Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cats and Flamingoes at Halali

Our final three nights in Etosha were spent at Halali Restcamp, a camp situated more or less in the middle of the tourist area of the park. It is an area that is considerably different form Okaukuejo and Namutoni in that there are hills, and Mopani bush all around the camp. Once you break through the Mopani, you enter huge plains on either side, stretching as far as the eye can see, and the pan. The pan was the biggest surprise of all on this trip, as I mentioned in a previous post, as it was full of water.

Halali is known for its leopard sightings, and is the best part of the park to see this elusive cat, as the vegetation allows it to maintain its secretive lifestyle. We unfortunately did not see this cat this year in Etosha, but the other cats certainly showed themselves (finally!) around Halali. Each day here, we had numerous lion sightings, some good, some sleeping under bushes. The plains toward Okaukuejo are home to three waterholes, all in close proximity to each other, and on the edge of the pan. The lions live there. Everyday there were a couple sleeping inside the same clump of bushes. Every day the zebra herds came down in their hundreds to drink, under the watchful eye of these cats. We never saw them make a kill, but we did see them hunting, spreading out around the increasingly nervous herds on our last drive. We waited as long as earthly possible until we had to push on. If we had stayed, undoubtedly we would have got our kill, but it would have been a few hours in the making, time we didn’t have.

We also saw lions in the roads close to camp on two occasions. Both times they were hunting, fanning out then coming together until we lost them from view. The one was a group of three females, and the other a pride of 8 adults, who looked very menacing. We also saw a small group playing Goas, early on our last morning in the park.

Near Halali we had our first cheetah sightings of the trip, two different sightings of a female and cub. It was nice to see these cats, although I didn’t waste any hard drive space on the photo’s as they were very skittish and in the long grass. It was while watching the first of these that we noticed a strange colour in the pan. We looked and looked, and then dismissed it as our imagination. Our eyes were struggling enough to believe the quantity of water, yet alone comprehend the colour we could see. The following day we took a drive to the ‘pan lookout’ where before we had posed for a touristy shot on the edge of the endless white pan. When we arrived there, two things were immediately evident. One, there was no way we would be driving to the pan lookout, as it was covered in mud, tracks of cars who had got stuck, and water. And two, the colour we had been seeing was indeed pink, and did in fact belong to feathers of flamingoes! The flamingoes were amassed along the edges of the pan, strutting their stuff and ‘croaking’ loudly. The sound flamingoes make is strange, loud and Im not sure what it is called, hence ‘croaking’…
Sadly, we could not get close enough to them for decent pictures, but it was great to see the pan covered in pink like that. It was also totally unexpected as I had been under the impression January was the time for flamingoes!

The waterhole at Halali is not quite as productive as that of Okaukeujo, but it does well in its own right. It is on top of a hill, and has plenty of seating and a small, wooden roof for when it rains.  One looks down on the animals as they come to drink, and we saw quite a few hyena as well as black rhino on most evenings. It was bitterly cold though, and I struggled to stick it our for more than 2 hours before my hands had frozen closed and I was shaking uncontrollably. Dinner in the restaurant was not up to standard with Okaukuejo, although it was alright. The lunches were great though! They even had burgers which I can assure you went down a treat after toasted sarmies and two minute noodles or nothing.

Any one who decides to visit Halali should know that it’s a great place to spot a honey badger. All you need is a good ear, and some patience. The badgers have taken to raiding the bins there frequently, so basically you just need to sit and listen for a clang, and then run outside with a torch! The best place to be is in a campsite, but I was in a chalet on account of the cold which was keeping me sniffling, and I needed to get better before the Arctic! (poor excuse perhaps, but true…) My badger knocked over the bin outside our room on the second night, and I jumped up ever so quickly, fussed about for a spotlight and charged after him (leaving the camera behind like a fool). I followed him at a run as he marched off, disappointed that our bin had rewarded him so poorly. Badgers move fast when they are on a mission, I can attest to that. This little guy bunched up his muscles and jogged off, following his nose to the next bin, and the next. They don’t mess around either, tip the bin with one jump, head inside, quick investigation and off they go, either empty mouthed, or with a prized treat hanging from their jaws. What characters! Although I should warn you that if you get in their way they can be rather aggressive, so do give them some space! I eventually had to leave mine as he wandered into the staff area, but I was happy.

Leaving Etosha was sad, as I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later, as it’s a magical park. The wildlife viewing is superb, the light is beautiful and in summer the storms and clouds are spectacular! There can be no favourite season, they are all good (except maybe February and  march when game is very spread out and its HOT.) If you haven’t been yet, do try and go. If possible avoid the South African school holidays, and you may even find you have the roads to yourself! I look forward to my next visit, whenever it may be… 

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