Part rustic tree house, part luxury camp
by Ron Swilling
“Four tree top rooms; eight privileged guests.” The wording in the Onguma Tree Top Camp brochure couldn’t have put it more succinctly.
If you’ve ever nurtured tree-top dreams from childhood days, or held a more recent one of living in stylish rustic luxury in the bush, Tree Top Camp will definitely satisfy your latent soul urges. Built on stilts with wooden walkways, the camp emerges from Namibian bush and looks out onto a natural waterhole, green with Phragmites reeds and bursting with birdsong.
A mixture of canvas, purple-pod terminalia wood, teak walkways bordered by rough terminalia branches, thatch, well-chosen furnishings and a zebra-skin rug, the camp provides an intimate and exclusive bush experience. Part ‘Out of Africa’, part dream, part rustic tree house, part luxury camp, the four-bungalow facility is a true African treat.
Experienced camp guide, Abram Tsumib, remembers the waterhole from his youth when he was growing up in the Etosha area and his father was a game ranger in the park.
Abram’s forefathers are Hai||om, a group of people considered to be of the first inhabitants of Etosha. He recalls the waterhole’s name as ‘the place where elephants bathe’. Although elephants no longer migrate through Etosha to Caprivi, many other animals still visit.
Zebra, kudu, black rhino, giraffe, impala, springbok, wildebeest and a profusion of birds can be seen at various times, and lions may wander through, their grunting calls possibly enlivening the jackal and hyaena cries, zebra snorts and wildebeest bellows of the night.
In the mornings red-billed francolins and guinea-fowl bring the day to life with sounds that seem to emulate the starting of a car on a crisp cold morning, and during the day pale-winged starlings swoop, red-billed hornbills and crimson-breasted shrikes search for delectable morsels and Egyptian geese honk and crash land on the cool water.
The deckchairs overlooking the waterhole are prime seats for the bush show and the outside fire and view, the starlight and smiling moon making them gallery seats in the outdoor theatre.
Blending with the natural world
An indoor fireplace and well-positioned lights encased in the woven brittle-bush fish traps of northern Namibia infuse the open central area in a cosy, bush ambience.
The sitting area flows into the dining area, and to the open kitchen where the resident chef Taurai Chizu, dressed in black and flaunting a Cheshire-cat grin, prepares his delicious cuisine, including his chocolate cake and eland steak made to melt in your mouth.
Alternatively, when catering for a full camp of eight people, he bakes bread and cooks on the deck fireplace, creating African dishes with culinary flair. Taurai has been with the camp since its inception in June 2007 and has witnessed leopard visits and lion kills at the camp waterhole.
The thatched-roof bungalow guests have no need to fear the proximity of wild and possibly hungry animals, being approximately 2.5 metres above ground, and having the choice of sleeping with canvas walls open to be part of the night and natural world, or if chilly or vulnerable, to zip up for a sound sleep.
A wooden deck with canvas chairs, outside shower and indoor toilet and wash area complete the room. For those nature lovers who enjoy the outdoors, this is a piece of heaven. Sleeping between warm winter sheets under a mohair blanket surrounded by feather pillows and encircled by a mantle of white mosquito netting, you are lulled into a peaceful luxurious sleep by the open-air orchestra.
Activities at Onguma Tree Top Camp include early morning and afternoon game drives into the Etosha National Park and sundowners and night drives into the Onguma Reserve.
A sundowner drive through the area reveals a variety of animals glowing in the afternoon light. Black-faced impala leap over the road, zebra watch warily and wildebeest disappear into the thickets. The soft light accentuates the creamy pom-pom flowers of the black-thorn trees and the subtle perfume of the acacias fills the air with a sublime scent.
The sun catches the fur of a slender mongoose with a black-tipped tail that pauses, standing up on its hind-legs to gain a clearer view, a secretary bird on an umbrella-thorn glances down as the vehicle passes, and a kori bustard walks through the long grass in search of small prey.
At the end of day
As the golden orb of sun transforms into red and sinks beyond the Etosha horizon, Abram fries tender strips of game on a small cooker and drinks are laid out on a table, while zebra watch the human ritual from a safe distance. Although gin and beer rival each other for the sundowner selection, champagne, sipped for celebration in appreciation of a perfect evening, wins hands down.
We arrive back at camp as the day darkens, step over the drawbridge and climb up the wooden stairs to the tree-top camp. A fire burns in the grate on the deck, sunset oranges swirl into each other in the sky, and weavers chatter in the reeds of the waterhole.
The table has been laid, Taurai is putting his final touches to his dinner, bottles of wine shimmer on the sideboard, and the intimate camp seems, once again, not only magical but a tree-top privilege.
Childhood dreams materialise beyond all wild imaginings into four tree-top rooms surrounded by dry Namibian bush and animals. Deep satisfied sleep comes with the knowledge that dreams not only come true but improve with time.
Bordering eastern Etosha, the private Onguma land has four accommodation options, including the Tree Top Camp, Onguma Luxury Safari Tented Camp, the Bush Camp and The Fort, and a vast array of resident animals.
This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.
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