Blogged by Anne
Kaokoland is the province in the far north west corner of Namibia, bordering Angola. It is known for very challenging roads, largely 4×4 only and impassable in the rainy season. A number of areas (such as the Marienfluss) are tricky to reach without some difficult driving such as the notorious Van Zyl’s pass. Because we are alone and lacking in 4×4 experience, we decided to be sensible and stick to main-ish routes. We did meet plenty of people on their way to attempt Van Zyl’s, often alone and in rentals, but pretty much everyone we spoke to who has done it says not to do it alone.
Our first destination was a village called Puros on the banks of the Hoarusib river. The drive on the ‘main’ road from Palmwag via Sesfontein was stunning, travelling though wide, grassy valleys surrounded by mountains. The road was heavily corrugated, and in places the official road travels in the river bed with some thick sand. We camped at the Puros Ngatutanga camp which has six camp sites, each with their own ablutions and washing up and braai area. The campsites are on the bank of the river and were partially washed away in February, but are back up and running now. It’s a wonderfully remote spot, with wild animals roaming around (we saw giraffe and antelope as well as spoor of lions and elephants), probably the most remote spot we will visit in Namibia.
From Puros, we backtracked a bit to Sesfontein where we stopped for an expensive drink at the old German fort, now a hotel, and then on to Opuwo. The landscape and climate around Opuwo are noticeable different from the desert areas we had been in, much cooler (early 30s rather than early 40s) and more bushveld than desert. In Opuwo we stayed at the Opuwo Country Lodge (http://www.opuwolodge.com), a very pleasant place with a beautiful view. The hotel does also have a campsite although we decided to give it a skip. It seems that we can tolerate moving camp twice or so, before we get annoyed and book a proper room. Opuwo has a decent OK supermarket where you can stock up on pretty much everything, including meat (not the greatest selection but good wors), dairy products and general groceries. We also managed to replace the garlic which was sacrificed to the corrugations – John and Liz’s freezer will never smell the same again.
Although Opuwo is pretty nondescript, medium sized town, we found it quite interesting from a cultural perspective. Even outside of the ever-present tourist villages, many Himba and Herero people (especially women) wear their traditional outfits. Like many other places in the world, men are more likely to be wearing Western clothes. You see topless Himba ladies covered in ochre and Herero ladies in full Victorian dresses (copied from missionary wives) with elaborate headpieces going about their lives, shopping, drawing cash and so on. Although we understand that cultural tourism is an important source of income for these people, we feel uncomfortable paying people to pose for photos, so you can see pictures and learn more about the Namibian culture on Wikpedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himba_people and https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herero_people.
From Opuwo, we headed about 3 hours north to the Epupa falls which is on the Kunene river on the border with Angola. We stayed at the Epupa Falls Lodge campsite (http://epupafallslodge.com) for two nights, overlooking the falls. Although the campsite has the potential to be a bit cramped, it wasn’t busy, and is in a beautiful spot with a bar/restaurant overlooking part of the falls. The constant waterfall roar drowns out any noise. No real electricity (except some solar to charge phones), no ice and if you want fuel you need to buy it in a can from a guy called Owen. We checked out a few of the other accommodation options and Epupa Camp looked nice for the non-campers although our camp also had comfortable looking tree houses. There is are excellent views of the falls a short walk and/or drive away and they are really impressive, with hundreds of small waterfalls spread over 1.5km, dotted with baobabs and massive figs.
After Epupa, we backtracked inland a bit and then joined the river again at a wonderful camp called Kunene River Lodge (http://www.kuneneriverlodge.com). This was probably our favourite campsite so far, mostly because of the beautiful, quiet stretch of river on which it is situated. The life around camp is impressive with 280+ species of bird, tame monitor lizards, plenty of other reptiles and bats. The campsites are nicely spread out with good power supplies. There is even wifi which enabled Dave to catch up a bit with his part of the blog. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, don’t miss the white water rafting. The rapids are mostly grade 3 or 4 for about 6km, which are not too rough but big enough to make for a really fun morning out. We were real impressed with the guides and general organization. You can find some good pics and videos here https://www.facebook.com/Kunene-River-White-Water-Rafting-179524575447650/ You can also do Himba visits and various bird expeditions from the lodge, most notably to see the area’s two ‘specials’ – the Cinderella waxbill and the Angolan cave chat (the only known pair in Southern Africa). We finished our trip with a sunset boat ride with the excellent birder who owns the lodge.
Our last Kaokoland stop was the magnificent Ruacana falls. We took the river road from Kunene which was quite wet resulting in some fairly technical diversions and a bit of wading – 50km in 2 hours. The falls themselves rival Victoria falls in impressiveness but are very unreliable because the water is often (more than half the year) diverted for the hydro power station. Luckily the Kunene River Lodge team phoned ahead to confirm the flow for us. The best view of the falls is after the very badly signposted border post – they let you through without passports to get to the view site. The views is something special, over 100m vertical drop, 700m wide and amongst the largest in Africa.
There isn’t much else to do in Ruacana, so we headed straight on to Kamanjab for a one night stopover before the next phase of our trip in Etosha.
Cumulative distance since leaving Joburg 5865km
Cumulative bird count 142
- epauletted fruit bats
- water monitor lizard