Preparing for the hike
The decision to do the hike is made rather spontaneously over a phone call. We are going to do the 4-day hike, you want to tag along?” Just like that, hubby and I decided it is time to test his new backpack. We regularly walk the dogs, but this is of course without backpacks on much shorter hikes. We only have two weekends to prepare ourselves and so we load our backpacks with whatever we can find and start “training”. The extra bit of fitness does pay off as we are never bone-dead-tired on the hike, but we never trained in sand… if only we knew!
The Waterberg Plateau Park is not only an island of vibrant colour and biodiversity; it presents a natural opportunity for conservation. The park was initially proposed to protect eland (which we were very lucky to see!), Africa’s largest antelope, but, recognising the natural physical defences of the plateau against human and livestock encroachment conservationists soon introduced other endangered animals in an effort to establish protected breeding populations. Black and white rhinoceros (we definitely saw their tracks and dung), Cape buffalo (The highlight of our hike), and tsessebe, sable and roan antelope (Ah, now we know what made all the tracks!) have all been reintroduced onto the Waterberg Plateau. These species are on the increase and surplus populations are released regularly in other protected environments. Poaching has been eliminated, and the Waterberg Plateau Park stands as a natural fortress for conservation. (To the defence of the animals, it is a very dry year in Namibia; most will tell you the driest in decades. And although there is more water and vegetation on the mountain than elsewhere in the country, the dry Bushveld does not make for easy animal viewing.)
We need to meet at 9am at the reception of Waterberg Plateau Park to “check-in” for our 4-day hike. The excitement runs through our veins, but no matter how hard we try, we are late. The last 30-odd-kilometers to Waterberg Plateau Park is a gravel road and not in the best of conditions. Our 2-wheel drive skids around the corners as we rush to make it in time and for a moment I feel like I’m a raced in the Dakar. But, it is all to no avail – we are late. Arriving at the reception, we rush in to explain that we are there for the hike only to find out that 9am is only a suggested time and there is no rush. Typically Namibian. (How could we forget this?!) So we check in at a leisurely pace, take all our bags up to the starting point and wait while the men take our car back to reception and walk back to us.
We are a small group consisting of a leader, his partner and two children aged 13 and 9, myself and hubby. Oh, and Antoni, a medical student on a 3-month break in Namibia from the Czech Republic. As you are not allowed to hike on your own, he has asked to join our group when we checked in. Making one last call before hiking up the mountain, my sister tells me about a movie she saw recently about a hiker who killed off his companions, disposing of the bodies as he went. A lovely thought. Even better, when he tells us that he wants to become a surgeon. Hopelessly late but in high spirits we ascend Waterberg at 10h30.The first part of the hike is familiar ground as hubby and I conquered it just 3 weeks ago – without backpacks. This time it goes faster as we know that our overnight stop is 12km from the viewpoint and we have to make up for lost time. We soon realise, that the youngest in our group is also the fittest as he skips across boulders, chatting away to his newly found Czech friend. For a moment I think back to the days of being young and care free. My legs and shoulders quickly remind me that I’m not nine anymore! We walk until 12 o’clock when our stomachs start moaning with hunger pains. Under a lovely old thorn tree, each finds a rock that looks comfortable and so we unpack our food. A variety of biscuits, cheeses and spreads appear and so we rest until 2 ‘o clock until it is time to continue. The track is a lot sandier than we anticipated and this poses a problem. Our fancy new running shoes are all built for ventilation and soft cushioning – not to keep the sand out. I have to stop every 30minutes to remove the sand in my shoes and pray that the sand will stop. But it doesn’t. In fact, it gets worse. When the route takes us along the edge of the mountain, the views are breath-taking; the sandstone boulders magically formed and shaped by wind erosion and the sand patches less. But once the route moves deeper onto the plateau, the environment changes to Mopani Bushveld and lots of sand. We walk, we talk and we rest and when we finally cross an open rock-scape we all see the hut in unison. Relief! We made it in daylight. We find that the view from our hut is something to behold and so we make ourselves comfortable on the rocks and like dassies (hyrax) we wait for the sun to set on the Waterberg Wilderness valley.
By 8pm we are all settled in our sleeping bags. Tired, but happy. The happiness lasts a short time as hubby and I realise that sharing a sleeping bag may not have been the brightest idea. Sleeping on the zipper side, I struggled to keep warm. But the hardness! Anyone who has ever slept on those flimsy hiker mattresses will know that it is only to fool the mind. Turning for the 5th time onto my left hip, I realise, it’s going to be a long night! As soon as I can make out the wall of the hut, I get up. Hubby gets the water boiling and we’re off to the viewpoint, armed with a cup of coffee and a blanket. The sight once again leaves us speechless as baboons make their way to the fig trees, rock pigeons calling and dassies crawling from their night holes.
