Capturing Moments, Spaces and Places through the Kaokoland

Where rhinos roam
October 27, 2021
When the rains come down
October 28, 2021

Epupa Falls on the Kunene River

A photograph holds a lot of information. Details like time of day, season, political happenings, era, age of a person and loads more can be deduced by looking at a picture more closely. These days, digital photos hold even more information, such as a timestamp, GPS coordinates where the image was taken, the photographer’s name and more, all of it contained in the metadata of each file. One thing, however, that is impossible to deduce from a photo is the feeling of the photographer. The time of place and mood at that exact moment will only ever be known by that one person and whoever else shared the moment with him or her. 

Taking the above into consideration, I was discussing my recent trip to the Kaokoveld with a colleague, and we also talked about how difficult it was for her to put her impressions of this special place into words. I immediately realised that I would have the same problem. How do you describe a place like the Marienfluss, an expansive valley that even now, in the worst drought ever experienced there, still holds a magical allure to most visitors? No photo or set of words can ever do justice to experiencing the Marienfluss at sundown. For this reason, the best way I can describe my trip is through a photo essay of all the most memorable moments, spaces and places.

In the 25 or more years since I last visited Epupa Falls, it has changed tremendously. Then, only Epupa Falls Campsite (now Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite) existed. There was nothing and no one else. As kids, we’d catch fish and explore the area – left free to our own devices. Now there is Epupa village complete with a clinic, police station and some 500 inhabitants. Progress, I guess. 

The only thing that has remained constant is the falls themselves. Immediately after arriving I went and climbed up and down trying to get different angles for my pictures. Even with the current low water levels of the Kunene River, the falls still remain an impressive sight. In a series of waterfalls the river drops 40 metres over a distance of about 1.5 kilometres. Set against the dry surroundings, listening to the sound of rushing water and watching the hundreds of smaller waterfalls while waiting for the right light from the setting sun was a meditative experience in its own right.

The water, trees and greenery on the banks of the Kunene attract a variety of different birds. We spent a couple of nights at Epupa Falls. Binoculars, bird book and camera close at hand, it was fun to identify birds as we relaxed at the campsite. With over 230 bird species recorded in the Kunene Region, including the Cinderella waxbill, next to the river is where you’ll be the luckiest with sightings.

Southern Masked Weaver
Pririt Batis
Giraffes are fairly common in the Hoarusib River. However, sometimes they decide to go for a bit of mountain climbing, which creates some interesting perspectives.
Van Zyl's Pass

From Epupa we took the “shortcut” between Okongwati and the Marienfluss down the notorious Van Zyl’s Pass. The pass was built in the 1960s by Ben van Zyl, from 1942-1981 the Native Commissioner of the Kaokoveld. The purpose of this mountain pass, which is very popular among 4×4 enthusiasts, was to gain access to the remote parts of the Kaokoveld. Van Zyl, along with his supervisor Jeremia Mosuma and a 20-man team, oversaw the construction of a rudimentary track over 10 kilometres of treacherous mountain terrain. This saved many hours of driving a detour to the south on the only existing route. The pass has a few very tricky and technical sections where you are well advised  to get out of your vehicle for a closer look before attempting them. Not only does the track take you through some beautiful terrain, but it also offers some breathtaking views of the Marienfluss valley towards the end of it.

Mysterious Lone Men can be found across the Kaokoveld and have become quite a tourist attraction in recent years. My nephew was greatly intrigued by the first one he saw.

Walking down the trickiest part of the pass to decide how best to tackle it, and seeing the remains of two 4x4s that misjudged their approach, quickly snaps you back to reality. While it is all fun and games, albeit arduous, if you don’t concentrate, this is how you and your vehicle will end up.

On our last night the heavens opened up over Purros. At sunset the world was coloured by deep hues of orange, along with heavy rain clouds looming over the extraordinary landscape. What a fitting way for bidding farewell to the Kaokoveld. TNN

Text & Photographs  Le Roux van Schalkwyk

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