Kavango Open Africa Route

Total distance: 383km

Suggested time period: 1½ - 3 days

The Kavango Open Africa Route is based on the riverine landscapes of the Kavango, its people, birds and wildlife. This unique travel route is situated in north-eastern Namibia. The route roughly stretches from Nkurunkuru in the west to Divundu in the east. This route also provides access to Mahango and Khaudum National Parks on the border of Botswana. The beauty of this area was only discovered by explorers in the late nineteenth century and is still being discovered by tourists today.

The route offers an array of attractions, a diversity of culture and is a renowned birding hotspot.

Attractions:

Mbunza Living Museum:

The Living Museum is a community concept to preserve local traditions and customs for generations to come. Supported by the Living Culture Foundation Namibia, the Kavango people have created a traditional school for culture and at the same time, established a social business for the community. The main focus of the Mbunza Living Museum is to provide visitors to the museum with a detailed and authentic insight into the traditional, pre-colonial culture. The Living Museum, situated at the Samsitu Lake, is a traditional village of the Kavango, who have lived in this area for centuries.

The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and drum-making.

Khaudum National Park:

The arduous 4x4 access road makes reaching the Park an experience not for the faint-hearted. This unfenced park is a corridor for wildlife movement between Botswana and Namibia and provides an exhilarating experience for the adventurous traveller.

Khaudum National Park has two basic overnight camps, and a trip to this remote, yet worthwhile park, requires some prior planning and preparation before an extended excursion should be attempted. Being a large, extensive park with many unmarked routes between water points it is advisable to consider a guide. The authorities also insist that each party is required to have no less than two vehicles for safety reasons.

Nyangana Mission:

This mission was the first Roman Catholic Mission to be founded in Kavango. Named after the Gciriku King, Thomas Nyangana (1879 to 1924), the mission was founded on the 21st May 1909 by Joseph Gotthardt. The mission is located on the south bank of the Okavango River in Kavango East. The mission is now linked to the Kavango Community Development Foundation and is supported by the Kayova River Lodge. Social upliftment programmes include, the construction of nurseries and kindergartens, water projects to supply villages with clean water, and the establishment of an AIDS orphanage for children left destitute due to the loss of their parents through HIV/AIDS.

Visits to the community support small businesses and help the locals generate an income for their families and also help subsistence farmers in their supply of vegetables and produce to the lodge.

Andara Mission Station:

Andara is a village in Mukwe Constituency, Kavango Region. Located 200km east of Rundu, it is inhabited primarily by the Hambukushu people. It is the home of the Holy Family Parish, a Roman Catholic mission. The first missionaries arrived in 1909 during the German colonial era, but a mission station was only established in 1913 under the leadership of missionaries and later Archbishop Joseph Gotthardt. In the 1960's the Andara Catholic Hospital and a youth hostel were built. The Andara Catholic Hospital continues to run to this day with the hostel housing up to 130 students.

Mahango National Park:

Mahango National Park, renowned for its baobab trees, is situated south of Divundu on the Botswana border. Mahango covers an area of about 250km² and is separated from Bwabwata National Park by the Okavango River. Two game viewing roads provide the opportunity to view the diverse wildlife along the waterways. Only 4x4 should be used when accessing the park and at least two vehicles should travel together. Guided tours can be arranged.

The dry season is better for game-viewing since the riverfront has a larger concentration of animals coming to drink water. The dry season occurs from June to October. Bird-watching is better in the wetter months of November to March. Mahango National Park is open throughout the year and is open to day visitors only. Being a small reserve with good species diversity the visitor can usually have a satisfying day's excursion.

Okavango River System and Popa Falls:

The Okavango River is the fourth-longest river system in southern Africa, running southeastward for 1 600km (990 miles). It begins in Angola, where it is known as the Cubango River. Further south it forms part of the border between Angola and Namibia, and then flows into Botswana, draining into the Moremi Game Reserve.

The name is derived from Kavango people living along the river. The river is the only perennial river in Africa that flows eastward without reaching the sea. The Okavango river system is arguably one of the last near-pristine ecosystems in Africa. Before the river enters Botswana the river drops 4m across the full 1.2km-width of the river in a series of rapids known as Popa Falls, visible when the river is low, such as during the dry season. The Popa Falls are an important habitat for two rare fish species; broadhead catfish and ocellated spinyeel.

