Destination Unknown

Photo: Chloe Durr

Destination Unknown

08 February 2021 | Tourism

There is nothing like planning a trip into the unknown and in many ways my advantage is that I constantly get to see new places with “foreign eyes”.

Every region of Namibia that I venture into is a surprise for me, which adds a sense of excitement that I am often reminded not to lose.

Going on this trip late in December, I will admit to having had my reservations about just focussing on the Otjozondjupa Region. It felt too close to home in Windhoek and thus seemed for me lacked that sense of adventure. To say that I was sorely mistaken is an understatement!

Day 1: A vision in Purple

We set off on our journey and stopped in Okahandja to stock up one last time and checked in on the Mbangura Woodcarvers Market. I previously drove the B1 Trans-Kalahari Highway laser-focused on my goal of reaching places further north, but this time, with only 300 kilometers to drive, I was able to digest the changing surroundings at a more leisurely pace.

Not far from Windhoek, wich is situated in the much drier Khomas Region, the Otjozondjupa Region comprises of much more fertile land in Namibia’s central north – it is lush and alive. By the time the “buttocks” known as Omatako Mountains had passed, the landscape had transformed into hues of verdant green whilst a dramatic bank of flat-bottomed cartoon-clouds loomed over the Waterberg Plateau in the distance. What a pleasure it is to experience this greenery instead of the previous grey associated with the long drought that held Namibia by its throat for so many years.

We turned off onto the C22 following the road to Okakarara and Waterberg. Out of the haze-rippling heat appeared an ancient Ford bakkie, traveling at 30km/hour, brimming with neatly packed bales of kindling. Amongst the bundles of branches, logs and woven grasses sat a perfectly poised Herero lady. She was dressed to the nines in a voluminous, purple “ohorokova” dress and extraordinarily wide “otjikalva” headdress and using her white lace shawl to shield her face from the wind and plumes Kalahari dust that swooned around her.

We only parted ways when we reached the turnoff to Waterberg remaining on the on the D512 as we drove for about 28 kilometres to Waterberg Wilderness.

Kalahari’s Table Mountain
I had heard rumours about the evergreen haven that is the Waterberg, but even my wild imagination was not prepared for the “secret garden” that was about to unfold.

The Waterberg Plateau, declared as a National Monument in 1956 and located 68 km east of Otjiwarongo, is one of the great attractions of the Otjozondjupa Region. The elongated table-mountain is made up of enormous, displaced rocks that peek out over a lush pedestal of dense vegetation. The porous Etjo sandstone of the upper rim absorbs moisture like a sponge and creates pooling springs that abound in the impermeable shale slopes of the lower reaches of the mountain, particularly on the south-eastern side, where the secluded Waterberg Wilderness Private Nature reserve is located.

The 16 plateau campsites are well positioned and evenly dispersed overlooking the dramatic backdrop of the Waterberg Plateau. Campsites offer all the facilities required for a semi-rustic camping experience. They are equipped with a weatherproof fire-pit, braai grids, a sheltered dining table, a swimming pool, solar-electricity and hot shower in the ablution blocks, which are located far enough from the campsites to give the sense that you are alone in the wilderness.

Despite the exquisitely romantic setting my “Midsummer Night’s Dream” would be spoilt somewhat on account of a slew of hilariously unfortunate events. A full-moon swim ended with my dad, my camera and the pool-side bench careering down the hill and into a thorn thicket. I spent the rest of the evening attending to battle wounds. To compound matters, we had packed during a heat wave, never fully grasping the possible need for sleeping bags or warm clothes. Once the sun went down, the temperature plummeted and suffice to say that I spend the night lying frozen and being devoured by mosquitoes.
Sadly I thus did not really register the otherwise spectacular location with the sound of the bush, barking gecko and yelping jackal at full moon.

