Ongava and Etosha

Saturday, Aug 29th
Today was another transfer day. We left the beautiful Kulala Adventurer Camp after breakfast and drove to the nearby airstrip for our flight to Ongava. We had in fact three flights ahead of us, all of them about one hour long and all of them in the tiny 5 seater Cessna 210s. The first leg was by far the most stunning, a scenic flight over the Namib desert. We flew right over the dunes we saw yesterday, including Big Daddy, and then across the desert towards the coast. We had amazing views of the coastline where the Namib desert meets the ocean. It is one of the most surreal landscapes you will ever see - the completely dry desert with not a sign of vegetation, being pounded by the huge waves of the Southern Atlantic ocean. From here we flew north along the coast and over the huge salt flats near Walvis Bay.

We landed in Swakopmund, which is a small coastal town of less then fifty thousand people (which in Namibia is enough to make it the fourth largest city in the country). We only saw Swakopmund from above, since we spent less than half an hour at the little airport to refuel before heading off again for our next leg to Doro Nawas. We changed planes in Doro Nawas for the last leg to Ongava. (As always our pilots where very good, but today they all looked like they were about 16 years old. Fortunately I was able to stop Lara from asking them if their mum drove them to the airport.)

We finally landed at our destination, the Ongava Game Reserve, in the early afternoon. Our home for the next three nights was going to be Ongava Tented Camp, which again was an incredibly beautiful and luxurious camp with large comfortable cabins. There is a water hole and salt lick right in front of the main deck, which attracts animals all day and night. We saw a large herd of waterbucks near our cabin right when we arrived. And the whole camp was swarming with rock hyraxes.

Waterbucks, one of the more common antelopes in Ongava.

After settling in, and getting the safety briefing from the camp manager, we went on a short evening game drive, where we saw a couple of elephants, several wildebeests, red hartebeests and a tiny little antelope, called a steenbok. We watched a couple of giraffes in the distance while having sundowner drinks on the hood of the car and enjoying another one of those stunning African sunsets. Difficult to imagine how we could feel more spoiled.


Red Hartebeests

Saturday, Aug 30th
Jeremia wanted us to get up very early again, since he thought our chances of seeing rhinos would be better the earlier we went out. So we left on our morning game drive before 6 am, and Jeremia was right on again. It was only thirty minutes into it our drive, and we nearly missed them, but out of the corner of my eyes I saw these large moving grey bodies in the bushes right next to us. Our first rhinos. They were two juvenile males and two females. At first we were only able to glimpse their outlines through the bushes. Even though they are enormous, they are actually quite hard to see as they blend in really well into their surroundings here. We kept following them for about an hour, and ended up getting very close to them. And they did not seem bothered by our presence at all, and we got amazing shots and a short video of these huge and magnificent animals:

After this amazing rhino encounter, we continued our game drive for another couple of hours, seeing several kudus, giraffes and impalas.

This is a Kudu, the antelope with the most elegant corkscrew antlers.
An Impala
Trying on some Oryx antlers for size.
As in all the other camps, every time we came back to camp, there was someone waiting with cold towels and drinks at the car park for us. It is the definitely the luxury way of doing safaris. We had a couple of hours before lunch to relax. While sitting on the porch we watched a whole parade of different animals at the water hole. We saw mountain zebras, kudus, waterbucks, impalas, an eland, springboks and lots of guinea fowl.

An Eland, the largest antelope species in Africa. Adult males can weigh up to 900kg.
Guinea fowls. They were everywhere here.

After the heat of the midday sun had died down a bit, we left again in the late afternoon for another game drive. Having already seen these four rhinos on our morning drive, we did not have high expectations and we would have been perfectly happy just seeing a few zebras and these two warthogs:

After searching for about an hour, and after seeing several lion tracks across the road, we suddenly saw a lone female lion walking on the road just ahead of us. We followed her for about ten minutes, when Jeremia said he didn't think she was alone, because she kept making sounds that suggested she was calling for other lions. And indeed a few minutes later we saw another female lying by the side of the road, and clearly waiting for the one we had followed.

