We saw an amazing scene of rhinoceros gathered around a waterhole and had an amazingly close encounter with an elephant - two never-to-be-forgotten highlights of Etosha.
After a fantastic morning game drive in Etendeka we picked up our 4x4 and took off for the road east to Etosha. After 116km of uncomfortable gravel we returned to the relief of tarmac all the way to Okankuejo inside Etosha.
We had a fantastic chalet right on the waterhole - the balcony outside the bedroom had a perfect view and was very comfortably furnished. The tree nearby was full of birds including noisy sociable weavers building a huge nest.
As we walked up to the chalet we could see that there was an elephant already at the waterhole! Through the evening all kinds of animals came along to drink. We bought a bottle of wine at the shop and had a glass watching the animals come and go before heading off for dinner.
The food at Okankuejo is OK and they did have Tafel beers, but dinner wasn't anything special. We returned to the room to find a bat swooping around - later we discovered that there was actually a hole in the thatched roof. We called reception and a couple of staff members came to try to catch it but we think it had already gone - it seemes to be quite a common occurrence.
We finished off the bottle of wine on the balcony as dusk fell and it became dark. One after another black rhino appeared - it was the first time we had seen these animals and they came and went all evening - until there were about eight of them facing off, occasionally charging, huffing at each other, they seem quite aggressive. It was an amazing spectacle.
The giraffes splay their front legs to either side so that they can reach the water - one took about half an hour to reassure itself that it was safe before drinking, it did look very vulnerable in that position. All through the evening we could hear the unpleasant cackling of hyenas.
An elephant appeared and drank nonchalantly while the rhinos continued to challenge each other. The elephant didn't seem bothered by them at all, eyeing them as if they were a bunch of naughty children. One cautiously approached the elephant, he turned his head slowly to look at it and the rhino backed off.
At 11pm I had to go to bed, I was so tired, but the elephant and rhinos were still there, monopolising the waterhole.
Overnight there was quite a thunderstorm and after breakfast we made our way north to Okondeka, a waterhole right on the western edge of the Etosha salt pan. Apart from huge flocks of birds wheeling in the sky there was little to see here, but on the way to and from it we saw a herd of wildebeest. It was another first for us in Namibia and we didn't see them anywhere else during our time in the country.
It is a strange looking beast - also called a gnu - with a shaggy mane and cattle-like horns.
We also saw a solitary rhinoceros, probably a black but we couldn't make a definitive identification. A large, solid-looking animal I wouldn't want to get very much closer to! I was really surprised we'd seen so many of these endangered animals already.
We also saw a thick blue-black snake on the road with its head raised!
Because of the rain overnight we saw most animals grazing rather than at the waterholes. Many of them seemed to like to graze at the roadside so we got some very good close-up views.
The roads weren't particularly good and the road to Etosha lookout was definitely due a visit from a grader. But the surreal view over the greenish pan was worth it - flat salt as far as the eye could see. It was formed over 100 million years ago and is 130 kms long and up to 50 kms wide covering almost a quarter of the entire park.1 Though fenced Etosha is massive.
We saw big herds of zebra, wildebeest and springbok as we drove east through the park.
The springbok in particular seemed to enjoy walking on the road. I was sure I saw a lion in the long grass, there were several other vehicles stopped and looking too. It was exactly the right colour mane but he was lying low so difficult to be sure.
However, once again it was the elephants that stole the show, and one in particular. We saw two large males approaching from the right so stopped the car to watch.
They both approached to cross the road but the second, the larger of the two, headed straight for us.
He loomed larger and larger as he got closer, an immense size! At the very last minute he moved slightly to the side to pass right in front of our 4x4, practically brushing the vehicle as he went.
It was an amazing experience, unquestionably the closest we've been to a wild elephant. He eyed us as he passed by - I looked right into his eye but I'm not sure he registered me - probably just as well! I guess it was fortunate neither of these bulls was in musth!
The park permits are for a day and we were just an hour or so short of our 24 hours, though I think there is some leeway.
We carried on eastward but were so excited about our encounter with these elephants we decided not to make any more detours - all the best sightings had been quite close to the road in any case - and to head out to our next accommodation: Onguma Bush Camp just outside the eastern edge of the park.
We did see plenty more animals before we exited, including another elephant grazing contentedly, though he'd obviously been having a dust bath and looked very scruffy - he had dirt and bits of grass strewn across his back!