The Waterberg is a vast and tremendously steep plateau in Central Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo. The Waterberg plateau has stood fast and has silently watched as the land around it has been submerged in water, choked in massive sheets of ice and eroded over the millennia. The plateau is made of a much harder rock than all that surrounds it and as result it now rises 200 meters above the surrounding savannah.
The symbolism of the Waterberg Plateau is important to note. It has stood against time’s greatest tests and remains steadfast. It is fitting then that this plateau and the national park that sits atop it now stand steadfast in the battle for the conservation of some of Namibia’s most endangered species.
The Waterberg Plateau seen from the savannah.
The plateau and 405km2 of the land around the plateau were declared a national park in 1972. The plateau’s steep cliffs make it an extremely difficult region to access so the government at the time decided to designate the plateau as a space for the preservation of endangered species. In this newly formed park it was felt that at-risk and endangered species could recuperate and eventually flourish safe from the threat of poachers and human encroachment.
A view of the surrounding savannah from the top of the plateau.
The government officials were right. In the Waterberg Plateau Park populations of black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, and antelope such as tsessebe, sable and roan are all on the increase. These species are being brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the geological features of the plateau and the never failing hard work and dedication of the park officials.
Black rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in Namibia and the world and their proliferation in the Waterberg is one of the major conservation success stories in recent times. There are only about 3,610 Black Rhino still left in the wild and thanks to programs such as those run in the Waterberg Plateau Park Namibia has 1,750 of them. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism does regular censuses in the Waterberg but keeps the numbers confidential to deflect any potential interest from high-level and well-organized poachers.
Black rhino taking a dip in the Waterberg.
(Image courtesy of Africa and Beyond)
You may not drive, but you can walk
Access to the Waterberg is strictly controlled and is only possible through a series of checkpoints. As a result one cannot simply hop in one’s car and drive around the Waterberg Plateau Park. If you want to drive through the park you will need to book a place on one of the twice daily safaris the park offers (see below).
The Waterbeg Plateau Park is however accessible in ways other national parks are not. A visitor to the park can choose from any of the many walking trails found all over the park. These trails crisscross the plateau and extend from its base to its summit. A map of the trails can be found at the NWR reception near the entrance of the park.
Map of the park's many walking trails.
(Image courtesy of African Reservations)
The big advantage of being able to walk through the park is that you are able to experience the wildlife in a way that is totally different from other national parks in Namibia. By foot not only do you get to get up close to some of the animals that live in this park but you also get to experience the varied and beautiful flora of the park.
Our guide Makondjo had an expert knowledge of the local flora.
Weeping Wattles, Kalahari Christmas Trees and the protected Leadwood Tree, can all be found in the park, growing alongside the trails and even on the face of the plateau.
Much of the plateau's face is dotted with trees like this one.
There is even a chance that on one of these walks you will come across some of the mammals that have taken up residence in the park. Kudu, cheetahs, leopards and water buffalo are just four of the 26 species of large mammals that can all be found in the park. If you are attentive (and quiet!) you may spot and/or hear some of these animals as you traverse the park on foot. Keep a look out for tracks in the sand as you make your way along the trails and you may get lucky.
This dik-dik was kind enough to pose for us as we made
our way along the Mountain View trail.
The bird life of the Waterberg is nothing short of astounding. With over 200 species of birds it is a birdwatchers dream. Numerous raptors such as peregrine falcons and tawny eagles are found in the park and chances are high that you will see one up close. Various vultures, including the critically endangered Cape vulture nest within the park's boundaries. According to our guide Makondjo the best walk for avid bird-watchers is the Fig Tree walk.
Follow these signs for the Fig Tree walking trail.
All the walking trails are all clearly marked by route markers and none of the trails require you to be an expert hiker. Being in good physical condition is advisable but many patrons of the park, young and old, can navigate most of the trails with ease. If at any point you feel the going is getting too tough then simply turn around and head back the way you came.
When on any of the trails up the plateau just follow these painted feet.
