Wednesday, 11 September 2013

13th - 14th August - Etosha, Namibia Part One "There's Just Devils and Dust"

Just like our last departure the morning at Swakopmund was overcast, probably typical of the weather they usually get at this time of year.  Today we were continuing north to the Etosha national park.  We were staying outside the park, but still had a 560 Km journey, our longest so far, the sat nav indicated a journey time of just over six hours so once again it was an early start.

The deck and walkways were wet again, but not as bad as the day before, we loaded the truck and made our way slowly around the streets of Swakopmund and onto the B2 which headed east out of the town.  As we did so a fog crept over us, which was quite a weird sensation.  The fog would vary in thickness, with the sun being seen, then gone.

After 30 Km, which is the distance all the guide books tell you the fog reaches inland, the fog was gone, just like that, and we were in blue skies and sunshine again.

The clouds around us burnt away, and we continued east under the typical Namibian skies.

Again photographs courtesy of my navigator.

We were travelling now on tarmac roads, as this was the main route between the capital Windhoek, and the main ocean port at Walvis Bay.  Our route took us through Karib, and then north onto the C33 to Omararu, where we stopped once again to fill up with fuel.  The road here then went through scrub, and hills, but the road remained long, and straight, if not undulating

We came across some game in the form of Springbok, and several Kudu, there were also family parties of warthog feeding by the fences, as we passed they would scuttle away through the fence to their perceived safety.

As usual we did not see many other cars on the road, which made it safe to stop should we see something interesting.  I picked up a bird sitting on one of the road side pylons, and slowed down to get a better look, and then stopped.  It was a really huge Martial Eagle.  This is one of the largest eagles in Sub Saharan Africa, and we were able to get some wonderful views as I pulled along side it.

It sat watching us, as much as we watched it, and then I wanted to get closer and opened the door and it flew from the pylon to a nearby tree.

A truly wonderful bird.

The road took us through the town of Otjiwarongo, and out north towards the Anderson Gate of the Etosha park, but we turned off about 30 kms from the park, onto a gravel road that led us to our destination the Epache Game lodge.

As we entered the lodge, and made our along the track to the lodge we came across a group of five Giraffe, our first of the trip, and they moved off into the bush as we passed.  Once we were settled into our room, which had a wonderful view across the private game reserve that covered 21,000 hectares, we spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.

We had arranged to go on a game drive late afternoon around the reserve.  As we left the room we spotted a fat Rock Hyrax on the rocks by the entrance.  Helen made the point to it that (a) it was not a Meerkat, and that (b) it was over weight, it didn't seem impressed.

The landscape we drove through was dominated by scrub and acacia trees and it was difficult to spot game, we saw the odd Oryx, but the intended quarry of Black Rhino was going to be impossible, and so it turned out.

The reserve boasts over 20 species of antelope, that have been introduced, this included the endangered Sable Antelope, but sadly this project failed.  they also have 30 Black Rhino, but they are extremely secretive, and to see one you have to be very lucky.  Also from the stories we heard you didn't want to come across one, and upset it.

Our guide made us aware that like in the Kalahari, the animals are still very uncertain of the vehicles and they run away quickly, so when we came across a group of Giraffe he wanted us to get out of the truck, and walk towards them.  As always with Giraffe they were very inquisitive and watched as we approached.

The group consisted of a male, or bull, and several females and this lovely youngster.

Whilst they didn't run off, they did move away as we approached, but hopefully we have help acclimatise these animals to the presence of humans.

back in the truck we came across this family of adolescent Ostriches, they were following the parents despite the fact they wer very much the same size.

A little further on we came across a group of Zebra, they are Plain's Zebra, but they a had an adorable young foal that looked even better in the late sunshine. again the herd were wary of us, and went to lengths to protect the young one, but it seemed to want to have a look.

As the sun started to sink, we came across a group of Namaqua Sandgrouse on the look out for their evening drink.

With the sun now set we were driving around a waterhole, and came across a group of three male Kudu.

The twisted horns make them look such regal animals

We stopped for the traditional sun down drink, then back to the lodge, it was not the most outstanding game drive of the trip, and we both agreed that we were looking forward to the Etosha experience tomorrow.

It was a 45 minute drive to the Anderson Gate, and it opened at sun rise.  As we pulled up to the gate the sun was just coming up.  After a little administrative delay we were in, and driving along a tarmac road to the village of Okaukuejo, where we had to stop to pay for the park entrance fees, we also took the chance to fill up with fuel.

The Etosha National Park covers an area of just under 23,000 square kilometres.  The word etosha means "great white place".  Originally the par was much bigger, but has been gradually reduced to its current size.

The C38 was now no longer a tarmac road, and we headed off on a dry and dusty gravel road, heading in the direction of Halali.  Our first stop was the Nebrownii waterhole, here water is pumped from an artesian well, as we approached there were a few Zebra nad Springbok in attendance.  There was a pair of Zebra that had dsitinctly different strip patterns, it was as if one had black stripes on white, while the other had white stripes on black!

