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Ghaub and the Old Fort in Grootfontein have two things in common. Their age has long passed the century mark and they both have changed their "career" - from mission station to lodge, from fortress to museum. Being an old buddy, Ghaub is more than willing to help the museum to improve its finances...
The fact that Grootfontein can offer a journey into the past is owed to the voluntary work of a few of its residents and the donations of sponsors. The revenue from entrance fees and government grants are not enough to pay the curator, to preserve the exhibits, to maintain the building, to settle electricity, water and telephone bills and to pay the gardener and the cleaner. Fundraisers such as the annual raffle of donated prizes are needed to improve the finances.
This year Ghaub donated the top prize of the 40 prizes: a voucher for two people for two nights, dinner and breakfast included. The lottery was a complete success. 250 lottery tickets were sold – 50 more than last year. Thus, the proceeds were significantly higher. The lucky winner of the top prize at the raffle on July 12 was Sonja Lakemeier. She is a teacher at the German School Grootfontein and has been at Ghaub several times, even on excursions with her students.
Ghaub does not only support the museum with donations of prizes, but also in the form of advertising on its website and at the lodge itself. The receptionists recommend to guests to visit the Old Fort on a day trip or stop by on their onward journey. The museum provides an overview of the changing history of the area, an extensive collection of cultural artefacts of the OvaHimba, jewelry and crafts of the Owambo and San and old equipment of European settlers.
"Regarding the younger rhino cow: We think her water broke." The message of the Rhino Patrol rangers one morning in mid-June hits Ghaub's office like a bomb. Can this be true? The cow already has a young, and that calf is only two-and-a-quarter years old...
"Please keep distance, at least 200 meters, we are on the way," the two rangers are instructed. Two hours later the baby was born without complications. From the distance, two teats can be seen on the lower abdomen - so it is most probably a heifer calf.
The cow is extremely irritated. With loud lowing and attacks, she chases away the older bull, who is nearby – an indication of his paternity. Even her first calf, also a heifer, is no longer allowed to approach her.
The offspring is a clear sign that the white rhinos feel at home at Ghaub. They had been released here three years ago, in March 2016. One year later, there were already offspring: the heifer calf of the younger cow and a bull calf of the older cow.
In the partner reserve Waterberg Wilderness, at that time a rhino cow gave birth to a calf almost simultaneously. It is amazing that this is now repeating itself: That same cow also calved just a few days later (for more please click here).
Guests of Ghaub can experience the rhinos on a Rhino Drive and a Rhino Tracking Tour up close. However, it is left to the cow to decide when she wants to show her calf. The last time it took a few weeks for her to feel secure enough to leave the protective bush with her young.
Full house in the lodge and on the campsite: At the end of May, Ghaub was the destination of an excursion by the Namibia Scientific Society. The 28 participants seek (and find!) traces of the mission and farm history as well as of the last skirmish of Germans and South Africans during the First World War...
First stop on the trip on the long weekend at the end of May is Khorab Monument about two kilometers north of Otavi. At "kilometre 500" of the railway line, counted from Swakopmund, on 9 July 1915 the German Schutztruppe surrendered to the South African army. The last skirmish of the First World War in the former colony of German South-West Africa had taken place five days previously at Ghaub about 50 km further north-east. The librarians of the Namibia Scientific Society (NSS), Gunter von Schumann and Armin Jagdhuber, describe the details of the war and the capitulation at the monument.
Half an hour later, the 14-car convoy winds its way up a hillside of the Otavi Mountains, 11 km east of Otavi: wine tasting and lunch at the Thonningii Winery, named after the species of figs that grow there in large numbers. Host Bertus Boshoff, his son Gilmar and daughter-in-law Tamara present white wine, rosé and red wine ("Der Katholische") and give an insight into their small but fine winery operation.
Horns greeting the group
After a trip via Kombat and through the "Tiger Gorge" the group finally reaches Ghaub and is greeted by two white rhinos that graze near the road in the game reserve of the farm. The largest part of the group is lodging on the three pitches of the campsite; the other participants are accommodated in rooms of the lodge. Dinner, breakfast and lunch are served for everyone in the lodge restaurant.