For those who are more adventurous (and are in better shape) than most check out some of the longer multi-day hikes that the reserve has to offer.
Getting to the top of the plateau is easy, leaving the views behind is not
If walking and hiking is not really your thing then fear not! You can take a guided safari drive led by the resident game rangers. There is both a morning and a late afternoon drive. All you have to do is let the NWR reception know that you wish to book a place on one of these drives.
Giraffe seen from the road whilst on the late afternoon safari drive
The drives include a visit to some of the park’s seven watering holes. These watering holes are specifically designed to be non-intrusive areas from which to watch animals in their natural environment.
Looking out of a watering hole hide deep in the park-
patience and silence are needed if you want to capture some of the rarer game
The Waterberg's multifaceted history
The Waterberg’s attractions are not limited to its flora and fauna. There are both anthropological and archaeological sites of interest as well. The Waterberg was the site of a major battle during the Herero uprising against the German colonial forces. There is a graveyard near the entrance to the park which commemorates soldiers lost on both sides of the conflict. The exact location of the park is on the map you can pick up from reception.
A little harder to find are the dinosaur footprints found in the surrounding area. You will need a guide in order to find these and enquiries in this regard can be made at the NWR reception.
(Image courtesy of Richard Desomme via Panoramia)
You can stay at the NWR lodge or the private Waterberg Wilderness lodge both these lodges have the advantage of being located in the national park. The NWR lodge also has a rich history closely associated with the early German settlement in the area and is definitely worth checking out. Many of the buildings found in the park are from the early 1900's. Besides these two options there are many other options that will put you within striking distance of the park as well.
The Waterberg Plateau Park's NWR run dining hall is a former police station that has been
reconditioned and aesthetically preserved
Why you should visit the Waterberg
The Waterberg’s unique blend of flora and fauna, and its sociological, anthropological and archaeological points of interest make it a must visit for anyone touring around Namibia. It is a bastion of conservation and relaxation. It is also a hideaway from the crowds of the bigger and more over-visited safari spots in Namibia. This park is suited for the traveller who is looking for something a little out of the ordinary on their journeys around Namibia.
A massive tree that has grown into the rock and formed a natural slide
The world can’t seem to get enough of the Herero fashion, thanks to the launch of the book by photographer Jim Naughten, “Conflict and Costume”. But it's not just their clothing that makes them fascinating. Here are some interesting facts about the Herero culture and how you can encounter them on your next trip in Namibia.
A Herero woman outside her home in Mondesa Township
Language: Otjiherero (Bantu language)
Population: over 130,000 Herero-speaking Namibians
Factions: The Herero propers with the traditional chiefdoms of Maharer (Okahandja), Zeraua (Omaruru) and Kambazembi (Waterberg); The Ndamuranda; The Tjimba Herero of Kaokoland; The Mabanderu in eastern Namibia; Other smaller factions in northern Kunene and south-western Angola
The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people
In the German Herero War of 1904-1907, the entire Herero population was almost decimated. But with great resiliency, the Herero persevered and today rank among Namibia’s best cattle farmers and businessmen.
Cultures and Beliefs
It is believed they formerly lived in a country with water and reeds, known as Roruu, however no one has succeeded in tracing this legendary African marshland...
The Herero follow two religions - Christianity and their traditional "Holy Fire" (ancestral fire through which they communicate with their ancestors)
A person’s status in the family hierarchy, the place of abode, and traditions, are determined by the paternal line, oruzo. But control and distribution of all movable propert is determined by the maternal line, eanda.
They are polygamous, although the first wife is allowed to choose subsequent wives!
The holy cattle (ozohivirikwa) are the inspiration behind the women’s headdress, its two points symbolising cattle horns.
Where to encounter the Herero in Namibia
Take a walk through Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, and you are sure to see them about their daily tasks – with many of them adorned in their traditional garments, they’ll be hard to miss.
