A Travellerspoint blog

Day 19. Namibia. Etosha- Okakuejo

sunny 37 °C

Today we decided to check out the area around Okakeujo, the oldest park accomodation site. Okakuejo is north of the Anderson gate and at about midway between the Eastern and Western boundaries of the park. On our way over, which we decided to do quickly so that we could get close to Okakuejo and it still be early morning, we saw two Tawny eagles. These birds are quite variable in their colors and can range from a darker brown to a pale sandy colour. The photo below shows the lighter of the two birds.
We headed down a side road, thinking as on previous drives that we would have better luck off the main road. We did indeed see a rhino. He moved slowly across the road and eventually made his way into the bushes.
We had by this early point in the morning already decided that, at least during this time of year, Okakuejo was a better viewing spot than Hilali, the latter having a lot of wide open grasslands and no shade cover. We spent some time at a watering hole watching zebra, springbok and a jackal. Just like near Namutoni there are zebra everywhere. We even saw a few zebra scurfuffles, which was something new. I have ever only seen them walking along, eating, and staring at the car, so new behaviour is always nice. On the topic of jackals we read a notice at the camp to be aware of rabies and warning that the park has a problem with rabies particularly in the black backed jackals. There was another notice explaining a research project where they were attempting to collar some of the larger predators in Etosha to understand their impact on the other animals. The notice explained the researchers were currently trying to collar a lioness in the area.

As we were getting ready to head back to Hilali we saw a bunch of parked cars and more than two cars here usually meant either a cat or a rhino, and was always worth checking out. I joked on the way over that with this many cars it had to be five cats. Well, we thought three was pretty good. Three young lioness sitting in the long grass overlooking a watering hole. We weighed up our options- those being to wait and watch or head back to the campsite to spend mid-day where it was pretty hard to find shade. We opted to sit and watch. We watched in anticipation as zebra, springbok, oryx, wildebeest and an ostrich wandered down to the watering hole unaware of the lions. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the grazers they were on the opposite side of the water from the lions.
We arrived around 9am and around 11:30 the cats made a half hearted attempt at a springbok with his back to the predators.
I think the attempt was more just out of frustration and overheating from sitting in the sun. The big movement of the early part of the day was a relocation to a nearby tree to sleep in the shade. We decided to hang around for as long as it took, or as long as we could. We certainly had no pressing plans. We ate bits and pieces of food we had in the car, napped, and read our books. I’ll mention that watching lions for hours on end in the hot sun and drinking water means you eventually need to use the washroom and you certainly can’t get out of the car near the lions. I’ll leave the rest of the details out.
At 5pm we couldn’t wait any longer because sunset was approaching and so headed back to Halali. We spent 8 hours with the lions, and some would say that is a lot of effort to put into seeing a kill, especially when it ends with no action but we didn’t feel that way. Not a bad afternoon sitting in the middle of a National Park with a few lioness… We headed to bed early this evening after packing up the car for an early start and a long drive the next day.

Posted by Jmclellan 13.06.2014 01:45 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 18. Namibia. Etosha- Halili

sunny 38 °C

For our morning game drive we headed west to explore roads for us not yet travelled. We did two small loops off the main road, checked out a few viewpoints and watering holes but had a relatively uneventful morning, which certainly happens in the parks. I went for a run around the campground (felt good to get a bit of exercise on a 5 week road trip proceeded by two work weeks with no time for anything but work) and then spent some time at the pool. Maybe it was just that we didn’t have a very shady spot to sit but it certainly seemed hotter than the days we spent at Onguma. We checked out the watering hole after lunch, sat and read our books and saw a herd of elephant and springbok pass through. The elephants had two young that were maybe about a year old- they stayed extremely close to their mothers and were very cute as they ungracefully entered (fell into) the water. Seeing elephants at the water is always interesting because they toss water and then often dirt on their backs and bellies to stay cool.

