Untamed. Unrivalled. Unforgettable. Writer and Editor, Robbie Stammers, spends a spectacular 18-day road trip across the length and breadth of Namibia, to experience all that the Naturally Namibia group offers.
This is not my first rodeo. Over the last 20-odd years, I have been blessed to travel far and wide to some of the most luxurious destinations, both abroad and especially across Africa. I admit to being spoilt rotten – much to the annoyance of my family and friends – to experience places that in ‘normal life’ I would not be able to visit or afford.
So when I was offered the opportunity to spend 18 nights, visiting and experiencing all that Naturally Namibia offers, it took me less than a second to respond in the positive.
The ideas behind Naturally Namibia are simple. Whilst the individual lodges, safaris and activities are as diverse as the beautiful regions in which they are hidden, when combined they provide a perfectly encompassing trip to Namibia. The partners at Naturally Namibia are also often your hosts on these journeys and I was excited about getting to meet all the ‘family members’ at each unique destination.
What I was not expecting, was to be completely enamored and overwhelmed by the impact all of these people behind their brands would have on me. Suffice it to say that I would have stayed for another 18 days or forever if that had been an option. (Sadly, not in my case. I even asked but my South African passport would scupper this dream.)
There is a saying that the greatest asset any company has is its people, which rings true for all the special maestros involved in Naturally Namibia. If one is measured by the company one keeps, this group of owners and hosts can hold their heads high above the African sunset.
As one expects, my journey began in Windhoek, where I was to lay my hat for the first night at the Windhoek Luxury Suites, the ideal venue to start or finish any Namibian trip before embarking on my road trip. I had the pleasure of being hosted by well-known Namibian personality, André Compion, the man behind the Windhoek Luxury Suites, the Stellenbosch Wine Bar, Tasting Room and Market restaurants, directly across the road from the Luxury Suites, and to boot, is Fly Namibia’s Managing Director. (Watch this space for a big deal about to happen with South African Airlink that will accelerate Namibia’s post-pandemic recovery and drive the expansion of efficient scheduled airline services to, from and within Namibia.)
We were joined by other members of the Naturally Namibia group and what a great place to wine and dine to start my Namibian adventure. Not only is the steak exceptional and the wine choice splendid but the Tasting Room restaurant itself is magical with an interior garden that oozes tranquility.
Early the next morning, I headed off with Rob Moffett and Desiree Le Roux for the 4-hour trip to Ongava Tented Camp past Okaukuejo. Buried beautifully in the African Mopani bush, Ongava Tented Camp is sight for sore eyes. The classic safari-style camp is tucked in a hidden valley at the foot of a dolomite hill in Ongava Game Reserve bordering Etosha National Park. We were greeted by an Elephant drinking out of the pool directly in front of the camp. Above and beyond the tented camp, are an exquisite Lodge, along with a very bespoke “Little Ongava’ retreat and an elegant safari camp called Anderssons.
Spending time over two glorious days across the prolific 30,000-hectare private game reserve that is now a haven to large concentrations of wildlife, in the company of the above, along with Stephanie Périquet, a resident scientist at the Ongava Research Center (ORC), Cameron Peace, voted the Overall Winner of Safari Guide of the Year 2022 and Professor John Mendelsohn, one of Namibia’s top scientists, was not only enlightening but an absolute pleasure. Sometimes people just click and it would be difficult not to with these people in your company.
The ORC is a vital part of Ongava’s wildlife mission. Cutting-edge research into the genetics of Ongava’s rhino population is just one example of how the work being done at Ongava is making a difference in conservation not only in Namibia but also throughout Africa. The ORC campus includes an interactive Visitor Centre, which ushers in an exciting new era where visiting and resident scientists delve deeper into understanding the ecological processes and biodiversity on Ongava Game Reserve and the surrounding area.
From Ongava, it was off through Etosha to the Mushara Collection, which is 3 and a half hours and is situated approximately 8 km from the Von Lindequist Gate. Driving through Etosha accompanied by Cameron and Stephanie, meant I had my own private consortium of the most incredible wildlife knowledge imaginable.
We arrived late at Mushara, following a late leopard sighting that meant we had to talk our way out of the closed Etosha gate. The Mushara Collection offers everything: from the child-friendly Bush Camp to the supreme luxury of the Mushara Villas. The variety of accommodation and the quality of the finishes make the Mushara Collection unique.
I had the rare privilege of staying in one of the Villas (as everywhere else was full, which you can imagine was not a problem for me!)
Here I was hosted by Mika Shapwanale, who is the General Manager at The Mushara Collection. Mika has infused his passion for an excellent guest experience with the very highest standards of service.
All of the above offerings would not be possible were it not for what is referred to as ‘The Spirt of Mushara’. The Mushara staff are at the forefront of the Mushara Collection’s success, going above and beyond any expectations from host and guests alike.
With Mushara being right on the doorstep of the magnificent Etosha, the greatest wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, guests are spoilt for choice on their game drives with thousands of species beyond compare.
I was treated to an incredible game drive in Etosha with Mushara’s Game Guide, Emela. Emela was very knowledgeable, passionate and oozed enthusiasm and she found a mating pair of lions for us to witness, which was fascinating.
Saying a sad farewell to the friends I had made from Ongava and Mushara, I was back on the road heading to Okonjima. A place I had the pleasure of visiting in 2013, just after a certain famous couple had stayed in the exclusive Villa, they were known as ‘Brangelina’ (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
Okonjima Nature Reserve is world-renowned for sightings of abundant leopard, brown hyena and the rare pangolin, and to top it off there is the acclaimed AfriCat Foundation that contributes to the conservation of Namibia’s wildlife, in particular carnivores and endangered species. Okonjima has everything anyone could wish for with a vast spectrum of accommodation options, ranging from well-appointed private campsites to breathtaking safari lodges. Okonjima Nature Reserve is recognized as one of the premier places to witness true carnivores and to be educated about conservation, whilst doing so in absolutely majestic surroundings.
Here I was reunited with Tristan Boehme, who heads up Okonjima marketing and is a shareholder in Okonjima Lodge. What a mensch! I stayed at Okonjima’s Luxury Bush Camp, which is spectacular. We witnessed an amazing viewing of a leopard munching away on a springbok kill in the tree, with brown hyenas sitting below it, waiting for any scraps to fall but the highlight was going on the pangolin safari. I have been blessed to have spent many fruitful years in the bush but this was my first pangolin experience, and I was amazed. Following it on foot, felt like I had transferred across to a Star Wars meets Jurassic Park film skit.
The next day I spent with Tristan and Karen Codling, who heads up the AfriCat Foundation, where I got to learn about all the excellent work they do for the endangered species of Namibia. A truly remarkable Foundation, which clearly makes a massive difference to the animals and the humans in the area, and indeed Namibia as a whole.
With so much to share, we sadly have to end there this time and in the next post, we will continue further on my unforgettable journey.
Written by Robbie Stammers