If you want to go on safari in Africa you have two choices: book it in advance or turn up and hope for the best. The latter approach generally yields much better deals but demands some flexibility. I researched some of the options ahead of time and the costs were downright scary. We are talking well north of US$1000 for an 8-day tour! To put that in perspective, that is roughly equivalent to our monthly budget!
Fortunately, our turn-up-and-see-what-happens approach worked out just fine. On our first full day in Windhoek we visited a couple of tour agencies including the Cardboard Box Travel Shop where we learned about a tour that was departing in about four days. Chad, the owner, would personally be leading the 8-day “participation safari” to some of Namibia’s headlining attractions. Unlike the expensive tours, we’d be responsible for feeding ourselves, erecting/stowing the tents and loading the vehicle. The itinerary included two nights in Etosha Park, a night in Damaraland, two nights in Swakopmund on the coast and finally two nights near the dunes at Sossousvlei. Don’t worry if those names don’t mean anything, I’ll be writing about all of them in the coming posts! I’ll also put together a budget summary for the safari in the final post on Namibia.
On the first day of the trip we made the 400km drive north from Windhoek to the southern entrance to Etosha. The roads in Namibia were much better than we were expecting (Mongolia certainly altered my concept of what constitutes a bad road!) so we reached the park by mid afternoon. As soon as we were through the gates we started to see the animals and lots of them there were.
Like many of the parks in Africa, Etosha is basically a huge fenced-in area. The park is a little more than 22,000 km² which is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey but the wildlife is a bit more exciting! The animals that live in the park roam freely, eat each other and do what wild animals do. Water is the only thing that is provided to them by humans and this is because they are not able to migrate long distances in search of water as they would do in the wild. The park staff drill boreholes to make small ponds for the animals.
Etosha is also the only game park in Africa where you can turn up in your personal vehicle (we saw people driving tiny VW’s!) and go on a self-guided safari. The roads inside of the park are sealed and comparable to what you find in many national parks back home. The rules are simple: stay on the roads and never get out of your car except at designated points. I guess this makes sense considering you could very well end up as a tasty meal for one of the park’s residents.
There are a number of camps within the confines of Etosha. We stayed at Okaukuejo lodge, a German-built camp dating back to 1901. The facilities there include a luxury hotel, a campground, a swimming pool, a small airport and probably lots of other things I am forgetting. We stayed in the campground but were treated to hot showers each evening and even running water at our campsite.
The best part of Okaukuejo was the adjacent watering hole. Just a short walk from our campsite we could go sit and watch the activity at the watering hole behind the safety of a formidable fence and stone wall! Sitting at the watering hole you have basically a nonstop parade of animals coming through. At first there might be some giraffes awkwardly drinking from the pond (did you know they pass out if they keep their head down in the water too long?). A short while later a pride of lions might come in for a drink and a nap while the lesser animals watch on cautiously with envy. After they leave it could be rhinos, wildebeest, springbok, etc. The parade goes on and on around the clock. Amy and I both agreed that we could have spent days hanging around watching the action.
The main activity inside of the park is to go on game drives. We completed a number of drives in the early morning and late afternoon when the animals are most active. Chad had large modified Land Rover was perfectly suited for photography with huge windows. Combine the vehicle with Chad’s uncanny ability to spot animals out in the bush and we had more than our share of animal sightings! Be sure to check out the gallery below for many more photos from our time at Etosha.