The heat was definitely getting to me, even though we’d been drinking water non stop, and so we got popsicles and drinks (non-alcoholic) for our evening drive, which we decided would be a short one so that we could be back at the watering hole by 4:30. We went out to the Goas watering hole, which is a beautiful spot, but saw only a few Egyptian Geese. We hung around for a few minutes then headed back to camp. We got our alcoholic drinks, our books and all of Don’s camera gear and found a spot at the watering hole. The hole is also a beautiful place but when the sun is setting it is right in your eyes so I would recommend getting there just after sun set.
We gained a fair bit of entertainment from the people who were also gathered at the watering hole. At the start of the path to the viewing area there is a large sign that asks for quiet. When you arrive you instantly get the feeling that you are being loud, even if the only thing you are doing is walking. It can be so silent at the watering hole that you can hear all the quiet sounds the animals make, which makes it really a great spot. Then you have as we have started to call them the ‘townies’ that bring noisy snacks like peanuts and potato chips. You also have the talkers- those laughing and joking while everyone else is sitting and quietly watching. We joked about whether we should go get our Doritos, maybe the fire crackers, or best of all the i pod with speakers…

At 6:30, around the same time as the night before, a lone rhino slowly made his way in. He did the usual take a drink, eat some grass, walk around a bit then headed into the bushes. Then came back. He did this routine again, as if he was killing time until the other rhinos came by and he could, like last night, have a bit of social time. No such luck. We watched him for about an hour, Don got some night shots, and we headed back to our tent because by this point I had a headache that was only getting worse.
I was in bed early, figuring nothing else could get rid of my splitting headache. Don popped his head in to say the Honey Badger was in the camp, could I get up? I just couldn’t- my head was killing me. Don came back about 10 minutes later to say he was right near our tent and he had almost walked into him in the dark. Ok. I’ve got to get up. We went over to see him in the trash can rooting around like a racoon. There was a German couple about three feet from him taking photos and if you’ve ever seen the u tube video on honey badgers you know not to get too close. We finally got their attention (they were understandably focused on their photography, kneeling down at the badger’s face level, which I’ll mention is a perfect spot to be if you want your eyes scratched out), told them he was extremely dangerous and that they should back away. Honey badgers will forever remind me of Ross, whose one request for animal sighting in Botswana was to see a Honey Badger, and we did one morning at Chobe. Don mentioned later that seeing a honey badger in the trash, eating garbage feels like quite a different experience that seeing them in the ‘wild’ but nevertheless we did get a great view of the nocturnal and hard to see honey badger. Unfortunately no photos..

Posted by Jmclellan 09.06.2014 23:34 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 17. Namibia. Etosha- Halili

sunny 36 °C

We entered the park at sunrise, took what we had come to call the ‘triangle’ and then the ‘road where we see all the rhinos’ on our way to Hilali, which is the newest camp and accommodation site within the park. It is about 70km west of Namutoni gate. The major highlight, and really the only event of the drive was the herd of elephants we ran into on what the park calls Eland drive. We stopped about 15m from them, turned the car off and waited. Don had started to comment that I was always saying that this time was the closest we have been to a certain animal. This is probably not the case. Rather being there with the animals is so exciting it always feels like your most incredible viewing. With this herd of elephants this really was our most intimate encounter. A male of about 5 or 6 years was a bit agitated by our approach and the reason we stopped were we did. He mucked around in the bushes just off the side of the road, took care of business (sounded like a waterfall) and kept peeking his head out and flaring his ears. He then seemed to relax a bit and moved onto sniffing, which elephants do by putting their trunk vertically up in the air and in the direction of interest. (We're trying to upload one or two of our videos. Success! Check it out. We just let the camera role instead of taking photos..).

