been too much to expect!
The entire time we did not see a single other car, which made the entire experience even more exclusive.
We only had time to visit 1 more waterhole before we had to leave the park; I’m not sure whether it was Kalkheuvel or Chudop. And that was Etosha. What so say… I’d love to come back, longer, and during the green season. Better, I WILL come back!