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Good rains at the Waterberg – finally! Nevertheless, there can be no talk of an end to the drought. On the plains in the Waterberg Wilderness private nature reserve at the foot of the Waterberg you can only see delicate culms here and there. Without further rain they will soon wither...
White rhinos and other game must continue to be fed. Red hartebeests and blue wildebeests in particular are suffering from the drought. 40 bales of hay are the least that has to be laid out every day. As from now lucerne will be added, which has more nutritional value. Guests will learn more about the drought and its consequences on a Rhino Drive and a Rhino Tracking tour.
The fodder comes from the partner Ghaub in the middle of the Otavi Mountains. There is more grass available than game and cattle need. In October Ghaub started to grow lucerne on an irrigated area.
The cost of growing, transporting and laying out the forage is high. The truck from Ghaub, about 200 km away, comes once a week. Hay and lucerne must be laid out in changing places and spread out, so that weaker animals also get a chance.
Therefore, the Waterberg Wilderness team is hoping for more rainfall. Most precipitation in the northern center of Namibia is normally expected from January to March. In the past year, however, there was hardly any significant rainfall during this period.
Even if this rainy season turns out to be above average, the consequences of the severe drought will be felt for a long time. According to the latest report of the Ministry of Agriculture, almost 90,000 livestock died across the country between October 2018 and September 2019.
Farmers, running out of pasture, desperately tried to sell their cattle even at loss-making prices. However, slaughterhouses could only take part of the cattle due to limited capacity.
Now the herds have to be slowly rebuilt. Because of the losses, many farmers lack the funds. Lodge operations will also feel this: Food is likely to get up to 10 percent more expensive, meat may even get up to 20 percent more expensive.
How do trees speak to each other? Which characteristics do rock dassie and elephant have in common? And what bird occurring at the Waterberg can imitate the human language? Answers to these and many more questions you will receive if you go for a walk in the upper valley of Waterberg Wilderness.
Since being established three years ago, the "Botanical Garden" in the Waterberg Wilderness private nature reserve is being expanded step by step. There are information boards now not only about trees along the path, but also about animals that live in this area of the Waterberg valley. In addition, the dense bush was cleared, small bridges were erected on rough terrain, and benches were set up in shady places.
From the Fountain Trail, which leads from the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge on the bottom of the valley to the spring, smaller side paths are branching off now. On the other side of the valley, a similar walkway back to the lodge was set up. It offers an easy alternative to the Porcupine Highway, which leads up and down the slope and proved to be too strenuous for some older guests (see map).
On a new short path guests can also make a detour from the spring further up the valley, where it narrows between steep cliffs. Since dozens of lovebirds nest in the rock crevices each year, the gorge bears their name: Lovebird Gorge.
At the end of the trail, a large information board is revealing interesting facts about this colorful bird and its "cousin", the Rüppells parrot, which is also to be found in the valley. One example: The latter, when held in captivity, is capable of learning to imitate the human language.
Speaking of "language": Another small information board is explaining how trees communicate with each other. But its little story will not be revealed here, just as much as its exact location in the "Botanical Garden"... ;-)
Most guests come because they want to conquer the plateau, experience rhinos up close and explore the nature trails in the valley on their own. By contrast the group who recently visited Waterberg Wilderness was only interested in the History Path and the past of the area – for professional reasons...
Employees of the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg travelled through Namibia for twelve days in order to research for a play and to gain impressions. Topic: The German colonial era in Namibia and the war against the Herero. Production manager, dramaturge, director, set designer, video filmmaker and one of the actors visited sites of events at that time and talked to representatives of Herero, Nama and German-born.
Naturally they also came to the Waterberg, where in August 1904 the decisive skirmishes between the German Schutztruppe and the Herero fighters had taken place. At Waterberg Wilderness they used the History Path for a walk into the past: It leads to one of the battlefields and a place where a missionary erected a collection camp in 1906 for Herero, who hid in the bush since the fighting. Display boards along the way describe the events in text and image and explain the background.
The six Thalia employees were accompanied by a Namibian theatre director. In the coming months, a German and a Namibian dramaturge will write the play. During the rehearsals with German and Namibian performers it will be further developed. However, the title is already set: "Hereroland, a German-Namibian (hi)story." The premiere is scheduled for January 19th at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg. In June next year the play will be performed at the National Theatre in Windhoek.
