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Springbok, first of many, many

Today we were up and out early as we had planned to be. It was as if a switch had been flicked overnight and we had suddenly found our routine for getting up and out quickly. We showered, had breakfast, packed up our stuff and did a quick stop at the parks office to find out where the latest local sightings had been. Parked outside was a 4x4 that was in a pretty bad shape. I thought it was the impact of someone careening off the road in a muddy or watery section but Stef asked the rangers at that was not the case. Someone had had a collision with an Oryx the day before and the rangers were not impressed. The person driving had been going too fast and had not been able to stop. It sounded like the Oryx was still alive but was not expected to last much longer.

We were glad we had asked about local sightings because our initial plan was just to work our way west to Okaukuejo. Instead we headed north driving past the turnings to Fisher’s Pan and working up towards Tsumcor and Stinkwater. Within minutes of leaving the camp we saw our first springbok, one of so many that we saw today that there was simply no point in counting them all. As we skirted Fisher’s Pan we saw a group of giraffe way off into the distance and were glad that we had invested in a pair of binoculars. They are incredible animals, so graceful in so many ways but also awkward looking at the same time.

We drove up and past Stinkwater, spotting a lone female lion along the way, before doubling back to follow the road round Fisher’s Pan. As with the landscape we have driven to to get to the park it is full of wide open spaces and low scrubby bushes. Fisher’s Pan was quite different. It is a large expanse of water off to the east of the main Etosha pan but small in comparison to the main pan. The giraffes were still here munching away and we also saw quite a few different types of birds. Springbok and zebra were in plentiful supply everywhere you looked.

The road round the pan is mainly on dry land but one section cuts across the pan itself. At this time of year the water was low enough to make it across but in the wet season I suspect it is impassable. The middle section was pretty muddy and wet though and we figured that 4x4 would be a safe bet. All around the park there are warning signs not to get out of your car. With lions around and about you would make a quick and easy meal if one happened to be hungry and prowling by. To switch to 4x4 though we have to change a setting on the wheels themselves so getting out was the only option. Here it seemed pretty safe to do so with water all around us and we did survive lion free to tell the tale!

We headed back to Namutoni for a spot of lunch having seen so much wildlife this morning that the surprise and sensation of seeing an animal was wearing off. New ones were different but some were in plentiful supply so we were now looking for variations on a theme. We had quickly become adept at scanning the spotting as we drove and got some great photos along the way, both wishing that our camera lens had the same magnification as our binoculars.

Oryx, highly adapted to living in deserts
Two strutting saddle-billed storks

In the afternoon we headed west to the Halali camp in the middle of the park, seeing a small group of lions along the road just a few kilometres outside of the camp. We had expected to leave Namutoni much earlier than we did so realistically felt that Halali was as far as we would get. We followed the road along the pan stopping at Okerfontein and the Etosha Lookout along the way. The lookout in particular brought home how far and fast the water is receding even in this year of record rains. Ahead of us we could simply see the floor of the pan, broken up here and there buy clusters and clumps of reeds. There was no water in sight and no animals either.

We made it to Halali by about 4:00pm and checked in to the campsite. Before setting up camp we drove down to have a look at their waterhole, a small man made affairs at the bottom of a small hill. The waterhole is floodlit and there are benches ranged across the hill so that you can relax and get comfy while watching the animals come to drink. As we’d sort of expected there were no animals in sight so after waiting a short while we headed down to the campsite. The Halali campsite has to be one of the most desolate, barren and unwelcoming campsites in the world. Stef described it as forlorn and unloved but in summary it was horrid. Large pools of stagnant rainwater stood in the middle of the site and it looked as if no-one had stayed there for a long time. When we checked availability at the NWR office in Windhoek they told us that this site was fully booked over Easter but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stay here.

With enough time to make it down to Okaukuejo we decided to push on. Stef was tired of driving for the day so I took over, conscious that we didn’t really have much time before the light started to fade. While we can easily set up camp in the dark I didn’t relish the prospect of driving along these roads with little light. We made it through though with loads of time to spare and were really glad we had. The entrance to Okaukuejo is dominated by a tall tower which could have come from an English village. Smart looking chalets are laid out in the grounds, again tempting us not to camp, but we carried on to the campsite.

Compared to the chalets the campsite is a bit disappointing but there are several good sites. The only problem though was that none of the ones we tried seemed to have an electrical hook up and we really wanted to plug in our fridge. We finally picked a site and set up camp as the sun was setting. Behind the chalets there is another floodlit waterhole and we took a couple of beers with us as a late sundowner and went to see if there was anything there.

Unfortunately there were lots of people there but they were people who don’t realise that if you make lots of noise the animals won’t come to graze. A couple of zebras did put in a brief appearance but the most remarkable animal sight was the midges all buzzing around the floodlights. We decided to opt out of cooking and went for the buffet in the park restaurant. It was OK but suffered from the soggy vegetables and not quit hot food syndrome that most buffets suffer from.

We were both glad that we had bought the Etosha leaflet in Windhoek. It has a detailed map of the roads in the park (useful because the park offices don’t seem to have one to give you) but in the back it also has a quick reference guide to the different birds and animals you can expect to see here. At the end of the day we sat down and totted up what we had been lucky enough to see. Rhinos and elephants have so far eluded us but we can’t really complain because we have spotted loads of different wildlife.

On the four legged front we have seen lions, giraffe, springbok, zebra, gemsbok, damara di-dik, steenbok, roan, kudu and blue wildebeest, ground squirrels, tortoise, warthog (fleeting glimpse as it crossed the road). We also saw a wide selection of birds, more difficult to spot and name but they included ostrich, secretary bird, southern pale chanting goshawk, gabar goshawk,, double banded courser, marabou stork, helmeted guinea fowl, red knobbed coot, red billed francolin, kori bustard, northern black korhaan, southern yellow billed hornbill, red billed hornbill, fork tailed drongo, common scimitarbill and lilac breasted roller. We also saw very big fat millipedes slowly making their way across the road.