Text: Nina van Schalkwyk Photographs: Elzanne Erasmus
Text: Nina van Schalkwyk Photographs: Elzanne Erasmus
“You said you and me was gonna get outta town and, for once, just really let our hair down. Well, darlin’, look out, ’cause my hair is comin’ down!” – Thelma and Louise
Two girls, one car and one chance to get out of town and have an adventure. Sound familiar? Wheels on the road, the sky a wide arc above us and only the black line of the road stretched out in front of us. Our destination? The Waterberg Plateau National Park. Just two hours from Namibia’s capital, the Waterberg is easy to get to, fun to explore and great for families. For two chicks though? Well, we’re not unfamiliar with “roughing it” and, in fact, that’s our usual setting. Turning off the B1 that runs like a bloodline through Namibia from its southern border to the north-eastern tip, we waved at traffic officers on duty, who smiled cheerfully and waved us through, after curiously glancing into our car looking for the men that they guessed must be hidden somewhere. Nope, no guys, just us two girls.
Through the main gate at Waterberg, waved on by a guard, we stop underneath a canopy of trees at the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) park office to pay for our stay. Inside, quite hilariously, stood a stuffed lion, eternally ready with a roar deep in his throat. I wanted to scratch his ear, but it might have fallen off – who knows how old the taxidermied thing is? While my financially savvy friend handled the payments, I wandered off to the little shop next door. It’s nice to know that in times of need there’s always a beer for sale. Outside, Red-faced Francolins fitted on and off the green lawn, squawking at each other, ignoring me completely. I had been hoping for sightings of special birds, but except for fowl at my feet and the coo of doves, I was out of luck.
Back in the car, we drove up to find an absolutely perfect campsite under a massive camel thorn tree waiting for us to claim it. We had the area almost completely to ourselves. It was still early when we set up camp and enjoyed a cold beverage as the sounds of nature enveloped the surroundings in a hush. Waterberg is one of the few places in Namibia where African buffalo roam, and since a trip to the Zambezi Region is not on the cards anytime soon, we jump at the opportunity to go on a game drive into the park. The NWR game viewer crawls up the side of the plateau at a steady pace. Once on top, the view is breathtaking. Toward the south the endless horizons, that this spectacular country is so famous for, stretch as far as the eye can see. The plateau rises stately above the plains of acacia thorn bushes below. The bright red and green hues make this vibrant place all the more special. On the four-hour drive, we are treated to sightings of the aforementioned buffalo, sable antelope, eland and giraffe. The bush is thick and sightings of the mighty beasts are limited to quick glimpses until the game drive comes to a rest stop at one of the park’s many hides. From this enclosed space we can watch at our leisure as animals take full advantage of the waterhole constructed here.
In the evening we returned to the prime spot of our campsite. As we sat there in the silence, I heard the distinct crack of twigs. My heart began to beat faster. I looked up. This wasn’t a horror movie, and I wasn’t scared. I was excited. The small sounds we heard were coming from right in front of us, and through the lines of the trees, I could see horns. A magnificent kudu bull timidly moved through the bush that formed the boundary of our camp. We tried to take pictures but the stealthy gentleman was no newbie to camouflage, and within minutes he had disappeared. In his wake, though, came a Damara dik-dik, Namibia’s smallest antelope. He scurried about the edges of the trees, walked over to our braai area and sniffed the ground before relieving himself. Such bad manners!
Night fell before we knew it, and without realising it, we’d missed the sunset. Nocturnal sounds emanated from the wilderness around us. The francolin bustled through the undergrowth, arguing loudly with each other until one got the last say, after which silence dropped all around us again. The animals were off to their nests, their holes, their beds. We sat with our feet extended to the heat of the campfire, listening.
My ears waited for the hoot of an owl, but like before, the birds were not forthcoming. As the evening drew on, our stories became longer and we hit the sheets only after we’d devoured a deftly put together salad and garlic bread – the chops didn’t even make it to the coals.
The next morning we had packed up and were ready to go before many of the other campers had even had their first coffee. We had to be back in the capital before noon, and we still had a bit of exploring to do before we departed. On a walk along one of many nature trails, we met many more dik-diks. Such cute and enigmatic little creatures! Birds fitted about, and I tried desperately to identify as many as possible before we had to move on. After our hike, we drove up the brick pathway that loops onto the mountain and parked at the historic Rasthaus. The building is very much a colonial structure, its architecture harking back to Namibia’s past as a German colony. The restaurant inside the Rasthaus retains a lot of the dignified atmosphere of a historic place, with golden chandeliers glinting beneath the wooden ceiling, lazily turning ceiling fans and black and white photos from a time gone by arranged on the back wall. Stepping outside, we saw a little sign hanging above another door. Small and browned with age it showed a frothy beer mug – this must be the bar. Inside we were taken back in time once again. Apart from the modern flat-screen TV behind the bar playing some or other sports game, the whole place, including the furniture, had a look about it of never having changed. Uninterested in the human activity below, Rüppel’s Parrots perched in the trees outside as they groomed themselves in the morning sun. For our final Waterberg adventure, we followed signs to an old German cemetery. The gravestones stand silently against a magnificent backdrop of Waterberg’s cliffs. The site is maintained by a Namibian committee called the Kriegsgräberfürsorge (phew, long name) which, according to the little booklet found in a box against the boundary wall, “looks after approximately 3500 graves of Schutztruppe and Union troops.” Interestingly, the brief description on the first page notes that efforts to build a monument to the Herero who perished in the 1904 Battle of the Waterberg during the German-Herero war have been to no avail. I looked across at the names etched into stone, the gothic scripts speaking of a long ago time. What starts a war, I wondered. In the end, all you have left are cemeteries and monuments like this one, and history inevitably changed forever.
As we left the park, the sun had risen above the trees. It shone on the rugged cliffs, which glowed red in the morning light. The gravel road beckoned bright and even, leading us home, surely with more adventures to come.
Wanderlust [won-der-luhst] (n) a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.
For the younger generation, whose pockets aren’t as deep as their dreams are big, it can sometimes feel as if adventure were limited to weekends spent watching the travel channel. But the truth is, there are so many opportunities for young people to explore this wonderful country. Follow us in this latest instalment of the Generation Wanderlust series with Namibia Wildlife Resorts as we discover how to find adventures for the young, or even just the young at heart, in amazing Namibia! PS: All the photos in this article were taken using an iPhone, which just goes to show that you can be an adventurer/travel writer/blogger too
This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of TNN.