32 Batallion Military Base:

The 32 Batallion Military Base is located within the Buffalo Core Area of Bwabwata National Park; hence the nickname Buffalos. Although the base is largely in ruin, a drive down the large sand dunes towards the Kwando River takes one back to the independence struggle. Although the battalion was disbanded in 1993 as part of the negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC); following 20 years of military operations in the area, the wildlife in the area was largely depleted. Since the park was proclaimed in 2007, wildlife numbers have steadily increased as result of effective co-management between MET and communities living in the park (see Caprivi Wetlands Paradise Experience).

Tsodilo Hills:

Located in north-west Botswana near the Namibian border, the Tsodilo Hills are a small area of massive quartzite rock formations that rise from ancient sand dunes to the east and a dry fossil lake bed to the west in the Kalahari Desert. With one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world, Tsodilo has been called the 'Louvre of the Desert'. More than 4 500 paintings are preserved in an area of only 10km2. The local communities revere Tsodilo as a place of worship and as a home for ancestral spirits. Its water holes and hills are revered as a sacred cultural landscape by the Hambukushu and San communities.

Three basic long-term facts have contributed to Tsodilo's outstanding state of preservation: its remoteness, its low population density and the high degree of resistance to erosion of its quartzitic rock. The rock-art paintings are executed in red ochre derived from hematite occurring in the local rock [this same ochre is used by the Himba women in the Kunene Region - see the Arid Eden Route].

The Arid Eden Route:

Offering an unexpected, otherworldly experience both in its landscape and the rewards it brings travellers, the Arid Eden Route stretches from Swakopmund in the south to the Angolan border in the north and includes the previously restricted western area of Etosha National Park, one of Namibia's most important tourist destinations with almost all visitors to the country including the park in their travel plans.

The Arid Eden Route also includes well-known tourist attractions such as Spitzkoppe, Brandberg, Twyfelfontein and Epupa Falls. Travellers can experience the majesty of free-roaming animals, extreme landscapes, rich cultural heritage and breathtaking geological formations. As one of the last remaining wildernesses, the Arid Edin Route is remote yet accessible.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • Visit one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs (rock art) in Africa at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site;
  • Learn more about Namibia's traditional cultures such as Himba and Damara;
  • Visit ancient riverbeds, craters and a petrified forest on your way to an oasis in the desert "" the Epupa Waterfall;
  • See desert adapted wildlife such as elephant, rhino and lion in its natural environment;
  • See how communities take ownership of their natural assets in communal conservancies.

Interesting facts:

  • "Epupa" is a Herero word for "foam", in reference to the foam created by the falling water;
  • In the Himba culture a sign of wealth is not the beauty or quality of a tombstone, but rather the cattle you had owned during your lifetime, represented by the horns on your grave;
  • The longest exposed tree at the petrified forest is 45m long;
  • The desert-adapted elephants of the Kunene region rely on a little as nine species of plants for their survival while in Etosha they utilise over 80 species;
  • The Brandberg has Namibia's highest peak at 2574m and is home to the White Lady, a San Painting. The White Lady was first believed to be Isis, as known from artworks of Pharonic Egypt, and that the figure bore resemblance to artworks of the classical Mediterranean cultures. The painting is in fact not of a lady, but is a medicine man or shaman of importance and is a fine example of San Rock Art;
  • The western gate of Etosa, known as Galton Gate, is named after the British explorer Sir Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) who travelled extensively central and northern in Namibia from 1850 to 1852. The gate was previously closed to the public, but now gives access to a previously restricted area of the park;
  • The circular "Fairy Circles" in the Marienfluss is actually caused by termites that kill the grass by eating the roots, causing the water to stay in the ground for years at a time. The termites literally swim in watery sand, sustained by water and whatever organic material is left there until the next rain and the next round of new annual grass. Plants stick their roots just inside the circle to get water, but not far enough to tempt the termites, causing barren circles on the landscape;
  • The Dorsland Trek is the collective name of a series of northwards explorations undertaken by Boer settlers from South Africa towards the end of the 19th century and in the first years of the 20th century. One of these groups entered Angola by crossing the Cunene River at Swartbooisdrift. The formed an entirely closed community which refused integration into Angola, they returned in the 1970's when the country became independent;
  • The Etosha Pan covers a total area of is 4 730 square km and developed through tectonic plate activity over about ten million years;
  • The elephant population in Etosha has grown substantially over the years. In 1954 as little as 26 elephants were counted while there are over 2 500 today. This is largely as a result of a series of boreholes that were drilled to attract them from surrounding farms.
  • Elephants communicate via infrasound - sound below our threshold of hearing;
  • The Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis) is a gymnosperm relict plant endemic to the Namib Desert. Some individual plants are estimated to have lived for over a millennium;
  • The Kunene is Namibia's most rapidly flowing river and its ancient course is thought to have been connected to the present day Okavango and Zambezi Rivers. It also hosts over 80 different fish species.

