The remote north west of Namibia
Photo: Lloyd Zandberg
The remote north west of Namibia
From Windhoek to Swakopmund via the superb Kaokoland
06 May 2019 | Tourism
At a very young age, I had the opportunity to be exposed to all corners of Namibia and experience this magnificent country in all its glory. Sometimes going places where other human beings rarely would visit or even know of its existence. One of those places being the incredible Kaokaland.
After a few years of living in Namibia, my family decided to move to Cape Town. Perhaps to see whether the grass was greener over there.
Even though I was very young and oblivious to situation at that stage, I still came to Namibia during school holidays, doing what I love most - exploring this country. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and I had to make a few decisions, ultimately not making me able to travel as much I would like to, but I knew the day would come where I get to go out and experience it all again. Keeping the memories locked up tight in my brain, it gave me something to look forward too.
The other day, about a month ago, a long lost friend came to visit me in Windhoek at my house. We had wine, I made fire and she prepared a stuffed ciabatta, and started chatting about what we’ve missed over the past 7 years since we last saw each other. She wanted to know whether I was still regularly travelling within Namibia.
”It’s part of you,” she says, “you should try and get out for a while. You’ve always wanted to go back. You need a break, buddy. ”
It was in that exact moment knew the time was right, to go back to my roots. There where the sun is harsh, the landscapes vast, the animals free and the people real. I wanted to sit around the camp fire and forget about my reality for a while.
“Actually,” I answered, “I might be going to Kaokoland.”
The idee made us both cry for a little. She stood up, walked past me into my bedroom. She grabbed a leather bag which I bought in Spain a few years back, and placed it next to me on the floor with y camera.
“You’re going.” She replies, “I don’t care what you say.”
Suddenly I felt the cool breeze of Epupa falls blowing on my checks, tasted the dust of the Hoanib and heard the trumpet of a desert elephant calling for the herd.
“I’m in. I’m going.” I said.
10 years later, I went back to visit all the places that helped me become who I am today. And boy, once again it just blew my socks off. Today Kaokoland is still considered one the most sacred and rarely visited areas in the country, and for some it can a mere thought of existence. To me it is reality, what I refer to as home.
Ready, steady, go
On the first day of my 10 day trip through Kaokoland, I start the long journey from Windhoek to Khowarib Lodge, where my itinerary was set to start. The road up to Khowarib leads me through Kamanjab and the well-known Grootberg pass and Palmwag Lodge, where I filled up the vechile. The conditions of the gravel roads for the most part are good, but still stay cautious. I arrived at Khowarib just in time to take a seat at the dinner table underneath the stars, sipping my way through a G&T, as my guide for the following few days, Caesar Zandberg, owner of Khowarib Lodge and Kunene Tours and Safaris, gave me as small, but very informative introduction as to what I can expect of the planned itinerary. With huge excitement, I spent the night in a tented chalet, on the bank of the Hoanib river, dreaming about all the places that have been hiding somewhere in my memory.
We have an early departure from Khowarib Lodge, via Sesfontein, stopping at Warmquelle, to the Girrebez plains on our way to Purros. The Girrebez plains is situated about 30km north-west of Sesfontein and has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in my life. We travel further west into the upper Obias River to the Okongwe Spring, where we enjoyed a freshly prepared lunch. The Okongwe Spring is a popular location for large amounts of animals because of the watering hole. After lunch we head north for a further 30km toward Purros, arriving just before twilight. Purros has various campsites and the Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, but we chose to stay at Omenje campsite. A Traditional ‘staanrib’, stuffed butternut, braaibroodjies with a fresh salad was on the menu for the first night in the wild. Pure bliss. Purros is something special. Special in the sense that there is peace in the absolute nothingness. Just sitting under a huge tree, sipping on some ice cold water, listening to nature, brought great happiness to my mind. Something that was outside my routine, but still so familiar.
Himba’s and Hoaruseb
I wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and bacon and eggs sizzling on last night’s embers, while Caesar is busy packing the car for a day visit in and around the Purros area. After enjoying a warm breakfast, we head out to a local Himba village where we spent a two or three hours being mesmerized by their ancient lifestyle. During our visit we received various demonstrations as to how Himba survive in these harsh conditions. By that time, we were ready for a light lunch and made our way back to base camp, where we collected produce to prepare a light lunch as we were travel down the Hoaruseb river to the edge of the Skeleton Coast. In that area we were treated to a once again restaurant quality meal. Later that afternoon we visited the Clay Castles. Our day ends with a detour north via the Khumib River back to the Omenje campsite.
The early morning wildlife during this time of the year is incredible. Wildlife tend to be more active during the early mornings and late nights, as the temperature are excruciating throughout the day. We start the day of with sighting of antelope and various other desert adapted animals. On the morning of the fourth day, we travel from Purros via the Ganjas Plains into the Lower Hoanib. This journey is approximately 70km. The terrain is rather harsh and althought 70km doesn’t sound like a tall order, it wil take you at least 3 -4 hours to travel down to the lower Hoanib. The Hoanib River is home to the extraordinary Desert Adapted Elephants. All the game and wildlife in this region are free roaming. Which means they are not fenced in at all. Lunch under a big Pomani tree helped us get some shade and protect us from the 42° sunrays plundering the dry riverbed. After our delicious lunch, our journey leads back to Sesfontein passing the infamous Dubes poort, and newly completed Hoanib Halley Camp. In Sesfontein we fill up the vechiles for the road, up North, to Opuwo. On our arrival in Opuwo we check in at the Opuwo Country Hotel, which was rather pleasant and comfortable. Watching the sunset from the Opuwo Country Hotel brought a great sense of calmness.