For years, Waterberg Wilderness had to wait for its white rhinos to get offspring. Finally, in April two years ago, the first calf was born. Now there is reason to rejoice again: In the middle of June the second rhino baby came into the world. And it was the same cow that calved...
The rhino cow had retreated into the dense bush. The rangers of the Rhino Patrol tracked her down, but kept their distance so as not to disturb her and her calf. Taking a better picture was not possible at the moment because the cow was extremely nervous. Her baby is a bull calf, like her first young, which she has now weaned after 26 months.
It is amazing that in the partner reserve Ghaub a rhino cow got offspring almost at the same time (read more here) – just like two and a quarter years ago when both cows calved shortly after each other.
White rhinos are carrying young for about 16 months. This means that the two cows at Waterberg Wilderness and Ghaub became pregnant again at a time when their calves were just ten or eleven months old.
Guests of Waterberg Wilderness can experience the rhinos as close as can be on a Rhino Drive and a Rhino Tracking Tour. However, for seeing the rhino baby, they have to be patient. In order to avoid stress for cow and calf, the tour guides keep their distance until the two feel safer and leave the dense bush.
The drought in Namibia also affects the area at the Waterberg. In January and February, two of the main months of the rainy season, there was hardly any rain. Hence on the plains of Waterberg Wilderness at the foot of the Waterberg grass became scarce – which is a particularly critical situation for the white rhinos...
Fortunately, Waterberg Wilderness is a partner of Ghaub Nature Reserve in the Otavi Mountains. Ghaub also received less rain than usual, but still enough to make for an excess of pasture. Therefore, Ghaub is able to deliver a truckload of 200 hay bales to Waterberg Wilderness every three to four weeks.
The hay is particularly needed for the white rhinos, which each eat about 40 kg of grass per day. However, the bales are deposited in changing places and in a spread manner, so that other game such as eland, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest or zebra get their share. Rhinos tend to chase off weaker competitors from their fodder.
Every year in the low season the accommodation establishments of the Waterberg Wilderness nature reserve are being renovated. However, this time the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge needed more than the usual touch-ups and the obligatory fresh paint: In some rooms, the bathrooms were renewed...
At the end of January, the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge was temporarily closed. And yet there was a lot of activity: In five of the rooms, the pipes in the bathrooms had to be renewed, as they were from the early days of the lodge. Subsequently, the bathrooms were also newly tiled.
The rooms received a new, fresh look. One of the walls was painted in friendly brown, in appealing contrast to the off-white of the other walls. However, the large-format photographs with snapshots from bygone times of the former cattle farm remain.
The Waterberg Wilderness Lodge is the starting point of four hiking trails. Two of them can be combined to a circular route. Two of them lead through the "Botanical Garden" to the spring; information boards introduce to you the trees along the path.
Bush encroachment is a big problem in Namibia: As bush fires are immediately combated and contained by humans, shrubs spread out and grasslands shrink. Camping guests of Waterberg Wilderness can now help to finance the costly clearing of scrub – simply by barbecuing...
Campfires and barbecuing are a crucial part of the real camping experience in Namibia. At the Waterberg Plateau Campsite guests can now buy firewood, which they can burn with a clear conscience.
Not only because it is exclusively dead wood collected on the area of partner Ghaub Nature Reserve & Farm, but also because the proceeds from the sale of the wood of Ghaub Farm Products contribute to financing the costly measures of Waterberg Wilderness and its partners Ghaub and Ondekaremba to contain the dense bush, which is spreading more and more if nothing is done about it.
For those who want to take the wood along, it is not packed in the usual plastic sacks that are now prohibited in national parks, but in cartons. If you use the cardboard to ignite the fire, nothing remains but ashes - which, like after the bush fires, provide the soil with new nutrients.
The dinner at Waterberg Wilderness will be melting even more in one’s mouth now. A retired chef trainer from Germany spent two months at Waterberg Wilderness and its partners Ghaub and Ondekaremba. It was already the third time. The training sessions took place this time mainly in the cold room...
