Himba Cultural Experience

Total distance: 443km

Suggested time period: 3-5 days

This route links oasis settlements and springs through a unique 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 offer walking tours to find the last free ranging black rhinos found within the conservancies. Attractions in the vicinity include the restored German fort dating back to 1896, the promise of a refreshing swim at the spectacular Ongogo waterfall and the Khowarib Schlucht (gorge) that offers shelter from the surrounding desert.

The stretch of road between Sesfontein and Puros skirts the sparsely vegetated Namib dune fields that support a range of wildlife such as ostriches, springbok and giraffe. The remote Himba settlement at Puros comes as a surprise in the harsh desert environment. Cool campsites under huge camelthorn trees offer shelter from the blazing sun with the odd desert elephant may stroll by. The famous Hoanib elephant herd can be tracked down by experienced local guides.

Another highlight on the route, albeit insignificant at first sight is rooidrom (red drum), a junction known by adventure travellers far and wide. This quirky landmark is a major intersection in the far north of Kaokoland and those with a sense of humour have added distance markers telling you how far you are from Moscow, London and Cape Town. The Marienfluss valley, dotted with mud covered Himba huts, can either be covered in waving yellow grass or be a wind-sept landscape covered by a red sand. The permanently flowing Kuenen River comes as a refreshing surprise with its clear water and river bank studded with makalani palms.

Palmwag:

Palmwag remains one of the best lodges in Damaraland from which to track desert adapted elephant and black rhino, especially in the dry winter months when elephant frequent the Uniab river bed and lodge waterhole.

Fort Sesfontein:

The most well-known landmark in Sesfontein is an old fort built in 1896. Almost a hundred years after it was first built, the historical monument, originally a police outpost, was reconstructed and equipped to accommodate tourists. The palm trees at the fort were planted by the German police officers who manned the fort to combat weapons smuggling and elephant and rhino poaching.

Another attraction is the small cemetery. The cemetery only has three graves. One soldier died in a construction accident when the fort was being built, a second belonged to a trader and the third to another soldier who died of illness.

Warmquelle:

Warmquelle is a small settlement situated on the site of a spring. In the early years of this century the spring was used in an irrigation project, for which an aqueduct was constructed. Now only a few parts of the old aqueduct remain, together with a small Damara settlement and quite a large school.

Attractions in the settlement itself are limited to the ruins of old German irrigation systems and the hot springs.

Swartbooisdrift:

Swartbooisdrift is a small settlement on the banks of the Kunene River, on the Angolan border. Depending on the season, Swartbooisdrift is populated by 150 - 300 semi-nomadic people of Himba and Herero descent.

The settlement is named after Petrus Swartbooi, one of the tribal chief captains of the Swartbooi Nama who raided the area in the 1890's. It has some historic significance as the place where Dorsland Trekkers crossed the Kunene River in 1881 to move into Angola. In commemoration of this migratory movement the Dorsland Trekkers Monument has been erected on a hill just outside the settlement.

Dorsland Trek Memorial

In Kaokoland, several ruins of temporary settlements are still visible, including a reformed church near Kaoko Otavi. Outside Swartbooisdrift the travellers can visit the Dorsland Trekkers Monument which commemorates the journey.

Ongongo Waterfall:

The rock pool is spectacular and is a good place to spend days hiking, walking, bird watching or just swimming and relaxing. At the head of a narrow valley a waterfall, fed by a natural spring, drops into a small gorge of calcrete cliffs.

Khowarib Schlucht:

The Khowarib Schlucht is an intriguing geological formation that offers stunning scenery, fauna and an untamed track through the valley. Ploughing through the thick sands of the Hoanib River and traversing wild landscapes, the route is magnificent. The trail begins just east of Khowarib and extends all the way towards the small township of Umumbaadjie.

Hoanib Desert Elephants:

Various camps and lodges in the area offer excursions to track the infamous desert-adapted elephants of the Hoanib River. The desert-dwelling elephants are well adapted to this climate and they walk much longer distances than their eastern relatives and can cope with less free water. Their numbers have increased to above 700 in the past years, due to higher conservation efforts.

The Marienfluss:

The next valley inland from Hartmann's is the Marienfluss, which has more soft sand and is greener than Hartmann's Valley. It is covered with light scrub and the odd tree marks an underground river. A most noticeable feature of the Marienfluss is its 'fairy circles', although they are also found, to a lesser extent, in Hartmann's Valley. These are circular patches without any vegetation.

Hartmann's Valley:

Hartmann's Valley is a 70km valley that is only accessible to seasoned four wheel drivers. In the south, the road starts by crossing a number of steep-sided river valleys. It soon changes to compacted corrugated sand, which shakes your vehicle violently. Finally, this becomes soft before high dunes prevent you reaching the Kunene by vehicle. Despite the harsh conditions, it is very beautiful.

Epupa Waterfall:

The Epupa Falls are created by the Kunene River on the border of Angola and Namibia. The river is 0.5 kilometres wide and drops in a series of waterfalls spread over 1.5km, with the greatest single drop being 37m. The name "Epupa" is a Herero word for "foam", in reference to the foam created by the falling water.

The falls are a major drawcard for the route and it has a well-developed local tourism industry with a number of camps, local craft and village tours. A number of camps also offer canoeing and hiking and bird watching is a popular pastime for visitors.

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.