The internationally renowned Etosha National Park – undoubtedly Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction – is the heart of the north-central region. The park serves as the ultimate stopover before heading for the arid northwest, the water-rich northeast, or the largely unexplored culturally rich Land of the Owambo People. Due to the constant maintenance of the infrastructure – including the completion of the tarred road between Rundu in the Kavango Region and Elundu in Ohangwena – the region is easy to navigate and allows travellers a glimpse of rural roadside life. Slowly opening up to tourism, the northernmost region of Namibia plays host to our largest population group, the Aawambo.
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast, shallow chalky white depression of approximately
5 000 km2 that forms the heart of the park. Once a large inland lake fed by the early Kunene River and rivers from the north, it began drying up about 3 million years ago when the Kunene was diverted to the Indian Ocean. A series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan guarantee rewarding and often spectacular game viewing. In good rain years the pan fills with water draining southwards from Angola via a delta-like system of shallow rivers and oshanas, drying out in the winter to become an austere expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and upwardspiralling dust devils.
What we call Etosha today was proclaimed as Game Reserve No 2 in 1907 by the then German Governor Friedrich von Lindequist. With subsequent additions it became the largest game reserve in the world, covering a vast area of ±80 000 km2. For political considerations its size was progressively diminished, until by 1975 it had been reduced by 77 per cent to its present surface area of 22 912 km2. Nevertheless, it is still one of the largest game reserves in Africa.
Of the 114 mammals species found in the park, several are rare and endangered, such as black rhino and cheetah, and the lesser-known blackfaced impala, which is endemic to northwestern Namibia and southwestern Angola. Etosha’s current population of black rhino represents one of the largest populations of black rhino in the world. Other large mammals in the park include elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, hyaena and lion. Cheetah and leopard complete the trio of ‘big cats’. Antelope species range from kudu, gemsbok and the large and stately eland, to the diminutive Damara dik-dik. Smaller mammals include jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and the ubiquitous ground squirrel. For the greater part of the year (the dry season) Etosha’s animals and birds are dependent on about 30 springs and waterholes. These provide excellent game viewing and photographic opportunities. A good policy before setting out is to enquire from camp officials what the current game movements are. During the rainy season, the bird life at the main pan and Fischer’s Pan is well worth viewing. Etosha’s vegetation varies from dwarf shrub savannah and grasslands, which occur around the pan, to thorn-bush and woodland savannah throughout the park. Eighty per cent of all of Etosha’s trees are mopane. West of Okaukuejo is the well-known Sprokieswoud – Fairy, Phantom or Haunted Forest – the only place where the African moringa tree, Moringa ovalifolia, grows in such a large concentration on a flat area. Etosha is open throughout the year and is accessible by tarred roads via the Andersson Gate on the C38 from Outjo, the Von Lindequist Gate in the east from Tsumeb on the B1, the Galton Gate in the west from Kowares on the C35 and the King Nehale Gate located on the Andoni plains just north of the Andoni waterhole, which provides access from the north-central Owambo regions on the B1 from Onyati.
Birding in Etosha
About 340 bird species occur in Etosha, about one third being migratory, including the European Bee-eater and several species of wader. Larger birds include Ostrich, Kori bustard and Greater and Lesser Flamingo, of which tens of thousands congregate on the pan to breed during a good rainy season. Ten of Etosha’s 35 raptor species are migratory. Those most commonly seen are Lappet-faced, White-backed and Hooded Vultures, while sightings of the Cape, Egyptian and Palm-nut Vultures have been recorded. There are eight species of owl, including the Pearl-spotted Owlet and Southern White-faced Scops-owl, and four species of nightjar.
GATEWAYS TO ETOSHA
Located amidst a cluster of low hills is the town of Outjo, an important cattle-ranching centre and regarded as Etosha’s gateway to the south. Situated on the C38, Outjo is about 100 km from the Andersson Gate. The history of thetown and surroundings is depicted in the Outjo Museum, where the focus is on gemstones and wildlife. The museum is housed in Franke House, built in 1899 for the German commanding officer, Hauptmann Franke. Other places of interest are the Naulila Monument, erected in 1933 to commemorate the 12 soldiers who lost their lives on 18 December 1914 under Major Franke; and the Water Tower, constructed in 1900 to provide fresh water for German soldiers, their horses, and the hospital. Outjo Bakkery, a good place to stop for refreshments, offers tasty freshly baked German delicatessens, while The Farmhouse, which is open from breakfast to dinner has a shaded beer garden. The regional tourist information centre, Etoscha i Büro, is situated in Hage Geingob Street. Besides providing information on the town and surroundings, it also sells a large variety of local gemstones. On the C39 road from Outjo to Otavi are the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) headquarters, originally founded to help conserve the Cape Vulture, but later expanded to support other sensitive species representing biodiversity within the land ecosystem of Namibia.
