North Western Namibia (Affectionately known as Kaokoland or Kaokoveld)
Driving through miles and miles of rocks on our way to Palmwag, too tired to stop but too thirsty to talk I suddenly remembered one of those unfortunate realities I came to discover as a child. As an Afrikaans speaking child we couldn’t pronounce Kaokoland to save our lives. Apparently we also couldn’t hear so well. And Kaokoland became known to the family cousins as Cokeland – and yes, somehow we believed that Cokeland had vast amounts of Coke. How, where and what did not concern us, this was the land of Coke and our uncle (lucky fish!) lived in it. Almost 30 years later and I would for the first time cross the deep north-west with a red Hilux and fold double with laughter (and a Coke thirst) as I remember this childhood believe (dream?).
But back to reality and the real north-western Namibia.
The north-western corner of Namibia is probably the least developed region in the country. 4×4 Enthusiasts and adventurers alike love this corner of the country. Desert mountains stretch seemingly endless from south to north, with sandy tracks across the mountains as the only way to get from point A to B.
It is also here that the primitive Himba, famous for the ochre butter they cover their skin with, live and survive. There is no public transport here and the only way to travel is with an organised group or self-drive with a fitted 4WD. In the dry season (May – October), the main roads between Opuwo – Epupa – Ruacana can be accessed with a high clearance 2WD although a 4WD is generally recommended for travelling in Namibia.
Generally known as the capital of Kaokoland, my husband fondly refers to it as a “dustbin with traffic lights”. Opuwo is little more than a dusty hole with a few very welcoming shops. In recent years, three refill stations have opened up and both a SPAR and an OK Foods can be found in Opuwo with quite a selection of fresh produce. No matter how you plan on driving, this is your last stop and civilization for a while. Don’t expect a fuel station and certainly no Wi-Fi north-west of here.
Best time to visit:
May – September. The ideal time would be to visit during the height of the winter in Namibia which is in June and July, but this also correlates with the European holidays and Kaokoland has seen a huge influx in travellers during July through to October. If you want to avoid the crowds, it is best to stay off the beaten track (those dotted lines on the maps) and join an organised tour.
Personally for me as a Namibian traveller, the highlight of a trip through the Kaokoland is the unexpected beauty. Whether it is the sudden appearance of a herd of desert elephants in a river bed, the explosive night skies, a stream flowing through the desert providing a much-needed lifeline, incredible geology around every corner, the roar of a lion in the distance, leopard tracks through camp or an unknown bird call before sunrise… Kaokoland is more than just Van Zyl’s Pass. It is beauty in the smallest of sand particles to the largest of land mammals. Beauty surrounds you here and the fresh air, the endless rocks, the beating sun – all help to see it, feel it and taste it.
Places to stay (or camp)
(Only places that I have visited are listed)
Epupa – Epupa Falls Lodge & Campsite
Ruacana – Kunene River Lodge
Marienfluss – Camp Syncro
Purros – Purros Community Camp
Van Zyl’s Pass – Van Zyl’s Pass Campsite
Palmwag – Palmwag Lodge & Campsite
Khowarib Lodge – Khowarib Lodge & Campsite
If you would like some personal advice or have a story to share, please feel free to contact me: