Waterberg to Etosha
I chose not to go on a game drive at Waterberg because I wanted badly to stretch my legs after so many hours flying. Also, I had Namibia’s premier game park next.
Etosha National Park encompasses a massive white salt pan and is home to a heap of species, the most commonly seen being springbok, the endemic black faced impala, common plains zebra and oryx. There were thousands of birds especially red-billed queleas and Namaqua doves, as well as countless crows.
Our luxury campsite was located in the Onguma Game Reserve, at the eastern edge of Etosha. Again, the private site had access to the restaurant which overlooked a waterhole, as well as a beautiful pool. Wood and water again were available at minimal cost. Read my full review of Tamboti Luxury Campsite here.
We left the site at 6:15am in order to get into the queue at Namutoni Gate. There were only about four vehicles ahead of us when we got there, but plenty more got in line behind us by the time the gate officially opened at half past six, a touch after sunrise.
Pro tip #1: Download a map of the park online beforehand to get a head start or purchase one from your lodge/campsite. Most maps come with a mini wildlife guide.
As we were self-driving west across the entire park, I struck up a conversation with some guides to figure out our route. Turns out some waterholes were better than others.
Armed with this information, we visited some great spots, including Goas, Chudob and Ngobib where we spotted white rhino, a majestic lone bull elephant, a magnificent black maned lion and a multitude of antelope.
Pro tip #2: Drive slowly. There’s plenty to see especially in the less busy eastern side of the park. Also, the dust created by other vehicles obscures wildlife crossing the road. Don’t be the idiot who runs over a springbok! This rule applies throughout your entire self drive safari.
Another benefit to travelling at a relaxed pace is seeing more diminutive species. Particularly early in the early morning and at dusk. Pictured below is the dainty Damara dik dik which I love for so many reasons including its name! This tiny antelope is only a touch bigger than a house cat and very shy so take your time along roads throughout your safari or you won’t even notice these creatures.
We allocated about four hours to cross from Namutoni to Andersson Gate but because there was so much wildlife about, we reached Halali (at about halfway) only at noon. You can get out here for lunch and a toilet break. The loos are surprisingly nice with toilet paper and soap!
We only stopped at Springbokfontein to admire the edge of Etosha’s actual pan. However, it might be worthwhile going to Etosha Lookout to take in a more expansive view.
Pro tip #3: Once you get past Etosha park gates, you still have to pay for park fees at the office, located a few kms inside the gate. These amount to something like 80NAD per person per day – great value. Keep your receipt and know your vehicle number plates so you can answer questions from security. Remember that a smile and good manners are always appreciated!
Our next stop was Toshari Lodge, located about 20km south of Andersson Gate. Had there been availability, my first choice would have been somewhere closer to Etosha, thus negating the big drive back in the morning. However, lack of availability (a constant theme I encountered booking 6 months out) meant I had no choice.
In any case, Toshari Lodge offered a welcome change from camping. Its biggest drawback: mozzies. Probably because they had stagnant waterholes (presumably for antelope and warthog) and watered their lawns. Only at Uis (covered here) did I have to deal with these pesky bloodsuckers.
At Toshari, dinner was buffet-style, hearty and served with songs. Literally half the staff turned up at 7:30pm each night to serenade diners with one on a drum. Eat early if this is not your thing or sit outside next to the braziers. Watching other patrons whip out their smartphones to video the performance or look absolutely disgusted at this interruption provided us with plenty of entertainment.
You can also have your laundry done quite cheaply here if you’re running low on clean clothes….
Pro tip #4: Carry mosquito spray if you’re prone to being bitten. No matter the time of year. Where there’s fresh water, there will be mosquitoes.
For the game drive the following morning, we drove our vehicle to the gate thus avoiding having to endure sitting in an open sided vehicle on a 100kmh stretch of dusty road. Our guide Ramone was knowledgeable and funny, helping us identify rarer bird species and taking us to Olifantsbad where what looked like millions of red-billed queleas were flying about en masse, causing havoc for antelope looking for a drink.
To conclude, he drove us back to the first waterhole we visited – Ombika – where he’d heard from a colleague that a breeding herd of ellies were drinking. And there they were, with thirsty warthogs of all sizes too, fearlessly weaving through big elephant legs. It was fascinating to watch bull, female and tiny baby elephants drink contentedly, dominating the entire water source, while zebra, kudu, impala and springbok all patiently waited for their turn.
Pro tip #5: Mix it up. Self drive, then get a guide. You’ll see plenty more with a guide, and gain much more from their insight. Plus it’s pretty hard to spot and drive.
Because I’m such a wildlife nerd, I carry with me in safari at all times my well-thumbed copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife. It’s beautifully illustrated with colour plates of many species including birds so super easy to use. Click here or on the image below to purchase it – I can’t recommend it enough!
It’s also useful to always have binoculars handy as your vehicle can’t get too close to waterholes where animals both big and small are drinking. A quality zoom lens also helps!
Plains zebra, black-faced impala, oryx and springbok might be all over the park but you’ll definitely need some optical assistance to see sights such as this handsome tawny eagle who skillfully caught a dove for lunch!
We review Tamboti Campsite here:
To read about our trip, the entire three week self-drive safari is chronicled on these pages:
For driving tips, visit this page: