The jewel in Namibia's crown
The internationally renowned Etosha National Park – undoubtedly Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction – is the heart of the north-central region. The park serves as the ultimate stopover before heading for the arid northwest, the water-rich northeast, or the largely unexplored culturally rich Land of the Owambo People. Due to the constant maintenance of the infrastructure – including the completion of the tarred road between Rundu in the Kavango Region and Elundu in Ohangwena – the region is easy to navigate and allows travellers a glimpse of rural roadside life. Slowly opening up to tourism, the northernmost region of Namibia plays host to our largest population group, the Aawambo.
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast, shallow chalky white depression of approximately 5 000 km2 that forms the heart of the park. Once a large inland lake fed by the early Kunene River and rivers from the north, it began drying up about 3 million years ago when the Kunene was diverted to the Indian Ocean. A series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan guarantee rewarding and often spectacular game viewing. In good rain years the pan fills with water draining southwards from Angola via a delta-like system of shallow rivers and oshanas, drying out in the winter to become an austere expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and upwardspiralling dust devils.
What we call Etosha today was proclaimed as Game Reserve No 2 in 1907 by the then German Governor Friedrich von Lindequist. With subsequent additions it became the largest game reserve in the world, covering a vast area of ±80 000 km2. For political considerations its size was progressively diminished, until by 1975 it had been reduced by 77 per cent to its present surface area of 22 912 km2. Nevertheless, it is still one of the largest game reserves in Africa.
Of the 114 mammals species found in the park, several are rare and endangered, such as black rhino and cheetah, and the lesser-known black-faced impala, which is endemic to northwestern Namibia and southwestern Angola. Etosha’s current population of black rhino represents one of the largest populations of black rhino in the world.
Other large mammals in the park include elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, hyaena and lion. Cheetah and leopard complete the trio of ‘big cats’. Antelope species range from kudu, gemsbok and the large and stately eland, to the diminutive Damara dik-dik. Smaller mammals include jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and the ubiquitous ground squirrel. For the greater part of the year (the dry season) Etosha’s animals and birds are dependent on about 30 springs and waterholes. These provide excellent game viewing and photographic opportunities. A good policy before setting out is to enquirefrom camp officials what the current game movements are. During the rainy season, the bird life at the main pan and Fischer’s Pan is well worth viewing. Etosha’s vegetation varies from dwarf shrub savannah and grasslands, which occur around the pan, to thorn-bush and woodland savannah throughout the park. Eighty per cent of all of Etosha’s trees are mopane. West of Okaukuejo is the well-known Sprokieswoud – Fairy, Phantom or Haunted Forest – the only place where the African moringa tree, Moringa ovalifolia, grows in such a large concentration on a flat area. Etosha is open throughout the year and is accessible by tarred roads via the Andersson Gate on the C38 from Outjo, the Von Lindequist Gate in the east from Tsumeb on the B1, the Galton Gate in the west from Kowares on the C35 and the King Nehale Gate located on the Andoni plains just north of the Andoni waterhole, which provides access from the north-central Owambo regions on the B1 from Omuthiya.
Birding in Etosha
About 340 bird species occur in Etosha, about one third being migratory, including the European Bee-eater and several species of wader. Larger birds include Ostrich, Kori bustard and Greater and Lesser Flamingo, of which tens of thousands congregate on the pan to breed during a good rainy season. Ten
of Etosha’s 35 raptor species are migratory. Those most commonly seen are Lappet-faced, White-backed and Hooded Vultures, while sightings of the Cape, Egyptian and Palm-nut Vultures have been recorded. There are eight species of owl, including the Pearl-spotted Owlet and Southern White-faced Scops-owl, and four species of nightjar.
Etosha National Park is home to Namibia’s small and isolated Blue Crane population.
OTJIKOTO AND GUINAS LAKES
Lake Otjikoto, located 24 km northwest of Tsumeb in the Oshikoto Region, was used as a unique underwater dumping site in 1915 when retreating German forces disposed of their military equipment into it during the South West Africa Campaign. South African divers of the Ministry of Works recovered armaments in January 1916 while several more pieces of armaments were brought to the surface during subsequent diving expeditions. What’s left of these interesting relics can be inspected by qualified divers. Today the majority of the armaments are on display in the Tsumeb Museum.
