Welcome to the intimate Okonjima Bush Camp…
Okonjima Bush Camp: Our full report
The rolling hills and grassy plains of the Okonjima Nature Reserve, just south of Otjiwarongo, are home to Okonjima Bush Camp. The 220km2 resesrve is also the base for the AfriCat Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up to conserve and protect Namibia’s threatened cheetah, leopard and other wild carnivores. From this small camp, guests are invited to learn about Namibia’s big cats, with excellent opportunities to view them at close quarters.
Bush Camp has several sister camps on the same large reserve – the larger Okonjima Plains Camp, private four-bedroom Villa and just next door, the two-bedroom Bush Suite. All are within a range of about 5–10km of each other, and between them they offer a range of accommodation with different price brackets.
Namibia is home to over 20% of the world’s cheetah population – the largest concentration in the world. Since 1993, AfriCat has rescued over 1,000 cheetahs and leopards from Namibian farmland, returning over 85% of these animals to the wild. A few of the cheetahs at Okonjima were either orphaned or removed from the wild at a very young age, so do not know how to hunt for themselves. These are cared for within the AfriCat welfare programme.
So, as with its sibling properties at Okonjima, big cats remain the big attraction of Bush Camp and are the basis of most activities. A stay here of one or – better – two nights will usually give you the chance to see big cats at close range. From game-viewing vehicles, guests have the opportunity to radio-track leopard and/or spotted hyena or wild dog. Stay at least two nights and you can normally also track rehabilitated cheetah on foot. We last visited Okonjima in July 2014 and successfully tracked leopard, cheetah and also wild dogs. Although the dogs were very shy, the leopard and cheetah seemed unperturbed by our presence; resulting in some fantastic photo opportunities! We were fortunate in our successes, but in a reserve of this size bear in mind that sightings can never be guaranteed.
The Okonjima Reserve is also home to a wealth of other wildlife. Although the focus is normally very much on tracking the cats, on our activities the guides were informative and we stopped to watch oryx, giraffe and mountain zebra, and we had a superb sighting of the normally very shy and diminutive Damara dik-dik – one of Africa’s smallest antelope.
Depending on your length of stay at Okonjima, you could also include a visit to AfriCat’s Information & Carnivore Care Centre, which offers a valuable insight into the work of the AfriCat Foundation.
Additionally, guests may follow the marked walking trails – within the fenced area encompassing the camp and lodges – on their own, perhaps keeping a look out for birds along the way, or take a guided walk on the ‘Bushman Trail’ to get an insight into how these ancient people set up homesteads, made fire and hunted their prey. After dinner, you could join a guided 4WD night drive in the reserve or – an option that is not usually possible from other camps on the reserve – visit a night hide where you might spot the more elusive nocturnal animals such as porcupine and honey badger.
Bush Camp has just eight chalets and also a honeymoon suite. Spaced 80–100m apart, for privacy, the thatched clay chalets are styled on traditional circular African dwellings (or rondavels) with conical thatched roofs. The rooms are decorated in a warm terracotta colour, enlivened by carvings and artefacts, such as painted white giraffes. We thought the effect quite pleasing and unfussy, if a little dated and tired in places. That said, we understand from our most recent visit that Okonjima plans to update the décor and make slight improvements to the design of the rooms, hence the camp will be closed from the 5th of January to the 30th of April 2015..
Each chalet has a large queen-size bed, or twin beds, and a sunken lounge with a couch that can be turned into an extra (smallish) bed if needed. Each is also equipped with a ceiling fan, a small safe, a minibar that is stocked on request, a hairdryer, insect repellent and a telephone, as well as tea/coffee-making facilities. To the rear of the chalet, separated from the bedroom by sculpted inner walls, is the en-suite bathroom with a shower, twin sinks and separate toilet.
Large open ‘windows’ to the front allow in plenty of light and afford terrific views of the grassy plains – and sometimes the warthogs or antelope that grace them – from your bed. Canvas flaps above these ‘windows’ can be rolled down at night. At present, the chalets have no verandas as such, but each has a small shaded area, in front of which is a small bird bath/waterhole where it’s not unusual for smaller antelope or warthogs to drink. A jar of birdseed is provided in each chalet, too; scattering some of this in front of your chalet will attract a variety of birds, and if you sit still enough, it’s possible to get some great pictures.
With similar amenities, but quite different in design, the honeymoon suite is a rectangular room with large sliding glass doors in front of the bed. It also differs in that there is a fireplace in the lounge, as well as a bathtub and an outdoor shower.
