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Etosha Explorer


Shreyas
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This was a trip that was planned and materialized within a matter of < 2 months. Absolutely last minute! Planets aligned for getting off from work, convincing the wifey, getting the bookings confirmed (given that it was last minute) and everything else *EXCEPT* getting the visa for Botswana approved on time for myself.

The exercise of chalking the roadtrip did improve my geographical knowledge of Namibia by quite a bit, I must say B) The self-drive was planned starting from Windhoek going north into Erongo and Damaraland, then to Etosha, to Caprivi and into Botswana via Shakawe. I travelled with 2 other friends – Sarah and our very own “loafer247” aka Dhruv.
Our plan was to start our self-drive trip from Windhoek and end in Maun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it across the border due to the ever-frustrating issues of visas. And therefore I had to turn back a little early while my friends continued on to explore the wilds of Botswana!! Grrr….


As the title suggests, my main focus would be on Etosha for this report, but I’ll start off with the short trip that we did visiting the Erongo and Damaraland areas.

Following are the restcamps that I used for the stay (not in that order), both when travelling with friends, and when I came back to Etosha solo.
- Ai-Aiba Lodge (Erongo)
- iGowati lodge (Damaraland)
- Okakukuejo (Etosha)
- Etosha Safari Camp (Etosha)
- Munjila Safari Camp (Etosha)
- Halali (Etosha)
- Namutoni (Etosha)

While we planned the route for the trip by ourselves, we used the services of the “Cardboard Box travel shop” for all the bookings (http://namibian.org/
) and our agent was Allison. We have all the praises for Allison for her promptness and thoroughness in communications, and in making good suggestions for our itinerary. With my Bots visa fiasco, she again was of help booking me accommodation in Etosha when I returned there solo.


Namibia – First impressions

With Fall setting in the US, the bright days were getting gloomier. My only respite – plans for visiting Africa getting concrete within weeks. Reaching Africa gets me into what my wife calls as the “Africa mode”; wherein, I transform into a person who has a crazy/unnecessary smile on the face, who can eat an unwashed apple without qualms, and who’s not upset with toilets filled with lizards!
Jetlagged a bit, I still had my eyes peeled in the air when reaching Windhoek to get a perspective of the layout of the land. Could already relish the mountains surrounding Windhoek and I probably was already sporting the “crazy” smile


Offtopic travel tip for long distance travellers: Go to “Whole Foods” (in the US) and get a Homeopathic medicine called JET ONE – it works with jetlags!

Dhruv and Sarah were at the airport with the rental car. We stocked up on some supplies and headed straight to the Erongo Wilderness area to the Ai-Aiba lodge. The scenery changed and we soon found ourselves in the midst of granite outcrops - small to mountain-size large. And the afternoon light was doing full justice to bring forth the exquisite orange/rust color of the area.


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The gravel roads in the area were tricky, with hidden potholes that blended well with the path and would just show themselves when you are 10 ft away from them. It was rather an uneventful journey in terms of wildlife, with just a few mongoose crossings along the way.
We made it to the lodge before sunset and quickly unloaded our luggage to join the sunset drive. A brief glimpse of the rooms, and we knew we were going to love it! The sunset drive took us to the neighboring mountain with the steepest slopes.


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Ai Aiba Lodge

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The Ai Aiba Lodge is set against a medium sized mountain, with the famous Bushmen Rock Paintings right at its backyard. So we had 2 agendas for the next morning - to catch the sunrise, and to do the trail for the rock paintings.

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The trail started right behind our room and we made our way up the mountain. The place is overrun by Hyraxes! All the rocks were adorned by the Hyrax poo or pee, and they would pop up off and on in all directions. Given the habitat, I was already looking for indications of a Leopard. The owner of the lodge showed us a picture of a female Leopard that came and stayed right behind the lodge for a few days not too long ago, and my hopes were already high. No such luck for us though!

Sunrise at Ai Aiba

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San Bushmen Rock Painting

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We loved our stay at Ai Aiba. The staff was super friendly, and the food was good. They even had a resident Meerkat who was brought here by some travellers. He now rules this part of the Erongo wilderness, and bullies around the pets of the lodge.

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Next day, we made our way NW to Khorixas area for a brief stay at the iGowati lodge. Went about exploring the area of which, the Twyfelfontein area is very scenic. We were also trying to locate the desert elephants but instead had to do with their poo around a dry river bed.

The Khorixas area scenery

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At this point, we were pretty starved for wildlife (already), so couldn’t wait to place ourselves on the Great White Pan!! Next stop - ETOSHA.

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Hi Shreyas, it's been awhile. A great start and some stunning images. Look forward to more.

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Meerkat and dog is an unusual shot. Fantastic photos. Lots of Namibia action lately on this forum. I'll be very interested in your impressions of the various Etosha locations.

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Excellent start and a landscapers dream destination.

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Great start to your trip report and the photos are fabulous. Looking forward to more, Etosha is one of my favourite parks and I am planning a trip to the Caprivi en route to Botswana so your experience will be of great interest to me.