Day 2: Culture Trip

After my introduction to the Ovaherero (Herero) the day before, we explored further and set off to visit Okakarara (one of the major settlements of the Herero folk in Namibia) situated along the C22, about 59 km from the Waterberg Plateau Park. While the living museum and cultural centres were closed, this did not taint our experience one bit. It was wonderful to experience culture and tradition without it being a staged performance.

The main road of the town Okakarara is a sensory explosion of culture flanked by a bustle of shiny wrought-iron barber shops, traditional food stands, woven grass-carpets lined with colourful fabric, crafts and “orupapa” – a traditional plant-root perfume which has an earthy, spicy scent. Together with music coming from each shop, the buzz and chatter of daily life, the bell sounds coming from passing cattle and the honk of the local taxis. The cacophony of sound set the stage for one of the most memorable experiences to date.
Here, Herero woman wear their distinctly Victorian, yet undeniably African “ohorokova” dress with pride. Adopted from the wives of the 19th century missionaries, their once plain white crinoline dresses have evolved into a rainbow of colours and patterns and the addition of the eye-catchingly distinctive “otjikalva” headdress. A lady named Miriam patiently showed me how the cloth is rolled to create the signature “horns” that pay homage to the holy cattle “ozohivirikwa” – a gift from God and celebrated in the Herero culture.

Trouble in Paradise
The Waterberg Plateau Park was officially proclaimed a wilderness protected area in 1972 and remains a sanctuary for rare and endangered species. Rhino, roan antelope, tsesebe, eland, sable and water buffalo are found roaming the plateau.
Waterberg Wilderness is found no more than 13 km from the Namibia Wildlife Resort camp (NWR) at Waterberg. It is a hiking haven with various trails and abundant with birdlife, wildlife, diverse fauna and flora. It is one of the most tranquil places I have ever visited.
There are many trails to explore at Waterberg Wilderness, most of which do not require much specific training or fitness, and the added benefit of shaded hiking is a rarity in Namibia.

We followed the western tail-end of the “Anderson Trail”, named after Swedish explorer John Anderson (1851). The deeper we ventured into the wilderness the more disorientated we became, and by the time we reached Waterberg Wilderness Lodge (the original farmhouse) it felt as though we had been uprooted and transported to a tropical Amazonian rainforest, complete with chirping rosy-faced lovebirds and rüppels parrots in a bamboo forest.
The “Porcupine Highway” led us to towering sycamore, Leadwood, African wattle and fig trees, but also taught us to stick to the paths as we encountered baboons and had a close encounter with a black mamba. It was time to call it a day and head to the Waterberg Plateau Lodge – our home for the night.

Day 3: Balm for the Soul

After our first proper night’s rest at the luxurious Waterberg Plateau Lodge we could finally absorb the beauty of our surroundings. The Lodge is idyllically positioned on the red sandstone cliffs that encircle the Waterberg Mountain. Surreptitiously hidden by tall acacia trees that swallow the turrets of the red-steepled-roofs, the view from the lodge is of fascinatingly eroded sandstone-pillars rising from the cliffside. Each of the seven chalets offers staggering views over a swath of Kalahari savannah in the planes of the valley below and the small plonge-pool is a gift from heaven during the day’s heat.

A Moment for the Rhino
Rhino certainly roam freely in this private nature reserve, but remain under constant protection. It is thus not really much of a tracking experience, but rather drives home the message that there is a real need to protect this species from extinction. Wesley, our proud Herero guide, grew up in this area. His knowledge of the traditional uses of fauna and flora was second to none, not to mention his keen eye as regards spotting wildlife and birdlife while trailing Rhino spoor.
We trekked the savannah for nine kilometer before finding a Rhino tranquilly sleeping in the shade of a large Acacia tree. I felt deeply honoured to be in its presence at close range for such a lengthy period – they are certainly one of the most beautiful animals alive today!

The Romance Continues
Reluctant to leave Waterberg behind we opted to travel the scenic route to Grootfontein along the buttery smooth dust road D512 that borders the Kalahari – arguably the most romantic road in Namibia.

