Namibia’s rugged northwest is one of its best kept secrets, included in only a handful of discerning traveller itineraries. Here, mopane forests meet boulders and springs, dry riverbeds and flat-top mountains, not to mention a host of free-roaming wildlife.
Text & Photographs Charene Labuschagne
From the Spring 2023 issue
Home to a cluster of community conservancies collectively known as the Erongo-Kunene Community Conservation Area, the area offers authentic, untapped wilderness. Among these conservancies are Ehi-Rovipuka and Omatendeka, whose respective Otjiherero communities have joined forces and resources to establish Ombonde People’s Park (OPP). While at present it is a park in the making – pending the green-light gazetting of the Namibian government – OPP will soon be ready to welcome the adventurous, off-the-beaten-path traveller.
As the guests of the soon-to-be-proclaimed OPP and their spokespeople, Travel News Namibia was invited to experience this landscape, visit future lodge and camping sites, and dip our toes into the next big thing for sustainable Namibian tourism. In fact, after spending time in the field and hearing the stories and aspirations of this patriotic community, this author is delighted to report that the park, in its prime, may showcase the most dynamic bridge between tradition and innovation.
The area of Ombonde, which is Otjiherero for camelthorn tree, covers 3,599 km² of semi-arid and arid landscapes. Varying in typography and geology, the park boasts some of the most scenic savannah woodlands, river valleys, hills and plains you could imagine.
Deep riverbeds occasionally form canyons of two-storey-high banks laced with the root systems of mopane, ana and leadwood trees, the bulges and lines on their trunks telling us stories of ancient times. Boulders made up of mosaic stones – fist-sized ochre-coloured rocks held together by finer sediment – offer a vantage point from which the plains can be viewed with dizzying wonder. At the base of a rock gorge that would send climbers and hikers into a frenzy, we look up to evergreen trees that polka-dot the rugged escarpment, growing at abstract angles against the odds of this arid place. The people of Ombonde are bound to this sacred land, knowing that their journey to explore its possibilities has only just begun.
For these communities – as with so many others across Namibia – wealth, cultural heritage and pride have long been associated with livestock such as goats and cattle. Ombonde People’s Park (OPP) recognises the importance of safeguarding these beliefs and heritage while simultaneously introducing new ideals. It seeks to showcase the endless opportunities that can arise from tourism, wildlife protection and the appreciation of valuable natural resources.
The population of the Ehi-Rovipuka and Omatendeka conservancies amount to 4,173 people, whose representatives wish to fulfil an inclusive developmental role to uplift the socio-economic standing of their beloved people. Dubbed a “people’s park”, the fundamental vision for Ombonde is putting the power back in the people’s hands, because ultimately they understand, live, breathe and exist in this land, and they bear its best interest at heart.
OPP holds a strong team of local governance who, in collaboration with IRDNC and GIZ, have the task to draw up management plans, conduct necessary meetings to resolve issues on the ground, and prepare financial reports to remain profitable and sustainable. Once the paperwork has fallen into place, it is this team that will drive the management, maintenance and operational activities in the park, including park entry fees and local guides.
From a traveller’s perspective, the outlook of exciting new camping spots and higher-end lodges remains hopeful. OPP’s team understand the aesthetics of pitching a tent on a riverbank or under a large-top acacia, as well as the endless vistas and comforts of a hill-top lodge with all the amenities.
With unwavering determination, the communities of Ehi-Rovipuka and Omatendeka seek to create a park where visitors can witness the harmonious coexistence of humans, wildlife and nature. One where present and future generations of the Herero and Himba people can honour tradition and share their unique homeland with visitors.