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