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How often have you looked over a fence along a gravel road, wishing you could get on the other side to climb a mountain or walk along a river bed? Not even an hour’s drive from the city centre of Windhoek, neighbouring farmers now invite hikers to climb over their fences, walk along river beds, scale mountains, enjoy spectacular views and then camp out under the stars.
O ne of the first of the Windhoek Green Belt Landscape projects, the Khomas Hochland Hiking Trail north-west of the capital was put to the test by a group of spirited fifty-something Namibian women. Since 2009 this group has hiked many iconic routes in Namibia and South Africa. Apart from the convenience of the trail being so close to Windhoek, they have this to say about their first, but definitely not last, go at it:
“Sleeping under the stars is what I love most about this route.”
“I could not imagine there would be such a variety of huge beautiful trees in the Khomas Hochland.”
“The spectacular 360-degree view from the highest point of the route blew me over.”
“To be so close to the city, yet totally unaware of it, is special.”
The six-day hike starts and ends at Düsternbrook Guestfarm, one of the first guest farms in Namibia. The 91-kilometre circular route crosses four more farms: Otjiseva, Onduno, Godeis and Monte Christo. It takes you along riverbeds, across open plains, through thorn-tree woodland, deep gorges and down steep granite rock formations. “This is not a route for beginners. One has to be fit and not suffer vertigo, because on day 5 you have to brave ladders to get down a waterfall; the kind of waterfall one encounters in Namibia – with no water falling. It was definitely more challenging than we anticipated but the reward, once you stand on top of a mountain, makes up for walking on a narrow path with a sheer drop on one side. And when you are exhausted after 10 kilometres and only halfway through the day, there is always a leafy tree along the path to take a break in the shade and make a cup of tea.”
Warthog, oryx, kudu, mountain zebra, baboons and klipspringer occur in abundance and if you are lucky, you may even encounter a leopard. Depending on the season, hikers will most likely be able to tick off many of the more than 300 recorded bird species at the riverbeds, farm dams and rock pools. There must be a reason why one farmer planned the route through Lovebird Gorge or past Partridge Pool. They certainly had a sense of humour when choosing some of the other names. It must have been lots of fun dreaming up names like Scorpion Hill, Death Valley, Giggle Rest, Kaalgat Rante, Take It Slow but Go and Level On The Gravel.
The group chose the slackpacking option, carrying only a day-pack with water and snacks. Mattresses, bedding and personal luggage are transported to the next overnight shelter every morning. The host on whose farm it is provides fresh farm produce ordered in advance by hikers who choose the slackpacking option. The surprise packet contains marinated venison or beef steaks, freshly baked bread and farm-grown veggies. For this group the biggest treat after an exhausting day was a cooler box with ice-cold beer, courtesy of that day’s host farmer.
If you don’t want to sleep under the stars, the host can provide tents and even stretchers, while a hot shower and toilet facilities are a given at the end of each day. The all-women hiking group was happy to find ample firewood for a big campfire, as well as braai and cooking facilities and appliances, which meant that with Elsbeth’s bag of magic and spices and the fresh produce in the surprise pack, they dined like queens at night.
Every overnight shelter has its own charm, but there is consensus in the group that the most interesting was the treehouse at Onduno, built around an enormous Ana tree.
The route was tested by the Hiking Organisation of Southern Africa. A detailed report by a group of experienced hikers, among them HOSA President Albert Bossert and John Mehliss, is available at www.hikenamibia.com.
THE GREEN BELT
The Windhoek Green Belt Landscape is one of five Protected Landscape Conservation Areas launched in 2011, each including a state protected area at its core. With the other PLCAs – around Waterberg Plateau Park (18,763 km2), Sossusvlei (5,730 km2), Fish River Canyon (7,621 km2) and Mudumu (2,047km2) in north-eastern Namibia – almost sixteen thousand square kilometres are under protected management. These are demonstration sites, but the long-term vision of the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism is to expand such areas into a large-scale network in order to address the loss of habitat and other threats to species, to conserve biodiversity, ecosystems and to establish corridors to sustain viable wildlife populations.
Close to Windhoek the PLCA covers 760km2 in the Khomas Hochland plateau west of the capital. The area includes several state and freehold farms used for cattle, game farming, hunting and tourism, and has the Daan Viljoen Game Park at its core. For more information on the project, for lists of bird, plant, trees and animal species as well as information on tourism projects visit www.landscapesnamibia.org.
TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS
- Don’t underestimate how cold the nights can be. Take enough warm bedding.
- Don’t talk too much, you may miss the markers. Especially when the going is good.
- Take walking sticks.
- A CamelBak hydration system is more convenient to carry than water bottles.
- If you are a vegetarian, let the hosts know. Remember this is cattle country.
- Apart from the 6-day hike, day hikes are offered on each of the partner farms.
- A checklist of bird and tree species can be downloaded.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Spring 2016 issue.