A Weekend in Omaruru – July 2006
Most Namibians would probably look at you with disbelief if you told them you’d gone camping in Omaruru for the weekend. Let’s face it, Omaruru isn’t high on the list of places where people stay for longer than necessry, but we’d heard, through the birding club, that the birding there was really good, so decided on a longer visit. Incidentally, Omaruru is a popular stopover point for people traveling between Swakopmund and Etosha .
Our weekend trips have to be planned around driving not more than 250 – 300 kms so that we can reach our destination before dark if we leave at lunchtime on a Friday. We prefer not to drive at night because of the animals on the roads. So Omaruru, about 250 kms away from Windhoek, fits the bill. Driving from Windhoek to the coast, it is only a short trip along the C33 from Karibib to reach Omaruru.
“Omaruru” is a Herero name and means ‘bitter thick milk’. The area abounds in green bitter bushes (Pechuelloeschae leubnitziae) that attract the cattle grazing in the area. Unfortunately these bushes taint the milk and the meat of the animals, hence the name.
We booked ourselves into the Omaruru Rest Camp, on the outer edge of the town. The camp is secured by a high electrified fence which rather irritatingly sparked the whole time we were there. We settled for a site in the farthest corner, right up against the fence under an enormous tree, which gave us an element of privacy from the only other caravan in the camp. We could also look through the fence into the nature reserve next door and see quite a few animals whilst relaxing in our camping chairs.
The birdlife was quite prolific so we spent some happy (but frustrating) hours trying to photograph a pair of Green-winged Pytilias that inhabited the little forest at the bottom of the camp. There were also lots of Guinea Fowl wandering around as if they owned the place. Two were quite interesting – the first had only one leg, which didn’t seem to deter him at all from keeping up with the rest of the flock, and the second one appeared to be an albino as its feathers were almost white compared to the rest that were all dark grey. So they provided us with a bit of entertainment, especially when we were in our rooftop tent and they couldn’t see us watching them.
After an early breakfast we set off to explore the area. We started by walking down to the river and watching the birds in the reeds. The Omaruru River is enormous and must look quite spectacular when in flood. Of course we’ve only ever seen it bone dry so have to imagine what it must look like after heavy rains. The river bed is very wide with reeds and bushes growing everywhere. I’ve since heard that it is a favourite spot for snakes – thank goodness I didn’t know that when we took our morning walk that day.
The town has quite a history so there are a number of interesting buildings and places to visit. We spent some time looking at the rusty old farming implements outside the museum, which unfortunately was closed on a Saturday. This building is the oldest in town and was originally a mission station occupied by a Rhenish missionary, Gottlieb Viehe, whose claim to fame was translating the New Testament, the liturgy, prayers and catechisms into Herero.
Across the road we wandered around a little graveyard where a large headstone marked the grave of Herero Chief Wilhelm Zeraua, a local hero who is still venerated today, years after his death. It’s always interesting to look around graveyards , but often they are in a state of decay and one always leaves feeling rather saddened by the air of neglect that hangs over them.
No visit to Omaruru is complete without going to The Sand Dragon, a delightful restaurant and tea garden in the main street of the town. Its shady garden with tables under huge umbrellas, and fascinating root carvings and water features, is a must to experience. Inside they have glass cases displaying semi-precious stones, desert roses and other interesting Namibian curios. We found their Gemsbok steaks delicious and very reasonably priced.
I just had to photograph a quaint little Lutheran Church that was painted a shocking pink. This old building, which almost sits on the pavement, can probably only hold about twenty-five worshippers, so one has to assume that they don’t have a very big Lutheran following in Omaruru.
