As part of my week-long tour around the best of Namibia I visited Etosha National Park. This was my first African safari experience and the clear highlight of the week. I had two nights there with Benjamin, my guide, arriving mid afternoon at Namutoni on the east side for our first camp.
I was subjected to yet more of the familiar disorganisation and changing of plans from the tour agency, to the point where even Benjamin was confused and annoyed. Eventually everything was sorted, including the promised game drives, which the agency had tried to back down on. We set up our tents before heading out for a drive in the trusty VW Viva.
Despite the benefits of using a 4×4 around Etosha the only problem we had in the Viva was on that first afternoon when there was a worrying squeaking sound as we drove along. Fortunately it was just a stone stuck against the brake disc and it soon stopped so nobody had to get out and risk getting attacked by lions.
Although that would at least have guaranteed seeing lions. The one thing I desperately wanted to see in Africa was a wild lion. To the point where my main pre-trip preparation consisted of Googling “Best place to see lions in Africa”. Unfortunately lions are lazy and do nothing 90% of the day.
We did spot several other animals on that first drive though. From the exciting moment of my first impala, to a giraffe, then a herd of zebra, a kudu and finally an elephant catching an early evening drink at the local watering hole.
My first professional game drive was booked for that evening, which ideally would enable me to spot more animals due to the lower temperatures. However an evening game drive also comes with the hindrance of being, well, evening.
As if to highlight this we were driven to a spot where a lion had been seen earlier in the afternoon with a fresh kill. As I squinted into the blackness I was reliably informed there was a female lion with its cub about 300m in front of us. Apparently. All I could make out was a blurry shape. We did see lots of other cool animals though. From hyenas to wildebeest, zebras, various antelope, giraffes and elephants. All with the help of an infrared beam so as not to startle the animals.
The next morning we were up relatively early to make our way to the next camp at Halali in the centre of the park. We took our time getting there, taking random detours to various watering holes and spotting various animals in their wild habitat on the way.
Etosha is on a large open plain. One detour led us to the lookout where the view of the flat, dusty salt pan disappeared over the horizon, like it was the edge of the world. During the rainy season it becomes an enormous lake but at that time there was nothing but one lonely ostrich. Upon reaching Halali we were treated to the same disorganisation before once again going out exploring.
Fun fact: elephants are bullies. They are also surprisingly silent when they walk. But mainly they are bullies. There’s a clear hierarchy over who gets to drink first at watering holes and anyone who queue jumps gets sent straight to the back. But even when there are only a few of them, I saw two rhinoceros (who are conversely very noisy by the way) too afraid to drink until every last elephant had gone.
It also didn’t help their case when on our drive in the VW we were chased by a herd of them for no reason. The lead elephant was going the other direction until he was joined by the others and, with his buddies backing him up, gained the confidence to charge us.
On the final morning I woke up for my 6am game drive. After about an hour in the early morning cold the most amazing thing happened. Not just one but two! Two male lions sat looking out over their kingdom. It was amazing! Being this close to any animal in its natural habitat is incredible, but to see lions like that was simply astonishing.
That was the highlight of not only my week tour but also everything I did in Namibia. Etosha has such a dense population of animals you can see so many different creatures. This was my first safari experience and one I am keen to repeat in the near future.