What is the Etosha Pan
The Etosha Pan is the jewel in the crown of The Etosha National Park; it’s easy to see why. It covers 4800km², measuring 130kms long and 50kms in its widest parts; it is the largest salt pan in Africa. The flat, oval-shaped pan accounts for almost one-quarter of the National Park and is so distinctive that it is possible to see it from space!
Where is Etosha?
Northern Namibia is home to one of the largest and most significant game reserves in Africa, the Etosha National Park. It is a fenced reserve that teems with an abundance of wildlife. It is open year-round, is accessible from many regions, and is a safe place to visit for a day or stay for a vacation.
The Etosha pan is in the eastern region, is by far the largest of the three salt pans in the park.
What is a salt pan?
Hai//om Legend would have us believe that thousands of years ago, a small village existed in Etosha. Rival tribesmen pillaged one day, slaughtering all of the inhabitants, except for a single woman. She cried so hard in mourning for her lost loved ones that her tears formed a lake. When the sun evaporated the water, all that it left behind was the salt from her tears. It was the creation of the Etosha salt pan. In reality, the pan is a naturally occurring phenomenon, formed more than 100-million years ago. It is a simple hollow in the ground where water has evaporated, leaving behind mineral, salt deposits.
The Etosha pan was once a lake, bigger than any you could imagine. Due to an ever-changing climate combined with a tectonic shift, the Kunene River that once fed the lake redirected out to the Atlantic Ocean. In the modern-day, the pan receives water from the Ekuma and Oshigambo Rivers, but only when rainfall is exceptionally high; a rare occurrence. It happens during summer and lasts briefly, soon evaporating by the relentless sun.
The Etosha pan is dry for most, if not all the year.
Is there anything to see at the Etosha Pan?
During the dry season, expect shimmering shades of white and green; you won’t be disappointed. Be prepared for the abundant nature and wildlife that surround you, more than you might imagine. The pan may be inhospitable to lots of plant life, but some hardy grasses are tolerant enough to survive. Halophytic grass is a favorite of the grazers and grows in abundance. Much of the grassland of Etosha is by the pan; it grows well in the sandy soil found there. Grassy plains, known as savannahs, virtually surround the pan.
In times of exceptionally high rainfall, the tributary rivers overflow, creating shallow lakes, no greater than 10cm deep in the pan. It results in one of the most magnificent sights to behold; a blur of pinks and whites as wading birds descend to the water’s edge.
It becomes a breeding ground for flamingos; at any one time, their number reaches around 1-million birds. They are joined by storks, great white pelicans, and grebes, all taking advantage of the watering hole.
Many mammals trek across the pan, usually searching for water. The highly alkaline rainwater provides excellent salty nutrition for the animals. Zebra, giraffe, and elephants are common sightings trudging through the bleak, chalky whiteness of the pan. Small wildlife is easier to spot against the backdrop of white. Jackals, bat-eared foxes, honey badgers, and ground squirrels foraging for food are just some of the smaller creatures that inhabit the Etosha pan and surrounding savannah.
Any visit to Etosha National Park wouldn’t be complete without traveling to the far eastern corner to wonder in awe at the Etosha pan. It is a vast expanse of desolate, white soil; that shimmers in the merciless heat from the sun. It remains difficult to comprehend how the pan (that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie) is home to mammals, reptiles, birds, and lush vegetation. Translated, Etosha means Great White Palace, and it is easy to see why.
If you don’t believe me, go and see for yourself.