The new Okonjima Plains Camp is located in Namibia's Okonjima Nature Reserve.
Okonjima Plains Camp: Our full report
Set amidst plains and rolling hills in a 220km2 private reserve just south of Otjiwarongo, Okonjima Plains Camp opened in 2014. It is the most affordable of the places to stay on the Okonjima Nature Reserve, whose raison d'etre is the AfriCat Foundation, set up to conserve and protect Namibia's threatened cheetah, leopard and other wild carnivores. A stay here gives you the opportunity to learn about these animals and to see them up close.
Namibia is home to over 20% of the world's cheetah population – the largest concentration in the world. Since 1993, AfriCat has rescued over a thousand cheetahs and leopards from Namibian farmland, returning over 85% of these animals to the wild. However, 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.
The newest of the accommodation options on the reserve, Okonjima Plains Camp has effectively replaced Okonjima Main Camp, the original Hanssen family farmhouse that was converted into the first lodge on the farm, and is now normally booked exclusively by small groups.
The focal point of Plains Camp is the enormous main area that houses the reception desk, bar and curio shop, and a large dining area and several sitting areas spread out over two levels. Rather aptly nicknamed 'The Barn', the building is indeed reminiscent of a farm barn, albeit quite a modern, industrial one with a polished concrete floor, very high metal roof and exposed beams and brickwork, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows across the entire front, facing the grassy plains. From the murals on the walls depicting life on a cattle farm, to the cattle-loading ramp near the main entrance and the swimming pool designed to look like a farm dam, the theme throughout is of a cattle ranch.
Because of its size, Plains Camp doesn't feel cosy like its more exclusive sister lodges on the reserve – Okonjima Bush Camp, Okonjima Villa and Okonjima Bush Suite – and it may even seem a little 'cold' at first. However, take some time to chat to a member of the team or to walk around and perhaps, like we did, you'll start to feel more in touch with the place. In pride of place, pictures of smiling family and team members line the wall in the dining area, while opposite, on the lounge side, family photographs of years gone by honour the cattle-farming history of the Hanssen family. We particularly liked the cooling 'windmill' ceiling fans, while in winter, warmth emanates from woodburners that are spaced between the homemade polished-metal dining tables and numerous sofas.
Outside, the setting is completed by an alfresco sitting area and, to the side, a barbecue and a couple of pizza ovens. There is also a small pool, which is, surrounded by manicured lawns dotted with sunloungers and shaded areas to relax out of the sun.
With a total of 24 rooms, Okonjima Plains Camp is larger than its predecessor, with two types of room: 14 Standard Rooms (ten of which were formerly the 'View Rooms' from Main Camp) and 10 View Rooms, which are larger and brand new.
Despite the names, both our recommended room types offer views out towards the plain in front of camp. All are comfortable, but the new View Rooms have a larger bedroom, bathroom and outside veranda than the Standard Rooms. In addition, a little more attention has been paid to their décor and they are spaced further apart for added privacy.
Nonetheless, all the rooms are spacious, and beautifully designed with light hues of blues and greens, and splashes of bright colours. The walls are decorated with painted wooden African artwork and photographs of Okonjima's carnivores; brightly handcrafted giraffe carvings stand tall around the room and woollen rugs and mats are scattered on the polished concrete floors. Each room has a private veranda with two comfortable canvas chairs and a small table, and shaded parking is an additional feature – useful as rooms furthest from the main area are quite a hike.
The main bedroom area has huge windows, letting in plenty of light and affording great views of the plains from your bed. Two double beds, which can be pushed together to make one king-size bed, lie beneath two ceiling fans, while hot-water bottles are provided for cooler evenings. Behind the headboard are shelves and hanging space, and each room has a tea/coffee station, a small selection of books, a safe and a telephone to contact reception.
The bathroom is a good size and has twin washbasins, with large wall mirrors and a vanity area with a retro-style stool and a make-up/shaving mirror. There is also a mini fridge where you can keep bottled water and drinks. Off this is a separate toilet and at the other end of the bathroom is a large walk-in shower, with single shower heads in the Standard Rooms and twin shower heads in the new View Rooms.
For families, two of the View Rooms and four of the Standard Rooms are configured as adjoining units with an interleading door. Along with the new design of the camp, we noticed a much more relaxed attitude towards families and children as young as six or seven years old, although parents still need to be aware of some restrictions to activities, in place for safety reasons.
Activities at Plains Camp, as at its sister camps, are varied, but here, with the exception of the self-guided walking trails, all activities cost extra. They can either be pre-booked and paid for in advance, or arranged and paid for at the camp.
Without doubt the main attraction of the Okonjima Reserve is the chance to track big cats and carnivores. Radio-tracking leopard and/or spotted hyena is from game-viewing vehicles (when you could well come across animals such as giraffe and mountain zebra, too), while for those staying at least two nights, rehabilitated cheetah can be tracked on foot (though do note that this involves an early start, at around 5.30am, returning for breakfast at about 9.00am). On our most recent visit to the reserve in December 2015, we successfully tracked a beautiful young leopard just as the sun was setting; and the following morning, following a lengthy drive across the reserve, we tracked cheetah on foot and watched in awe as they feasted on their kill from the night before. A stay of one or two nights at Okonjima will usually give you the chance to see big cats at close range, although sightings can never be guaranteed.