He slowly advanced on the passenger’s side. I asked Don what he thought we should do and we agreed to sit tight. Now he was passing the passenger side window. We were on a road that was a comfortable width for one vehicle and had you needed to pass both cars would have had one wheel off the road in the brush. We had stopped in the middle of the road and the elephant also had all feet on the road meaning he was very, very close. He could have easily have put his trunk in the windows, which were all down. We both sat holding our breath. At the rear of the car we could feel him touching it and rocking it ever so slightly. He casually moved on once he decided the car wasn’t very interesting. Our attention was next turned to a mom, her baby, and two younger elephants, at least one of whom was a male 3 or 4 years old. They opened their ears out wide and followed the same routine as the first male of relaxing slightly and then lifting their trunks to give us a smell. Mom, baby and one of the young elephants made their way past the car just off the road on the driver’s side. The young male, however, was much more curious and came right up to the driver’s side window. My heart rate must have been 200. I instinctively leaned slightly inwards, but this put maybe an extra inch or two of space between him and I. He gently banged on the car door a few times with his trunk, then lifted it to small again, and quickly backed away. His trunk was so close to my face I could see all of the little hairs and water droplets on it. Don likened the situation to a little kid who slowly inches forward to touch something then quickly draws his hand back and backs away. It really was exactly like that. The young elephant went through this routine once more and it again had me holding my breath. I could have reached my hand outside my window, my arm not even close to fully extended, and touched him. Eventually he moved. My heart was still banging around in my chest. Wow. INCREDIBLE!

The next part of this encounter was us getting the chance to watch one of the older elephants, I think a female, shake a tree and strip it of its bark. I thought she was going to knock the entire tree over. After she’d gotten most of the bark off a larger male came over and bullied her out of the way and finished off the tree. At this point all the elephants slowly made their way down the road behind us and into the brush and we continued on to Hilali

The Hilali campsite is adequate but can’t hold a candle to the camp site we had at Onguma. Whereas at Onguma you had good shade, private washrooms and showers and space, at Hilali you had none of these. There were so many campsites it was hard to find yours among the others, and the fact that everyone had the same vehicle and roof top tent made it even trickier. In any case the neat thing about Hilali is the Mirunga watering hole, which is a 2 minute walk from the campsites. We suspect it was artificially filled at some points of the year and so becomes a very dependable source of water and hence popular. The park has set up a viewing area overlooking the watering hole which is equipped with a high fence (that doesn’t obstruct your view because the viewing area is on a raised rock outcrop) and flood lights. We spent some time in the afternoon sitting here in the shade, watching elephant and antelope, and reading our books.

On our evening drive we immediately ran into a pod of cars a few hundred meters outside of the Hilali gates. There was a cheetah resting in the bushes! After waiting for about 30 minutes we saw that she in fact had her offspring with her. I couldn’t say how old but old enough that the mother wasn’t hiding her away and wasn’t insisting that she stay right with her. She was clearly smaller and younger than the mother but not far off from full grown. We watched them eventually cross the road and disappear into the brush on the other side.
The rest of the drive was relatively slow but we did see some baby impala and jackals. We had about 45 minutes of time remaining by the time we finished our circuit and made it back to the gates. We decided to revisit the area where the cheetahs had been, and additionally checked out the abandoned air strip but didn’t see them again.
The watering hole was really exciting. We headed there as soon as we got back to Hilali, which was accidentally about 30 minutes after the gates had closed. I had read the entry and exit times as reversed. Three days ago we both saw our first up close view of a rhino and now were are seeing three at once. I was really feeling lucky and really enjoying myself. The best part about seeing them was seeing their interaction. The second rhino that arrived backed away when the first rhino approached him in what I would call a submissive behaviour. Rhino number two went around to the other side of the water and waded in. Rhino number three, who was a bit smaller than the other two, wanted to stand his ground. Those two got into a rhino disagreement where they bumped the sides of their heads together a lot (no horns involved- those things are so pointy that I guess no one would survive long if they were used over minor dominance disagreements at the watering hole). They also tried to make each other back up to each gain more ground. While this was going on the rhino in the water had taken a seat and was sitting, front row, watching, and flapping his ears occasionally. It was absolutely hilarious seeing him there. If I had to ascribe a personality to him I would choose someone like Goofy from Mickey Mouse. He looked so relaxed, not a care in the world, totally enjoying the rhino action, and just sitting there flapping his big ears. He was facing away from us and so I imagined he was smiling and splashing the water because he liked the way it made waves. Rhino number one won the dominance disagreement and then decided he wanted to sit in the pool where Goofy was sitting. It did look like it might be the deepest spot in the pool and considering how hot it was in the day I’d also want the deepest spot. Goofy didn’t budge and had his time to finish his cool water sitting. When he was good and ready he trundled out and rhino one took his place, but not sitting down, because dominant rhinos stand…! We didn’t have the cameras with us and didn’t want to risk not seeing this show to go back to the car and grab them. We’ll be certain to bring them tomorrow night.