The training for the cooks of Waterberg Wilderness this time focussed on the professional way to unflesh bones. In addition, retired chef trainer Georg Maeding from Lübeck went into detail about what you should pay attention to, when you cut meat into smaller pieces.
Of course, he also checked in the kitchen to what extend the cooks put into practice what they learnt in the previous training courses, and he imparted more helpful hints and tricks. "Above all, we have improved the preparation of sauces," said Maeding shortly before his return flight to Germany in early December.
During his two-month stay, he also visited the partner properties Ghaub and Ondekaremba. It was already the third time after 2015 and 2017 that Georg Maeding by the agency of the Senior Experts Service trained the cooks at Waterberg Wilderness. In the first two training sessions he put basic skills and knowledge on a sound basis, he revised the menus and went into particulars about the professional arrangement of food on the plate.
The lodges of Waterberg Wilderness offer a rich breakfast buffet and a set menu of four courses for dinner. European dishes are prepared in Namibian farm style and enriched with typical local ingredients such as kudu meat, butternut or chutney. Breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate.
Good education costs a lot of money. Smaller private schools such as the German Private School Grootfontein (DPG) cannot be financed alone with income from school fees. So the DPG came up with a clever campaign, offering donors the chance to win a Namibia trip. And Waterberg Wilderness is on board...
Sending a child to the German Private School Grootfontein (DPG) costs the parents around 3,000 Namibia Dollar (at this time almost 200 Euro) a month. For a place in the hostel they have to add the same amount. And yet the income from school and hostel fees only covers one third of the costs.
The remaining two-thirds must therefore be collected by additional input of parents and fundraisers – as at many other private schools in Namibia. The DPG has come up with a very special campaign for this: Every two years, they start a raffle with prizes that are equally attractive to Namibians and holidaymakers from abroad.
The main prize is a 14-day roundtrip for two people through Namibia, car hire and flights Frankfurt – Windhoek – Frankfurt included. If the winner lives in Namibia, he can get the flights in reverse order. Of course, the Waterberg may not be missed on this trip. In addition, Waterberg Wilderness is always prepared to support campaigns like the one of the DPG.
So, the winner can look forward to two nights at the Waterberg Valley Lodge, dinner and breakfast included. The tented chalets give the feeling of staying in the middle of nature, while at the same time offering the comfort of a lodge with their brick bathroom and meals in the restaurant.
What exactly would you support by doing so? – A good education for children in Grootfontein and surroundings up to grade 7 and especially good German language skills, which are also of great advantage for a possible career in tourism.
The DPG was founded in 1995 because since the independence of Namibia in 1990 government schools only guarantee teaching in mother tongue up to the third grade – provided there are at least 30 children per class. However, in small places like Grootfontein it is impossible to reach this class size. It goes without saying that the school is subject to the state education ordinance and is open to children of all population groups.
For years, the private nature reserve Waterberg Wilderness has been spared from the widespread problem of rhino poaching. Now, however, poachers even hit twice in quick succession – fortunately without success. Reason enough to invest even more in the protection of the game...
In August, poachers advanced to the area of Waterberg Wilderness at night and shot a rhino cow. Luckily the wound could be treated by a veterinarian – and fortunately, the cow survived the stress of being wounded, fleeing through the bush at night, and being anesthetised and treated the following day. At the second incident in October, the poachers' search for the rhinos was unsuccessful.
In both cases, the protective measures of Waterberg Wilderness have prevented much worse to happen. Without the guarded gates on the thoroughfare, the poachers would not have had to walk for miles on foot through the bush to invade the reserve. The "Rhino Patrol" secured tracks the following morning, providing police with important clues that led to the arrest of some of the alleged perpetrators.
Nevertheless, the incidents show that protection needs to be stepped up. In cooperation with police, the neighbouring Waterberg Plateau Park and the farmers of the area we plan to monitor the thoroughfare over a wide area.
Waterberg Wilderness finances all these measures through the income from accommodation and rhino tours. Since the rangers of the "Rhino Patrol", who track down the pachyderms on a daily basis, inform our guides via radio, we can almost guarantee our guests an encounter with the rhinos. It’s a win-win-win situation – for the rhinos, the guests and Waterberg Wilderness, which now employs more than 60 people.
