Welwitchia Experience

Total distance: 860km (including detours)

Suggested time period: 3-4 days

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 the most spectacular landscapes and attractions in Namibia. Dominating the landscape en-route is the towering Sptizkoppe and Erongo mountains.

The mineral rich nature of the area is visible when driving into Uis. The town offers basic amenities such as fuel and other supplies, as there are no tar roads and only a handful of small towns in the region it calls for a degree of self-sufficiency. The Brandberg has at least 2 000 recorded rock art sites. The best of these can be visited on a walking tour with welltrained local guides. It is also one of the more accessible locations to view desert elephants attracted to the only greenery found in the dry riverbeds. Twyfelfontein is a prime attraction in the north-west and has a wide range of accommodation from upmarket lodges to community campsites. The World Heritage site is known to have the largest concentration of petroglyphs in Africa.

The town of Khorixas is the obvious supply point for independent travellers before heading into the more remote northern parts if this region. The simple beauty of the rocky landscape en-route to Kamanjab allows glimpses of giraffe, springbok, milkbush shrubs, local villages and tribesman herding flocks of damara sheep. Spectacular mountain passes offer endless vistas of the surrounding landscape until reaching the rural town of Kamanjab, just short of the new Galton Gate

Attractions:

Spitzkoppe:

Rising to 1800m above sea level, the famous Spitzkoppe Mountains in the south of the region are one of Namibia's most striking geographic splendours.

Brandberg:

Home to many significant rock paintings, including the famous White Lady, the Brandberg is Namibia's highest mountain and on a clear day can be seen from a great distance. Birds such as ostrich, Herero and Mountain Chats and animals like the rock hyrax, baboons, zebra, oryx and springbok can be seen around the Brandberg.

Ugab Desert Elephants:

The White Lady Lodge offers daily tours to the infamous Desert Elephants along the Ugab River. Especially during the drier periods of the year, groups of desert elephant rove in the valley of the Ugab River.

Orabeskopf:

Orabeskopf is a 400m (1200-foot) granite face on the southern reaches of the Brandberg Massif. Orabeskopf was first climbed by R. Lichman and R. Blumgart, in December 1974, via a central chimney route. Water is the main logistical issue for climbing Orabeskopf however and travellers should take note of this.

Aba Huab River:

The Aba Huab River is a sand river in the north west of Namibia that runs between mountain ranges. It rarely has water flowing along its length, just for a brief few days during the rainy season. Desert Elephants can be spotted occasionally along the river bank

Grootberg:

The Grootberg is a table mountain in the Damaraland region of Kunene, located 1640m above sea level. The mountain is of volcanic origin and forms a south facing open U-shaped plateau above the canyon of the Klip Rivier. Guided walks to the top of the plateau are available to travellers. Guides are available from lodges and have the ability to interpret local flora, the amazing rock formations of the Etendeka Mountains and the wild animals.

Etosha National Park - Galton Gate:

Arguably Namibia's most famous natural attraction, Etosha National Park's Galton Gate allows visitors access to the previously restricted western area of the park. The Galton Gate will open up an area of Etosha National Park to travellers that is quite different to the rest of the park, both in its vegetation and wildlife.

The new route links Galton with Okaukuejo along a 190km stretch of road. The route traverses three distinct ecological landscape with high concentrations of game around the Renostervlei and Ozonjuitji-Mâ Bari waterholes - especially in the dry winter months (May to November). The western area of the park is the only area Hartman's Mountain Zebra and Burchell's Planes Zebra co-exist. Lion and elephant are also frequently seen at the waterholes along this route.

Fransfontein Village:

The fountain on the outskirts of town was the reason that this village was started. The water from this fountain irrigates surrounding orchards and supports the local community.

Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site:

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes has one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Africa. Most of these well-preserved engravings represent a variety of rhinoceros, elephant, ostrich and giraffe, as well as drawings of human and animal footprints in rock shelters. The objects excavated from two sections, date from the Late Stone Age. The site forms a coherent, extensive and high-quality record of ritual practices relating to hunter-gatherer communities in this part of southern Africa over at least 2 000 years, and eloquently illustrates the links between the ritual and economic practices of hunter-gatherers.

The main engravings of interest lie along two circular routes, taking around two hours to complete and a visitor centre provides information on the history, people and geology of the area.

Uiba-Oas Crystal Market:

The Uiba-Oas is a community market that gives visitors an opportunity to buy locally mined crystals from small scale miners. A variety of crystals are for sale including Garnet, Black Tourmaline, Quarts and Topaz. The market is positioned on the tar road between the coast and the interior and operates within in a newly built structure that also houses a mineral museum exhibit.

Erongo Mountains:

One of Namibia's more popular tourist draw cards, the volcanic Erongo mountain range is a roughly circular massif that dominates the flat plains west of Omaruru. The mountain range is easily accessible and is home to some of the most well-known cave sites in the country (Phillip's Cave and the Bull's Party). This rare confluence of ecosystems is also home to a vast array of plant, reptile, mammal and bird species, some endemic to Namibia

Organ Pipes:

The organ pipes are a fascinating geological formation located near Twyfelfontein. Strikingly rich rusty colours are portrayed in long columns resembling those of a church organ, some rising up to 5m high. Thought to be the result of the Gondwanaland breakup, fractures and cracks were formed as the dolomite columns cooled through the process of columnar jointing approximately 120 million years ago.

Burnt Mountain:

Just a short walk from the Organ Pipes is a small inselberg called the Burnt Mountain. The Burnt Mountain was proclaimed a national monument on 15 September 1956. The reason for the name is evident in the early mornings and late evenings when the rays of the sun seem to set the mountain ablaze. Rich red colours mixed with shades of black and purple are quite strikingly caused by Manganese coated clay molecules. During the day however, the inselberg is just a normal black colour as if the morning fire has burnt it to ashes.

Petrified Forest:

In a dry riverbed between Khorixas and Twyfelfontein the Petrified Forest is a large assemblage of fossilized tree trunks. The forest is situated in a dry riverbed where the wood was washed downstream and deposited 200 000 years ago. In time the logs turned into stone and trunks of up to 42m can be distinguished in this forest of fallen trees. The Petrified Forest was proclaimed a national monument in 1950. An attraction within the Petrified Forest is the Welwitschia mirabilis that grows among the trunks. This curious plant is endemic to the Namib Desert and is something of a living fossil as it lives for more than 1000 years.

Doros Crater:

The Doros Crater is a differentiated igneous intrusion, situated to the northwest of the Brandberg. It can be regarded as one of the finest and best-exposed examples of a differentiated complex in Southern Africa. All the individual layers, except for the marginal phase, can be recognized from aerial photography, and it is therefore a textbook example of a layered igneous body. The Crater has the same height as the surrounding hills, but it stands out because of the dark colour of its rocks.

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.