Etosha - The Fort
5am comes around so quickly, I wonder if I'll ever get to sleep in again, our wakeup call this time is for an early morning game drive in Etosha National Park. By 5:30 am we are ready for a pickup and the little golf cart is soon whisked us off to breakfast. Steve and Leslie will be joining us on the drive this morning, it’s their last day at the fort and they will be flying out later in the afternoon. Edward, the chef, gives us a big welcome and introduces us to the buffet table and offers eggs any style.
Fortified with coffee, croissant and a couple of eggs we are ready to head out to meet our guide Rector, who is waiting at the safari vehicle outside. This is our first safari drive after the wonderful experiences we shared with Anois and Johan at Ulusaba and we are wondering if it will meet or exceed our expectations.
I've been charging my camera battery during breakfast but as I put it in the camera I realise it hasn't been charging at all. Fortunately Steve also has Canon gear and, smart man that he is carries a spare charged battery (note to self, always carry a spare battery.) So along with Steve and Leslie we head out of Onguma toward the the park.
It’s a bit of a drive to get there, not like Ulusaba where you are in the midst of game within 5 minutes of leaving the lodge. First off we have to do the drive from the lodge to the highway and then into the park via the Von Lindequist gate, all in all approximately 23 km. At the first gate, where you sign in, the woman at the gate was yelling to someone on her phone and barely paying attention to who came or went, we finally managed to sign in and we headed to the reception area to pay for the park access.
Once that was done we headed out into the park. Now animal viewing in Etosha is quite different from Ulusaba. At Ulusaba we spent quite a bit of time off road, tracking animals through the bush, in Etosha it’s all viewing from the road and the park consists of a series of waterholes where the animals gather.
We head out and there are a number of other vehicles on the road, both private and lodge. I guess this is the first big difference, in Ulusaba the number of vehicles you can have out at any given time is based on the size of the property you own, where in Etosha there is no limit and it’s dependent upon the number of people on the road.
The first animal we see is a lion and then all hell breaks loose, it’s like peak hour on Parramatta road, there’s cars and safari vehicles, people leaning left and right trying to get a picture, cars reversing into each other and this poor stressed lion trying to cross the road.
It’s so different from Ulusaba where the guides had so much respect for the animals they would only approach them very slowly one vehicle at a time, here it’s every man for themselves.
We told Rector that we didn't want to be a part of the mayhem, but he either wasn't listening or didn't understand us as he continued to pursue the lion. Eventually the lion headed off into the bush and the vehicles extracted themselves from the melee.
After this we weren't sure what to expect but off we went further into the park in search of a waterhole. The Etosha landscape is quite different from Ulusaba and the flat salt plain extends as far as the eye can see. In Ulusaba you have lots of hills and scrub, but out here it’s just an apparent endless plain of silvery-white sand. The thing that makes Etosha so special is the concentration of waterholes that occur around the southern edges of the saltpan. As the dry season progresses, these waterholes increasingly draw the game. So one of the best ways to watch animals in Etosha is to just park your vehicle by a waterhole and sit and watch.
Along the way to the waterhole we spotted a number of animals including lots of Giraffes ...
... a Dik Dik, it’s a small antelope that stand approximately 30 – 40 cm and named after the alarm call of the female...
... and a Black Backed Jackal, even though they are the lightest of all Jackals they are the most aggressive and known to to singly kill animals many times its own size.
We reached our first waterhole and it was quite an experience as there were a herd of Zebras, the ubiquitous Springbok and lots of birds. It was quite a different experience watching them all interact as the game watching we did in Ulusaba tended to be very single species oriented. The Zebra’s were funny as they angled each other for a spot at the waterhole.
Then it was on to the next waterhole, once again we spotted some more animals, this time a Monteiro’s Hornbill ...
... and in a pack of Zebras there was one who had only just recently survived a kill attempt probably by a lion or leopard and had taken some severe gashes to its hind quarters, as we watched him he moved off and seemed quite steady on his legs so hopefully he will recover from the injuries.
Arriving at the next waterhole there was a large group of Springbok under a tree looking toward the hole, coming in from near where we were parked was a large flock of Helmeted Guineafowl.
Looking in the same direction as the Springbok we could see a Leopard under a tree staring toward the Springbok.
As the Guineafowl approached the waterhole the Leopard raised up and started walking slowly toward the waterhole and the Springbok. The Springbok looked nervous and the Guineafowl all started screeching!
Just as it looked like the Springbok and Guineafowl were going to take off to get away from the Leopard the Leopard looked to his left and paused. Not far from the waterhole and heading toward it was an Elephant. Seeing this much larger animal approach, the Leopard turned and quickly moved away as the Elephant moved forward.
As the Elephant approached the waterhole you could see the obvious lessening of tension within the Springbok group and thank heavens the Guineafowl shut up. The Elephant seemed quite old and it’s tusks had been well worn by digging in the hard ground of the Etosha environment.
So game viewing in Etosha turned out to be quite different to that of Ulusaba, but the difference was great, here we saw large groups of animals interact with each other creating a unique viewing experience that when combined with what we saw on our Ulusaba drives gave us the best of both worlds.
By this time it was pretty hot, around 40 C, and we were happy to be heading back to the Fort. We decided not to do any more game drives that evening as we would be driving the length of Etosha the next day on our way to Ongava.
Back at the Fort it was still quiet, Steve and Leslie had to pack for their flight out that afternoon, so we really had the place to ourselves. I grabbed my swimmers, got a Windhoek Lager from the bar and went to relax by the pool. The pool was refreshingly cold and you could swim to the edge and look out over the waterhole in front of the main lodge, there was also a shallow wading pool with chairs and a table in that you could sit in a splash your feet around.
I’d been talking to Erasmus earlier and he'd mentioned that he did card tricks, so while I was sitting in the wading pool he came up and proceeded to do a couple of tricks. He asked me to cut a deck, pick a card and replace it, then he shuffled the deck and proceeded to flip through the cards until the announced, “this is your card” and damn it it was! I was watching closely but had no idea how he did it.
After another magnificent lunch we did some exploring around the main lodge, I shot some 360 Panoramas while Kelly went around shooting pictures of the architectural details and the artefacts they had dressed it in. David was quite interested in what I was doing and I explained to him how the process worked.
Unfortunately David was clocking off work in the afternoon and he had a couple of days off. This meant that he would be over in the staff quarters opposite the main building trying to get some well earned sleep. I asked him if he had airconditioning over there and he told me no they only had some small electric fans. Don’t know how well I'd survive in the intense heat especially as the Fort had lost all power for a while and without the air conditioning running the old lodge #11 started to heat up quickly.
Before we knew it it was time to head back to Lodge 11, shower and get ready for dinner.
At dinner we were greeted by David’s erstwhile replacement Henni and true to form Henni was as entertaining as David with lots of dry wit to keep us laughing through the meal. This time we had dinner on the main deck overlooking the waterhole but both of us were exhausted by the early drive and the heat of the day. By the time we got back to the room Kelly just hit the bed and crashed out, I survived for about an hour sorting out some of the pictures we had taken in the past few days.