A trip into yesteryear
by Ron Swilling
Ten kilometres from the Fish River Canyon entrance, spiky aloes push with determination through rusty Chevies. A windmill and a red-roofed roadhouse emerge from the Nama Karoo scrub. Fluffy late-summer clouds herald the drive in, along with springbok, a few quiver trees and an ostrich caution sign.
Canon Roadhouse is a desert outpost, a canyon frontier, oozing with character and charm.
To top our arrival, guide Manilow introduces himself as we enter the barn-like central area, his Mexican looks belying the fact that he was born and bred in Rehoboth, and completing the hacienda atmosphere and the feeling that you’ve fallen down the hole in the tree, Alice-in-Wonderland style, to find yourself in a place entirely fitting for its home adjacent to the second-largest canyon in the world.
The interior reveals the product of a creative mind at play, an imagination extending its boundaries and enjoying itself.
The reception placed in an old army truck, bodies of fifties and sixties vehicles made into innovative fireplaces, and petrol pumps and paraphernalia from yesteryear, take you back in time.
You can fill up at the filling station of a well-stocked bar, take a walk into grandfather’s garage with the ubiquitous calendar of half-naked women, or sit and enjoy the Roadhouse experience at one of the tables in the restaurant, definitely an eatery with a difference.
Even a visit to the gents is an experience, with old cinema posters decorating the walls.
Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe can’t compare for effect with a buxom blonde with a Pandora’s box placed shrewdly in a strategic position in front of her.
An alarm rings when you try to open it and a note of admonishment explains how you can make up for your transgression by buying a round of drinks for your mates.
While the Canon Roadhouse exudes chuckles and character, it has a deeper chord running through it. It is situated in the Gondwana Canon Park, a 1 120 km2 private nature reserve bordering the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park created by merging three large sheep farms.
When the land was bought in the mid-90s, it was over-grazed and barren, with hardly a wild animal in sight. The internal fences were taken down, allowing the remaining wildlife to move to better grazing following scattered summer rainfall, and Gondwana began to re-introduce animals to the area, returning it to its former glory.
The commitment of Gondwana’s owners to the environment extends to their kitchen, with 70% of their vegetables, cheese and meat produced at their self-sufficiency centres. Park wardens implement staff training and monitor Gondwana Canon Park, its animals, environmental sustainability and the footprint of the lodges.
The Cañon Roadhouse began as a small roadside farmhouse with a few rusted Fords and aloes placed outside, creating the desert-outpost effect. After ten years, it was time to expand the ‘gateway to the canyon’, transforming it into an experience to be savoured.
Following the success of Gondwana’s Etosha Safari Camp Shebeen decorated with knick-knacks exploring the township bar theme, Mannfred Goldbeck, managing director of Gondwana, decided to do something similar with the Roadhouse.
After building additional spacious and air-conditioned rooms (the Penduka bedlinen attractively embroidered with quiver trees), and converting the old restaurant into an information centre, the large high-roofed central area of a roadhouse was built, creating an icon to remember.
Using the yesteryear transport theme, the scene is set for a nostalgic journey into the past, and for those too young to remember the old Chevies and Fords, there is more than enough wacky interesting paraphernalia positioned around the interior.
The Roadhouse is open to passers-by, making it an ideal stop for canyon visitors for breakfast, lunches, suppers, teas and drinks.
An organised campsite with electricity points, barbecue facilities and taps is positioned behind the central building, and a circular pool offers respite from the searing summer temperatures.
Utilising the Gondwana conservation area, The Roadhouse offers sundowner game drives for scenic dollops of invigorating wilderness to view the flourishing wildlife, a self-driver’s 4×4 route from the Roadhouse to the lodge, and affordable rhino tracking with the park warden and his game rangers.
For hikers wanting to experience the beauty of the rugged landscape north of the main Fish River Canyon, an option of guided hikes is available, with mules carrying luggage and provisions. For the hardcore hikers who are determined to carry their own packs, guided trips are also offered.
To add unique accommodation facilities to your journey (if no mule trails are booked for the period), the charming Cañon Outpost and the Mule Station offer self-drivers self-catering accommodation with a dash of wilderness and plenty of character.
Mules, aloes, big old American cars and Cañon Roadhouse charm and humour make a visit to the canyon area a memorable experience.
This article appeared in the June/July ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.
Photos courtesy of http://www.gondwana-collection.com/home/accommodation/canyonroadhouse/