Eclectic African styles and mining history
by Ron Swilling
As you drive down the access road to !Uris Safari Lodge, a large thatch-roofed building comes into view, edged by trees and patches of well-tended green lawn.
The receptionist, well dressed in tie and trousers, appears next to the vehicle to welcome and lead you into the reception area, where two large zebra-skin armchairs make a striking impression against the red richness of a long Persian carpet and a large bouquet of orange fabric flowers.
From there, African and Moroccan styles are fused, with elegant Indonesian furniture adding a dash and splash of spice. Coloured lights hang from the ceiling and couches scattered with cushions create pleasurable alcoves. The open-sided central area leads out onto a garden with a koi fishpond and fountain, and a family of ducks waddles through the garden. Further out, the dry Namibian hills poke their heads out the landscape.
Situated approximately 80 km from the Von Lindequist Gate and accessible from the C38 leading to Namutoni and eastern Etosha, !Uris Safari Lodge makes a convenient overnight stop for small groups, individual travellers and businessmen, and is surprisingly reasonably priced. The focus at !Uris is to relax, and the 14 thatch-roofed rooms, pool, garden and Wellness Centre offer the amenities to do just that.
The name !Uris derives from the Hai||om (San) words meaning ‘small white hill filled with metal’ and refers to the mining history of the area. The original Bushmen/San living in the surroundings used to dig out the copper ore and take it to nearby Lake Otjikoto to trade with the Owambo people. The Owambo smelted it in hollowed-out termite mounds to make copper jewellery. Three of the old German copper and vanadium mines dating back to the late 1800s can be visited on the mine tour. The !Uris mine, after which the lodge is named, still has its rusty steam-driven- equipment transported by ship from Germany to Swakopmund and then put on ox wagons for a three-month trek to the mine.
Namibian with a Moroccan touch
The 36 000-hectare farm was bought from Tsumeb Corporation Ltd approximately six years ago by the Neethling and Pretorius families, who constructed the lodge and continued farming with cattle until just over a year ago. The property is now being restocked with game.
The 14 rooms of the lodge were built on the foundations of the old compound rooms. Seven have double beds and seven twin beds, while a loft room provides additional accommodation for older children. The thatch-roofed rooms have attractive white mosquito nets fringed with Moroccan tassels, air-conditioning/heaters and several small Persian rugs. The wicker boxes next to the beds contain wedding and conference planners, information booklets with sepia photographs, and a warning that guests caught smoking in their rooms will have to pay a fine of N$2 000!
!Uris is an ideal place for a small wedding or conference. A large thatch-roofed chapel is open-sided for an African ceremony of distinction. The lodge grounds shaded by large trees make an appealing reception area. The conference facility can accommodate up to 80 delegates. Without cellphone reception, under thatch and with the soothing sound of the fountain filtering in, it provides a private getaway for small groups.
Campers are catered for in a bush-type campsite a short drive from the lodge. Four sites are situated under trees, positioned in twos sharing a rustic ablution facility that incorporates remnants from the mining industry. An adjacent lapa area with its own ablution facilities is suitable for groups, making a good overnight stop for travellers en route to the national park.
Birders will be happy to know that several Namibian endemics can be sighted on the property, such as bare-cheeked babblers, a flock of which is frequently seen in the vicinity of the lodge. Walks and drives are offered, the afternoon drive incorporating a sundowner stop. Wine lovers will appreciate a visit to the well-stocked wine cellar, where quality South African wines are stored.
The attractive and interesting furniture and decor at !Uris and the large African-style exterior provide a unique experience. The mining history and odd piece of mining equipment placed at the entrance bring its past to its doorstep. The fusion of themes may be slightly mystifying, but essentially, in the words of manager Pieter Pretorius, “!Uris is a place to relax.”
This article appeared in the Feb/March 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.