Posted by Jmclellan 07.06.2014 11:08 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 16. Namibia. Etosha- Namutoni Gate

sunny 35 °C

We entered the park at opening time today and planned to do the road where we had seen the rhino the day before. We had seen a few cars on a side road, a small triangle, the previous day and so decided to check it out. We pulled up next to two parked cars and were pleasantly surprised by a mother lion and her three cubs walking along the side of the road. I’d say the cubs were about three months old and wow were they ever playful. They were running and tumbling over each other, close by to mom who was walking eyes looking straight forward, at a constant pace, and with the same expression for the entire 20 minutes we watched them.
Still early we headed out for our rhino loop. We were incredibly lucky and saw two lone rhinos. Both we watched eat, trundle around a bit, and then cross the road right in front of the car. We were very close. We were really feeling like we were in rhino heaven! These two had much sharper horns than the rhino we had seen the night before and definitely looked younger and less haggard.
We did and additional loop that morning, which got us back at camp at around 11 and I was exhausted by that point. A 5 hr drive is a bit long, especially when your private guide doesn’t drive for you, give you interesting commentary, and then stop to provide a snack and baileys coffee.

We headed back into the park just after 2:30 for our evening game drive which was great with giraffe, jackals, zebra, and antelope as the highlights.
We headed out towards Fisher’s Pan again, taking a short cut straight across instead of going around like we did on our first day. We went to see if the Spoonbills had moved any closer (not the case) and so spent some time watching the flamingos.
We next headed over to the watering hole on the triangle loop and watched a herd of giraffe drinking. This is really amazing to watch. Their heads are so high off the ground to reach the water they spread their front legs as far apart as they can, making a triangle, so they can reach the water.
We did the rhino loop again but there wasn’t much going on over there this evening. We had started adopting a practice where the park driver (me) gets to enjoy her cider once we are into the second part of the game drive. I never would have though cider would be my thing but I’d say we both started to enjoy it more and more as the trip went on. It will now always remind me of Namibia.

Posted by Jmclellan 05.06.2014 13:50 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 14/15. Namibia. Etosha National Park- Namutoni