After breakfast we pack up. Isn’t it amazing how difficult it is to fit everything back in the backpack, even when it is now less than the previous night with two meals taken out?
Knowing how hot it got the previous day, we get our acts together and by 8am we are on the road preparing ourselves for a long day.
The path takes us right into the Mopani Bushveld and although we find many eland, kudu, buffalo and even rhino tracks, we see none. The veld is dry and we cannot help but to wander where they find water. And so we keep a lookout for anything with four legs. At 10 o’clock we take a break, estimating that we must be about halfway with today’s path. Fifteen minutes later we stumble upon the hut. What now? It turns out we took the return path… but how did we miss it? Clueless we decide to rest until 2 o’clock and then do the next day’s route without backpacks. But how does one pass the time in the heat of the day in the middle of nowhere? You wash your hair under a tap, you eat, you drink, and for the lucky ones who brought paperbacks – you read.
2 o’clock sharp we depart on the next day’s route with quite a pace – we only have 3 hours daylight remaining and we need to finish this circle route in half the time given on the information sheet. Once again we finish in good time and with plenty of daylight we have time to attend to blisters, scratches and empty stomachs. Our second night is not as cold as the first, but it is even more uncomfortable with stiff muscles and sore hips. As the sun rises, we are slow to get up with legs and shoulders groaning from the strain of the last two days. Eventually we are up and it is decision time. We need to head back today on the path that we missed on the second day, but then what? Do we rest the rest of the afternoon and only hike back on day 4 or do we hike all the way back today? We leave the decision until lunch time. The route takes us along the edge of the mountain and through various gullies and valleys of sandstone – the one more beautiful than the other. We arrive at the hut in time for lunch and fiesta. Hubby and I decide to hike back in the afternoon while the rest of the group chooses to remain. We eat all we can to make our bags even lighter and leave our sleeping bag for the children. And so we return on a different route through the Bushveld. We are quiet as we hike, wind howling through the leaves and sand whipping against our legs. In our silence, we spot a big eland resting in the shade of a tree. We smile – we have seen our first antelope since we started the hike. Not long afterwards, the branches crack and move a few meters before us as a group of buffalo run across the track. We are in awe. How beautiful yet dangerous they are! We arrive at the viewpoint in just under two hours. With knees buckling under us, we make our way down the mountain – only too glad we decided to finish today. There is a fresh breeze in the air and we know, tonight will be cold. Making our way down, we cross paths with four Damara Dik-Diks, the smallest of the Namibian antelope and endemic to the country. On the last turn we have yet another surprise as four Rüppell’s Parrots greet us from the treetops – the most we have seen in three days! We only allow enough time for a feet washing session (what a relieve!) and the buying of a Coke. Oh! The small blessings of civilization!
Heading back home, we have only one goal – our beds!
A few suggestions:
I would definitely recommend a night in the park before the hike. Whether you camp or stay in a lodge – you will be able to start a lot earlier. I also suggest that you take your bags to the starting point and let the men (or whoever is the leader) go check the whole group in at 9am. That way you can start as close to 9am. as possible. I’m not sure you will be allowed any earlier onto the mountain. And you can only start on Wednesdays.
The huts are very basic but sufficient. It is simply a wall built around a “soft-sandy” area for protection against the wind. However, there is a tap with running water (which is perfectly safe to drink) and a toilet. Sorry, no showers for the ladies! Our Czech friend had a blow-up hiking mattress – this is definitely the better option! And take warm clothes – it gets very cold during the night. Fires are not allowed, so you have to carry your only little camping gas burner.
Since we live in Otjiwarongo, we could drive through on the morning we started. If you live or come from any further away, staying in the area is recommended.
Bernabe de las Bat Rest Camp (NWR) – www.nwr.com.na
It offers a range of accommodation with fans, braais and outdoor seating areas. The camp restaurant serves meals during limited hours and a shop sells staple foods in the morning and afternoon.
Waterberg Wilderness Lodge & Camp – http://www.waterberg-wilderness.com/en/
Having camped here before, this would be my recommendation. Smaller and much more secluded, the amount of birdlife here is prolific. Depending on your budget, you can either stay at the Lodge (located very high with spectacular views), Wilderness Camp (right in the valley and part of our view on the first night) or you can camp in the shade of the mountain.
There are several more lodges and camps in the area, but having only stayed at the above two, I will limit my recommendations to these.
If you are one of those people who would like everything booked and organised for you – why not contact ATI at http://www.infotour-africa.com/ Situated in Windhoek, their agents know the country like the palm of their hands and you can rest assured that your money will go the extra mile.