The 130 metre-deep Lake Guinas, which lies northwest of Otjikoto, is noted for its beautiful setting and the dark inky-blue colour of its water. However, since it is on a farm, permission to view it needs to be obtained from the farmer.
Visitors to Namibia who are qualified divers are welcome to join club members on a journey of underwater exploration to view these two interesting curiosities.
A rare, mouth-breeding species of tilapia or dwarf bream is found in both of these subterranean lakes.
THE TRADITIONAL LAND OF THE AAWAMBO
A large percentage of Namibia’s inhabitants live in the Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions between Etosha National Park and Namibia’s northern border with Angola. After the capital, this region has the largest urban concentration of people in the country.
The major portion of these four regions, which have a total surface area of just over 56 100 km2, consists of communal farming land – that is land where there is no individual ownership or demarcation and where the majority of the inhabitants live from subsistence farming.
Life on the vast plains of these essentially agricultural regions depends on the seasonal efundja, the floods that feed the rivers and iishana. The latter are flat, shallow depressions, many of which light up with copious growths of white lilies soon after they have filled with water in the rainy season. The highlands of Angola are the origin of these waters. After a long journey southwards, the Cuvelai River disperses its contents into many channels, covering the sandy flats of southern Angola and spreading into northern Namibia to form a large expansive delta of rivulets and oshanas. These, in turn, provide drinking water for humans and animals, protein in the form of fish and a habitat that supports large numbers of aquatic birds.
The essentially flat landscape is characterised by huge expansive spreading marula trees and sporadic stands of the tall makalani palm, Hyphaene petersiana. Sap is tapped from the growing tip of the stems of these palms and left to ferment into
a potent drink called palm wine. The fruit of the makalani palm takes two years to mature, and has a white, bony kernel. Referred to as vegetable ivory, the hard kernel is suitable for carving small ornaments, jewellery and curios.
The best time of the year to visit these regions is from April to August, after the rains. By this time the roads are suitable for driving on, the heat of the summer has abated, and the wetlands still host many water birds, such as cranes, storks, ducks, herons and small waders.
GATEWAYS TO ETOSHA
Located amidst a cluster of low hills
is the town of Outjo, an important cattle-ranching centre and regarded as Etosha’s gateway to the south. Situated on the C38, Outjo is about 100 km from the Andersson Gate. The history of the town and surroundings is depicted in the Outjo Museum, where the focus is on gemstones and wildlife. The museum is housed in Franke House, built in 1899 for the German commanding officer, Hauptmann Franke. The Naulila Monument was erected in 1933 to commemorate the 12 Germam soldiers who lost their lives in the attack on the Portuguese military post at Naulila in southern Angola on 18 December 1914. The attack was launched in retaliation for the death of the District Commissioner of Outjo, two militaryofficers and an ‘African police servant’ in an incident that took place Naulila earlier. Also of interest is the Water Tower, built in 1900 to provide fresh water for the German soldiers, their horses and the hospital. Outjo Bakkery, a good place to stop for refreshments, offers tasty freshly baked German delicatessens, while The Farmhouse, which is open from breakfast to dinner has a shaded beer garden. The regional tourist information centre, Etoscha i Büro, is situated in Hage Geingob Street. Besides providing information on the town and surroundings, it also sells a large variety of local gemstones.
Nestled in the mountains and plains, Ongava Game Reserve provides visitors with the ultimate in accommodation, offering comfort, luxury and a connection to the earth. Each lodge on Ongava has its own unique style, layout and atmosphere; but all offer the same wonderful sense of luxurious seclusion. Built from local materials in traditional fashion, they blend tastefully into the surrounding landscape, allowing visitors to feel at one with nature.
Safarihoek Lodge In the middle of northern Namibia’s arid, captivating savannah, bordering the world-famous Etosha National Park, is Safarihoek Lodge. Perched on top of a hill, overlooking the plains below, Safarihoek is a stylish retreat, and you’ll find cool, thatched chalets all with private decks, a double-storey photography hide, and a swimming pool with 180-degree