Naankuse is a hidden gem, in my estimation. It’s easy to overlook because it’s close to the airport — just a 30-minute drive over dirt roads — and yet it has as much to offer as many of the bigger, more flashy, exclusive, heavily promoted guest farm/conservancies up north.
I stayed for five days over four nights in mid December. I noticed that many visitors just stay the one night — to or from the airport — and there are a fair number of day visitors from the capital Windhoek, to look at the captive orphan cats and perhaps see some of the surroundings, which is a shame: One night is clearly not enough to appreciate what Naankuse has, and a quick day visit seems almost like a waste of time.
First, off: The accommodations. Naankuse is small, half a dozen or so chalet-style rooms, set out within easy walking distance of the main reception area, but designed in such a way that one has one’s privacy.
The rooms themselves are cleverly designed; they appear to be bigger than they are, but one never has the sense of being crowded. The shower is a pit area in the centre of the room, and won’t appeal to everyone’s sense of privacy. But for a solo traveler or a couple comfortable in each other’s company, the idea is unique and actually kind of original. Everything is designed for ecological efficiency — the water from the wash basins (two basins, both with a private mirror) runs off over rocks and stones for recycling.
There’s a small private veranda, air con (if needed) and plenty of ambient light. Skylight windows are built into every corner of the room, even the small cubbyhole toilet, so one rarely needs to use lights, except at night of course. I was there during a full moon, and at night the light through the skylights was almost strong enough on its own to serve as a light in its own right. Nice touches: Proper towels, big and downy. Two big, downy bathrobes — that seems an obvious perk, but even big hotel chains get that wrong. The beds are separate, large and hard without being uncomfortable. Large pillows, not the wimpy kind favoured by hotel chains. The housekeeping staff, from the nearby San Bushman community, keep the rooms spotless: Naankuse, on top of all its other attributes, appears to be kept very clean..
Smoking is not permitted, but inevitably some visitors will insist on smoking, despite the written notices. While the chalets are private from one another, they are in close enough proximity that the air can carry from one veranda to the next. Didn’t bother me too much, but it did bother me enough that I noticed it.
The food is delectable. The dinner menu is not a la carte — you’re given a choice of one of two main dishes — but the meal itself is prepared to your individual specifications. I prefer my food plain — I’m somewhat unusual in that regard — and the cooks caught on to that after a while.
The Internet is wifi and is limited to reception and the main dining area, as well as a small bar-and-library. The Internet speed is intermittent — fast one minute, slow the next — but is complimentary. It’s Africa, after all, and technically part of the Kalahari, even if it is half-an-hour from the airport.
The cost runs about $180 USD per night. That’s a lot for a backpacker, but for guest farm/conservancies in Namibia, it’s actually middle-range. There places in the north of the country where you’ll pay much more. Two people can comfortably sleep in the room (shower privacy aside), and I think the lodge can make arrangements for a children’s sleeping area as well, if you have young kids. Three adults, though, would be pushing it, in my opinion.
In terms of the conservancy itself, there’s a lot to see. One can go walking with the San bushmen in the afternoons (pre-booking necessary), take in San bushmen campfire tales late at night (also pre-book); and see the conservancies orphaned predators during feeding time. Naankuse is home to numerous problem predators (cattle killers and the like, that otherwise would be killed) and a number of orphaned animals and rescue cases that can never be released back into the wild. One three-legged cheetah, for example, lost her fourth leg to a poacher’s leg trap; she would have died a slow painful death, or been shot, if not for Naankuse’s intervention. Other captive animals include wild dogs, leopards, caracals, lions (raised by hand from cubs but much too habituated to people to ever be released safely back into the wild) and, curiously, baboons, which seem everywhere in Namibia but which, in this case, were orphaned and alone.
Naankuse also runs what seems, from my outsider’s, amateur eyes, to be a fairly extensive volunteer program, where visitors, mainly young people from Europe and South Africa, help out with the animals, help in a small San Bushman school and help the staff run what looks like a large, potentially unwieldy operation. The owners, Marlice and Rudie van Vuuren, were away on a family outing when I was there, but I understand one of the planned activities is a “behind the scenes” tour with Marlice. Naankuse has been the focus of a number of wildlife documentaries and short films, made mainly for the HD cable channels, and so it’s reputation is gaining all the time.
Jodi and Rona held down the fort during my stay, and they proved both helpful and attentive — pleasant company all around.
I’ve been to Namibia several times before, but this was my first visit in three years.
Naankuse is fairly new — it was established as recently as 2007, in its present incarnation — and so it won’t appear in any of the older guidebooks. It’s easy to overlook, as I say, but worth looking out for. Ideal for families with children. Friendly, attentive staff, and reasonably priced. (I don’t know how they do it but they insist that they’re a non-profit: 100% of the funds they raise through accommodation, excursions, activities etc. is directed right back into the conservancy.)
Naankuse is unusual, too, in that it combines two elements: Wildlife conservation, and the indigenous San Bushman community and their culture. Most, if not all, similar places in Namibia focus on one or the other.
I understand this may read a little like PR or an infomercial but, to be quite honest, I tried to think of a single negative and couldn’t come up with one.
Actually, I can think of one. If you’re looking for noise, wild parties, late nights and dance music blasting through the night, this is not the place.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The N/a’an ku se Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary is near the Airport and central Windhoek, on a 3.200 hectare big reserve. We offer Carnivore Feeding Tours, Bushman stories and stargazing dinners, Cheetah experiences and a “Behind the Scenes with Marlice” tour. Choose to stay in one of our six individual chalets or one of our eight exclusive holiday homes. We offer a dining area with award-winning cuisine, stunning views, bar and swimming pool. A delightful blend of rich ethnicity and modern luxury. The N/a’an ku se Lodge is the only Charity Lodge in Namibia, all profits from our lodge are returned back to our charitable projects. N/a’an ku se supports the local San community and activities are led by the local San. Volunteers looking to help with conservation can join the Volunteer Program offered on the N/a’an ku se Wildlife Sanctuary. The program offers volunteers the rare and exciting opportunity to work closely with and actively participate in the conservation of African wildlife. Volunteers can stay from 2 weeks to 3 months and will have the unique experience to care for our wildlife including a number of lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, caracals and baboons and many more, kept at the Sanctuary because they can unfortunately not be released into the wild again. Both experiences will leave you with great memories of Namibia while aiding in our conservation efforts which better the lives of the local San Bushmen and our animals. The N/a’an ku se Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary is the ideal place to stay at the beginning or the end of your journey through Namibia. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Naankuse Lodge And Wildlife Sanctuary Hotel Windhoek