ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
Wrapped around a salt pan of nearly 5,000km2, Etosha National Park is one of the most unique wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Vast plains and sparse vegetation combined with an abundance of game species create a special wildlife experience. The plains are crowded with zebra and springbok and the congregations of species at the waterholes look like an animal carnival.
The floodlit waterhole at Okaukuejo puts large mammals such as black rhino, elephant, lion and giraffe literally in the spotlight.
During the rains, the salt pan fills with water and flamingos flock to the temporary lake to harvest the blue and green algae. In an otherwise dry environment, Etosha is a bustling oasis of wildlife and at the same time provides one of the most accessible and rewarding game viewing experiences in Southern Africa.
Etosha has an almost unparalleled wealth of large mammals, including 4 of the ‘Big Five’ (only buffalo is missing), and many more which are rare or endangered.
One of the best reasons to visit Etosha is its healthy population of black rhino. Other rare species include the black-faced impala, which is indigenous to Namibia and southern Angola.
Springbok and zebra, as well as oryx, kudu, giraffe and wildebeest, are common sightings in Etosha. Etosha’s famous elephants can be seen in the denser bush and mingling with other species at the waterholes.
The predator that is most often seen and heard is the lion. Etosha’s apex predator is most active just after dusk or in the early hours of the morning. Harder to spot are leopard and cheetah, though both are present in the park.
Other mammal species include hyena, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and ground squirrel.
Birders can look forward to 340 species. A third of these species are migratory, the most popular being the European bee-eater. The 35 raptor species include several types of vulture as well as eight species of owl. Larger birds found in the park are ostrich and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the kori bustard.
The Etosha Pan is a vast, bare, open expanse of shimmering green and white that covers around 4,800 km², almost a quarter of the beautiful Etosha National Park. At 130 km long and up to 50 km wide in places, it is comfortably the largest salt pan in Africa and is the park’s most distinctive and dramatic feature, visible even from space.
Salt springs on the pan have now built up little hillocks of clay and salt which are used by some of the park’s wildlife as salt licks. In the wet season, parts of the pan form rainwater pools and in particularly wet years the entire pan becomes a lake once more, standing at about 10 cm deep and drawing thousands of migrating flamingos.
Etosha Pan is designated as a World Wildlife Fund Ecoregion and was also used as a backdrop during the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Etosha is entirely malaria free in the dry winter months, but most international health organizations advise taking some form of prophylaxis during the wetter summer months, roughly from November to May. The park is entirely accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles. The best game viewing is in the dry season, roughly from June to October. The park’s vegetation is particularly sparse at this time of year and the animals rely heavily on the 30 waterholes and springs, making for excellent game viewing at these hotspots. The rainy season from January to March is very hot but definitely the better season for birders.
The park has four points of entrance. The park is open all year from sunrise to sunset.
Anderson Gate: This is the southern entrance to the park via the C38. The closest town is Outjo and the closest rest camp in the park is Okaukuejo.
Von Lindequist Gate: On the eastern side of the park this gate can be reached via the B1. The closest town is Tsumeb and the gate is close to the Namutoni Camp.
King Nehale Gate: This less frequented gate lies in the north and can be accessed via the B1 from the Oshikoto Region. The closest town is Omuthiya. King Nehale Gate has further distances to travel to the Onkoshi and Namutoni Camps so visitors should plan enough time to reach their accommodation if arriving late.
Galton Gate: This gate on the C35 close to Kowares is the entrance to the quieter, wilder western section of the park.