 

I was wondering how that lone meerkat survived without a clan - does it forage for itself, sleep outside or is it highly domesticated? Looks like it has the dog bluffed.

 

Regards,

 

 

Pol

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Thanks all for your comments!

@ Jochen, yes, HDR on the sunrises!

@ Pol, it was funny to watch that little creature pursue everything that's imprinted in his DNA - clan or no clan. Foraging for itself, standing on it's rear legs and check out the lay of the land etc. :D It's a youngster and he looked pretty domesticated, I guess. He had no fears in running his face in my pants!!

Besides that, you'll find a lot of similarities in our itinerary to what you're planning on doing yourself, so stay tuned!

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Hi Shreyas, it's been awhile. A great start and some stunning images. Look forward to more.

Yes'ir, and now with all the NY ST-ers having (at least) one more safari on their belt, time to get together again!?

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@ Jochen, yes, HDR on the sunrises!

 

Care to share your workflow?

 

I'm a complete noob when it comes to HDR.

That is to say; tried someone's suggestion once, but he's shooting cityscapes and his tricks simply didn't work on my wildlife/scenery shots. :)

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Stunning, Shreyas ....... Look forward to the rest ...

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Care to share your workflow?

 

I'm a complete noob when it comes to HDR.

That is to say; tried someone's suggestion once, but he's shooting cityscapes and his tricks simply didn't work on my wildlife/scenery shots. :)

 

Jochen, for the sunrise image, I used HDR Efex Pro (Nik Software) along with Viveza to add structure to the sky. It's not a stitch from multiple exposures to create the HDR.

I'm a fan of Nik Plugins and once you have it, it's pretty much playing around with them to find the right fit.

Once done, I apply Luminosity Mask adjustments in CS5 to get the desired results. Alt+Command+2/3/4 for Mac.

If you need the specifics for the HDR Efex Pro's settings, let me know.

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Jochen, for the sunrise image, I used HDR Efex Pro (Nik Software) along with Viveza to add structure to the sky. It's not a stitch from multiple exposures to create the HDR.

I'm a fan of Nik Plugins and once you have it, it's pretty much playing around with them to find the right fit.

Once done, I apply Luminosity Mask adjustments in CS5 to get the desired results. Alt+Command+2/3/4 for Mac.

If you need the specifics for the HDR Efex Pro's settings, let me know.

 

Sigh. I'm going to need to learn some new stuff.

I'm still on CS3!

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Shreyas, can you start a new topic for HDR talk? Many thanks, Matt.

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Hi Shreyas, it's been awhile. A great start and some stunning images. Look forward to more.

Yes'ir, and now with all the NY ST-ers having (at least) one more safari on their belt, time to get together again!?

Indeed!

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And there's a few more NYC Safaritalkers too...

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Adelaide would be a good location for a New York GTG don't you think? :)

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Just getting caught up with all the new TRs. I can picture that 'unnecessary smile' completely :)

 

Some wonderful images so far.

 

Love the meerkat/doggie combo! When are you getting started on Etosha? Nina showed me some of your Facebook pics so I know there are many more stories and photos awaiting their turn!

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Apologies for not keeping up the pace for the report. Becomes pretty challenging between work and family, especially with a 1.5 yr old around -_-

Following is the next installment!

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Windhoek to Etosha

 

The distance between Windhoek and Etosha's Anderson Gate is about 420 kms. From there, the Okaukuejo camp is about 17 km inside the park. I realized it after the fact that why those 17 kms were an important factor in choosing the lodge. More on that a little later.

 

The roadway system is very well maintained throughout Namibia and speed limit is enforced. We did see a lady cop with a radar gun on the roadside on our way to Etosha, who was not very sneaky like the nasty cops of New Jersey!! And the roads are flat straight, with signs of Kudus and Warthogs crossings all along the way. We were specifically advised by our travel agent to avoid driving after sunset, and we could now see why.

 

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Just to give another perspective of the straightness, here's a quick iPhone shot:

 

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And warnings all along the way

 

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It took us about 5.5 hrs to reach Etosha, including a German Bakery break along the way in Otjiwarongo. Man those chocolate shakes were nice! About 30-40 kms from the Anderson Gate, one can see the signs for all the lodges that are located outside the park.

 

I'd been looking forward to this day - when I would get to see Etosha myself :) Having grown up watching National Geographic's African Wildlife (1984 I think) or also known as "The land of dry water" in some countries, I could very much hear Alexander Scourby's voice describing the beauty of Etosha. Some 20-30 kms before entering the park, one can see the influence of the characteristic white sand of Etosha along the way. With the dry season at its peak, lot of areas were burnt to ashes, and distant cyclones adorned the scenery. Could already see some "stray" springboks along the way. Fortunately no Kudus or warthogs crossing our way when we're at speeds of 120 km/hr. I was also very surprised to find "only" 2 warthog roadkills during both of my visits, given the numbers that one can find them along the roadsides. They too probably have evolved to have their way around the speeding vehicles by now.

