Reviews of Onguma The Fort
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Great stay at The Fort
Our second stay The Fort, having previously spent a night there in 2008 on a Wild About Africa trip. This time, we stayed for 3 nights.
Some people find the "moroccan" styling of the Fort and the "mini-Forts" incongruous in Namibia. However it works - providing stylish and cool accommodation in a superb location overlooking Fischers Pan.
We had our own guide with us, who took us into Etosha for several activities. The eastern end of Etosha seems to be more productive that the central area for game viewiing and we had excellent daytime sightings of lions, rhinos and elephants. The heavy rains earlier this year meant that there was still water in the Etosha Pan, which gave the whole area a different perpsective.
We went on the Night Drive and the Sundown Drive on the Onguma Reserve. The former was somewhat cursory, although we did see some bush-babies and a tortoise that apparentl shoudl have been hibernatiing, with the guide (Rector) seemingly being mainly interested in getting to an area where lions had been seen a couple of days earlier. The Sundown Drive also failed to find any of the big Onguma animals but Previous was an engaging and hardworking guide who poured a good G&T!
Meals at The Fort remain absolutely superb and would grace any 5-star city hotel. WE we delighted to find that Chef Immanuel is still there - he is an engaging man who takes great delight is describing the menu to the diners as well as leading the staff in singing after dinner on some evenings. It will be a massive loss to The Fort when Immanuel leaves shortly (apparently he is goig to a Kempinski property - we didn't find out which one, although it is not the neighbouring Mokuti).
The facilities remain excellent at the Fort, although there were some signs of slippages in service:
- on one day, we did not receive any hand towels, and it took 2 requests to staff to get some
- a waiter spilt a glass of beer down my wife's back (by accident!): although the staff were quick to clear the spillage and broken glass and to drive my wife back to our room to change, there was no offer to launder the soaked clothes (although admittedly, given the 2 day laundry service, that might have been difficult to deliver)
- the room book advises against drinking tap water but the only drinking water provided is for purcahse from the mini-bar. I cannot be sure but I recall that water was provided in the rooms on our previous visit.
The mamagers, Bronwen and Josef, were not there during our stay (Newman was in charge), so it is possible that the first two at least were temporary blips.
The Fort at Onguma Plains remains a spectacular and comfortable base from which to explore Etosha. However, given the increased competition at the top end of the market, it needs to avoid complacency. Whoever follows Immanuel as chef has a big act to follow!
This was without doubt the best food and service of the whole trip. The staff hit just that right note between friendliness and professionalism, the management here were obviously top rate.
The chef came to the table at lunch and dinner to personally run through the menu, give you choices and make sure you were happy with each course - and the food was fantastic.
We had a package including activities. The drive on the private reserve was fine but very low key. The main drive takes you into Etosha when what you see is a matter of luck as always - the number of game (rather than the number of species) certainly seemed higher on the eastern side of Etosha than the west.
On the day we left they were closing for refurbishment work and the staff having a holiday but there was never the least suspicion that standards would be allowed to slip right to the moment we left. Highly recommended.
Over the top
After an initial "wow" reaction, I think everyone in our group was a bit appalled at Onguma Plains Camp (now known as The Fort on Fisher's Pan). It certainly is a beautiful place, but it's just TOO over the top. I give it low marks for environmental friendliness: Too many large decorative pools evaporating water into the atmosphere. And ridiculous to have air conditioners in rooms that are basically open to the atmosphere (though the rooms got very hot once the turndown service closed up the mesh/slat wall that overlooks the pan).
Most ridiculous of all is that they won't even allow you to walk to your room in the daytime, but insist on taking you in a little motorized cart. Supposedly this is to protect you from wildlife, but nowhere else was there this daytime restriction (and Etosha Aoba, 7km down the road, even allows you to walk back to your room unaccompanied at night).
The highest standard of accomodation and facilities and seemed very plush and glamorous but at the same time somehow cold and unwelcoming.
As we could not have 2 nights at Etosha Lodge we went here. I preferred the Etosha [Ed: 'Aoba'] Lodge
Onguma Plains Camp review
In many ways this should have been the highlight of the trip given the location and standards of this lodge. However we were quite surprised to find that the water was heated by gas and we also felt slightly uncomfortable at times with the ostentatious usage of water given the scarcity of this resource in the country.
We would have also prefered to have a little less fuss about getting to a from the rooms by use of golf carts. There was not the same apparent threat as at Ongava. This would have been a great place to sleep out again if they could ahve safety poles and wires on the balconies as at other Doro Nowas.
The staff were celarly highly trained and the food was good, but for us the best bit was the evening songs that we were treated to... fantastic!
Onguma Plains - The Fort
Can only be described as stunning, in terms of location, facilities, rooms, friendliness and service. This is a wonderful facility with superb facilities overlooking a waterhole which constantly attracts a wide range of wildlife.
The restaurant and viewing areas have been superbly planned with outstanding views and comfort. The innovative pool and the partly submerged bar tables and seats added to the overall atmosphere. The rooms are no less attractive and provide beautifully and imaginatively planned and furnished accommodation.
