4×4 Kaokoland Tour – Augustus 2017
My book shelves are filled with stories about Kaokoland, maps of routes in dotted lines past coloured drums, articles about the sudden appearance of stone men, theories about strange circles in the sand, elephants and lions that survive on next to nothing and a pass that will make a Land Rover drill for oil. Kaokoland is on every adventurers list, and for good reason. To the 4×4 owner it is to test his vehicle and nerve over Van Zyl’s, to the city-slicker it is to breathe again, to the photographer it is the challenge to capture its vastness. Whatever the reason, this mythological landscape of stone, rivers, sand, elephants and nothingness has something for everyone.
So much has been written about tours through the Kaokoland – a day to day version of what every tour operator offers, but here in the bush, there are no days. The sun comes up and the sun goes down – sometimes, it feels to me, in the wrong west. In between the coming and going of the sun, there are hair-raising moments when a driver is forced to face his limits, sober discoveries when you get a good look at yourself, your passengers and the other group members.
Meeting the Group
Johan and Paula Loubser of Africa de Sud Safaris waited for the new adventurers on the plains of the Halali camp grounds. I joined this tour as tour-photographer in a red Hilux without brakes (quite literally we found out later) in a cloud of dust just as the sun was about to lid the bushveld in the most beautiful golden light. The party from the western Cape was held at the Anderson Gate – too late for them to enter. With a beer in hand we started talking about the next 14 days.
August is a great time for wildlife viewing in Etosha – it also coincides with the European school holidays. We could not make our way out of Etosha any quicker as we headed for the plains of Kaokoland to escape the throngs of tourists that crowded the park. But first we stopped at the Ombulantu Baobab Tree Camp in Outapi. We camped next to the tree of wisdom. This tree has witnessed so much more than the Namibian border war. About 5m up in the tree grows an aloe. An aloe… My best guess is that a little seed once fell into a branch of a much smaller baobab. What a story?! If only trees could talk.
From there we head to a paradise along the Kunene River – Kunene River Lodge. We sleep in the shadows of trees, surrounded by green lawns and the song of birds from another world wake us up. At Epupa, the waterfall gently rocks us to sleep and we leave with great difficulty. Finally, we head to Opuwo where the local SPAR is supported well and beyond our needs for now. Every fridge and available cool box is loaded with ice, coke and everything that goes with it. Loved ones are called, tanks are filled to the brim and while we wait for everyone to empty their purses in Opuwo, we buy coffee that soothes the taste buds.
From Opuwo the road feels never-ending to the beginning of Van Zyl’s. We cross miles and miles of mopani forest with little grass but numerous Himba trying to catch a lift by hopping rather unceremoniously onto the roof of a car. We camp under enormous Ana trees tonight in an unknown riverbed. There is only one topic of conversation tonight around the fire – Van Zyl’s pass. While I cannot get enough of the stars, Ida traverse Van Zyl’s in her sleep. By the time the first alarm goes off, she is convinced that her Hilux can now manage Van Zyl’s in reverse.
Four hours later with only 10km on the clock I finally understand Van Zyl’s Pass. This is a pass for the passionate driver. This isn’t meant for scaredy cats, false teeth and people in a hurry. Why Ben Van Zyl needed to cross this mountain, I’ll probably never understand, but as far as I’m concerned, the damage has been done. After the mountains we enter the beauty of Marienfluss. Tracks in deep red sand, small herds of springbok and oryx on the horizons in an endless valley of grass – surrounded by mountains that would make old King David write a psalm. I find myself torn between wanting to stay longer and a blue-eyed three-year-old boy, miles south of here.
The Highlights and the truths…
The following days are filled with highlights and spectacular surprises. Purros gorge is a small heaven in the desert with a slow flowing river through the heart of an otherwise dry landscape. Desert elephants, leopard tracks in our campsite, a hot shower after days of dust, Biryani chicken under an ancient Mopani, ground that turned into rocks… rocks until my seat turns into granite and then finally Palmfontein. Hidden in yet another gorge with water flowing from the rocks; as if Moses was here as well. Lovebirds circling the air while a baboon watches from the safety of a rock.
But everything isn’t perfect. How can it be in a landscape so dry, so fragile? Among the rocks I find bones of giraffe, zebra and oryx – animals that did not survive the drought. We see cattle where there should only be elephants, springbok and leopard. The tracks of a 4×4 on an ancient dune – what were they thinking? And in my quietness, I wonder if my son will have the privilege to also one day enjoy this still, mostly unspoiled wilderness.
Outjo – back to reality
Our last stop en-route to Outjo is at the Vingerklip – another place that reminds me of just how fragile the beauty of Namibia is. We spend our last night in Outjo where we longingly think back of the last 14 days. It is two weeks that I won’t easily forget, people who I don’t want to forget and a tour that everyone should have the opportunity to do at least once.
Day 1: Halali, Etosha Nasional Park
Day 2: Halali – Ombulantu Boabab Tree Camp – 344km
Day 3: Ombulantu Boabab Tree Camp – Kunene River Lodge – 153km
Day 4: Kunene River Lodge – Epupa Falls Lodge – 101km
Day 5: Epupa Falls Lodge
Day 6: Epupa – Van Zyl’s Pass Camp (via Opuwo) – 320km
Day 7: Van Zyl’s Pass – Camp Syncro – 72km
Day 8: Syncro – Marble Camp – 92km
Day 9: Marble Camp – Purros – 126km
Day 10: Purros – Khowarib Lodge – 206km
Day 11: Khowarib – Palmwag Lodge – 127km
Day 12: Palmwag – Hoada Camp (Grootberg) – 147km
Day 13: Hoada – Ombinda Lodge (Outjo) – 381km
Johan & Paula Loubser
Africa de Sud Safaris
Contact: +264 (0)81 388 8851