by Sven-Eric Kanzler
On the red top of the green world
Just getting there is an experience in itself. The steep path hugs the mountain slope in serpentine twists. A sign cautions us to continue in first gear only. I do my best to stay on the track, manoeuvring now to the right, now to the left. Particularly steep patches are reinforced with concrete. Red sandstone rocks, green shrubs and trees line the way. Then the track levels and after passing through tall boulders opens onto a small plain. We have arrived. We hold our breaths. On the one side red cliffs tower under the blue sky, on the other a plain stretches far below all the way to the horizon…
The site of Waterberg Plateau Lodge – on the mountain’s slope, slightly below the plateau, but high enough for a breathtaking view – is a dream which cannot be improved. The chalets are a new addition to Caroline and Joachim Rust’s Waterberg Wilderness Lodge situated in a wide cleft on the south-eastern slope, about 8 km east of the semi-state rest camp.
Each chalet consists of a double bedroom en suite, and the octagonal layout offers ample space for two. The walls are roughly hewn red sandstone rocks connected with grey cement. One of the eight sides holds a huge window, affording a magnificent view of the plain right from your bedside. During chilly winter nights a cast-iron stove with a damper of fire-proof glass supplies warmth and a romantic atmosphere. The bedstead, chairs and dresser are made from black steel, the tables sport glass tops. Natural stone, steel and glass, an interior design concept that is as unpretentious as it is stylish, also create a snug atmosphere. The mini-bar is highly original. Pipes sunk into the wall are stocked with chilled wine.
In the morning we enjoy our steaming cup of coffee on the shaded bench outside. All around us a chorus is twittering and chirping. Our host, Joachim Rust, told us at supper last night that the Waterberg is home to about 400 bird species. A small plunge pool attracts scores of them, even though it was intended to refresh guests during summer.
The main establishment, Waterberg Wilderness Lodge, has become increasingly popular during the past years. While it doesn’t offer a grand view of the plain, it is idyllically situated in a different way. In the basin-shaped valley of lush green vegetation, surrounded by sheer red cliffs, the lodge nestles under tall, shady trees. Amazingly, bamboo several metres high forms a dense circle around the spring next to the summerhouse. The lodge consists of eight double rooms and tour-guide accommodation. Three rooms can be furnished with an extra bed to suit families. “We love to have families,” emphasise Joachim and Caroline, parents of three. Highly popular, not only with children, is the room with a turret that is perfect for sundowners. The lodge also has a library with numerous books on nature and lots of fiction.
But browsing has to wait. On this beautiful morning we want to walk to the plateau after breakfast. Since there are rhinos up there and one can easily get lost, we are accompanied by an experienced guide. Markus Kalimbwe not only leads the way, but also points out plants, explains the geological history of Waterberg and answers our questions. He is Kavango, but speaks German well. The plateau hike of two to three hours is offered in the mornings and afternoons. If you want to go on your own, you can choose between six marked routes in the valley and on the mountain slopes.
In the evening you can join a farm drive. With a little luck kudu, gemsbok, eland and giraffe will make an appearance. If this is not enough, you can participate in a drive offered by the nearby rest camp, taking you onto the plateau where you might spot roan antelope, buffalo, even white and black rhino. The farm drive, apart from the scenery, gives insights into the history of this glorious part of the world. Joachim tells us that the San (Bushmen) inhabited this area before being driven away by the OvaHerero. The first Europeans arrived about 150 years ago. In 1851 the Swedish explorer Charles John Andersson took a closer look around, and in 1871 missionary Carl Hugo Hahn visited the spring. In 1904 one of the battles between Herero and Germans was waged at the valley’s mouth.
In 1911 the land came into the possession of the Rust family’s ancestors. It was bought by Friedrich von Flotow, a grandson of the German composer and great-grandfather of Joachim Rust. His son took over in 1952, but he died childless in 1971, and his widow sold the farm. Twenty-nine years later Joachim and Caroline Rust bought it and established Waterberg Wilderness Lodge in 2000.
With many stories and anecdotes our host revives the early years. All too quickly the sun touches the horizon. The time has come for a sundowner. A glass of red wine in hand, we watch as the cliffs of Waterberg start to glow. We clink our glasses and resolve to return here on our next visit to Namibia.
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.