The next morning, after breakfast on today's lodge grounds, the group is searching for traces of history: Historical photos identify the farthest of the three guest buildings as a former mission church and today’s reception with restaurant and kitchen as the former farm manager's house.
The walk into the past becomes alive through memories of one of the participants who spent the first five years of his childhood at Ghaub: Klaus Detering, grandson of the former farm manager Wilhelm Detering. "My father Karl was born in this room," he says, pointing to the current bar. Adding with a grin: "It was probably no coincidence that he later worked for the Südwest Brewery."
Short episode of missionary work
After visiting the cemetery and a rock pulpit, which was possibly created by missionary Heinrich Vedder, on a hill about 2 km north of the lodge complex of Ghaub, Gunter von Schumann outlines the mission history. Ghaub is only a short chapter: Founded in 1895, the missionary work is coming to an end already in 1919 when missionary Vedder was deported by the South African authorities.
However, the farming operation, started by Wilhelm Detering, lasted until his death shortly after the Second World War and bore fruit in the truest sense of the word, as Gunter von Schumann and Armin Jagdhuber explain in the evening lecture.
Between the history sessions there is also a bit time to relax. In the afternoon, part of the group joins a "Rhino Drive" and another part explores the Ghaub Cave. The rest of the group enjoys the mountain landscape on one of the hiking trails or just relaxes in the garden and at the pool.
Farm operation today
On the next morning, the owner of Ghaub shows and explains how the 19,200-hectare farm is utilised today. The guest operation is complemented by conservation of game (white rhino, giraffe, eland etc.), cattle farming and, to an increasing extent, hay production. Because of the drought the maize had to be harvested in April, before being ready for harvesting, and processed to animal fodder.
Brand new is the approximately 1-acre large vegetable patch under shade net, where cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and other fresh vegetables for the lodge are grown. The harvest even exceeds the needs of the lodge; the surplus is now delivered to the lodges of the partner company Waterberg Wilderness.
In the afternoon, Gunter von Schumann gives another lecture: While enjoying Over coffee and cake he describes the skirmish between the South African army and the German Schutztruppe on 4 July 1915 at Ghaub. Klaus Detering remembers stories of his uncle, who was then six years old: They had put mattresses in front of the windows. For about two hours, they heard the artillery shells of the South Africans howling over the house and hitting on the other side, because the German positions were on the hill beyond the house.
It goes without saying, that after the talk the group explores the hill. They find an almost square shaped platform, made of flat, skilfully laid rocks, which maybe served as foundation for a heliograph; there was a heliograph station on the well-visible Signalberg (signal mountain) a few miles to the south. A sundowner with sparkling wine and orange juice and a braai (barbecue / barbecue) with a campfire in the lodge garden make a sociable and inspiring end to the excursion.
On departure after breakfast the next morning, all participants agree: The four-day trip to Khorab, Thonningii and Ghaub was more than worth every minute spent and every kilometre driven.
The cultivation of vegetables at Ghaub has started successfully. For several months spinach, carrots, egg plants and other types of vegetable have been planted and harvested in a progressive production process. Ghaub Farm Products even harvests more than the Ghaub Lodge needs for its guests...
63 meters long and 43 meters wide is the area on which the vegetables are grown. A net provides 40 percent shade. The cost for the project, including irrigation system and other equipment, so far is about 200,000 Namibia Dollar.
For each vegetable seedlings are grown and planted at certain intervals, so that it can be harvested at any time. Planning and executing this progressive production is supported by a computer programme that provides an overview of planting and harvesting times and that also specifies what to do each week.
The vegetables are naturally grown. Sheep manure serves as fertiliser, for pest control Ghaub Farm Products uses a brew of special plants.
Almost all areas in Namibia are affected by drought. Even Ghaub received only half of the annual average of rain. Luckily it was enough for the grass to grow, so there is more than sufficient pasture for game and livestock. Ghaub started to harvest hay – for cattle at other farms and for rhinos at the Waterberg...
