In the second part of their story of camping their way through Namibia, Ros and Ian Grieve travel from Kunene to Katima Mulilo and find themselves enchanted by the Caprivi.
The 100 km track from Epupa Falls to Ruacana runs roughly along the Kunene River, the natural slowly but steadily, we were certainly taking the scenic route with wonderful views of the river from near and afar.
Occasionally we needed to do some road building along the rougher patches, and these stops – plus the urge to catch the perfect shot of this natural wilderness – made us decide to find somewhere to camp.
We had seen little sign of habitation, just some deserted Himba settlements and, not wishing to reach Ruacana without spending some time feeling the beauty, we made a camp beside the river approximately 20 km before Ruacana.
It was a blissful spot; as we unpacked, deciding to pitch our small ground tent for a change, we were delighted to see a trio of Himba youngsters quietly appear as if from nowhere. We offered them soft drinks and fruit, and a memorable few hours passed in communicating across cultures by miming and drawing with a stick in the sand. Wychichopa, a 16-year-old young man, was accompanied by his two younger sisters. The girls were very shy, hiding their faces behind their hands and peeping through splayed fingers at us.
As the children crouched around our campfire we exchanged words for familiar things like “fire, sugar, water, river, soap, etc” and offered some of our katunda. Sugar, soap, candles and tea were received with great dignity and “tankuvermuch”. Early on the morning when we were to leave, Wychichopa appeared, this time with his two small brothers. They were fascinated by us, particularly by the vehicles, and chortled with laughter when I drove Gary (our Colt Rodeo 2000) to hitch up Heidi the trailer; clearly they thought this was not a woman’s job! I noted that they were in traditional dress with the adornments, hair styles and ornaments denoting their age and place in the family. Only Wychichopa had a westernstyle jacket – the 2 small boys were shivering with cold and we wondered how they keep warm during the cold nights in the desert. What a wonderful spot and how fortunate we were to meet such interesting people. We pondered how rich the Himba culture is but wondered how long the nomadic lifestyle will survive.
One more night on the Kunene called, so we pulled in to Kunene River Lodge just outside Ruacana. A small, neat lodge and campsite on the river, it is popular with South African tourists during school holidays – therefore seeming like a holiday camp at this time of year. The long haul down the C46 through Oshakati to Ondangwa where we joined the Bl was dull and colourless after the bounties we had been blessed with during the previous weeks. We were also reminded that one can’t carry meat south across the red line veterinary fence; we were searched and had some red meat confiscated from our fridge.
The other side of Namibia was brought home to us here – unemployment and spiritual poverty. Unfortunately we had discovered that the pressure pump purchased at Cymot in Walvis Bay was not working, and not wishing to tempt fate by carrying an inefficient pump in this terrain for longer than needs be, we veered off-course in order to replace it. The closest place to find a Cymot is Tsumeb, so a quick stop at the municipal rest camp was rewarded with a new pump, exchanged with no fuss at Cymot. We also experienced our first theft here: a bag filled with the morning’s washing of favourite camping gear was pinched from the back seat at the busy BP station.
Thankful to be heading north again away from so-called civilisation we found the D3047 to Tsintsabis in the Nyae Nyae area, and Tree Sleeper Camp. Another NACOBTA project, Tree Sleepers is managed by local people who have a share in this great scheme. We met one of the managers, George Tsam, a guy with much charisma and a wealth of information. Named after the Hei//omn bushmen, Tree Sleeper Camp has high platforms where campers can sleep, and there is a choice of en suite or shared ablutions facilities. There is an opportunity to learn about the San way of life if you opt for a tour of the local village. After a relaxed time at Tree Sleeper Camp, expectations were high as we drew closer to the infamous Caprivi Strip. The B8 north to Rundu, capital of the Kavango region, so-named after the Kavango River on which it is situated and which eventually dissipates in the Okavango Delta, has tidy villages and many schools.