sunny 33 °C

We still had a long distance to go before making it to Etosha but still had a relaxing morning. How many times in your life do you wake up in Northern Namibia looking over the river into Angola? You need to take it in and our camping spot was beautiful.
After an hour of driving we arrived at the Ruacana Falls that span 700m in flood and are 120m high. There is a power station nearby, generating power for as many as 160,000 homes- which in Namibia goes a long way. We spent some time wandering around- you get some good lookout spots but it has not been developed as much of a tourist destination so you have trees in the middle of the best viewing locations. Nonetheless you certainly get an idea of the size of these falls, which are impressive.
We arrived to Etosha late in the afternoon and turned into Onguma, one of the lodges situated just outside of the Eastern gate, Namutoni. We watched the sunset and a huge owl whom the staff told us came by almost every night. We had a great dinner of Namibian game meat.
Our first day in the park was an incredible day. We entered late (not the incredible part) because we were misinformed by one of the guys at reception, who told us the gate opened at 6:45. At 6:15 when it was already very light out we decided there had been some sort of error. We hustled to the outer gate, did our paperwork, visited reception a further 12km along the park road, paid our fee, then spent a little while trying to figure out how to get onto the park roads. Always some faffing about the first day. Namutoni is on the Eastern side of Etosha and so we decided to do the ‘Eastern’ drive, which would be impractical due to distance once we were at the more central site, Halali. We took a small detour off the main road (in our defense there were car tracks) but had to backtrack because we got into a patch of mud that was surprisingly deep- by the look of it you would have thought it was bone dry. We drove along Fisher’s Pan, a smaller (much, much smaller) Pan compared to Etosha Pan. I’d say the highlight of the morning for both of us was the green tree snake, which we have never seen before.
We spent the afternoon reconnecting with the rest of the world (using the internet, which we had been without for 2 weeks. I normally wouldn’t be concerned about getting internet- I am reminded of the Singapore couple we saw at Klein’s in Tanzania who were always, always bitching about the internet signal, but we hadn’t been in touch with our families to let them know things were ok. I was relieved to send out a few emails and let people know we were in very sparse internet country) and doing laundry.

At 2:30 we headed back out to the park. The next day we decided to leave earlier because it took quite a while to get into the heart of the park, I’d say 30min from where we are staying. We drove West along the Southern edge of the Etosha Pan and both agreed it was a better drive than the morning drive because there is more visibility. We spent a lot of the morning surrounded by thick brush, which in the dry season may be a more fruitful drive. As we were heading out of the Onguma private concession on our way to Etosha we stopped multiple times. We were closer than I’ve ever been to zebra and warthogs, and it was certainly nice to see Kudu again (we hadn’t seen them since Botswana). And yes, we have been spoiled this past year.

Once into the meat of the park we saw what we had both been hoping desperately to see- a Rhino. As far as rhinos go he was a pretty beat up looking guy. Covered in mud and really beat up horns (looking at his horns you can’t believe people want to grind them up and put them in ingestible magic potions). I was amazed at how small their eyes are in comparison to their huge bodies. He wasn’t too keen on the car and headed away from us but we sat there for quite some time watching him in the distance (I love my new binoculars) because we were so happy to be watching a rhino. We continued along the Pan until we had about an hour and 15 minutes to make it back to the inner ‘gate’, from which it takes about 15 minutes to reach the outer gate.
The way back was one of the most action packed safari rides I have ever been on. We saw a big male giraffe a few meters away from the car. So close you could hear him chewing and the sound of his footsteps on the ground.
Then was the cheetah, which we were alerted to by the other stopped vehicles. This was the most cheetah action we have ever seen- in Tanzania we did see a cheetah but he had recently eaten and was in a lazy after dinner mood. This guy was hunting a herd of Steinbok and we did in fact get to see him make the chase, but unfortunately for him they got away. We were hustling out of the park because of the time but had to stop at the herd of about 50 elephants with the sunset in behind. I had to slow down for zebra, more Steinbok, and impala, who were either on or just off the road on the way home. We saw our first Hartebeest but in the distance and many, many Oryx.
We both loved the self drive because the trip is entirely customisable, in a way that &Beyond is not, although with a guided safari you have the expertise, knowledge of the park, and animal spotting ability of your guide. Driving yourself as you watch the cheetah stalk is a completely different experience than having your guide driving you. At one point when we were watching the cheetah we were three cars wide, all facing the same direction, all white SUVs or Toyotas, and when the cheetah made a run for it, it felt like a drag race to keep up (I was slow on the clutch this first time).

We headed straight into the lodge once we got back to watch the last of the sunset and to see if the owl from the night before had returned. He had, but it was getting dark. Fire, G&Ts, and then bed.

Posted by Jmclellan 24.05.2014 06:46 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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