The Namib, the world’s oldest desert, is found in Namibia and gave the country its name. You might form the impression that wildlife is therefore pretty rare since deserts are not best known for prolific fauna or flora. That might be the case in a large part of this southwestern African nation, but there is one iconic reserve where the wildlife is plentiful and of excellent variety: Etosha National Park.
Etosha, meaning “great white place”, is dominated by a vast barren salt pan on which no life can exist. However, the pan is fringed by verdant woodlands and grassy plains which provide ideal wildlife habitats for an astonishing array of mammals, birds and other creatures.
In Etosha you can find huge bull elephants, an interesting contrast to the smaller desert-adapted pachyderms seen in the more arid parts of Namibia. Lions too are larger than their desert-dwelling cousins, having access to a greater variety and quantity of prey. Rhinos roam free and giraffes splay front legs to reach refreshment in numerous waterholes (assiduously kept replenished by the park authorities).
Huge herds of wildebeest trudge across the plains, zebra cavort in family groups, ostrich strut their stuff, Cape buffalo glare menacingly at the visitor, and leopards lurk in the treetops on the lookout for unwary antelope like springbok and impala.
Aside from the main game species, you can find many smaller fauna such as the comical secretary bird, kori bustard and magnificent eagle owl – three of the 340+ bird species found in the park; the cunning jackal; beguiling bat-eared fox; voracious honey badger; sociable warthog; and ground squirrel.
The best way to explore Etosha in depth is to begin at Andersson’s Gate and spend a couple of days visiting the many waterholes and driving the forest tracks in that area of the park. You can either stay at a lodge in the well-run private concession of Ongava (which borders the park itself and provides a different safari experience) or at one of the government-owned camps such as Okaukuejo which has a famous floodlit waterhole which justifies tolerating the lower standards of service and catering found there.
On leaving, take a box lunch and spend most of the day driving slowly all the way across the park to the other side, en route taking time to visit the many waterholes and view the wildlife. Once you reach the far entrance at Von Lindquist Gate, exit and check in to the private concession of Onguma, which also abuts the main park. While at Onguma, which has a number of different lodges of varying cost, you can enjoy game drives within its private reserve and also in the main park, which has its own particular set of waterholes. Both ends of Etosha have their different attractions and the journey in between allows for a wonderful day of continuous wildlife watching.
By allocating around four to six nights out of your total holiday time, you will maximise your chance to gain the best possible experience of Etosha, one of Africa’s major game reserves and Namibia’s jewel in the crown. If you can find the time you certainly won’t regret it.