Ongava Lodge: Our full report
Perched on the top of a small kopje (rocky outcrop), with stunning views of the plains below, Ongava Lodge ...... was the original 'luxury game lodge' near Etosha. It stands on the private Ongava Game Reserve, which borders the southern side of Etosha National Park near the Andersson Gate, south of Okaukuejo.
With such close proximity to Etosha National Park, the 320km2 Ongava Reserve is noteworthy in its own right. There's a fence between the two, but smaller game can usually move between them – and there are plenty of instances of larger game breaking through. Most native plains game occurs on the property, including springbok, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, zebra, red hartebeest, giraffe, eland, Damara dik-dik, steenbok and klipspringer. Ongava also has what's said to be the largest population of black-faced impala outside of Etosha, plus a healthy population of predators, including lion, leopard, hyena and black-backed jackal.
Both black and white rhino have been successfully reintroduced onto the reserve, and although rhino are becoming increasingly rare, we've been very fortunuate to have had some great sightings here. Our last trip in March 2017 was no exception! Whilst on an afternoon game drive on the reserve our guide located two white rhino - mum and calf - peacefully grazing in a clearing. This was exciting enough in itself as we had a pretty good view from the vehicle, but our guide invited us to get closer… Like most guides at Ongava, he was an expertly trained walking guide, so after a short safety briefing and armed with a rifle; we approached the rhino on foot cautiously walking towards them in a single file. We stopped in the cover of some bushes about 70m away and spent the next 20 minutes happily observing them and getting some great photos! And, it doesn’t stop there – minutes before locating a sundowner spot a black rhino bull crashed out of the mopane trees ahead of us!
Birdwatching on the Ongava Reserve can also be very good, with a number of endemic (or almost endemic) species found here, including the bare-cheeked babbler, violet wood-hoopoe, Carp's tit and Monteiro’s Honbill.
Ongava Lodge has 14 stone-and-thatch chalets. These spacious chalets are tastefully decorated in neutral tones with russet coloured throws and cushions adding warmth, and stylish black and white animal prints adorning the walls. The large beds face floor to ceiling glass doors that let in plenty of light and open up onto a private wooden verandah with far reaching views across the plains. Each room has air conditioning and an overhead fan, 24-hour 220V electricity and an international plug socket, tea- and coffee-making facilities and large mosquito nets around the beds. The en-suite bathroom has a twin handbasins, a large walk-in shower , and a separate toilet. A selection of complementary toiletries is provided as well as gowns and a hairdryer for guests use. There's an outdoor shower, too, in all of the chalets except the family unit. This family chalet has two separate en-suite bedrooms joined by a shared wooden deck.
The hub of Ongava Lodge itself is the main lounge, bar and dining area, which has impressive views down to the waterhole below, and across to the unpronounceable Ondundozonanandana hill range. The large lounge has a central fireplace around which comfy sofas are arranged; several separate seating areas also help create more intimate spaces. Adjoining the lounge is the bar to one side and a small library to the other. A few steps down from the lounge brings you to an open sided wooden deck, where numerous pretty pink granite topped tables are set up, so it’s possible to enjoy your meal whilst keeping a watchful eye on the waterhole. Indeed, on previous visits we’ve had the privilege of seeing rhino come to drink at the floodlit waterhole during dinner. Next to the main area there is also an inviting swimming pool.
Activities at Ongava Lodge, as at its sister lodges on the reserve – Little Ongava, Ongava Tented Camp, and Andersson's at Ongava – focus firmly on game safaris. And, in our experience over many years, the guides here have generally been good and very knowledgable. The Lodge offers guided 4WD game, guided walking safaris on the reserve - an activity that’s not widely available in the Etosha area, and rhino tracking. Ongava also has a hide just meters away from the waterhole near camp. The hide is equipped with comfortable seats and even has camera mounts – it’s a great opportunity for photographers to get some really close up wildlife photos. However, it is popular so when the lodge is full guests are requested to ‘reserve’ visits in advance.
Etosha game viewing – game migrates to west of park esp elephant. Some plains game around. Work harder for sightings. Animals spread out and not concentrated around waterholes. Not disappointed on the reserve.
The scope of game drives from Ongava Lodge varies. Typically, morning drives venture into the Okaukuejo area of Etosha National Park, and afternoon drives explore the Ongava Reserve. All use open-topped vehicles, which are a relatively unusual sight within the national park itself. The rhino tracking activity, which is conducted on foot, takes place in the dry season when the vegetation is lower and visibility is better. During the rains, guides are still able to approach rhino, but this is carried out as part of an afternoon game drive, whereby the guide takes a rifle along, and if rhino are spotted on the drive he may stop and walk guests in closer if its deemed safe. At Ongava, only white rhino are approached on foot as they are considered to be less temperamental than their black cousins.
Ongava Lodge remains a luxurious place to stay as a base to explore Etosha National Park. Its far-reaching views, productive waterhole and photographic hide are just some of the highlights of a stay here. Moreover, its exclusive location on a large private reserve, with a well-established resident population of white and black rhino, and excellent general game viewing also make it a destination in its own right. Opportunities to do rhino tracking, walking safaris and night drives on the reserve are an added bonus!
- Etosha National Park, Namibia
- Ideal length of stay
- Two or three nights here is ideal if you want to go on game drives into Etosha, as well as on the Ongava Reserve itself.
