Photos and blog post by Annabelle Venter who discovered that a small car can be ideal for a trip to Etosha National Park
Remember the days back in the 80’s/early 90’s when almost everyone travelled around Namibia in small cars, like the Citi Golf’s of the car hire companies? And the roads were certainly much rougher back then.
Well, we had eight nights booked in our favourite Namibian park – Etosha National Park – at the end of the rainy season, but right up until the night before we had still not decided which vehicle to travel in! I’m a confirmed Toyota fan and my husband’s a Landrover guy. It may seem daft then that we decided to leave the Landy at home and go in my trusty little Yaris – the perfect town car. But we have method in our ‘madness’ so hear me out!
Every now and then Namibia Wildlife Resorts offers great specials for Namibian residents so this time we decided not to camp and did not need all that gear. As keen wildlife photographers, my husband and I each need a window seat on the same side of the car and the dear old Landy is of the Hardtop variety – only two seats up front. It’s a noisy vehicle so all conversation is impossible, music is out and there’s simply no room for all the photographic gear in the front. The aircon works intermittently and it’s usually too hot to sit in the back.
This is where the Yaris really comes into its own – cool, music, conversation and window seats for both PLUS you get to see things from an eye level viewpoint. You even get to look UP at elephants. Lions eye to eye make you suck in your breath and look away and hyenas can nibble your elbows if you are not vigilant.
So we set off in really dry hot weather at the end of March, certain that the rains were now over and the park would be dry. And dry it was – heart-wrenchingly so in places, especially the west. But first stop was Onkoshi in the east where we hoped to see water in the pan but that was a distant memory for all. On our second night we were thrilled to witness a storm whipping up over the pan. Long exposure photos of lightning at midnight revealed two large birds battling the fierce winds overhead, disturbed by the storm.
Sadly the rain was not destined for our side and by morning things had dissipated.
Nearby Namutoni also remained dry and Fischer’s pan is pitiful and smelly at the moment.
Next stop was Halali where the temperature seemed to be rising again but by the following morning we opened the door to soft rain dripping through the mopane canopy. What bliss and sheer relief. The drive that day was heavenly in cool overcast conditions – not great for photography but perfect for the soul.
The trickiest part of the road for a small car is probably the secondary road between Salvadora and Sueda with deep, muddy pools but still perfectly possible if you just take it slowly. By the time we reached Okaukuejo the roads were much wetter but still not impassable by a long shot! The camp staff said it had rained for the last 3 nights. This is excellent news for Okaukuejo as it seems to be the driest just north west of this camp. Every last blade of grass is eaten to reveal sandy plains which even the giraffe are struggling to cross.
Now came the lesser known part of the trip – crossing to Dolomite camp – what would the road be like? Pools of fresh water on the road offered respite to herds of zebra, springbok and giraffe so it was slow going for that reason only-and the Yaris sailed through it all.
At Dolomite we simply parked the car and were transported up the hill in a 4×4 golf-cart, as is customary at this spectacular camp. We spent two days exploring the koppie, photographing dripping plants, seeds and also elephants and birds from our deck, all the while enjoying the cooler weather and occasional shower.
I once ventured down onto the plains to get closer to my favourite friends the elephants, and had a special encounter with them. The matriarch brought the 4 small babies straight towards the car as if to give me closer look, since she saw I was so interested in them!
Our last night in Okaukuejo was all a local Namibian could wish for. Sitting at the waterhole after dinner, a soft drizzle hesitantly arrived, then stopped. Some minutes later a little breeze stirred things up and my husband said ‘rain’s coming’. We ignored what we knew to be true and sat on.
Minutes later we saw before we felt, heavy drops in the floodlights and in an instant everyone was up and running for shelter! It was a good downpour and I saw the opportunity to clean some of the white mud off from under the car. So I happily drove around the bricked camp roads, through all the puddles like a kid and arrived back with a much cleaner car. The rain is so forgiving and my now ‘clean’ car hid the secrets of all those white muddy roads she had bravely traversed!
The point of this story is that you don’t need a 4×4 for the majority of the year in Etosha, except perhaps the clearance is handy when it’s raining heavily. So don’t let the lack of an off-road vehicle put you off visiting our premier national park, especially if it’s dry season.
We can proudly say we travelled most of the roads in the park this time. A bonus is that the major roads through Etosha are currently being upgraded and are in a very good condition.
Did I mention that the fuel cost and consumption were half that of the Landy – so you can score greenie points as well! Makes you think doesn’t it?
More about our guest blogger Annabelle Venter:
Annabelle Venter is a valuable and regular contributor to Travel News Namibia and other Venture Publication publications.
She has lived more than half her life in Namibia and is based in Windhoek. She says she loves to lose herself in the “beauty of my spot on the planet. I write about it, photograph it and try to capture it in my ceramic work. I feel most at home outdoors, in a shady riverine forest anywhere north-east of here”.
Fittingly Annabelle says her favourite soundtrack is the “African bushveld at night. Mozart will also do”. Her motto is to try and “live lightly on the earth”.