Waterberg Plateau National Park

Waterberg Plateau National Park

On the east side of the Central Highlands, Waterberg Plateau is a unique flat-topped plateau with stunning scenery and excellent wildlife. It’s largely made of sandstone, often sculpted into amazing shapes, and is dotted with freshwater springs. The diverse patchwork of wooded areas, grasslands and verdant ravines on the top is particularly well suited to hiking trips.

Given the plateau’s isolated nature, endangered species, including white rhino, roan and sable antelope, have been reintroduced to Waterberg over the years, to add to its rich existing game. The birdlife is equally impressive, with more than 200 species, including spectacular Verreaux’s (black) eagles and Namibia’s only breeding colony of Cape vultures.

History of the Waterberg Plateau Area

The foothills of the Waterberg Plateau were the location of a poignant turning point in the Battle of the Waterberg in 1904. The Herero people under Samuel Maharero, were resisting German colonial expansion as part of the scramble for Africa. The Germans had achieved some military progress before the execution of the final battle plan on 11 August 1904, which involved cornering the Herero army and their families at the Waterberg Plateau. Many of the Herero people managed to escape eastwards into the Omaheke desert where their troubles only grew resulting from a lack of food and water causing further deaths. Maharero and about 1000 men managed to cross the Kalahari into British Bechuanaland where they were granted asylum.

The site of the battle is today within the Waterberg Plateau Park. A military graveyard exists where the German soldiers who perished are buried.

Geography of the Waterberg Plateau

The park centres on a plateau of compacted Etjo sandstone, some 250m high. This lump of rock, formed about 180–200 million years ago, is the remnant of a much larger plateau that once covered the whole area. It is highly permeable (surface water flows through it like a sieve), but the mudstones below it are impermeable. This results in the emergence of several springs at the base of the southern cliffs, hence the name “Waterberg" or water mountain.

Flora and Fauna of the Waterberg Plateau

For a fairly small park, there are a large number of different environments. The top of the plateau supports a patchwork of wooded areas (mostly broadleaved deciduous) and open grasslands, while the foothills and flats at the base of the escarpment are dominated by acacia bush, but dotted with evergreen trees and lush undergrowth where the springs well up on the southern side. This diversity gives the park its ability to support a large variety of animals.

Waterberg has become an integral part of a number of conservation projects, seeing the relocation of several endangered species (including white rhino, roan and sable antelope) in an attempt to start viable breeding herds. These have added to the game already found here, which ranges from giraffe and kudu to leopard, brown hyena, cheetah and (reports claim) wild dog.

The birdlife is no less impressive, with more than 200 species on record. Most memorable are the spectacular Verreaux’s (black) eagles, and Namibia’s only breeding colony of Cape vultures. Although REST (Rare and Endangered Species Trust) is working to conserve these imposing raptors, numbers have sharply declined in recent years due to both the changing environment and the increasing use of farm poisons (both intentional poisons, and the chemicals in fertilisers and pesticides). One innovation encourages them to eat at a vulture restaurant (open once a week, on Wednesday morning) where carcasses are prepared and left out for them.

What to see and do in the Waterberg Plateau Park

This park is unusual in that you can’t drive yourself around. Instead you must either hike or take one of the park’s organised drives with one of their driver/guides.

Keen walkers will book in advance one of the excellent wilderness trails. But if you haven’t done this, then there are some good marked trails around the camp area, and even up onto a lookout point on the plateau.

Organised drives lasting about three hours take place in the morning and late afternoon, and are best booked with the park office as soon as you arrive. They tour around the plateau in search of game, visiting the permanent waterholes and some of the hides. However, although the guiding is usually good, and there are chances of seeing uncommon sable and roan antelope, the bush here is thicker and the game densities appear much lower than, say, Etosha, so, many visitors find the game disappointing. One possibility for the dedicated is to take the morning trip on to the plateau, get off at one of the hides, and spend the day there game-watching. You need to take some food and water (and perhaps a good book), but can then return to camp with the afternoon drive.

There are also organised nature or cultural tours available where the guide will ride in your vehicle. These typically will take three to four hours, and include visits to a traditional Herero village, and perhaps a community centre or school, with the opportunity to try local food.

Between the reception and restaurant, a side road leads to a war cemetery where intricate head stones remember German soldiers killed in the Waterberg battle during the 1904 Herero uprising led by Chief Samuel Maharero. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are no equivalent memorials to the Herero.

Hiking

If you come to Waterberg for the walking, then you won’t be disappointed. All year round there are nine short trails that you can take around the vicinity of the camp, described in booklets from the office, and designed to give visitors a flavour of the park. The panorama from the end of the trail up to Mountain View is definitely worth the effort and time (about 45 minutes) that it takes to get there.

Longer trails

During the dry season, from April to November, there are also two hikes organised: an accompanied one in the west of the park, and an unguided alternative in the south. There are no better ways to experience this game park, though reservations must be made months in advance.

You need to bring your own sleeping bag, food and cooking utensils. During both walks you will sleep in stone shelters, provided with simple long-drop toilets and water.
Waterberg Wilderness Trail
The three-day accompanied 42km hiking trail runs from 14.00 on Thursday to Sunday afternoon, on the second, third and fourth weekends from April to November. Each hike takes just one group of between six and eight people.

The trail starts at Onjoka Gate, the wildlife administration centre, from where the group is driven up onto the plateau. There is no set trail to follow; the warden leading the trail will just guide you across the plateau and go wherever looks interesting. The distance covered will depend on the fitness and particular interests of the group, but 10–15km per day would be typical. This is not an endurance test, but an excellent way to get to know more about the environment with the help of an expert guide.
Unguided trail
The four-day unguided 50km trail runs during the same period, but starts every Wednesday at 09.00, and returns on Saturday. Only one group of three to ten people is allowed on the trail each week.
Walkers start at the resort office, following the road up to the Mountain View trail and then onto the top of the escarpment, where the trail itself begins. From here it is a relatively short 42km. The first night is spent at the Otjozongombe shelter, and the second and third nights at the Otjomapenda shelter, allowing you to make a circular day-walk of about 8km. This all takes place around the spectacular sandstone kopjes on the southern edge of the plateau.
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