Cape Town to Namibia Overland: Etosha National Park

Johnny

Continuing on my trip in Namibia is my next step, the Etosha National Park. I had an amazing time at the desert sand dunes of the Namib Desert and then to the colonial town of Swakopmund but when in Africa, you need to go on a safari as well! Etosha is Namibia’s largest and most well known Game Reserve. It’s also home to a huge salt pan similar to that in Bolivia, although not nearly as big. The game viewing is also superb, particularly in the dry season when the watering holes are the only places for animals to get water.

Etosha National Park Watering hole

Etosha National Park Watering hole

 

Visiting the Himba Villages


Next stop after Spitzkoppe is back in the truck as we continue north to the Himba tribes of Namibia and Angola. The Himba are a semi-nomadic tribe that still chooses to live in traditional style, slowly embracing what the modern world has to offer. They’re most famous for their use of Ochre, a orange-reddish natural earth pigment which they rub all over themselves, protecting them from the sun and giving them a reddish hue to their skin. They also grow out their hair, braid it, and cover it with the same mix giving them a unique look.

Himba women doing a traditional dance.

Himba women doing a traditional dance.

After you arrive and settle in at the campsite, you are off to do a tour around the Himba village. I must say, I had high hopes for this tour but it turned out to be a huge letdown. All these “cultural tours” that the overland companies do where you’re taken around a village are so incredibly fake that it’s upsetting. Before arriving at the village, we were told we should buy them gifts, consisting mainly of basic cooking supplies so to show our respect.

When we dropped off our bags of groceries at the village, one of the women just collected all of it and went about her way, as if she was expecting it. The rest of the tour consisted of kids heckling you for money, grown ups barely interested in talking to you, half-hearted “traditional” dancing, and little to no transfer of knowledge from our supposed Himba guide.

Well at least the little kids enjoyed playing with us.

Well at least the little kids enjoyed playing with us.

Why is this? Because they see huge groups of foreigners coming through on a daily basis and they’re so used to it. They just want to expedite you to their market area and sell you stuff. This tour was just like the tour of the Masai Village I took on my trip to Kenya. Even our driver, a native Namibian told me that these weren’t “real” Himbas. Nevertheless, this is Africa and at the end of the day, this village has probably seen hundreds of groups of foreigners that their curiosity and interest has long been saturated.

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Acacia Africa’s version of this Cape Town to Namibia overland tour does not do the Himba Village but instead visits a Cheetah conservatory where you can play with cheetahs. Would have much rather have done that or even stayed in Swakopmund one more day! This was a big waste of a day.

 

Etosha National Park


We depart our Himba camp on the morning of the 10th. Everyone is in good spirits because it is actually the first game park and while there’s been sightings of zebras, springboks and other bucks on the side of the road, the group is eager to see some of the big 5.

Entrance to the Etosha Park.

Entrance to the Etosha Park.

Most people on my tour bus elected to go all the way to Victoria Falls so the Etosha would not be the last game park they visit (The Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park). I’m ready at this point to start viewing animals as well. One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of is going on game drives. It’s something I will never do once I leave this continent so I want to visit all the major game parks of Africa before I go.

Two hour drive later, we stop at a town named Oujo right outside the Etosha to stock up on supplies, I attach the high-zoom lens to my camera, and I’m ready to go!

 

Afternoon Game Drive

After entering the park, we see a few impalas, springboks, and other bucks immediately. Having already been to the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, I’ve already become a safari snob. I know well that these are by far the most common animals in a game park, so I don’t bother taking more than a pic or two.

Everyone else is aghast at all the animals they’re seeing and proceed to take dozens of pictures. It’s fine though, I was this way on my first game drive so I can’t blame them too much. Eventually, we make our way to a campsite named Okaukuejo to have lunch. This is one of the main campsites within the park and camping and lodge accommodations are both available.

Bull elephant hanging out solo.

Bull elephant hanging out solo.