Suggested Experiences

Windhoek to Galton:

This national road sweeps through well settled farming country. The landscape includes savannah thornveld with numerous game farms and early German settler towns with well-developed infrastructure. Novelties en-route include German delicatessens, coffee shops and locally run butcheries that source delicious game and beef from surrounding farms. The excellent highway offers glimpses of families of warthogs foraging on the road verge and quick views of kudu, giraffe and other game as you pass by.

Welwitchia Experience:

This route links Namibia’s premier coastal holiday destination, Swakopmund with the wildlife spectacle of Etosha National Park. The well-maintained gravel road passes by some of themost spectacular landscapes and attractions in Namibia. Dominating the landscape enroute is the towering Sptizkoppe and Erongo mountains. The mountainous in south attract both mountain bikers and rock climbers while less adventurous hikers can experience this wilderness at a more leisurely pace.

Himba Cultural Experience:

This routes links oasis settlements and springs through a part of the Himba tribal heartland. Palmwag is a cluster of ancient palm trees under which small herds of elephants congregate in the river vegetation. Local tour operators also offer walking tours to find the last free ranging black rhinos in the area. Further north, the six fountains that resulted in the establishment the historic settlement of Sesfontein brings life the arid Hoanib valley.

North West Trail:

This route links up the western gate of the spectacular Etosha National Park and its teaming wildlife with another Namibian highlight the two major waterfalls on the Kunene River. The route traverses Mopani shrubland while skirting the Etosha Park fence for some sixty kilometres. Opuwo, the main center in the Himba heartland and is a necessary refuelling and supply stop, before heading off into the rugged mountain complexes of the Baynes and Zebra Ranges. The experience takes you all the way to the Epupa waterfall, one of the truly unspoilt natural wonders of Africa.

The Four Rivers Route comprises an unusual water ecosystem that gives life to rich and rare wildlife, birds and culture, while being affordable to visitors who feel nourished in its presence. The name is derived from the four river systems that flow through the Zambezi (formerly the Caprivi) and Kavango regions, namely the Zambezi, Okavango, Kwando and Chobe Rivers. The unusual water ecosystem created by the rivers is one of Southern Africa's best kept secrets and is home to over 430 bird species, free-roaming wildlife and numerous culturally rich villages and attractions.

This route stretches from Nkurenkuru in the North East through the Zambezi Region (former Caprivi Strip) to one of southern Africa's most spectacular attractions, the Victoria Waterfalls.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • With over 430 bird species, the area is one of the most attractive destinations for birding in southern Africa;
  • Experience the rich culture of the region at the Mbunza and Mafwe Living Museums. These living museums help to sustain the livelihoods of local people while acting as a traditional school that preserves local culture and traditions;
  • Buy authentic, hand-made craft from local crafters. The Khwe crafters at the Bwabwata National Park are renowned for their unique style of basket weaving found nowhere else in southern Africa;
  • Take part in a range of river activities in the largest water ecosystems in southern Africa. Activities include fishing, birding, hiking, game viewing and canoeing; and
  • See how communities protect their resources through communal conservancies and community forests. In one of Africa's greatest success stories, communities are managing and benefiting from their natural resources through 17 registered conservancies covering close to 5,000 square kilometres.

