We had finally made it to Etosha, and after a night just outside the gates spent with a young eland who nightly gets locked away with the goats because he has learnt to get over the cattle grid and gets a little too familiar with the tourists, we were geared up and ready for the 5 am start.
Opening times at the Anderson (or Southern) gate are quite simple, sunrise to sunset, and we were there at the crack of dawn to take full advantage of the three days we were aiming to spend in the park. The conservancy itself has shrunk in size since its initial declaration after the war but it is still absolutely massive and amazingly only around 30 percent of it is accessible to tourists, the rest is for the animals and rangers. The landscape changes constantly from thick bush to rocky semi arid areas and its vast grasslands border a truly massive salt pan. With all this in mind we weren’t holding out much hope in terms of sightings. This coupled with the sporadic chats we had had with a few people at various camps, all of whom seemed to not have seen much when they came through, left us somewhat hopeful but fully aware of our chances, or lack thereof.
Sitting at the gate waiting to go in we ran through each others list of what we wanted to see most when we got inside. For me it was black rhino, a baby elephant so small that it was still trying to master the use of its trunk and cheetah, for Beani it was just cheetah, cheetah and more cheetah. Chatting to the guard in the queue we found out that Lion had been spotted not too far from the front gate and to our disbelief 2 minutes into the park and we were watching a male lion licking his wounded paw after what we could only assume was a failed hunt or territorial fight. All the hard work beani put into preparing me for game viewing, its possible dissapointment and convincing me to not get my hopes up was well and truly out the window, lion straight out the gate with 3 days to go.
We decided to head North and stay West of the pan and it proved to be the right decision as we saw huge herds of wildebeest, zebra, springbok and gemsbok and even ticked off giraffe, black faced impala, ostrich and red heartbeest. After what was a successful 3 hours we turned back South and started heading towards the waterholes underneath the pan. The first waterhole housed much the same as what we had already seen, that was till a dehorned black rhino decided to amble down for a drink. He gracefully pushed the other animals away from the best spot and spent a good 40 minutes or so no further than 10 metres from the car, much to the despair of the zebra and gemsbok that were not chuffed with his presence but not keen to take him on. After our mate waddled off we decided it was time for the next waterhole when, at one of the worst possible moments, our temperamental battery decided not to bring the big 4.2 diesel to life. Usually this is not an issue for us as we can jump the first battery off of our second, but mix it with a game of ‘spot the lion’ and we had a tense few minutes ahead. Geared up with the jump leads and slightly sheltered by the only other car at the waterhole Beani jumped out and opened the bonnet with lightening speed whilst I desperately scanned every tree, bush or blade of grass for a flick of a tail. Two hair-raising minutes later and Beani was back in the car attempting to get his heart rate back to normal, Franks engine purring and my eyes in need of a rest we slowly moved off.
Calm had returned back to Frank and his passengers by the time we arrived at the next waterhole already joking that we were content for the days sightings when we saw a car awkwardly trying to reposition itself. We parked a little way from them and scanned the seemingly desolate waterhole for what they were all fixated on, after some time my hand involuntarily shot out and grabbed Beanis shoulder as I had found what they were staring at and probably the reason nothing else was hanging around. A pride of lion had decided to take refuge in the shade from the midday heat and sadly were barely visible from our spot, this wasn’t the case for long however as one by one the females decided to stroll down to the water for a drink and engage in a bit of intimidation tactics with the ever-present jackals. As it turns out the pride had been there for three days with a rhino carcass that sadly was the work of poachers making this a bitter-sweet moment for us all. We spent about two hours with the pride and managed to get a glimpse of the males and the cubs (apparently only a month or so old). After watching lion do what they do best for the better part of three hours we decided it was time to make tracks for the closest safe area and stretch our legs.
This turned out to be more difficult than we imagined as we came across a mother and baby giraffe just off the side of the road and then a couple of k’s later we were treated to our second black rhino sighting of the day. This time an even larger male with a huge horn that slowly came closer and closer to the road walking alongside us for quite some time. I couldn’t believe how lucky we had been so far and believe it or not we were still in for more. On our way into the Halali camp we were stopped by a herd of Elephant crossing the road in front of us and moving quite swiftly, luckily there was a track following their path and we managed to keep in sight of them for a while before they silently moved deeper into the bush. We moved on, a little sad that we didn’t get more time with the Ellies but little did we know what lay ahead at the waterhole that evening.
