Travelogue Namibia 5: Etosha

ETOSHA
30 September – 2 October 2021

Nearing the end of our grand roadtrip, the drive from Palmwag to Etosha mapped at 322km. We had done enough driving in Namibia to know that the mileage meant nothing; the terrain would dictate the travel time.

Spotting 5 giraffe almost immediately upon exiting the gate at Palmwag Lodge was a clue that we were in the bush and should expect slow going.

What we did not expect was the 10km of the Grootberg Pass, with its white-knuckle narrow roads, and the car occasionally slipping and sliding on the loose gravel, nudging toward the low pile of rocks acting as a guardrail between the road and steep gorge. We were grateful to be in the big and burly Hilux – and wondered if the burnout cars commonly found along our route had proved powerless in these circumstances and just been abandoned in favour of something more suitable.

Our midway stop proved to be a fail. Fortunately for us we had had more than our fill at the Palmwag Lodge buffet breakfast because Kamanjab turned out to be a bustling petrol station and Spar; more of a rank than a one-stop.

The intersection did herald the start of 61km of glorious tar road, on which we could make up some lost time and perhaps even get in the afternoon swim that has eluded us the previous day!

There was much excitement when we spotted the first Etosha Conservancy sign and, with kind roads at our disposal, we arrived just after 15h00 at our camp, Okaukuejo.

Etosha is one giant pan, and the basin of a massive prehistoric lake that was around 300m deep in places. With scale like that to contend with and the park’s reputation as one of the greatest in the world, we had been entirely pragmatic in our choice of Etosha accommodation – chosen purely for being the shortest, easiest drive back to Windhoek for our flight home. And we had gotten very lucky.

Okaukuejo Camp’s claim to fame was a floodlit watering hole that attracted animals throughout the day and night. And our chalets were right on the edge of the watering hole, so we had swathes of animals coming right to us! This suited the agenda for our last stop perfectly: see as much as possible while doing as little as possible.

There were 4 rhino lazily wallowing in the watering hole while we unpacked our bags from the car and settled into our homes for the next two nights. They paid little attention to their onlookers, observing from the benches dotted around the rock-wall crescent that separated the human domain from the animals’.

With a giraffe silhouetted in the background and elephants entering from stage right, we knew we were in for very easy animal-spotting at Okaukuejo and could afford to take a load off with some wallowing of our own in the human swimming pool.

The Camp was compact but had everything you might need – a restaurant, a bar, a tourist office, snack shop, filling station and even a castle with spiral stairs you could climb to get a 3-storey high vantage point of miles and miles around. We took advantage of all but the filling station, revelling in being able to park the car for a solid 36-hours of downtime.

We had booked a dinner, bed and breakfast package, so the biggest task for the evening was to choose a meal from the set menu. Opting for an Oryx steak (for the third day in a row) was a great decision. Yet again juicy and tender, fast becoming a favourite that was bound to be craved and missed on our return home.

….

We had already seen enough wildlife at the watering hole to completely discount the need for a game drive, so there was no rush to get moving on the last day of our roadtrip-proper.

Easing into a buffet breakfast just after 9 (to meet the 09h30 cut-off) was about as pressured as the day was going to get. And even that warranted a little lie-down, after the obligatory check-in of the watering hole.

There was always something to see, with what looked like a hundred or more Springbok taking their turn, while a handful of Kudu were slowly edging in from the one side and Wildebeest trundling in from the outskirts. By the time we resurfaced, the players had again changed and a dazzle of zebra were playing swapsies on the far edge of the watering hole, with a few remaining Springbok who paced skittishly in anticipation. Ever faithful, a pair of giraffe obliged in the background to complete the (current) picture.

Our game play had been to hit the swimming pool at midday in the hopes of securing a set of loungers. A complete holiday cliche, all loungers had been spoken-for the previous afternoon, with towels and belongings claiming territory for absent persons.

Our thinking paid off and the pool area was near-deserted. Whether it was lunchtime, siesta or the crazy desert heat we head to thank didn’t matter, we got our loungers. We showed our appreciation by spending 3 long and lovely hours poolside, enjoying the day, the water and snacks from the tuckshop.

We were packed up and ready to go back to our chalet when we overheard another guest announcing excitedly that there were elephants moving towards the watering hole. We chivvied along and were rewarded with the sighting of a lifetime.

Almost on cue, as we got back to our homebase vantage point, 3 elephants came trotting in – literally trotting; I have never seen elephants move so fluidly – and entered the water on the edge closest to us. Then another 3… And a baby elephant… And a few more… And then a few more. They streamed in, a long line of all shapes and sizes, motivated to get to the watering hole and slotting in very neatly side-by-side so all could access.

There must have been 30 or more by the time the whole herd arrived. Some were drinking quietly at the edges, some splish-sploshing in the water, one was shooting water into the air from her trunk, two younger males were playfully locking tusks (until they got a stern look from a massive male).

And then, as organised as they had arrived, the leader started making tracks back into the bush, the herd restored its trail and within minutes they were gone again. I can’t recall having seen anything so mesmerising on any wildlife shows – and have seldom seen so well-executed a show as the effortless and seamless display the herd had put on for us.

Somehow our splish-splosh in the shower was less spectacular, but a necessary process to prepare for sundowners – on the chalet patio, watching some more “Watering Hole TV” – and another dinner on the terrace at the restaurant.

An early start the next day (necessitated by time constraints to get our mandatory Covid test results in time for our flight on Sunday) warranted an early night.

I happened to wake up in the middle of the night though and on the off-chance popped by head out the front door to see what was going on at the watering hole. Not much, just a mother and child set of rhino, being observed by some very diligent nature-mad humans. Good night, everyone!