Namibia’s wild card

Omaanda mar­ries abo­rig­i­nal Ovambo tra­di­tions and a world-class na­ture re­serve to de­liver un­par­al­leled sus­tain­able luxury. By Jes­sica Chan

Epicure - - LOOKBOOK -

Authen­tic­ity and time­less­ness have long been Zan­nier Ho­tels’ ethos. Their lat­est out­post in Namibia is no dif­fer­ent. Omaanda, a new luxury lodge an hour’s ride away from Wind­hoek, cel­e­brates the rich yet oft-over­looked tra­di­tions of the Ovambo tribe within a premier na­ture re­serve; one that has earned An­gelina Jolie’s stamp of ap­proval.

The two-month-old prop­erty is nes­tled dis­creetly amid the sprawl­ing Namib­ian sa­van­nah, and de­lib­er­ately so. “We wanted to blend into the sim­plic­ity and vast­ness of the land­scape, all while echo­ing Namibia’s roots and its har­mony with na­ture,” ex­plains Geral­dine Do­hogne, in­te­rior de­signer for Zan­nier Ho­tels. Named af­ter the Oshi­wambo word for rhi­noc­eros, the 10-room (or, more ac­cu­rately, hut) lodge does look right at home with its thatched roofs and rounded, clay walls in the Namib­ian plains, al­most as if a vil­lage had nat­u­rally taken shape. So much so that it wouldn’t be strange to find ba­boons strolling pass your pa­tio or to wake up to the sight of a ma­jes­tic gems­bok (South African oryx) in the nearby veld.

“The same seren­ity I ex­pe­ri­enced when I first set foot here? I want Omaanda to ex­ude that in ev­ery sense,” en­thused Ar­naud Zan­nier, founder of the group, who made the serendip­i­tous de­ci­sion to fly over un­der the urg­ing of Jolie. She was stay­ing at Phum Bai­tang – an­other of Zan­nier’s prop­erty in Siam Reap – when she shared about N/a’an ku sê, a non-profit con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion started by her close friends, Dr. Rudie Van Vu­uren and his wife Mar­lice. En­rap­tured by the Kohmas Hochland plateau and the in­spir­ing work of the Van Vu­urens, Zan­nier joined hands and built Zan­nier Re­serve by N/a’an ku sê, other­wise known as the wild 9,000-hectare utopia that sur­rounds Omaanda.

Rooted in his­tory

A kraal greets guests from the get-go, giv­ing an inkling of the in­cred­i­ble em­pha­sis Do­hogne has placed on telling the story of Namibia. The dra­matic mish­mash of thorn-bush branches forms a fence not un­like the pal­isade utilised by lo­cal tribes for de­ter­ring wild an­i­mals. Like­wise, for the boma, a tra­di­tional round fire­place that forms the heart of the lodge. Namib­ian tribes – be it the abo­rig­i­nal San bush­men or the Ovambo tribe that came later in the 14th cen­tury – would use it as a gath­er­ing point, and Do­hogne aims for it to do the same in Omaanda. “It is where guests can come and en­joy the stun­ning sun­set, plus a cock­tail or two, to­gether,” she de­scribes.

They worked with lo­cals, the peo­ple who live and breathe the coun­try’s past and present, at ev­ery stage of the lodge’s in­cep­tion. From con­struc­tion to op­er­a­tion, ideas were vet­ted. Lo­cal ar­chi­tects and ex­perts were brought in to trans­late in­dige­nous build­ing tech­niques and ma­te­ri­als into the bou­tique luxury ex­pe­ri­ence Zan­nier is known for, all while evok­ing a vera­cious Namib­ian ex­pe­ri­ence.

This is most ev­i­dent in the 10 huts spread across the com­pound. Sand­bags are stacked into a tra­di­tion­ally cir­cu­lar frame­work for which clay is laid upon be­fore the fin­ish­ing touch of a hand-fin­ished (by lo­cal crafts­men) thatched roof. The pre­dom­i­nance of curves, nat­u­ral lines and slight im­per­fec­tions (iron­i­cally) make for the per­fect back­drop of an­tiq­ui­ties from Namibia and the neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Think wooden bowls with in­tri­cate African carv­ings, car­pets fea­tur­ing earthy colours and geo­met­ric pat­terns as well as hand-wo­ven tow­els in the bath­rooms. Avail­able in one- or two-bed­room con­fig­u­ra­tions, they also open onto ter­races that blur the line be­tween this man-made haven and Mother Na­ture.

