Limestone ovens, lithops and love on the B4
by Ron Swilling
The well-travelled tar road running from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop via Aus now offers a new and extremely interesting stopover a hop and a skip from the road. Alte Kalköfen Lodge is conveniently situated 2.5 km off the B4 (on the D462), 90 km west of Keetmanshoop.
The love Hilde and Frikkie Mouton have for their farm Sandverhaar overflows into the lodge. The 22 000-hectare game farm is now home to their dream, a lodge at Sandverhaar, a goal they aspired to for many years. The sweet-thorn and camel-thorn acacia trees that dot the area, the sandy riverbed and the terraced mountains provide the setting for the bungalows, which include a family unit that is paraplegic friendly, and two guide rooms.
The units have a farmhouse style with a high, zinc roof and characteristic- stoep (veranda) to keep the interior cool. Well-worked limestone cladding on two circular exterior walls provides attractive entrances for the bungalows, which look out onto the Gurib riverbed and acacia landscape, where tracks of gemsbok and springbok mark the sand. With its high ceiling and veranda around the building still intact, the large central area, comprising reception and the restaurant, holds the spirit of the old rejuvenated farmhouse. Alte Kalköfen’s restaurant is open for breakfasts, light lunches and dinners, making the lodge a good place to break your journey. A windmill and its water tank have been retained to keep the farm atmosphere. Two small campsites, which will ensure quiet and privacy, are planned as the next stage of development.
Rich historical background
The farm Sandverhaar oozes with history. Its main features are the two limestone ovens, one a landmark in the area and clearly visible from the road and the other near the old farmhouse, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s respectively. The slightly newer Kalkofen was once on the farm Simplon, which has been incorporated into the Sandverhaar farm to form the newly acquired 19-hectare property, giving the Moutons the infrastructure and a suitable position for their dream lodge. Frikkie takes you back in time, de-scribing the strenuous labour involved in the limestone ovens, of breaking rock and carrying it in ox wagons, collecting wood in the riverbeds and packing the ovens with wood and stone, a procedure that took from two to three weeks. “The perseverance of the old people…,” he comments.
The farm Sandverhaar was in the Gessert family for a hundred years, Ferdinand Gessert having originally purchased the land from Nama Chief Paul Frederiks with gold coins. The adjacent 19 hectares of land was awarded to George Kottker, who named it Simplon after a town in Switzerland and built the limestone oven when the railway was laid in 1910. After him, a Mr Schneider modernised the oven, which continued opera-ting until 1973. The Moutons bought Sandverhaar in 2000, and were delighted to add the Simplon property to it in 2007.
The outbuildings on the farm are being converted into a museum (to retain the history of the southern pioneers) and a chapel for weddings. The property also boasts The Cole Lithoparium, a lithops (stone plant) nursery housing a variety of lithops species found in southern and central Namibia, including a recently identified species, Lithops amicorum. Hilde is the lithops enthusiast. She has a permit from the conservation authorities to cultivate the protected ‘flowering stones’, which she does mainly from seed. An unusual and beautiful array of flowering lithops fills the small lithoparium, which is already proving to be too small for Hilde’s collection. The Moutons are endeavouring to protect the plant as well as educate people about protecting them. Activities at Alte Kalköfen include a scenic drive from one Kalkofen to the other through the red dunes, a small canyon area, and the riverbed surroundings about which the Moutons are so passionate.
Opting to grow succulents and quiver trees to retain the natural look of the property, and use a combination of wind and solar power to generate electricity, the Moutons are managing Alte Kalköfen as an eco-friendly lodge.
In addition to the sparkling new bungalows and the converted Simplon farmhouse, Hilde and Frikkie also offer accommodation for self-caterers in the old four-roomed Sandverhaar farmhouse built by the Gessert family, a facility that is ideal for self-drivers and families who want a touch more privacy and a taste of local life.
Centrally situated, the lodge makes an ideal stopover for guests travelling from the Fish River Canyon to Sossusvlei or from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz. The warm and friendly couple recommend the scenic D446 and D727 route if driving north from Rosh Pinah, calling it ‘die kyk in die pot pad’, directly translated from the Afrikaans as ‘a look into the pot road’, referring to dips in the road that enable you to ‘see into the kitchen’.
“There’s so much here,” Frikkie says, talking of the history and assets of the area with enthusiasm. With the Kalköfen, a museum, chapel, restaurant, lithops nursery, acacia landscape and attractive farm-style accommodation, Alte Kalköfen makes an interesting and comfortable stop along the B4, the additional love moulding its character along the way.
This article appeared in the April/ May 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.