The Conscious List

The Conscious List

The year 2021 dawned through a sort of murky haze. As smoke still rose from the fires of global disorder, a thick fog of uncertainty lay in the air. For many, the dawn of this new 365-day trip around the sun was a wake-up call. Our problems did not stay behind in the dreadful 2020. There was no clean slate. No fresh start. No blank page. But, despite chaos in the northern hemisphere and second waves we, here in Namibia, turned our hopes toward the possibilities that a new dawn may bring. Dawn on the plains of southern Africa is often a murky affair. The early morning mist lingers on the ground and slowly crawls along the grassy savannah. Along perennial rivers the soft white wisps of fog and campfire smoke swirl in the most beautiful patterns on the water’s surface. In the desert, fog from the cold Atlantic lies like a heavy blanket across the dune belt. Everything is calm and peaceful, despite the eerie atmosphere.

Text  Elzanne McCulloch

From the Autumn 2021 issue

Soon enough, the warm sun breaks through the mysterious shroud and the wilderness wakes. That is how we see 2021. And we’re incredibly excited for it.

Sustainability, eco-friendly, green. These buzzwords have been streaming through the collective global travel dialogue for many years now. We have seen a worldwide turn toward being more environmentally friendly when it comes to daily living and travel. In Namibia especially, due to the nature of our surroundings, the tourism industry has had to conform to these norms since its very inception. In recent years a new age of travellers has emerged. Those who want to be assured of the fact that their visit, their dollar spent, will in some way affect their destination positively. They are aware of their carbon footprint, aware of the impact that their air miles and long-haul travels have made, and they want to off-set that in some way. 

And thus we have entered an age of Conscious Travel. 

It is no longer acceptable for accommodation establishments, tour and activity operators to think of themselves as “green” or “eco-friendly” just because their lodge or operations use solar energy. To see so many wield this as a marketing tool often leaves a sour taste in the mouth. If you’re making this shift only now, it is not something to be proud of; it’s a little embarrassing to be quite honest. No, consciousness goes beyond the obvious (like having solar power in a country with 90% sunny days). It goes beyond the cookie-cutter version of “eco”. It delves into the heart of being aware of what is happening around you. Being “woke”, as millennials would say, goes beyond just knowing you should do something. It means stepping into the realm of taking responsibility and willfully designing your existence in a way that will bring about positive change.

We recently came across a post by Toby Jermyn of Pangolin Safaris where he said: “In recent years we have witnessed a luxury arms race between safari lodges to provide guests with ever more elaborate and frivolous embellishments to what should be a very simple offering at its core – a chance to reconnect with nature.”

We’ve had a thorough and conscious look at Namibia’s most responsible lodges and compiled a list of those who meet more than just the standard expectations. These establishments not only conform to the norms and tick the boxes of being eco-friendly, but have also gone beyond. They have taken responsibility with relish. Among other things they are all recipients of awards that celebrate their ecological standards, they have joint-venture agreements with the local communities in the regions or in the conservancies in which their lodges operate, or where they are on private land they have established it as private nature reserves. All of them are involved in conservation projects in some way, they have a good track record among their peers in the industry and each one has very deliberately structured their story, their purpose, to advocate for this next level of tourism existence… consciousness.

Anderssons at Ongava

After a complete refurbishment in 2019, Anderssons at Ongava opened its shiny new doors to much celebration from industry and visitors alike. Beyond the beautiful interiors, the excellent service that always accompanies a visit to any of the camps on Ongava Game Reserve, and the incredible wildlife experiences that are synonymous with this reserve on the border of Etosha National Park, Anderssons took a flying leap into the future of sustainable tourism. The main lodge area sports anti-reflective UV coated glass so that birds don’t fly into it. Just a minute example. Everything has been carefully thought through and applied with precision. The reserve is home to all the megafauna you could wish to see on a Namibian safari, protected within this 30,000 hectare sanctuary. Also based at Anderssons is the Ongava Research Centre (ORC), headed by Dr John Mendlesohn. His team’s aim is to tackle the bigger picture of conservation, how the natural world interacts and the way in which every link in the chain affects the next. The cleverly laid-out Visitors Centre acts as a bridge between the ORC and the lodge where visitors can pour over information and marvel at the wonders that have been learnt on the reserve and at what has been achieved through the various conservation projects. The lodges on Ongava Game Reserve, i.e. Ongava Lodge, Little Ongava, Ongava Tented Camp and Anderssons at Ongava, are set to reopen in June 2021 after more than a year of COVID-hiatus.

