The northern region of Namibia is centered around the vast expanse of the Etosha National Park, which is one of Namibia’s most popular tourist attractions. The Park is one of the the largest game parks in Africa with 114 species of mammals and over 330 species of birds stretching over an expanse of approximately 23,000 square kilometers. The north of Namibia is big 5 country: Not only in the Park, but also throughout the entire northern region, many species such as rhino, buffalo, leopard, lion, antelope and giraffe can be observed either on foot or with game viewing vehicles. This activity is particularly popular around the Waterberg Plateau Park, southeast of Otjiwarongo.
Visit the 60 ton Hoba Meteorite, the largest of its kind world-wide, just a stone’s throw from Grootfontein. Lake Otjikoto and Lake Guinas are Namibia’s two bottomless lakes, steeped in legend and folklore, situated just outside Tsumeb.
The further north one travels, the greener the countryside. The most spectacular sunsets and palm lined horizons can be found in this region. Near the Angolan border, Namibia is most densely populated, mainly by the Owambo people. In fact, approximately 80% of the Namibian population live in the north of the country. The northern people are born traders and offer their goods in cuca shops, stalls along the side of the road, or in shopping complexes.
It is seeing animals against the unique backdrop of the Etosha Pan – a vast expanse of desiccated white clay characterised by distant mirages and spiralling dust devils- that makes the game-viewing experience in the world-renowned Etosha National Park different to any other. In September 2007 the park celebrated its first hundred years of existence, the centennial celebrations taking place at the Namutoni Resort in the eastern section of the park.
The park was originally proclaimed as a conservation area in 1907 by German Governor Frederich von Lindequist. This entailed the region south, west and north-west of the pan and Governor von Lindequist named it Game Reserve No 2. (Game Reserve Nos 1 and 3 were established to the north-east and the Namib Desert respectively.) With subsequent additions Etosha became the largest game reserve in the world, extending over a vast area of approximately 80 000 square kilometres westwards across Kaokoland to the Skeleton Coast. However, for political considerations, it was progressively diminished in size until 1975 when it was reduced by 77 per cent to its present surface area of 22 912 square kilometres.
The definitive feature of the park is the Etosha Pan, an immense, shallow depression of almost 5 000 square kilometres of dry, white cracked mud, its flat surface broken only by shimmering mirages and the occasional animal wending its way across the empty wastes. It is this typical appearance that gave rise to the name in the local vernacular as ‘the great white place of dry water’. In the rainy season, fed by the Cuvelai system that has its origins in the highlands of Angola, floodwaters drain across Owambo. The pan fills with water and becomes an important breeding ground for migrant flamingos.
Consisting of saline desert, savannah and woodlands, Etosha’s vegetation varies from dwarf shrub savannah and grasslands to thorn-bush and woodland savannah. Mopane, Colophospermum mopane, is the dominant tree species and is found in eighty per cent of the park. West of Okaukuejo a large stand of African moringa, Moringa ovalifolia, referred to as Sprokieswoud, Fairy or Phantom Forest, is the only location in Namibia where this interesting tree grows in a flat area.
A total of 114 species of mammals are found in the park, including the rare and endangered black rhino, cheetah and black-faced impala. Large mammals include giraffe, elephant, blue wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, hyaena, leopard and lion. The diminutive Damara dik-dik is the smallest antelope species and the largest is the stately eland, with kudu and gemsbok in between. Smaller mammals are bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, warthog, honey badger and the endearing ground squirrel. A large number of birds occur in Etosha – about 340 – from ostrich, kori bustard and flamingos to vultures, owls, nightjars, bee-eaters and several species of waders.
In the dry season the best places to see the game is at the thirty odd waterholes, which provide outstanding gameviewing and photographic opportunities. During the rainy season when there is plenty of groundwater the animals are distributed throughout the park. The best policy is to enquire from camp staff, before setting out, what the current game movements are.
Etosha can be entered through three points: the Andersson Gate in the central southern section, the Von Lindequist Gate in the east, and the King Nehale Gate from the northcentral Owambo regions. The park has three well-laid out and equipped tourism resorts: Okaukuejo in the centre of the park, Namutoni in the east and Halali halfway between the two, all three with luxury bungalows, well-equipped camping areas, information centres, restaurants, shops and museums.
Visitors can tour the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Education Centre and learn about the cheetah’s history at the Cheetah Museum. The tour also includes the opportunity to observe resident cheetahs dine [Monday-Friday at 2 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday at 12 noon).
Or, visitors can take a three-hour safari drive through CCF’s Bellebenno Game Camp [pre-booking required), or a drive through the Elandsvreugde cheetah pen closer to CCF’s Visitor Centre [one hour, no advance notice required).
Visitors can also learn more about cheetahs and CCF by pre-booking these special experiences:
Cheetan Run – Witness cheetahs live up to their reputation for speed as the world’s fastest land mammal. CCF’s resident cheetahs are exercised daily by staff, providing a wonderful opportunity for photography and video recording.
Little Serengeti – View scores of birds and game animals at the base of the Waterberg Plateau, an area referred to as CCF’s “Little Serengeti.” This is one of the largest open areas in north-central Namibia and the ideal place to enjoy a sundowner while learning mroe about the cheetah’s natural environment.
Cheetah Exclusive – Spend an entire day on a private, guided tour with one of CCF”s senior staff members and learn about CCF’s research, education and conservation programmes in the field. This tour includes a selection of any of the other activities offered and promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.