But what we saw next exceeded even our wildest expectations. Just when the two lionesses met, Jeremia shouted 'look left on the other side of the road', and I just managed to turn on my video camera, when this happened:

They were seven little lion cups, all about 6 to 9 month old. And they were clearly very excited to meet up with their mum again. After this amazing greeting scene they turned in towards the bushes, but Jeremia again perfectly estimated where they would come out again. We drove around and were waiting on the road right where they emerged from the brush again. They came within a couple of meters of our car. The little ones were clearly tired and some of them had to lie down and rest right next to us.

We had one more bit of excitement at the end of the day, when after dinner another rhino with her calf came to the camp's watering hole:

Monday, Aug 31st
Today we drove into Etosha National Park, located just north of Ongava game reserve. Whereas Ongava is a medium size private game reserve covering 68,000 acres (about 275 square kilometers), Etosha is a huge National Park and Namibia's main animal and wilderness conservation area. Etosha National Park was established under German colonial rule in 1907. It covers an area of almost 23,000 square kilometers (which is only slightly smaller than Belgium). It is largely flat and contains the Etosha salt pan, which is a huge ancient dry lakebed. The park is home to more than a hundred species of mammals, and several hundred species of birds and reptiles. The whole area is fenced in and there are 4 main gates, where tourists can enter.

The drive into the park took less than an hour, and soon after entering we saw groups of zebras and giraffes (or to be linguistically accurate: we saw a dazzle of zebras and journey of giraffes). A little further on, we came across a large breeding herd of elephants. There were about 25 of them with lots of little babies and they crossed the road right in front of us.

From the direction they were going, Jeremia thought he knew that they were heading towards one of the waterholes, and he predicted it would take them about two hours to get there. So we had a quick pitstop at the Okaukuejo rest area, and then drove to the waterhole in order to be ready and perfectly positioned for the elephants to arrive. We spent about an hour watching the various other animals at the waterhole come and go, lots of springboks, oryxes, ostriches, wildebeests and a lonely jackal.

And just when Jeremia had predicted, we saw this huge grey mass in the distance moving slowly towards us. The other animals were sensing it as well and start moving away. The funny thing was that all the elephants suddenly sped up and started to run when they got within a couple of hundred meters of the waterhole, and once they got there they were all like little children playing and romping in the muddy water. It was an amazing sight.

We stayed for more than an hour watching them drink and play and get really dirty from the muddy water. After the water several of them also took a "sand bath" and sprayed themselves with sand. One of the slightly older babies kept chasing the springboks away. The group consisted of lots of babies several females and a few young males. After hey had been there for about an hour, we saw two very large bulls arrive from a different direction. Some of the babies and females greeted them, but then all the other elephants moved aside and left the whole watering hole to the two bulls. They were massive and they moved very slowly, apparently taking little mini naps every couple of minutes. Some of the younger males clearly wanted to hang out with the big bulls, but the entire rest of the group stayed well in the background.

While waiting for the elephants we also learned that in addition to the famous Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo - to my surprise I found out that giraffes are not part of the big five), there are also the Small Five (Ant Lion, Elephant Shrew, Buffalo Weaver, Rhinoceros Beetle and Leopard Tortoise) and the Ugly Five (Vulture, Warthog, Wildebeest, Hyena and the Maribu Stork).

Tuesday, Sept 1st
Since our flight wasn't scheduled until noon, we had some time in the morning for a nature walk, which is not something you can do by yourself around here, you have to be accompanied by someone with a gun. The guide walking with us was named was Adolf, which apparently is not an uncommon name in Namibia, but to us it did seem a bit unusual to meet a black man named Adolf. It was quite exiting to go on a walk around here, knowing that there could be a lion, leopard or rhino behind every bush. But we did not encounter any dangerous animals, we just watched a few wildebeests and red hartebeests and we woke up a warthog, that bolted out of his borrow.


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