It was starting to get really hot by the time we made our way to the far end of the town to an interesting place called Tikoloshe. A huge thatched building was under construction and seated on the ground underneath this structure were about four or five men carving animals out of enormous tree roots. These were no normal carvers, as they were using electric chain saws to shape the roots into amazing animals. The carvings are really well done and we saw all kinds of animals from oversized warthogs to giraffes, elephants and dolphins. The workshop is full of carvings that show a wealth of talent and imagination – just a few nicks and cuts in a root and voila! there is a recognizable animal. They are rather pricey though and the market definitely seems to be aimed at the well-to-do foreign tourists, so although enchanted with their wares, we left empty-handed.
From here we made our way across the river to see the Franketurn, or Franke Tower on the southern outskirts of the town. This round tower, with an enormous cannon guarding its entrance, was built in 1908 by the residents of Omaruru to honour Cpt Victor Franke, who saved the town from a siege by the Hereros in 1904. We couldn’t go inside because it was locked, but if we’d had the energy we could have collected a key from a nearby Bed & Breakfast. We gave it a miss and headed back to the campsite for a rest.
We read in a local news sheet that Omaruru has its own chocolate factory, but we didn’t manage to find out where it was. Having seen everything of interest that Omaruru had to offer, we decided to head off early the next morning to Kalkveld, a little village about 67 km from Omaruru. Our guide book informed us that if we turned off at Kalkveld and drove for another 19kms we would come upon the farm, Otjihaenamaparero (try and say that when you’ve had a few!!) famous for dinosaur tracks on their property.
On the drive to the dinosaur footprints the road winds past fascinating mountains sculptured by the Waterberg Thrust – a geological formation that I’ll talk about when I describe our trip to the Waterberg. On arrival, we paid our N$20.00 each and then drove to a rather nice campsite where we had to leave the car. From here we walked the short distance over the hill to the site of the dinosaur footprints. The National Monument Council has erected a small information board that explains how these tracks came to be here.
“Some 200 million years ago a variety of reptiles lived in Southern Africa, amongst which were dinosaurs that walked on their hind legs. Here, their tracks are visible in Etjo sandstone, formed from wind-deposited sand which was redistributed by irregular rains. The animals left their tracks on rain-soaked sand or on the shores of ancient lakes. Through the ages this sand, with the tracks, was gradually covered by layers of sediment and hardened into stone. Erosion has subsequently exposed the tracks.”
So there we were staring down at the fossil tracks made by large dinosaurs (possibly the Ceratosauria, a carnivore of the Therapoda order) that lived millions of years ago. It was quite weird thinking about a time frame like that and actually seeing evidence of these heavy prehistoric three-toed bipedal creatures. There were only about 30 tracks, (measuring 45 x 35 cm with a distance between each one of approx 70 – 90 cm), that ran in two directions across the sloping rock slab, so it was rather fortunate that they were preserved so well for us to see so many years after their makers roamed the earth.
These weren’t the only prints on the farm. Quite close to the campsite we found some others made by a significantly smaller dinosaur (thought to be a Syntarsus). Again, there weren’t too many of them, so we were grateful that the conditions at the time were just right to preserve them. It is believed that because of the extreme weather conditions, these dinosaurs became extinct not long after they left their footprints. All in all a fascinating site to visit.
There were quite a few birds flying around the campsite, and Rob managed to photograph a Crimson breasted Shrike and a Rock Thrush. We also spotted a Pygmy Falcon, but he must have been camera shy because he flew off as soon as Rob tried to get a picture of him.
We had a picnic lunch at the campsite before heading for home. The dirt road that we joined after leaving the farm took us through a nature reserve, but as we didn’t see any animals we wondered why they had huge gates at either end of the reserve. The road then joined the B2 on the northern side of Okahandja, thus completing a circular drive since we had come through on Friday.
Seeing the dinosaur tracks was for me, the highlight of the weekend. I’m sure that Rob felt the same. Omaruru was worth the visit but I doubt whether I would go back to camp there for a weekend, although the campsite was very nice. Once you’ve seen all there is to see at Omaruru, there really isn’t much to draw you back for a second stay. If they could guarantee a flooded river, well that would change everything!