Leaving the waterhole we turned off the C38, and took a much rougher road that formed a loop past several waterholes.  We could see plenty of Zebra and Springbok on either side of the road, but this Northern Black-chested Korhaan caught my eye huddled by the side of a scrubby bush.  It was a cool morning, and it was clearly waiting for the sun to warm up.

The next waterhole was Gamsbokvlakte, but as with the previous hole, there was not much activity, other than two Ostriches, some Sandgrouse, and three Black-backedJackals, a pair of which were settled down by the side of the pump.

We moved off around the loop road, heading for the Olifantsbad waterhole, we noticed Impala walking in a similar direction, and when we arrived there were quite a few Impala using the hole, while others stood around watching.

This male looked quite grand as it stood waiting its time to move forward to drink.

Olifantsbad, means literally elephants bath, but all we could see here were Impala, so we decided to move on again.  The road was very bumpy, and I decided to use the 4 x 4, which made it a little bit easier.  The truck though was kicking up a lot of dust, which was to be a feature of Etosha.

We stopped at the Aus waterhole, but there was little there, and we then headed to the C38 again, and east.  The next waterhole was Homob, a natural spring, and as we pulled up there was a lot more green vegetation here.  There were also a lot of vehicles as well, and we had to wait our time to get a position to view the waterhole.

Looking across the area, I picked out a large eagle sitting at the top of a bush.  A closer look showed it to be a Wahlbergs' Eagle.

There was quite a bit of water here, and there was a small group of South African Shelduck on the water.  The males have a grey head, while the females a white face patch.

Someone in one of the other vehicles pointed out the reason why there was so much interest here.  There was a male lion doing what all lions do well sleeping under a tree on the other side of the hole.  You had to use your imagination a little bit when you viewed with binoculars, but the cropped image here shows it to be probably a young male lion.

While watching the Lion I noticed a small rusty coloured bird walking around the edge of the water, once it came out into the open I could see it was an African Jacana.

Despite the presence of the Lion, there were several Zebra in the area, and drinking at the water hole.  There are very social and tactile animals, and you could see them nuzzling and nibbling each other.  

As the lion was obviously not going to do anything we moved on.  Coming along the road, we noticed some vehicles on the side of the road looking across the plain.  We quickly found what they were looking at, two Rhino, walking slowly away from us.  Apologies, for the photo quality, but they were distant, and there was the beginnings of a heat haze.

We stopped and watched them, as there were two, I realised they could only be White Rhino, and when they stopped and turned to face us you could see the wide mouth that is characteristic.

We headed off onto the loop that takes in 3 natural water holes along side the Etosha Pan, the drive took us close to the edge of the pan, and area of dry white dust that is mostly dry except after the heavy rains that come during the summer.  The pan floods from rivers in the north.  It is these rivers that also provide the underground rivers that feed the natural water holes we were now heading towards.  As you looked north though, it was just endless nothing.  The pan was yet to heat up, so there was no mirages yet.

While we were stopped looking across to the nothing, we noticed a small bird in the bush by the car.  It was another Dusky Sunbird, and it came quite close to us.

We passed the Sueda water hole, but there seemed not to be any water present, so we continued around to to Charitsaub, where there was only a few Springbok, but there was a lovely tree by the car area, and it should have had a leopard draped in it, but it didn't.

We moved on to Salvadora, where there was plenty, and it was attracting the game.  We passed many Zebra, and there was a large herd of Blue Wildebeest as well.

The water hole was  on the edge of the pan, and there was plenty of game taking the chance to drink, and play.

We could hear Zebra braying, it is a lovely noise, but it was difficult to find out where the calls were coming from, then we saw these two.

They were running around, and calling all the time.

At one point they ran into a Springbok, startled it, and it then shot off, springing away from the zebra.  Finally they settled down, and returned to their mothers for a quick suckle.

Zebra were now coming to the water hole from all sides of us, passing close to the truck as we sat and watched.  This allowed me to get some nice close up portraits of them.  There is something about these animals that inspires a more abstract approach.

We dragged ourself away from water hole, as we needed to move on.  As we drove along the road though we came across this Greater Kestrel by the side of the road.  It is also known as the White-eyed Kestrel, and despite the name, it is not sub species of our European kestrel.

  Leaving the Kestrel, w could see a shape on the horizon, and as we came closer it became quite clear that the shape belonged to an elephant, and a large bull at that.

We got ourselves into position by the side of the road, and watched as the elephant came closer.  I was waiting for it to go head on, and flare the ears out.  We had to wait awhile, but eventually it did.

We left the elephant, and headed to our next water hole which was Rietfontein, another natural hole.  As we pulled up we could see plenty of green reeds and rushes, and quite a bit of water.  As we looked south, to our left there were lines of zebra arriving, and with them a single Giraffe.  The Giraffe was approaching quite  nervously, but the zebra made their way straight down to the water to drink.

