by Michaela Kanzler
“To make this dream come true we put one of our salaries aside every month during the twelve years we worked as teachers in Germany,” Renate and Walter Theile recall their savings effort. It was definitely worthwhile, because the Theiles are relaxing on their veranda right in the middle of their dream, which extends over 164 square kilometres and is known as the Namtib Biosphere Reserve. The biofarm-cum-guesthouse lies in a beautiful wide valley of the Tiras Mountains (just under 2 000 metres high), at the fringe of the awe-inspiring Dune Namib, about 110 kilometres north of Aus, in the far south-western reaches of Namibia.
Where did the dream originate? Walter Theile was born in Germany but grew up in Lüderitz. He met Renate while studying in Heidelberg. They were of the heady late-sixties generation, with all the exciting ideas of alternative life-styles in unspoilt nature. In the case of the Theiles, the idea developed into a dream of a farm in Africa. After years of hard work and frugality, it finally started to take shape. In 1982 they bought the farm and went to live in Namibia with their children, Thorsten and Nicole.
“Namtib is located in a delicate ecosystem,” Walter Theile points out. “So we decided to turn our farm into a ‘biosphere reserve’ from the outset. This idea emanates from the sixties. Promoting nature conservation by means of biosphere reserves was first recommended by UNESCO in 1970. There are now about 500 such reserves, in more than 100 countries.
“Our first priority is to preserve nature in its biological diversity,” Theile emphasises. “Anything we do, whether in farming or hospitality, has to be in sync with this principle.” In the beginning the fences of livestock enclosures were dismantled and herdsmen were engaged.” This way the animals nibble on their favourite grasses here and there, instead of stripping one enclosure after the other of every bit of green,” Walter Theile explains during the farm drive, “If the rains don’t come, we reduce our livestock in good time.” Which also means reduced profits. But for the environment it pays off. Even though it last rained three years ago, there is still enough grazing for the remaining cattle, as well as for the game.
A guesthouse was part of the plan from the outset. Namtib borders on the D707, the most beautiful by-road in the south, and on the fringes of the Namib sand sea. When the Theiles welcomed their first guests in January 1983, it was still early days for tourism in Namibia. “For years we managed without electricity. Our way of life was very simple, adapted to our arid surroundings.” There is electricity now – whenever possible from solar panels only – and by Easter 2006 there will be lights as well. This work is being done by Thorsten, a mechanical engineer. In 2005 he decided year to gradually take over from his parents, and has many new ideas.
There are five chalets for guests. The generously proportioned rooms have their bathroom situated across an airy private courtyard. Campers pitch their tents under old, gnarled camel-thorn trees at Little Hunters Rest, a few kilometres from the farmhouse, and they are welcome to sign up for meals, which are an experience to remember. Excellent farm cuisine is served at a large dining table in a cosy room complete with lounge suite and fireplace. This is where guests recount their adventures of the day, the hosts talk about life on the farm and everyone joins in to discuss the latest in world affairs – sometimes until late at night.
The reddish granite slopes of the Tiras Mountains are perfect for hiking tours. Whether you go on your own steam or with a guide, you will discover photoworthy rock formations, modelled by weathering, and you can watch nimble klipspringer or a Black Eagle circling above. A scenic drive in the afternoon takes guests through the sweeping valley to a slope with no less than two thousand quiver trees, to a permanently bubbling spring or to one of the mysterious fairy circles – round, bare patches in a grassy plain. During the drive you’ll spot game animals such as gemsbok, springbok or kudu, and you’ll see many different types of birds.
The actual Namtib experience, however, is beyond description. It enables you to unwind, see nature with new eyes, listen to its absolute silence and – more likely than not – carry a piece of it home within you.
This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.