The Natural North
Opuwo wakes us with a welcoming rain shower. Although not enough, any amount of rain is welcomed in Namibia. We buy fresh produces, refill our vehicles. If you are lucky some of the locals in Okongwati, might have some fuel to sell, but don’t push your luck. Rather fill up in Opuwo and buy all your necessary goodies. During my time in Opwuo, I pay a small visit to Community Skills Development Centres (COSDEC) and head out towards Onkongwati, eventually reaching Epupa Falls. Onkongwati being a very small settlement only has the bare minimum to offer. It is a perfect spot to stretch your legs and take some photograph of the surrounding landscapes. The local inhabitants make a small ‘gwenya’ (vetkoek) that worked well with leftover braai meat. We indulged in a few of those and travel the last 80 km to Epupa, reaching Omarunga Lodge, where we stayed for night. The area has ample to offer. Walking around the falls, visiting himba villages and drinking a beer with locals just to mention a few. Omarunga Lodge is situated about 200m upstream from the Epupa Falls and words lack to describe the beauty. Simply stunning. Even though Omarunga has a lodging option, we opted to camp, making the distance between us and the river a mere 3 meters. I was starting to experience what I knew I was wanting for so long. Besides swimming in the Kunene, which is not advisable, you can’t get any closer to the mighty Kunene. Unless your name is Crocodile Dundee.
On the morning of day 6, I wake up with an excitement that is hard to contain. One of the specific places I remember visiting as a youngster, was Kunene River Lodge, but more so, the road along the banks of the mighty Kunene River. It was one of the reasons why I decided to take on this trip. I wanted to see what has happened in the last few years, and how the human has change this iconic landscape. What use to be 6-8 hours journey, consisting of a lot of blood, sweat, tyres and tears, looks like a highway in Windhoek. Probably not exactly a highway, but most definitely not the road that took a full day out of any itinerary a while back. Although the landscape and the natural habitat has been untouched, the area is rather dry, but still exquisite. For any photo enthusiast this is where you get the ‘money shots’. On my way to Kunene River Lodge I visit Swartbooisdrift which is mostly know for the place where the Dorslandtrekkers passed through. Not far from there, you’ll find a memorial dedicated to them. With the area receiving some rain just before our journey, the road was wet, but nothing to the extreme where it is not accessible. We arrive at Kunene River Lodge late afternoon, which to me, is always the perfect time to enjoy an ice cold beer. Especially on the fantastic deck in front of the main restaurant area. We enjoyed a home cooked meal and watched he sun become one with the river. Remember to load on the mosquito repellent before you hit the sack. They’ll keep you busy if you don’t.
The following morning I travel from Kunene River Lodge via Ruacana to Hobatere which was my next destination. Kunene River Lodge is approximately 40 km east of Kunene River Lodge and the road offers a similar landscape. After breakfast, I start the long journey to Hobatere. By midday I arrive in Ruacana and fill up, buy some water and travel south, towards the Galton Gate (western entrance to Etosha). On the way I pass the Verde veterinary fence, eventually reaching the turn off for Hobatere Lodge, which takes you on a 16km drive through the concession are, promising a great opportunity to spot lions, elephant and giraffe. The lions made their way back north during my visit, but lodge management had spotted them the day prior to my arrival. The Lodge itself is simple, but well sought after. Friendly staff and management ensure your visit to be a pleasant as possible. With the main area being opposite a closeby waterhole, I enjoyed a succulent steak while watching game drinking water, with the sun setting, almost simulating a postcard taking somewhere in the Serengeti.
Back to basics
On day 8, I had to make my way back to Khowarib Lodge. There are various routes available, some being extreme and other not going off the beaten track. Throughout the night Hoanib River came down forcing me to change my route, which originally was to travel via Kamdescha vet fence, to Baadjie and through Khowarib Gaurge entering Khwarib form the eastern side. The last part of this route you have to travel in the Hoanib riverbed, and therefore it was a no go as it was wet, and the possibility of getting stuck too great. I head back to the C43 form Hobatere and travel via Kamanjab back to Khowarib, taking the same route as what I did on day 1 of my trip. This was not a problem for me, as I thoroughly enjoy the view from the Grootberg pass, and a lunch stop at Palmwag never is a bad idea.
There are various ways to get to Swakopmund from Khowarib Lodge. One that I find the most appealing is travelling through Skeleton Coast National Park. Although the entire coastline of Namibia was formerly called The Skeleton Coast, more commonly today it refers only to the Skeleton Coast National Park. The park stretches from the Kunene River in the north for approximately 500km to the Ugab River in the south, and protects about one-third of Namibia's coastline. The Skeleton Coast is normally associated with famous shipwrecks, and stories abound of sailors walking for hundreds of kilometres through this barren Namibian landscape in search of food and water. I travel along the coast of Namibia reaching Henties Bay, making a stop at Fishy Corner for some fresh kabeljou. The last 70km to Swakopmund gives me the opportunity to reflect on the last few days and what I had experienced. As I arrive in Swakopmund, the coastal town is covered in a thick mist blanket, reminding me of all the facets this country has to offer, and furthermore waiting to be written about - I am ready.