Even in January and February, two of the main months of the rainy season, most parts of the country received almost no rain. In March, also largely dry, there were the first reports of dead game. Even oryx antelopes that are particularly well adapted to life in drylands were affected.
In the area of the partner company Waterberg Wilderness at the Waterberg, the pasture for the grass eating game became scarce. This was a particularly critical situation for the white rhinos, which each need about 40 kilograms of grass per day.
Even Ghaub received only just about 300 mm of rain in this rainy season until the end of March. This is only half of the annual average of 600 mm. The harvest of maize will fail. Fortunately, there is no shortage of grass. Hence Ghaub can even harvest a lot of hay and help farmers in need. Every three to four weeks a truck loaded with 200 bales of hay is sent to Waterberg Wilderness.
Since February, about 1,000 bales of hay have been harvested at Ghaub. From April to June, it will probably be another 2,500 bales. A bale now costs 80 Namibia Dollar – excluding transport, which is expensive for the high-volume cargo.
Bush encroachment is a big problem in Namibia: As bush fires are immediately combated and contained by humans, shrubs spread out and grasslands shrink. Camping guests of Ghaub can now help to finance the costly clearing of scrub – simply by barbecuing...
Campfires and barbecuing are a crucial part of the real camping experience in Namibia. At the Campsite of Ghaub Nature Reserve & Farm guests can now buy firewood, which they can burn with a clear conscience.
For a start, because it is exclusively dead wood collected on the area of Ghaub. On the other hand, because the proceeds from the sale of the wood of Ghaub Farm Products contribute to financing the costly measures of Ghaub and its partners Waterberg Wilderness and Ondekaremba to contain the dense bush, which is spreading more and more if nothing is done about it.
For those who want to take the wood along, it is not packed in the usual plastic sacks that are now prohibited in national parks, but in cartons. If you use the cardboard to ignite the fire, nothing remains but ashes. Almost like those days, when the ashes from bush fires provided the soil with new nutrients.
The dinner at Ghaub Lodge will be melting even more in one’s mouth now. A retired chef trainer from Germany spent two months at Ghaub and its partners Waterberg Wilderness and Ondekaremba. It was already the second time. The training sessions took place this time mainly in the cold room...
The training for the cooks of Ghaub Lodge this time focussed on the professional way to unflesh bones. In addition, retired chef trainer Georg Maeding from Lübeck went into detail about what you should pay attention to, depending on the meat type, when you cut meat into smaller pieces.
Of course, he also checked in the kitchen to what extend the cooks put into practice what they learnt in the previous training courses, and he imparted more helpful hints and tricks. "Above all, we have refined the preparation of sauces," said Maeding shortly before his return flight to Germany in early December. "We also improved bread baking and tested a baguette recipe."
During his two-month stay, he also visited the partner properties Waterberg Wilderness and Ondekaremba. It was already the second time after 2017 that Georg Maeding by the agency of the Senior Experts Service trained the cooks at Ghaub. In the first training session he put basic skills and knowledge on a sound basis, he revised the menus and went into particulars about the professional arrangement of food on the plate.
Ghaub Lodge offers a rich breakfast buffet and a set menu of four courses for dinner. European dishes are prepared in Namibian farm style and enriched with typical local ingredients such as kudu meat, butternut or chutney. Breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate.
Water is abundant, the soil is well suited, the temperatures are favourable. So why not grow fruit and vegetables instead of buying it in supermarkets that import it from South Africa which is hundreds of miles away? In the near future Ghaub will pamper its guests with its own farm products...
There was a greenhouse for herbs at Ghaub already for a long time, right next to the kitchen of the lodge. However, in September larger areas were covered with shadow net and vegetable beds were created in the farm section. Fruit trees had been planted already in the previous year.
Ghaub wants to offer a wide range of farm products. According to initial calculations, it costs less to produce own fruit and vegetables than to buy it in the wholesale. The water is rich in minerals and the soil will be naturally fertilised with cow manure and hay. On top of it, the project creates additional jobs.
