Private Concessions in Etosha
It’s possible to combine the best of two worlds: Spend hours at some of Etosha’s most desirable waterholes, ticking off a Noah’s Ark-sized list of species – and then escape to the quieter surrounds of a lodge or camp on a private reserve for the night.
Etosha is completely fenced, unlike, for example, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, where fences between the public park and its plush private neighbors have come down.
That said, there are some notable private reserves on Etosha’s borders, impressive not only in size but for the quality of the game viewing. Many also have waterholes, and while predators are scarcer, some harbor a good selection of game, including specials such as sable, roan, and rhino.
As they are also not bound by park rules, guests can be offered more diverse activities, like guided walks or rhino tracking – very welcome for families or active visitors who like to stretch between game drives.
Nature trails wind through some properties without dangerous game, also wonderful for down-time hours.
Credit: Ongava Tented Camp
An astonishing 25% of Namibia is conserved through national parks, communal conservancies, and private reserves. One key thing to check when booking in a private area is whether the conservancy offers hunting (a few do), as this will be incompatible with some visitors’ ethics.
Etosha accommodations are varied, and couples searching for romance and wildlife, solo travelers, and families are all catered for on their Etosha safari. Places to stay range from rustic campsites to fine lodges or exclusive-use villas, complete with your own guide for game drives.
Unlike many high-end safari lodges in other parts of Africa, those around Etosha tend to offer different kinds of packages. Most will have an accommodation-only option for self-drivers with various activities and meals charged separately – but also all-inclusive options for those who want to park the car on arrival (or hop off a charter plane).
If all-inclusive, most needs are catered to, from local beverages and meals to game drive vehicles with experienced guides. Guests who want to go on many guided drives may wish to assess the activities’ costs before booking, as, at times, an all-inclusive rate is better value.
Spa treatments are available in some spots, as are various activities, from clay pigeon shooting to visits to hides. Safari staples such as boma, outdoor dinners, and drinks around fire pits are common. There’s nothing like a log fire sending up sparks to rival the stars above.
Onguma Bush Camp
Private reserves close to Von Lindequist Gate in the east of the park can easily be accessed by road, but some of the lodges will have an airstrip or share one with a neighbor, so fly-in safaris on charter planes are an option for those pressed for time.
Proximity to the park gates is a plus, both to enjoy more cool early-morning and late-afternoon game viewing hours and to get home sooner for sundowners when tired.
Private reserves on the park’s eastern side include an important 34,000-hectare reserve and a well-known 4,000-hectare property that borders Etosha.
Closer to Andersson Gate is a sizeable 30,000-hectare reserve that protects parts of the tongue-twisting Ondundozonanandana foothills (the name translates roughly as ‘the mountain where the boy took the calves’) and a multitude of smaller reserves and properties.
Accommodations range from exclusive and romantic “premier” lodges, luxury tented camps, and family-friendly options to camping.
Of course, not all properties have Big Five species, but a couple will have lions and/or Black and White rhinoceros. Staying outside the park and exploring on foot may also allow the contemplation of smaller species, such as impossibly cute elephant shrews, springhares, lesser bushbabies, and many more.
Galton Gate accommodations options are more sparse, but there is a casual, community-owned lodge with three of the Big Five on 8,800 hectares and an airstrip to boot.
Certain reserves outside Etosha National Park offer guided walks with the chance to track resident rhinos. A walk in any reserve with a representative or two of the Big Five can be thrilling.
Walking in silence in a single file with an armed ranger is exhilarating, feeling your senses come alive and gradually tune in to the sounds of the bush, alarm cries from birds, the crunch of hooves on stone, and the smell of hot vegetation.
Approaching a rhinoceros’s enormous bulk on foot is an awesome experience. It’s like seeing concentrated time, evolution, and power in one breathtaking moment. In fact, any nature walk, even on a private reserve without Big Five species, is highly recommended.
Specialized guides can point out birds, read animal tracks as if they were newspapers, locate fascinating insects and smaller reptiles and rodents, and generally transport guests to a world that plugs you into the web of life.
Private reserves are indifferent to gate closing times. This means that should a group see a remarkable cheetah on the move as the sun slips toward the horizon, there’s no need to leave.
Vehicles can stay with it for as long as it allows. Alternatively, guides will stop for sundowners at stunning spots, all the better to watch the skies turn pink and orange as dark approaches.
- High-end lodges pride themselves on the skill of their guides. Many will have particular interests, such as birding or botany. Let the lodge know of your interests in advance.
- Self-drivers must offset the hassle of getting to the gates at sunrise and sunset with the advantages of being outside the park.
- Etosha National Park gate times must be respected. The opening and closing hours are based on sunrise and sunset hours and change weekly. Most accommodations will provide a detailed timetable.
- Not all high-end lodges welcome children. Do check child policies before setting your heart on a particular destination. Over-12s are generally accommodated.
- A swimming pool is a real asset in summer – as is a waterhole in winter.
- Booking in advance to avoid disappointment is recommended during the high season and December and Easter local holiday periods.
- While animals in Etosha are so habituated to people that wearing bright colors is not much of an issue, neutral-colored clothing (not white) is recommended for walks and activities in private reserves.
- Lodges do not supply all guests with binoculars. Do bring a pair – it revolutionizes game viewing and birding.
- Guests will have heard of the terrible poaching threat to rhinos in Africa. Lodges may ask that you delete GPS or location data on pictures taken of the animals. This is recommended in Etosha National Park too.
- Charter flights limit luggage to just 20kg/44lbs (including hand luggage and cameras), and bags must be small, soft, and flexible enough to fit into the aircraft.