We're here, so why not? Etosha Game Reserve in the north of Namibia is one of world's most famous natural reserves. Its enormous pan and surrounding arid lands are home to thousands of animals and some of the most startling photographic opportunities to be had. Although we are in Namibia to recce for next year's landscape workshop, it seemed silly not to take a look at Etosha. So, although the reserve won't be included in the 2014 workshop, it is an option for photographers to continue to after the workshop (which can be organised through Tailor Made Safaris as an addition to the workshop).
The flatness is what strikes you most as you enter the reserve. We made our way through Anderson Gate to Okaukuejo where we spent our first night. Driving out to the pan you are met by the sight of a limitless horizon, where the end is impossible to see and only ever hinted at by the shimmering heat haze in the far distance. Through this nebulous horizon the ghost of gemsbok and giraffe seem to float above the surface of the pan. There is little wonder that Etosha means 'the Great White Place'. It is only once you visit the park that you ever really appreciate the name.
Our second morning of sightings was fantastic. We came close to Elephant, coated in white dust, and followed a small pride of Lion for a while. Jackals seemed to be everywhere and we were never far from the herd of stately looking Gemsbok (Oryx) with their impossibly tall horns and regal markings. Springbok were also in abundance on the plains surrounding the pan, to the point that we became quite immune to their presence. Hyena, Kori Bustards, Rhino and Zebra all fill the park.
The drive from Okaukuejo to Halali Camp, some 70 kilometers along the south of the pan, was also extraordinarily productive in terms of game viewing. We were treated to the sight of hundreds of Springbok scattering from a waterhole as a large pride of Lion (nine cubs in three litters) sauntered across the baking soil to drink. Despite numerous vehicles being at the sighting, there was none of the jostle and irritation amongst drivers that can sometimes be found in the Kruger, South Africa's counterpart to Etosha.
For us the highlight was the waterhole at Halali. There seems to be a nightly show where one or two herds of Elephant move silently through the Mopane Forest and suddenly emerge at the waterhole, the youngsters breaking into an excited canter as they near the water. The Elephant mill about the waterhole for long hours into the night, allowing black Rhino to join them, while chasing away the local pack of spotted Hyena (it happened two nights in a row, almost like clock-work). All the while the clouds grew and stormed overhead, so that as we set out for our next destination, a thick ceiling of clouds covered the landscape, descending down upon us in curtains of blue rain. The wet season is starting. Within weeks the landscape around Etosha is likely to transform. It was hard to pull ourselves away from this incredible park and the transformation that is about to happen.
To do Etosha justice, one needs to stay there for considerably longer than the three nights we did. If anything you should really devote a week if not nine days to exploring the park, splitting the time equally between the three main campsites - Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni (all three have incredible waterholes which means you don't even need to go on a game drive). Self-drive is the preferred way to explore the reserve, and you don't need a four wheel drive to do so either (as an add-on from the Landscape Workshop, photographers can continue with the same 4x4s that we will be using for the workshop itself which will be arranged from Windhoek).
With heavy hearts to leave this incredible pan, we set out to our final destination, possibly the Jewel in the crown of our trip: Sossusvlei, some 800 kilometers south. A long trek across half of the country seemingly, but one which would go by rapidly as the landscape once more changes from Kalahari bushveld to the rolling sands of the Namib desert.
Nick is also sharing his images on www.facebook.com/tailormadesafaris. The full itinerary for next year's workshop will be posted shortly after our return to South Africa. All bookings can be made through www.tailormadesafaris.com.
Read the last installment of the Namibia Recce at this page:
Dead Vlei Finale - Part 4 of the Namibia Landscape...
To see the part 3 of the journey, go to this link:
The Fiery Monolith - Part 3 of the Namibia Workshop Recce