Expert Reviews – Etosha NP

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Herds in the heat haze
Overall rating

Namibia’s flagship park, Etosha, is easily one of the finest places in the world to watch wildlife, and one of my personal favourites. I’d recommend spending several days here. The park’s dominant feature is the 120-km wide Etosha Pan, a dramatic swathe of sunbaked salt fringed by unspoilt bush. Around the pan are waterholes, some of them man-made, which attract elephants, giraffes, antelopes, zebras and ostriches in impressive numbers. One waterhole, Okaukuejo in the southwest, is floodlit after dark; black rhinos sometimes drink here. Hyenas and lions are also frequently seen. The surrounding woodland harbours owls, falcons, warblers, hornbills and a host of other birds.

It’s a straightforward five-hour drive from Windhoek to Etosha, making this an easy destination for self-drive travellers as well as those on guided tours. There’s a good variety of accommodation both inside and outside the park. But what really sets Etosha apart from other top safari destinations is the fact that, despite its accessibility and allure, overcrowding is rarely a problem.

The Great White Place
Overall rating

The national park comprises the vast pan surrounded by a gigantic chunk of arid wilderness in central-northern Namibia. Etosha means ‘The Great White Place’ and this is an extremely apt description for the bleached landscapes of shimmering heat that dominate Namibia’s premier wildlife-viewing destination. In my humble opinion, there are few places that can rival the Okaukuejo Camp waterhole during the dry season for animal sightings. I love this place where you can sit quietly on a bench overlooking the local waterhole and enjoy world-class game-viewing day and night. On one particularly good evening in early November, I counted 17 black rhino, 2 white rhino, countless herds of elephant, giraffe and general game in the space of just three magical hours. The coup de grace was watching a pride of lions stroll into the midst of this wildlife mecca and pull down a giraffe right in front of us! There is no disputing that Etosha is one of the best wildlife-viewing locations in all of Africa: a game-rich wilderness that stands proudly amongst the continent’s finest national parks. If you visit once, you’ll surely come back for more.

White dust and waterholes
Overall rating

Etosha’s harsh landscape is not to everyone’s taste: the wilderness of dusty, rubble-strewn thorn scrub surrounding the vast, featureless salt pan is impressive rather than beautiful. The wildlife, however, is consistently outstanding and includes numerous elephant, large antelope herds and plentiful predators. The action concentrates on the spring-fed waterholes around the edge of the pan, which attract heavy traffic – both animal and human – during the dry season peak. Viewing is often best from camp: over a memorable 24 hours at the Halali waterhole, I watched a constant stream of thirsty zebra, springbok, oryx and kudu arrive by day, followed by elephant, black rhino, lion, hyena and leopard after dark. Fascinating interactions make it hard to tear yourself away, and you might just witness a lion kill. The terrain is too dry for some species, including hippo and buffalo, but ideal for many arid country specialists, from brown hyena to pale chanting goshawk. After the rains, animals disperse and sightings become harder, but the lush new growth triggers a mass springbok lambing, and flamingos flock to the shallows of Fischer’s Pan.

Etosha: Namibia’s Premier Park
Overall rating

This is one of my favourite parks in all of Africa. It was here that my children saw their first lions, gorging on a kill by a waterhole as gemsbok and impala watched nervously from the shallows nearby. Black rhinos, too, cavorting with one another at the waterholes at night, just like in Sir David Attenborough’s Africa series. Giraffes drinking as only giraffes can. Elephants turned ghostly white by the chalk-like dry season dust of Etosha. But in Etosha, for me it’s not just about wildlife, although that’s my primary barometer for any park. Instead it’s the combination of accessibility (most of the wildlife is easily accessible from the main campsites) with remoteness (it’s not difficult to escape the crowds). And I love the salt pans for their suggestion of eternity. On my last visit, I particularly enjoyed the park’s western reaches, which have only been opened to the public relatively recently.

Exceptionally good game-viewing in unusual environments
Overall rating

Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ in the Herero language after the giant, parched and dazzlingly white Etosha Pan. I find this the perfect environment for silhouetting the animals – a lone wildebeest or herd of handsome gemsbok can be seen slowly crossing it or just standing as if mesmerised. The other highlight for me is the dozens of waterholes; ideal places to sit and watch a veritable 'Noah's Ark' of species queue up to drink – skittish black-faced impala, giraffe comically bending towards the water, or a herd of thirsty elephant steadfastly marching over the horizon. I’ve always had the greatest of luck at the Okaukuejo floodlit waterhole. To see a pride of lion or a family of rhino amble from the darkness with their darting eyes glinting red or green in the eerie white light of the spotlights is a special treat. It’s no wonder people end up staying here all night.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.2/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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