The story of private conservation in Namibia is a successful one. The national parks make up only some of all the protected areas in the country. Community conservancies make up a huge percentage of total land under protection, while private parks contribute in a big way too. In total, more than 40% of Namibia’s land is under conservation of some sort, one of the highest figures in the world for such a big country. (South Africa, by contrast, is only at 10%).
Gondwana Canyon Park in the south, adjacent to Ai-Ais National Park, is one of the more established private parks in the country – started in 1995 – and at almost 1300 square kilometres, one of the biggest too. As can be expected because of its location in one of the hottest and driest parts of the country, it doesn’t have huge numbers of animals. But as part of the transition zone between the hugely diverse Succulent Karoo and Nama Karoo biomes, it is a very important contributor to conservation in the region. Desert-adapted species like Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra and gemsbok can be easily seen, while of course there are several superb specimens of “Kokerbome”, or Quiver Trees.
I think what makes this private park particularly special though is the accommodation options, and the fact that you can experience the desert scenery without having to “rough” it too much. I acknowledge that most of the time I prefer the simple, basic wilderness experience. But after a few weeks of camping, even I miss a hot shower and a good plate of salad.
Gondwana offers several places to stay, but the best is Canyon Lodge, set among granite boulders in the middle of the vast plain east of Fish River Canyon. There are numerous thatched chalets spread in and among the boulders, a unique setting and very clever way of maintaining a sense of nature.
Canyon Lodge itself is only 21 kms from the Fish River Canyon – or about half an hour drive. This makes Gondwana Lodge (and the nearby Mountain Camp, Village and Roadhouse) an excellent alternative to the Hobas campsite, which although is closer to the canyon, doesn’t have the same facilities or service (mostly because – as a national park camp – it’s intended to be that way).
I only stayed two nights there, but Gondwana Park is so big that you need more time…and of course, it borders Ai-Ais National Park, so you could probably spend a week in the area easily.
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Conservation partners BirdLife South Africa, Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, CapeNature, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Gorongosa National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.