Text and photos by ©Sharri Whiting De Masi – All photographs copyright of the author
Re-printed with permission of the author
A conservancy partnership in an unforgettable setting
Among the spectacular views that blanket the Namibian landscape is a very unusual one, until recently accessible to only a few local people.
Located between Palmwag and Kamanjab in the Kunene Region, on the high curve of the Grootberg Pass, this secret panorama can be reached along an almost vertical, narrow dirt track that took more than a decade to carve out of the mountainside.
A four-wheel drive vehicle, driven by a staff guide, wheezes the nine hundred metres up the steep incline to the top of the rise. There, the road curves into a high, flat plateau where wild flowers and grasses grow in the rainy season and where it’s quiet except for the breeze and birdsong.
You look to the west and are simply knocked out by the vista that stretches in front of you – it’s a potent combination of topography and surprise. You’ve arrived at Grootberg Lodge.
Eleven rock-and-thatch bungalows dot the edge of a great horseshoe chasm, decorated in ‘socially responsible luxury’, all positioned to imbibe that fantastic view of the Klip River Valley. From each small veranda, or from the broad porch of the main lodge building, the valley below stretches to the horizon. As the light changes, it’s difficult to stop looking at it, take pictures of it.
Setting an example
The story of Grootberg Lodge is one of determination, persistence and co-operation, the result of a ground-breaking partnership between the #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy, which owns the 12 000 hectares that have been set aside for conservation and tourism, and the private sector – EcoLodgistix and Desert Homestead near Sossusvlei.
With funding from the European Union, they have taken this unspoilt wilderness and carefully opened it to ecotourism, setting an example for other community-based tourism projects in Namibia.
Aside from managing the lodge, EcoLodgistix is responsible for maintenance, marketing and training the current staff of fifteen.
The system is similar to hospitality management contracts around the world, in terms of which companies like Hilton and Marriott agree to manage a property owned by others.
However, this concept is unique to Namibia, in that Grootberg is the first middle-market accommodation in the country owned completely by a conservancy that is paid a guaranteed annual share in turnover and profits and on its part looks after the game and assists in personnel issues.
Proceeds from the partnership are expected to provide both income and jobs for the 3 200 people who live in the conservancy, as well as for the management company, which envisages having trained local managers to take over by 2009.
Instead of taking away from the people who own the property, a partnership like this gives back to the community which owns it, while offering the local population the opportunity to develop professional skills, receive income from sustainable tourism, and oversee conservation efforts.
Aside from the memorable view, this vast property is noted for its wildlife: black rhino, desert-adapted elephant, giraffe, cheetah, mountain zebra and lion.
Game drives in open vehicles and guided hikes offer guests the opportunity to track and experience animals at close hand, while horse safaris have been introduced for experienced riders, from lodge-based day trips and sundowner rides to camp-outs.
In the spring of 2006, Grootberg introduced two young male black rhino into the conservancy; both had been located at Rhino Camp near Palmwag. With rhino shepherds and sophisticated tracking equipment keeping watch, it is hoped that these two animals will eventually stimulate the growth of the small herd of black rhinos.
The lodge is decorated in rustic luxury. Each chalet is private and comfortable, with modern conveniences in a natural setting.
Pathways lead to the main lodge, where there is a lounge and bar for drinks and relaxation and a dining room where Namibian specialties are served. The multi-level lodge veranda is the ideal spot from which to photograph the zigzag of the riverbed, which cuts through the valley below. Morning and evening walks around the valley rim are well marked for serious hikers, strollers or birdwatchers.
The lodge provides covered parking at the foot of the entry road, and drivers to take guests via four-wheel drive vehicle up the road to the secret paradise that was known only to the people of the #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy for so many years.
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.