It’s like camping in nature, but without having to set up a tent or having to pass on a private bath – and on top of it at a very reasonable price: The tented chalets at the Waterberg Valley Lodge are extremely popular and therefore quickly booked up. Reason enough to gently expand the lodge...
The Waterberg with its unique flora and fauna as well as its history is evidently for more and more tourists a must-do on the bucket list for their round trip through Namibia. Waterberg Wilderness may contribute to it by offering the opportunity to experience white rhinos close up or to get an insight into Herero culture and tradition in a casual way.
However, the variety of accommodation in this private nature reserve might also be a reason for the increasing number of guests. In addition to lodge and campsite there is the very affordable mixed form of a tented lodge. In August 2014, the Waterberg Valley Lodge opened with five double chalets, with a sixth added last year. Due to the high demand, the number of chalets has now been increased to nine.
Below the restaurant the tented bungalows are spread along the slope. From their balconies they offer magnificent views over the green valley and the reddish steep cliffs of the Waterberg. Guests have their own brick bathroom and a comfortable bed, but fall asleep with the sounds of nature as if they were camping. The rate includes dinner and breakfast and is significantly lower than that of Waterberg Plateau Lodge and Waterberg Wilderness Lodge.
Exciting news from the office of the Namibia Tourism Board in Frankfurt in the middle of this month: A photo taken in the Waterberg Wilderness private nature reserve made it to the final round of a prestigious competition in the PR industry...
The motif of the photographing woman with two rhinos in the background was selected by the jury of the "PR Bild Awards" in Germany as one of the 60 best of the submitted photos. It shows the exciting highlight of a Rhino Tracking tour in December 2016, in which the German professional photographer Alexander Heinrichs participated.
The final selection of the competition is divided into six categories with ten photos each. In the category "Travelling", the photo from Namibia is competing against nine other motifs from other countries.
The six winners of the final round are now determined by online vote. The Namibia Tourism Board has called on all fans of Namibia to vote for the image "Woman with rhinos". The online voting ends on the 12th of October.
Everyone has probably heard about Hoba Meteorite, Ghaub cave or Ombili San Foundation, not to mention Lake Otjikoto, the museums in Tsumeb and Grootfontein and the Living Museum of the Ju/'Hoansi. But who knows the Maria Bronn mission station? The winery Thonningii? The Khorab memorial?
All these and many more attractions are to be found in the triangle between the national parks Etosha, Khaudum and Waterberg Plateau – in a region that is widely ignored by most tourists. In order to change that, about 40 accommodation establishments, activity providers, museums, arts & crafts markets and municipalities in the region founded the tourism route Omuramba Meander. Waterberg Wilderness was already involved in the preparation phase.
The initiator was the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development that contracted non profit organisation Open Africa to develop the route. It should also ensure to increase the benefits from tourism for urban and rural communities. Open Africa compiled information and photos of attractions and tourism products in the region and published it on its established web portal. In addition Open Africa produced information boards for eight locations such as Ghaub (former mission station), Waterberg Plateau or Fisher's Pan in Etosha which are referring to one another. There are also signs of the Omuramba Meander route at town entrances and at selected spots along roads. A brochure in digital and printed format is due to appear in time for high season in July.
"Our Omuramba Meander initiative serves to raise awareness for the variety of experiences the region has to offer," says committee chairman André Neethling. "Our region is not only a great stop-over en route between Windhoek and Etosha or the Zambezi region, but also a destination on its own inviting you to explore – or, as we like to say: to meander."
Experiences at Waterberg Wilderness and in the surroundings
Waterberg Wilderness offers guided hikes to the plateau, Rhino drive & tracking, cultural tour with everyday life of the Herero in the countryside and in the small town Okakarara, nature trails with "botanical garden" and a "History Path" about the history of the Herero.
Stop-overs on the way to Etosha: Scenic route east of the Waterberg – Hoba meteorite – Grootfontein with Alte Fort museum – Ghaub (accommodation; historical ambience of the former mission station, Rhino drive & tracking, cave excursions and nature trails).
Alternative route west of the Waterberg: Otjiwarongo with crocodile farm and township tour – Khorab memorial near Otavi – vineyard Thonningii – Tiger gorge – Ghaub (accommodation etc.).