We made camp in amongst the squillions of people and wandered up to the waterhole and viewing area, we were greeted by about 30 guinea fowl squabbling over the water, glancing at each other we both gave that ‘lets wait for a minute and then get out of here’ look as we perched on a rock and oped our beers whilst being told by an American guy that nothing had happened for the past hour. Not two minutes later 16 elephant came marching in, all happily mulling around and to my delight they had 4 youngsters with them, two teenagers, one even smaller male and a tiny baby that definitely hadn’t quite figured out how his elongated nose, or indeed his legs, worked. About 10 minutes passed with the group when all of a sudden a rhino nervously came through the bush and towards the water, things could seemingly not get any better when out of the bush came another black rhino. The intricate and highly social way in which they interacted with each other was only something we had ever seen in a David Attenborough documentary, and not something we ever imagined we would be so lucky to witness first hand and to top it all off a third rhino emerged. All was calm until the poor rhino were interrupted by the younger elephant determined on showing them who is boss, that is until the rhino turned to face the young troublemaker, when mom stepped in and really moved her weight around to save the now fleeing calf.
Day 2 and we were back on the hunt for the lion we had seen the day prior and hoping they were in a more mobile state, this was indeed the case but unfortunately we weren’t around for the movement as they had left without letting us know. We then decided to head off to the edge of the pan hoping to spot some cheetah that were synonymous with the area. This turned out to be a misguided adventure but we did experience a truly massive herd of zebra crossing all around us, majority of which seemed to be in a constant state of battle. We were kindly moved on by a ten tonne tourist truck that decided we had seen enough, promptly overtook us and then blocked the entire road leaving us with the stunning view of Hans and Zelda attempting to discipline their three noisy ball-shaped F trophies to no avail. A quick photo of the tour operator name and we were off again. We spent a bit of time at the pan where nothing seems to survive, before heading towards the rest of the waterholes in the area where we saw big herds of giraffe drinking, another group of elephant with yet another tiny baby, this time oblivious to everything while playing with his trunk, running around the herd, squeezing through elder members and generally being a nuisance. The rest of the day was filled with buck sightings and not much else till that evening when back at the camp waterhole where we were treated to a smaller herd of elephant and once they left (along with the throngs of people) us and the three remaining devoted were treated to yet another black rhino doing its thing. After a delayed dinner thanks to the rhino we sadly found out that we narrowly missed a second rhino and two spotted hyena.
Day 3 saw another pre sunrise kick off at the camp waterhole, lovely till the 20 strong squadron of the Chinese Olympic photographic team decided to show up and scare off anything contemplating an early morning drink and with that we were swiftly back on the road. Unsuccessful at the first waterhole as well as the following two we thought we were in for a tough day till we spotted a rhino in the distance off to the side of the road, two german tourists stopped to see what we had found and let on that they had seen cheetah only a k or so down the road, with that news we shot off in search of the cheetah but sadly after driving the same 5 k stretch of road three times we gave up and went on our way. 8 ks later we came across the 3 cheetah at full stretch lying down with just their heads up scanning the horizon, we spent the next hour relaxing with them and were treated to a bit of movement but nothing special.
We said our goodbyes and moved on to the next waterhole where we were greeted by a scene straight out of the lion king, literally. There were 4 lion at the back, slightly elevated area of the waterhole and nervously surrounding the water was a herd of springbok, zebra, black faced impala, kudu and eland alongside a lone giraffe, elephant and ostrich and a family of warthog to boot. Alarm calls a plenty and the springbok darting off every now and again we sat there in amazement of the sheer number of different species and even more amazed that the lion don’t just wander down and order something from the veritable smorgasbord oblivious to their presence and living in harmony. Suddenly the mood changed as the male decided to get up and stretch his legs, panic ensued as the kudu let everyone know what had just happened and everyone scattered. The king seemed happy with the response and gave his chick a playful tap on the nose before settling down again for another sleep.
Fully content with the days activity we decided it was time to leave this amazing place and continue on with our journey, we were farewelled by twenty plus giraffe and a family of banded mongoose as we exited the gate. Although a little touristy we were very impressed by the park as a whole and were so happy with what we had experienced. It really is a fantastic area but as with most things it was time to move on. Next stop, the worlds oldest meteorite and the wide open road to The Caprivi Strip.