The planned range of vegetables is wide: In addition to tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes there are various types of lettuce on the list, from Lollo Rosso to lettuce. Potatoes, carrots, onions and leeks will also be grown of course, as well as kohlrabi, zucchini, pumpkins, turnips, beetroot and fennel. Even aubergines and artichokes should thrive well at Ghaub.
The list of fruits includes grapes, peaches and cape gooseberries. Papaya and mango trees were planted already. Prickly pears, as well as mulberry, lemon and orange trees, which are common on Namibian farms, have been around at Ghaub for decades, too. On top of that there is the native Maroola tree, from whose fruits the well-known Amarula liqueur is obtained. The fresh fruits which cannot be consumed will be processed into juice, syrup and jam. At the end of September, the first lemon syrup was bottled.
Since cattle breeding and game keeping are part of the farm operation of Ghaub, meat of course is one of the "Ghaub Farm Products". In future, the farm butchery will package beef in portions and deliver it to the lodges of Ghaub and its partners Waterberg Wilderness and Ondekaremba. The production of smoked meat is also planned.
The lodges will not only save on expenses, but also gain another attraction for their guests: fresh, untreated fruits and vegetables as well as meat from free-range cattle directly from the farm next door.
Rhinos and other wild animals in the Ghaub nature reserve are now even better protected against possible poaching. After the Namibian road authorities gave the green light, Ghaub has erected guarded gates on its thoroughfares...
On the gravel roads D 3022 and D 2863 you have to stop now, when you approach Ghaub. A guard comes to open the gate.
Since poachers depend on cars to cart away their quarry, their possible activities are effectively hampered. On top of that, there is an increased risk of being identified, because surveillance cameras are installed at the gates. At Ghaub's partner, the Waterberg Wilderness nature reserve, gates on the thoroughfare have proven to be successful. In addition, even the poaching on the farms in the area noticeably decreased after they had been erected and manned.
The private Ghaub Nature Reserve also protects its wildlife through a series of other measures. The area is not only surrounded by a solid game fence, but is also patrolled daily by specially trained rangers. The so-called "Rhino Patrol" determines the whereabouts and condition of the white rhinos and transmits the information by radio to the reception.
The measures are financed by the income from accommodation and the rhino tours for the guests – per game viewing vehicle or on foot. Since the rangers of the "Rhino Patrol" inform the guides via radio, an encounter with the rhinos is almost guaranteed. Everyone benefits: the rhinos, the guests and Ghaub, which now employs about 40 people.
Ever won a lodge in the lottery? Or got one as a birthday present? An 83-year-old lady from Grootfontein can answer both questions in the affirmative: In the lottery of the Alte Fort museum, she won a stay at Ghaub and intends to give it to herself for her 84th birthday...
It is almost as old as Ghaub: The "Alte Fort" in Grootfontein was erected as from 1896, a year after the founding of the mission station Ghaub in the Otavi mountains. Since 1983, the historic building houses a museum, which is run with much care and voluntary commitment. However, it is low on funds to pay for the curator, for the care of the exhibits, for repairs to the building as well as for the gardener and the cleaners.
In order to fill up the museum’s account, in the middle of July they held a lucky draw with about 40 donated prizes. Ghaub contributed the second prize, a stay for two persons for two nights. First prize was a blue wildebeest carcass, third prize a high quality pair of Diesel sunglasses. The lucky winner of the second prize is 83-year-old Bertha Hamer who takes it as a birthday present: She turns 84 in September and will spend her anniversary with her sister at Ghaub.
The Alte Fort Museum had reason to celebrate, too: All 200 tickets were sold, so that the museum’s account could be filled up a bit. Winners are, above all, the many visitors to the museum. In the historic building they can undertake an exciting journey into the past, as it offers an overview of local history, an extensive collection on the OvaHimba people, jewellery and crafts of the Owambo and the San as well as old equipment of European settlers.
