When travelling through Namibia, Etosha National Park should be right at the top of your bucket list. Equally exciting for young and old, sightseeing game drives in the park never disappoint and many of us love the thrill of sitting at Okaukuejo’s (nocturnally floodlit) waterhole and watching the magic of the animal kingdom unfold.
Located a mere 430 km, north of Windhoek, it is only a 5-hour drive to Namibia’s number 1 attraction.
We approach the region from the South and arrive at Etosha Safari Lodge which is sprawled on both sides of an elevated rocky outcrop. The stately ascending stairs to the entrance are very promising, and we are rewarded with an almost unobstructed passage through the main area towards the wooden deck that gives way to an unsurpassable vastness of nature in a 180-degree view.
With a Gondwana Sunset cocktail in hand it isn’t very hard to let your gaze wander over the treetops of the mopane bushveld below and reminisce how it must have been for the early explorers Charles Andersson and Francis Galton that were brought here by Aavambo traders in 1851. The rich historical narrative of Etosha is reflected in the beautifully framed old maps that decorate the spacious central area. Built with lime bricks from a small town called Uis and abundant use of wood, the Lodge has a distinct safari feel with many sitting areas where all the guests meet and share their daily game sightings.
Etosha was proclaimed a game reserve by the Governor of German South West Africa, Dr von Lindequist in 1907, it was cemented as a national park in 1967. Originally it used to be a huge area starting all the way from the Skeleton Coast but was resized many times to the current approximate 130 km long and 50 km wide, now totalling about 22.000 km2.
Walking down the swirling pathways we discover a total of 3 pools strategically positioned between the lime rocks and bush. Is it me or do all the lime rocks have and imprint just like elephant's skin? My comfortable and airy room has that same beautiful view and feels like a cool refuge with blue hues representing the sky and the omni present yellow of the sun.
The large handmade metal elephant lamp, as well as the same recurring animal in the beautiful artwork make me curious. Our guide tells us after dinner, that indeed the brand essence was inspired by a local fable The elephant's wisdom story book where the African elephant was the hero who sacrificed himself to ensure the survival of the other animals in the pan. He points to the Lodge and Camp logo, which sports a beautiful side view of an elephant and proudly states “this is the place of legends”. It prompts me to select a few of the beautiful enamel bowls with recycled aluminium heads for my home Aluminium Elephant oval bowl and that cute handprinted table runner that is made in Namibia.
Getting up early in the morning, we are stylishly decked out in classic safari clothing and paired with the cute cotton backpack with crochet zebra, we are ready to tick off as many animals on our 114 species list. We have learned that we could possibly see 4 of the famous Big 5, being rhino, the elusive leopard, lion and elephant. The 5th animal, the buffalo, does not occur in Etosha but lives further up North in the Zambezi region.
The basis of silt, sand, and limestone everywhere in the park is the origin of the name “ethotha”, loosely translated into “great white place”, that eventually changed to Etosha. The park’s main attraction are the wide-open plains, increasing your chances to spot as much game as possible. Although the Dolomite hills are the main geographical feature on the western side, the salt pan in the centre is huge with a footprint of 5000 km2. On our way to the first base camp Okaukuejo – “the woman who had a child each year”, we already feel very blessed with the abundance of the many animals all around. We drive to various waterholes and marvel at the ghostly elephants that enjoy their clay baths at Nebrowni. It almost seems like a social play date where these gentle giants spray each other with water to cool off their big bodies. Once dried, the calcite sand and white clay provides a type of scary sunscreen! The scenes that develop in front of us remind me of the vast selection of soapstone in all forms and sizes with a multitude of animals back at the Lodge . In the afternoon, our eyes are tired from the shimmering white glare over the plains and the effort of looking for that extra animal we haven’t spotted yet. It is time to check in at Etosha Safari Camp.
Music accompanies us in towards the reception, it is a most colourful and busy concoction of souvenirs wherever you look. What a stark contrast to the stylish and classy lodge upstairs! Wonderful smiles great us and welcome us to embrace the relaxed family vibe that goes around and invites us to explore all the smart decorations. From melted vinyl’s to recycled tomato tin toothpick holders, to hand crochet placemats made from used plastic shopping bags, you simply keep finding something funny everywhere.
We quickly drop our bags in the rooms and smile at the quirky “ mirror with sunrays “ and all the happy colours all around that are crowned by the yellow mosquito net. A massive elephant mosaic is centred in the shower which makes you look forward to jump in there soonest. The black and white linocuts hanging on the wall depict rhinos and elephants and are titled ‘place of legends’ again, paying homage to the beautiful and famous works of the late John Muafangejo, Namibia’s best loved artist to date. Walking back through the mopane forest walkways, I have a renewed energy to discover more of this funky place.
Built in the style of a shebeen, an informal licensed drinking place that one can find in the many townships across the Northern regions, this colourful backdrop invites people to sit around the central fireplace in one of the cut-off wheelbarrow chairs or even on the stack of tyres with a woven centre. It is here where everybody is equal and real connections are made.
Wandering through the various levels inside we find many handmade products from local suppliers. The use of glass beads for beautiful African necklaces or tiny beaded Namibian dolls from the Swakopmund DRC project that empowers women to support their school going children are just an example. I love the white totebag with black prints from John Muafangejo and check out the book about his life that is even trilingual! There is also a distinct NAMFLAVA vibe present in the shop, a phrase coined by local artist EES and used in his songs as well as his Namibian Flag merchandise on offer here. Gotta get me a Nam flag beer “cantainer” to proudly show my allegiance!
