by Ginger Mauney
The astounding variety of vegetation, rock art, birdlife and wildlife found in the Erongo Mountains makes it one of the richest ecological regions in Namibia. Since activities and adventures in this area are designed to rival the natural wonders, guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation.
Epako Game Ranch – African hospitality with French flair
Given Namibia’s colonial history, visitors have come to expect German influence in the country’s architecture, language and cuisine. But just north-east of Omaruru at Epako Game Lodge guests are pleasantly surprised to find African hospitality mixed with French flair.
André Kamel, a French industrialist who has developed massive engineering projects in Africa, bought the 11 000-hectare farm in 1990, the year Namibia became independent. After putting in 300 kilometres of roads and a borehole every five kilometres, he moved the cattle out and brought in wildlife, including elephant and white rhino, transforming the property into a game farm. Then, at the urging of his family, he opened the farm to tourists.
Situated on the banks of the Epako River and true to its Herero name – which means ‘the corner of a mountain range’ – the property runs 25 kilometres from end to end, every bit as big as the city of Paris with its surrounding suburbs. For the past twelve years, Guy Claveau and his wife, Tiny, have managed the Lodge. Prior to coming to Namibia, the couple worked in large hotels in Cameroon, Nigeria and in their native France. With their vast experience, they brought an understated, efficient and elegant touch to Epako Game Ranch.
Guy is an experienced cook who trained the kitchen staff at Epako to prepare delicious food with fresh Namibian ingredients. Infused with French culinary influences, dinner consists of four scrumptious courses, for example tender carpaccio of beef served with fresh basil, olive oil and garlic, a creamy vegetable soup followed by hearty eland steaks served with your choice of garlic butter or pepper sauce, homemade French fries, carrots and broccoli purée. All dishes are served at your table. All you need do yourself is make a selection from the dessert bar, no easy task when the choices include chocolate mousse, tiramisu, fresh fruit and crème caramel.
Guests dine on a terrace overlooking the floodlit waterhole. A perfect meal is thus accompanied not only by warm, discreet service and good wine, but also by views of animals drinking. The quality of Epako’s cuisine is well known in the area and many guests visiting neighbouring lodges make a point of dining here.
Those who stay overnight can enjoy the grounds, which have lovely indigenous gardens, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a view to the waterhole. Accommodation is in 24 spacious, air-conditioned double bedrooms. The main reception area is centred around an impressive stone fireplace and a well-stocked bar, providing a perfect place to relax and share stories with fellow guests. There is also a large satellite television, chessboard, and a curio shop with a small, but interesting assortment of African art and artefacts. There is also a small conference room that overlooks a waterhole.
At the edge of the river a small wooden bridge links a walkway to benches placed under large trees, from where guests can watch animals moving through the bush. With the sound of nearby running water, this is an ideal spot for relaxing and bird-watching.
The main activities at Epako Game Lodge include sundowner game drives and early-morning excursions to view Bush-man paintings and engravings. Walks may also be organised on request. Epako’s guides are well informed, having received training on birds, plants and animals with NATH and via courses run by experts who visit the farm for on-site training.
With many lodges in the area all offering similar activities, Epako Game Lodge stands out by offering a warm African experience with French finesse.
Schönfeld Castle Lodge and Safaris – living history
Entering Schönfeld Castle, the home of Hartwig and Elke von Seydlitz, is like stepping into history. Lining the walls of the entrance hall are old black-and-white photographs of the adventurous journey undertaken by Hartwig’s grandfather from Germany to Namibia in the early 1900s.
As Hartwig explains the contents of each shot, the memories come to life and you see a young man sitting alone in a distant, wild land. With the help of a matronly lady, he turns a piece of African bush into a farm. The war intervenes, structures change and the family grows. What remains is the original farmhouse, now expanded and turned into a castle, and the family’s deep love for the land.
