Namibia offers its visitors many attractions including ten national parks, under the control of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The most famous is probably the Etosha National Park located north of Windhoek. The park itself remains largely free of human influence. Its 22,270 sq km (8599 sq miles) are located around the Etosha Pan. This depression is 1065m (3494ft) above sea level, forming a huge, salty hollow which is only occasionally filled with water and surrounded by grasslands and bush.
Etosha, meaning ‘place of dry water’, is encloses a huge, flat calcrete depression (or pan) of about 5 000km². The ‘Pan’ provides a great, parched, silver-white backdrop of shimmering mirages to an area of semi-arid savannah grassland and thorn scrub. The pan itself contains water only after very good rains and sometimes for only a few days each year, but is enough to stimulate the growth of a blue-green algae which lures thousands of flamingos.
There are vast stocks of wildlife, particularly elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, springboks, kudus, gemsboks or oryxes, hyenas, jackals, leopards and cheetahs. It is open throughout the year. There are well-equipped camps with comfortable rondavel accommodation and camping facilities.
The salt pans are the most noticeable geological features in the Etosha national park. The hypersaline conditions of the pan limit the species that can permanently inhabit the pan itself; occurrences of extremophile micro-organisms are present, which species can tolerate the hypersaline conditions. In the dry season, winds blowing across the salt pan pick up saline dust and carry it across the country and out over the southern Atlantic. This salt enrichment provides minerals to the soil downwind of the pan on which some wildlife depends, though the salinity also creates challenges to farming.
The dolomite hills on the southern border of the park near the Andersson entrance gate are called Ondundozonananandana, meaning place where young boy herding cattle went to never return, probably implying a high density of predators like leopards in the hills, giving the mountains its English name of Leopard Hills.