Text and Photographs Annelien Robberts
As you stand at the viewpoint above the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa, you cannot help but think how insignificant we are. How nature has really outdone itself simply by following its course over hundreds of millions of years. In the Nama culture, legend has it that locals killed an enormous life-threatening snake. In its death throes it tossed and turned, resulting in giant fissures in the ground. These meandering gorges can be explored on an 85-km hike through the deepest part of the canyon.
A stone’s throw away from the Fish River Canyon viewpoint in /Ai-/Ais Richterveld Transfrontier Park lies Hobas Camp. Making our way there we are lucky that the biggest reptile we encounter is a sun-basking monitor lizard. Run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Hobas recently put on a new coat and tie boasting six new chalets, with more to come, as well as the new Quiver Taste Restaurant and a swimming pool. With all the recent renovations Hobas aims to provide an unparalleled experience. When visitors go home, Hobas should still linger in their memories.
As part of the formal reopening of Hobas in its new look the culture group Suide Maak Vrede, dressed in their beautiful trademark outfits sewn up of colourful patches, entertained guests with singing, dancing and theatrical performances. Introducing themselves to the audience, group member Marius explained that their name is Afrikaans for “South Makes Peace”. “If you are not looking for peace, then what are you doing in the south?” he asked in good humour.
This camp is the starting point of the Desert Knights Tour, a cycling event that has seen huge growth in popularity since it was launched in 2010. This event is extraordinary in many ways, as it takes place under the full moon in the desert landscapes of Namibia and South Africa. After three days of cycling through spectacular mountainous scenery, riders get to rest their legs and exchange pedals for paddles on the Orange River, a unique feature of this transfrontier park. The river forms the natural border between the two countries. On the remaining two days participants get back into their saddles for the final climb to Sendelingsdrift.
The event is packed to the brim with highlights along the way: the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Gamkab Canyon, Hakkiesdoring, the Richtersveld Helskloof Pass and the Orange River. Apart from offering cyclists a route with mind-blowing scenery, the event promotes additional activities that contribute to the understanding of cultural and natural landscapes.
/Ai-/Ais Richterveld Transfrontier Park is one of three transfrontier parks in Namibia. The transfrontier concept is aimed at supporting locals in order for them to become the best chefs, service providers or even cyclists. Johanna Ashimbanga and Maria Ndeshi Mokahwa, both employed at /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park, took up cycling after meeting the Desert Knights team for the first time. Transfrontier Conservation Areas director, Ernest Mokganedi, describes Johanna as “dynamite in a small package”, which seems fitting given her petite physique, yet she has participated in Desert Knights as many as six times. Maria works as a masseuse at /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Game Park.
Standing in front of the Desert Knights banner on day one of the event, spectators form a line to cheer the cyclists riding off into the sunset to admire the canyon under a different colour sky. When these adventurers return to the camp later the same night, the full moon will be their guide to their tents for a good night’s rest before taking on double the distance with an elevated climb the following day.
If the long stretch of road on the return trip to Windhoek seems daunting, I recommend a stopover at Hardap Game Reserve. Hardap Dam is the largest dam in Namibia and the facilities of Hardap Resort offer a welcome relief from the sweltering heat.
Hardap Dam is a most impressive sight in the arid landscape surrounding it. The resort is perched high above the northern shore of the dam from where you can enjoy unforgettable views of the wide expanse of water, rich in fresh water fish such as kurper, barbel, yellow-fish, carp and bass. With 284 recorded bird species and one of Namibia’s largest Great White Pelican breeding colonies, this oasis is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Black rhino, kudu, oryx, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, springbok and red hartebeest roam the game reserve adjacent to the dam.
Like a father praising his child’s virtues, Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) CEO Digu /Naobeb’s chest swells as he announces that bookings for tourist facilities in the south of Namibia are already rolling in for 2018. A combination of adventure, culture and spectacular scenery, Namibia’s south is a treasure chest waiting to be unlocked by local and international travellers alike.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Winter 2017 issue.