Interesting facts:

  • An Omarumba is an ancient, dried-up river bed found in the Kalahari sands of Namibia. The Omarumba Omatako is found in the Kavango region south of the Okavango River towards the Kalahari Desert. These river beds provide occasional standing pools during the rainy seasons and are often home to a unique type of vegetation, different to that of the surrounding plains.
  • Fort Doppies, 32 Battalion, Omega I and Omega III are all historic military in the Zambezi and Kavango regions. These bases were used by the South African Defence Force to fight the war on independence. In 1991, Namibia gained its independence and by 1993 most of these bases and operations were disbanded.
  • Around 10,000 years ago the Kwando River merged with the Okavango Deltawhen the land surface between the two courses was raised through tectonic activity. Today the Kwando flows into a swamp land known as the Linyanti Swamp.
  • The Chobe River is l river course that flows in two opposing directions. It flows west towards the Linyanti swamps but also east towards the Zambezi River.
  • The vaKavango people consists of five kingdoms;, Kwangali, Mbunza, Shambyu, Gciriku and Mbukushu. The line of decent is only traced through the females. This means that should a man hold a hereditary position, which is passed on to his sister's eldest son and not his own children.
  • Nyemba is the word derived by the vaKavango people for immigrants and is largely referred to Angolan immigrants who moved down to the Kavango and Zambezi regions during the war to trade.
  • Until the end of the 19th century the Caprivi region was known as Intenga and was under the rule of the Lozi kings. Later it formed part of the British Bechuanaland Protectorate (known as Botswana today).
  • The Caprivi Strip (now known as the Zambezi Region) was named after the German Chancellor General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi di Caprara di Montecuccoli.
  • In 1890 Germany laid claim to the British-administered Island of Zanzibar but the British objected. This was settled at the Berlin Conference in 1890 when Queen Victoria acquired Zanzibar and Germany acquired the territory that is now known as the Zambezi Region.
  • In 1958 the Zambezi rose to the highest levels ever recorded. It flooded the entire eastern portion of the Zambezi Region pouring into a broad depression located south of Katima Mulilo and thereby creating a lake known as Lake Liambezi.

SUGGESTED EXPERIENCES:

Kavango Open Africa Route

The Kavango Open Africa Route, is based on the riverine landscapes of the Kavango, its people, birds and wildlife. The route roughly stretches 383km from Nkurunkuru in the west to Mohembo in the east and also provides access to the Mahango and Khaudum National Parks on the border of Botswana. The beauty of this area was only discovered by explorers in the late nineteenth century and is still being discovered by tourists today. The route off ers an array of attractions and a diversity of culture and is a renowned birding hotspot. Other attractions that form part of the experience include the Mbunza Living Museum, Khaudum National Park, Nyangana Mssion, Andara Mission, the Okavango River System and Popa Falls as well as Mahango National Park.

Caprivi Wetlands Paradise Experience

The Caprivi Wetlands Paradise epitomises the appeal of Africa with wildlife and communities living side-by-side. The area is renowned for its successful Community Based Natural Resource Management programme that allows communities specific ownership rights and allows them to protect and sustainably utilise their wildlife and other natural resources. This can be seen first-hand when crossing the Okavango River into the Bwabwata National Park. Travellers will immediately realise this is not a typical park as approximately 5,000 people live in the park and derive benefits from its natural resources. It is not until you reach the Kwando River with its more densely vegetated riverine woodlands that you are likely to spot herds of elephant. The area is also known as Namibia’s birding paradise. It has varied habitats including broad-leafed and acacia woodlands, mopane forests, riverine forests, grasslands and fl oodplains, and therefore boasts more than 400 species of birds.

Four Courners Experience

The Four Corners Experience stretches from the Ngoma border post, through Chobe National Park in Botswana to the mighty Victoria Falls that are shared by two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Along the way travellers will have glimpses of the Zambezi River before reaching the Chobe River as it merges with the Zambezi at the confluence. Seeing the abundant wildlife of the area come to drink at sunset on the banks of the Chobe River is one of the best experiences southern Africa has to offer. The final destination on this experience is the famous Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), Africa’s biggest spectacle of water and a sight not to be missed. Anyone with a passion for wildlife, birds and fishing will return home with a thousand pictures and wealth of memories to share. The main attractions that form part of this experience include Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls and the Four Corners Baobab on Impalila Island.

