Ever since I was a child, I had dreamed of going to Africa to see the animals. I had stared adoringly at photographs of elephants and giraffes, and read many books so I would know what to expect. But the reality was beyond what I had imagined.
A National Park in Namibia
Etosha National Park, situated in North-Eastern Namibia, was the scene where my dream came to life before my eyes. Etosha is one of the largest national parks in Africa, covering an area of more than 22,000 square kilometres. Its primary feature is a salt pan, measuring 4,590 sq km. In the wet season, many of the seasonal rivers flow into the pan. In the dry season, it virtually becomes a white desert – a vast and empty space. You will find a vast array of wildlife surrounding the pan.
I was on a 21 day overlander tour organized by Nomad Adventure Tours. We travelled for 10 days starting from Cape Town to Etosha. I had arrived in Africa with the misconception that I would always be surrounded by wild animals. It was a simple generalisation, and so far on the tour we had seen only deer and zebra. I would learn that in southern Africa, most experiences with wild animals are in National Parks.
We arrived at Okaukuejo camp, located almost in the centre of the park, at sundown – just in time to find ourselves a seat at the floodlit waterhole. From that first moment, I was awestruck.
We sat just a few metres away from the most magnificent creature that I will ever come into contact with in my life – the African elephant. Until now, I had only ever seen photographs, but it was so much more beautiful, and more powerful, than I could ever have imagined.
It strode heavily, yet gracefully around the waterhole. Its tusks bore through the air like a sword, and it’s trunk swayed like leaves in the wind. It was an ideal representation of Africa – the elephant, its body and a perfect reflection on the water, with the golden-red, flaming sunset in the background. I had my camera with me, but the photographs will never convey the true beauty and majesty of the images we were experiencing first-hand.
Nocturnal surprises at the waterhole
To make the moment even more exhilarating, we watched as the elephant became agitated, ears out, staring at the horizon. A Rhinoceros was slowly and cautiously making its way to the waterhole. We sat silently as the elephant paced around the waterhole, as though warning the rhino not to come any closer, or at least just checking to make sure it would not cause him distress. We sat silently because we were lost for words.
That morning we had to be up early, so we went to bed just before 10pm. Not long after that we heard someone running through the camp shouting about elephants at the waterhole. We dragged ourselves out of our tent and went to see what the fuss was about. We were not disappointed as we came face to face with a herd of more than 30 elephants.
There were mothers with babies, juveniles and one single bull – the king of his clan. The juveniles played together, splashing water, knocking each other around, running just like children in a park. Mothers with babies stayed close together, all seemingly oblivious to us people watching them. And the bull paraded around, showing off his strength and beauty. The cows watched him from all angles of the watering hole. Some stayed far back, others came forward to try to tantalise him with their beauty. The juveniles teased him, but he playfully knocked them out of his way.
We sat and watched the parade of elephants for more than half an hour before they began to move out – searching for a place to rest for the night. It was a memory that I will hold deep within my heart forever. It was my moment in Africa.
Our drive through Etosha continued the next day with a stop at the Namutoni campsite on the edge of the park. The morning was hot, so animals were scarce, but in the afternoon we saw a giraffe strolling casually next to the road. We saw more giraffes at the waterholes – legs bent with their long necks bending far down into the water. We watched them beside the road with heads high as they ate leaves from the very top branches of the tallest trees – their golden colour shining through the browns and greens of the bushland. We were amused as we watched one giraffe walk carelessly across an open plain – making the long walk to a forest of trees that must have looked more lush than the ones it had left behind.
Face to face with a behemoth
We noticed that a number of vehicles had stopped on the side of the road, so moved closer to find out what it was they were looking at. It was to be our only African encounter with the great King – the Lion. We sat for almost an hour, watching as the lion lay almost motionless next to three lionesses and three cubs, oblivious to the large herd of Springbok just metres away upwind.
My final experience in Etosha National Park was one I can still picture, as though I had just seen it yesterday.
We were lucky to have spotted an elephant herd beside the road. Seeing a bull in daylight, just metres from you, gave even more of an adrenaline rush than I would have expected. Standing right beside us, it was larger than our truck. It would have been easy for the bull to seriously harm us in the truck.
We sat silently, watching as the elephant bull wandered onto the road right in front of us. We stared in awe as this magnificent creature slowly crept away from the truck… and most of us jumped as it turned around and mock-charged! I swear it had a smile on its face as we stormed away.
Although the experience made my heart pound at the thought of the truck being crushed by an elephant, it also made me smile.
There I was, sitting in the middle of a game park in Africa, my eyes pinned on the most magical animal in its kingdom.
The elephant was at home… and for that brief moment, I felt like this was my home too. I couldn’t help but feel very alive.