01 April 2021 | Tourismus
Namibian Love Affair
Namibia’s “Gift to Earth”
Namibia is pioneering conservation and is world-renowned for its progressive Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) policies - a globally recognized model for achieving large-scale community upliftment, rural development and conservation.
Prior to independence, Namibia’s communal areas were largely neglected due to a combination of poor management, community marginalization under the former Apartheid regime, commercial as well as subsistence poaching, human-wildlife-conflict (HWC) and repeated, severe droughts.
Modern legislation facilitates the existence of communal conservancies that allow for the protection of wildlife, while uplifting rural folk. These entities are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the indigenous wildlife and natural resources of these rural areas, while also allowing for sustainable utilization subject to defined, conditional rights. Working hand in hand with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) as well as non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), communal conservancies have increased in number, from the four that were registered in 1998 to the current number of 86 conservancies that encompass more than 20% of Namibia’s landmass today. Luring tourists to these pristine wildlife habitats is their intent and declared aim.
While the South is home to many of Namibia’s most iconic tourist attractions such as Sossusvlei, the Fish River Canyon, Namib-Rand (the escarpment area) and the Namib-Naukluft Park, it is a sparsely populated area that only has a few communal conservancies - animal husbandry is preferred in this part of Namibia.
Namibia’s Northern region offers arguably the most definitive conservancy experience. With a diverse mix of wildlife, contrasting biomes, national parks, dynamic culture and bucket-list of attractions, there are temptations for every kind of traveler. An excellent road network ensures ease of travel across the region with exciting 4x4 routes adding value.
Beyond the buses filled with tourists, white-washed salt pans and ghost elephant visions in the Etosha National Park with its eye-rubbing beauty, lie the open plains of the communal homelands, leading to the fluvial oasis’ of Namibia’s roof-top wonderland. Here, pristine wetlands and perennial rivers border Angola and flow through riverine forests and protected woodlands of the communal conservancies of northern Namibia.
Contrasted by the bustling metropolis of the Oshana Region and on the road to the even more remote Kunene Region in the north-west, a once in a lifetime adventure waits, which ever road you follow.
Get to know
Nestled on the eastern fringes of the Cuvelai Basin, where deep red Kalahari sand deposits illuminate the colorfully vibrant Oshiwambo people, lies the relatively small, yet unusually densely populated King Nehale communal conservancy.
Here you will find captivating scenes of long-horned cattle grazing alongside wildlife on the vast Andoni Plains, traditional thatched homesteads shaded beneath indigenous fruit trees, and locals going about their daily life, collecting water from the artisan wells to tend their Muhango crops. An abundance of birdlife congregates on the seasonal plains and nests in the acacia tree thickets. These pastorally picturesque scenes contrasted by the culturally vibrant rural metropolis further north, where open-air markets, colourful cuca shops, local crafts and traditional food stands beckon, celebrates the Oshiwambo culture.
Within the King Nehale conservancy lies Gondwana’s Etosha King Nehale Lodge - a fantastic base to explore the lesser-known attractions of the center of northern Namibia. The lodge is situated a mere kilometer from the King Nehale Gate that allows access to the Etosha National Park. The joint venture partnership contributes to the success of the CBNRM initiative.
While in the area, you may wish to gain further insight into the diverse culture of the northern region by visiting the Ombalantu Baobab Heritage Centre as you drive towards Ruacana along the C46, or might have your sights on the Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead as you follow the C41 past Okahao just before you enter Tsandi. The Omugulugwombashe Heroes’ Acre - roughly 25 kilometers along the D3633 (outside Tsandi) - allows for a historic insight.
The enticing North-West
Located in the farthest reaches of north-west Namibia, lies the Kunene Region, largely characterized by the Kaokoveld’s and Damaraland’s contrasting mix of dramatic mountain vistas and expansively flat desert plains. Matterhorn outcrops, torra rocks, organ-pipe cliffs, petrified forests, burnt inselbergs and a veritable choice of communal conservancies make this area a must-visit destination. Few places on earth offer a more languid peacefulness and an unobstructed insight into the lives of the local people. Opuwo is the springboard into the conservancies of the Kaokoveld and its Ovahimba tribes.
The C41 leads all the way from Oshakati to Opuwo, which also finds itself more or less halfway along the C43, leadíng from Warmquelle and Khowarib past Opuwo to Okongwati or the Epupa Falls. But the D3707 continues southwards beyond the C43 main road and offers an adventure leading as D3705 from
Kaoko Otavi down to Sesfontein.
The D3707 road leads onwards towards the Hoarusib River, and past Sanitatis to Orupembe, where the road turns south past Purros back to Sesfontein. It is at Orupembe that you need to decide, whether you want to pursue a rough trip to a hidden gem, or you prefer to keep it simple.
The Marienfluss Conservancy
Flanked by the imposing ridges of the Otjihipa- (east) and Hartmann Mountains (west), where it in part borders the dunes of the famous Skeleton Coast National Park, lies the secluded Marienfluss valley - a most physically inaccessible yet undeniably magical conservancy. Golden grasslands, dotted with fascinating fairy circles and grazing livestock, lead to the riverine forests, sandy riverbanks and rock pools of the Kunene River. Here the last truly semi-nomadic tribes, the Ovahimba people, still live their secluded traditional life.
Similar to the sites further south, here you find Okarohombo Community Campsite that is run and owned by the local community, with exclusive campsites positioned beneath Ana trees on the sandy banks overlooking the Kunene River and Angola. Alternative lodging includes joint-venture partnerships with Camp Syncro and Okahirongo River Camp.
