Sesfontein was named after the 'six springs' that surface nearby. It stands in the Hoanib Valley and marks the northern edge of Damaraland. The road from Palmwag, the D3706, makes an interesting drive in a normal 2WD vehicle, and passes through a narrow gap in the mountains just before this small town. North of town, the going gets much tougher.
Sesfontein is a dusty but photogenic spot, set between mountains in the Hoanib Valley. The local vegetation is dominated by umbrella thorns (Acacia tortilis), the adaptable mopane (Colophospermum mopane, recognised by its butterfly-shaped leaves), and the beautiful, feathery real fan palms (Hyphaene petersiana). You will often be offered the 'vegetable ivory' seeds of these palms, carved into various designs, as souvenirs by the local people – which are highly recommended, as often the sellers are the carvers, and it is far less destructive than buying carvings of wood.
In the earlier part of this century, the German administrators made Sesfontein into an important military outpost. They wanted to control movement of stock around the country, after the severe rinderpest epidemic in 1896. So in 1901 they built a fort here, complete with running water and extensive gardens to grow their own supplies. However, by the start of World War I this had been abandoned, and it is only in the last few years that this has been renovated into a picturesque new lodge.
Sesfontein still feels like an outpost in many ways, despite being an important centre for the local people, who live by farming goats and the occasional field of maize. The efficiency of the foraging goats is witnessed by the lack of vegetation lower than the trees, and hence the clouds of fine dust which often hang in the valley's air.
Sesfontein offers the adventurous an interesting view of a real town, not sanitised by the colonial designs of townships. It is spread out, and very relaxed. If you're staying here, then try to rise early to watch the village come to life. On most days the national anthem will drift across the cool air, beautifully sung by the school within earshot of the fort. Watch as the farmers drive their cattle to water, and smartly dressed workers head for town.
In the afternoon there are always a few people about, and there's no better way to watch village life than sitting with a cold drink on the steps of one of the shops – though you may attract a crowd of playful children. If you are just passing through then you'll find the supplies in these shops useful, and there is a convenient petrol station here. There is little other fuel available between Sesfontein and the Kunene, except at Opuwo.
Where to stay
If you've passed the Khowarib and Ongongo campsites, mentioned above, then Fort Sesfontein is the area's only other place to stay.Fort Sesfontein
(13 double rooms, camping sites) PO Box 22114, Windhoek; tel: 065 275534/5; fax: 065 275533; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.natron.net/tour/sesfontein/lodged.htm
Opened in 1995, Fort Sesfontein is one of the most original and imaginative places to appear since independence. The fort has been rebuilt more or less to its old plans, set around a lush central courtyard full of palm trees and fountains. The rooms are spacious and rustically decorated, with en-suite facilities and fans – which are as essential as the swimming pool: Sesfontein can get very hot. The old officers' mess is now a large bar/lounge with sitting and dining areas. Given its remote location, the standards of food and service in the lodge are superb.
Electricity is from a generator, which runs for most of the day, but if you need a TV, or contact with the outside world, then you are in the wrong place. There is no direct phone or fax here. The difficult radio-telephone, via Walvis Bay, is the swiftest way to communicate in an emergency.
If you don't have your own 4WD then the lodge can organise full-day (N$1,100 per vehicle) or half-day (N$600 per vehicle) tours to local Himba villages, with a guide. Judge the sensitivity of these yourself, but it is a good sign that the lodge insists that you also pay for a package of food for the village that you visit. A full-day tour down the Hoanib River Valley also costs N$1,100 per vehicle, and includes lunch. If you haven't got a vehicle at all, then there is a 2km landing strip at Sesfontein, from which the lodge will collect you.
What to see and do
Aside from relaxing in town, to explore further into Kaokoland is difficult. For most people, the best way to see the area is on an organised trip: either one pre-arranged with a specialist before you arrive, or a day-trip arranged by Fort Sesfontein.