As we drew close to the entrance to the Park, it was uncanny…wacky really, how many animals we began to see. Warthogs darting across the road and then strutting in family parades in the ditch as we drove alongside. Springbok and black-faced impala began to appear in the hazy gray-green brush. A stop at the park entrance to get our permits and then onward…the tarmac road turning to the white gravel of Etosha. A gasp from Zara, my daughter and our first giraffe sighting. Then two more and another! The beautifully built elk-like creatures called kudu, with their amazing spiraled antlers were spotted and all of us were on alert; looking every direction from our vehicle. Cameras were clicking and we spoke in hushed tones until an involuntary squeak or squeal came out at another animal seen…zebras, oryx (stately and elegant with their cream and white bodies with stark black markings and severe-looking long, straight antlers). They looked like moving sculptures.
We arrived at Okaukuejo camp…set a few things out and then hurried on the short trail to the water hole. Quiet, so quiet…was the first thing that struck me. (there were signs posted to remind people to be silent too)! Then across the rocky plain, lumbering toward the water, came a large female black rhino and her baby. We just sat and watched. Then a male showed up and caused some agitation for the mother rhino, which took a while to resolve…with many strange, deep grunts and sounds exchanged between them before the male finally left. Another mother and baby appeared and came to the water’s edge. Wow…surreal!
There were holes in the fences around the campground, so we had jackals cruising right into our camp all evening. One made off with a neighbor’s loaf of bread, keeping us on watch around our food table and double-checked the ground tent door was zipped! We ate and went back to the water hole and there were 7 or 8 giraffe approaching or drinking at the edge! Some of the rhinos were still there and all of this under the eerie glow of the low lights that the park has put there for night viewing.
Halali camp was our destination the next night…but oh, so many things seen in between. Sprokieswoud, or the Enchanted ghost tree Forest…more giraffe, some amazing birds…with names like secretary bird, kori bustard, lilac-breasted roller and weavers.
Suddenly we saw our first elephant…traveling solo, eating from a tree. Everyone scanned, in every direction, looking for more, but there were none to be seen.
A stop at the Pan for which Etosha National Park is named…Etosha Pan, covering 4731 km. (Etosha Natl Park is 22,900 km). It means “Great White Place,” and I knew why, even before we arrived at it’s edge. I could see it coming. It’s a shimmering white expanse in the sun…as far as the eye can see. Mirages form on the horizon and you can’t tell if you’re seeing an animal or a tree or anything. It floods during the rainy season, but was a dry, dazzling white plain during the time we were there.
Late afternoon, we still had some distance to go before we would reach Halali, but we took a side road to another remote waterhole; Rietfontein. We followed a washboard road for several miles and saw many kudu and black faced impala in the bush. And then…4 or 5 elephants walking through and across the road; passing us and then we watched them take a dust bath! A few more bumpy miles and the water hole was occupied by 15-20 elephants. Again, we watched, crammed together in the 4×4…silent and in awe…looking at each other and smiling. This is why we were there.
Halali will have to wait!