Hardap Dam: A place where time stands still

Posted on 17 February 2012

Mariental is not an obvious place to stop, but it does have one attraction- the Hardap Dam. If you’ve ever had the privilege of travelling around Namibia, you’ll be familiar with one specific reoccurring view from the front seat: An incredibly vast stretch of land, some ankle high bushes and a straight road that refuses to turn no matter how far you squint into the distance. You’ll also know that after about a day of exploring, road signs promising only 300 km between one town and the next seem fair- it even seems close.

And yet, even though there are hundreds of kilometers between towns, it often happens that you drive by many of them. Understandable, seeing as there’s probably so much driving left to do for the day that it would be a waste of time to turn off when there’s a perfectly adequate petrol station on the side of the road.

Mariental is one of those drive-by towns. Only about 270km south of Windhoek (the place where all the fun usually begins and ends), chances are unlikely that you’ll stop here whether you’re on your way there or on your way back. There’s also a big Engen garage with the lovely complimentary Wimpy on the other side of the road, ready to give you anything you might need as you speed along.

Mariental does, however, have one rather interesting attraction, which is conveniently placed just outside town. It’s not your typical must-see, but it definitely provides for a different kind of tourist experience.

The Hardap Dam is Namibia’s biggest reservoir. With a surface area of 25 km², it supplies many of these drive-by towns with endless amounts of water. Normally the resort here would be a popular holiday destination, with bungalows overlooking the water, a swimming pool and many activities to enjoy in, on and around the dam. At the moment, however, the resort is closed for restoration, giving a visit to the dam a different kind of appeal.

As you stand on one of the lookout points in between the deserted bungalows and the equally deserted main building, the deafening stillness of the surroundings compliment the mass of quiet water, as its shores twist and turn and form giant bays here and there. Even the dassies have grown accustomed to the lack of activity and they look at you in surprised shock as if to say, what the hell are you doing here?

Normally there would be lots of activity on the water. Now the two boats pulling along people on water skis disappear in this vast amount of brownish-blue and as you stand on the dam wall you can barely hear their insignificant shouts and cheers. Where once there was a swimming pool and lapa, which used to entertain happy, sunny people, there is now only a sign pointing to a bare piece of concrete and the drained innards of what could have been a cool, blue pool.

But this forgotten space has a unique beauty to it. It creates an absolute sense of calm, like the world outside has stopped paying attention for a few minutes and you’re free to just sit back and enjoy a place where time seems to stand still; where it might even be moving a little bit backward.

The dam is surrounded by a nature reserve and the visit is rounded off perfectly with a drive around, in search of a few gazelle and oryx. With the ranger at the gate being the only person present on the entire drive, the animals are at ease – perfect game viewing circumstances.

I don’t know when the resort will open again, though it doesn’t look like much work is being done on it at all, so if you happen to drive out of Namibia after an exhilarating week of game viewing and adventure, why not make a quick stop here and experience the quiet. Feel how it would be in a world where time didn’t matter.


Getaway Accommodation has some wonderful places to stay in Mariental!

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