Kaokoland – The Kunene River & The Himba

The Owambo | People of the North
June 1, 2015
Travel Tips | Photographing People
June 3, 2015
The Owambo | People of the North
June 1, 2015
Travel Tips | Photographing People
June 3, 2015

| Main Photograph Paul van Schalkwyk

Kaokoland extends from the Kunene River southwards across a sparsely populated and harsh environment down to the Hoanib River. The area holds a special allure for lovers of remote and wild places to negotiate its challenging and rugged terrain in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Attractions include the desert-adapted elephants, scattered Himba settlements, the impressive Epupa Falls, off-the-beaten-track destinations such as the expansive Marienfluss and Hartmann valleys, the wild and beautiful Khowarib Schlucht, and Witbooisdrift, site of a Dorslandtrekker monument.

With its scenically beautiful surroundings, Epupa is one of Namibia’s prime tourist destinations. The falls are a series of cascades where the Kunene River drops a total of 60 metres over a distance of about 1.5 km, separating into a multitude of channels and forming a myriad of rock pools. It is possible to swim in these pools, but keep a lookout for crocodiles!
Enhanced by richly colored rock walls, variety of trees including wild figs, baobabs and waving makalani palms, spectacular sunsets and perennially flowing waters, the Epupa area offers much to see, do and experience.
Bird-watching is rewarding, especially for the rare rufous-tailed palm thrush. Also seen are bee-eaters, African fish-eagles, kingfishers ranging from the giant to the tiny malachite kingfisher, rosy-faced lovebirds, paradise flycatchers, louries, bulbuls, hornbills and rollers.
Scattered settlements of Himba are an especially interesting feature of the area.


Epupa Falls. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Although officially declared as a town only at the end of 2000, Opuwo has long acted as the capital of the Kunene Region, and as the gateway to Epupa Falls and the land of the Himba people. The town itself doesn’t offer much for the tourist, except in the form of hand-made made jewellery and other crafts, which can be found on the streets and at the open market. The Kunene Craft Centre is also a good place to stock up on souvenirs from the area. Opuwo has well-stocked grocery shops, Internet Cafes, a post office, banks, fuel, a hospital, and everything else a traveler might need. A good place to eat is the Kaokoland Restaurant, located in the Opuwo Business Park.
Opuwo is connected to Kamanjab and Windhoek by a tarred road that is in excellent condition. There’s an airfield in town, managed by the Opuwo Country Hotel.

At 120 metres high and 700 metres wide, the Ruacana Falls on the Kunene River is one of the largest waterfalls in Africa. However, for most of the year the waterfall is dry, due to the Ruacana Hydropower Plant upstream, which meets more than 50% of Namibia’s electricity requirements.

Amidst spectacular scenery and splendid solitude, the Okarohombo Community Campsite on the banks of the Kunene River offers four separate campsites under giant ana trees.
A very exclusive camping spot is Enyandi Camp, located at the junction of the Enyandi and Kunene rivers. The camp is accessed from the road between Swartbooisdrift and the Epupa Falls, and only seasoned 4×4 drivers in well-equipped vehicles should attempt to drive there. Enyandi has no organised campsite, but the large fig tree on the banks of the river invites you to camp under its spreading branches. As far as amenities go, there is no water other than from the river. The camp is managed by the Kunene Conservancy.
The Hippo Pools Campsite, accessible from the C46 road leading from Oshakati, is located 37 km west of Ruacana, within the sound of the Ruacana Falls in the Kunene River.
It has well-appointed ablution blocks, and each campsite has its own braai facilities.
Guided walks are offered to view the falls and the NamPower hydroelectric power station.

Kunene River

The Kunene River

For those visiting Purros along the Hoarusib River, the Marienfluss, the Hartmann Valley surroundings, Opuwo, and Epupa Falls via Sesfontein, there are several community campsites in the area. Perched on a hill surrounded by mountains with a river running below, the Khowarib Campsite, 33 km south of Sesfontein, is a well-positioned and attractive community facility consisting of four private sites. Each has a lapa area with a basin (and tap) and a railway-sleeper counter top. Guided visits to the Anmire Traditional Damara Village and the Bushman paintings are offered.
If you’re well prepared and set on travelling the difficult terrain of Van Zyl’s Pass into the Marienfluss, then Van Zyl’s Pass Campsite provides a good stopover. The camp is situated 20 km before the pass, near the village of Otjihende. Take note that this route should only be undertaken by those experienced in four-wheel driving.
At the Epupa Falls Campsite, spread out under makalani palms, water rushes toward the falls and fine mist sprays into the air. The campsite is within walking distance from the falls.
The Figtree Campsite, next to the Sesfontein Conservancy office, is a facility consisting of four large sites in a grove of old sycamore fig trees surrounding one of the six Sesfontein springs. Each site has its own ablution block with solar-heated water, a tap, kitchen counter with a sink, and a fireplace.
The Kanamub Mountain Camp, 24 km from Sesfontein en route to Purros, is positioned against a mountain between huge granite-gneiss boulders with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. It is situated under a large rocky overhang, with a tap, kitchen counter and shower built into a boulder alcove of rock walls, and a donkey boiler providing hot water.
For those driving on to Purros, a four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary for the sandy roads. The Puros Campsite is positioned on the banks of the Hoarusib River, home to the desert-adapted elephants, which often wander through the campsite. Six sites are positioned under large camel-thorn trees, each with its own private ablution block with hot water and flush toilets. Guided trips to a nearby Himba demonstration village and the surrounding areas are offered.
Close to Puros Campsite is the Puros Bush Lodge, which offers accommodation to travellers who do not want to camp. This is a self-catering lodge with en-suite accommodation in six twin-bedded rooms. A family room with twin beds and a bunk bed is also available.
At the Puros Traditional Village striking Himba women of varying ages dressed in traditional attire and covered in red ochre are willing to show you the various Himba rituals, offering snippets of interesting Himba information and intriguing demonstrations. A shop stocked with Himba crafts sells Himba jewellery, makalani palm kernels carved into key rings, baskets, beadwork and bracelets. 

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A Himba woman reinforcing her hut with clay. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

For more information follow this link to Conservancy Safaris Namibia: http://www.kcs-namibia.com.na/

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