Meet the farmers who live in this pretty corner of the country.
Iwalk through the back door of the farmhouse on Kosos near Helmeringhausen. Mariëtte de Klerk and her daughter Anrie are busy packing dates on the kitchen counter. Their Jack Russel Bella puts a wet tennis ball down at my feet. Mariëtte’s husband Boeta walks in with a pair of pliers – he gives me a firm handshake and looks at the clouds outside. “Ja nee, the wind has turned,” he says. “It looks like rain. Let’s take a drive and I’ll show you the cattle.”
If this isn’t the perfect picture of farm life, I don’t know what is.
I cling to the rails on the back of Boeta’s Land Cruiser bakkie as we bounce through the veld. I jump down to herd a few lost cows closer. We pull over at a kraal in the veld to fix a hole in the fence – the reason for the pliers.
“The calves look good,” says Boeta. “When the veld is as green as this, they get nice and fat.”
He peers over the rim of a full farm dam. “Mooi!”
Get stuck and linger
I met the De Klerks a few years ago – they also run a campsite called Mount D’Urban. Since my first visit to the campsite, I try to visit them whenever I’m in Namibia – usually I spend one night here on my way to or from the border at Vioolsdrif, but this time I’m staying longer: The De Klerks convinced me to explore the Tirasberg, a mountain range about 50 km southwest of Helmeringhausen, ringed by the C27, C707 and C13 roads.
I refuel in Helmeringhausen and buy padkos at Helmering Winkel. Shop owner Francois van der Wath tells me that Helmeringhausen is not an official town, but actually a farm. Yet Helmering (as the locals call it) is a town in heart and soul.
“We serve all the farm people within a radius of about 70 km,” he says. “Most come here to do business and are members of the farmers’ association. Once a month there’s a clinic, and every second month we have a fatstock auction. We hold church services and some people come here to play tennis every Friday afternoon.”
Francois was born in the Free State but moved to Helmering in 1985. The conversation turns to the wide open spaces of Namibia. “I’ve lived here for years; sometimes I forget how incredibly scenic it is. The other day we visited Klein-Aus Vista near Aus. I watched the sunrise over the desert and I thought that surely there can’t be anything more beautiful.”
With a tank full of diesel, a piece of droëwors in hand, and Helmering in the rear-view mirror, I get on the C13. About 4 km further, I turn right onto the C27 – a wellmaintained dirt road that winds around and over koppies covered in yellow grass after the recent rain. Above me, slivers of blue sky peek through thick clouds that look ready to further unburden themselves.
About 20 km later, I turn off at a sign to Landsberg. It’s 25 km to the campsite, but the farm road is full of bends and a handful of gates that I have to open and close, so the drive takes about 45 minutes. I arrive at the campsite late in the afternoon and light a fire under an orange sky.
New plans for a new generation
The next morning I meet a young couple, Tommy and Addison Izko, at the farmhouse. The Landsberg farm belongs to Tommy’s uncle; he and Addison have been running it for the past three years. Two young German volunteers are sawing wood poles nearby.
“They’re helping us build the reception office and a deck at our viewpoint,” he says. “We recycle a lot of materials from the scrap heaps on the farm. A scrap heap is a gold mine.”
The Izkos farm with sheep and cattle, but the drought of the last few years has made them turn to more sustainable plans for the future. The campsite, also built from mostly recycled materials, is part of those plans.
Tommy shows me where his grandfather built dams, put up windmills and dug water pits, and explains how he plans to improve the existing infrastructure. “We do everything with solar power these days,” he says.
Back at the farmhouse, he points out an aquaponic system and the underground pipes used to irrigate the garden. “We lose too much water to evaporation otherwise,” he says.
Later, we also have a look at the jojoba plantation that Tommy’s grandmother planted years ago. “My grandpa had a ‘Cruiser’ arm,” he says with a laugh.
“It was permanently sunburnt from driving around all day with his elbow resting on the open window. My grandma heard that jojoba oil could offer some relief, so she planted some.”
Tommy is now expanding the plantation to produce more oil in the future. “The plants are adapted to desert conditions, so it makes sense here,” he says. “You can’t shape nature to your liking. Nature shapes you.”
Between mountain and desert
I find my way to the D707 later that morning. For 123 km, this road runs along the eastern edge of the Namib Desert, joining up with the C13 again on the other side of the Tirasberg. It’s a road known for expansive views of the desert on one side and the mountain peaks of the Tiras on the other. Along the way, there are three campsites with epic views. As I tally up the kilometres, I ponder where I should camp for the night.
I pick Kanaan N/a’an ku sê Desert Retreat, the only campsite next to the D707 that I’ve never been to. But when I arrive at the gate, it’s locked – temporarily closed due to Covid-19. Next time, Kanaan.
I drive on. I’m relieved that I’m in a bakkie because the road is sandy and corrugated in places. I’m in no rush and I pull over a few times to take photos: a strip of dunes behind a boundary fence, rain clouds stacked above a farm gate, a gemsbok on the grassy plains.
The turn-off to Ranch Koiimasis, another family farm owned by the Izkos, is 12 km from Kanaan. I’ve camped here before and drive in to see if the camp is open. I’m