The terrain in this part of Damaraland is nothing short of spectacular – open plains and grasslands, watercourses that have been around since prehistoric times, deep gorges and granite koppies that glow bright orange in the morning and afternoon sunshine; and what a place to be on your birthday, as was the case with me.
Our 5-hour drive from Swakopmund paid off the moment we parked the 4×4 at Mowani Mountain Camp and checked in. Thirteen free-standing rooms, tents, huts – whatever you prefer to call them – are dotted amongst the boulders, all with hill-top vistas or views across the valley.
The rounded structure has canvas walls, several of which can be rolled up to reveal screens, or completely opened to bring the outside in. We stayed in Room 3, one of the Superior View rooms facing westward, overlooking Damaraland all the way to distant mountains. The view is spectacular and becomes even more so when the sun nears the horizon. An ideal time to pour a drink, sit on the deck and watch the light show.
The only downside is the current lack of air conditioning. It gets seriously warm here during the day, even in winter when we visited, and the provided electric fan doesn’t do much in terms of cooling the place when it’s time to sleep.
Over in the main communal area there’s a restaurant and adjoining lounge space where you can sit and read a book, play board games, have afternoon tea or chat with other guests. A few steps away is a small swimming pool tucked between the boulders with views out over the valley. A perfect location to watch the local families of baboons carry on with their daily goings-on down on the grassy field below.
All meals were inclusive of our room rate, so lunch was the first activity once we checked out our room. A rustic ensemble of lighter style meals like beef sosaties – skewered chunks of meat and vegetables with a delicious apple & lemon chutney.
Things like an open-faced chicken burger or pan-seared venison in pita with potato wedges were up for grabs, as well. Ice cream to finish, of course.
Reflecting back on afternoon tea, that usually involves a help-yourself station of tea and coffee along with some kind of freshly made cake. We were besotted with the winter berry cake with mascarpone icing on the first day; so much so that I asked the chef for the recipe. I was a bit chuffed that he was happy to share it!
A post-breakfast excursion on day two involved heading out into the Damaraland wilderness; deep into the ephemeral Aba Huab and Huab River valleys in search of local game. Many footprints were discovered – of desert-adapted elephants and other four-legged creatures that call this harsh landscape home.
On the flora side, we stopped to gawk at and learn a thing or two about what grows in this neck of the Namib, from the curious two-leaf welwitschia that can live up to 1500 years, to a large !nara shrub that was well-used by elephants as a bed (above).
The most mysterious are the fairy circles (see below) that appear in the grassy plains. Nobody knows what causes the patches to appear, but researchers suggest termites are responsible. Others think they’re caused by competition among the plants themselves.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the thick of elephant feeding time down on the sandy riverbed flanked by flowering plants. Not just one herd of desert-adapted elephants, but 25 of them converging to feed on fresh greens and flowers. Our 4×4 was completely surrounded, often within arms length of these stunning creatures walking past and curiously eyeing us off.
Guests are encouraged to head up to sunset point back at the camp, to chill on the massive boulder, nibble on snacks and enjoy a drink from the little bar that’s set up there. There truly is something about those Namibian sunsets.
I noticed a few tables had been set up in an outside area away from the restaurant, tucked amongst the boulders with lanterns dotted about. I hastily reserved one of them for us.
South African wine came along for the ride and an amuse bouche of chicken liver pâté, nicely matched with homemade chutney. A single starter of smoked beef croquettes arrive resting on a bed of mushrooms; the crunchy cigars also containing feta and dates.
A pan-fried cod with spinach, nut and horseradish mousse follows, at the same time as a sun-dried tomato and blue cheese stuffed fillet of beef. I can still remember how incredible the Vriesenhof Pinotage was with the beef. Such a nice red wine.
Dessert was a simple milk tart topped with an amarula berry compote. Small, sweet, tart and just enough sugar to finish off a lovely meal beneath the Milky Way.
Not too far from Mowani Mountain Camp are a few desert attractions worth visiting. The UNESCO listed Twyfelfontein has the largest single concentration of rock engravings in southern Africa, with over 2000 petroglyphs and a few rock paintings.
Upon entry you get your own guide that walks you through the site, pointing out many of the carvings and giving you an insight into many of the petroglyphs that were created over 2000 years ago by late Stone Age hunter-gatherers . A fascinating and beautiful part of country.
I couldn’t help myself with this little critter that followed us for a little while near the information centre at Twyfelfontein. The ground squirrel was desperate to get into my bottle of water!
A short drive from Twyfelfontein is the geological site called the Organ Pipes (below). A small gorge is flanked by these 4 metre-high dolerite columns. Nearby is Burnt Mountain, a relatively uninteresting small hill that’s strewn with black rocks. It may make a geologist salivate but, well, I’m no geologist.
That said, our time in Damaraland was coming to an end. Once again we hit the gravel road for another long drive to our next destination.
Disclaimer – all expenses were paid for personally