Damaraland and the Kaokoland host a number of free roaming elephants, the desert adapted elephant. Technically they are the same species as the African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) but they have adapted to life in the harsh desert environment. They roam the dry riverbeds between the seasonal Hoanib and Hoarusib rivers in Kaokoland to the Ugab river near Brandberg.
They only need to drink once every three days, and if no surface water is available, they will dig for water in the dry riverbeds. They feed on leaves, twigs and the bark of shrubs. Some of the bigger bulls sometimes balance on their hind feet to reach the highest branches.
They were placed under protection in the early eighties when they were nearly extinct. Nowadays they number about 700 individuals.
Twyfelfontein area with the "San" rock art, the Organ Pipes and Burnt Mountain
Twyfelfontein, litterally meaning doubtful spring, was named by white farmers in 1947 when they realised the spring wasn't very reliable. In 1964 the farmers left the area but the name was kept.
The valley where Twyfelfontein is situated became well known after a number of ancient San Bushmen engravings were discovered.
It is one of the biggest collections of "San" Bushmen Art in the world. Twyfelfontein was proclaimed a national monument in 1952 and a Unesco World Heritage site in 2007.
Nearby, the remarkable organ pipes are a fascinating geological formation. The beautifully coloured perpendicular columns resemble a church organ, some upto 5 meters high.
A short walk away there is another national monument, the Burnt Mountain. This so called 'inselberg' is best viewed early mornings and late afternoons, when it becomes clear why it was named like this. At these times, the sunrays give it a beautiful red colour, mixed with shades of black, making it look like it is on fire. During the daytime, the rich colours are just a dusky black, looking like leftover ashes from the mornings fire, hence the name.
Brandberg (fire mountain) can be seen from a large distance with its highest peak (Königstein) of 2573 meters. The Brandberg is a spiritual site of great significance to the San Bushmen. The main tourist attraction is the white lady Rock painting, amongst other artwork, as many as 45.000 altogether. It is a 40 minute hike over rough terrain to reach the White lady. Some interesting and unique desert flora can also be found in this area.
A dramatic 35 metre high rock formation, formed over 30 million years of limestone erosion, stands out like a finger in the Ugab Terraces. There are a number of walking trails in the vicinity to give you unobstructive views of this unusual rock formation. From the valley there are also stunning views of the Ugab Plateau.
Between Usakos and Swakopmund, The Spitzkoppe, or the "Matterhorn of Namibia", is another great tourist attraction. It is a group of bald granite peaks over 700million years old, and with the highest peak of 1784 metres above sealevel, they stand well out in the otherwise flat surrounding plains.
There are some fine examples of Bushmen artwork in the area, and also many interesting examples of flora and rock formations. The area is a hiking paradise and a must for campers.
The Palmwag Concession, is a vast conservation area of some 5000km² and provides habitat to a rich diversity of wildlife. It is a fantastic place to get away from it all; away into prisitine wilderness, with no people and wide horizons. It is a great place to bushcamp, and without any light pollution you will be sleeping in your own "million star hotel".
It is a semi-desert region but provides habitat for species like desert elephant, giraffe and mountain zebra. The area supports almost 70% of the world's largest free roaming population of black rhino and is the operational base for "Save the Rhino Trust". It is the most succesful concession in Namibia.
In the barren and remote area North West of Brandberg, after hours of driving and not seeing a soul, just when you start to think you'll never see life again, you arrive at the little oasis of Gai Ais spring. The otherwise desolate area is geologically interesting, with colourful volcanic landscapes. One has to be totally self supporting as no facilities are available.
This river originates in the Angolan highlands and for 350 km forms the border between Namibia and Angola. In contrast to the Orange River in the south, the Kunene is still inhabited by crocodiles – thus swimming is not advisable. The water level is subject to continuous change as it is not only determined by rainfall in the catchment area, but also by the hydroelectric power plant at Ruacana. The Kunene meanders through rocky terrain, is torrential in places and becomes a rather wide stream when it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its flora and fauna the estuary is strictly protected; amongst others, two rare types of turtle come ashore to lay their eggs.
Opuwo is the capital of the Kunene region in the far north west of Namibia. It is a pleasant little town, that will tickle all your senses, with lots of culture from the mix of Himba, Herero and Dhimba people. It is the gateway to explore the region further, like Epupa Falls, van Zyl's Pass and the Mariënfluss. It has banks, supermarkets, streetmarkets, a petrol station and an internet café. It is the only stop to stock up for the rest of your trip.
This spot on the Angolan border is a delight after coming from the barren and desolate kaokoland regions. The area is dominated by Makalani Palms, Baobabs and Wild Fig trees, giving lots of shade.
The sun shows of a fantastic spectacle of light and colour on the cliffs as it goes down. Enjoy this scene from the lookout point while sipping a cold gin&tonic or a Windhoek lager.
During the day, the area can be explored on foot. It has an interesting geology, with the oldest rocks in Namibia.
A few kilometers west of Ruacana the highland of Ovambo drops steeply. This stretch of the road is particularly beautiful in the early morning light, with the huge water surface of the dammed-up Kunene glittering on your right side. The Ruacana Falls are about 120 m deep and 700 m wide, but these days water gushes over the falls only after particularly good rains, when the sluice gates have to be opened. This happens only periodically, after many dry years. Otherwise the water is fed through the turbines of the hydroelectric power station and the falls remain dry.
Van Zyl's Pass
Van Zyl's Pass was built by Ben van Zyl, the Bantu commisioner of the Kaokoland in 1960, together with a team of Himba's. Nowadays it can't really be called a road, it is more a route over the mountain made by travellers over time. The really steep pass itself provides a pure adrenaline rush; the route leading up to the pass is a 10-15km stretch of tough driving, negotioating through rocks, boulders and ravines. At the end, the road descends to the ancient glacial valley called the Mariënfluss. It is one of the most beautiful sight and a real reward after having conquered the pass.
The pass should only be done by very experienced 4x4 drivers and is definitely not for the faint hearted.
Purros is an idyllic spot on the banks of the dry Hoarusib River, in the desert between mountains. The underground water reaches the surfaces leaving the area green and it is teeming with oryx, giraffe, springbok and a large variety of birds. Elephants are also often seen in the area.
The water also provides a much needed sustenance for the inhabitants of the small settlement and their livestock. Purros is filled with culture and the local people, mainly Herero's, still farm with their goats and cattle in the area.