Today Hartwig, Elke, their son Stephan and Stephan’s wife, Anja, run Schönfeld Castle Lodge and Safaris, an upmarket mixture of guesthouse, game farm and hunting lodge located 54 km outside Omaruru. Their family home, restored in 1981, has been adapted to house nine charming, en-suite guest rooms, complete with white linen, antique furniture, marble tiles, and powerful showerheads that provide a perfect start to the day. The grounds include a swimming pool, lovely gardens and stunning views across the Erongo Mountains.
There are also several terraces where guests can retreat after a day in the bush. A long, elegantly laid table graces the family’s dining room, where guests share delicious, home-cooked meals with the Schönfelds. “With the pace of life today, most people don’t have time to sit together and share a meal,” says Hartwig, “so they enjoy being with us as a family.”
Most people don’t have time to cook the type of meals the kitchen at Schönfeld prepares either. Tonight’s menu features gemsbok filet stuffed with peppadew and onions, omajova mushrooms picked during an evening game drive, light lemon mousse, wine, schnapps and fresh lemonade, served while stories of hunting and history are shared.
Activities at Schönfeld range from mountain biking to horseback riding to taking the family dogs out for walks. “The dogs chase away snakes and guests enjoy getting out of the cars and climbing,” remarks Hartwig. For those who prefer staying in the vehicle, there are several other drives on the farm. Game drives offer the opportunity to see 27 different species, including rare sable, roan and Damara dik-dik, as well as black rhino, which were transferred to the farm as part of Namibia’s progressive conservation custodianship programme.
One special drive is up Namibia’s version of Ayers Rock, a breathtaking, steep monolith that seems impossible to climb on foot, much less in a vehicle. “Guests become very quiet on the way up, and then burst into spontaneous laughter and applause when they reach the top.” After experiencing the quiet of sunset, there is the excitement of driving down the mountain in the dark, described as a magical feeling of coming back down to earth very slowly.
Those who want to test their own 4×4 driving skills can drive up Leopard Mountain – which resembles a leopard watching over termite mounds – accompanied by a guide. This is a rare chance for guests to venture off-road, with a challenging drive through dry river washes and up steep cliffs.
There is also a guided Bushman trail on the farm, which takes guests to caves to view rock paintings, and an opportunity to grind and mill stones. Schönfeld is also a hunting farm where non-hunting guests mix with hunters. Hartwig says that this isn’t a problem, as Schönfeld’s guests appreciate the conservation ethics behind hunting.
Along with conservation, the Von Seydlitz family takes on social responsibility, and is the driving force behind Children’s Haven, an orphanage in Omaruru (see page 18).
The Von Seydlitz family has succeeded in merging past, present, conservation, hunting ethics and social commitment in their daily activities while running Schönfeld Castle Lodge and Safaris. It is a place and ambience worth sharing on your next visit to Namibia.
Omaruru Game Lodge – a comfortable bush retreat
Just 15 kilometres outside Omaruru, framed by the Erongo Mountains, Omaruru Game Lodge provides a comfortable retreat where guests can explore more than 3 000 hectares of African bush teeming with wildlife, including rare and endangered species.
The lodge is a large complex with 15 chalets, the dining room and bar placed in a semi-circle around a floodlit waterhole. The rooms are comfortable with showers, tea/coffee making facilities, thatched roofs, and air-conditioning. There are also five rooms for self-caterers, a large swimming pool, and a braai area for preparing and serving meals al fresco.
Positioned on an elevated platform with uninterrupted views of the bush, the exclusive honeymoon suite will allow guests to sit in luxury while observing animals on the open plains.
At night large herds of eland, zebra, black-faced impala, and wildebeest descend on the waterhole at the lodge for a drink and to take advantage of feeding points established during a drought. Two white rhinos have made the trek to the waterhole almost every night for the past eleven years. This wildlife spectacular can be enjoyed from a comfortable bed for guests whose accommodation faces the waterhole, or while sipping a sundowner on the patio or dining in the thatched-roof restaurant.
