Take a Ride on the Wild Side. A self-drive adventure through the vast open spaces of Kaokoland, Namibia.
Characterised by breathtaking scenery and great contrasts, Namibia is a vast country where wildlife graze in the shimmer of mirages; where a wilderness lies waiting for you to explore.
Kaokoland, in the north, is the less travelled and remoter part of Namibia where one can become immersed in the wide, open spaces. It is one of the last remaining true wilderness areas … a barren inaccessible region with endless scenic beauty.
Kaokoland is home to the nomadic Ovahimba (Himba) tribe, peaceful cattle herders who still live according to their ancient traditions. Visitors are only welcomed with a guide, who negotiates a gift of food and provisions for the tribe besides his own fee. Usually the very photogenic Himba are camera shy, but having grown used to these ‘conditions of trade’, they remain quietly available for photos for as long as you can manage the heat, the flies and the glaring sun.
Our route starts in Opuwe, and meanders through a small outpost, Okangwati, until it reaches the magnificent Epupa Falls. The falls are created by the Kunene river; the only permanent source of water in the region and forms the natural boundary between Namibia and Angola. Awesome scenes of various beautiful waterfalls, palm trees, rugged mountains and dune landscapes reward the road-weary traveller along this entire river belt. Camping at Epupa Falls Lodge and campsite provides an oasis of lush shady palms with warm fresh eco showers and a chance to recover from travelling dusty dirt roads for hours on end.
From this oasis, the road to the west leads back to Okangwati from crossing the infamous Van Zyls Pass, is the only way into the Marienfluss, our next destination. The official Kaokoland Info map states clearly that this journey that can only be undertaken from east to west, due to the inaccessible and rugged terrain. The way to go is: get to the Van Zyls Pass campsite by evening on day one and start the daunting journey after a early sunrise breakfast on day two. There is no time to loose, because the mere 12 kms will take the average traveller a solid 5 hours to do. Beautiful views of unending mountains and plains are the continuous rewards, not to mention the adrenalin pumping negotiation of crevices, loose stones and careful re-engineering of the road by restacking loose stones in order to even out the path for our mighty 4-wheeled chariots.
The afternoon drive curls and weaves for seemingly endless hours through stunning African savannas up and down mountain ranges and the desire to stop for pictures has to be fought off in order to reach the next official campsite 100kms further.
The Kaokoland is also the home of the famous desert elephant, rhino, lion and giraffe that have adapted through time to survive in these conditions. Herds of zebra and a few solitary gemsboks can often be seen galloping in the distance. The final part of our adventure took us along the bed of the Huarusib River to Puros. Here we experienced the thrill of driving through streams of water, the exasperation of getting stuck in sinking wet sand and the awe-inspiring privilege of wilderness camping, stargazing till deep in the night.
Puros finally provided the opportunity to refresh with a cold beer and some snacks from where the next stop would be Sesfontein, finally back to a fair amount of civilization.
When to go to Kaokoland
We traveled during the first 2 weeks of April where the daily temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius and the evening a nice balmy 20 degrees.
The wet – or rainy – season occurs from November to April. These are the summer months when it can become unbearably hot with temperatures soaring into the mid and upper 40s… The winter or peak dry season occurs June – September, when daytime temperatures can still reach 35 degrees, but can cool down considerably at night.
- This is one of the most remote wild places in Africa and it is recommended to travel with at least 2 cars. We travelled for two and a half days without seeing another car! When traveling solo, you must bring a satellite phone
- For this trip a 4X4 vehicle is essential. Van Zyls pass must rate as one of the toughest passes to cross in Africa.
- Your vehicle needs to be equipped with recovery gear and 2 spare tyres, a tyre repair kit and compressor, as you will experience a variety of surfaces from rocky to sandy, each of which needs its own pressure setting.
- You need to be completely self-sufficient with regards to food, water, petrol, before heading out into the wilderness. Your driving ability will be tested by the steep rocky tracks on Van Zyls Pass and the soft sandy riverbeds. The going is slow and you can expect to travel only 50km in an entire day.
- Stock up on diesel, water and food wherever you can. Opuwe is the last town where you can stock up on food (OK Bazaar) and diesel before venturing into the remote Kaokoland. In Epupa there is a general store where you van buy basics like sugar, flour, mealie meal, baked beans etc.
- Bring cameras: Kaokoland is a paradise for photographers. You will find amazing landscapes, brightly lit starry night skies and of course the local Himba culture. (Please respect the people and ask if you can take a picture.
You can watch a video of our trip on You Tube
Photos Robbert Koene – Text Gerda Genis