A quick tour of the Kavango West Region

Quirky signs like this one are found next to the road in Kavango West.

A quick tour of the Kavango West Region

23 April 2018 | Tourism

Le Roux van Schalkwyk

One of the most exciting things about travelling is visiting new places and areas you’ve only ever seen on maps before. It is even more thrilling when you do not have much information about the place you are visiting. This was the case with my recent trip to the Kavango West Region.

The general plan to investigate the area was to drive north from Tsintsabis to where the Okavango River enters Namibia at Katwitwi, then head east to Rundu and from there back to Windhoek via Grootfontein.

On the first night I drove from Windhoek through what felt like a hundred small rain showers. It being March, I knew it was not exactly the best time to travel to the north-east of the country especially if you like staying dry, but there is no better time to see the landscape transformed into a sea of green grass.

My first overnighter was at Treesleeper Camp, a community-run camp nestled in between the dense undergrowth of some startlingly beautiful trees along a riverbed. Unfortunately the camp’s full potential isn’t being realised, with only one of the campsites (barely) in working condition, while the rest of the site consists of half-constructed buildings and campsites slowly being reclaimed by nature.

It is also a bit close to Tsintsabis where on the night of my stay I was an unwitting auditory observer to what seemed to me the Tsintsabis party of the decade. The party seemed to hit its pinnacle around 10pm when even the dogs and surrounding cattle and donkeys seemed to join in the festivities with loud noises of their own. During my shuffled, pillow-over-the-head sleep, I could not help but think whether this was a regular party held every few nights, or a once-in-a-lifetime occasion (perhaps one of the donkeys was the first to make it to a prestigious university and the entire village was celebrating in its honour). I never did find out, but suffice it to say the night was not a particularly restful one.

Heading further north

The next morning I packed up early and drove through a still sleeping Tsintsabis, everyone knackered after the party of the previous night no doubt. Driving through the veterinary cordon fence or the Red Line as it is known, separating the commercial farms to the south and communal land to the north is certainly a different experience than from crossing it at Mururani to the east. In Mururani, one is immediately greeted by small settlements, people and animals along the road, on this side it is considerably less populated. Instead, the visual stimulation here is what seems like virgin bush on both sides of the road that stretches for kilometres.

The road itself is in an excellent condition with the 267 km from Tsumeb to Katwitwi that is now tarred (the project completed relatively recently, in 2013). I couldn’t help thinking to myself that people not fond of driving would not enjoy the drive too much, as the traffic on it was almost non-existent. Reminiscent of the Botswana road we all love to hate, it is extremely straight with a few turns and bends. After a while of driving like this I’d imagine even the most alert driver will find him or herself losing control of his head as it bobs around sleepily on its neck. Until, suddenly, a rush of adrenaline bobs the head up-right as the road finds its way to a surprising intersection, stirred fully awake again by the sense of adventure that comes with getting closer to the Okavango.

Okavango River

One of the things I was excited to see was where the Okavango River enters Namibia at the border town Katwitwi. Unfortunately I could not find an easily accessible point to the river close to this area, but managed, with the help of a schoolboy named Elias, to find a track down to the water. This at least gave me a limited glimpse of the river with Angola on the opposite bank. Katwiti itself didn’t offer much apart from the border crossing.

About 36 km east of Katwitwi is the regional capital of the Kavango West Region, Nkurenkuru, a lively little settlement. A stroll through the streets and local shops is not a bad way to spend an hour or so.

Even though very conducive to tourism, Kavango West doesn’t offer much in terms of accommodation apart from a lodge close to Nkurenkuru which has been under construction for several years and as yet, does not have an opening date. The first accommodation from Katwitwi is only found 35 km east of Rundu, at a place called Taranga Safari Lodge.

It is a shame that this area is so underdeveloped for tourism as it is heart-breakingly beautiful. Currently, the main highlight is driving east from Katwitwi on the B10 that follows the Okavango River all the way to Rundu. Make sure to have plenty of time for this drive as the dense vegetation opens at various places offering some remarkable views of the river and neighbouring Angola. Adding to the scenic aspect of the drive are the rustic settlements, mahangu fields, long-horned cattle and friendly people that make their living through subsistence farming. Watching these rural scenes makes one quickly forget the hustle of the city and awakens a yearning for a simpler life.

Heading back home

After a couple of days of rain-soaked camping at Taranga Safari Lodge and Hakusembe River Lodge and exploring the surrounding areas, I decided to head back home. There are numerous craft stalls along the B8 south from Rundu, where visitors can support the local communities living next to the road, offering anything from terracotta pots to wooden crafts. I bought a bonsai pot for our little mopane tree that I had bought a few days earlier.

Before crossing back over the veterinary fence I did a quick drive through Mangetti National Park where I surprised some eland at a waterhole, before heading to Roy’s Rest Camp where I spent the last night of my journey.

Around since 1995, Roy’s Rest Camp is a well-known overnight spot for tourists heading to the Kavango or Zambezi regions. Its rustic and homely feel is welcoming to the weary traveller. I immediately hunkered down at the bar to sip a few cold draughts and speak to the two young gents running the place.

Even though underdeveloped as a tourist destination and without the type of game parks comparable to those of the Kavango East and Zambezi Region, I would still recommend the Kavango West, even if it is at the very least only driving through it. Just because the area is not a tourist hotspot, doesn’t mean you won’t discover some hidden gems. I certainly did.

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