The wonderfully remote Kunene region
22nd June. We are driving up through northern Damaraland towards the extreme north of Namibia where the Kunene River forms the border with Angola. This area is Namibia’s least inhabited area and it is wild and rugged. There is a surprising amount of wildlife, due, in part, to a very successful project where where a community game guard is paid to ensure that no-one from the community harms any animal that they are not allowed to hunt. As well as the occasional game sighting we enjoy the scenery and the sense of isolation.
There are a few scattered villages, home to some of the Herero people, and we head to one of these, Khowarib, where we hope to find somewhere to camp. In Khowarib we find a lovely little community run campsite, situated on a cliff above the river (a lovely sight after such arid landscapes for weeks.) The pitches are huge, with private bathrooms, covered dining areas and excellent service. We have lots of firewood delivered to us and, after cleaning out Landy again and washing off layers of dust, we make ourselves at home. (We even take the cooker and kitchen equipment out of Landy and put it under the shelter to make a proper kitchen with a table and sink) As night falls we sit with a light on which attracts bats that swoop just inches from our faces to catch insects.
The next part of the drive to the Kunene River is through Kaokoland, home to Herero and Himba tribes. Clearly they get a bit more rain here because it is green in places and there are plenty of goats and cows. However, it is still remote and the road conditions deteriorate rapidly. In fact our intended route, Joubert Pass on the C43, is closed and the diversion is pretty bad. Huge dips into dry river beds and large sections of incredibly rocky rough going mean that it is a long and dusty day, albeit with great scenery to admire along the way.
The Herero and Himba tribes
Opuwo in the Kunene region is certainly different to the previous towns we have visited. Here the way of life is much more traditional. Herero ladies in wonderful Victorian style long dresses and strange horn-like hats stroll along the street, shopping at the little stalls and there is a community gathering on the local football pitch where music is blaring out. Members of the Himba tribe live here too. The ladies’ elaborate hair decoration and wonderful costumes are amazing.
After a quick stop to stock up on supplies we decide to keep driving and get to the campsite at Epupa Falls rather than camp in the slightly dodgy looking campsite in Opuwo
Epupa Falls lie on the Kunene River and they are beautiful. The river widens here and forms lots of little islands before plunging down into the gorge which is 35m deep in places and stunning beautiful. Most amazing to see are the huge baobab trees which seem to cling precariously to the edge of the gorge. We take a walk down the river bank where there are rocky places to scramble over and sandy beaches to sit and admire the river and the beautiful birds.
The campsite at Epupa is great. It has a lovely bar area which overlooks the river and the pitch we choose is right on the river bank with palm trees for shade. A lovely lady from the nearby village pops over to see us to ask if we have any clothes needing washing. Fantastic! I grab these opportunities whenever I can. It is truly amazing how brilliant ladies in Africa are at washing clothes, often in cold water. They always come back so much cleaner than when we do it.
The wind has picked up now and as the palm trees sway we are bombarded with palm nuts. The ladies from the village run over to gather them up and our lovely washing lady shows us how to eat them. They taste a little bit like chocolate, but not quite as nice as the real thing. I have a bar of Dairy Milk in the fridge and decide to give it to my washing saviour. She beams, hugs me, and runs off with it tucked into her bosom, vowing not to share it, even with her kids! http://epupafallslodge.com
Extreme drive along the Kunene River
The D3700 runs along Kunene River from Epupa to Ruacana and is well known as a challenging 4×4 track. We decide on an early start and are fully expecting to have to wild camp and do the 70kms to Kunene River Lodge in two days. However the first few kilometres is graded and in not bad condition. We wonder if perhaps it won’t be too bad after all.
Our optimism is short lived. It gets bad. There are really steep descents into dry stream beds and parts where it is so rocky that it is difficult to see where the road is actually supposed to be. It is slow going but we are not in any rush and we want to take care. Landy still has to get us round Africa for the next 13 months.
At one point we have to stop and rebuild the road with rocks as the drops are just too steep and at a few other points I have to get out of Landy to guide Keith down tricky bits where he can’t see exactly where to go.
Click below for a short video of the Kunene River 4×4 road.
Another great campsite
Finally, after six tiring hours, we arrive at the welcoming oasis that is Kunene River Lodge. This campsite (it has other accommodation as well) is extremely well run by its English owners and we have a great time here, staying in the end, for 5 days. As well as being a lovely place to relax, they also do white water rafting and a gentle river cruise. We did both.
White Water Rafting on the Kunene River
The rafting is great fun and not too difficult. There is one rapid that looks a bit scary so I decide to go with the instructor in his canoe, and send Keith down on his own! Poor Keith. He nearly comes unstuck and then loses control after the rapid and has to let the river take him further down stream until he is able to steer it into the bank to stop. On the plus side he gets to visit Angola unofficially.
We meet some lovely fellow travellers at Kunene River Lodge and it is lovely to chat about experiences and swap stories and advice. We get some great ideas for camp fire recipes too. If you get the chance to go to this part of Namibia then do so. It’s great. http://www.kuneneriverlodge.com
We are now heading to Etosha National Park so we will catch up with you there.