O maruru in central Namibia is a splendid example of a town that continues to reinvent itself and thrive in the process. Having evolved in recent years as a haven for an active artists’ community, it is a small town with big ideas.
Like many towns in Namibia, it originated as a mission station. The missionary Hugo Hahn was the first European to set foot here. When Omaruru was besieged by Herero forces during the Herero/German war, it was freed by Captain Victor Franke and his men. The Franke Tower, built to commemorate this event, was inaugurated in 1908. The oldest building in Omaruru, the Old Rhenish Mission House, now serves as the town museum. At the Namibia Stone Processing plant, items from local marble and granite are manufactured.
In 1907 Omaruru acquired an official municipality. By this time Willi Wronsky had built his residence, today’s Wronsky House, at the north end of Main Street; the small Roman Catholic Church on Main Street had been built and dedicated; and the Omaruru River had ran above ground for the entire winter, most unusual in this dry part of the country.
Every year the artists’ community of Omaruru presents an Artists’ Trail. Over the first weekend in September, open studios and outdoor exhibits draw visitors to Namibia from around Southern Africa and beyond. During 2009 the Omuntu Garden was opened with an exhibition of over 50 sculptures by five Namibian sculptors. The creator of Omuntu, Hanne Alpers, maintains the garden as a permanent display area for sculptural art. Omuntu means ‘human being’ in Oshiwambo.
The Main Street Café is open for breakfast and lunch. It specialises in home-cooked items, including cheese, cheesecake and sausages made with locally sourced ingredients.
A double-banded sandgrouse. Photo ©Ron Swilling
Local crafts and small industries
On the south-eastern edge of town you will find Tikoloshe Afrika, a vibrant gallery and workshop where visitors can watch award-winning woodcarvers in action. In an open-air studio, they transform weather-worn roots and trunks into unique sculptures of animals, varying in size from 10 cm to 10 metres high.
Kashana Landhaus is a group of buildings on the banks of the Omaruru River initiated by local artists to accommodate studios and creative outlets such as the jewellery-design workshop of German-trained goldsmith Annette Meyer, and Heavenly Herbs, a shop devised by local artist, Hanne Alpers, who also owns the Naua Naua Art shop and gallery on the same premises.
Urte and Kalli Dörgeloh of Dörgeloh Chocolates practise a time-honoured German tradition, producing a fine range of handmade chocolates. Employing original Omaruru recipes and vintage moulds dating back to the early fifties, the Dörgelohs use only the finest ingredients, including local dates, rosella, kumquat, oranges, choc-mint and honey, making their products truly Namibian.
Since June 2004, the Kristall Kellerei in Omaruru has been manufacturing its own brandy. It is the only manufacturer of Namibian brandy for the market, and also produces wines, which compare favourably when measured to international standards. A range of Schnapps is produced from prickly pears, prosopis roots, lemons and, naturally, grapes.
Well worth a visit is Grow Namibia, a company that encourages sustainable development through recycling paper, glass and waste metal and converting it into new and interesting products.
The area surrounding Omaruru is rich in rock paintings. Paula Cave contains interesting specimens, although they have weathered away to some extent due to the lighting of fires inside the cave. At Etemba there are six main sites with rock paintings. The largest of these is the Etemba Cave, where a large number depict humans, and others animals.
Accommodation in the area
An accommodation option near Omaruru is Erongo Wilderness Lodge, situated among the foothills of the Erongo Mountains.
With 71 000 hectares of varied landscapes ranging from mountains to bush and open savannah, Erindi Private Game Reserve is one of the largest privately-owned game reserves in Namibia.
A good place between Usakos and Omaruru to visit is the Ai Aiba Rock Painting Lodge, spread out amongst massive granite boulders overlooking the Erongo Mountains.