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Vogelstrausskluft – Stay over in Namibia’s southSeptember 3, 2012
by Andreas Vogt
With unspoilt natural beauty and abundant animal wildlife as Namibia’s strongest tourism draw cards, !Uris Safari Lodge near Tsumeb offers a refreshing variation on the Namibian lodge scene. Focusing on the historical, this establishment located right in the heart of the mineral-rich Otavi Bergland provides an interesting glimpse of the history of yesteryear. Situated about 20 kilometres west of the town of Tsumeb in Namibia’s diverse and fascinating Oshikoto Region, the lodge nestles in a private 17 000-hectare reserve with an abundance of eland, kudu and other game.
The !Uris Safari Lodge venture was started by the Neethling and Pretorius families some three years ago when they purchased the 3 600-hectare !Uris farm, a natural breeding ground for eland, kudu and small antelope. Soon the need for a lodge in the immediate vicinity became apparent, resulting in the development of !Uris Safari Lodge.
The lodge borders a number of historic German mines – Alt Bobos, Otjikoto, Karavatu and Tschudi -– which appeal to visitors who, besides wildlife and unspoilt natural beauty, are also interested in gemstones and minerals. Moreover, the lodge lies near the mysterious and ancient karst sinkhole, Lake Otjikoto, and the famous national game sanctuary, the Etosha National Park. It also offers accommodation to tourists en route to the Owambo regions in the far north and the Kunene and Kaokoland regions in the north west, as well as to naturalists wishing to experience the unspoilt natural beauty of this part of the country. The cultural attraction is historical mining trails ‘in the footsteps of the diggers’ who spent their days exploring the possibilities of mining precious minerals in the gruelling Namibian sun and untamed wilderness 120 years ago.
The ancient Alt Bobos Mine is housed in the amazing rock formations of the Otavi Bergland. Here the fissures in the limestone rocks expose their bio-active origins, in what we refer to today as stromatolites. Filling up with mineral-rich magma as it welled up from the earth’s bowels millennia ago, stromatolites reveal a treasure trove of extremely rich ores and minerals. Today the remnants of the malachite and chalcosite deposits glisten in the midday sun. It is here at Alt Bobos that the Germans mined in days long gone, hand-sorting mainly copper minerals, which were transported by ox-wagon to Swakopmund. For geologists and mining enthusiasts, the historical value of the farm has an added bonus. Within a four-kilometre radius from the lodge, visitors can experience the ancient atmosphere of the dormant OMEG II Mine. Nowadays we hear only the sound of the crickets and other insects frequenting this tranquil spot.
A veritable museum
!Uris Safari Lodge boasts delicious pan-African meals, starting with a full breakfast, followed by a wholesome lunch and ending with a romantic dinner by candlelight. Dinners are served either in the lounge area, or for guests favouring the ‘bush experience’, the Boma. The thatched dining, lounge and bar areas open onto spacious wooden decks, affording views of Namibia’s spectacular sunsets.
The topic In the Footsteps of the Diggers runs like a delicate string of copper throughout the lodge. The mining history is tangible not only at the cosy fireplace in the lounge area, but also in the small-scale library, while pieces of collectable minerals can be bought in the curio shop. A visit to the well-stocked wine cellar, which resembles a mining dig, reflects the old Tsumeb mineshaft. The day is rounded off with a drink and a satisfying smoke in the Cigar Bar, decorated with a remarkable display of historical photographs of Tsumeb and its mining environs in its heyday, sourced from the local Tsumeb Museum. A well-designed swimming pool provides cool respite, and an abundance of old mining gear such as cocopans, mining trolleys and old mining equipment decorates the lodge area unobtrusively yet effectively, giving it an exotic touch.
!Uris Safari Lodge also offers a breakaway conference experience. Its state-of-the-art conference room can seat up to a hundred delegates – theatre style – and provides all standard conference necessities, such as video conferencing, e-mail facilities, a projector, a big screen and a TV. A professional conference co-ordinator assists guests with planning conferences, gala evenings, awards functions and team-building sessions.
In the early nineteen hundreds there were eight ‘compound’ houses that accommodated the mineworkers. These houses have been revamped and are now !Uris Safari Lodge’s cosy and comfortable furnished brick-and-thatch chalets, each with air-conditioning and en-suite bathroom. The names of the rooms refer to current and previous existing mines. A maximum of 42 guests can be accommodated in 14 rooms (seven semi-detached chalets). There are seven queen bedrooms, while the other seven family bedrooms are furnished with four three-quarter beds, two of which have a loft and are ideal for children between 6–12 years of age (not younger). The inviting rooms with their bohemian touch have extra-long beds, mosquito nets, towels, hairdryers, electric kettles, digital safes and telephones.
The Tschudi area is known as a breeding ground and natural habitat for eland. The 17 000-hectare eland conservancy offers new sights and the opportunity to immerse yourself into nature from the back of a donkey cart or at a leisurely walking pace on one of the trails. Wilderness camping is available on the campsite about five kilometres from the lodge.
Before sunset, as the burning heat of the African sun diminishes, guests can take a nature drive through the bush to view some of Africa’s most majestic antelope: eland and kudu. Other animals, including duiker, steenbok, warthog, jackal, ant bear, monitor lizard and baboon, are also seen. Abundant bird life is an !Uris hallmark. You will see Crimson-breasted Shrikes, Cape Turtle Doves, Bleating Warblers, Gray Loeries, Namaqua and Green-spotted Doves, Plum-coloured Starlings, Helmeted Guineafowls, Yellow- and Red-billed Hornbills, Lilac-breasted Rollers and a variety of francolins, bee-eaters, lovebirds and sunbirds.
How to get to !Uris Safari Lodge:
From Windhoek travel northwards on the B1 towards Tsumeb, turn left at the Grootfontein–Namutoni intersection towards Namutoni, turn left again 9.6 kilometres down the road at Punyu Crushers, follow the gravel road for 8.6 kilometres to the lodge’s security gate, after which it’s about 6 kilometres to the lodge.
This article appeared in the May/June ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.