Where did that Rhino come from?

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Etosha National Park

Flag of Namibia  ,
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The next day we were off to Etosha national park in the truck.

           The weather had been getting gradually colder over the last few days especially as we drove further south, and that morning was no exception. The sun shone very brightly in the cloudless sky but the temperature was pretty low, and when we were driving with the sides of the truck open the added wind-chill made it even colder. So as we entered the park gates most of the 24 passengers in the back were kneeling on our seats facing out the open sides fully zipped up in sleeping bags (complete with hoods!)

            We didn't have to drive long before we saw a giraffe skulking on the side of the road. We stopped to watch it for a while and take pictures as it stared at us very confused at what must have been a very strange sight- a big yellow truck full of people wrapped up like Egyptian mummies with sunglasses on!

            As we drove deeper into the park the trees flanking either side of the road thinned out and the view behind them was remarkable. Unblemished savannah all the way up to the horizon, dotted with zebra, giraffe, wildebeests, and countless antelope and gazelles. We continued our drive towards the center of the park for many hours spotting animals along the way stopping for lunch on the edge of a massive salt flat. By now the sun had warmed up considerably so we parked in a fenced off designated picnic area and all thawed out with some delicious rice salad and bread rolls from the truck.

            It was Elwin, (a Dutch guy on the truck)’s 19th birthday that day, so earlier myself and another one of the girls had bought him a few toys from a supermarket we had stopped at just before heading to Etosha. We had wrapped them in the free newspaper advertising supermarket specials given out at the till, something that had become a bit of a tradition after a few other birthdays on the truck. After a chorus of Happy Birthday he opened his presents and enjoyed a fun half hour blowing bubbles with oversized sunglasses on. The bubbles proved quite a hit with everyone clambering to take turns with them, in fact our tour leader had to stop the frivolities after a while and point out that we were in a very expensive national park and that we should probably get back on the truck for some game viewing!

            That afternoon however we drove for a long time without seeing any new animals. We did have a very good stop at the salt flats, which was a strange experience. We disembarked the truck despite being within the park, confident that we’d see any dangerous wildlife with enough time to runaway should we be approached. The area where we stopped looked like the surface of the moon and stretched all the way to the horizon in every direction!

After the salt flats we continued our game drive seeing many more zebras and giraffe along the way but we were all eager to see some big cats! However, the sun was getting low and we began to lose hope as we neared our campsite in the middle of the park. But just then, we saw a land rover parked on the side of the rode, in true safari style we pulled up next to it to see what we were missing even though we couldn’t see anything at that point. After a quick scan of the bush, which was now glowing a deep burnt orange from the low sun, we saw two female lions with their backs to the road staring at a large herd of zebra. This triggered a mass silent scramble up to the front of the truck where the roof was open. From this position we were about 12 feet above ground level and had a fantastic 360 degree view which enabled us to spot 2 other females on the other side of the road and another one crouched low in the grass which would have been impossible to see otherwise.

            We all watched the lionesses pacing back and forth holding our breath, as they were clearly a hunting party sizing up dinner from the herd of zebra. However after about 15 minutes the sun was dropping rapidly and we knew we had to be in the campsite gates before they were locked at dark. Valiantly, our driver hung around for another five minutes or so before admitting defeat and having to floor it to make it to the gates on time.

            We were all really pleased to have seen the lions so close, but also a little disappointed about missing a potential kill. Nevertheless, any trace of low spirits didn’t last long as we pulled into the gates of the campsite (just in time) where we were greeted by 5 star luxuries all around us! There was a massive posh restaurant with a big illuminated pool beside it. The shower and toilet blocks were bright, clean and had HOT WATER!! After a few days bush camping to say these facilities were greatly appreciated would be an understatement. With 10 minutes of the truck being parked, kitchen and tents being set up all of the boys (including our tour leader and driver) were in the bar and all of the girls were in the hot showers. A few hours later we were all clean, fed and watered and feeling much better about the world. Dinner was a dubious sounding "spaghetti pie" created by one our more adventurous cook groups which actually turned out to be quite nice, followed by more birthday presents for Elwin (some chocolates and a copy of FHM!) After dinner we walked down to a floodlit waterhole on our campsite, the rocks surrounding it were still warm from the day’s sun and we settled in silently to watch.

            Watching an empty waterhole might sound quite dull but it was amazing how mesmerizing it was, just sitting listening to the sound of the bush was entertaining enough in itself. There was an almost constant stream of strange and at times very loud noises coming from the darkness beyond the floodlights, and any lull was filled with crickets chirping or the flap of bats wings overhead. After a while two very nervous hyenas approached the water and drank. Once they had moved on it wasn’t long before mark nudged me excitedly and whispered to look to the right, where a MASSIVE rhino had just emerged soundlessly from the surrounding bush. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, and it wasn’t just me, as it got closer to the water it was a very slow silent ripple effect of people suddenly sitting up and pointing to others as they noticed it! We watched the big creature for about half an hour as it drank marveling at how enormous it was and how peculiar it was to be watching it so close in the wild like that. It can’t have been more than 10 meters away, and with no barriers we were simply protected by our raised viewing point on the rocks.  

            The waterhole was hypnotizing and as much as we wanted to stay up all night waiting to see what other creatures might emerge, Mark and I decided to call it a night at midnight as we had an early game drive the next morning. However, our animal encounters didn’t stop there as just as we had settled down in our sleeping bags there was scurrying and clattering around outside the tent. Needless to say neither Mark nor I went out to see what it was, but the next morning we saw an overturned bin and were told honey badgers had been scavenging. At that point I was quite glad I hadn’t gone out to look, as they are notoriously vicious!

            Our early morning game drive (once again wrapped in our sleeping bags) proved quite fruitless. We stopped for breakfast after a few hours, eating pancakes in a national park is a surreal experience. Then, after a few more hours seeing nothing more than a few gazelle we reached the exit gates. It was quite amusing that as we were all desperately staring into the bush to try and spot something, yesterday’s birthday boy was sitting with his back to the window closely studying his FHM magazine! The poor game viewing was a little disappointing but after all of the excitement of the previous day, all it took was a magnum each from the shop to perk us up and we were all in very high spirits as we headed off to our next destination - Cheetah Park!
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