After lunch (which I find completely unnecessary, more time to view animals please!), we leave the camp and spend all of the afternoon driving around in our huge overland truck. The roads in Etosha and are more developed and wider, allowing for overland trucks to serve as safari viewing vehicles. The roads in the Serengeti and Masai Mara were too narrow so a 4×4 is required.

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Not more than 10 minutes after leaving the camp, we see our first elephant! This got everyone excited as they fought for window viewing to take pictures. I had to tell everyone to calm down as elephants don’t move quickly to begin with. This one was just hanging out scratching itself on the tree and wasn’t going anywhere.

black rhino etosha namibia

Beautiful black rhino at the watering hole

 

The Watering Holes in Etosha


This is without question the main highlight of the Etosha. There are watering holes in every game reserve around Africa so why are they so special in the Etosha? Because Namibia is one of the driest countries in the world. Rain comes so infrequently to this part of the world that these watering holes are the only water sources for the animals.

Because rain is so infrequent, the animals have no choice but to come to the select few watering holes to drink. The results are massive congregations of all sorts of a animals in a small area. When animals congregate together, that means predators also lurk, making the possibility for some action greater.

We came to our first watering hole shortly after seeing the elephant and saw our first Rhino! Etosha is known for its high population of black and white rhinos and I love seeing these guys. Unfortunately, I only saw black rhinos on this trip (this picture looks like a white rhino, but the lighter color is just from the dirt around the park).

 

The many terrains of Etosha National Park

One of the first things I noticed about Etosha is the park has almost every type of terrain possible. The Masai Mara was hilly, open, and all around green. The Serengeti was all savanna, less hilly, and even more open. The Etosha has scenery that ranged from open terrain filled with dirt and rocks, to low hanging trees, to savanna, to larger acacias dotting the landscape.

DSC05961 DSC05824 DSC05876 DSC05878

DSC05993

 

When to visit Etosha


The Etosha is huge. At 22,000 sqkm, it’s 50% bigger than the Serengeti, which is already 10x bigger than the Masai Mara. The animal count is actually lower than the Serengeti so less animals in a bigger area = harder to see animals. Because of this, it is imperative to come here at the right time to get the best experience. The best time to come to the Etosha is the dry season, May-Nov.

This is what happens when all the animals are forced to drink from the same pond! (I didn't see this)

This is what happens when all the animals are forced to drink from the same pond! (I didn’t see this)

We came at the end of the November, and the wet season was starting. It had already rained at the Himba camp the previous night, and when it rains, it makes it extremely hard to find animals in the Etosha. The watering hole is the ever important landmark and if it rains, then water is abundant all around the park and the animals no longer need to go to the watering holes risking seeing predators.

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So the best time to go to the watering hole is during the dry season when it hardly rains, and the animals MUST visit the watering holes.

 

Halali Campsite in Etosha


We didn’t see much more during our afternoon game drive but we had driven for more than 5 hours so many of us were ready to call it a night. We pull into Halali campsite, one of the many campsites the Etosha has to offer. The main difference with the campsites here is they offer lodges and camping so there’s luxury, budget, and everything in between. All the campsites have hot showers, toilets, electricity, wifi.

There are plenty of benches to sit and relax at these watering holes.

There are plenty of benches to sit and relax at these watering holes.

There is also a waterhole at almost all the camps in Etosha including Halali. I went there after getting set up for the night hoping to see some animals but unfortunately, nothing notable happened except for a few zebras. Nevertheless, it’s a scenic view and beautiful sunsets are always a sure thing.

The infrared light on the night drive. Make sure to figure out your camera's night settings!

The infrared light on the night drive. Make sure to figure out your camera’s night settings!

 

Night Game Drive – Optional (400R)

One of the must do optional trips on this overland tour is this night game drive in the Etosha. For 400R, you’ll be riding in a proper 4×4 from 8-11pm, hoping to spot some animals not commonly seen during the day.

It’s totally worth it because you’re likely not going to be doing much at the campsite during this time (unless it’s the dry season, then it may be worthwhile to actually sit and chill at the watering hole). We left right at 8pm and it was pitch black during the drive.