124 kilometres, a dozen cattle gates and many photography stops later, we finally met with the B8 between Otavi and Grootfontein at Rietfontein. This is really the centre of the “Omuramba Meander” tourism area, which includes the lush and fertile maize triangle between Otavi, Grootfontein and Tsumeb – each town has its own claim to fame. Not far from Grootfontein you can also visit the famous Hoba Meteorite. It is the most massive naturally occurring piece of iron mass known on earth and derives its name from the Khoekhoegowab language, meaning "gift".

Day 4: I Dream of Africa

Nothing hinders you from extending your trip into the Otjikoto Region where you can visit the Otjikoto- and Guinas Lakes or drive to the Etosha Game Reserve previously explored by TN. But then you may also choose to stay over at the Ghaub, which started as a guest farm and in the meantime has grown to comprise of a lodge and camp site, offering nature trails and another round of rhino tracking (previously written about in TN).
You may want to stay over at another well-liked site previously discussed in this magazine, Thonningii Wine Cellars Self-Catering and Camping, which is part of the Thonningii Wine Cellars – all found a stone’s throw apart near Otavi.

We opted to enjoy the drive back to Otjiwarongo passing a myriad of Guest Houses, Guest Farms and –Lodges, as well as hunting farms. In Otjozondjupa you are spoilt for choice no matter where you go! Simply google Otjozondjupa Hospitality and look for an ideal solution that fits your requirement.

Our next stop was Mount Etjo Safari Lodge, which can be likened to a tropical oasis. It reminded me of exotic childhood holidays spent travelling throughout Africa. The terracotta Moroccan-style archways, the sound of palm tree leaves in a breeze, the refreshing scent of freshly cut lawns and the ambiance of a fire-lit Boma at night – all to the reverberating background of Hippopotamus grunting during the night.

Mount Etjo is situated in the heart of Okonjati Game Sanctuary, one of the first privately owned nature reserves in Namibia, founded in 1975 by world-renowned conservationist Jan Oelofse. The Oelofse family spent 30 years nurturing the 36 000 hectare sanctuary guided by the philosophy to “give back to nature, more than you take out”. Their devotion and passion for wildlife and conservation is infectious!

We were accompanied on our game drive by Dr Lombard, a retired vet and old friend of the Oelofse family. We learned lesser-known facts about the abundant wildlife around us from our ranger, Ginny, who was incredibly knowledgeable. The presence of security, surveillance and anti-poaching units is something you notice outright upon arrival at the gates of Okonjati, which also hosts an anti-poaching training camp.
A sundowner hike to the 180 million years old dinosaur tracks of Otjihaenamapareo, found at the foothills of the Etjo Mountains just 3 km from Camp Dinosaur was a must. The setting sun allows for a perfect angle to better distinguish the 3-toed claws of the prehistoric birds.

Day 5: Where there is life there is hope

My scepticism for sanctuaries was put at ease when I met Anette Oelofse. Her heart-felt devotion and strong yet gentle nature undeniably impacts more than only the lives of orphaned rhinos in her care.

Annette spent her life caring for orphaned and injured animals, but her devotion to conservation, protection and care for rhinoceros was ignited when Nossie, a malnourished seven days old, orphaned rhino, came into her care in 1995. Nossie was the first of many success stories at Okonjati and has even gone on to carry nine calves to date. Their successful reintroduction into the wild is, in part, due to Annette’s philosophy to raise the orphaned rhino as wild as possible with minimal human contact.
Upon arrival at the sanctuary, I could immediately sense the mutual trust and maternal bond between Annette and the rhino, whose eyes instantaneously lit up as they recognised Anette with her bounteous concoction of fat-free milk and glucose in large buckets strapped to the door of her open vehicle. I find it impossible to fathom how anyone could harm such a decidedly gentle giant.

Otjozondjupa turned out to be one of my most fulfilling Namibian adventures to date. Equally balanced with culture, history, adventure, wildlife and purpose this was my idea of the ultimate Namibian road trip. Okuhepa – thank you to all who made it possible!

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