Wandering the Desert Wilderness
From lush wetlands to inland and coastal deserts, Namibia is a treasured land of pristine nature and offroad adventure. We take a look at Gondwana Collection Namibia, and speak to Managing Director, Gys Joubert, about the organisation at the centre of the country’s tourism sector
Writer: Marcus Kääpä | Project Manager: Matt Cole-Wilkin
Namibia is home to a treasure trove of experiences.
Neighbouring Botswana and sharing the Southern African region with popular tourist destinations such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Eswatini, Namibia often goes amiss by those wishing to experience the diverse beauty of the continent’s natural world.
Yet, Namibia hosts an abundance of tranquil wilderness. From lush northern wetlands to inland deserts and sands that tumble into the sea along its vast stretch of coastline, it is the second least populated country in the world, leaving a lot of space for the wilderness to thrive and for people to witness.
Specialising in luxury stays and unique road trips, Gondwana Collection Namibia (Gondwana) is a key player in the country’s tourism sector and has been in operation since 1996.
“Namibia is truly a very diverse destination; we offer the classic African safari experience that is ample in our country, with absolutely world-class national parks, wildlife, wide open spaces, and yet we have so much more than that,” introduces Gys Joubert, Managing Director at Gondwana.
“Namibia has had deserts since time immemorial, and these are places of untouched nature that are respected and protected by the people.”
The Namib Desert and Kalahari Desert are unique and represent only one end of the spectrum of Namibia’s diverse landscape. On the other end, Namibia is home to watery regions such as the Zambezi region in the north, connected to large rivers rich with life.
The mighty Okavango River is the parental source of the freshwater rivers that feed into these wetlands, and these diverse habitats are as defining to Namibia as its ancient deserts.
“From the open expanse and nothingness of these deserts, the land can change suddenly to waterfalls and lush forests, and you can find an abundance of variation across the country,” Joubert says.
“But what we do at Gondwana is about more than just promoting Namibia’s natural beauty, our business is also about community. We have eight community-based lodges where the local community literally partners with us in what we do, and together we work to conserve the Namibian environment.”
Gondwana offers hotels, lodges and camps across multiple regions of the country, where visitors can experience the spirit of the land in their own - often solitary - way. On top of this, the organisation provides domestic and international tourists with optional transport through its NAMIBIA2GO Car Rental service, allowing families, couples or individuals the freedom and flexibility to explore the country for themselves in a comfortable 4x4 designed for adventure. Alternatively, they also offer a traveller-orientated transfer service, the Go2, aimed to cater to travellers who are not too keen on driving themselves.
A LAND OF CULTURE
Strikingly set on the Andoni plains, one kilometre from Etosha National Park is Etosha King Nehale. The lodge effortlessly portrays the shape of a Nguni cattle head, with chalets stunningly furrowed to the north and south, from the central area like a bull’s horns. Upon walking into the reception and curio shop, boma and dining areas, the Oshiwambo ethos is intriguingly evident from colours, fabrics, cutlery, chandelier, table engravings with impactful proverbs and other embellishments.
The chalets are spacious and stylishly adorned with a touch of Oshiwambo cultural ornaments, and each has its own plunge pool, allowing guests to behold boundless horizons of the Andoni plains – fit for a king and queen. The lodge hosts 40 rooms and pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the area.
“Our biggest investment so far has been our Etosha King Nehale, that opened up in 2020,” Joubert tells us. “The land itself belongs to the local community and it is part of the Namibian government community-based resource management programme, while also being community owned rather than privately, meaning people in the community benefit from it.
“The lodge is based right next to the Etosha National Park, which is very much part of the selling point as the park is home to much exotic wildlife, but one of the other main selling points is the culture of the area. That part of Namibia is home to the Ovambo people and it is a very beautiful and culturally rich part of the country.”
“Gondwana is about more than just promoting Namibia’s natural beauty, our business is also about community”
TRUST IN TOURISM
There is one detail that puts this lodge over the top, which is its private access to a secluded waterhole, the Ontalelo Outpost, set in the Etosha National Park. This waterhole is reserved for Etosha King Nehale guests, allowing them to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of nature and observe the rich diversity of the animal world in this corner of paradise.
The Etosha King Nehale project was almost complete by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which placed Gondwana in a difficult position. According to Joubert, even prior to the pandemic, the lodge investment was considered a partial risk as there were questions regarding the potential success or failure of cultural tourism in the region.
“To the north, the conservancy is surrounded by the pulsating life of the communal areas of the Oshikoto, Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati regions,” Joubert says. “This new Gondwana lodge gives guests the opportunity to combine the natural wonders of Etosha with the cultural vibrancy of the Aawambo, also known as Ovambo, people.”
With COVID-19 forcing Gondwana’s hand, the organisation decided to bite the bullet and follow through with their investment, having already proceeded so far.
“We opened the lodge slap-bang in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, and for the first 12 months we could largely only cater to the local population. Today, both local and internationally speaking it has been a roaring success, and it has given rise to a fantastic story,” Joubert explains. “We believe that tourism isn’t sustainable if it is not inclusive, and we try to live and be an example of that, and the Etosha King Nehale lodge has really benefitted the local community.”
A FUTURE OF OPTIMISM
The second major enterprise that Gondwana has sought out is its takeover of The Weinberg, a hotel in the capital of Windhoek, and one of the top offerings in Namibia.
“We were lucky to be approached to manage the hotel,” Joubert tells us. “We have already made vast improvements and it is something that we are really proud of. In terms of our brand, The Weinberg fits nicely into our portfolio, and it is our first of that kind having opened Gondwana up to the corporate tourism sector.”
Promoting Namibia is paramount for the organisation moving forward, and Gondwana is focused on showing the world what the country has to offer.
For Joubert, the future of tourism is a movement from group travel to that of individual families or couples, including self-drive experiences where people can journey to and from exotic locations at their own leisure.
“We have some beautiful roads in Namibia that allow you to experience the unique wilderness by car,” he elaborates. “Post-COVID-19, these kinds of trips are becoming far more popular. People want to do their own thing without being restricted by timing or others like on group journeys.”
The future of Namibian tourism is an optimistic one, and Gondwana is working with the community to increase opportunities for those local to the organisation, while also expanding the overall experience for those who visit the wondrous wilderness of the country.
“We are highly optimistic about the future of our industry,” Joubert says. “Our goals are mainly driven by quality and sustainability, and we focus on combatting unemployment in the country as well. In this respect, we promote training programmes to increase the chances of young people entering the working world.
“Namibia has a brilliant story to tell; over 40 percent of our country is under some form of protection and conservation, so this really is a tale of sustainability and environmental respect and allowing people to experience this in brilliant ways.”