In December 2015 Johan, an old high school friend, and I decided to do a local trip. But it needed to be something different, some place we’ve not seen before or had not seen for a while. Following much contemplation and debating we settled on a trip which involved North-Western Namibia visiting some of the best sites including Etosha National Park, the Kunene river running along the border between Namibia and Angola, the Himba, Kaokaland, Epupa Falls, Damaraland, Twyfelfontein, the Petrified Forests and much, much more…
We started the trip from his home in Walvis Bay heading to the Otavi Valley where he has a small holding. We quickly had coffee there and checked that all was in order before moving on to Tsumeb. A lot of driving for one day, but as long as you take regular breaks and drive during the day you should have no problems. In Tsumeb we spent the night at the Makalani Hotel which is my favorite in town. It is inexpensive, has a swimming pool, serves amazing meals and possesses all the other basic amenities you’d expect from a 3-star establishment. It’s also a very short drive from Etosha National Park.
The next morning we were of to Etosha (as locals abbreviate it). We only camped at Halali because I dislike Namutoni and did not book ahead for Okaukeujo. Okaukeujo is the best camp in Etosha and due to its popularity is always booked fully in advance. I am not going to talk much about Etosha as I have another entry that covers the park, but it was the first time that I passed through the newly opened Western side of the park. It is very different to the Eastern side and well worth the extra mileage.
We left the park at Galton gate, another first for me, on the far western side heading north thereafter towards Ruacana. Remember to pay your park fees in full up to the hour that you are leaving. They do not accept cash at the gates and will turn you back to the nearest camp if your admin is not in order.
The road heading north was brand spanking new and combined with the scenery provided a pleasant few hours of driving. We stopped somewhere in between at one of the many scattered local shops to fill up on cold local beer, coca cola and ice. We soon arrived in Ruacana which Johan called home whilst growing up. The town is a bit run down presently, but one can only imagine the events that occurred here during the border war when South African forces protected the strategic hydro electric plant from SWAPO revolutionaries. There is an amazing view of Angola opposite the river as you descend into the valley and the Ruacana falls is another highlight. From here it was a short and scenic drive to Kunene River Lodge where we were heading.
Kunene River Lodge is the perfect stop over between Ruacana and Epupa Falls our next destination. The lodge is situated, as the name suggests, on the bank of the Kunene river with spectacular views of the surrounding areas and Angola on the opposite side. It has a beautiful swimming pool which provides much needed relieve from the intense heat and a restaurant deck with a view of the river. It is owned and managed by a super friendly and informative English couple and offers a myriad of activities. We chose to camp and the sites were well situated with amazing views, clean, had a bbq area and light with good ablutions incl. hot water. As with many lodges things tend to be a bit over priced so bring along your own basics if you are able i.e. beer, ice, wood and something to eat.
From Kunene River Lodge we chose to drive along the Kunene River all the way to Epupa falls. This is the less traveled route and requires a 4×4 vehicle, but is definitely well worth it. It is super scenic and unless you experience it yourself cannot be properly put into words. Unfortunately, since our visit the two way track has been replaced with a gravel road meaning it now misses the adrenaline fueled intensity brought about by 4×4 off roading. On the other hand, the new road should make the area more accessible to tourists and provide a much needed economic injection.
The route offers so many amazing photo opportunities that I have to add a few more pics even though they dont do the scenery justice. You have to go and see for yourself!!!
We arrived at Epupa Falls late in the afternoon surprised by the cosy little town, or should I rather say largish village. We checked in at Omarungu Lodge and Campsite which is situated on the bank of the Kunene river a mere 200 meters upstream from the falls. After quick refreshments we took a walk down to the falls. There is a lovely path that run parrallel with the falls and leads all the way down river which offers perfect photo opportunitities.
Omarungu is the perfect place to spend a few days in Epupa. It has an wonderful swimming pool, bar on the river and offers numerous local activities. We opted to camp, the sites overlook the river are serviced with electricity and beautiful clean ablution facilities with hot water.
We were now in the heart of Kaokoland the home of the Himba people. The OvaHimba are a semi-nomadic pastoral people and continues to live a traditional way of life. As you head South their mud huts and livestock are scattered throughout the area. The OvaHimba are well aware of the income to be made from tourists which love to photograph them and their villages. They are more than willing subjects if you approach them respectfully, ask and negotiate a price beforehand. If you attempt to snap a quick shot without permission they will make you aware of their displeasure.
Heading South the first place we encountered resembling a town was Opuwo. It’s a hive of bussiness activity and have everything the traveller needs i.e. fuel, food, cold beer&ice and banks. Did I miss anything? We were heading further south so our stay here was limited to a quick drive around. Next stop the Palmwag Lodge and Campsite.
But before reaching Palmwag you pass by some of Namibia’s most interesting geological sites which includes the Twyfelfontein rock art (a world heritage site), the Organ pipes, Petrified forests and the Burnt Mountain. Each site very different and unique. Its worth spending time at each which includes local guides explaining the various theories with regards to the formation and history of each site.
After a long hot day of travelling Palmwag lodge can only be described as an oasis in the vast Damaraland rock desert. It certainly has one thing going for it, well except for its location and scenery, and that is the ice-cold swimming pool. I dare you to say no to its invitingly crisp clear water. Impossible!!! The lodge itself is beautiful, probably a bit overpriced, unfortunately the camp site is not there yet. Its basic in comparison and be sure to purchase all your supplies beforehand. There is no resemblance of any kind of shop in the vicinity. Another major attraction is the desert elephant which inhabit the area and frequent the camp. We did not come face to face with these majestic beasts, but I’ve seen photos of them roaming in the vicinity.
After many kilometers on the road and days away from home we were heading back. We passed Brandberg, through the towns of Uis and Henties bay towards our final destination Walvis bay. The road was in excellent condition and we encountered no problems during the final leg of our tour of the Great North West. A final tip: stop at Solitude beach bar and restaurant in Henties bay before taking on the last few kilometers to Swakopmund. Amazing place, with amazing views!