The remote location of Marienfluss and scant tourist flow makes it difficult for the traditionally nomadic, subsistence community to survive and has lead to the establishment of Marienfluss as a protected community forest.
With the help of NGO’s the community is empowered through rights over the natural resources in the area and the sustainable harvesting of Commiphora resin for export to the cosmetic and perfume industries across the world. Commiphora resin is a natural plant ingredient mixed with butter fat and ochre by generations of the Ovahimba for its fragrance, much like the scent of pink peppercorns, intended to protect and beautify the skin. International interest in this product has increased cultural pride and aided conservation of the area - a successful symbiotic loop.
Instead of accessing “the Fluss” from the south, you may prefer to first visit the Epupa conservancy further upstream. You would thus access the cascading Epupa Falls coming up from Opuwo along the C43 (as mentioned before). If you access the Kaokoveld after leaving the majestic Ruacana Falls in north-western Ovamboland, you may also follow the road along the Kunene River and pass Swartboois Drift and the Ovahimba Living Museum as you venture towards Epupa (allow for at least one full day’s stay!). Leaving Epupa for Marienfluss you would steer your vehicle to Okongwati, where you would turn west towards Otjitanda once you have passed Etengua - be ready for a driving lesson second to none.
Purros Conservancy is a Gem
"My love affair with Namibia was ignited in the Purros conservancy that lies on the fringes of the Namib Desert surrounded by undulating dunes incised by ephemeral rivers", says Chloe Durr.
The remote Purros Community Campsite is situated on the banks of the mostly dry Hoarusib riverbed under the shade of large Camelthorn- and Makalani palm trees, with scenic views of the winding river basin and vast desert planes. Despite the arid surroundings, artisanal springs attract silent visits from the elusive desert-adapted elephants and giraffe by the dozen. The Ovahimba- and Herero communities residing in the area welcome the opportunity to share their culture. My visit to the Purros Traditional Village remains a highlight of any travel experience in Namibia. The camp is not accessible when the Hoarusib River is in full flood; enquire in advance, especially when travelling in the months of January to April.
If you drive up to Kaoko, coming up via Khorixas in the Damaraland, be sure to visit the famous rock paintings at Twyfelfontein (a world heritage site), where you find one of the largest congregations of rock art in Africa. At that time you might include outings to the Petrified Forest or the Organ Pipes (close to the Burnt Mountain), quite apart from the Damara Living Museum. There are joint venture lodges and community campsites at Aba Huab and Grootberg Lodge.
The crescendo to any Namibian trip is a visit to the Zambezi Region. An oasis in mostly arid Namibia, the Zambezi Region is veined by life-pulsing rivers. Situated in the heart of the KAZA Trans-Frontier Park, it offers several unfenced National Parks and communal conservancies, where free-roaming game turns your visit into a true “out of Africa experience”.
Choose to cast a fishing line into the Zambezi, paddle the Kwando river in a traditional Mokoro, drift down the channels of the Linyanti river to view exotic birdlife, explore the Mashi wetlands to find the sitatunga and red lechwe grazing in the reed-beds, or admire the elephants trudging along their ancient migration routes through the Chobe and raise a glass against the dipping sun as giant kingfishers and carmine bee-eaters dance in the fading light.
With an array of National Parks to choose from, plan your trip along the C49 to include stop-overs in the conservancies in order to enjoy some of the best lodges and campsites in the region, if not world.
The Mashi and Mayuni conservancies border the wildlife-abundant Bwabwata National Park, where a boat trip with Dan Stephens of Mashi River Safaris will definitely be a highlight. Nambwa Tented Lodge and Campsite is a highly successful joint-venture example of the area.
Venture southwards to visit the lesser explored Mudumu National Park, stay in the wetland-environment of the Nkasa Rupara or stop over in the Community Campsite, or find respite from the heat at the Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge or at Jackalberry Tented Camp - the choice is yours!
Meander further east to stay on the banks of the Chobe River at the Salambala community campsite or the Chobe River Camp overlooking Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Remember to take a photograph of yourself in the quadripoint in the Impalila Conservancy as you explore KAZA.
Namibia as preferred choice
There is a good reason why Namibia was rated “National Geographic Top Travel Destination of 2020”. Untrodden paths, untold stories, memorable cultural experiences and abundant wildlife in the lesser explored regions await those who consciously make the decision to extend their travel plans beyond the known. Choosing to visit communal conservancies is to actively participate in a symbiotic partnership with the local communities.
After having record lows in the 90’s, Namibia is now home to the largest population of free-roaming black rhino, the world’s biggest population of cheetah, the only growing population of lions, and an increasing number of desert-adapted elephants. This would not be possible without the CBNRM and joint venture partnerships.
Through the constructive and proactive management of human-wildlife conflict and the consequential paradigm shift in local communities, they now experience the benefits of tourism first-hand while having been incentivized to value wildlife rather than see it as a threat to their livestock. Growing numbers of lions and free-roaming black rhinos in the north-west and the safeguarding of ancient elephant pathways in the north-east are proof that the CBNRM’s are mostly successful.
Further success lies in the continued empowerment and livelihood diversification of Namibia’s people, who are able to share their cultural heritage and empowered by their role as custodians of Namibia’s precious natural resources.
The Ovahimba in the Marienfluss and Purros Conservancies, who sustainably harvest Commiphora resin for export and the San communities in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in the north-east, who sustainably harvest Devil's Claw for the homeopathic industry, are such examples.