The healing waters of Ai-Ais: The early days - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

COVID-19. Status quo in Namibia.

It is with regret that Gondwana Collection Namibia has learnt that the COVID-19 virus has reached Namibia. On 14 March 2020, President Hage Geingob confirmed the first two cases. On 17 March, the President declared a state of emergency.

On 24 March 2020, the additional measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have been announced. They include a lockdown of the Khomas and Eronogo regions from 27 March until 16 April 2020. For regulations and guidelines please click here

Gondwana is fully aware of the current situation and continues to monitor the spread of the virus and the resulting changes to our industry. In view of the state of emergency and the additional measures ordered by the government, employees at Gondwana House in Windhoek will be working from home. Due to international and regional travel restrictions Gondwana has reduced its operations at the lodges as far as possible. Most employees have been sent home, at full pay. 

The Ministry of Health has made availability for a toll-free phone number within Namibia for queries with regards to COVID-19. The toll-free number is 800-100-100 or alternatively 911.

Namibia with Heart and Soul: Take our hand and let us introduce you to this awe-inspiring country. Come and stay with us, experience Namibia.


Where the Namib Desert stretches languidly from the Atlantic Ocean and wild land extends into infinity, dreams become real. At this place where fantasy meets reality, you'll find the Gondwana Collection safely positioned.

Take our outstretched hand and let us introduce you to our extraordinary country, Namibia. From the massive chasms of the Fish River Canyon, the fossilised dunes of the Namib Desert and the red sands of the Kalahari Desert to the waterways of the Kavango and Zambezi, there are countless marvels to behold. Explore this awe-inspiring wilderness from the warmth of our lodges, created with conservation cognizance and ample character. And return to relax after an exciting day of discovery.

This is the Gondwana feeling: Namibia with heart and soul.

Come and stay with us, experience Namibia.

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The healing waters of Ai-Ais: The early days

Avatar of inke inke - 09. February 2018 - Tourism, Discover Namibia

At the southern end of the Fish River Canyon, a mineral-rich hot spring encircled by rugged mountains has attracted people for centuries. It was known from the earliest times by the Nama who went there when sick to be healed by the rejuvenating waters, but Stone Age people had probably known of its existence thousands of years before. /Ai-/Ais is the Nama word for ‘very hot’ and although the clicks have been dropped, the descriptive name has been retained. Groundwater heated up in the Earth’s crust rises to the surface at about 60˚C in passages created by the deep fault systems found in the canyon. 

If the rocky entrance road down to Ai-Ais is daunting today, it was even more dramatic for those who travelled to the healing waters in bygone days, first travelling by ox-wagon, then donkey-cart and eventually cars and trucks that had to be routinely stopped to cool down and for their radiator water to be replenished. 

Well-known missionary, Tobias Fenchel, was told ‘You must go to Ai-Ais’ when he exhausted himself and become sick while building the Keetmanshoop church in 1890. He travelled by ox-wagon for his Badereise (bath journey) and stayed for several weeks, the warm waters granting him some relief. And although people must have sporadically visited the hot spring over the years, they started to routinely travel there for extended holidays from the 1940s. They trekked by donkey cart and built rietskerm (reed) shelters, channelling the hot water into clay depressions for baths, believing that they would live longer if they spent a few weeks bathing in the famous waters. Smaller more mobile carts were hooked onto the back of the larger donkey carts for hunting expeditions.

It was in the 50s however, that the holiday resort – managed by a kommandant - started to resemble a well-laid out army camp with rows of white tents. People from all walks of life – doctors, missionaries, farmers and teachers – travelled from surrounding towns and sheep farms. Some travelled all the way from the Richtersveld in the Northern Cape, from places like O’okiep and Springbok, stopping at the Orange River en-route, and some came from as far afield as Malmesbury. They spent several weeks of the winter at Ai-Ais where a pool had now been built amidst the Phragmites reeds and corrugated iron change rooms had been erected. Workers and house-maids were brought along to help with the cooking and cleaning, a beer depot supplied liquid nourishment and a small shop stocked cans of food and tobacco. Ai-Ais salt was even sold and taken home to be used for the rest of the year when everyday life resumed.

Life fell into a relaxed rhythm at Ai-Ais. Pieter de Waal described the languid Ai-Ais routine and the colourful characters that assembled there in Die Suidwester Vakansie-Byvoegsel (holiday supplement) in December 1950. In the mornings, the ooms and tannies (uncles and aunts) walked to the change rooms and the women would emerge dressed in gowns and towels so as not to catch cold on their way to the pool. Here they would gather, donning their large boerekappies (farmer caps) from which only their noses were visible, and swap information, reporting on their aches and pains – the old and the new, if and how they were recuperating, and how many cups of healing water they drank in the day. They had heard that Oom Jaap Ekstein from Karas, for example, believed that drinking the muddy rather than the clear water helped him (and he drank sixteen glasses a day!) while others were of the opinion that packing the hot mud on their bodies had beneficial health benefits.

All the chatter ceased from 11am when it was designated relaxing time and a deathly silence descended on the camp. At lunchtime, the clatter of pots could be heard and delicious aromas began to waft over the tents while the karakoelvleis (karakul meat) and pampoen (pumpkin) sprinkled with cinnamon simmered on the fires. It was then rest-time again until 4pm when the holidaymakers exhibited a burst of energy and would play jukskei, take another bath, congregate for an hour of prayer, eat and then begin to recount stories around the fires in the evenings, as the sun dipped behind the mountains and a heaven of glittering stars appeared. The stories, sometimes funny and sometimes tragic, ceased at 10pm when all ears were tuned to the radio and an announcer’s voice crackled over the radio waves from Johannesburg. The fires from the workers flickered in the distance and you could make out the ‘gedoem-doeke-doem’ from an old guitar. 

These memorable days at Ai-Ais were recorded on sepia photographs and pasted in photo albums to be passed on through the generations. Ai-Ais continued to gain popularity over the years as a holiday resort, attracting more and more people from far and wide. In the early 1970s the next stage of development began when chalets and a reception area were constructed, and then, later on, it was rebuilt after floods, and renovated and refurbished to keep up with the times. Throughout all the changes of the decades, Ai-Ais holiday snaps show children playing happily and contented folk floating in the warm, healing waters.

Ron Swilling

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