The painted enamel crockery range Lion enamel plate is one of the favourite items for international guests I notice, and then my gaze catches the femo clay jewellery range that just compliments my mood right now. The book section has a variety of books that makes for a more serious mood, as amongst others they deal with the Independence struggle and fight for liberation. Original political party posters frame the walls and I follow the canvases all along the areas that document the last 30 years of getting to where we are now. Dr Libertina Amathila ‘s books such as "Making a Difference Book" are an interesting account of what challenges many Namibians went through.
Dinner lightens up the atmosphere again with many guests joining in for dinner under the accompaniment of the resident Etosha Boys. They read the room perfectly and entertain us with a variety of songs in English and Afrikaans which makes it hard for many of us to sit still. Sure enough we end up dancing around the fire making incoherent Amapiano/kwaito moves but the crowd is forgiving and just enjoys a good time. That magnificent Ellie shower finally washes the fine dust of the day away before we sink into a deep and happy slumber.
Tearing us away from the homeliness of Etosha Safari Camp, adventure again beckons and today we will cross the park towards the Northern exit to our last stop, Etosha King Nehale.
Our drive takes us past Halali camp and along the rim of Etosha Pan eastwards to Namutoni Camp. Groups of giraffes slowly join alongside us in a rhythmic cadence, and we even manage to spot the rare black faced impala amongst a small dazzle of braying Hartmann’s Mountain zebras. The kids are enjoying their Safari Bingo , a game invented by a young Namibian entrepreneur.
Stopping for lunch at Namutoni, we absorb the events that must have taken place here in 1896 when German soldiers occupied the area and built a fort. This caused the Hei//om to leave their native ground, but the Aavambo were persistent and destroyed the fort in 1904. It was however rebuilt again as a witness of these battles today. The Fisher Pan behind Namutoni is the site for the yearly migration of large groups of flamingos that breed here during the wet season. I find it so amazing when a flock of pelicans or flamingos pass overhead casting quite a shade over you! We proceed towards the northern exit of the national park along the Andoni plains and observe great herds of both blue wildebeest and herders with their cattle.
Situated just north of Etosha National Park, outside the King Nehale Gate, the lodge is a gateway for travellers visiting the Owambo regions and for those travelling to the Kunene Region in the west and the Kavango and Zambezi regions in the east.
Being in the King Nehale Concession and named after a king, the lodge has royalty as a major theme running through it. Its brand essence ‘Gateway to the kingdoms’ describes its position as a gateway to the northern regions of the country and to the Owambo kingdoms. Coming to the region prepared, I already read up on this in my Owambo book .
The lodge is built in the shape of a bull’s head, the central area forming the head and the rooms forming the horns on either side. The lodge is imbued with Owambo character and colour, and the bull, its logo, pertains to wealth, royalty and prestige within the Owambo culture. We are being received like proper royalty and enjoy the refreshing ice lolly made from Oshikandela, a type of butter milk.
Strolling through the reception and curio boutique Uushikependjewo, Oshiwambo for” a gift for someone that is special to you”, feels like entering a King’s palace as centre stage are the 2 chairs made from kudu horn, placed on cattle hide rug guarded by a very big male lion soft toy. The beautiful colours of pink, red and royal blue appear in jewellery Ondelela Tassel Necklace & Brass Ekipa Design, clothing such as the supercool t-shirts from Ondelela Etosha King Nehale T-Shirt to the Ondelela inspired socks .
80% of all the products here are sourced from local Namibian suppliers and this gives me a strong feeling of ubuntu and entices me to shop for friends and relatives so that I can support the extended communities. Before being shown to my room, I pick up 3 books written by Namibian ladies whose memoirs share their valuable perspective of pre-independence Namibia: Mukwahepo, Comrade Editor & Taming My Elephant.
The rooms are an entire revelation in themselves. A cocoon of comfort and opulence was created based on real time Owambo culture, both in tradition and historical accounts. The spacious bathroom invites for lavish me-time with the most popular royal scent in the amenities Room Mist Ohamba Yo Maadi products. The main bedroom emulates the residence of a tribal king with its massive four-post bed from which you have an unobstructed view of the salty Andoni plains. I take my books to my private plunge pool and after a refreshing dip, dive into the women’s narratives.
Dressing up for dinner in a black dress and pink Ondelela accessories stud earrings, we are being welcomed to the restaurant with a hand washing ceremony. We marvel about the impressive wooden cup chandelier that hangs so prominently and walk from table to table to discover a variety of table engraved with proverbs that still pack a punch in 2023. The Owambo culture is visible in both fabrics, textures and art depicting clans and their totem animals, but these are soon overshadowed by the incredible food experience created and coached by Namibian Chef legend, Antoinette De Chavonnes Vrugt.
Known for her massively successful collection of cookbooks such as Life on a Table Namibian Cook Book that hold world acclaim, she was excited to bring local delicacies such as Mopane worm (Omagungu), Kapana meat as well as the black-eyed peas (Omakunde) that are made into a delicious hummus to a more discerning international public.
With a feast of a buffet of specialties to satisfy even the hungriest person, I am grateful to have experienced the Etosha region at its finest. It is through the display of solidarity, showing dignified respect and compassion for other cultures, that I was able to have the most enriching experiences. The spirit of “I am because of who we all are" all around Etosha is a blessing to humanity.
Written by: Sonia Noirfalise-Corsini