After driving approximately 2,400 kilometres in 3 days we finally arrive in Kamanjab. We are on our way to Kaokoland, the remote wilderness area in north-western Namibia. This is the first leg of a 4-week long overland adventure which will also take us through Ovamboland, Boesmanland and the Caprivi in Namibia before crossing the border into Botswana. In Botswana we will visit the Chobe river, Linyanti, Savuti and Moremi before heading back home.
Kamanjab is the last town where we are guaranteed to get fuel before we head into the remote wilderness of Kaokoland. We won’t pass through any other towns for at least the next 4 days. So I make sure that my Toyota’s two diesel tanks (140 litres) as well as two additional jerrycans, each containing 25 litres, are full. The roads in Kaokoland are notoriously bad and you can never be too conservative when calculating the anticipated fuel consumption. The first town where we are guaranteed to get fuel is Opuwo, at least 950 kilometres of driving if we stick to our planned route. We eventually reach our campsite at Hoada in Damaraland, where we will stay and relax for the next two nights. We are treated to a beautiful sunset, complete with distant thunder clouds and a rainbow. We spend the next day relaxing at our campsite and next to the swimming pool, recovering from 3 long days on the road.
Dry riverbeds & desert animals
We get up early and just after sunrise we are ready to hit the road again. The C40 takes us through the beautiful Grootberg pass with the first rays of the sun turning the horizon into a canvas of soft pastel colours.
Into the Hartmann valley
After breakfast we leave the campsite at Puros and descend into the Hoarusib river driving in a northerly direction. It is not long before we see our first desert elephants of the day. There are some sandy patches but easy to negotiate with slightly deflated tyres. At times the track disappears but we manage to find our way back every time. In the process we are having a lot of fun and enjoy soaking up the beautiful surroundings. We are very fortunate to have another two sightings of elephants before we leave the Hoarusib river.
We now take a road linking the Hoarusib and Khumib rivers and it proofs to be a very scenic drive through some dramatic desert landscapes. On the way we see a small herd of Hartmann’s mountain zebra. They are a subspecies of mountain zebra found in western Namibia. Just before we reach the Khumib river we stop at a Himba kraal to have a closer look at the huts and other structures. The OvaHimba are semi-nomadic people and indigenous to Kaokoland.
Upon reaching the Khumib river we choose to take the road running on the banks of the river instead of the one in the riverbed. Simply to be able to drive a little faster and save some time in order to hopefully reach the Hartmann valley before sunset. After leaving the Khumib the road leading to Orupembe is badly corrugated and the going painfully slow. We eventually reach Orupembe and continue further north in the direction of Oranjedrom where the outside temperature reaches a staggering 45 degrees centigrade!
We reach Oranjedrom at about 16h45 and still need to find a place to camp. There is a perfect camping spot about 20 minutes drive north of Oranjedrom where I have camped before and we decide to drive the last few kilometres as the sun is setting in the west. The area where we set up camp is slightly elevated and there are some rocks that give shelter against the wind. The view over the plains with the Hartmann mountains in the distance creates the perfect start to yet another wonderful evening around the campfire under the stars. It is very liberating to know that there are no other people around and we retire to our rooftop tents contemplating another adventure filled day in Africa.
‘Dromme’ & challenging roads
We awake to a beautiful sunrise and after a small breakfast we are on the road back to Oranjedrom. Here we turn east and continue to Bloudrom where we stop for a few photos before heading for Rooidrom. The original Rooidrom was used by Ben van Zyl for storing fuel but later became a road marker. The other drums also serve as road markers, positioned at major intersections.
At Rooidrom we turn south on the road going towards the marble mine. The Rooidrom pass is quite a challenge, requiring patience, concentration and skill. Slowly but surely the Hilux and Amarok creep up the hill, negotiating the rugged terrain with great ease. After the marble mine the road improves and within a few kilometres we reach a long sandy stretch of road where we stop to take pictures before continuing, and eventually reach the road coming from Orupembe.
Here we turn left towards Otjiaa and initially the road is relatively good and we are optimistic that we can make up some time. We have no fixed plans for where we want to camp tonight and will decide as the day progresses. Our optimism is soon dampened when the road becomes progressively worse. The going is slow and it takes about 3 hours to cover a distance of 35 kilometres through mountainous terrain.
We eventually reach Etanga village at around 15h00 where the road widens and we can drive a little faster. The last 100 kilometres to Opuwo take less than 2 hours and we arrive at the Opuwo Country Hotel just before sunset. Apparently they have a problem with people coming into the camp at night stealing from campers and there are armed security guards patrolling the area throughout the night. Very unfortunate and not my best night’s sleep!
After 5 days without WiFi we spend some time catching up on e-mails and phone calls in the luxury of the hotel lobby before going into town to stock up on supplies and to refuel the cars. The C43 to Epupa is a wide gravel road but there are several dry river crossings where one needs to slow down. Despite that we cover the 179 kilometres in good time and arrive at Epupa Falls Lodge around noon.
We choose a campsite right in the corner of the resort on the banks of the Kunene river. The camping area have several magnificent makalani palms supplying ample shade. The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing at our campsite and cooling down in the swimming pool. Ewert and I meet Bert, a young Belgian guy, at the pool. Bert took a year off work and travelled overland all the way from Belgium and his journey will end in South Africa a few weeks from now. He is very keen to drive the notorious Van Zyl’s pass, but we discourage him to try and do it on his own. Fortunately we meet some people in the campsite who are on their way to Van Zyl’s pass and they invite Bert to join them when they leave the next morning. You can read all about Bert’s amazing adventure on Polarsteps by searching for ‘Just some travel’.
The deck at the restaurant is an idyllic spot to have a sundowner. It is situated directly upstream of the falls and the view over the Kunene river is absolutely amazing. After yet another lovely braai we go to bed and fall asleep with the soothing sound of the waterfall in the distance.
Early the next morning we take a walk to the viewpoint and on returning spend the rest of the day relaxing at our campsite. We return to the viewpoint in the late afternoon to take photos and then back to the deck for sundowners to celebrate yet another awesome day in Africa.
Kunene River Lodge
The road between Epupa and Swartbooisdrif along the Kunene river was known to be one of those roads that only serious off-road drivers would take on. It used to take a full day to cover the 94 kilometres. Now that the road has been upgraded it only takes about 2-3 hours depending on how many stops you make along the way.
Most of the campsites at Kunene River Lodge are situated on the banks of the river among beautiful trees providing sufficient shade. We spend the afternoon relaxing and soaking up the beautiful surroundings.
Early the next morning we are taken 3 kilometres upstream with a lodge vehicle where we start kayaking back to the campsite. It is a very relaxing and leisurely outing with plenty of bird life along the way. In the late afternoon I go for a stroll in the birding area adjacent to the lodge in search of the beautiful Cinderella Waxbill, only found in a very small area along the Kunene river. Patience pays off and I eventually see a couple of them sitting in some low scrub. A very special sighting indeed.