Accessed from the B1 and situated about 96 km from the Von Lindequist Gate, the town of Tsumeb was founded in 1905. While initially closely linked to the mining industry, operations have been scaled down considerably. The colourful jacarandas, flamboyant trees and bougainvillea that line the town’s streets have earned Tsumeb the title ‘Namibia’s garden town’. The history of the town is depicted in the Tsumeb Museum, where a comprehensive collection of rare minerals can be viewed. An interesting facet of the Tsumeb Museum is the Khorab Room, displaying a collection of restored cannons and other armaments dumped into Lake Otjikoto by retreating German forces shortly before the signing
of the Khorab Peace Treaty. It is estimated that at least 30 cannons and 4 500 boxes of ammunition were plunged into the lake. The museum is housed in the former German Private School Building, constructed in 1915, and is today a national monument. The Tsumeb Arts and Crafts Centre, situated in the main street, is run by an educational trust
promoting traditional arts and crafts. An African style, open-air market on the outskirts of Tsumeb gives small traders the opportunity to sell their wares. The Arts Performance Centre is another popular attraction in Tsumeb. The Centre presents concerts, African dance, music, and typical plays from the north of Namibia for tourists.
The Tsumeb Cultural Village, also known as the Helvi Mpingana Kondombola Cultural Village – named after founding president Sam Nujoma’s mother – is located in the southern outskirts of town. This community project is presented as an open-air museum, while exhibits display the life, history and culture of the majority of Namibians. The centre also hosts a curio shop and bungalows for overnight guests. The oldest building in town is the Otavi Minen und Eisenbahn Gesellschaft (OMEG) Minenbüro, completed at the end of 1907, while the Second Director’s House, erected in 1912, is the second-oldest building. The latter still houses some of the original furniture and retains its original appearance. St Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1913, is one of the town’s most prominent landmarks. Popular places to dine at or stop for a refreshment include the Etosha Café & Beergarten, Sindano Court, and Cosmos Nursery. The Tsumeb Airstrip meets International Civil Aviation Organisation standards and is the closest commercial airstrip to Etosha National Park.
Otjikoto and Guinas lakes
Lake Otjikoto, located 24 km northwest of Tsumeb in the Oshikoto Region, was used as a unique underwater dumping site in 1915 when retreating German forces disposed of their military equipment into it during the South West Africa Campaign. South African divers of the Ministry of Works recovered armaments in January 1916 while several more pieces of armaments were brought to the surface during subsequent diving expeditions. What’s left of these interesting relics can be inspected by qualified divers. Today the majority of the armaments are on display in the Tsumeb Museum.
The 130 metre-deep Lake Guinas, which lies northwest of Otjikoto, is noted for its beautiful setting and the dark inky-blue colour of its water. However, since it is on a farm, permission to view it needs to be obtained from the farmer.
Visitors to Namibia who are qualified divers are welcome to join club members on a journey of underwater exploration to view these two interesting curiosities.
A rare, mouth-breeding species of tilapia or dwarf bream is found in both of these subterranean lakes.
THE TRADITIONAL LAND OF THE AAWAMBO PEOPLE
A large percentage of Namibia’s inhabitants live in the Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions between Etosha National Park and Namibia’s northern border with Angola. After the capital, this region has the largest urban concentration of people in the country.
The major portion of these four regions, which have a total surface area of just over 56 100 km2, consists of communal farming land – that is land where there is no individual ownership or demarcation and where the majority of the inhabitants live from subsistence farming.
Life on the vast plains of these essentially agricultural regions depends on the seasonal efundja, the floods that feed the rivers and iishana. The latter are flat, shallow depressions, many of which light up with copious growths of white lilies soon after they have filled with water in the rainy season. The highlands of Angola are the origin of these waters. After a long journey southwards, the Cuvelai River disperses its contentS into many channels, covering the sandy flats of southern Angola and spreading into northern Namibia to form a large expansive delta of rivulets and oshanas. These, in turn, provide drinking water for humans and animals, protein in the form of fish and a habitat that supports large numbers of aquatic birds.
