Summer is not the best time of the year to go to the Waterberg as we were to find out when we paid the area a visit. However, we duly set off from Windhoek on a Friday afternoon and drove the 300 kms north with high expectations and our usual enthusiasm when going to see a new place.
As always, we had our guide books with us so could read up on the geology and history of the area. Nicole Grunert has an interesting book (Namibia – Fascination of Geology) that describes how erosion formed the enormous red sandstone cliffs of the Waterberg. According to her the Waterberg was mainly characterized by tectonic processes, when an equalizing movement in the earth’s crust took place causing a comprehensive elevation of the land. An old fault zone in the area of the Waterberg was reactivated and this zone, which stretches from Omaruru, past the Waterberg up to Grootfontein, is now known as the Waterberg Thrust.
The Waterberg cliifs
Historically, the area is famous for the final battle of the Herero uprising in 1904. Here, a comparatively small number of Germans put down the Hereroes and brought an end to the war. The battle was apparently made very difficult by the dense vegetation in the area. Today a small cemetery marks the final resting place of about seventy young German men who lost their lives in the fight. A long way from home, it is sad that they had to give up their promising young lives in such a remote and desolate spot.
It is the victors who usually get to write the history and sadly we could find no memorial to the many Hereros who fought and died for what they believed in.
The cemetery at Waterberg
The campsite in the Waterberg Plateau Park is a beautiful shaded oasis with enormous trees and sprinklers that lazily flick water over the lush green lawns. We found a super shady site fairly close to the ablution block and soon had the rooftop tent up and our table and chairs unpacked. Our first impression was of lots of bird activity in the park with starlings, crimson breasted shrikes, forked tailed drongos and noisy wood hoopoes flitting around.
Apart from the birds, the sprinklers attracted a few little ground squirrels that were quite tame and didn’t run away when we approached them.
A short walk towards the towering sandstone cliffs had us passing a fair sized restaurant and an inviting looking swimming pool. At the foot of the mountain, some distance from the campsites, a number of chalets were nestled amongst shady thorn trees.
Being one of the more popular Parks Board camps, we had to share the spot with other campers. Our site had a large concrete braai where later we were able to cook our meat and potatoes whilst enjoying the cool of the evening and the sound of crickets around us. When you’re sitting in the dark, watching the flickering fire flames and enjoying the symphony of the night creatures you truly feel like you’re one with the African bushveld. For me it’s a special time of the day and I really savour the experience.
Our plan the next day was to climb up the cliffs to the top of the plateau from where we would get amazing views over the plains below. At the foot of the mountain we were a bit sidetracked by two shy little deer that we followed into the dense bush for a photo shoot. They blended into the woodland so well, only making themselves visible when they took off in fright as we approached them. The birdlife in this area is also abundant and we flushed out some red billed francolins and spent about half an hour trying to photograph a pair of yellow-bellied eremomelas. The Hartlaub’s francolin is found in this area, but unfortunately remained elusive on this trip.
The path up the mountain is quite steep and is mostly through shaded woodland with a carpet of dry leaves. Quite near the top the trees thin out a bit and one catches glimpses of the vast expanse of land below. On one of the rocks near the top we passed a plaque honouring a member of the Mountain Club who had lost his life in a rescue operation here many years before. We later heard from a former member of the Mountain Club that he had plunged to his death when he stepped on a tuft of grass at the side of the cliff which gave way underneath him.
On the path
It was a bit disappointing to reach the rocky outcrop at the top of the cliff and to find that we weren’t allowed to go any further without a guide and a permit. The plateau at the top is home to many dangerous wild animals, including white rhinos, buffalo and leopards, so it is understandable that they want to protect both the visitors and the animals. We sat for a long time looking out over the plains below us, their natural beauty marred somewhat by the dirt roads that cross-crossed them. Occasionally in the distance we saw a cloud of dust raised by a passing car. It was very peaceful up there, but we didn’t linger too long as we wanted to explore the area at the bottom.
Our bird watching was very productive as we saw a pair of groundscraper thrushes near the chalets. Continuing on towards the little German cemetery we photographed Ruppell’s Parrots and a Purple Roller. By mid-morning the heat was starting to take its toll on me and I had to leave Rob to wander through the bush on his own while I took shelter in the campsite under the shady trees with a good book. The squirrels and birds around the campsite were a pleasurable distraction.
Eventually even Rob couldn’t tolerate the heat anymore and we settled down to a siesta until the sun disappeared behind the mountains. This is always my favourite time of the day as the sting has been taken out of the heat and the birds reappear as if to make the most of the last hour or so of daylight.
By the time we arrived back a big bus carrying students from the Namibian PolyTech had pulled in and unfortunately ruined the peace and quiet with their loud music and partying. I’m sure that we weren’t alone in wishing that they had allowed us a quiet evening out in nature. We sometimes feel that people lose the plot when it comes to weekends away in the bush – if they want to party and listen to loud music they should do it at home or at discos, not in places where others are trying to get away from these very noises to listen to natures night sounds.
In spite of our rowdy neighbours, the weekend was considered a great success and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Waterberg. Our biggest regret was not booking a hike at the top of the plateau, but then again, it gave us a good excuse to go back another time.