Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha National Park
Wow, Etosha. No words.
For the wildlife component of our Namibia tour with Canon Australia, we visited Etosha National Park, one of the largest and best game viewing parks in Africa. The park spans more than 22,000 square kms in size and is named after the Etosha pan, a salt pan that covers almost the entire park and is so large that it can be seen from space. This salt pan is what gives the area that characteristic dusty white gravel look that makes photos look as if they are from another planet. We spent four nights at Etosha National Park, with the first two nights at Okaukuejo Camp and the second two nights at Namutoni Camp. Our itinerary there consisted of heading out every morning and evening on game drives, in search of the abundant variety of native wildlife living within the park.
One of the unique things about Etosha is that it has dozens of waterholes, some natural and some artificial from boreholes. These waterholes are great for game viewing because during the dry season, all you have to do is camp your safari vehicle at one of the many waterholes and simply wait for the wildlife to come here for a drink. Being someone who has never been to Africa, it was completely surreal to see the sight of animals parading in front of you. Four days worth of safaris was enough to us to see everything from herds of elephants making their way down to the waterholes, lions hunting prey, to the endangered rhinos and native species I had never even heard of until I was at Etosha.
Here are some photos to capture some of the most crazy fun days of my trip in Namibia, as well as some tips for visiting the area and going on safari drives.
ABOVE: Viewing wildlife at the waterhole at Okaukuejo Camp.
For the first two nights, we stayed at Okaukuejo camp, a lodge half an hour’s drive from the Andersson Gate at the southern entrance of Etosha National Park. Okaukuejo camp is a popular choice for visitors to the national park as it is situated right next to a well-established waterhole which attracts visiting wildlife day in day out. At Okaukuejo, we stayed at the waterhole chalets which are next to the waterhole, making game viewing a convenient few steps outside your door.
At the waterhole:
When visiting the waterhole, do make sure to be silent so as to not disturb the wildlife there. One of the craziest things about the waterhole at Okaukuejo was the low fence between the people and the animals. The animals honestly don’t care so much about you being there and barely bat an eyelid your direction. There are heaps of benches around the waterhole so you could spend ages sitting here, eating your lunch or reading a book whilst a parade of animals wander within metres from you. The very idea of these two worlds existing at the same time sounds completely crazy but is exactly how it is in real life.
Our game drives in Etosha were even more incredible than watching animals from the waterhole at Okaukuejo Camp. In total, we did four game drives from Okaukuejo and on each one, saw something unique. Our travelling wildlife experts Andre Cloete from C4 Photo Safaris and Jay Collier our in-house Canon expert had a wealth of knowledge from years of photographing wildlife in Africa and I learnt so much from them both.
Are safaris safe:
Since coming back home, one of the most common questions I get asked about going on safari is whether or not it is dangerous or why the animals don’t attack you. This is something I also asked multiple times when I went on my first game drive. The answer to this, is that the animals simply don’t care about you. The way the animals see it is that they live in an environment where there just so happens to be these strange vehicle looking things stalking them every day and since they never do any harm to the animals or intimidate them, the animals simply don’t care. As long as you are in the vehicle, the animals view people as a part of the vehicle and the vehicle as being something they simply don’t care about. The moment you step out of a vehicle or swing dramatically from the vehicle or do something completely abrupt (something you should NEVER do), then that becomes a different story. So some common sense tips on going on safari drives are:
- You can talk, but keep it to a minimum with no loud voices or screaming
- Wear neutral coloured clothing to blend into the environment
- Don’t leave the vehicle
- Don’t swing out of the vehicle or act in any other crazy way
Tips on a better game drive:
- Head out on game drives in the morning and evenings. This is the best time for viewing because animals are active during the cooler hours of the day and plus it simply gets way too hot during the day to be out in the open.
- If you are heading out in an open game vehicle, be sure to bring a jacket for the mornings as it can be extremely cold with the wind blowing on you, sunglasses for the dust because it can be very dusty driving at high speeds and of course plenty of water because boy does it get hot over here.
- At Etosha, you can either drive your own private car around the park or go on a guided game drive. For first timers, I would definitely recommend hiring someone to drive and guide you, as I can see myself feeling completely lost if I was to drive my own vehicle throughout the park. For those new to game drives, animals can be very hard to spot as they camouflage into the landscape very well and even with binoculars, you have to know what you are looking for. Often, people who drive their own cars will try and follow the Etosha vehicles with the guides and then try and look where they are looking to spot the animals. It can be pretty tiring situation so I would definitely recommend learning from the guides there as they know where to go and what to look out for, before trying to head out on your own.