The essentially flat landscape is characterised by huge expansive spreading marula trees and sporadic stands of the tall makalani palm, Hyphaene petersiana. Sap is tapped from the growing tip of the stems of these palms and left to ferment into a potent drink called palm wine. The fruit of the makalani palm takes two years to mature, and has a white, bony kernel. Referred to as vegetable ivory, the hard kernel is suitable for carving small ornaments, jewellery and curios.
The best time of the year to visit these regions is from April to August, after the rains. By this time the roads are suitable for driving on, the heat of the summer has abated, and the wetlands still host many water birds, such as cranes, storks, ducks, herons and small waders.
TOWNS NORTH OF ETOSHA
Oshakati, Ongwediva, Ondangwa
Owambo’s two main centres, Oshakati and Ondangwa, are in the Oshana Region. These two bustling towns have the same informality and happy- go-lucky character as urban centres throughout much of Africa. Their main streets are lined with a haphazard arrangement of residential houses and shops, and the traffic varies from donkey carts to the latest in luxury four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The Oshakati Omatala (open market) is the largest in Namibia and a big tourist attraction in the north. The Tulipamwe Sewing Project in the main street of Oshakati – marked by the vibrant pink materials on display – is a great place to learn about traditional Oshiwambo attire and buy yourself some unique clothing.
The Ongwediva Trade Fair has been held annually since 1995. Apart from an array of local stands, it also hosts exhibitors from Botswana, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Situated across the road from Ongwediva Medi Park, Bennie’s Entertainment Park and Lodge is a popular meeting place that provides leisure activities in many forms. Afrika Stadt Haus is another good place to enjoy a meal or a drink. The town hosts two modern shopping malls, which feature the most popular fast-food restaurants, including a Silver Wolf Spur, and an assortment of retail outlets.
Since independence, the Oshakati- Ongwediva-Ondangwa complex has experienced dramatic urban growth. The complex plays an increasingly important commercial role in the north and has considerable industrial potential.
The Ondangwa SME Start-Up and Tourist Information Centre is a good place for visitors to find their bearings and gain access to information on the surrounding area. Call the Ondangwa Town Council at 065 24 0101 to be transferred to the centre. In close proximity to the town, at Olukonda, is the oldest building in northern Namibia, the Nakambale Mission House.
A new concept for Namibia, the Ongula Village Homestead Lodge allows visitors to experience authentic village life at an Owambo homestead.
Situated in the Omusati Region, west of the Oshana is Uukwaluudhi Safari Lodge from which guests can further explore the Owambo culture through visits to the Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead and Museum at Tsandi. Situated about 85 km from Opuwo, Uukwaluudhi Safari Lodge also offers the opportunity to learn more about the nomadic Himba people living in the area.
Mahangu Festival and Championship
The annual Mahangu Festival and Mahangu Championship, locally known as Oshipe, and held after the harvest in August/September, is hosted in the region of the Overall National Crown Champion, which includes all the northern and north-eastern regions, where mahangu (a kind of pearl millet) is the staple food for many. The festival creates a platform for mahangu farmers to share ideas, motivate each other, and engage in healthy competition while showcasing their products. Important topics of discussion include the improvement and modernisation of mahangu production by introducing new technologies and cultivation methods, and by improving soil fertility. The festival is organised by the Namibian Agronomic Board.
MAIN TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN OWAMBO
Tourism in this vast flat region, typified by oshanas, makalani palms and herds of cattle, used to be virtually non-existent. However, these days it is steadily increasing. The area has a rich and interesting cultural and historical tradition, which can be explored by visiting some of the sites in the surroundings.
The town of Oniipa hosts the historical Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital, built in 1911 by the Finnish Missionary Society. It is still in use today, serving as the primary health-care facility for the Onandjokwe District.
The Eenhana Heroes’ Memorial Shrine depicts the history of the liberation struggle, and acknowledges the courage of the combatants of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the civilians who supported them.
The main attraction at the Ombalantu Baobab Heritage Centre is a huge Baobab tree estimated to be around 700-750 years old. During tribal wars the tree served as a hiding place and was later also used as a post office and a chapel. The centre, located in Outapi, also offers camping sites laid out under the tree, a small kiosk, a craft centre and facilities for day visitors.