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Elephants at Rietfontein

At the beginning of October 2020, we took advantage of the relaxation in lockdown restrictions and headed off to Etosha for a long weekend. We often discuss with colleagues and travellers visiting Namibia as to whether you should stay inside or outside the park. The latter generally offers more variety, with better accommodation and service. However, if wildlife is your main interest, we feel staying inside the park, at least for 1 or 2 nights, is worth it. Access to the rest camp waterholes at night and better access to the park from sunrise till sunset outweighs the fact that the park accommodation is a little shabby and the restaurants are quite basic. For us, the perfect balance is 2 nights inside Etosha and 2 nights outside the park.

Zebras near Gemsbokvlakte in Etosha Park

Zebras near Gemsbokvlakte

Before entering Etosha Park, we quickly looked around a few lodges and the relatively new shop, The Trading Post, situated 6.5 km from the Andersson gate. This large space is decorated with fun vintage knick-knacks and is full of goodies you might need if you are self-catering, as well as a variety of curios. There is also a service station and tyre repair workshop (always useful in Namibia).

Arriving mid-afternoon didn’t allow us time for an extended game drive so we just took a slight detour on our way to Okaukuejo. Along with a herd of zebra, we also saw an eagle and some ostriches with chicks.

Male ostrich with chicks in Etosha Park

Male ostrich with chicks

Zebra

Plains or Burchells zebra

Martial eagle

Martial eagle (I think)

After settling into our accommodation, we headed to the resort waterhole, a favourite watering spot for wildlife, especially around sunset. We were not disappointed as soon an elephant came to drink, followed by a very nervous giraffe. Because giraffes are at their most vulnerable when they splay their legs to drink, it often takes them a long time to assess the possible threats in the area.

Elephants coming to drink at Okaukuejo waterhole

Elephants coming to drink at Okaukuejo waterhole

If you are a keen game viewer, then it’s worth getting into the park as soon as the gates open at sunrise. This may be at the cost of missing breakfast, but in my opinion, it is worth it. You are more likely to see animal activity at this time, especially in summer months before it gets too hot, and the light isn’t too harsh for photography. As far as I know, all the rooms have kettles and a fridge, so you can always make a thermos of tea/coffee for the road.

Our morning route went north from Okaukuejo along the edge of the pan towards Okondeka as historically, there tend to be lions in this area. Sadly, on this occasion, we did not see any. We continued on a circular route via Adamax, Natco and Leeubron, encountering zebra, springbok, ground squirrels, numerous birds and an injured jackal who had either had been in a fight or had an eye infection. Either way, he didn’t look in great shape and didn’t move as we drove past him.

Gemsbok (oryx)

Gemsbok at Nebrownii

Injured jackal

Injured jackal

Giraffe drinking at Okaukuejo waterhole

Giraffe at Okaukuejo waterhole

On a whim, we decided to make a quick turn at Nebrownii waterhole before heading back to camp. What a great decision! On arrival, we found three young lions hanging out at the water, surrounded by numerous nervous-looking but thirsty antelope, as well as a few ostriches. We watched them for nearly an hour but clearly, they were in no rush to move on and eventually, we drove back to camp to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Lions at Nebrownii waterhole

Lions at Nebrownii waterhole

For our afternoon drive we set off for the region south of the pan, around Salvadora and Sueda. As is often the case when on a game drive, sometimes you may not encounter much in the way of wildlife. This is when it is important to relax into the experience, put your David Attenborough hat on and look at all the smaller things. This is one reason I started to take an interest in birds, reptiles and flora. And no sooner do you stop worrying about what to tick off your ‘wish list’, you turn a corner to find an elephant strolling down the road!

Secretarybird

Secretarybird hunting in the grass

Spotted thick-knee

Spotted thick-knee (previously Dikkop)

That evening we had the most incredible experience at Okaukuejo waterhole. It involved two rhinos, animals that are generally known for being very quiet. Initially, one black rhino came to drink (let’s call him Harry, although gender unknown). Harry hung around for a good half an hour before a second rhino joined him. Let’s call her (and again, we are only guessing at gender) Sally. Her approach was slow, and before she reached the water, Harry gave an excited high-pitched wail that stopped her in her tracks. None of us had ever heard anything like it before. Certainly, it did not sound like the noise that a creature who is built like a brick shit-house and weighs over a ton should be making. There were a few stifled giggles from the onlookers. Over the next hour, with nearly imperceptible movement, the rhinos slowly inched towards each other. About every 5 minutes, Harry let out another wail. They were about 2 metres away when a lone bull elephant wandered down to the waterhole and broke the mood. Sally decided she just wanted a drink and joined the elephant on the rest camp side of the waterhole, away from Harry. At this stage we decided to hit the sack as we wanted to get up early, but we suspect that Harry and Sally never did get together that night.

Rhino and elephant at Okaukuejo

Late night rhino escapades!

Hyena near Nebrownii

Spotted hyena near Nebrownii

Our last day in the park was packed with incredible sightings. Initially, we did a pre-breakfast drive to Gemsbokvlakte where there were a load of zebras and a large male lion off in the distance. After packing up our gear and heading towards Halali, we encountered a cackle (or clan) of hyenas close to Nebrownii. Like the lions, they seemed to be using the culverts as a den. Then, as we turned off to Rietfontein, a large herd of elephants came out of the trees for a quick drink and mudbath before purposely marching northwards. We arrived at Halali around lunchtime to find the waterhole busy with kudu and impala. Then on to Goas, where there was a considerable amount of activity – at least two herds of elephants, rutting impala, loads of zebras and a Marshal eagle enjoying a drink, as well as a lone ostrich. Before leaving the park, our final stop was at Klein Namutoni. Here we saw a load of vultures, some kudus and a giraffe. As we watched, a spotted hyena came down to drink. We thought it might show interest in the other game but clearly it was too hot for any thoughts of hunting. All it wanted was a good wallow!

Elephants at Rietfontein

Elephants at Rietfontein

Rutting impala

Rutting impala

Although tourism is obviously having a tough time during the covid pandemic, it was heartening to see so many Namibian families exploring their own country and teaching the younger generation an appreciation for the unique and often endangered wildlife we share this land with.

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