It may sound easy on pa­per to con­struct the “vil­lage”, but this of­ten comes at a price on the land it­self. Do­hogne main­tained the re­serve’s pris­tine state by keep­ing trans­porta­tion of ma­te­ri­als and peo­ple to a bare min­i­mum. Ex­ist­ing roads were used, so­lar pan­els were in­stalled, and a re­cy­cling pro­gramme was put in place.

The story con­tin­ues over at the spa and Ambo De­lights, the sa­van­nah-fac­ing restau­rant. The former is housed within two huts and of­fers a star treat­ment – the Spa Splen­dors Rit­ual – that’s based off a cen­turies-old vil­lage rem­edy of warmed herbs and spices to soothe aches. Ex­ec­u­tive chef Julien Burlat, sim­i­larly, presents an ever-chang­ing menu de­pen­dent on what’s read­ily avail­able. Game meats will, no doubt, make an ap­pear­ance, ei­ther on the spit or in the three-course din­ner menu.

An old new world

The lodge com­ple­ments and cel­e­brates Namibia and its myr­iad cul­tures, rather than com­pete. De­spite its year-round arid con­di­tions, it is sprawl­ing with wildlife. The area of which it re­sides is a pic­turesque amal­ga­ma­tion of hills, val­leys, African bushes and a wind­ing Otjikoto Lake. And, with the re­serve’s con­stant rein­tro­duc­tion of en­demic species that’s restor­ing the land’s nat­u­ral life cy­cle, the area around Omaanda is con­stantly grow­ing and evolv­ing into the dis­tinct wild­lands pic­tured in movies of yore.

The re­serve is very much part of the heart and soul of the Omaanda ex­pe­ri­ence, which is why, many of ac­tiv­i­ties are ex­cur­sions to wit­ness the mag­nif­i­cent wildlife in the plains. Rhi­noc­eros tracking, observing leop­ard and chee­tahs and watch­ing meerkats bask­ing in the sun, to name a few. Shiloh Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, a hos­pi­tal funded by the Jolie-pitt foun­da­tion for in­jured rhi­noc­eros and ele­phants, is open as well to meet with the il­lus­tri­ous vets and anti-poach­ing spe­cial forces pro­tect­ing the re­serve and its no­ble beauty. There’s also the An­cient Sans Skills Academy, a joint ven­ture be­tween the foun­da­tion and Nyae Nyae Con­ser­vancy, where the in­dige­nous San bush­men will re­gale guests in songs and dances por­tray­ing their 2,000-year-old his­tory as well as an in­ti­mate masterclass on their hunt­ing and for­ag­ing way of life.

The real gen­eros­ity of Omaanda is the amount of pri­vate space shel­tered within a rare, nat­u­ral land­scape; bring­ing a lost hu­man her­itage onto the world stage. Zan­nier is not rest­ing on his lau­rels ei­ther. The group will be open­ing an­other lodge, Sonop, in Namibia next year with the same ethos. He has al­ready proven his worth in turn­ing a sor­did, arid wilder­ness into a well-ap­pointed hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for sea­soned trav­ellers. We have no rea­son to doubt the suc­cess of Sonop.

Each hut fea­tures a ter­race that of­fers a ma­jes­tic view of the sa­van­nah teem­ing with wildlife.

The in-house restau­rant, Ambo De­lights, faces the sprawl­ing sa­van­nah and of­fers an ever-chang­ing menu of the re­gion’s pro­duce and game meats.

The walls are made of a sand­bag­based frame­work and lo­cal clay, giv­ing each space a earthy am­bi­ence that’s the ideal back­drop for the pep­per­ing of Namib­ian an­tiq­ui­ties and crafts. The thatched roofs were made to mir­ror those of the houses of Ovambo peo­ple and were hand-fin­ished by lo­cal crafts­men.

Ev­ery com­po­nent of Omaanda, in­clud­ing the pool­side bar, pays homage to the tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture of the in­dige­nous tribes.

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