Follow my footsteps: Gondwana Canyon Park re-wilding the land

The golden afternoon light ushered me in to the Canyon Village, through an enchanting enclave of land dotted with granite boulders that extends into a wild and wonderful expanse

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I made it just in time for the game count briefing, to sit amidst the interesting assembly of people comprising conservationists, game rangers, botanists, politicians and students and to listen to Mannfred Goldbeck, Gondwana’s ‘on-the-ball’ managing director, relate the fascinating and inspiring story of this pocket of wilderness.

Fifteen years ago, this swathe of land bordering the Fish River Canyon was overgrazed and barren. At the tail end of years of severe drought, desperate farmers were putting up their farms for sale. The formerly lucrative karakul industry had crashed due to an increasing worldwide awareness of the cruelty in the fur industry. By the time a group of businessmen with a strong conservation philosophy bought a piece of land bordering the eastern section of the Fish River Canyon, the cycle of land owners had run its course. It soon became apparent that the only form of land-use that had the potential to level the scales – restoring wildlife and vegetation – and to fund the conservation area was ecotourism. Like-minded investors with environmentally-sound philosophies were sought. The vision matured over the subsequent fifteen years as a group of lodges called the Gondwana Collection Namibia was born and the concept of a large protected area was developed.

Over the years, a further ten adjoining farms were acquired and the Gondwana Canyon Park expanded to encompass an enormous area of 130 000 hectares. It is now a professionally-run protected area with highly-qualified park wardens and rangers, and formal, structured management activities, including the yearly game-count.

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Once an area teaming with game, indiscriminate hunting, fencing, drought and years of intensive sheep farming had left the area largely depleted. Research was carried out to determine which animals historically roamed the area and animals were gradually reintroduced. Fences were dismantled to allow the game to once-again follow the scattered rainfall and both flora and fauna regenerated as the land was re-wilded. Without fencing, game also began to repopulate the greater Fish River Canyon complex.

The annual game count provides an opportunity to monitor the game, estimating wildlife numbers, and noting changes and trends, to allow the wardens to effectively manage the Park. The group of people who had traveled from all over Namibia to partake in the annual activity were divided into eight groups to cover the various habitats of the Park, working according to a successful ‘Fixed Route Distance’ method.

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Trygve Cooper, the Park warden, enlightened us on the plans for the following day and then it was time for festivity and socializing at the long outdoor tables set up on the patio under a dome of twinkling stars.

After a day on the dusty road and a swim in the Ai-Ais hot spring, and brimming with game count excitement I made my way to my room, anticipating the early start, while others went to watch the soccer game on TV. Mannfred Goldbeck’s words stayed with me as I prepared for the morning. He had imparted the wise sentiment that we don’t ultimately own the land, we are only its custodians.

I closed my eyes to the inspiring notion of re-wilding the land.

Ron SwillingRon Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

(1927)

Follow my footsteps: From Noordoewer to Canyon Village via the dragon’s lair

‘Welcome to Namibia’. The sign at the border to Namibia glimmered enticingly. I turned towards Aussenkehr, into a moon landscape and a seemingly no-man’s land as the route passed through a gauntlet of rugged mountains. It was a medley of barren browns and more than a touch daunting. I pushed Eddie Vedder’s ‘Into the Wild’ into my CD player. It felt appropriate.

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The tar ended after the vineyards bordering the lush riverine vegetation of the Orange River. I pulled over, deflated my tyres, took a deep breath and remembered something I’d read a few days before: ‘Trust is the spirit of adventure’.

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A series of corrugations awaited me on the gravel and Eddie Vedder twanged along as I turned onto the C37 towards the canyon. The wind picked up, blowing curtains of sand across the road and the temperature rose. I didn’t see another car until I veered westwards towards Ai-Ais to make an obligatory stop at the hot springs, a spot which has lured people over the centuries for its healing waters. This 10km detour from my route to Gondwana’s canyon collection felt like a trip into the dragon’s lair as it dipped between the stark rocky hills. Ai-Ais, ‘Place of Burning Water’, marks the final point of the Fish River’s meandering journey through the canyon. On this visit, however, there wasn’t a drop of water in the river, an unfortunate discovery at the end of the rainy season. I walked to the eye of the hot springs (steaming at 65˚C), amidst the acacia trees and palms, and threw a coin into the water for luck and blessings. It landed on a rock in the centre of the small pool and shone, as if acknowledging my prayers.

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I took this as a good omen and after a swim in the outdoor pool and a cold coke, continued to Canyon Village for the Gondwana Canyon Park’s annual game count, to be followed by their mule trail through the northern reaches of the canyon.

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The image of the sparkling coin stayed in my mind, as did the lesson of ‘the secret of adventure’. As the land eased into the gentle euphorbia-greens, apricot sands and granite koppies of the Gondwana Canyon Park, I could sense intuitively that good times lay ahead.

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Written by Ron Swilling

Ron SwillingRon Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

 

(1827)

Follow my footsteps

Setting out to gather impressions of the country for a future Gondwana guidebook, I left the southern tip of Africa making my way northwards to the country of space and soul. Excitement began to build as I passed my first ‘Cape to Namibia route’ signpost, spotted my first quiver trees and crossed the mighty Orange River into Namibia.

I invite you to follow my footsteps as I make my way from the ancient canyon land and the south up into the heart of Namibia on the first leg of my journey, exploring the Gondwana routes through the country.

Ron Swilling

Ron Swilling

Ron Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

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