Africa 2019: Week 2

Week 2: June 10-17

Route: Palmwag - Olifantsrus - Okaukuejo - Halali - Treesleeper - Ngepi - Drotsky’s (in Botswana!)

Kilometers driven: 1145

Watching sunset from the hill at Halali camp, Etosha

Watching sunset from the hill at Halali camp, Etosha

So, we drove into Etosha National Park, high on the recent (if distant) sightings of both zebras and giraffes. Fifteen minutes into the park, we encountered a giant bull elephant, casually grazing on the side of the road. Less than fifty meters from the car, this massive pachyderm munched away on the spiky branches of the doomed acacia tree it had chosen for its lunch, oblivious to the three centimeter long spikes which protruded from the twigs. Apparently, elephant digestive systems are impervious to perforation.

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We stopped at two waterholes before arriving at our campsite, and each offered more wildlife sightings than we had had in our entire trip so far. Herds of zebra, springbok, oryx and hartebeest drank alongside herons, sandgrouse and vultures. We were in heaven! 

Our campsite, Olifantsrus, was rather gruesome in concept - the site of an old elephant culling station, complete with a giant gallows where the poor animals were presumably butchered. To make up for this morbidity, there was an exquisite hide above the waterhole, where you could watch the animals at close quarters without disturbing them. 

A wildebeest drinking at Olifantsrus waterhole

A wildebeest drinking at Olifantsrus waterhole

On the first afternoon, just as we were about to go back to camp for a nap, a huge family of elephants - mature females, juveniles, and tiny babies (well, tiny by comparison, they were the size of small cows) - lumbered into view, and surrounded the waterfall, drinking noisily, pushing and shoving one another to get at the cleanest water. We watched, fascinated. The relationships between them were all so clear to see in their body language - which were annoyed by the others, which were showing affection, which were related, which were playing. It was wonderful to see! 

We also discovered that elephants fart a lot, and they do NOT smell good.

We watched the waterhole for hours, before our own rumbling tummies forced us to go back to camp. As we were cooking dinner, we could hear the roars and grunts of a pride of lions beyond the fence in the darkness, but when we sprinted back out to the hide, we couldn’t see them, just a solitary white rhino drinking on the far side of the water. 

Getting down to water level is a challenge with legs like that

Getting down to water level is a challenge with legs like that

The next morning, after spending a few hours glued to the windows of the hide, watching wildebeests, springbok, oryx and zebra come and go, we packed up the car and drove east, stopping at more waterholes on the way, seeing more giraffes, more zebra, more elephants, more everything! Our second night was a little less pleasant, as the campsite was full and quite noisy: the Gold Coast of Etosha. We did however, see a spotted hyena and another white rhino that night at the waterhole. Ben, Ronnie and Phoebe spent the next day reading by the campsite pool, while John went off in search of more animals in our impressively dusty truck. 

That night we decided to relocate, and moved up the road to Halali, which proved much more cosy, with a small hike up a hill and a view of the surrounding plains, and another, even bigger family of elephants to watch as the sun set. Most exciting was the arrival of our first black rhino, and a pair of spotted hyena, which made a pass at the very skittish group of zebra. 

There was also an entertaining episode, when a baby elephant unwisely started taunting the rhino. You could tell the rhino wanted to give him a good horning but was restrained by the overwhelming family support on hand.

Eastern Etosha: the early afternoon crowd at the waterhole

Eastern Etosha: the early afternoon crowd at the waterhole

The next day we drove out of the park, after stopping for coffee and WiFi at Namatoni, where an incongruous German fort still stood amongst the reeds and grass. We spent the night at a charming little camp called Tree Sleeper, so named because of the San people who sometimes took shelter in trees at night to avoid the hungry lions. The camp was shady and cool, with a lovely wooden platform up in the tree, where John slept, and Ronnie hung his hammock. 

Phoebe, John and Ben went on a bush walk with their host and guide, Moses, who explained about the different San tribes and languages, and disclosed various secrets to surviving in the Bush - from capturing flying termites to avoiding lions while tracking. Also a handy hint to use when attacked by a leopard- make a sort of collar out of a spiky tree and get him to stick his head through it. The camp was run by, and just outside, the small town of Tsinsabis, and the profits went into the local community. 

Villagers collecting papyrus reeds at sunset, Ngepi Camp

Villagers collecting papyrus reeds at sunset, Ngepi Camp

The next day was a looooong drive to Ngepi camp, on the banks of the Kavango river. What a fantastic campsite! Beautiful river location, grass campsites (grass!), hilarious, friendly staff, a spa, a bar, and delicious food! The only downside was the presence of a large family of hippos who apparently sometimes came over to graze on the aforementioned grass, the prospect of which made it rather hard to sleep soundly.

Nevertheless, we stayed for two nights, soaking up the laid back vibes and enjoying the outdoor living room and jetty. We went on an evening river cruise and got better acquainted with the hippos and their newest member who was about the size of a St Bernard, but only a few weeks old. We came across yet another family of elephants (never get tired of elephants - especially the derpy baby elephants); a very large, sinister looking crocodile; a group of vervet monkeys; warthogs, water buffalo, spurwing geese, skimmers, herons, eagles...

We were very sad to leave, but after two nights we packed up and headed for the Botswana border, and the next stage of our adventure.

Waterfront campsite (complete with hippos) Ngepi Camp

Waterfront campsite (complete with hippos) Ngepi Camp