- The entrance to the Ongava Reserve is just off the tarred C38, just a few metres from Etosha's Andersson Gate. Ongava Lodge is located about 9km or a 15 minute drive from entrance.
- Accessible by
- Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Half Board
- Food quality
- We found the food at Ongava Lodge to be well presented, varied and tasty. Breakfast consists of a tempting buffet of freshly baked bread and muffins, fruit, cereals, platters of cold meats and cheeses, and a choice of juices or tea and coffee. A hot breakfast is freshly cooked for each guest.
Lunch is set menu with a choice of a meat and a vegetarian dish. On our last visit in March 2017, we had bobtjie with yellow rice and spinach and tagliatelle with peas and pesto, both served with Greek salad and fresh bread.
Dinner is also a set menu and we had a delicate tuna salad to start, followed by a very tasty kudu fillet accompanied by couscous, baby marrow and mangetout, and nicely rounded off with a fresh lemon pot with raspberry coulis.
Tea and coffee is available throughout the day, and around 3pm an assortment of sweet and savoury snacks are served.
- Visitors at Ongava Lodge benefit from the prolific birdlife on the Ongava Reserve and neighbouring Etosha National Park. Over 340 species have been recorded, including local specials: Namaqua sandgrouse, double-banded courser and yellow-bellied eremomela.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Photography holidays
- The photographic hide at Ongava Lodge overlooks a waterhole just in front of the lodge. Whether you are a budding photographer or just keen to get closer to the action it offers guests a unique perspective on Namibia’s wildlife.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- Walking safaris
- Expertly trained, armed guides lead walking safaris from Ongava Lodge in the Ongava Reserve. The focus of these walks is often on tracking white rhino, although you may also see some of the reserve's wide variety of other game species.
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- Wildlife safaris
- Ongava Lodge offers excellent game-viewing opportunities, both within the Ongava Reserve and the neighbouring Etosha National Park. Added bonuses include possibly tracking white rhino on foot and night drives in the reserve, neither of which is allowed in Etosha.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- Ongava Lodge says that children over the age of six years are ‘accepted’, rather than welcomed.
- Property’s age restrictions
- The lodge has a minimum age restriction of six years for children. There are further restrictions on activities: the minimum age for walking activities is 13 and for rhino tracking it is 16.
- Special activities & services
- There is a family chalet with two en-suite bedrooms joined by a shared deck.
- Generally recommended for children
- The design of Ongava Lodge and its location make it suitable only for older children, and we feel that the atmosphere is orientated much more towards adults. Families may be better to consider its sibling on the reserve, Andersson’s Camp, which we think is much more suitable for children.
- The lodge is not fenced and neither is the pool. Wildlife, including leopard and lion, is known to move through and around the lodge. Added to this, the lodge has steep stairways and long drops to the ground from its hillside perch, so children absolutely must be under the supervision of their parents at all times.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Ongava Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Ongava Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- There are plug points in the rooms for charging electrical equipment and for using hairdryers.
- The lodge has cellphone reception and WiFi is available in the main area, where there is a telephone in the office.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- We are told by the lodge that the tap water is safe to drink, although there is a water cooler with filtered drinking water in the main area. All the rooms have plumbed-in showers and flushing toilets. Water is solar heated.
Supporting education amongst future generations
Ongava Lodge is considered one of Namibia’s premier lodges. Although it is located in a 30,000 private concession offering guests an intimate safari experience, the close link Ongava has with the local communities is seen as vital for the lodge’s sustainable operations. One example of a community partnership the lodge has been contributing to is the support provided to three local schools. This is done with the intention of giving school children the chance to acquire skills relevant to the uplift of local rural communities.
In an effort to contribute to the education of the next generation, Ongava Lodge has recently reached out with a generous donation of stationary and academic materials in addition to its ongoing financial support. At the beginning of 2018 a ‘back-to-school’ donation was announced during a ceremony attended by the Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism. Apart from presenting the donations to the headmasters of the three schools, representatives of Ongava Game Reserve also attended discussions with teachers to find out what their biggest needs were. A list of items was compiled, and over 680 pupils from kindergarten to 10th graders received packages with stationery essential for the school year. Moreover, teachers received items such as printer paper that would help them during classes.
The initiative therefore shows Ongava Lodge’s passion about developing academic skills throughout local communities, with the ambition of ultimately creating a more sustainable future workforce. They themselves belong to a thriving local business which employs over 170 Namibians.
See more great sustainability projects in Namibia
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- The camp management is trained in first aid and a doctor is on call (on the phone) for 24-hour advice. Otherwise the nearest doctor is in Outjo. In a medical emergency, a traveller would be flown during daylight hours to Windhoek.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- The lodge is in a remote part of the Ongava Reserve, which is fenced, and there are security guards at the gate. An air horn is provided in each chalet to attract attention in case of emergency.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in each chalet and around the main area.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- A full laundry service is included. Items are usually collected in the morning and returned in the evening, weather permitting.
- There is a small safe in each chalet. The lodge does not offer any currency-exchange facilities.
- Accepted payment on location
- MasterCard and Visa debit and credit cards are accepted by the lodge. Cash is also accepted in Namibian dollars, South African rands, GB sterling, US dollars and euros.
Other lodges in Etosha National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.