Etosha, the Gem of the Namibian Wildlife Parks

Etosha, situated about 350km north of the capital Windhoek, is the largest of the wildlife parks in Namibia.  Generally speaking, it's well organised with the Namibian Wildlife Resorts, a government company is responsible for the resorts within the parks.  The camps on the periphery, which supply a lot of the day traffic through the park, are privately owned and generally have traversing rights within the park. Gate at the Entrance to Etosha National ParkImage via WikipediaThe park accounts for about 45% of the revenue generated by the National Parks in Namibia, attracting 200,000 visitors each year.
NWR has spent a  lot of money improving the facilities at the camps, when we were there a few years ago, they had just started the renovations at the camps and the concern expressed by many was the NWR were about to embark on a campaign to drastically reduce the camping and lower  / mid tier accommodation, instead focusing on the higher end tourist trade.
One of the biggest problems with government parks, including those in South Africa is that you need to be within the resort gates by sunset, great idea from an organisation standpoint but it means that you miss many of the late afternoon sightings at waterholes that you can get at the private reserves.  On balance though, Etosha is a great place, animals galore, facilities that are available to people staying within the resorts and day trippers.
Anyway, about this trip, we stayed a few nights in and around Etosha and I'll spend a couple of posts on this part of the trip.  Follow the link highlighted in the previous sentence, it goes to a NASA site where there's some history on Etosha and a great photo of the salt pan.
We stayed at Onguma tented lodge after we left the Waterberg Wilderness, this is near the Anderson gate at the eastern edge of the park.  The closest of the NWR camps is Okaukuejo Camp which is particularly well known for the floodlit waterhole there.  We got some awesome shots there of a large herd of elephants descending (and yes I do mean descending as everything else around the waterhole scarpered when the elephants arrived) and the other animals frequenting the waterhole.  All in all, some of the best shots that we got in and around Etosha were shot in one short period at Okaukuejo.
Onguma has only 4 chalets, it's extremely intimate focusing on providing exceptional service to the guests there.  The food is exceptional, providing the best Eland steaks I have ever had and the staff go out of their way to make sure that you are having an exceptional time.
Directly outside the lodge they have a waterhole designed to maximise viewing potential and that's the first place we had ever seen giraffes drinking, it's not exactly beautiful but they manage it with a degree of elegance that belies their size.  Take a look at the guy on the right, we caught him as he was lifting his head, water is cascading from his moth as he lifts his head.  Oh yeah, something interesting, a giraffe has the same number of vertebrae as a human being, just they are a tad larger!  This waterhole was well visited by other animals too, we say a hyena (which we were too bloody slow to photograph) and plenty of antelope.  We also spotted this black back jackal in the area around the lodge.  These guys really are intriguing creatures, the seem to skulk around everywhere, around lodges, picnic sites, harassing lions and generally scavenging what ever is on offer.  
When you take a look at the photograph of the pan in the link above (Etosha) you get an idea of the size but not of the effect on the park.  Having been there in the height of summer seeing what it is like then, the shimmering on the horizon is there but it's not like in summer when the shimmer is there and coupled with the heat blasting off of the salt encrusted surface of the pan.  The zebra in this photo were just kind of hanging around, one of them was rolling in the dust taking a bath the others just standing keeping him company.
There's a surprisingly large number of animals who loiter on the pan throughout the day, even during the middle of the day when, even during the winter season, the daytime temperatures make the place pretty inhospitable.
Interestingly, the soil in the pan plays a very important role in the life of both the animals and the surrounding environment.  The animals eat the soil for the minerals, it provides the missing minerals and trace elements that is lacking in the vegetation.  It also provides nutrients for the vegetation downwind of the park. 
Etosha is the flagship of the whole tourist industry in Namibia, it;s deserving of this because there is everything there that you could want to see and the facilities are pretty good.  NWR also has a lodge within the park that we haven't stayed at yet, we haven't stayed there yet, so that gives us yet another excuse to head down there when we get the opportunity.



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