by Ron Swilling
Driving the gravel road into Ghaub, the verdant hills transform into rows of healthy green maize, and then into a sprawling, clean-shaven lawn dotted with palm trees and old-style mission houses, rolling into wild bush and the Otavi mountains.
A feeling, not just of history, but of tranquillity, pervades Guest Farm Ghaub. It’s more than the old-fashioned style of the buildings; a deeply felt peace has permeated into the land and air at Ghaub.
The establishment, situated on the 11 800-hectare Ghaub Farm, was formerly a Lutheran mission station established in 1895 and operating until 1968. A few of the original buildings remain, while two extra blocks of rooms were added, retaining the same style of wide verandas and high ceilings and increasing the number of spacious rooms to ten.
Irish-born, part-owner, Gerry Cooney came for a Namibian holiday in August 2007, staying at Guest Farm Ghaub for two nights. He so enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, that on leaving he commented: “I could stay here forever.” The outcome was that he definitely could, as the farm was up for sale. Gerry’s life changed dramatically when he bought the farm with André Compion three months later. He says that the place found him.
Another Ghaub gentleman is Mika Shapwanale, manager of the guest farm. Mika, born in Owambo in northern Namibia, has worked here for ten years, beginning in the gardens, learning English, Afrikaans and German, and progressing to restaurant barman and waiter, improving his English continually by conversing with the guests. He began to take farm and cave tours, and became manager at the beginning of 2006.
I join Mika in the trusty old Land Cruiser for one of the farm drives offered at Ghaub, ending in the hills for sundowners. Passing through farm gates, we stop to look at a few Bushman rock engravings, stepping on fresh aardvark tracks, and visit an old cemetery with graves of missionaries and German soldiers. Grey louries fly through the trees and warthog families run across the road. Mika identifies the different trees, pointing out a large marula tree, its fruit collected in the month of May to make marula juice and jam, served at breakfast on the Ghaub tables with delicious home-made bread.
Plenty to see and do
One- to five-hour walking trails meander across the farm, and the Ghaub Cave excursion explores the third-largest cave in Namibia, 38 m in depth with 2.5 km of chambers and passageways. Declared a national monument, the cave is a slippery, rock-clambering opportunity to experience ancient underworld growth. Stalactites and stalagmites glimmer and glow in their solidified water journeys. I am told that it takes a hundred years for one centimetre of stalactite to grow and realise that I’m seeing millions of years of rock history. Roots of camel-thorn trees hang down and water droplets seep into the underground cavern, glistening against the ancient rock.
Below the guest rooms, a large clear swimming pool lies towards the border of the extensive lawn, with a nearby hide overlooking a small waterhole, where warthog and kudu regularly come to drink. The huge grounds and natural setting makes Ghaub an idyllic venue for a wedding, as well as a restful stop for both individual travellers and small groups.
Stopover to north and east
Ghaub is named for the Bushman arrows once made from river reeds, and is a 90-minute drive from Etosha’s eastern gate, making it a good stopover point if travelling southwards from the park or northwards from Windhoek. Situated between Grootfontein and Tsumeb on the D3022, it can be reached from the B1 or C42. It is also a convenient stopping point on the route up to the Caprivi in the north-eastern section of the country.
Waking up at Guest House Ghaub to the sounds of birdsong, my view from the spotless room is of the sun peeping its golden head from behind the Otavi Mountains, bathing the large lawn and buildings in golden morning light.
This small and charming guest farm retains its historical flavour, offering a quiet retreat away from the busy lodges. Its unique character and setting transports the traveller back into time, to where a quiet, peaceful, clean mission station awaits you. Preserved in a pocket of energy, it keeps its hundred-year-old atmosphere with simplicity and grace.
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘08 edition of Travel News Namibia.