It’s a quirk of life that the smallest, perhaps most insignificant, decisions can have an enormous effect on the trajectory of our life, loves and careers. Like the butterfly effect of small variations cascading into major change, binary choices have an impact too. Left or right. Stay or go. This one or that one.
And it was only by chance that Stephan Brückner, founder of Wolwedans in Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve, picked up a copy of ‘The Second Curve’ by Charles Handy before a flight home from Victoria Falls.
“Handy says that in every organisation, at a certain time, you need to reinvent yourself otherwise you might miss the boat,” says Brückner. “When I read that it really sounded familiar. I realised that the first curve for Wolwedans had already dipped and it was time for a rethink.”
For almost 30 years, Wolwedans has been regarded as one of the most remarkable destinations in Southern Africa; an immersive desert experience in the heart of the 215,000ha NamibRand Nature Reserve. What began as a few dome tents — pitched atop wooden platforms with the aim of generating cash flow to fund the Reserve — would mushroom into four camps offering 56 beds and employing more than a hundred Namibians.
But even before Covid-19 hit, Brückner realised that Wolwedans had lost its touch.
“We had become so focused on sustainability, in a way we neglected the camps,” says Brückner. “And we were so used to there always being guests arriving, we had become a bit complacent.”
The camps had begun to look a little tired, the vehicle fleet a little battered, the staff off their game. With increased competition from striking new lodges in the region, Brückner knew something had to change.
That sparked a major refurbishment of this iconic desert destination, refreshing tired interiors across camps that enjoy some of the most remarkable locations Africa has to offer. Dune Camp is today the flagship, perched on the dunes where Brückner and his father Albi — who established the NamibRand — first pitched those tents in 1995 to start Wolwedans. Plunge pools, wide decks and firepits with a view come standard.
Then there’s far-flung Plains Camp, a glorious four-bedroom villa cast adrift amid a sea of sand. By mid-2023 Boulders Camp will reopen too, tucked up tight against a tumble of granite monoliths to offer an exploration of the NamibRand’s deep south.
But the upgrades and refurbishments aren’t only about soft touches and creature comforts.
Wolwedans is a founding member of The Long Run, a collective of nature-based tourism businesses committed to holistic sustainability built on four pillars of community, culture, conservation and commerce.
“With the change at Wolwedans we wanted to bring in a fifth C, in consciousness,” explains Brückner. “Becoming more conscious about everything. How we travel, how we live, how we consume.”
That’s filtered into all aspects of the guest experience at the reimagined Wolwedans camps, focusing on reducing consumption in all its forms and encouraging guests to stop and take in the absolute silence of the desert.
“Of course, we will still do drives and so on, but we want the experience to be more physical,” says Brückner. “More walking, more cycling. A lower carbon output. The walks are an amazing way to discover the microfauna away from cars, and it is so liberating to cycle through this desert.”
Wolwedans has run on solar energy from the beginning, and today that’s used to charge the new fleet of e-bikes, fitted with fat tyres for exploring the desert in near silence. There’s an art studio for guests to get creative with pottery and leatherwork, and a new focus on the ‘Heart and Home’ experience, introducing guests to the Wolwedans Village and Desert Academy, which offers hospitality training for young Namibians.
It’s these experiences that Brückner sees as the real magic of the new Wolwedans.
“We are luxurious in a different way. It’s about the space you have here, the closeness to nature. We don’t have sliding glass doors because it’s a nature experience. It’s not a hotel room in the desert.”