- Try to predict an animal’s behaviour. If you’re an avid wildlife person, you probably know a bit about animals and can predict animal behaviour. This is especially great because it helps you figure out where to go and where to look for animals.
- If you can, don’t go in a packed vehicle. It’s really hard to see things and sometimes, you have to have a particular angle to see a particular 30% of a hard-to-spot animal behind dense bushes. If you’re in a packed safari vehicle or tour, it’s going to be hard for you to get a glimpse of some of the sights.
Wildebeest during a morning game drive. I didn’t know wildebeest were a real animal until Namibia (#embarrassingtruth), I thought they were a mystical creature talked about in fiction books but hey, this is what a wildebeest looks like. They often are seen in herds and are quite common at Etosha.
The endangered black rhino. We actually saw this black rhino on our first safari drive. I remember being told that black rhinos were very hard to spot as they were so few of them so when I first laid my eyes on this rhino looking creature, I was so confused. Nobody in our safari vehicle had seen it – we had driven right past. As soon as the sighting was made known, every vehicle eagerly parked around the rhino and watched it walk past. It was kind of a crazy first safari. Apparently black rhinos have pretty bad eyesight so they often hang around zebras or like having birds on them as these animals have better eyesight and can alert the rhino where there is danger nearby. At Etosha, the sightings of black rhinos should not be reported in the public log book to prevent the unfortunate act of poaching that has been affecting rhino populations in Africa.
Springbok! Probably the most common wild animal in Namibia. They’re so graceful even when they jump and are absolutely everywhere in Etosha.
I think it was at a game drive leaving from Namutoni Camp (the second place we stayed at) where we spotted native birds. There were heaps of termite mounds towards this side of Etosha so I think that might be why there were more birds here because I don’t think we saw any near the other camp. I can’t remember the name of this species anymore but we found it perching elegantly at the top of this tree on a morning drive.
I think it was on our second morning drive leaving from Okaukuejo Camp that we spotted this lion. I was in the safari vehicle with Jay and he has a major talent for predicting animal behaviour. I learnt from him that lions are actually one of the most predictable animals out there and are basically like a lazy cat. They’ll spend most of the day sleeping and only wander during the early hours of the day or in the evening. Their favourite napping spot is under a tree in the shade and guess what, we parked our car right next to a tree and sat in our vehicle for an hour watching the lion lazily make its way across the salt pan, past our vehicle and straight to the tree we strategically parked next to. What a sight.
On one of the evening drives, we witnessed a massive heard of elephants walk towards a waterhole we were waiting at. There were probably more than a dozen of them with the little ones in tow as well. When they arrived at the waterhole, they started splashing themselves with water, drinking and playing. Probably one of my favourite moments at Etosha.
A lionness and her three cubs drinking from a waterhole. These little ones kept mucking around, grabbing each other’s tails as the mum watched on. So cute!
The graceful giraffe. Giraffes are pretty easy to spot in Etosha, they’re so tall that you never miss them!
Because a lion’s behaviour is so predictable, it started to become quite easy to spot lions. We found this one once again, napping under a tree.
A bird in flight. I had a bit of trouble remembering all the names so can’t quite recall this species but it was my first time practising shooting birds in flight and I’m glad I managed to get a good capture amongst the pretty large handful of unfocused ones.
Zebras at dusk.
This little one is literally probably no more than 50cm tall in real life. I’ve never heard of this animal before but they are called dik-diks and are small antelopes. We found two of these near Namutoni camp and spent ages going ‘awwww’. So adorable these things are but so hard to spot as they camouflage quite well behind the bushes and are just that small.
Baby cheetah! This baby cheetah was walking with its mum when a group of zebras actually tried to come and intimidate / attack it. We watched on as the drama unfolded. Eventually, mama cheetah was able to get the baby into safety under a bush whilst the zebras circled around.
Can you spot the giraffe? Sunsets at Etosha were ridiculous because there was always a horizon that went on forever.
Leopards are pretty hard to find in Etosha but we got lucky on one of our last game drives. Word got out that there was a leopard wandering around and so the guide took us there to have a look. When it finally decided to show itself from behind the bushes, there was a huge commotion as more than a dozen cards tried to park themselves near by to have a look.
If you ever plan a trip to Namibia, I 100% recommend spending a few nights at Etosha. It really is the most magical place and going on game drives is going to be most definitely one of the biggest highlights of your trip to the country. I hope you find this post helpful and interesting and if anyone does visit Etosha, I’d love to hear your experiences on what interesting sights you saw in the comments below!
Photography: Connie Cao