Stop-overs on the way to Zambezi region (Caprivi): Scenic route east of the Waterberg – Hoba meteorite – Grootfontein with Alte Fort museum (maybe route via Living Museum of the Ju/'Hoansi – Tsumkwe with Arts & Crafts – Khaudum park).
Great excitement at Waterberg Wilderness in early May due to the arrival of a very special guest, not for the lodge or the campsite, but for the nature reserve: a white rhinoceros cow. And if the recent blood tests do not deceive, she's not alone...
The rhino cow weathered the long journey from a private reserve in South Africa well. Shortly after her arrival, she undertook a long walk to explore her new surroundings. The rangers eagerly await the first encounter with the other rhinos.
Waterberg Wilderness paid approximately 700,000 Namibia Dollar (more than 45,000 Euro) for purchase, transport and veterinary care. The intention is to bring fresh blood into the existing rhino population. There is also the prospect of a soon addition to the family. According to recent blood tests, the approximately five-year-old cow is highly pregnant.
Guests of Waterberg Wilderness can experience the white rhinos up close on a Rhino Drive and a Rhino Tracking Tour (on foot). The "Rhino Patrol", who tracks down the animals once a day (as part of extensive protective measures), is in radio contact with the guides, so that a sighting of the rhinos is almost guaranteed.
Leopard? Cheetah? African Wild Dog? Aardwolf? Dog? The answers of our Facebook fans to the question which animal left the tracks to be seen on the photo were quite higgledy-piggledy. Only two of the 21 fans were completely right with their bet...
Exciting discovery along the farm path between Waterberg Andersson Camp and Waterberg Wilderness Lodge, which is quite far up in the valley of the private Waterberg Wilderness nature reserve: the trail of an animal, clearly visible in the wet sand.
Chris and Mathilde Stuart explain in their book "Tracks & Signs" how you can identify animals by their tracks: If it is a paw, check first whether it is with or without claws. Big cats can be excluded in our case, because they retract their claws while running, as some of our Facebook fans correctly mentioned. The next criteria are size and shape. On the basis of Stuart’s scheme it is clear: This was a fully grown hyena.
All that remains is the question: Which of the three species? The striped hyena does not occur in Southern Africa. The spotted hyena can be excluded because the Waterberg is surrounded by farms. Farmers see it as a threat to their livestock and kill it or chase it away. Therefore in our case it is most probably a brown hyena. Unlike the spotted hyena it is solitary and it is also considered much shyer. Based on the tracks that we find now and then, we assume that three to five brown hyenas live in our area. And no: Although their tracks might look frightening, they do not pose a threat to humans.
At the Waterberg, there are many more species of birds recorded than previously known and repeatedly stated in guidebooks. This was disclosed by experts in a talk at the Waterberg Valley Lodge about the birdlife of the area. Up to then the Waterberg was known already for over 200 different birds...
The weekend excursion of the Namibia Scientific Society to Waterberg Wilderness in mid-February brought a surprise even for the bird experts. "More than 300 species of birds have been sighted in this area and not more than 200, as previously thought," said the Chairperson of the Namibia Bird Club, Gudrun Middendorff, and her partner Neil Thomson in their presentation for the 25 participants of the excursion. "We were amazed when we saw the bird lists which were compiled through the Southern African Bird Atlas Project for the relevant quadrants."
The causes of the extraordinary diversity of birdlife are known, however: In addition to the abundance of water because of the springs, there are the many different habitats such as mountain plateau, cliff, slope, valley and plain, as well as the corresponding diversity of plants (about 500 species).
For the typical sound of the bird world of the Waterberg there are above all two birds responsible, that are hard to see, but everywhere to hear: The Grey-backed bleating Warbler and the Rockrunner, which is occurring only in Namibia. The species that make the birdman's heart beat faster include Bradfield’s Hornbill, Rüppell's Parrot and Senegal Coucal.
The bird life of the Waterberg also has two world records to offer: The ostrich as the world's largest bird and the Kori Bustard as the largest bird that can fly.
In our information brochure we have listed 43 typical bird species with English and German names, which can be seen here. Every visitor of our private nature reserve Waterberg Wilderness will receive a copy upon arrival at the reception and can use it for "ticking off".