An impressive table mountain popular with hikers and nature lovers, the extensive Waterberg Plateau is located 60km southeast of Otjiwarongo; to the east, it surveys the arid Omaheke Desert – part of the Kalahari – to the west, acacia-covered savannah. The sheer sandstone cliffs that top the plateau glow a glorious deep reddish-orange in the late afternoon sun; they are surrounded by a sloping “skirt” of scree and boulders, with patches of dense vegetation clinging onto the rock face. Water is relatively plentiful – hence the name Waterberg (“water mountain” in Afrikaans); rain filters through the porous sandstone on top, but upon reaching the impervious lower layers of mudstone and siltstone, it re-emerges as springs through fissures in the southern slopes of the plateau. Unsurprisingly, water, and the resulting abundant wildlife, has attracted human populations for many years. San rock art near one of the plateau’s waterholes testifies to their having passed through the area for thousands of years. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Herero settled in the area with their cattle, and it was here, on August 11 1904, that the decisive Battle of Omahakari (or Waterberg) was fought between the Herero, who were defying colonial rule, and the German army.
Waterberg is synonymous with hiking; in particular it’s renowned for its monthly multi-day guided and unguided hiking trails, which can be booked through the NWR office in Windhoek. However, at the time of writing, all long hikes had been suspended due to an increase in poaching of rhino; the park authorities had stepped up security but were unsure when or whether the trails would reopen. In the meantime, hikers have to make do with the handful of shorter trails (maximum 3km) leaving from the camping or chalet areas. The forty-minute hike up to the plateau rim for sunset is well worth the effort, while the Fig Tree Walk is a favourite with birders. Since park visitors are not allowed to drive themselves around the park, the only way to get to know the top of the plateau is by signing up for one of the twice-daily game drives, though the ready availability of food and water plus the dense vegetation means that wildlife sightings are often disappointing.