Rare black rhinos roam freely in national park
photos by ute von ludwiger/ap
Two prides of lions stretch in the midday sun, casting an occasional lazy glance at crowds of zebras, impalas and giraffes waiting anxiously for a turn to quench their thirst at the water hole.
Nearby, plume-puffing ostriches stand in the shadow of mud-caked elephants in the afternoon heat punctuated only by whirlwinds of dust. In the distance, herds of wildebeest and gemsbok emerge on the vast salt plain.
Typical scenes on an average day in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, which is home to rare black rhinos and the world’s largest population of cheetahs and where a single photo frame captures multiple species of wildlife, shaming its more famous neighbour — South Africa’s Kruger Park.
In late September, the dry season — when the landscape takes on almost ghostly qualities — comes to an end. It’s the best time for instant, quick-fix game viewing — in contrast to the hours sometimes spent in the Kruger. Although visits are possible year-round, it can get uncomfortably hot between November and February.
Etosha is deservedly the highlight of a visit to Namibia, a country dominated by the Namib and Kalahari deserts and roughly the size of France and Germany combined.
Nearly 850,000 tourists visited Namibia in 2006, according to official statistics, a rise of seven per cent on 2005. Small fry compared to the numbers who flock to Paris or Rome, but in a country with a population of less than two million, this translates into big bucks.
A recent study carried out for the government estimated tourism accounts for 18 per cent of gross domestic product and in the next 10 years will be the largest single contributor to the economy.
Namibia remains wonderfully unspoiled, an “insider’s secret,” tempered by increasing accessibility through regular nonstop flights from Frankfurt and London, as well as daily connections with South Africa. Cars are few and far between on its fantastic, tabletop roads — one of the happier results of brutal German colonial influence and apartheid-era South African control, which ended with independence in 1990.
It’s clean, safe and the food is simple but tasty, with game a staple on many menus.
There is a high quality, though fairly limited, choice in guest houses, farms, hotels and posh safari lodges — as well as camping for the budget-conscious.
Accommodations in Etosha were upgraded ahead of the park’s centenary celebrations in September; even so, they’re cheaper than the privately run lodges around the park and offer unrivalled nighttime game viewing around the water holes in the camps. Bed and breakfast in a double room at a waterhole chalet in Okaukuejo, near the western entrance to the park, is $104 US per person.
It’s easy to travel independently, but it’s often cheaper and easier to go with an organized tour as their all-terrain vehicles are equipped for long desert drives. Budget camping tours, with equipment included, cost as little as $100 per day while 10-day luxury safari packages can be up to $10,000.
at the park