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).