Epic Air Safari: Zambia to Etosha
Scorpio is still bright in the black sky before dawn. We enter our boat hoping that the hippos are asleep and not on our course! We take a quick boat ride to the main lodge at Royal Chundu, and then we drive to the airport. The sunrise is magnificent. I am thinking of David Livingstone. A delay with the customs officer who showed up an hour late is the first hiccup of the trip.
But then our wheels are up, and we are flying low (very low!) over the Zambezi River. We leave Zambia and we enter Namibia, landing at Katima Mulilo, the “mouth” of the Caprivi Strip. I love this small airport. It seems like a ghost town. Nobody there! Luckily there is a lady helping us with fuel, but no customs.
Wheels up again. Now we are flying to Rundu almost two hours away. We pass the Caprivi Strip and land there, clearing customs with no hassles. A beautiful, long flight covers the last of the 580 miles of the day. We are in Etosha now, and the pan looks overwhelming. We land just outside the park in the Ongava Game Reserve. There are 60,000 acres of African wilderness here. White rhinos, black rhinos, and lions: These are our “targets.”
A short drive and we arrive at Ongava Tented Camp. We are tired but so taken by the dramatic change of scenery from the mighty Zambezi River to the desert pan of Etosha! I guess lions and rhinos want to make sure we are happy with our journey and our lodge choice, so just after dinner two lionesses come forty yards from the dining table and introduce us to their seven cubs. A little bit later, a huge white rhino comes to the water hole with her few-months-old calf: spectacular.
We hit the bed, and the lions’ lullaby takes us through the night with a few exciting wake-ups when the roaring is more fierce!
Lions are still at the waterhole when I have breakfast at dawn. We watch two youngsters play with each other while their mom looks on, obviously enjoying the whole parade.
We get in the Land Rover and drive to Etosha, just a forty-minute game drive away. Tarmac roads and buses... not my Africa. But definitively spectacular. We stop at a waterhole where we see oryx, greater kudus, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, black-faced impala, springbok, and jackals coming to drink. It is certainly an incredible view, but the tourist framework of it prevents me from fully enjoying it. Another drive, another couple of buses, and we see a nice pride of lions, some elephants, and a lot of ostriches. There are too many cars, and I am done with experiencing Etosha. I am eager to drive back to the lodge.
The afternoon is another strange experience: We go on foot and see white rhinos, but I do not enjoy chasing them. I enjoy even less having several cars from the other Ongava camps join us on the game drive once the game walk is over. But another group of lions and four other rhinos make up for it when they come to the water hole just twenty meters away from us as we enjoy a drink before going to bed. Etosha and Ongava were nice... incredible wildlife... but, for a bushman like me, too touristy.
I am looking forward to the wild wilderness of Serra Cafema in the Hartmann Valley, where we will fly tomorrow.
Namibia is the southernmost country we will visit on our air safari. We have traveled 1,882 nautical miles since leaving Campi ya Kanzi, and it is amazing to think how far we have come. Take a look at our flight path on the map below!