The restaurant has an inviting bar, and dinner is a four-course meal with a choice of entrées. Breakfast, served as a buffet, consists of a choice of bread, cold meat, cheese, yoghurt, cereal, fresh fruit salad and juices, with eggs and bacon cooked to order.
After a hearty meal, guests can choose between two game drives: a two-and-a-half hour drive into the 3 000-hectare camp to see a small herd of elephants and other big game, and the more energetic climb up 187 steps built into the Hausberg mountain to a special lookout spot. There is also a game drive into a small camp where there are hippos. A thatched-roof shelter provides shade where guests can relax and watch these huge animals frolic in the water, a rare sight in central Namibia.
Sightings of cheetah and leopard in the wild may be rare, but guests are sure to see these big cats near the lodge. Omaruru Game Lodge provides a home in large encampments near the lodge for a male leopard and three cheetahs that were caught on a nearby farm.
Omandumba Guest Farm – a peaceful family home
Within the Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy and just 40 km south-west of Omaruru, Omandumba Guest Farm offers visitors the chance to experience a family atmosphere on a working farm. Owned and operated by Harald and Deike Rust, Omandumba has been in Harald’s family since the 1940s. His passion for the land becomes clear as he guides guests on a variety of walking tours and drives to rock paintings and engravings.
There are seven different Bushman painting and engraving sites on the farm and probably many others yet to be discovered. A three-hour walk takes guests to rock paintings and old hunting sites where stone tools and ostrich eggshells were found. There is also a child-friendly walking trail marked with bones that leads children to the next rock-art site.
Drives lead to various Bushman painting sites, including a cave where a large hunting scene is painted on a wall, and another site where Bushman artists painted a humorous scene of bees flying out of a beehive and chasing after the people. At one of the sites Deike tells the story that when Bushmen from the Living Museum in Grashoek toured the farm, they pointed to a painting of a particularly large hunter and said, “This is the devil. We must go now!”
Accommodation on the farm includes a bungalow with a double bed and five self-catering campsites with spacious tents containing stretcher beds, bush showers, a kitchen stocked with basic cooking utensils and a dining area under the shade of a huge leadwood tree. There is also a lounge with an old wood-burning fireplace for cold winter evenings.
Another remote and very basic camping site which can accommodate larger groups is set against lovely rocks with solid shade.
Guests at Omandumba include mainly self-drive tourists from Germany, but the Namibian market is expanding and local families are encouraged to visit and experience life on the Rust farm.
Farm Ombu – a wide choice of accommodation
On the basalt flats of the Erongo Crater, flanked by stunning mountain views, lies Farm Ombu, a hunting and guest farm that has been in Fritz Hinterholzer’s family since 1933.
The 11 600-hectare farm boasts views of dunes to the east, Bushman paintings and engravings and an abundance of wildlife that can be seen on game drives and guided tours. If guests want to explore the farm in their own 4x4s, they are welcome to drive along the farm’s main roads.
Accommodation is varied. There are five spacious, comfortable guest rooms at the main lodge, and a swimming pool that is also open to guests staying in the satellite camps. A thatched-roof lapa shelters a bar and there is an outside cooking area, ideal for bush fondues.
A former shepherd’s hut constructed from stone and overlooking a dam has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 10 people. The facility has an outside cooking and entertainment area, making the hut a great place for small groups. Within walking distance of the hut there are Bushman paintings, an aloe forest, stone formations and a hide.
Two other satellite camps, one near the site of a traditional Bushman camp where artefacts and paintings have been found, and another at Zebra Dam, are available to a single group, ensuring privacy. Each site has spectacular views, a caravan and places for tents and a fireplace. The surroundings are ideal for taking walks.
For those staying at the main lodge, delicious meals, including cured meats from the farm’s butchery, are enjoyed with the family. Guests, including children, are welcome to participate in farming activities.