I was watching the giraffe, because I wanted to get a picture of its awkwardness as it came to drink, but it remained wary, and very soon it was even more concerned as a bull Elephant appeared from the bush directly in front of us.  It made its way gracefully to the water where it immediately filled it's trunk.

The giraffe continued to watch and wait, and as we continued to watch both the elephant and giraffe, Helen picked up a large eagle flying straight in front of us.  It was an African Fish Eagle, and as it came over the water hole all the Egyptian Geese and Red-billed Teal flew up.  It soared around for a short time.

Then suddenly it dropped low, and arrowed in one teal that obviously had not seen the danger.  Just in time it managed to take evasive action by diving under water, and the eagle just missed.

The Red-billed Teal lived to swim another day, the eagle settled on a tree stump in the middle of the water.

With all the excitement of the eagle attack, I did not see the giraffe finally decide to make its way to the water, but I was able to get the picture I wanted as it spread it's legs, and brought it's long neck down to drink.

The water hole looked quite impressive as we scanned around, and was easily the most interesting we had been at so far.  Little did we know what potential it actually had.

We wanted to see as much of the park as possible so we decided we should move on to Halai, where we could stop and possibly get some lunch.  As we left the Fish Eagle was sitting centre stage on the stump.

Back on the C38, we had to turn right to get to Halali, and as we approached the turn we came across a group of Giraffe by the side of the road.  We slowed down, and were treated to some lovely views as they watched us as well.

If you have ever wondered how a giraffe deals with an itch (well you might have) here is the answer.

 Eventually they walked away past, the bull being the last to walk off.  

The smoke you can see behind him was from a large fire that burned for all of the time we were in the park.  Huge clouds of smoke billowed up, and at times the haze created some quite weird light.  Looking at the map the fire was somewhere to the east of Halali, but there did not seem to be any activity around fighting the fire.

When we reached Halali, we took the opportunity to have a coffee, and a piece of cake!  The name Halali is of German origin, and originally meant that the quarry had been brought home, and that the hunt was over.  Today it symbolises that within the park the needless  killing of animals is over.

After lunch we continued east,and after a couple of visits to dry or empty water holes, we came across Goas another natural water hole, and as we pulled in we were greeted by the site of seven giraffe around the water.

It was possible to drive around the hole, which we did, stopping to see what was the best view.  A Kori Bustard walked away from us as we parked, but of more interest was a raptor sitting on the ground in the middle of the green.  I needed the chance to review the photograph to identify it, and the quality is not brilliant, but I feel looking at the markings on the chest, and the lack of a dark hood and head that this was an African Hawk Eagle.  I considered an immature Martial eagle but they do not have the detail of spots seen here.

We went on towards Springbokfontein, the scrub on either side of the road was quite thick, and it was lucky Helen managed to see our only Warthog in the park.  I had to back up to find it, but it obligingly stayed in place to let me get the picture

Further on there was a small herd of Red Hartebeest taking some shade from the afternoon sun by sitting under the trees.

A little further on they were still sitting, but this time in the open.

As we watched the Hartebeest a rock thrush appeared by the side of the truck, and then proceeded to give some lovely views.  It is a Short-toed Rock Thrush.

As we drove towards the water hole we could see more elephants on the horizon, and as we got closer we could see that they must be close to the hole, but when we reached the turn off the road was closed, so we were left with distant views across the plain.

There was about three hours left of daylight and we had to make our way back to the Anderson Gate.  This was to be the furthest east we reached so we turned around and started our way back.  We took the C38, and as we drove along we had views of the pan to the north, it was now warm enough for the famous Etosha mirages to be seen across the hot dusty pan.

.Although we were now heading  back, it didn't stop us stopping to look at anything of interest by the road side.  This bird raised the hope of a falcon, but turned out to be a Southern White Crowned Shrike.

While it was not a falcon, it is quite a smart looking bird.

Another photo opportunity was presented by a small herd of Red Hartebeest.  The horn shape is wonderful, and the long face with the black marking striking, so I took the opportunity to get a portrait.

About a third of the way along the  road there is an Etosha lookout.  This track takes you out on to the pan, where you get the opportunity to take in the vast openness of this amazing landscape.

After the look out we visited some of the water holes we had been too earlier, and other than a herd of "vegetables" there was very little about.  As we made our way from Okaukejo to the Anderson Gate, we did see a small herd of elephants that were walking through the short scrub by the side of the road.

We left the park and then headed back to the Epacha Lodge.  As we entered the lodge grounds and drove along the entrance road we came across a small family group of Warthogs that posed nicely in the late afternoon sunshine.

Back at the lodge we watched the sun go down by the bar with a cold beer, then it was back to the room, where we saw the sunset over the cabins.

A fantastic day, made all the better by being able to do it yourself.  For me this was the best safari, and we had another day tomorrow to enjoy

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