A Home Away From Home: Namibian Self-Catering Gems
Yes, we all love to be pampered with great service and delicious meals at one of the many amazing lodges in stunning locations around Southern Africa, and Namibia is no exception to this rule. With places such as the superb (and largely unknown) Fish River Lodge and the one-of-its-kind Dolomite Camp, Namibia is a veritable heaven if you want to soak in the natural beauty without compromising on city comforts and without breaking the bank. It’s like Botswana without the price tag and South Africa sans the crowds. However, what we really love about Namibia are its very special self-catering options that bring us closer to the heart and soul of the many splendid locations from the rugged shores of Lüderitz to the plains of the Namib. No other type of accommodation gives you this feeling of temporarily living in a faraway destination rather than visiting it, to really belong somewhere although it’s not your own. And because there’s no porter to help you carry bags and no housekeeping to make your bed, it’s more mundane and “real” than staying at a hotel or lodge, but in a very rewarding, down-to-earth kind of way. After a couple of days, that wind-shaped tree outside the front door or the resident Oryx that comes visiting at sunset appear to have always been part of your everyday life.
Shark Island Lighthouse, Lüderitz:
Shark Island Lighthouse, which occupies an amazing spot with views of both the quaint city of Lüderitz and the Atlantic Ocean, is one of those places where future possibilities suggest themselves the moment you enter. It’s a veritable canvas to dream up the perfect holiday home. Neglected for years now and only haphazardly kept in shape by Namibia Wildlife Resorts, the country’s state-owned tourism company, the property includes both the actual lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage at its foot, which are connected to form one building. While we climb up to the terrace on top of the tower, we imagine how cosy it would be to have a reading nook on one level and maybe a library on the next, all with commanding views of the city and the sea. We drag some cushions up to the platform despite the roaring wind that constantly batters the shore and spend hours observing ships and sea gulls. Downstairs, there’s a great veranda for breakfast, lunch and dinner and because we can’t get enough of the view we get all the equipment the actual kitchen has to offer to set up an outdoor kitchen. If we could only get hold of the building, it would be reason enough to move to Lüderitz, probably the most remote town on the continent with a proper supermarket, fully-fledged garage and oyster bar.
The Family Hideout, NamibRand:
If Namibia is a kingdom of natural beauty, NamibRand is without exaggeration the jewel in the crown. The private nature reserve in the South-West of the country features everything from towering dunes and rolling hills to grassy plains and rugged rock formations. And while it also boasts one of those gorgeous luxury lodges, the award-winning Wolwedans Collection, we prefer to check in to the rustic Family Hideout, an old farmhouse hidden deep inside the sprawling estate. With sufficient supplies of cold Windhoek Lager, a stack of books and some board games, this is as close as it gets to complete relaxation. From your vantage point on the porch that wraps around two sides of the spacious building you can observe herds of springboks and many an oryx passing on their way to and from the water hole. Beyond that there is only endless horizons without a single human being in sight. At one point it has the chilling yet soothing effect to make you feel very, very small and insignificant at what feels like (and actually is) the epicentre of a vast and pristine wilderness. From the house, wonderful hiking trails lead you up to the dunes and further afield, though we never ventured far for the fear of dropping off the edge of the world. Inside the old farmhouse, where natural materials and simple yet beautiful design sourced from around Namibia dominates the scene and provides just the right amount of cosiness, we always feel like in a space ship that has just landed in unchartered territory.
Flamingo Cottages, Walvis Bay:
For some reason, Walvis Bay has attracted the worst of all the many architectural styles that came and went over the past decades and therefore is quite a nightmare of a town. However, thanks to one very special exception to this rule, we still opt to stay in WB rather than in much more picturesque Swakopmund around the corner. Right at the city’s natural lagoon, a hotspot for migrating birds, some local developers had the wonderful idea to build a row of thatched cottages modelled on traditional fishermen homes at the North Sea, some of which are now rented out under the name Flamingo Cottages to those in the know. Complete with tiny alcoves, wooden beams and windows imported from Germany, the houses are so well designed and furnished they don’t feel fake at all but very close to the real deal back in the Old World. Some houses even have whimsical outbuildings for guests across a little courtyard, the latter being another smart addition as it helps you shelter against the wind and still have tea outside in stormy weather. It comes as no surprise that with such a unique concept, there’s no fenced-off gardens but rather one huge communal space behind the cottages, overlooking the lagoon and promenade that winds its way to the The Raft, an insanely popular restaurant built on stilts into the water. With palm trees swaying in the breeze and pelicans and flamingos flocking to the lagoon to rest and feed on an abundance of molluscs and crustaceans you might be forgiven for thinking Walvis Bay is the most beautiful harbour town south of the equator.
Onjowewe House in the Rocks, Kamanjab:
Some accommodation options are destinations in their own right and it is because of them you travel to a certain destination again and again, not because of the location itself. I lost count on how often we have had the pleasure to stay at Onjowewe, the House in the Rocks, just outside the hamlet of Kamanjab. It probably is the largest tree house in the world, though it’s not built into a tree but because of its sheer size, trees grow inside the house. Well, house doesn’t actually cut it, it’s more of a seamless flow between inside and outside for the entire structure has been erected on three levels around a huge rock formation. It’s the epitome of open-plan living with the windows having no panes and only the bedrooms and bathrooms being (somewhat) separate. From the downstairs kitchen (did I mention that there’s no door to the building?) wooden stairs lead up to the first floor lounge, dining area and bar that spills out onto the braai area with a view of the surrounding bush. Via another flight of stairs you reach one of the bedrooms with a donkey-powered outdoor shower built into a small niche between the rocks. Even further up (not for the faint-hearted) and past another tree you finally reach the very top of the rock formation. From here you have an uninterrupted 360° view of the world below your fairy-tale playground. It’s the castle made from discarded wood and second-hand furniture you always dreamed of when you were young, but your parents wouldn’t let you build it. So finally here’s your chance to experience the wonderful world without building codes and security restrictions but endless creativity.
Words and Pictures: Bernhard Rohkemper