Safaris and Conservation in The Waterberg

The Waterberg is a vast and tremendously steep plateau in Central Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo. The Waterberg plateau has stood fast and has silently watched as the land around it has been submerged in water, choked in massive sheets of ice and eroded over the millennia. The plateau is made of a much harder rock than all that surrounds it and as result it now rises 200 meters above the surrounding savannah. 

The plateau

The symbolism of the Waterberg Plateau is important to note. It has stood against time’s greatest tests and remains steadfast. It is fitting then that this plateau and the national park that sits atop it now stand steadfast in the battle for the conservation of some of Namibia’s most endangered species. 

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The Waterberg Plateau seen from the savannah.

The plateau and 405km2 of the land around the plateau were declared a national park in 1972. The plateau’s steep cliffs make it an extremely difficult region to access so the government at the time decided to designate the plateau as a space for the preservation of endangered species. In this newly formed park it was felt that at-risk and endangered species could recuperate and eventually flourish safe from the threat of poachers and human encroachment.

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A view of the surrounding savannah from the top of the plateau.

The government officials were right. In the Waterberg Plateau Park populations of black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, and antelope such as tsessebe, sable and roan are all on the increase. These species are being brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the geological features of the plateau and the never failing hard work and dedication of the park officials.

Rhino conservation

Black rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in Namibia and the world and their proliferation in the Waterberg is one of the major conservation success stories in recent times. There are only about 3,610 Black Rhino still left in the wild and thanks to programs such as those run in the Waterberg Plateau Park Namibia has 1,750 of them. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism does regular censuses in the Waterberg but keeps the numbers confidential to deflect any potential interest from high-level and well-organized poachers.

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Black rhino taking a dip in the Waterberg.
(Image courtesy of Africa and Beyond

You may not drive, but you can walk

Access to the Waterberg is strictly controlled and is only possible through a series of checkpoints. As a result one cannot simply hop in one’s car and drive around the Waterberg Plateau Park. If you want to drive through the park you will need to book a place on one of the twice daily safaris the park offers (see below).

The Waterbeg Plateau Park is however accessible in ways other national parks are not. A visitor to the park can choose from any of the many walking trails found all over the park. These trails crisscross the plateau and extend from its base to its summit. A map of the trails can be found at the NWR reception near the entrance of the park.

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Map of the park's many walking trails.
(Image courtesy of African Reservations)

The big advantage of being able to walk through the park is that you are able to experience the wildlife in a way that is totally different from other national parks in Namibia. By foot not only do you get to get up close to some of the animals that live in this park but you also get to experience the varied and beautiful flora of the park.

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Our guide Makondjo had an expert knowledge of the local flora.

Weeping WattlesKalahari Christmas Trees and the protected Leadwood Tree, can all be found in the park, growing alongside the trails and even on the face of the plateau.

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Much of the plateau's face is dotted with trees like this one.

There is even a chance that on one of these walks you will come across some of the mammals that have taken up residence in the park. Kudu, cheetahs, leopards and water buffalo are just four of the 26 species of large mammals that can all be found in the park. If you are attentive (and quiet!) you may spot and/or hear some of these animals as you traverse the park on foot. Keep a look out for tracks in the sand as you make your way along the trails and you may get lucky.

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This dik-dik was kind enough to pose for us as we made
our way along the Mountain View trail.

The bird life of the Waterberg is nothing short of astounding. With over 200 species of birds it is a birdwatchers dream. Numerous raptors such as peregrine falcons and tawny eagles are found in the park and chances are high that you will see one up close. Various vultures, including the critically endangered Cape vulture nest within the park's boundaries. According to our guide Makondjo the best walk for avid bird-watchers is the Fig Tree walk.

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Follow these signs for the Fig Tree walking trail.

All the walking trails are all clearly marked by route markers and none of the trails require you to be an expert hiker. Being in good physical condition is advisable but many patrons of the park, young and old, can navigate most of the trails with ease. If at any point you feel the going is getting too tough then simply turn around and head back the way you came. 

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When on any of the trails up the plateau just follow these painted feet.

For those who are more adventurous (and are in better shape) than most check out some of the longer multi-day hikes that the reserve has to offer.



Getting to the top of the plateau is easy, leaving the views behind is not

Safari drives

If walking and hiking is not really your thing then fear not! You can take a guided safari drive led by the resident game rangers. There is both a morning and a late afternoon drive. All you have to do is let the NWR reception know that you wish to book a place on one of these drives.

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Giraffe seen from the road whilst on the late afternoon safari drive

The drives include a visit to some of the park’s seven watering holes. These watering holes are specifically designed to be non-intrusive areas from which to watch animals in their natural environment.

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Looking out of a watering hole hide deep in the park-
patience and silence are needed if you want to capture some of the rarer game

The Waterberg's multifaceted history 

The Waterberg’s attractions are not limited to its flora and fauna. There are both anthropological and archaeological sites of interest as well. The Waterberg was the site of a major battle during the Herero uprising against the German colonial forces. There is a graveyard near the entrance to the park which commemorates soldiers lost on both sides of the conflict. The exact location of the park is on the map you can pick up from reception. 

A little harder to find are the dinosaur footprints found in the surrounding area. You will need a guide in order to find these and enquiries in this regard can be made at the NWR reception.

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Dinosaur footprint
(Image courtesy of Richard Desomme via Panoramia) 

You can stay at the NWR lodge or the private Waterberg Wilderness lodge both these lodges have the advantage of being located in the national park. The NWR lodge also has a rich history closely associated with the early German settlement in the area and is definitely worth checking out. Many of the buildings found in the park are from the early 1900's. Besides these two options there are many other options that will put you within striking distance of the park as well.

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The Waterberg Plateau Park's NWR run dining hall is a former police station that has been
reconditioned and aesthetically preserved

Why you should visit the Waterberg

The Waterberg’s unique blend of flora and fauna, and its sociological, anthropological and archaeological points of interest make it a must visit for anyone touring around Namibia. It is a bastion of conservation and relaxation. It is also a hideaway from the crowds of the bigger and more over-visited safari spots in Namibia. This park is suited for the traveller who is looking for something a little out of the ordinary on their journeys around Namibia.

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A massive tree that has grown into the rock and formed a natural slide

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