Walk a hik­ing trail, drink from a nat­u­ral spring and learn the his­tory of the Water­berg.


Most of us know about Eugène Marais’ Water­berg in Lim­popo, but did you know that Namibia has its own moun­tain of the same name? You can see it from the B1 near Otji­warongo and it’s just the place for a week­end away.

The Ger­mans call them “in­sel­bergs” – small moun­tains (or big kop­pies) that rise like is­lands from the other­wise flat plains of Namibia. The Water­berg, east of Otji­warongo, is one such in­sel­berg. On Google Earth it looks like some­one care­fully un­moulded the chis­elled es­carp­ment around the plateau. The moun­tain is not very tall (only 200 m higher than the ad­ja­cent Oma­heke Plain), but it has some girth (16 km at its widest) and it stretches along the west­ern bor­der of the Kala­hari for a sub­stan­tial 50 km.

With the ex­cep­tion of a few smaller re­serves and guest farms around the Water­berg, the moun­tain is di­vided into two con­ser­va­tion ar­eas: the Water­berg Re­sort in the west, man­aged by Namibia Wildlife Re­sorts (NWR), and the neigh­bour­ing Water­berg Wilder­ness Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve in the east. You should spend at least two days at each to get a feel for the area.

What can I do in the Water­berg?

Hike. Both re­serves have a sub­stan­tial net­work of day trails and they’re all rel­a­tively easy. When you’re at the Water­berg Re­sort, do the Moun­tain View Trail (two hours in to­tal), which leads up the es­carp­ment at a com­fort­able gra­di­ent and re­wards you with a fan­tas­tic view of the flat land­scape around the moun­tain.

Due to an in­crease in poach­ing in the Water­berg, the multi-day trail that takes you onto the plateau and deeper into the wilder­ness has been closed. But no wor­ries, you still get a good sense of place on the es­carp­ment. You can see where the fences of the farms used to run – farms that have since been in­cor­po­rated into the two re­serves. Roads fan out from the base of the moun­tain to­wards Okakarara and Klein-Water­berg and you can see all the way to where land and sky be­come one.

On the slopes, the trail mostly threads through dense veg­e­ta­tion in the shade. Up on the plateau you’ll prob­a­bly see lots of dassies. Take time to look at the lichen on the sand­stone – nearly 140 species oc­cur in the Water­berg and many are en­demic to the area. Small crea­tures scratch around in the dry leaves at the base of the cliffs, but­ter­flies flut­ter and you might just make eye con­tact with a damara dik-dik.

In the Water­berg Wilder­ness Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve

you’re only al­lowed to hike to the plateau with a guide (R140 per per­son). You can also do the hon­ey­moon sun­downer hike in the late af­ter­noon, which in­cludes drinks and snacks on the plateau (R500 per per­son).

There are sev­eral marked day trails in the val­ley that you can hike for free. Start with the Olpp Hill cir­cu­lar trail near the Plateau Camp­site for a his­tory les­son. The trail is close to the Otjosongombe bat­tle­field where Herero troops were over­whelmed by the Ger­man army in 1904. This bloody bat­tle brought an end to the seven-month Herero up­ris­ing and marked the start of the Herero geno­cide.

Ear­lier that year, five Ger­man naval ships docked at the har­bour in Swakopmund, de­liv­er­ing can­nons, troops, horses and other supplies. Schutztruppe spies had been watch­ing the Herero peo­ple – who were herd­ing their cat­tle in the Water­berg – and com­mu­ni­cat­ing their move­ments to Ger­man of­fi­cers us­ing a se­cret he­li­o­graph sta­tion on top of the moun­tain. Twelve ma­chine guns and 36 can­nons were moved from the coast to the in­te­rior over the course of a few months and the at­tack was planned in de­tail.

The in­for­ma­tion boards along the 2,2 km trail tell of the bat­tle that fol­lowed… About 1 500 Ger­man troops, un­der com­mand of lieu­tenant gen­eral Lothar von Trotha, at­tacked Sa­muel Ma­harero and his 3 500 – 6 000 armed men – and their fam­i­lies – from five di­rec­tions. Dur­ing the bat­tle, 26 Ger­man sol­diers died and about 600 were wounded. (At the Water­berg Re­sort there’s a ceme­tery where these men are buried, along with the in­jured who died from their wounds in the months that fol­lowed.)

The num­ber of ca­su­al­ties on the Herero side is not known, but the at­tack forced them to flee the Water­berg east to the Oma­heke Plain and into the Kala­hari.

Von Trotha sent out his troops to hunt down the re­main­ing Herero and in Oc­to­ber he de­clared that all Herero peo­ple found in Ger­man ter­ri­tory, women and chil­dren in­cluded, would be shot. This or­der was later with­drawn, but it suc­ceeded in dis­plac­ing the Herero na­tion, where an es­ti­mated two-thirds died in the desert. Sa­muel Ma­harero and a few thou­sand of his peo­ple made it to safety in Bri­tish Bechua­na­land, a colony at the time.

The geno­cide had been bru­tal and swift. Only scat­tered groups of Herero peo­ple re­mained in Ger­man West Africa. They were told to lay down their weapons and sur­ren­der, then they were forced

into refugee camps. One such camp was in the Water­berg and was man­aged by a mis­sion­ary called Jo­hannes Olpp. Next to the trail you can see the ru­ined foun­da­tions of an old house that was once part of this camp.

The other trails in the Water­berg Wilder­ness Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve can be linked to form a cir­cu­lar route of about 13 km. This trail goes to the back of the val­ley where Swedish ex­plorer Karl Jo­han An­der­s­son came look­ing for ele­phants on a scout­ing ex­pe­di­tion of north­ern Namibia. (An­der­s­son gate into Etosha was named af­ter him.) Along the way you’ll see trees like African wat­tle, Kala­hari ap­ple-leaf and shep­herd trees. Just be­fore the trail turns back, you can kneel un­der tall Na­maqua fig trees at a nat­u­ral spring and drink hand­fuls of fresh wa­ter.

End the day with a sun­downer at one of the restau­rants in the re­serve while the sun paints the sand­stone cliffs a rusty red.

KUDU CALL­ING (this page). Most an­te­lope species keep to the plateau dur­ing the day but come down the slopes at night, leav­ing tell­tale tracks in the sand.WA­TER FROM STONE (op­po­site page). One of the trails in the Water­berg Wilder­ness Pri­vate Na­ture Re­serve leads to this stand of Na­maqua fig trees, sus­tained by a nat­u­ral spring.

SOME­THING FOR EV­ERY­ONE. Ac­com­mo­da­tion in the Water­berg caters to all tastes and bud­gets. You can pitch your tent at the Water­berg Re­sort (be­low) or blow your bonus on a chalet with a splash pool and a price­less view at the Water­berg Plateau Lodge (right).

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