The Omulunga Palm Route is not only the gateway to Angola but also links the remote and desolate northwest region (the Arid Eden Route) to the lush water ecosystem of the Four Rivers Route (Kavango and Zambezi regions). This route showcases Namibia's heartbeat. It is located along the northern border of Namibia and stretches from Ruacana in the west to Nkurenkuru in the east and is named after the distinctive palms that accent the desolate landscape, called Omulunga in Ovambo. The route is the quintessential oasis for weary travellers and serves as a practical stop-over for visitors to refuel and restock in the heart of a bustling African community.

With vibrant colours, sights and sounds, travellers will enjoy lapping up the traditional and contemporary Ovambo culture and steal a glimpse into the local tribal royalty. The area echoes a strong liberation history which, if delved into, will fascinate history buffs, while nature lovers can enjoy the abundant wildlife and wilderness in the world-famous Etosha National Park.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • Explore Namibia's modern history with an array of war museums and shrines commemorating those who struggled during the War on Independence;
  • Discover a unique culture, traditional villages, royal homesteads, bustling African markets and hear the drums beat in Namibia largest city;
  • Gain a different perspective on Etosha National Park by entering through the north-eastern gate at King Nehale (within King Nehale Conservancy);
  • The Oshakati open market is said to be the biggest in the country and is an important part of the town's economic infrastructure. The open market is a cultural experience in its own right as travellers can buy anything from Mopani worms, traditional beer, local crafts and artefacts, and many other local delicacies; and
  • Visit one of Africa's largest waterfalls outside Ruacana and discover how the Kunene Rivers is harnessed to generate renewable energy for Namibia.

Interesting facts:

  • The Cuvelai-Etosha River Basin is located in the north central regions of Namibia, including Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto. The Cuvelai drainage system originates in Angola, however most water travels in shallow ephemeral watercourses known as oshanas.
  • "Efundja" is the word used for major floods during the rainy season when travellers can find the oshanas covered with water.
  • In 2012, scientists found over 5-billion cubic meters of water within the Cuvelai-Etosha Delta (Northern Namibia and Angola). The aquifer is said to be more than 200m deep but could supply water for a further 400 years at present consumption levels.
  • The Oshigambo River (also Ekuma River) links Lake Oponono, Cuvelai Delta with the Etosha Salt Pan. This river is an ephemeral river and rarely carries surface water.
  • Natural salt pans are flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals. Usually shining white under the sun, these pans are found in deserts. Namibia contains a vast array of salt pans, the largest being the Etosha salt pans that are protected as part of the Etosha National Park. Other salt pans in Namibia include Omuntele Salt Pan in the Oshikoto region, Otjivakunda and many others.
  • In about 1550, the people referred to collectively as the "˜Aawambo' moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango Rivers. Today, the area is known as Owambo Land (north central Namibia) and represents nearly half of the total population of Namibia.
  • In the pre-colonial structure of Owambo society there was a king and his headmen in each of the seven Owambo groups (Ondonga, Uukwanyama, Ongandjera, Uukwambi, Ombalantu, Uukwaluudhi and Uukolonkandhi). The king always had the last say.
  • In 2005, the first female chief was elected into the Uukwanyama tribe.
  • The Etosha Pan covers a total area of is 4 730 square kilometres and developed through tectonic plate activity over about ten million years.

SUGGESTED EXPERIENCES:

Roof of Namibia

The Roof of Namibia Experience links the Kunene River at Ruacana Falls with the Okavango River along the Angolan border. The route leads through numerous pans and flooded channels known as oshanas that move southward from Angola towards the Etosha salt pan. Travellers will enjoy the feeling of a rural landscape interspersed with a bustling urban landscape. Those with a keen interest in Namibia’s recent history can enjoy attractions such as the Outapi War Museum, Ombalantu Baobab Museum and the Eenhana Shrine.

King Nehale Experience

The King Nehale Experience takes travellers along a journey through the colourful towns of Oshakati, Ongwediva and Ondangwa and the starkly contrasting rural villages that surround it. Travellers will have the opportunity to visit the Omugulugwombashe National Monument, Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead, Uukwambi Kings Monument, Oshakati Open Market, Ongula Traditional Homestead, Nakambale Museum and Lake Oponono and experience the abundant wildlife of the Etosha National Park.