THE LAST FRONTIER
Text Elzanne Erasmus | Photographs Jaco Venter
Text Elzanne Erasmus | Photographs Jaco Venter
K haudum, formerly known as Bushmanland, was proclaimed a game reserve in 1989 and a national park in 2007, which now encompasses an area of 3 842 km2. The mostly unfenced surroundings allow wildlife to roam freely beyond the park borders and into and through surrounding conservancies. Khaudum also forms part of the Kavango Zambezi (KaZa) Transfrontier Conservation Area, which links Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana in one of the largest conservation initiatives in the world.
The park consists mainly of sandveld, with some bedrock in areas towards the south-western parts, and is mostly dry year-round. But there are the occasional years with heavy rainfall when the two ephemeral rivers (or omuramba), the Nhoma in the south and Khaudum in the north, carry water and leave the park lush and green. Pans throughout the park also collect surface water during rainy seasons and provide bounteous drinking water for wildlife herds, which often lasts well into the dry winter months.
Home to extraordinary numbers of wildlife, Khaudum’s wilderness is the ideal place for avid nature enthusiasts and adventurers to admire large herds of roan antelope, tsessebe, elephant, giraffe, eland, wildebeest and many more. The discerning birder may find southern ground hornbill in the northern woodlands of the park.
The park has 12 official waterholes and two small natural springs, each promising good opportunities for game viewing, especially in the winter months. The park’s isolation and the infrequency of visitors are other factors that lend themselves to create an almost perfect safari experience, despite a few bumps and hiccups in the way, because one thing is for sure… this park is wild!
Be prepared for long drives even though distances may seem rather short on your GPS. The Khaudum has little to no infrastructure when it comes to roads and road maintenance. Therefore proper 4×4 vehicles with high clearance and experienced off-road drivers at the helm are a necessity. The two parallel lines of tyre tracks running through the thick Sandveld are tough to negotiate and it takes time to get anywhere during the dry months. During the wet season, some of the tracks may become extremely slippery, so look out for the darker patches of soil and steer clear. Common obstructions are fallen trees and bushes as well as the odd group of five-ton mammals. Both should be approached with great care. If you need to make a stop to remove an obstruction such as a tree stump from the path, be quick about it… lions may never be too far off.
The best time for birding in “Bushmanland” is right after a good rainy season. Pans and fields in and around the park play host to some spectacular sightings, including flamingos, ducks, teals, cranes, spur-winged geese, herons and egrets. Keep your eyes peeled for Meyer’s parrot, which enjoys hanging around the waterholes or marula trees. Scour the tall baobab trees for a peep at pearl-spotted owlets. You might also get the chance to tick off black-tailed godwit or African openbill from your lifer list, and of course the wonderfully enigmatic southern ground hornbill.
Bushfires are a frequent occurrence during late winter when it is extremely dry. During the months of July to September, bushfires in Botswana also leave the air in the park hazy. Take caution when camping in the park during this season as the slightest spark or flint from a campfire could cause a fire, engulfing the park and destroying habitats.
The park’s isolation and lack of infrastructure makes it a hardy task for any 4×4 driver, and one that should never be attempted alone. Though many other publications see this as an exaggeration, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism stipulates that no less than two reliable 4×4 vehicles are allowed to venture into the park together.
Make sure that between the two or more vehicles you have enough emergency supplies, including spare tyres, towrope and a repair kit. Entering the park also means that you have to be completely self-sufficient. Though there are two campsites within the park boundaries where water is available you can never be too certain, so make sure that you have ample H20 and enough fuel to complete your journey.
Keep in mind that you will be travelling through thick sand which burns more fuel and that petrol vehicles often use double the amount of fuel under such conditions. Refuelling is only possible at Tsumkwe to the south of the park and at Bagani, Divundu and Rundu to the north and northwest.
TNN recently sat down with avid Namibian traveller, Jaco Venter, who braved the Khaudum wilds during August. Here is his ideal travel itinerary with some much needed tips for survival!
Set off from Windhoek heading north. There are many interesting stopovers worth exploring along the 780km route to Khaudum. Check out the Kavango woodcarver’s market in Okahandja and grab a freshly baked brötchen at the Dekker Bakery in Martin Neib Avenue. On your way toward Otjiwarongo, spot the twin peak Omatako Mountains on your left. If you’re up for a bit of a detour, the Cheetah Conservation Fund is just 42km outside of town. It is a wonderful conservation effort and cheetah rehabilitation centre. Your next stop, Otavi, is a good place for a quick lunch. Visit the Camel Inn Restaurant and Bar for the best slapchips (fries) you’ll ever have! About 151km east of Otavi, passing through Grootfontein, is Roy’s Camp where you can spend your first night. The campsites are equipped with hot showers and cooking and washing facilities.
