Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake, Namibia

Lake Locations:

Namibia -

Little-known by the world, Namibia’s Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake provides refuge to many varieties of African wildlife. Ensconced within 8,000 square mile Etosha National Park, the huge dry lake bed covers a vast area that receives visits from a wide variety of animals and birds. During the rainy season, the dry lake bed sometimes floods to a depth of about four inches, but the water quickly dissipates leaving only waterholes. A few permanent springs dot the perimeter of the 80-mile long salt pan and are usually populated by large numbers of birds and visiting wildlife. Over 300 species of birds are seen here regularly and, in years of good rain, flamingos and great white pelicans use the temporary lake as a breeding ground. Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake is a photographer’s dream come true; few other landscapes can offer the wide variety of animals that are found at Etosha.

Part of the Kalahari Basin, Etosha means Great White Place in the native tongue, but many call it ‘the place of dry water’. Originally a huge shallow lake about 12 million years ago, the Etosha Salt Pan was fed by the Kunene River. When the Kunene River changed course with geological upheavals thousands of years ago, the lake dried up, leaving the huge mud flat topped with mineral deposits. Now, the Ekuma River is the sole source of water for the lake but little water reaches it, having mostly seeped into the riverbed along its 160-mile course. The concentrated mineral salts prevent many types of vegetation from growing here. That which does is often unusual and perfectly suited to an inhospitable environment. The area surrounding the dry lakebed is primarily savannah and native bush. One of the more popular locations within the park for visitors is the Haunted Forest, with the weirdly-shaped Moringa trees. The Acacia tree variety here has nearly-deadly spikes, giving them the name umbrella-thorn trees. Nearby Oliphantsbad is a favored location for viewing elephants. Mineral-laden dust often swirls with the winds, creating an eerie scene from which the area’s famed elephants often emerge to travel to waterholes. The elephants at Etosha are among the world’s tallest. Dust, thorns and salt predominate in the summer heat, making the Namibian winter-May to September-the optimal time for visiting the park and the dry lake.

Not only is it cooler in the winter months, but larger numbers of native animals seek out the waterholes at this time. This is big game country; elephants, giraffes, Burchell’s and Hartmann’s zebras, blue wildebeests, red hartebeests, red elands, gemsboks, springboks, kudus, black-faced impala, ostrich and even the endangered black rhino can be viewed here. Some only winter here and spend the summer in wetter areas south of the park. Less easy to spot but always nearby are the prides of lions, families of cheetahs and solitary leopards hidden in the tall savannah grasses. Etosha National Park is home to 114 mammal species, 110 reptile species, 340 bird species, 16 amphibian species and even one species of fish. The park was originally designated in 1907 while Namibia was under the control of Germany and known as German South-West Africa. Originally the park was four times the size of the current park but has since been reduced to a more manageable size. The western part of the park has been restricted from most casual visitors, but guests at the new Dolomite Camp have limited access. Access to all areas is by permit only.

Germany ruled Namibia until 1915 when the country was overrun by troops from South Africa. After attaining its independence in 1990, Namibia now obtains some development aid from Germany and is slowly becoming a modern, autonomous state. An historic reminder of the often-contentious relationship with Germany survives in the park in the form of a rebuilt German fort that was taken by Owambo tribesman around the turn of the last century. The rebuilt Fort Namutoni, previously the northernmost German outpost, is one of three original ‘rest camps’ maintained within the park by the government. The other two traditional rest camps are Halali and Okaukuejo. Each camp has tourist facilities such as a restaurant, a shop selling basics, a service station for fuel and basic repairs, and a swimming pool, as well as various grades of accommodation and camping facilities. Onkoshi Camp and Dolomite Camp have been added since 2008 and are more modern. Many of the main waterholes are flood-lit at night for optimum game viewing. Additional waterholes have been dug to attract more game but have in some instances reduced the numbers of animals to be seen in a single location.

Reservations are necessary as Etosha National Park is extremely popular around holidays, and accommodations are limited. Although the park is about 310 miles north of Namibia’s capital of Windhoek, it is easily accessed by car. Park management warns however, that there is no camping allowed except at the designated rest stops, so visitors without reservations must either leave the park or sleep in their cars-an often un-nerving prospect given the amount of large animals and predators in the park.

A number of commercial lodges exist just outside Etosha National Park and are often the preferred option for visitors to Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake. Most have more modern and more luxurious accommodations, offer wild game drives, both within their own reserves or in Etosha National Park, and generally provide the kind of ‘safari’ experience that the park itself does not provide in some of the rest camps. Accommodations are of all types, often as tented luxury rooms with private baths and gourmet meals. Some offer day tours to a Himba village, overnight trips to Epupa Falls on the Kunene River, or visits to working farms and ranches. Several encompass game rescue facilities and offer a first-person glimpse into efforts to preserve the wild species the area is known for. The main entrance to the park is called the “Andersson Gate” situated near Okaukuejo in the south. The eastern entrance is called the “Von Lindequist Gate” and is near Namutoni. The new “Nehale lya Mpingana Gate” (King Nehale Gate) was opened at the beginning of 2003 in the north-east.

Namibia is still sparsely populated. To the east lie the Highlands, to the west the Namib Desert, ending at the inhospitable Atlantic coastline. Most of the coastline is designated national park, but much of the area is accessed from the single coastal highway. The nearest access to the Atlantic coastline from Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake is the Torra Bay area, accessed by road beyond the new Torra Conservancy. Established in 1996, the Torra Conservancy offers sustainable hunting and eco-tourism to benefit the local inhabitants. Windhoek is both the largest city and the capital; nearly all government offices are found here. An international airport serves small Windhoek, and cars may be rented here for visits to the Etosha area. As many businesses and service points do not take credit cards, it is sometimes easier to join a reputable tour group to avoid having to carry large amounts of cash. Careful planning will help first-time visitors make the most of their visit to the Etosha region. This is a definite ‘must’ on the adventurous traveler’s bucket list. Come stalk the elusive black rhino and experience the waterholes of the Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake. There is no place on earth quite like it!

Things to do at Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Camping
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake Photo Gallery

Etosha Salt Pan Dry Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,562 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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