The main area at Okonjima Bush Camp is one of our favourite parts of the camp. A large curved building, it overlooks a manicured lawn with a pond, and grassy plains beyond. It has three quite distinct areas: the reception and a curio shop; a dining room with beautiful, heavy wooden tables; and a large and very inviting lounge with a fireplace, and the bar. There is almost always a member of the team around if you need anything and when we stayed, nothing seemed too much trouble. Around the side of the building, and slightly raised, is a good-size swimming pool, with sunloungers and shaded areas to relax out of the sun.
Our viewWhile in need of a bit of updating in some areas, the generally high standards of care, attentive service and delicious food make Okonjima Bush Camp a very comfortable camp. Over many visits, knowledgeable guides have also made it highly memorable. We’ve returned home with a wealth of information about Namibia’s carnivores, and some fantastic photographs of leopard and cheetah in particular.
Ideal length of stay: At least two nights are best to do most of the activities, particularly tracking leopard and cheetah. However, if limited for time, on a one-night stay you should be able to get an idea of what the AfriCat Foundations does, and with luck see some cats.
Directions: 48km south of Otjiwarongo on the B1 you will see a clearly marked signpost for Okonjima. Head west for about 24km along this track and follow the signs directing you towards Bush Camp.
Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Independent / Owner Run
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Whenever planning a visit to Okonjima, we always look forward to the meals here; sometimes imaginative and often well presented, they have rarely disappointed us.
A light breakfast is on offer for those going out on a morning activity. It's an early start, so it’s normally a small selection of cereals, muffins, fruit, tea and coffee. On your return, a much larger full breakfast buffet, consists of the usual selection of bread, toast, muffins, cereals, yoghurt, fruit, juice, cold meat and cheeses, as well as a hot breakfast with bacon and eggs cooked to order.
Lunch is usually quite informal and may be a salad or light meal. On our most recent visit in July 2014 we had a very tasty chicken wrap served with a side salad.
We recommend leaving some space for afternoon tea. We particularly enjoyed (read ‘ate far too many of’) the lamingtons and individual custard tarts!
Dinner is a three-course plated meal. We tucked into lentil soup with warm bread rolls, followed by game steak served with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and polished off by a decadent and warming sticky toffee pudding.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of house wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra.
Further dining info: No
Birdwatching: The guided and self-guided walks around Okonjima can be excellent for birdwatching, and the lodge itself has a variety of watering points, bird-baths, dams and lakes that help to attract in the local birdlife.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Namibia
Photography holidays: For close-up shots of big cats – especially leopard and cheetah – Okonjima should be high on your list. Activities work on a two-day cycle, so allow at least two days here to maximise your chances of good photographs. Be aware, though, that most cats are collared.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Namibia
Wildlife safaris: Visitors at Okonjima will usually have the chance to view big cats at much closer quarters than is possible in most national parks. Most of the animals are habituated to humans so are fairly relaxed around people and vehicles.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Namibia
Attitude towards children: Okonjima Bush Camp welcomes well-behaved children over the age of 12 years.
Property’s age restrictions: Bush Camp has a minimum age limit of 12 years.
Special activities & services: None
Generally recommended for children: Although we think that Bush Camp would be acceptable for children over the age of 12, they might feel more at ease at. Plains Camp, which is much more geared towards families. They are also much more likely to meet other children at Plains Camp.
Notes: Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents at all times.The pool is not fenced and despite the fence around what they term as the ‘safe zone’ for the camps on the reserve, there is some wildlife (warthogs, antelope, zebra, giraffe etc) in the area. Warthogs – not tame! – often graze on the lawns in front of the main area.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There is a back-up generator in case the mains power fails. Each chalet has plug points, as well as a hairdryer, electric kettle and bar fridge.
Communications: There is cellphone reception in the rooms and in the main area. There are normally telephones in each of the rooms, with internal lines only. WiFi is available in the main area.
TV & radio: None
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All rooms have showers and hand basins that are plumbed in, with flushing toilets. The honeymoon suite has a plumbed-in bathtub.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Otjiwarongo, about 40 minutes' drive from Okonjima. In a medical emergency, the camp can arrange for travellers to be flown to Windhoek.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: The whole reserve is fenced and there are guards at the main entrance gate.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in each room and in the central areas.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included. Weather permitting, laundry collected in the morning will be returned the same day.
Money: Each room has a small safe for storing valuables. There are no currency-exchange facilities available.
Accepted payment on location: The camp accepts Visa or MasterCard credit and debit cards. Payments can also be made in cash with Namibian dollars, South African rands, US dollars, euros or pounds sterling.