Have an early breakfast and let your day’s adventures begin! Tsumkwe, the gateway to Khaudum, is a quick two-hour trip via tar road from Roy’s. Here you can book an excursion to visit a traditional San community or just stock up on supplies at the Tsumkwe General Dealer and fill your tanks, as this is the last time you’ll be able to do this for quite some distance. From here it is a 60km trek to Sikereti, your first campsite inside the park. You will enter through the southern park gate. The park entrance fee is N$10 for Namibian residents, N$ 30 for SADC residents and N$ 40 for foreign visitors. The gravel road to the campsite is reasonably well-maintained, the last such road you will encounter for the duration of your stay in Khaudum… Set up camp here after using your remaining daylight hours to check out some waterholes, such as Soncana or Tsoanafontein.
Spend the day exploring the Nhoma Omuramba and the surrounding waterholes. According to Jaco the southern part of the park yields the most wildlife sightings during the dry winter months. Be prepared to encounter large herds of 20 to 30 roan. His group even came across a herd of more than 50! Elephant are also a popular sighting around waterholes as they enjoy playing in the mud baths. The older dames look on as the young calves chase Meyer’s parrots and roll around getting dirty. Your third day should be a relaxed and easy-going one. Jaco says that on his trip lion tracks could be seen at many of the waterholes but they had too little time to leisurely explore or have a “stakeout”. So, waiting patiently in your vehicle at a waterhole that looks promising might yield spectacular results. Make your way back to Sikereti Camp before dark and spend another night under the Namibian stars.
Make the long arduous trip across the park to the northern campsite. Unfortunately the road between the two campsites is terrible. You won’t be able to travel more than 20-30 km/h so be patient and take it slow and enjoy the wonderful, truly wild place you find yourself in. Along the way keep to the eastern route that passes Baikiea, Tari Kora, Leeupan and Tsau. This route has less sand and promises more wildlife sightings. The northern campsite was recently privatised. Khaudum Campsite has 6 sites under camelthorn trees, overlooking the beautiful Xaudum Omuramba. Each site has a braai area, shading and its own private bathroom facilities with warm water. Booking in advance is essential. For more information on the campsite visit www.travelnewsnamibia.com/news/news-camping-in-khaudum/.
On the way to the southern entrance of the park you can take a 3km detour to the famous Dorsland Baobab, where the Dorsland Trekkers set up camp in the late 1800s.
For bookings and queries send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The park’s northern campsite is now privately owned, recently renovated and open for bookings.
Be cautious when exiting your vehicle to remove obstacles in the road, lions may never be too far off…
Both you and your bakkie will need a good scrub after this adventure.
The roads in the park are poorly maintained. You won’t be able to travel more than 20-30 km/h, so be patient and take it slow.
By now you have well and truly immersed yourself in the rugged and rough wilderness that is Khaudum National Park. Spend your morning exploring the Xaudum Omuramba, hopeful to catch glimpses of African wild dog or even a leopard. After all your hard work and days spent bobbing up and down in your car seat over corrugated thick sand roads, you deserve a break – don’t you think? After you’ve checked that all your car’s parts are still where they should be and fixed those punctures in your tyres, laze away your last afternoon in this amazing wilderness, admiring the view from your camping chair, Gin and Tonic in hand. Spend the night reminiscing around the camp fire with your fellow adventurers who made it through the wilderness with you.
The last part of your journey out of the wildest corner of Namibia is the most frustrating. Expect to spend at least 3 hours navigating the 60km route to the northern gate of the park. Once you are out and “back to civilization” though, you’re home free. From here you can either head back to Windhoek or follow the adventurous spirit that was ignited on the roughest 4×4 quest you’ve attempted to date and head into the Kavango and Zambezi regions to explore this amazing country even further. If you’re not up for it though, don’t be disheartened. You just made it past the last frontier, and you and your bakkie probably need a good wash… besides, there’s always next time.
Namibia Exclusive is a new Namibian lodge group established by Vitor Azevedo. It consists of four new lodges in four spectacular and exclusive areas of Namibia: Sorris Sorris on the northern bank of the Ugab River in Damaraland, Omatendeka in the Etendeka Valley near Palmwag, Sheya Shuushona on the northern border of Etosha National Park and Xaudum inside Khaudum National Park. Each lodge brings with it the wonder of the environment that surrounds it and offers the ultimate in Namibian luxury accommodation. Their first lodge, Sorris Sorris, opened in August 2015.
Situated in the isolated Khaudum National Park, Xaudum is the only lodge in this perfectly wild corner of the country, particularly enticing to avid wilderness lovers and adventurers. Xaudum’s isolation creates a complete sense of freedom and it is so remote it will make you feel as if you have stepped 1000 years back into the past. The lodge will welcome its first guests in April 2016.
You can make your booking for Xaudum Lodge at
This article first appeared in the Summer 2015/16 issue of Travel News Namibia.