The Ovambo call it Etosha, meaning Great White Place, and the shimmering salt pan of Etosha National Park – so large it can be seen from space – play’s centre stage in this unique game park, one of Africa’s premier game-viewing destinations.
Once part of a large inland lake fed by rivers from the north and east, Etosha pan dried up 120 million years ago as continental drift changed the tilt of the land and redirected the course of the tributaries.
Good summer rains still fill the salt pan with pools of water and pink clouds fill the air as tens of thousands of migrating flamingos come to breed. The grasslands and trees around the edges of the pan turn from pale gold to green and the whole park is transformed.
But it is in the dry winter months that the true spectacle of Etosha is born. As the pools and puddles dry up, the pan once more becomes an austere expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and upward-spiralling dust devils. Everything is covered in a fine white film, giving the land its characteristic ghostly appearance. Now Etosha’s abundant array of game starts returning in great numbers to the numerous waterholes. These are the jewels of Etosha National Park, providing unequalled game-viewing opportunities.
The waterholes and springs lie along the southern edge of the pan. Three in particular seem to draw the wildlife crowd. Each of these waterholes has its own distinctive character and a particular species that seems favour it. Okaukuejo, which is floodlit at night for nocturnal sightings, is where you are most likely to spot the rare and solitary black rhino. Okondeka, a natural fountain, is the place for Big Cat sightings. Whole families of lion will make their way down to lap at the water, while you watch metres away from the viewing terrace. The elusive leopard prefers Halali. For the wildlife photographer these waterholes are a dream come true – clear, close views of your favourite animals.
While you are guaranteed to have rewarding and often spectacular sightings sitting quietly at the waterholes, game drives, either self-driven or with a guide, around the park are equally exciting. Vast herds of game such as elephant, plains zebra, wildebeest and eland against the eerie white backdrop of the pan offer an extraordinary sighting. Black-maned lions, the world’s largest population of black rhino, the endemic black-faced impala and many other rare and endangered animals roam the plains of Etosha
Quintessential African camelthorn trees fringe the pan, providing food and shelter for many of the park’s animals and some of the 340 bird species that occur here.
With the abundance of Big Five, the smaller mammals will soon begin to catch your attention. Diminutive Damara dik-dik, jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and the ubiquitous ground squirrel are just some of the park’s less lofty but entertaining inhabitants. The richness of the game viewing at the waterholes and the unique characteristics of Etosha Pan ensure an unforgettable African safari.
Etosha National Park