The staff were attentive without being intrusive and very competent, friendly and helpful. The food was excellent and the evening meal was memorable not just for the quality of the various courses, but also for the setting and ambience. At the end of the meal, we were treated to an excellent singing performance by the all male staff whose vocal skills would have put many professional choirs to shame.
Overall a wonderful stay in a wonderful place.
Fantastic Fort Suite
Onguma The Fort (formerly Onguma Plains Camp) was our fourth and final lodge of our trip in Namibia. In many ways it was the most luxurious with a flatscreen TV, air conditioning, etc and we just loved the design of the whole Fort and the public spaces which brought Arabic/North African influences to Namibia. This design may not be for everyone, but we definitely loved the colour scheme and overall vibe of the place.
The Fort is close to the Western gates of Etosha National Park so also very conveniently located to get into the park in the morning and is not far from Mokuti airstrip where we landed. It overlooks a watering hole where springbok, kudu, zebras and waterhogs came to drink and which during the dry season probably sees other animals visit it as well.
The service we received from the waiters and management at Onguma was fantastic. We thought Albertus and Erasmus in particular were fantastic and they prepared a very romantic private dinner for us on our last night. Also Karen and Ryan the managers were efficient and helped us out with re-confirming flights etc. They were truly excellent.
The guides we had however, were probably the weakest of our trip. Things didn't start well as there was no one to meet us when we landed at the airstrip (at all other camps we had been met by a guide with cold drinks). Our guide was Nicholas for the game drives in both the Onguma Reserve and Etosha National Park. The sundowner game drive in Onguma was disappointing and not perfectly prepared, e.g. bottle openers not available to open bottles, holes in table cloth, our guide making private calls on his mobile during the game drive etc. In addition, our guide was accompanied on the game drive by an understudy who was learning to become a guide and we were quite surprised when Gerson, the understudy, also helped himself to the beers as part of the game drive while he was still "on duty".
Another area for improvement is the food, which on 2 out of 3 nights was not fantastic, but I think it depends on who is chef in the kitchen as on our final night, with a new chef, the food was markedly better. We also enjoyed the singing from the waiting staff and thought this was one of the highlights of our Onguma trip.
Overall, Onguma does some things really well such as the level of accommodation, fantastic waiters/service in the lodge, but there is room for improvement with the guides and also the food. If visiting the Etosha area again, we may be tempted to try out the Ongava private reserve next time as a couple that visited both Onguma and Ongava reported that the wildlife they saw at Ongava (lions, rhinos etc.) was also more diverse and more easily spotted there than at Onguma.
Onguma Plains Camp review
It's difficult to express how wonderful this place was. The location is stunning with a view in the distance of Fishers Pan and a wide plain set out below and in front of the rooms and main building. This made for some fantastic sunsets to watch in the evenings, and there was a constant stream of animals to and from the waterhole in front of us. One morning we were woken by the sound of zebras hooves galloping past our window!
Our room enormous and stunningly designed in a north african style with a huge terrace which had an outdoor shower and bath. Two walls of the room were canvas and rolled up to open up the room to the terrace and the plains. The service here was exceptional, and the food was consistantly stunning, from breakfast through to a four course dinner - the chef is brilliant and also very friendly!!
On our second day we returned from our nature drive to find a dinner table for two set up on our terrace with candles lit and champagne on ice...the chef came over to our room to describe the menu to us and we were served a candlelit dinner on our terrace under the stars. The staff even came over to sing to us at the end of our meal! Simply a wonderful honeymoon memory...
The only negative feedback would be that at the entrance gate as we arrived the guard tried to persuade us to give a lift to two people into the reserve. We didn't really have room due to all our luggage and it made us feel a little uncomfortable. Not quite the luxury welcome we had expected!!
Onguma Plains Camp review
Great stay but bugs were horrible this time of year! It would have been a little nicer to have lamps or other bug repellants at least during dinner.Read more about the whole safari
Onguma Plains Camp review
You can regard the positioning of an imitation adobe Moroccan fort on the plains of southern Africa either as inspired design or as Disneyland kitsch. Either way the design of the building with its multiple water features, curtains and air vents works beautifully and the site overlooking the western park with a water hole is stunning. Compared to Okaukeujo the water hole was not so busy, but there are not many places in the world that you drink a cocktail sitting in a swimming pool while watching deer, warthogs, wildebeest and jackals.
The camp features in one of the "100 great destination" guides - deservedly, as the ambience is fabulous. By the time we arrived we had been on the go for two weeks and had seen plenty of animals, so we gave the game drives a miss and chilled out all day around the pool, lazy but most enjoyable. Staff did everything possible to make our stay comfortable. Dinner was served in a leisurely and elegant fashion, and was very nicely presented although the overall quality did not quite match the standards to which it aspired.
As walkers we found the need to drive from rooms to main building irksome, but preferable to being supper for the local lions.