 

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At the gate, they take the travelers' information and the intended length of stay. The park fees are to be paid at the lodge inside the park and an important thing to be noted (especially for folks who may be traveling without reservation) is that it can ONLY be paid either in Okaukuejo or at Namutoni, and NOT at Halali. Another important point for self-drivers is - REFULING - which again can only be done at Okaukuejo and Namutoni.

 

Just 2 kms of entering the Anderson gate is the Ombika water hole on the west. Lots of Giraffe and the layout looked to be excellent Leopard territory. I know, I had my hopes high already, but what the heck?!!

This place was a special sight one morning when I saw a hoard of Guniea Fowls drinking and marching out to go about their business, with only a Jackal to witness it with me. Any given animal or bird in an large number can make for such a grand sighting. And the soft morning light really helped making it look even better. I just love the sound of those Fowls - typical Africa in each decibel!

 

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We drove straight to Okaukuejo with a no. of sightings of Giraffe especially in this stretch from Anderson gate to the camp. This length of Etosha is more wooded and has thicker shrubbery as compared to what we had in store just a few kms away.

 

Okaukuejo Camp

 

Okaukuejo is a large camp, almost like a small village, which reminded me of the Skukuza Camp of Kruger. I'd read on different forums that people thought this camp lacked privacy and was too crowded and that the waterhole was productive but was also surrounded by the visitors all the time. IMO, the wallet friendliness of Etosha (and most of Namibia) is bound to attract more people anyways. Then, if one has to stay in the park, there are only 3 of them within the park (not counting the Dolomite camp which is far west of Etosha and about 175 ams from Okaukuejo).

 

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While I agree that this may not be the choice of accommodation for people who like the settings of small tented camps (like those of the Okavango), it however is strategically placed on the western end of Etosha. Similarly, Halali in the center, and Namutoni in the East. All these areas have their own special features and being able to spend time at all these camps, I think the productivity of wildlife viewing was great at Namutoni, Okaukuejo and Halai - in that order!

 

At the camp, we paid the park fee and scanned through the sightings book. We had the booking for a Family Chalet called "Mopane" which had a kitchenette with utensils. The bedding was pretty luxurious and the rooms were well kept and clean.

 

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I quickly spread out all my camera gear and ran straight to the fabled waterhole, and boy was I impressed!!

At least 4-5 species of animals was always present around this natural spring, and one can easily spend an afternoon looking at the nonstop activities of the hoards of wildlife. Herbivorous though, primarily!

I'd let the pictures do the talking :)

 

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They'd keep coming from all directions. And evidently, the afternoon time is the best to watch such an action, if you don't mind the heat. Here, the clothing you use can have a great impact on dealing with the afternoon sun. I bought a couple of quick-dry shirts w/ full sleeves, and I wouldn't feel sweaty for long. And also I didn't return home with a different colored skin.

 

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So there was a pair of Jackals that looked hungry and were running after the Springboks to see if they could get some steak. This caused a sudden commotion and all animals, big or small, ran for their lives. The Jackals got nothing though, but it made my day for getting some action shots B)

 

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For wildlife photography, I believe there's always THAT ONE little branch/grass/shrub that spoils the frame. In Etosha, "that" branch was replaced by Springboks. They were omnipresent, especially when there was a frame to be composed :-)

I've to let many of my pictures go just because I had a springbok somewhere in the foreground that I couldn't avoid.

Check these and you'll know what I mean :D

 

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Nevertheless, they too make beautiful subjects, as does all wildlife. The sheer nos. of these animals is a beautiful sight to see. Although I don't have a shot of them pronking, but it's such a witty display of excitement, or mocking perhaps!?

 

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The waterhole is also very active during the night. On our very first night, we saw 11 BLACK Rhinos who kept trickling about 9 pm when we just decided to walk over to the waterhole and see what's "still" going on. And wow!

The waterhole is floodlit and on this night the whole village of Okaukuejo was there to witness the drama of the Rhinos.

 

The whole ambiance, the smell, the animals quietly going about their business with occasional Rhino screech or a Zebra fart, and the Milky Way right above us made this a night to remember. Humans were keeping their voices and the excitement to a low decible, which was very much appreciated! We just stood there for more than an hour to sink in the experience. Indeed, the magic of Etosha!!

 

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This huge male took over the waterhole and just stay put in his stealth mode. I'm very enchanted by this pose of his....not a great quality picture but he looks like a submarine on a mission :lol:

 

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Next - Will cover the waterholes of the Eastern part surrounding Okaukuejo!

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Great rhino shots Shreyas! Okaukuejo looks like it has been nicely refurbished. Yes, I agree the experience at Etosha is very different from the small bush camp in the wild experience, but it is special nonetheless... as long as you adhere to the adage, "when in Rome..."

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"...join the orgy"?

I think it is "eat like Romans do".......

Yes to both. But what I am really suggesting is that I (who normally like those intimate bush camps in the wild) found myself enjoying the Namibian/South African self-drive, cook your own meat (lots of meat) safari thing prevalent in Etosha immensely.

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