Guests of Ghaub can visit the museum during a day trip; Grootfontein is only about half an hour's drive from Ghaub.
Everyone has probably heard about Hoba Meteorite, Ghaub cave or Ombili San Foundation, not to mention Lake Otjikoto, the museums in Tsumeb and Grootfontein and the Living Museum of the Ju/'Hoansi. But who knows the Maria Bronn mission station? The winery Thonningii? The Khorab memorial?
All these and many more attractions are to be found in the triangle between the national parks Etosha, Khaudum and Waterberg Plateau – in a region that is widely ignored by most tourists. In order to change that, Ghaub Nature Reserve & Farm and about 40 other accommodation establishments, activity providers, museums, arts & crafts markets and municipalities in the region founded the tourism route Omuramba Meander. Ghaub was already involved in the preparation phase.
The initiator was the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development that contracted non profit organisation Open Africa to develop the route. It should also ensure to increase the benefits from tourism for urban and rural communities. Open Africa compiled information and photos of attractions and tourism products in the region and published it on its established web portal. In addition Open Africa produced information boards for eight locations such as Ghaub (former mission station), Waterberg Plateau or Fisher's Pan in Etosha which are referring to one another. There are also signs of the Omuramba Meander route at town entrances and at selected spots along roads. A brochure in digital and printed format is due to appear in time for high season in July.
"Our Omuramba Meander initiative serves to raise awareness for the variety of experiences the region has to offer," says committee chairman André Neethling. "Our region is not only a great stop-over en route between Windhoek and Etosha or the Zambezi region, but also a destination on its own inviting you to explore – or, as we like to say: to meander."
Experiences at Ghaub and in the surroundings
Ghaub offers the historic ambience of the former mission station, Rhino Drive & Tracking, cave excursions and nature trails. It is also the ideal starting point fort rips to explore the area.
Day round trip: Mission station Maria Bronn – Grootfontein with Alte Fort Museum – Hoba meteorite – vineyard Thonningii – Khorab memorial near Otavi – Ghaub.
Stop-overs on the way to Etosha: Tsumeb with museum, St. Barbara church (1914) and Arts & Crafts Centre – Lake Otjikoto.
Stop-overs on the way to the Zambezi region (Caprivi): Hoba meteorite – Grootfontein with Alte Fort museum (maybe route via Living Museum of the Ju/'Hoansi – Tsumkwe with Arts & Crafts – Khaudum park).
Stop-overs on the way to the Waterberg: Hoba meteorite – Grootfontein with Alte Fort museum – scenic route east of the Waterberg – Waterberg Wilderness (accommodation; guided hikes to the plateau, Rhino drive & tracking, cultural tour with everyday life of the Herero in the countryside and in the small town Okakarara, nature trails with "botanical garden" and a "History Path" about the history of the Herero).
Alternative route to the Waterberg: Tiger gorge – vineyard Thonningii – Khorab memorial near Otavi – Otjiwarongo with crocodile farm and township tour – Waterberg Wilderness (accommodation etc.).
Wire snares of poachers reduced the number of mountain zebras living on the neighbouring farm. One animal after the other suffered a painful death. The remaining four zebras, including a foal, were now brought to safety by Ghaub – with the help of a helicopter and a front-end loader...
The joy at the new mountain zebras brought by the animal transporter to Ghaub a year ago was short-lived. Soon after eight zebras moved to the neighbouring farm, which is separated from Ghaub only by a low fence. Now and again the animals were spotted there, but the group became smaller and smaller. The reason: One animal after another got caught in one of the wire snares laid out by poachers in the vast and rough terrain, and died an agonising death.
At the beginning of May Ghaub, with the consent of the farmer, started a complex rescue operation for the remaining four mountain zebras. The animals were darted by the veterinarian from the helicopter. Then they were gently pushed by helpers in the shovel of a front-end loader in order to bring them to the transport vehicle, which was waiting on the farm road nearby. From there the animals were transported 10 km to the game-secure fenced-in area of the Ghaub Nature reserve. All three mares and the foal weathered the action well.
