The Great White Place: Etosha National Park

John and I wanted to get out of town and see some real African wildlife. So, we headed up to Etosha.

Sprawling, desolate and flat, Etosha National Park is home to hundreds of species of animals. It’s located in northern Namibia and covers over 22,0000 square kilometers, making it one of the largest parks in all of Africa.

The word “Etosha” comes from the Oshindonga language and means “great white pan,” referring to the massive salt pan at Etosha’s center. It takes about 5 hours to drive from Windhoek to the Andersson gate, and there’s not much in between but farmland and sky.

Cue dramatic music here…

About 5 minutes into the park, I spotted something big, so we pulled off at the nearest watering hole. Looming before us was a massive bull elephant, complete with long curling tusks. It took our breath away. I never imagined an elephant would be so big. You see them on TV, but nothing compares to seeing this giant in person (from the safety of your car, of course).

The clock was ticking. It was already 4 PM and the sun was dipping low towards the horizon. You see, all of the camps shut their gates between sunset and sunrise to protect the guests from predators. We spent the first night in Okaukuejo , which has a very nice resort and campground. The highlight of this stop is the large watering hole, which is lit up at night in a very eerie orange glow.

Most of the campsites were taken by a variety of bakkies and lorries (trucks) with tents or campers on top. People get serious about their camping here. We had ditched our original plan of purchasing a campsite through the front desk, since we were told the campsite was full, and opted to pay the security guard directly. That’s how things are done here.

After cooking up some meat on the braai and downing a few beers, we packed it in for the night. Spending the night in a national park was pretty amazing. I woke up a few times to the sounds of jackals howling in high pitched yelps, very similar to the North American Coyote. Sometime around 4 AM, the jackals woke me up again, but this time they were howling along with a much bigger animal.Lions. Their guttural deep growls were unmistakable. I lay there in my sleeping bag, with only a fence and thin piece of nylon between me and a pride of lions. It was exhilarating.

Rising before dawn, we packed up and headed further into the park. One of the great things about Etosha is that it’s completely 2WD accessible. Perfect for our little Chico.  We spent the entire morning driving through the park, excitedly hanging our heads out of the windows in order to get a better view of all the different types of wildlife.

Let me just tell you, there are a ton of critters in this park. Yellowstone’s got nothing on Etosha. Here is just a sampling of what we saw:

  • Zebra
  • Waterbuck
  • Hyenas (eating a Springbok!)
  • Warthog
  • Wildebeast
  • Black-faced impala
  • Springbok
  • Hartebeast
  • Gemsbok (Oryx)
  • Steenbok
  • Meerkat
  • Ostrich
  • White rhino

Deciding to head out of the park, we had accepted the fact that we weren’t going to see any lions that day. We knew we’d come back again. But, then we saw a group of trucks crowded at a watering hole off the road. We decided to check it out. At first, we only spotted a small herd of Zebra headed for the water. But then I saw them. Three lionesses lounging in the tall green grass. The massive cats lay there in the heat of midday, casually observing the Zebras…nothing else. They would save their energy for after dark, when the real hunting begins. A few times, the lions looked back at us with vague interest and I was certainly glad for the safety of our car.

By a stroke of luck, we also got the chance to watch a herd of about 30 elephants out for their afternoon drink. It’s hard to describe how big and beautiful these creatures are. From matriarchal leaders to long-tusked bulls and small calves, the whole family was there.

Our first trip to Etosha was a success. I can’t wait to share this gorgeous place with visiting family and friends!

Photo Highlights from Etosha:

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