Early in 2011, I got a call from a journalist doing a story on Namibia for National Geographic. The Dorob National Park had just been promulgated, linking the Richtersveld Park in South Africa to the Iona National Park in Angola, consolidating the entire western margin of Namibia into a vast trans-frontier protected area.
The point of the call was that I was the chairman of an Australian mining company that had just applied for a mining licence to build the world’s second biggest uranium mine on the fringe of the Dorob Park. This seemed to him [the journalist] to be incongruous with Namibia’s stated environmental values. Having been smitten by mountain biking (which was life-changing for me) just two years earlier, I invited the journalist to accompany me on a south-to-north, “River to River” (R2R) journey to witness the incredible strides taken by independent Namibia in environmental stewardship.
This was a perfect example of a public-private partnership between the government, various NGOs and private-sector players, all cooperating in world-leading conservation and community-based natural resource management. The mines were among the strongest supporters of this best practice, and I was keen to dispel any contrary perceptions.
Fast-forward to 2019: the R2R trip never happened, for several reasons. The mine is up and running, I am retired but serving on various corporate, community and environmental boards. This was the opportunity, I thought, to do the journey, not just Orange to Kunene, but the seven rivers – a journey of discovery that would follow the perennial river systems and cross most of the ephemeral drainages. Namibia is a dry country, so the impact of these drainage systems on life and sustainability is immeasurable.
I set off from Camp Provenance on the Orange River on 13 May and headed down the river on a SunCycles e-fatbike, with my wife Clare following closely by car to record the exciting trip, the amazing people and the projects we would encounter. Heading from lodge to lodge (choosing those that are part of Namibia’s Gondwana [the tourism group I chair] Collection wherever possible), we made our way up to and through the Dorob Park, before visiting numerous communal conservancies of the north-western Kunene region.
Our primary themes were connectivity, mobility and the potential that “e-powering Namibians” holds for the development of rural and communal areas.
After interrupting the journey at Epupa Falls for board meetings in Windhoek, we hit the road again on 1 July and traversed the more densely populated Ovambo, Kavango and Zambezi regions, ending at Ngoma on the Botswana border on 16 July. In all, I cycled 4,000km (and drove 7,000km), identifying a host of connectivity and mobility projects to bed down throughout this stunning route. It was an experience of a lifetime and made us aware of how much there is to do.