Depending on your length of stay at Okonjima, you could also include a visit to AfriCat's Information & Carnivore Care Day Centre, which offers a valuable insight into the work of the AfriCat Foundation. Visits are organised daily at 11.00am, and last between 1½ and 2 hours. Guests who have checked out of the camp but want to leave later can take this in at the end of their stay, perhaps relaxing at the day centre, enjoying a swim or having lunch until they are ready to leave.
Okonjima also has a series of marked walking trails. Guests may follow those within the fenced area encompassing the camp and lodges on their own, perhaps keeping a look out for birds along the way, or take the 'Bushman Trail' with one of the guides to get an insight into how these ancient people set up homesteads, made fire and hunted their prey. After dinner, there is also the option to join a guided 4WD night drive in the reserve. However please be aware that the night visit to the hide is no longer offered from Plains Camp.
Our viewDespite its increased size and change in design, Okonjima Plains Camp has retained a relaxed, informal and friendly atmosphere. It is an ideal base for those wanting to visit the Africat Foundation, and stay in tasteful accommodation with all the amenities and facilities that go with a good-quality lodge but without a very high price tag. It also offers great photographic opportunities for the big cats (plus some smaller creatures too!).
Ideal length of stay: At least two nights is best if you want the opportunity to do most of the activities at Okonjima, particularly tracking leopard and cheetah. However, if time is limited, a one-night stay should give you an idea of what the AfriCat Foundations does, and with luck you will 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 the Plains Camp.
Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Owned by the Hanssen family
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Half Board
Food quality: We didn't get a chance to sample the food on our most recent visit in December 2015, as we dined at Okonjima Bush Camp, but on previous visits to the old Main Camp the food has been of a very high standard.
Before setting out on the early morning activity, guests are offered tea/coffee and muffins to keep you going until your return, when a full brunch is served. This is usually an array of cereals, bread, cheese and cold meat, fruit, yoghurts, and a full cooked breakfast of your choice, such as eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, omelettes and pancakes.
A set menu lunch is available. In 2016 this cost N$165 (about £9/US$12) per person, rising to N$200 (about £11/US$14) per person for 2017.
Dinner at Okonjima has always been a real treat. When we last stayed we had a tasty soup with freshly baked bread rolls still warm from the oven, followed by beef roulette with broccoli, carrots and spicy rice and finished with a wonderful plate of poached pears with vanilla ice cream drizzled with red wine syrup. All the dishes were beautifully presented and we got to meet the chef during the main course. Okonjima has a good selection of local and South Africa wines to compliment the lovely dinners.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Drinks included: Tea and coffee are included. All other drinks are extra.
Further dining info: No
Birdwatching: Okonjima boasts birdlife typical of Namibia's Central Highlands. The guided or self-guided walks pass by a variety of watering points, including dams, lakes and even bird-baths – making a lovely addition to a Namibian birdwatching break.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Namibia
Photography holidays: For close-up shots of the big cats – especially leopard and cheetah – Okonjima should be high on your list. Activities work on a two-day cycle, so allow yourself at least two days here to maximise your chances of good photographs. Be aware, though, that most of the cats are collared.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Namibia
Wildlife safaris: Visitors at Okonjima usually have the chance to view big cats at much closer quarters than is possible in most national parks. Most of the animals on the reserve are habituated to humans, so are fairly relaxed around people and vehicles.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Namibia
Walking: There are guided and self-guided walks around Okonjima, and if you chose the latter you'll be able to take a radio in case of emergency. This is a good spot for walking in Namibia and exploring some African bush on foot.See more ideas for Walking in Namibia
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at Plains Camp, but for safety reasons, there are restrictions on the ages of children allowed on activities. Well-behaved children aged six and over are allowed on activities conducted in a vehicle. Those between the ages of three and six may visit the Africat Information & Carnivore Care Centre. For tracking cheetah on foot, there is a minimum height restriction, so the age limit will depend on the height and age of a child – though the minimum age limit is normally at least 12 years.
Property’s age restrictions: No minimum age limit to stay at the camp.
Special activities & services: There are no special activities for young children
Equipment: Highchairs and cots are available on request. These should be arranged in advance.
Generally recommended for children: Okonjima’s adoption of a more child-friendly approach in recent years makes it more suitable for children than it used to be. However, with strict age restrictions for activities, we think it’s still most suitable – and likely to be more interesting – for children aged six and over.
Notes: Children must be under the constant supervisioin of their parents at all times. The pool is not fenced and despite a fence around what Okonjima term as the ‘safe zone’, there is some wildlife (warthogs, antelope, zebra, giraffe etc) in the area.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There are plug points in each room for charging batteries and electronic equipment.
Communications: There is normally cellphone reception at Okonjima, and there is a central telephone in The Barn. The camp has a computer with internet access for guest use, as well as WiFi, in the main area.
TV & radio: No
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: All rooms have plumbed-in showers and hand basins, and flushing toilets.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: No
Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Otjiwarongo, about 40 minutes' drive from Okonjima.
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: In Place
Laundry facilities: Laundry can be done at an extra charge and costs around N$10–40 per item. Weather permitting, laundry collected in the morning will normally 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: Okonjima accepts Visa or MasterCard credit or debit cards. Payments can also be made in cash with Namibian dollars, South African rands, US dollars, euros or pounds sterling.