Take a tour of Mondesa township, outside Swkaopmund, with Hata Angu Cultural Tours
Visit Okahandja on the annual Herero Festival on Maharero Day. It takes place every year on the Sunday closest to August 23, the day on which Herero chief Samuel Maharero's body was returned to Okahandja in 1923. Various units of paramilitary organisations parade before their leaders in full dress through the streets.
Some useful links
Namibia is home to a host of different people and cultures. Find out more about them here.
In case you missed all the buzz about Jim Naughten’s book “Conflict and Costume”, you can read about it on The Guardian Newspaper, Time Magazine and Slate Magazine.
Take note of these handy tips for photographing local cultures in Namibia.
Some of these facts have been sourced from Namibia Holiday & Travel. Download the iPhone and iPad app for free. Or contact Travel News Namibia to purchase a hard copy.
Most visitors come to Namibia for its wide open spaces, its magnificent landscapes and its abundant wildlife. But on your way across this vast country, it's always worth spending a morning taking a tour of quite a different kind - in a township.
1. See the Real Namibia
Soweto Market, Katutura
Namibia's emptiness is breathtaking - but of course, the majority of Namibians are not found in the vast desert expanses. If you really want to discover what daily life is like, you need to spend some time in town. In both Windhoek and Swakopmund, more people inhabit the townships than the cities themselves, and they are growing much more rapidly. Though their dark past goes back to the apartheid era, the townships are now thriving communities with their own market places, nightlife, restaurants - and even malls - and a township tour is a safe and educational way to discover the culture here.
2. Sample Traditional Food
Xwama Cultural Village Restaurant, Katutura
Braais, biltong and game steaks are delicious, and you are sure to have your fill in Namibia's restaurants and lodges. But for a more traditional taste of Namibia, you need to step outside the tourist hotspots. Township tours often include a some taster dishes - including mahangu (millet) porride, bean soup, and ekaka - a delicious wild spinach. The brave can try the Smiley Head (a whole goat head!) or the infamous mopane worms - spicy, fried and surprisingly tasty. Don't miss out on a glass of homebrew omalovu beer!
3. Find out What is Inside a Herero Lady's Hat!
Tour of Mondesa, near Swakopmund
A visit to a Herero home is an opportunity for a fascinating cultural exchange. The Herero follow two religions - Christianity and they traditional "Holy Fire", and they are also polygamous, although the first wife is allowed to choose subsequent wives so they are all friends (or even sisters!). During your chat, be sure to inquire about the Herero's unusual clothes - military uniform for men, and striking, colorful Victorian-style dresses for women. More importantly, be sure to ask what the strange, horned hats represent - and what is inside them!
4. Get a Crash Course in Clicks
Language lesson in a Nama household, Mondesa
The Damara and Nama people speak using clicks, and before entering their homes you will be taught how to greet them in the local language, so get ready to click away! As if remembering a new word wasn't difficult enough, there are four types of click, and using the wrong one can change the meaning of the word entirely!
5. Give Something Back
Community project in the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC), Swakopmund
Tour companies operating in the townships support the people who live there, and part of each tour fee is invested in community projects such as kindergartens; paying the local families involved in the tour; and supporting local initiatives, such as handcraft workshops with womens groups.
On the edge of the townships there are "informal settlements" originally intended as temporary shelters for those arriving from rural areas, but many have become more permanent settlers in these areas which lack basic facilities such as electricity, and are dependent on shared water sources. These areas in particular are supported by the tour operators, who may be funding community centres, education and health initiatives for Namibia's poorest residents. Your guide will be able to tell you more about how your chosen tour company is involved.
The two tour operators below are highly recommended:
Katu Tours - Bike tours of Katutura township, outside Windhoek
Tours departs at 8:30am Tuesday to Sunday (3-12 people), clients must arrive 30 minutes earlier.
Starting/ending point: Penduka Project at Goreangab Dam, Katutura (See Map below)
- The tour takes 3.5 hours and covers a total distance of around 7km at a relaxed pace.