The cars are equipped with red infrared lights that can shine up to 1km, and strong floodlights for when you find animals. We didn’t didn’t see much in terms of sheer quantity. All the watering holes were empty as it had rained two days prior, and animals just weren’t out. Nevertheless, we did see one thing that made the whole damn trip to the Etosha worthwhile.

Look at that beautiful creature! I couldn't' get my camera figured out and ended up only being able to get blurry pics :(

Look at that beautiful creature! I couldn’t’ get my camera figured out and ended up only being able to get blurry pics 🙁

There were three 4x4s and we were in the back. Initially, I didn’t like this position because the cars in the front would always see things first and when we got there, it’d be gone. We got lucky however as the other two cars missed this. We ended up seeing an adult male leopard walking on the side of the road!!!! Wow.

When I saw this, I jumped out of my seat as this is incredibly rare. It’s rare enough to see a leopard in a tree, let alone walking alongside your vehicle at night! Our driver said we were incredibly lucky and he’s never even seen something like this before. The leopard is such a magnificent animal and it never gets old seeing one of these, let alone 5 meters from you. Leopard’s are active at night and this guy looked like it was on the hunt. It was also being trailed by two jackals that likely were hoping to scavenge off whatever he was going to kill.

We also saw a few bat eared foxes and servals (a very small cat), also incredibly rare animals so overall, we lucked out! I can only imagine how amazing it must be during the dry season when the watering holes are action packed.

 

Full Day Game Drive in the Etosha


Day two starts very early as we leave our campsite at 7am hoping to catch glimpses of animals being active in the early morning. We drive through all the different types of scenery of the Etosha and don’t see much for the first hour. We finally try our luck at a watering hole, and we finally see some lions! They were far away from us but with this sighting, we could check the Big 4 off our list (there are no buffaloes in Etosha). It was a male and female hanging out. They ended up doing the dirty so I’ve seen lion sex four times now in Africa.

Lions going at it once again.

Lions going at it once again.

We saw a few hyenas around this watering hole along with your standard zebras, oryx, wildebeast, and springboks. At this point, the large size of Etosha really took a toll as we just keep driving and driving and not seeing much.

 

The Etosha Pan

Eventually, we stopped driving and went to visit the Etosha Pan. Another geographical wrinkle in Etosha, the Etosha Pan is a giant salt pan, spanning an area of 4800 square km and is surrounded by the park itself. The Pan is dry most of the year with no vegetation, so you won’t find any animals here. We disembark the truck to take some pictures here before heading back on the game drive.

Some solid picture ops here.

Some solid picture ops here.

Lion in the distance watching its prey.

Lion in the distance watching its prey.

We drove another few hours and didn’t see too much. Again, the park is huge, spread out, and when it’s not the dry season, the animals are harder to spot. We did however, almost witness something amazing as we saw three lionesses crouched down near a group of zebras. Turns out it was getting ready to hunt! It jumped out of the bush and ran after the zebra but didn’t get to it. The other lionesses were waiting in the trees but couldn’t catch the zebras as they had lost their element of surprise. It’s incredible to actually see this in person but it passes by so quickly there’s no chance at getting a picture.

Cheetahs hanging out in the shade.

Cheetahs hanging out in the shade.

I saw cheetahs in the wild for the first time as we saw three adolescent males hanging under a tree, a few more giraffes, bucks, and hyenas. At this point, we had driven almost 7 hours throughout much of Etosha and most of us were ready to call it a day. We pack our cameras as we head to our camp for the night, Okaukuejo.

 

Okaukuejo Camp in Etosha


This is the biggest and most well known camp within Etosha. There’s a viewing tower in the camp where you can walk up six stories and can see the entire park. It’s massive with hundreds of chalets, restaurants, camping ground, and even its own gas station. The roads in this camp are proper roads, making it feel like a housing community more than a game reserve. Nevertheless, this place boasts one of the best and largest watering holes in the park, with plenty of viewing space for people.

Okaukuejo campsite. Look at that pool!

Okaukuejo campsite. Look at that pool!