Farm Ombu has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere that is ideal for families travelling through the area.
Erongo Wilderness Lodge – privacy and spectacular views
On the outskirts of Omaruru, nestled in a valley in the Erongo Mountains, is the popular Erongo Wilderness Lodge. Rather than compromising the spectacular natural granite surroundings, the lodge was built on, around and between gigantic rock boulders. To reach the lodge, visitors park their cars in a designated area and then transfer to a 4×4 game-viewing vehicle, which takes them on a vertical journey up to the lodge.
The 10 luxury tented chalets, all carefully positioned to provide guests with privacy and spectacular views, are connected by raised wooden walkways and natural stone steps leading to the main area where the restaurant, lounge, swimming pool and relaxation deck are situated.
From this partially open building you are privy to the most breathtaking scenery. In the evening the restaurant, fitted with a fireplace to warm chilly winter evenings, looks down on a floodlit waterhole. The main activity at the lodge is walking and the setting amongst the granite boulders lends itself perfectly to long guided and unguided nature rambles. A spectacular sunrise and a more relaxed sundowner walk are popular options. The Erongo mountains are a safe place to walk, which makes the self-guided walking trails especially popular.
Other activities include bird watching, nature drives, visits to Bushman rock-art sites and Namibia’s only wine producer and, in Omaruru, the nearest town, quirky art-and-craft shops.
The tented chalets are totally luxurious, with wooden floors and decks. Each tent is pitched under a broad thatched roof that extends over a private ‘bush bathroom’, where you can have a hot shower while enjoying some fresh air, secluded by the walls of natural stone and trees.
Of the 10 tents, eight have two three-quarter beds and two have double beds. Each room has a minibar, plugpoints, reading lamps and tables and chairs, the latter also on the deck, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a sundowner. The restaurant provides delicious meals and home-baked pastries and breads that are a special treat. Dinner is a three-course meal, with a choice of wines and other drinks from the fully stocked bar.
Immenhof – luxury for the soul
Sixty kilometres north of Omaruru is Immenhof, a hunting and guest farm owned and operated by a family with a passion for the land and the skies. Friedhelm and Ria von Seydlitz, along with their son Werner and daughter Charissa, set Immenhof apart from the other hunting and guest farms in the area by offering tailormade, fly-in safaris.
Commercial pilots and knowledgeable guides, Friedhelm and Werner, take guests to any destination in Southern Africa for any length of time – from a day scenic flight to a three-week safari. Given that they speak English, Afrikaans, German, Herero and Spanish, plus Friedhelm also speaks French, Dutch and Flemish, guests from almost anywhere in the world are in for a real treat.
If the destination is Immenhof, guests won’t be disappointed either. The family runs their guest farm along the lines of ‘luxury for the soul’, creating a peaceful feeling of home where families are welcome, and hunters and non-hunters mingle.
Large, sunlit bedroom rooms finished in cool colours and crisp textures can accommodate up to 22 guests. There is a big garden, a pool, a playground, and a bird feeder that attracts some of the farm’s 187 recorded bird species. Meals are served family style and Immenhof is well known for the outstanding quality of its food. Ria has written a cookbook, and trains the cooks at Immenhof and also other cooks from surrounding farms.
The Von Seydlitz family has been in this area for four generations, and its members are keen to share its treasures with their guests. Tours of the farm are akin to bush school, guests being informed about bush-clearing projects and the reintroduction of game species. They are also shown bush paintings, engravings and fascinating musical rocks. Guided walks and game drives with one of the farm’s five qualified guides are offered, as well as horseback riding and quad-biking. Sundowners can be enjoyed every day, while once a month guests have the opportunity to experience a full-moon party in the bush.
Immenhof is a warm, inviting establishment run by a family whose members clearly love the land and what they do. The effect is contagious.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘07/ Jan ‘08 edition of Travel News Namibia.