Swakopmund to Etosha
Swakopmund is another very German town in Namibia –it definitely doesn’t feel like Africa! We treated ourselves to a posh camp at Alte Brucke where you’re given your own en-suite facilities and endless hot water! Luxury! The next day we found ourselves a mechanic and to our surprise (again) he said he could easily get transfer case seals from Windhoek by the next day for us, so to come back and see him tomorrow. With the car booked in, we decided to treat ourselves to some fun and went off for an afternoon of sandboarding. The dunes just outside the town are huge, so armed with a super hi-tech piece of MDF board (specially designed for sandboarding apparently, with one side rough and one side super shiny for extra speed – haha!) Specially designed or not, oh my god, these things fly, sliding down the dunes at nearly 80km/hr is an unbelievable amount of fun – it was hard to hold on for laughing so much! Swakopmund was a great town to be based in for a few days, but once the car was sorted we were excited to be heading out of town and back into the bush again, heading north to Etosha National Park.
Etosha is over 20,000km² but due to the vast salt pan that covers the majority of centre the wildlife is forced to stay around the waterholes along the southern edges. The high concentration of animals, make it one of the best places to view wildlife in the world. We headed up to the park, but as we hadn’t booked ahead all the campsites were full, so instead we camped at one of the lovely lodges just outside and made the most of the free wi-fi, pool and bar before getting an early night. Safari days start early, 5am! I’m usually terrible in the mornings, but as the alarm went off i could hear a lion in the distance so was out of bed like a shot, desperate to get to the park to try and find the lion we could hear. And as we drove through the gates, the sun was beginning to rise and there in the early dawn light, there he was, our first African male lion! Strolling through the grassland, he kept doing his deep, bellowing call for other lions which is the most awesome sound. There were no replies this time but we followed him slowly for awhile before he disappeared off into the bushes. First sighting within 10minutes of arriving – it was going to be a good day! We spent the day driving round the edge of the pan, the white salty expanse disappearing off into the horizon on one side, and scrubby bush and grasslands on the other. We drove slowly from waterhole, to waterhole where we could just park up and watch the different herds of animals wandering in for their daily drink, elephants, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, every kind of antelope you can think of and an array of birds – including Zazzoos! (Yellow horn bills to those who haven’t seen the lion king!).
The sheer number of animals at any one waterhole was just staggering. We drove to Halali which is mid-way through the park and thought we’d ask about camping on the off-chance they had availability. ‘Yes of course we do, we have plenty of spaces’ the receptionist said and booked us in for the following night. Having been told repeatedly over the phone, email and at the gate they were fully booked, we couldn’t believe how empty the camp was!!! The NWR park management are incredibly frustrating, it’s all very ‘computer says no’ and they seem so uninterested in their jobs – there is no point asking questions about the park or the animals – they won’t know! Fortunately maps and guide books are available. The only other grumble i have about the parks, is the other people and the lack of ‘safari etiquette’, we saw some shockers, particularly when elephants and lions were involved. People forcing their cars past to get a better view, resulting in them either blocking everyone elses view or scaring the animal off. One afternoon, we were meandering along when we turned the corner to see 3 large elephant bulls walking up the road towards us. We stopped to give them as much room as possible (having both read the ‘Elephant whisperer’ we know what can happen if an elephant decides you’re too close!) but couldn’t believe it when 2 cars flew past us and drove right up to where the elephants were. They were lucky these elephants were so placid, but what idiots!
Day 2, bought us one of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far. Just after arriving at a waterhole, we were so excited to see a herd of elephants appearing from the bushes, striding over towards the water. The matriarch leading the long line, they marched right in front of us, heading straight into the cool muddy water where they began to splash, spray, swim and play. There were about 15 of them and it was brilliant to watch an entire family, the boisterous ‘teenagers’ charging about, the babies doing their excited squeeling trumpet sound and slipping and sliding in the mud whilst the mature elephants kept a watchful eye over them. We were so absorbed with watching this family that we hadn’t seen that other elephants were also making their way over. We sat opened mouthed as elephant after elephant appeared from out of the bushes until there were over 50 elephants all splashing around in the muddy water in front of us. The noise, the smell, the presence of that many elephants was just incredible. We watched them for over an hour, both just sitting in complete awe of what was happening in front of us, before gradually the matriarchs decided it was time to go and one by one lead their families back into the bush where they simply vanished.
On a complete high from our afternoon of elephant play we headed into Halali camp in the middle of the park. Armed with a couple of sundowners we headed to the waterhole viewing deck, to see whether we’d be lucky to have any other visitors to join us watching the sun set. The day was going to get even better. A family of elephants soon arrived and with the waterhole only feet away, it was amazing to be so close to such giants. The elephants were soon joined by 2 black rhinos, but not wanting to share their water with anyone we watched as the older elephants began squaring up to the rhinos. We watched some pretty intense scuffles between the two animals and only being feet away added to the intensity! As night fell and the elephants moved on, the waterhole was now clear for other animals to return and to top off our amazing day a pair of white rhino brought their tiny calf in for a drink, the peace of the African bush only interrupted by the rhinos slurping sounds.
After 3 wonderful days in Etosha, it was sadly time to move on so with heavy hearts we left the park, hoping very much that will come back one day. We are heading north now, towards the Angolan border to spend our last few days in Namibia in the Caprivi strip. We have absolutely loved our time in Namibia, and have been completely bowled over by it’s beauty, it’s remoteness and the generosity of the people we’re meeting along the way. But just as you become at ease with one country, it’s time to move onto the next and the familiar butterflies return as you begin to wonder what the next country has in store for you. Botswana beckons!