A Day at the Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia
The there is something magic about elephants with their young – especially in the wild!
Sitting on the benches overlooking the King Nehale Waterhole in Namibia’s Etosha National Park is a bit like being in a zoo in reverse: the people are fenced in, while the animals wander in and out freely. It is a great place for animal-watching.
I was thrilled to finally be there; I’d been in Namibia a week and a half, and pretty much the only wildlife I’d seen was in the distance out of the windows of our truck. Of course, I’d enjoyed some magnificent landscapes and met some fascinating people (q.v.: Ursula’s Weekly Wanders: Namibia), but I was looking forward to seeing some of the animals Africa is known for.
I was travelling with a small group of intrepid photography enthusiasts under the guidance of photographer Ben McRae and local guide guide Morne Griffiths. We’d had a very early start out of our bush camp in Kamanjab – where we had stopped for the night after breaking camp the day before at Epupa in northern-most Namibia (see: North to Epupa) – and had entered Etosha National Park just before noon. Our first animal sightings were at a popular salt pan: once the truck stopped, we all leaned excitedly out of the pop-top in the roof, firing our cameras in every direction. Oh, how I envied all those 400mm lenses!
After completing our drive across the park, we pitched our tents at Namutoni Camp, near the King Nehale Waterhole on the eastern side of Etosha. The camp boasts an elevated walkway along the waterhole, but this was closed for repairs while we were there. But the camp does have plenty of fenced space overlooking the water. Watching the animals come and go was absolutely mesmerising. Towards evening, after an afternoon of being enthralled by the elephants, I dragged out the tripod, staked a space on one of the benches, and just sat for several more hours.
Join me for some Namibian animal spotting:
Our day started very early at a bush camp in Kamanjab, where we had stopped for the night. I’m not much of a morning person, but the tender sunrise over the veld made getting up early worth it.
Outjo Tourist Centre
After our very early start, the charming gift- and coffee-shops of Outjo were a welcome break from the truck. (iPhone6)
Common (Blue) Wildebeest (Connochaetes)
I was thrilled that the first animal I spotted when we stopped at a salt pan inside Etosha National Park was a wildebeest – otherwise known as a gnu… If you were raised in a British-influenced household, you might remember the Flanders and Swann comedic song: “I’m a Gnu”. I spent the rest of the morning with the tune in my head: “I’m a g-nu, spelled g-n-u… You really ought to k-now w-ho’s w-ho!”
Springbok (Antidorcas Marsupialis)
I think the delicate springbok is my favourite antelope.
So much for black and white stripes! Namibia is home to Hartmann’s mountain zebras and the more common Burchells plains zebras: the brown shadowy stripes between the blacks one’s on the haunches suggests this is a plains zebra.
“To the Waterhole”
Its a short walk from our tents, past the resort bungalows, to the King Nehale Waterhole.
Elephants and a Namibian Tree
The elephants love the waterhole, and herds came and went while I watched. They seem to have a secret signal, with one group gathering together to leave just as a new group appears on the horizon.
The single tree growing at the edge of the waterhole provides a landmark, but not much shade from the pulsating heat of the day.
The herds have a number of younger elephants. This one seems to get his legs tangled as he walks.
Elephants at the Waterhole
The elephants are a joy to watch: they seem to be in almost constant slow motion…
… bathing in the waterhole one minute, showering themselves with dust the next.
It is easy to forget that the little creatures we see every day are – in their way – as special as the magnificent animals that get our attention.
New elephants, either singly …
… or in herds, approach the waterhole periodically.
Kudu, oryx, and springbok share space around the waterhole, seemingly untroubled by each other’s presence.
Unfortunately, they don’t always get along amongst themselves.
The giraffes – almost invisible against the veld – seemed to be the most timid animals at the waterhole: they would stop, frozen in position, for ages, …
… before advancing cautiously …
… and gingerly bending down to drink.
Young Elephant and Onlookers
A young elephant parades in front of the barrier that separates “us” from “them”.
Elephants can drink up to 200 litres of water a day.
They also enjoy splashing themselves with it in the heat of a Namibian afternoon.
The afternoon sun starts to angle in the sky, and the elephants are backlit as they continue to enjoy the waterhole.
Dust at the Leaving
It’s a well-worn path the elephants take as they leave the waterhole.
“Feet on Fire”
The lowering sun lights up the dust around the elephants feet.
Black-Backed Jackal at Sunset
Other animals come into drink, …
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis Kori)
… almost invisible against the lowering light.
Sunset over the waterhole is stunning – and quiet; everything goes still.
Elephants Under Night Lights
But sunset is not the end of the day: the waterhole is illuminated with lamps that don’t seem to bother the animals.
Giraffes Under Night Lights
Watching the animals in the almost-dark is eerie and spell-binding.
White Rhinos Under Night Lights
A rhino-mum and her young one came out to drink, which was a special treat!
After the rhinos left, I took myself back to my tent: it was late and cold, and tomorrow was another day…
… another day at the waterhole.
Who knew what that might bring?
Until next time,