African Monarch Lodges

In the Zambezi Region in the far north-eastern reaches of Namibia, in an area that used to be known as the Caprivi Strip, riverine woodlands form the backdrop to one of Namibia’s most excellent safari experiences. In roughly the centre of the ‘strip’, the Kwando River creates a border between communal conservancies and Bwabwata National Park. It is there that African Monarch Lodges runs two very special establishments, Nambwa Tented Lodge and Kazile Island Lodge,  within the park. They cater to luxury and adventure tourist profiles and offer the most spectacular escape for those who want to truly enjoy the natural treasures of the region. Beyond the luxury, African Monarch Lodges, owned and managed by Dusty and Tinolla Rodgers, employ staff exclusively from the neighbouring communities. The lodges themselves were built to support and not obstruct the flow of nature, with the wooden walkways at Nambwa Tented Lodge raised high enough to allow the multitude of resident elephants right of way. The Rodgers have taken responsible tourism a step further with the founding of The Sijwa Project in collaboration with the Mashi and Mayuni communities who live along the park. The Sijwa Project is a sustainability enterprise that empowers the communities through skills training for numerous purposes, including recycling, repurposing, arts and crafts, sewing, using plastic bottles for construction, melting glass bottles to make beads and jewelry, an indigenous tree nursery, permaculture systems and much more. The aim of The Sijwa Project is to empower the local community and sustainably utilise waste from the lodges, as well as produce fresh produce for the lodges and the local people. With African Monarch Lodges the Rodgers see it as their responsibility to proactively preserve the natural haven they call home, and they’re doing it very well indeed.

Editorial note: Dusty Rodgers sadly passed away in 2022. He will be dearly missed by the industry.

Wild Waters

Also situated in the beautiful and lush Zambezi Region, the Wild Waters group comprises four award-winning camps. Their remote locations offer that crucial new element that has become even more sought-after in the last year – exclusivity, privacy, low-density. Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge and Rupara Restcamp are located just outside Nkasa Rupara National Park. As successful joint ventures with the Wuparo Conservancy, the lodges support the community and the residents of nearby Sangwali village. Wild Waters has even built a school for the children of Sangwali and provides meals for the students daily. Within the park is Jackalberry Tented Camp. With only four rooms, and an incredibly low carbon footprint, this camp is social distancing by default. Its location, the limited guest and vehicle numbers, allow for a personalised and catered-to sojourn like few others can offer. Further afield, on the far eastern edge of the Zambezi Region, Serondela Lodge can be found on the floodplains next to the Chobe River. The lodge, which is in a joint venture partnership with the Kabulabula Conservancy, adjoins Chobe National Park in Botswana across the river. Wild Waters is part of the WWF Namibia and IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) joint venture programme and one of the pilot tourism establishments implementing the new Wildlife Credits project that financially rewards communities for tangible results in conservation.

Hoanib Skeleton Coast

Found in one of the most remote areas of Namibia, the far northwest known as Kaokoland, Wilderness Safaris’ Hoanib Skeleton Coast camp boasts all the merits of sustainable tourism. This eco award-winning establishment is part of the greater Wilderness family, which runs lodges across Africa. It is one of seven in Namibia, all equally mentionable on this list. The reason why Hoanib stands out for us is its effectiveness-to-cause. Low density, with only eight tents, the camp has for many years been host to researchers Dr. Flip Stander, who monitors the desert lions of the region, and Emsie Verwey, who conducts research on brown hyena populations in the area and along the Skeleton Coast. Made famous by the two-part documentary films The Vanishing Kings, the desert lions are an intriguing addition to Namibia’s wildlife menagerie. Another long-term project conducted at Hoanib is Laura Brown and Rob Ramey’s Desert Elephant Conservation Study. With the Hoanib River and adjoining valley as well as the Skeleton Coast as their playground, visitors to this camp are encapsulated in the sheer wonder, and the thought-provoking and often confounding charm of nature at its simplest.

