Olifantsrus Camp in Etosha National Park in Namibia is the park’s newest campsite and it’s a wonderfully different experience. For the first time in Etosha’s history it’s a dedicated campsite, with not a chalet to be seen. And it’s in the western section of the park that was previously closed to ordinary tourists.
The friendly and helpful Hange Penandino gave us a warm welcome and came around to our campsite a bit later to check that we were happy with everything. This was a special touch not all that common in our Etosha experience, where staff can sometimes be quite offhand. (On a return trip in June 2018, they were still there and just as helpful as ever.)
The second special thing about Olifantsrus was its magnificent dual-level hide jutting out over a manmade waterhole. A lot of the money to establish the camp seems to have come from the ‘American people’ through the Millennium Challenge Fund, and the hide is a well-designed gem resulting from this relationship.
Olifantsrus has a small info centre with information about Etosha’s elephants, their status, family ties and conflicts with people. It also tells the story of the culling of more than 500 elephants here in the 1980s.
Apparently the first aerial survey in Etosha in 1967 counted about 500 elephants in the dry season. By 1973 the number had risen to 1300 and by 1983 there were 3000. One reason for this was reproduction, but elephants had also immigrated here to get away from poaching in northwestern Namibia during the South African military operations there.
Between 1983 and 1985, 525 elephants were culled and their bodies brought by low-bed truck to Olifantsrus (which means ‘elephant’s rest’). At the campsite today you can still see the huge steel structures that were used to hoist the animals for butchering. They and a few sun-dried skulls stand as a haunting reminder of the area’s past.
Waterholes worth exploring
After just one night at Olifantsrus – far too short, so don’t make the same rookie mistake we did! – we continued our journey towards Okaukuejo further east. Along the way we saw some big herds of springbok and a herd of 20 elephant moving parallel to the road. At Ozonjuitji m’Bari waterhole on the edge of the Charl Marais Dam there was an ample gathering of game that included elephant, giraffe, springbok, zebra, gemsbok and wildebeest.
[Update: On our return trip in mid 2018, we explored some of the waterholes to the west of Olifantsrus and saw tons of zebras at a seasonal pan, elephants with calves at Jakkalswater (plus zebra, gemsbok, giraffe and ostrich), and zebra, giraffe, springbok, bateleur and white-backed vulture at Okawao.]
It’s also worth taking a detour to Okondeka on your way to Okaukuejo. Since it’s the only waterhole north of Okaukuejo that has water in the dry season, there’s usually lots of giraffe and plains game here. We’ve also seen lions more than once on different visits. In the rainy season when the pan is full of water, you may even see a shimmer of flamingo pink.
If you’re a keen camper and you love wildlife and wilderness, I can highly recommend adding at least two or three nights at Olifantsrus to your next Etosha trip. I know we will.
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