Continuing on the B8 we found Shankara, a farm on the river some 100 km from Rundu – a peaceful place to overnight. At last we drove into the tiny settlement of Divundu at the start of the Caprivi Strip. The camp at Popa Falls, N/goabaca, yet another community project, was a pleasant surprise – once again high decks, this time with views of the rapids, and our own kitchen and loo/ shower – what a pleasure. On the south side of the river, on the D3430 that takes you to the Botswana border post, we found Ngepi, a camp much-visited by travellers from far and wide. With sites along the Kavango where hippos frolic and elephants play across the river, Ngepi is a good place to stop, unwind and smell the flowers.
We enjoyed the humour (please don’t lose it!) and chatting to the energetic staff, especially Joseph Thikuro, who is proud of his achievements. Last stop before the appealing Mamili and Mudumu National Parks was at Mazambala Island Lodge which has a camp on the Kwando River, another fastmoving watercourse that also arises in Angola. The small town of Kongola has a supermarket where basics may be purchased. We set off along the D3511 expecting to find an entrance gate for Mudumu or Mamili National Parks- but it was not to be! Eventually, after turning off the main road at Lizuli and meandering along sand tracks, we came to a small camp and a ricketylooking log bridge where we met Linus, an enterprising guy who runs the camp, bridge, and surprisingly, a small museum of David Livingstone memorabilia. It seems we had missed the “gate” but could cross the bridge (at a small cost) and would find ourselves in Mamili.
The bridge crossing was accomplished with ease by Gary and Heidi, but with some trepidation by Ian, and we found ourselves in a watery wonderland with tracks going every which way. Mamili National Park, established in 1990, covers 32 000 ha. There are no facilities here, just a wealth of natural, breathtaking beauty. Fortunately we chose to visit during the dry season as Mamili can become impassable after rain. After getting stuck during a swamp crossing – and needing to disengage Heidi and tow her out with a rope, I heard cries in the distance.
Other travellers had come to grief – oh dear, poor Landy. After hauling the vehicle out . of the mud, and discovering we were both searching for the little piece of heaven which is Liandura, the southernmost promontory which overlooks the Linyanti swamp, we went on to enjoy perfection in an ever-changing Garden of Eden. Boasting amongst others more than 430 species of birds, and elephant, hippo, buffalo, sitatunga, red letchwe, roan and sable antelope and wild dog, this was a feast for the senses. This has to be the best Africa experience ever.
Some days later we found ourselves doubling back to find the more northerly Mudumu National Park. Travelling prudently this time, accompanying our new friends, we bogged down a couple of times and were glad that help was at hand. We found Linus’s bridge undergoing repairs, with elephants gazing at the work indifferently. Patiently we waited… Not wishing to rush anything in this fabulous region we decided to stay at Nambwa 4×4 camp back at Kongola before returning to Mudumu. It is difficult to put into perspective the 4×4 rating after having been at Mamili, but Nambwa did offer large stands on the river and hot and cold running water.
This time on returning to the D3511 we found the gate to Mudumu and paid the small entrance fee. The park has 3 sites situated far from each other, and they have long drops but no running water. As it’s known for its large elephant population, we were soon surrounded by these giants on three sides, and behind us the loop in the track often brought binocular- and camera-laden tourists to view the wildlife – and us! Our final destination in Namibia on this trip was Katima Mulilo, capital of the Caprivi.
On the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, Kat is a booming little town with an air of busyness. Ten kilometres on the Ngoma side of town is Namwi Island, an oasis of lawns and shaded campsites on the river. There could not have been a better place to stop, reflect, breathe deeply, and give thanks for the amazing and wonderful country that is Namibia. As we are all different it is impossible to rate anything on the same scale. However, if you love Africa, her people and the serenity of the bush, and do not require powerdriven entertainment, you will love Namibia.
Camp Waypoints & Contacts
S17° 14.844′ E013° 40.849′
Kunene River Lodge
S17° 21.268′ E013° 52.900′
S19° 15.553′ E017° 42.571′
S18° 46.976′ E017°58.111′
S17° 57.012′ E020° 30.362′
P.O. Box 1713, Rundu
Popa Falls, N/goabaca
S18° 06.736′ E021° 34.904′
S18° 06.959′ E021° 40.200′
We thank Caravan & Outdoor Life magazine for this article, it was published in December 2008