This game area of Ghaub was already home to a group of eight zebras with foals. It remains to be seen whether the two groups will now unite. In order to strengthen the population, Ghaub has ordered more zebras that should arrive in the course of this year.
Hartmann's Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the list of endangered species. Due to estimates there are around 25,000 animals, most of them living in mountainous areas of Namibia. Rock engravings of zebra tracks on Ghaub suggest that the Otavi Mountains were home to mountain zebras in pre-colonial times.
At the beginning of April, Ghaub welcomed an extraordinary personage who is personally linked to this place: former anti-apartheid activist Horst Kleinschmidt. In fact, there were two links. The first one was a photo he brought along, the second one was a gravestone waiting for him...
"A picture that tells a thousand words!", Kleinschmidt notes down shortly after his visit of Ghaub: "Here in 2018 I stood at the very place where in 1915 my grandmother stood holding my baby father. (...) I came as a curious visitor whereas the photo is of my grandmother anguished by the war on the very doorstep of her home cradling my baby father Wilhelm Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, so named after Kaiser Wilhelm and after our missionary ancestor who made this country his home in 1838. My father’s older brother Helmut holds on to the white dress of Grandma Klara."
Kleinschmidt's grandfather Gerhard was employed by the Rheinische Mission as farm caretaker at the mission station Ghaub. After the last battle between the German Schutztruppe and the South African army during the Second World War, which had taken place in July 1915 on Ghaub, he tried to restart the farm operation.
Of course, Horst Kleinschmidt also visited the small cemetery at Ghaub, which is located on a hill about fifteen minutes' walk from the lodge. There he found the grave of his uncle Gerhard, who had already died at the age of two and a half years – even before the above photo was taken.
Horst Kleinschmidt was born shortly after World War II in Swakopmund, but grew up in Johannesburg from the age of four. During his studies, he protested non-violently against the segregation and illegal detention of anti-apartheid fighters. He was arrested several times, fled abroad in 1976 and spent 15 years in exile. Six years after South Africa's independence, in the Ministry of Fisheries he played a key role in combating corruption and establishing an equitable distribution of fishing quotas, securing access for all population groups. In 2005 he resigned because of increasing pressure to replace white employees with blacks without regard to skills or qualifications (Biography).
Since then, Horst Kleinschmidt has increasingly devoted himself to genealogy research. He is a descendant of the German missionary Heinrich Schmelen, who worked in Bethanien from 1814 and whose KhoeKhoe wife Zara (see Wikipedia) had translated the new testament of the Bible into her mother tongue.
More about the Kleinschmidt family on www.horstkleinschmidt.co.za.
Almost every one of our guests knows that Amarula is a popular cream liqueur made from the fruit of the local Marula tree. However, nobody suspects that hundreds of marula trees grow on Ghaub. Even we were amazed how many trees were counted here for a study.
The student from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Nadia Löffel, recorded 281 marula trees during her internship at Ghaub. Since she only considered trees that grow along the existing farm roads in a distance of up to 100 meters, the actual number of trees in the 120 km² large farm area is much higher, of course. Löffel measured the circumference of the trunks one metre above the ground and recorded location, environmental conditions and gender of the trees.
135 of the recorded trees are female and therefore usually bear fruit of the approximate size and shape of a Mirabelle plum. Under a thick and firm skin there is a thin layer of pulp that you have to suck because it is very firmly attached to the pip. It contains a lot of protein and vitamin C. According to Nadia Löffel, the pulp and nut in the pip have been used by humans for millennia (more about the Marula tree on Wikipedia).
Guests of Ghaub heard about the tree most of all because of the Amarula liqueur, which is made from the pulp and which is nice to drink as a liquid dessert or as a "nightcap". More recently the lemonade Vigo has been launched, which is also made from the Marula fruit.
Nadia Löffel summarised the results of her internship in a report she submitted in mid-March as part of her International Cooperation module in the Bachelor degree course in Environmental Engineering at the Institute for Environment and Natural Resources (in Wädenswil, Switzerland) of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.