The first stop on our trans-Caprivi ‘family adventure’ would be eastern Etosha. When we were here last, in July, we had failed miserably to find any lions which was the only animal that our daughter was interested in seeing. This time we were determined to find them, or risk endless recriminations in the form of a sulking 5 year old. Driving northwards through Okahandja and Otjiwarongo we were struck by the dryness of the landscape. Emaciated warthogs lined the roadside, nibbling on any green shoots that dared poke their heads through the dust. As we drove further up the B1 towards Otavi, we thankfully saw more greenery in the hills, and fatter piggies, so the rains must have reached this area.
We were staying at Onguma Bush Camp, fairly recently upgraded with additional rooms overlooking the pool and waterhole. We were very pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of the lodge, although there are 19 rooms it’s got a very tranquil feel to it, and the food was fantastic – roast pork with a rosemary sauce for our first night followed by melt in the mouth kudu steak on our second night. We checked in and then took a quick drive through to the other lodges for a site inspection. Plains Camp (the Fort) is the most upmarket with a Moroccan feel, floaty curtains, little reading nooks with piles of cushions and silver lanterns. The rooms are equipped with everything you could need – mini-bar, tea and coffee, air con, hairdryer and safe, and they have fold down canvas fronts so that you can lie in bed and look out across the plains.
Tented Camp has just 7 rooms and has a very relaxed feel to it, still with plenty of comfort. Each large tent has an outside shower and an indoor bath, ideal for soaking off the Etosha dust. But my favourite had to be Treetops, a small and intimate camp with just 4 double treehouse rooms, each of which is open to a small deck outside. I loved the simplicity, and most of all the fact that you feel enclosed within the beautiful landscape rather than hidden away from it in an air conditioned, luxury suite. All of the camps have waterholes, and although there wasn’t much happening at ours because we had rain both nights, it was lovely to sit and watch the birds. There is often a lot of waterhole activity though, and the lodge staff told us that there had recently been lion and rhino at Plains Camp, so these lodges are excellent alternatives to the rest camps inside Etosha. They’re also located right on the border of the Park so the drive in only takes around 10 minutes through the reserve.
The following day we were in the park by 07h30, and keeping our eyes peeled for those lions. At the first waterhole we saw a loping spotted hyena, seeing us he ran full tilt into the bushes and disappeared. Vultures were clumsily perches atop nearby trees and a bit later we saw the skeleton of a young giraffe, picked clean over the past few days by the many predators, scavengers, and birds. Making our slow and winding way from Namutoni to Halali, we passed by the waterholes, pausing at each to peer into the bushes with our binoculars. The sky was grey and overcast, not great conditions for wildlife viewing, but we still saw small herds of the dainty and rare black faced Impala, Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Zebra and Wildebeest. Finally, on our way to Okerfontein, we saw him, the LION! Only one mind you, and lying asleep underneath a shady tree, but he was definitely a lion and a pretty magnificent and furry one at that. Our daughter Jasmine took out her Disney Princesses digital camera (the one with the really loud on/ off button) and started snapping away, enthralled while I made a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods of game spotting.
We stopped for lunch and a swim at Halali, the restaurant decor (orange walls, cane tables and cheap conference room chairs) left a lot to be desired, but the burgers and toasted sandwiches hit the spot. The big swimming pool was the perfect place to revitalise and wake up before starting our drive back to the Namutoni side of the Park. The sky darkened and the downpour started, but through the mist we caught sight of a mammoth white rhino in the bushes and slowed down. After watching her for a while, we noticed a tiny baby at her feet, only barely visible through the tall grass. Amazing! Judging by the size of her calf, she had given birth just a matter of days ago.