Travel Notes from a VagabondApril 30, 2019
The Louvre of the DesertApril 30, 2019
TREAD LIGHTLY ON THIS LAND
Text Rièth van Schalkwyk
Photographs Venture Media Team
How does one describe a landscape and the emotions it evokes in such a way that when someone, who has never been there, can share the magic?
Trying my best, the most descriptive words I come up with sound jaded with over-use in our era of abundant travel writings. Awe-inspiring used to be the right word. But now it does not qualify to describe the emotion of that specific morning. Nor does the photograph of the very moment just before the sun rose through feathery rain clouds turning the landscape pink, then gold. We sat on the red desert sand at daybreak. Nobody uttered a word. Did not look at one another. Just stared at the horizon in silence. Holding on to the moment – hoping to remember it forever. It was in celebration of Venture Publication’s 25 years that we returned to Namib Rand. After a quarter century I am the only original Venture girl left on the team and I have been to the late Albie Brückner’s dream come true countless times. Even before the opening of Dune Camp, the first of the Wolwedans Collection, the same year Venture Publications was founded. The majority of the Venture team were toddlers when we launched Travel News Namibia in 1994. On that first visit I fell in love instantly and permanently. Every mood, every season, tempestuous or soothing, freezing or blazingly hot, covered in red sand, golden grass or apple-green new growth, black thundering autumn clouds, subtle hazy August hues, crisp blue winter skies. But mostly the silence and the total natural balance, everywhere you look. The lines, the colours, the tones, the
rocks, the mountains, the trees, the shades of sand and shadows. The light.
Land no human has touched. Except for the meandering track in the sand, leading deeper into the beautiful landscape, closer to the purple mountains, to the view that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Namibia is suffering years of country-wide drought and in the southwest of the country where we visited Boulders Camp, the newest of the four lodges on the 230 thousand hectare Namib Rand Nature Reserve, there is little grass but tons of red sand. Thirty years ago this was farmland where sheep farmers tried to survive such dry cycles. There is little evidence of those days, since all the fences have been removed and there are no dams or windmills. Except one, en route to the lodge from the entrance, reminding me of the fact that there must have been desperate farmers here many decades ago, looking at the gathering clouds, hoping that would bring the rain. Did the farmer find joy in a dramatic daybreak as we did? Did he allow himself the pleasure of watching a sunset from a rock with a 360-degree view? Albie’s dream was visionary. The pristine beauty of this ancient land cannot withstand the pressure of human interference. We have to tread lightly.
Left: A close-up of the Fairy Circle Land Art Project.
Top: Burchell’s plain zebra move in, out and around the reserve depending on where there is sufficient grazing.
Right: Jacqueline in a private plunge pool, just big enough to cool down but not waste a drop of precious water.
Below left: Housekeeper Sakkie, trainee Lukas, waitress Fransina, host Andrew and chef Robert
Albie’s son Stephan, MD of the Wolwedans Collection in the NamibRand Reserve, continues his father’s legacy. Through careful tourism development Wolwedans makes it possible to share the desert and protect it at the same time. When Wolwedans applied to the NamibRand Board for a concession to build a fourth facility in the southern part of the reserve, he spent weekend after weekend scouting the area on foot, because no driving off the tracks is ever allowed. It had to be the perfect spot. Hidden, not to spoil the view from a game viewer and out of sight until you literally come around the corner.
What was supposed to be a fly camp for adventurous Dune Lodge guests who wanted to sleep in the middle of nowhere for one night, became the most exclusive and remote of the four camps. Every pole, every plank, every pipe, every drum was dumped in one place and carried with human effort to where it was manually planted. “We did not leave a single track except for the path leading there and the car park where everything was off-loaded”, says Stephan. There is no evidence of the understructure of sewerage and water pipes. No disturbance of soil or rock or plants during the construction of the sturdy custom-made tents that can withstand the wind and the harsh weather.
When he designed the tent structures for the main communal area with lounge, kitchen and dining room, he realised that it would have the same environmental footprint if the decks were bigger, 16 instead of 8 poles, planted for a larger bedroom and a separate bathroom tent, salas for kids or just lounging, and a private plunge pool.
“I always feel happy at Boulders. It’s like an outpost where it seems as if no-one and nothing can reach you. My dream is that there will come a time when visitors would stay at NamibRand for six days to experience everything”, Stephan says.
Boulders can host 12 guests. To limit the disruption caused by people arriving and departing with too many vehicles and guides, the minimum stay is three nights and guests arrive on the same day and depart together.
Our team experienced all the treats and surprises at Boulders in the middle of the hot midsummer. Sunrise walks to the Hard Rock Café, cycling with fat bikes across open plains. Rising early to be at the perfect spot at sunrise and again arriving at the perfect location for dinner under the stars or the full moon. It will be a shame to spoil it for future visitors if I describe it all, but suffice to say that after all these years I was surprised. How dramatic settings are used as a backdrop for every special experience. We were touched by the kind and considerate way in which the hosts are in tune with the mood of their guests. The obvious pleasure when the surprise works its magic.
Tel: + 264 61 230 616