Grootberg Lodge

Situated on the edge of the Etendeka Plateau, with the most spectacular view of the Klip River Valley spread out beneath it, Grootberg Lodge is managed by Journeys Namibia. It is the very first lodge in Namibia to be wholly owned by the community in which it is located. The ≠Khoadi 

//Hoas Conservancy covers more than 3 000 km2 and is mainly inhabited by Damara people, who before the lodge was opened, mostly relied on subsistence farming or had to find work in other parts of the country. With its role as income and employment generator for the community, the conservancy’s involvement in rhino conservation and community game guards who protect the wildlife of the region, the lodge’s very existence supports both people and conservation in an absolutely crucial way.

Shipwreck Lodge

About as far-flung as it gets, the magnificent Shipwreck Lodge in Skeleton Coast National Park, is the only high-end establishment in the area. This one, too, ticks all the boxes. Situated inside a national park, sustainably built and operated, a joint-venture with the local communities, incredibly aware of the natural surroundings. Shipwreck Lodge takes ‘exclusive’ to the next level. It’s tough to get there, but the journey is most certainly worth the destination. Partnering with the Puros and Sesfontein conservancies, the lodge’s focus is on nature, and the guest experience mirrors that beautifully. Recruiting staff from the local communities within these conservancies also means including individuals in the lodge team who know the land, the animals, the weather and nature like no other.

Etendeka Mountain Camp

“Where man treads lightly and nature is respected”, reads their mantra. When Dennis Liebenberg took over the Etendeka Concession 28 years ago, the now celebrated CBNRM programme did not exist yet and there was little experience of joint ventures, both on the side of the concession holder and the community. Dennis created a tourism business that would benefit the community, provide jobs and training, but most precious of all, protect the land and the delicate balance which is necessary to truly conserve nature. Etendeka Mountain Camp lay nestled in the rocky foothills of the Grootberg massif in Damaraland. The camp is built from the rocks of its surroundings and is about as low-impact as it gets. The focus is on nature, not the frills. You will even fill up your own bucket shower. The luxury lay in the joy of being so completely entrenched in nature, surrounded by it. The overnight walking safaris, where you sleep on raised platforms beneath the grandeur of the starry night sky, are an adventure like few others we’ve experienced in Namibia. There is an authenticity to your encounters at Etendeka that is almost unparalleled. Nature reigns supreme and it gives a wonderful rounded-out experience of disconnecting to reconnect. Finding the true understanding of how nature heals, will reinvigorate you and help you remember how to breathe.

Wolwedans Collection

One of the true trailblazers, the standard-setters, the pioneers. The Wolwedans Collection was built on a dream. The Brückner family found sanctuary for their love of nature and living sustainably in the creation of the Wolwedans Collection of camps on the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Today, Stephan Brückner is taking this world-renowned collection, which has already paid its dues in terms of both luxury, sustainability and conservation, to heights not yet reached for in this arid country. To name every project Wolwedans has created and undertaken over the past 25 years would take more pages than our publication allows for. Suffice it to say that if you can think of something wonderfully sustainable, they have done it. Their pillars of Community, Commerce, Conservation and Culture have been expanded to also included Consciousness, which perhaps catapults them to the very top of our list, though truth be told they may have been there already. Subtly and quietly launched a few months ago, Wolwedans’ The Arid Eden Project aims to refine the balance between people, planet and profit. Their aim is to create “a blueprint for more sustainable, resilient and inclusive tourism/conservation economies – both in Namibia and globally.” They’ve been a shining example to their peers for many years, and it seems they will continue to carry the torch and light the way for an industry as a whole, toward a more aware, a more nurturing, a more engaged and a more conscious future for tourism.


More to explore

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