Travelog: Caprivi to Etosha

The bleakness of Namibia

travelog Cape to Cairo

Etosha National Park is forbidding. Driving out onto Etosha Pan [along the road provided] you imagine yourself in the middle of a vast lake, with a line of trees barely visible on the horizon to mark the shore-line. The difference is that the lake-bed itself, the pan, is the color of white-wash, and absolutely featureless, except for a few animals out on the pan for no reason anyone can imagine. Because of mineral deposits in the pan itself, nothing grows there, and the habitat for the animals is in the Reserve that surrounds the pan. There are a handful of water-holes around the periphery of the pan that provide water even in the dry seaon, and are the focal points for game-viewing.

The three rest-camps in Etosha going west in order of their distance from the entrance gate are: Namutoni, Halali, and Okakuejo. They have extensive facilities including swimming pools, restaurants, gift shops, and accommodations. Fences seperate you from the animals at night, although rather tame jackals seem to run through the campsites freely - and harmlessly. Restaurants provide German inspired buffet-style meals. Although the old fort of Namutoni is the most sought after rest-camp, the most pleasant by far was Halali. It has the most space for camping and a recently constructed water hole for night-viewing. One sits among rocks that are built in the form of an amphitheater around a water-hole that is illuminated at night and opened to the desert. The best entertainment is watching the people watch and comment on the animals. We saw hayena, jackal, a lioness, elephant, and many kinds of antelope come to drink.

Etosha is easily reached by paved roads from Windhoek, and is heavily visited by tourists on package tours from Europe. Namibia was a German colony and became a protectorate of South Africa as a result of a U.N. mandate after World War I. It retains something of its original German influence, and is a favorite of Germans visiting Africa. The two points that a visitor needs to be aware of is that reservations are needed in popular times of the year, even for camping, and that the Park is run by a department of the Namibian government, which is running a campaign to replace the South African Rand with the Namibian Dollar as the coin of the realm. Although the rand is accepted on a one for one basis with Namibian dollars, there are no currency exchange facilities in Etosha, and you will need to change other currencies in town, about 60 miles away, before arriving in the park. U.S. Dollars, Marks, Pounds, etc. are not accepted for payment for goods and services anywhere in the Park, though credit cards are.

During the day one drives around the park, astonished at the number of animals that manage to survive in this bleak corner of Africa. Despite the large number of people one sees in the rest camps, the park is large enough that one encounters other people infrequently. The most bizzare sight in this millieu is to see a heard of giraffe loping accross the barren landscape. If they seem perfectly suited to parts of Africa that have tall trees, here they seem strangely out of place, and spend their lives stooped down to eat shrubbery that is much lower down. There are also large numbers of elephant that frequent the waterholes. Gemsbok and sprinkbok abound. Had he not moved, we would have missed an enormous rhinocerous who was hiding behind a bush about a third his size. A ranger told us a story about putting radio tracking collars on some elephants in the park, and almost immediately losing them. They were found a week later in Chobe - an indication of the elephant's vast range of travel.

While the easiest way, by far, to reach Etosha is to fly in to Windhoek and then drive, we reached Etosha in a two day drive from Kasane through the Caprivi Strip. This thin strip of land named after Count Caprivi runs between Angola and Botswana. It was of great strategic importance to South Africa during its war with the front line states, from which it fought its battles with the Cubans and East Germans who occupied Angola. Although from Kasane you have to go back through Chobe to reach the border post at Ngoma, this is a standard "commercial" route and one does not pay park entrance fees. The road is dirt and gravel until Katima Malilo, but easlily passible. After Katima Malilo and throughout most of Namibia the roads are paved and in excellent condition. We stopped one night at Sarasungu Lodge on the Okavango River outside the town of Rundu. This pleasant and well-run establishment is operated by a former Portuguese Angolan who fled South with the clothes on his back during the Angolan revolution. On the return trip we stayed at the pleasant public camping facilit at Popa Falls, before heading south to Johannesburg through Maun and south of Makgadikgadi Pans.

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