The Story of the bronze plaque and the two fires

From Tree Tops to Camp Kala

Camp Kala stands proud on the banks of a large and scenic waterhole called “Guantsas”, one of three natural springs found on the Onguma Reserve. This has always been a very busy and game rich waterhole frequented by wild animals and humans throughout history.

Tree Top Camp

During the planning and building stage of Onguma Tented Camp in 2006, a novel idea started forming in the head of Andre Louw. This idea was to offer guests staying at the soon to be opened Onguma Tented Camp, a bush walking activity from Tented camp to Guantsas. This original idea then developed into a possible sleep out venue and from there it spiraled into “why not build another small rustic lodge”. So, from this humble idea the original Tree Tops Camp evolved. Built with leftovers from the Tented Camp build site, construction was started on the new Tree Tops lodge to finally open its doors in late 2006. It comprised of 4 magical tree houses built on stilts and connected with wooden walkways. It was built out of a combination of canvas, wood and thatch giving guests gallery seats to the out-door theatre overlooking the waterhole. Styled in rich shades of orange and earthy tones of browns, Treetop was a success story from the start with the adventurous guests loving the rustic yet stylish feel of the lodge.

The rooms were on the “smaller” side, and not very private, encouraging a very “in-doors –outdoors” lifestyle, with only outdoor showers and private toilets. The main guest area featured an open-plan kitchen giving guests the opportunity to interact with the chefs and to keep an eye on the meal preparations. It was an ideal lodge for exclusive use and guests would arrive as guests, become friends and depart as family.

The Fires

Unfortunately, one evening in November 2019, during a severe thunderstorm, one of the tree houses received a direct lighting strike and subsequently caught fire and burnt down. Fortunately, nobody was injured, and the fire was quickly contained but it did mean that sadly the lodge was now down to three rooms. After some quick remedial adjustments, the lodge was once again open for business in about a week. Straightaway plans were made to rebuild but, unfortunately, the world was taken by surprise with the outbreak of Covid 19 pandemic in February 2020. Namibia went into full lockdown in March 2020 and the lodge was forced into a total closedown. However, the Onguma team went into hyperdrive using this “downtime” to overhaul, refurbish and upgraded Treetop.

After months of Covid 19 uncertainty, and a lot of hard work by the Onguma teams, work was completed, and everything was ready to re-open Treetop lodge. 1 day before the re-opening in September 2020, a suspected electrical fault, a hidden remnant of the previous lightning strike, caused a fire in one of the rooms and went unattended as the lodge was unoccupied at the time. After seeing smoke and hearing loud gas bottles explode, our fire teams arrived on the scene to find the entire main building and two rooms ablaze. The team tried their best, but unfortunately it was out of control and all they could do was try to contain the blaze. A very sad and devastating day indeed, and the end of Treetops camp as we all knew and loved it. This fire damaged bronze plaque is a sad reminder of that day and was recovered out of the ashes.

Camp Kala

However, this was not going to dampen the Onguma spirit, and the team got right down to planning its re-birth. FoxBrowne Creative, in collaboration with Nicholas Plewman Architects, was tasked with reimaging the new camp, on the existing site. Architecturally the same footprint for the new camp had to be used apart from the guest areas which had to be relocated. The brief was to totally reinvent the lodge giving it a strong identity with in the Onguma portfolio and celebrating the Etosha region, its culture, and the natural environment. An entire new identity for the new camp had to be created and thus Onguma Camp Kala was born.

The design takes its inspiration from the region and the site itself, inspired by the pale salt pans of the region, and the traditional Hai//kom Bushman, a hunter gatherer people of the region. The organic shapes, natural texture and forms take their cue from the prolific termite mounds of the region.

The color palate is made up of shades of ebony and ivory. The overall effect is a simple and elegant combination of natural textures. After 9 months of construction, on 14 October 2022, our new and exciting Camp Kala was born!
From the ashes our Phoenix has risen once again.