When we think of sub-saharan Africa, the first thing that comes to mind is most definitely the wildlife (cue opening music to the Lion King). When you don’t have the time to drive around the countryside for weeks on end in the hopes of spotting a wild elephant or rhino, this is when you hit up the national parks. Namibia’s main park is Etosha National Park, and is in some circles considered the best one, although part of this is because it doesn’t get nearly as crowded as the more popular ones like Kruger in South Africa. So as the hunting trip came to an end we headed west towards the coast, driving through Etosha along the way. Aside from the ubiquitous animals, there are a few other perks about Etosha. The main road is nice enough that you can access all areas of the park with a regular car (no 4×4 needed). If, like us, you have a 4×4 anyway, the smooth road is still a welcome sight. Also, while the park is quite large, if you’re lucky you can get actually get in your complete animal fix and be out of there and on your way in four hours or less (depending on how long you stop for photos).
On another note, Etosha is a little like Yellowstone when it comes to the animals, where they are pretty much right off the road and a few cars (or a big line of cars I’m sure during high season) stop for photos. The only difference is at Etosha, you are not allowed to exit the vehicle except in designated areas. As cheesy as the “drive-by animal spottings” may seem, seeing these animals in person, in the wild (more or less) is a little surreal. And while I have seen most of the animals in zoos, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen an African elephant in person. There is definitely something about the African plains animals that screams prehistory.
One thing to note is that it’s extremely helpful having hunters with you when looking for animals. They are really really good spotters (thanks Wesley!). The sort of big “to do” at Etosha is getting to see the elusive rhino. Apparently they don’t come out to play very often, and even the locals who visit Etosha all the time claim rare sightings. A lot of people try to stay at one of the campsites that claims to be a favorite nighttime spot for the rhinos, but even this is no guarantee. Luckily for us….
BAM! Rhino. He even stopped to pose in front of the elephants for us (although we did have to chase him a little bit before he stopped).
Definitely the most ubiquitous animal was the zebra. There were herds of them just all over the place, so of course I had plenty of opportunities to wait for the picture-perfect moment to come along.
Our trek through the park was finally winding down when we saw a bunch of cars stopped at one of the watering hole look out points. As we got closer, we realized why. I had previously read that high season for animal/photo safaris is during the driest months, when more animals and more types of animals tend to flock to what watering holes are left all at the same time. It makes it especially easy on the guides. When I heard this it sounded a little bit like cheating. Then we pulled up to this watering hole and holy crap, it had all the animals. I practically expected to see Snow White hanging out there singing to the birds and petting the oryx and I think that song by Toto started playing in my head.
It was definitely the one-stop-shop of animal sightings to say the least. The one complaint was that I couldn’t get a good shot of the giraffes drinking because there were always oryx horns in the way. (On a side note, “oryx” is also called “gemsbok” but I prefer to say the word oryx because the “g” in gemsbok is pronounced with a very gutteral h-sound, not unlike the ch “challah,” and I feel like I say it wrong every time.)