Wed 30th Nov – Casa Piccolo, Windhoek
Fri 02nd Dec – Hoada campsite, Kamanjab
Sat 3rd – Hoanib Valley Camp, Kaokoland
Manuno border post – Windhoek: 301km
Arnd Windhoek: 97km
Windhoek – Hoada campsite: 523km
Hoada campsite – Hoanib Valley Camp: 189km
Hoanib Valley Camp – Twyfelfontein: 271km
Total km driven since leaving Nairobi: 12,350km
KAOKOLAND … NAMIBIA’S REMOTE NORTH-WEST
This is our second visit to Namibia in recent years … we came here in 2017 with some very good friends and absolutely loved the experience … driving our hired 4x4s along miles of dirt roads through some of the most amazing scenery we’d ever encountered. There was one area that we hadn’t got to before that I wanted to make sure we included on this safari … a rather empty looking patch on an already uncluttered map that is Kaokoland and particularly the Hoanib river valley.
But first we needed to get Gillian back on board with us, we’d planned that she would rejoin the adventure in Windhoek. Kian and I raced into Namibia from Botswana on the countries’ eastern border and made our way through to the capital. Little had changed over the past 5 years and we ended up staying at the same guesthouse as before, a charming little place called Casa Piccolo. We also revisited Joe’s Beerhouse, a quirky and popular game meat restaurant for delicious food and the chance to recreate some photos from 5 years ago, with Gillian replacing Kian’s friend Ben in propping up a bar on stools made from toilet seats.
We were soon headed north from Windhoek, on open paved highways enjoying the changing landscapes. Namibia’s geological history stretches back almost 2 billion years, when jostling between the different cratons that now form Africa led to the formation of various mountain ranges we now see across the continent. More recently, a mere 300-560 million years ago when all the southern hemisphere landmass was still together as the super continent Gondwana, Namibia was located somewhere over the south pole and was subject to intense glacial activity. Then, about 130 million years ago, Gondwana split into the continents we know today and you can see where South America would have fitted onto the western coast of Africa … Sao Paolo could have been somewhere on Namibia’s Skeleton coastline. The massive rifting activity caused basalt lava to flood to the surface, different areas of land rose and fell, the warping creating basins that are now the deserts of southern Africa. Natural erosion over the following millions of years exposed older rocks, some of which would have been seabed sedimentary deposits somewhere in the past and created the sands that make up the various deserts of the region.
This rather rushed and very superficial geology lesson has left Namibia with a very varied, ever-changing and ever awe-inspiring landscape that make you think of the mega-landscapes of several Hollywood blockbusters. We needed to break our drive to the Hoanib river valley and spent a very pleasant evening camping at Hoada near Kamanjab, our campsite nestled amongst boulders that were likely old glacial deposits. We continued driving between mountain ranges to the old fort town of Sessfontein, where we met an escort from Hoanib Valley Camp, to guide us along the Hoanib river valley to camp.
Apart from a few Springbok on the roadside, we’d seen very little wildlife in the arid landscape but once we started down the Hoanib river valley, there were immediately more signs of life … lots of tracks criss-crossed the river valley and we started seeing lots of old elephant dung. The river is ephemeral, but the sandy bed sometimes still holds water, which was visible on the surface in one stretch and elephants had also scraped out drinking holes, which can then be accessed by other animals. Over the next two days we saw desert lions (quite skittish), desert elephants (smaller than the plains ones we’re used to seeing, with larger feet), Angolan giraffe (a pale subspecies of the Southern giraffe) and lots of springbok, gemsbok and steenbok as well as some new bird species.
It was cold in the mornings and evenings, with a strong wind blowing in from the ocean, some 60km to the west, but stifling hot in the middle of the day. We started to see large sand dunes amongst the jagged edged mountains, which seemed to invite us to climb up and then either run or roll down them (Kian did most of the rolling) … clambering up the steep face of a sand dune is very hard work and a good way to warm up on a morning drive.
Hoanib Valley Camp is an oasis in the desert. Set against one of the valley walls, it looks across the valley floor and over kilometres of ridges. The spacious tents kept us sheltered from both the hot sun and chill wind, the staff looked after us very well with delicious food and some wonderful singing to help celebrate Gillian’s birthday. It’s definitely one of the most stunning camp locations we’re encountered on our safari and I look forward to returning here with guests.
Aside from the desert adapted wildlife, another reason for visiting the area was in the hope of encountering some Himba people. These nomadic pastoralists share many similarities with the East African Maasai and Samburu cultures, although the Himba are a Bantu people, originally from West Africa and the others are Nilotic, having travelled south down the Nile Valley, so they do not share common roots. We visited a village that was very small and only one of the ladies was in residence, the rest having travelled to Sessfontein to visit the market, but she was quite welcoming and traditionally attired with red ochre covering all of her body including the lower part of her hair, which was matted, muddy dreadlocks at the base and combed out straight on the end, with the whole effect being an elaborate headdress rather than her actual hair. She explained, in a language complete with clicks, how she mixed the ochre with animals fat and applied it to her skin and also smoldered commiphora wood shavings as a scent for her hair – commiphora is the same genus of tree that gives us frankinsence – and we learned a little of her way of life out in the desert, whilst Kian entertained her young son with a game of catch.
From Hoanib, we’d venture back out of the Hoanib valley, where Kian took on the task of navigating the sandy riverbed, which required quite a bit of 4WD and low ratio in the most challenging places … all great fun. This gave way to well graded dirt roads that took us south to Twyfelfontein in Damaraland, where we will be meeting up with my folks who have flown in from Kenya to join us for part of our Namibia adventure … more desert landscapes and the desolate Skeleton Coast beckon in the days to come …