 

The watering hole at Okaukuejo

The watering hole at this campsite is an institution. It’s open 24/7 and you could spent the entire day here if you wish. There are a few two story chalets that overlook the watering hole that sell for a hefty premium (2500R/night), but if you don’t want to spend that money, do not worry, there are plenty of benches surrounding the watering hole. I came here in the early afternoon hoping to see something but again, it had rained a few days earlier so there was plenty of water in the park.

Plenty of benches to go around!

Plenty of benches to go around!

While in Swakopmund, we had met some people on an Acacia tour going in the reverse direction as us so they just finished with Etosha. They saw three male lions take down a giraffe right in front of them! So there is always the possibility of seeing something cool here.

Just your average night at the watering hole.

Just your average night at the watering hole.

At night is when all the action occurs. Most animals, especially the predators are only active at night and the watering hole is a place where animals must go to in order to drink water. The amount of people at night here doubles, and people keep incredibly quiet at this time because any noise could scare off the animals. We ended up seeing some rhinos and giraffes which were amazing but it started to rain, and all the animals cleared out, as well as the people. Next time I come here, I will know to come here in the dry season.

 

Arriving in Windhoek


Alas, the last day has finally come. We depart Etosha on this day, and head towards Windhoek in order to camp and re-stock supplies before heading to Botswana and the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately, this is where I end the trip :(. The drive to Windhoek is about 3 hours from Etosha and we stop at a few towns before arriving around 2pm.

The city of Windhoek is absolutely barren. There’s nothing to do or see here. At all. People only fly into Windhoek as a gateway to explore other things within Namibia. The city is small with a population of 320k, and I wouldn’t recommend staying more than a day in this place, unless you’re planning on taking some day excursions to game farms around the city.

Windhoek, Namibia.

Windhoek, Namibia.

 

Accommodations in Windhoek

Like Swakopmund, it seems most of the overland companies fancy the same lodging in Windhoek at the Arrebusch lodge. Located a little outside the city center, you’ll need to take a taxi to do anything. Nevertheless, there’s free wifi here, and beds, so a definite welcome from the four nights of tenting before this. 

 

Joe’s Beerhouse for dinner

An absolute institution in Windhoek, this restaurant is worth a good visit, especially at the end of a trip like this. What better way to end an experience of seeing hundreds of animals than to eat some? This place is no secret as it’s a huge restaurant with some very cool decor and is frequented by tourists and locals. This place serves up all varieties of game and I ended up getting a large skewer with Ostrich, Zebra, Oryx, Kudu, and Crocodile on it. My favorite is definitely the Kudu.

Joe's Beer House windhoek

The Bushman’s sosatie consisting of Zebra, Oryx, Kudu, and Ostrich at Joe’s Bierhouse in Windhoek, Namibia.

 

 An Amazing Time in Namibia


All in all, another amazing trip. Nomad was a very good trip operator along with my guide and driver making it that much better. We saw so much shit on this trip, from Cape Town, to red dunes, to German themed cities surrounded by white dunes, rock mountains, and a national game reserve. All in the span of two weeks no less. Namibia is really a place I’d like to visit again as I feel like there was so much more to do in all the places. Sossusvlei was magical and I’d kill to be visit those dunes at night. That experience would be something entirely but incredible. Nevertheless, there’s too much to see on this continent so it’s time to move on to the next one!

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Nearing the end of my overland adventure starting in Cape Town with Nomad tours, we stopped in the Etosha national park, Namibia\'s biggest and most diverse game reserve. #safari #namibia #etosha #windhoek #gamedrive

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Showing 2 comments
  • Avatar
    Sharon McKenzie
    Reply

    Hi Johnny,

    I was very interested in your travels through the Etosha National Park, as I hope to travel there in the near future.

    The pop-ups on this site drove me almost mad, especially the ones down the left-hand margin. Makes it almost impossible to make a comment. Sorry, but it is really bad.

    Cheers Sharon…

  • Avatar
    Mandy
    Reply

    This trip looks very familiar 🙂

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