Hata Angu Cultural Tours - tours of Mondesa township, outside Swakopmund
The tour incorporates visits to the houses of Nama, Damara and Herero people, a shebeen and a restaurant serving Owamb food, for a complete cultural experience.
Daytime and evening tours are available.
You will be collected from your accommodation in Swakopmund and driven to Mondesa.
Namibia is a fascinating cultural melting-pot, combining early African populations with a wide array of western explorers.
Since gaining independence in 1990, Namibians have worked on mending Apartheid-era wounds, and today they are celebrating their rich heritage.
Namibia's colourful African vigour infuses old Europe into a distinctive Namibian spirit, creating unique architecture, food, customs and art. What has emerged is a true sense of unity in diversity – the coming together of 13 ethnic groups, each celebrating their past while working together toward the future. There is a powerful bond uniting rural and urban, farmers and professionals. While each of these groups has its own rich cultural heritage, they all share one thing in common…they are Namibian and proud of it.
This harmony exists through a shared history, expressed through a common sense of hospitality. The open, welcoming people of Namibia provide guests to the country with the opportunity to experience these customs and traditions first-hand, and visitors to Namibia are likely to experience an authentic way of life. Local tour operators have taken care to develop itineraries which includes visits to communities in rural areas where villagers eagerly share their everyday lives, from the Herero women who wear distinctive Victorian-style dresses and horn shaped hats, to the semi-nomadic Himba whose women wear intricate hairstyles and ornamental jewellery artfully crafted from shells and metals. Listen to the Nama or the Damara whose complex languages feature intriguing clicking sounds. Visit the San people who are among the last hunter gatherer communities on Earth and have been able to preserve much of their ancient culture.
Community based tourism options are a large part of what makes a visit to Namibia so distinctive, providing an enriching and engaging opportunity for both the traveller and the local communities to get to discover each other. At the same time, such activities generate real social and economic benefits to the empowered communities, and ultimately provide a more authentic Namibian experience to the visitors. Community campsites provide a base from which to enjoy and explore the highlights of the country and magnificent scenery, while offering opportunities to truly delve into what makes Namibia so unique, its people, its local feasts and customs, and, perhaps make a few new friends.
Come discover what makes us so proud to be Namibian – and allow us to share our Namibia with you!
A highlight of any visit to Namibia is meeting the local people whose culture may be vastly different to your own, but whose warmth makes you feel quite at home. However, photographing local people is a delicate thing, and we want to offer ten quick tips to properly prepare you.
Ask your guide to break the ice. If you’re planning to take photos of people in their private surroundings, it is always best to have a local guide to take you around, converse with the people and overcome the barrier of photographer versus subject.
Always ask before you photograph someone. Not everybody likes to have his or her picture taken, so to avoid conflict, ask first. When in a crowd, it is easy to take a photo of someone with them not noticing, but in less populated areas, it's insensitive to just snap away.
Some people will expect payment for having their photo taken. This includes the Himba and Herero who still dress traditionally. They spend a lot of time and effort on their appearance and if you “steal” their image without payment it may land you in a bad position. Best is to agree on a price before you take the photo.
- Older people might be more hesitant to have their photo taken. Once again, friendliness and patience will get you far. If the subject seems unwilling, have a chat with him or her, maybe show him some of your other photos, let them warm up to you, and then ask again.
If you take a photograph of someone, show it to him or her afterwards (when shooting digitally). Many people don’t own cameras and is amazed by the possibilities of technology. This gesture will also make them warm up to you, which might result in you getting an even greater photograph.
If possible, send a printed copy of the photo to the subject. Those who live in rural areas without camera equipment will really appreciate it. But don’t make empty promises. If you’re not sure if you’ll ever get to send the photo, rather not make the promise.
When taking photos at a cultural village, at a cultural performance, or on a pre-arranged photographic tour, it is not necessary to ask for permission. To be on the safe side, check with your guide or local companion first.
When on an organized tour, many photo opportunities have been pre-arranged, making it easy for you to just snap away and leave the formalities to your guide. Ask your guide about this if you’re not sure.