NOVEMBER 2015 – Treading a magical line between sustainable tourism and superlative desert luxury, Wolwedans Private Camp in Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve offers a world-class eco-friendly escape.
For many travellers, soaking up the sunset as the ochre light washes over the endless plains of Namibia is a long-held wish made real. A memory never to be forgotten, and a dream come true.
Back in 1984, local businessman Albi Brückner also had a dream. To see marginal farm-land returned to wilderness and watch the desert thrive under careful, considered custodianship. To cheer rusty fences being torn down, and see wild animals roaming free across the plains once more. That dream came to life in 1992, when the NamibRand Nature Reserve was born: a remarkable 200 000-hectare wilderness in south-west Namibia. One of the largest private nature reserves in Southern Africa, it is today a sanctuary for wildlife and a pristine wilderness that is a shining example of tourism and conservation working in concert.
Set in the heart of this success story you’ll find the Wolwedans Collection of camps. Here the 4Cs (Commerce, Conservation, Community, Culture) – a sustainability platform developed by the Zeitz Foundation – guides an approach where people, nature and business are all equally important, and where low-impact luxury travel aims to better both the environment and the quality of life in local communities.
And just as the migrating dunes themselves find form in myriad shapes and shades, so the Wolwedans Collection offers a captivating diversity of experiences to inspire its discerning guests and drive its conservation model forward.
Each camp flaunts its own distinctive backdrop in the tapestry of landscapes that is the NamibRand. Dunes Lodge perches atop a sandy plateau with breathtaking views out across the reserve, while Dune Camp offers a similar immersion in the landscape on the edge of russet-orange sands. And it’s not only dunes that define the NamibRand. The dramatic Nubib Mountains guard the eastern horizon of the reserve, a mountain terrain hinted at by the enigmatic Boulders Safari Camp, where sun-downers might be enjoyed from atop a spectacular rocky plateau. All provide a place to rest, reflect and discover the desert, with a healthy dose of luxury and warm, personal service to temper the pristine wilderness.
For desert travellers are those who appreciate the solitude of the sands; who find peace in gazing out over the endless plains. And there are few better places to soak up the silence of the desert than the Wolwedans Private Camp.
Easily the most exclusive getaway in the NamibRand, Private Camp is rented on an exclusive-use basis, allowing up to six guests (or families of up to eight) the luxury of their own private hideaway amid the sandy plains. It’s an escape that beguiles with its understated luxury; from the spacious bedrooms that seem to flow directly out on to rolling hills, to the plunge pool that materialises like a welcome mirage amid the desert heat.
After a mesmerising morning drive and sumptuous breakfast, relax in the open-sided sala where the desert breezes and endless views will lull you into an afternoon siesta. In the charming communal area, a small library and comfortable armchairs may tempt you into a book on Namibia’s rich natural history, or perhaps the landscapes will inspire you to begin that journal you’ve been promising to start.
As the sun angles towards the horizon, the lanterns are lit and the evening cool descends. The heat relinquishes its grasp on the day, and it seems as if the very earth exhales in quiet relief. Linen tablecloths are spread over dinner tables, and four-poster beds turned back for another blissful night’s sleep in the enchanting quiet of the desert.
Before you retire, though, spend some time gazing up at the star-spangled heavens above. Thanks to the lack of light pollution, 2012 saw the NamibRand designated as Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, marking it as one of the finest destinations on the continent for admiring our solar system.
Stargazing is just one of a myriad activities on offer. Daily wilderness drives unearth the magical beauty of the NamibRand, offering both big game and smaller delights that include oryx, kudu, jackal and caracal. Early morning hot-air balloon excursions can be arranged, or keep both feet on terra firma with a walking safari across the secluded valley that spreads its arms around Private Camp. Or, in the cool winter months, horse rides out into the reserve offer an unforgettable experience of the desert as the sun dips low beyond the Namib dunes stretching out towards the sea.
While no luxury is spared it doesn’t come at the cost of the environment, for Wolwedans is more than just another circuit of tented camps offering daily game drives and a comfortable bed. At Wolwedans the goal is the very conservation of this fragile landscape, and the upliftment of the communities that have long called these plains home. The camps are essentially a series of canvas tents pitched on elevated wooden platforms, a low-impact style of construction that means every trace of their presence could be seamlessly removed from the landscape if needed. Wolwedans has also invested heavily in its bid to touch this fragile landscape as lightly as possible. All waste is recycled so that nothing impacts the pristine ecology, and much of the fresh produce consumed by both guests and staff is grown in onsite organic gardens, further reducing the carbon footprint of the camps. A state-of-the-art photo-voltaic power installation has slashed reliance on fossil fuels, while a water management system continually conserves this most precious of desert resources.
No surprise that Wolwedans scored the highest Five Flower rating when audited by Eco Awards Namibia in 2015.
Out in the wider NamibRand community the vocational skills programmes set up by the Wolwedans Foundation has also had a dramatic impact, with over 200 young Namibians receiving vital training in the hospitality industry.
That dedication to sustainability is a thread that links each camp in the Wolwedans Collection. A founding member of Global Ecosphere Retreats, in 2011 Wolwedans was inducted as a Long Run Destination; a prestigious certification recognising the group’s achievements and successes in fostering sustainable eco-sensitive tourism development, whilst encouraging community development and cultural stewardship in the region.
For today’s traveller is changing. Luxury travel can effect positive change in the world and Wolwedans has managed to walk that magical line: providing a superlative wilderness experience, while preserving and improving the environment for generations to come. The camps may wear their eco-credentials as lightly as their footprints on the desert floor, but this unforgettable wilderness escape offers, quite literally, the best of both worlds when it comes to an eco-friendly safari in the heart of the Namibian desert.