Damaraland, Kunene & Kaokoland
Many tourists visiting Namibia mention that this region is undoubtedly one of the highlights of their self-drive safari! Damaraland and the Kunene Region are located in the north-western part of Namibia and is home to the Himba Tribe. It is relatively underdeveloped compared to the rest of Namibia. The Kunene region is also considered to be one of the last true wilderness areas left in the world! It is a must visit whether you arrange your own self-drive holiday in a rented 4×4 vehicle or travel with a safari operator . Amazing wildlife, surreal landscapes and the adventure of a lifetime await you!
Attractions & Points of Interest in Damaraland and the Kunene Region:
Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site, Petrified Forest, Organ Pipes & the Burnt Mountain
There are numerous unique attractions and points of interest in this region which is probably why travelers to Namibia rate this area so highly. The UNESCO World Heritage Site at Twyfelfontein is very popular. Twyfelfontein has one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs (rock engravings) in Africa. The majority of these engravings have been well-preserved and over five thousand individual figures have been recorded to date! 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. Guided tours can be taken at the Twyfelfontein Visitors Centre. There is a great lodge nearby offering comfortable accommodation near Twyfelfontein.
Not too far from Twyfelfontein one will find a few other attractions. If one is on a self-drive safari to Namibia one can quite easily make a day trip to view these. The Petrified Forest was declared a National Monument in 1950 and is basically a deposit of large tree trunks that have turned to stone through a process of diagenesis. There are at least two very large trunks that are each 45 meters long that are exposed for viewing. It is estimated that there are several hundred other petrified trees in the surrounding vicinity. It is estimated that these trees were swept downstream by a large flood millions of years ago and over this period were deprived of air and became fossilized. There are also a large number of the fascinating and weird welwitschia plants in the area. Guided tours are available for those interested in finding out more.
The Organ Pipes are another interesting phenomenon in close proximity to Twyfelfontein and the Petrified Forest. They are a rock formation that consists of a group of columnar basalts which resemble organ pipes. The Organ Pipes were formed approximately 150 million years ago as the result of the intrusion of liquid lava into a slate rock formation, which was exposed over time by erosion.
The Burnt Mountain is quite close to the Organ Pipes and was declared a national monument in 1956. It is basically a hill with a solidified lava flow at the foot of a 12-kilometre-long volcanic ridge.
Brandberg Mountain & the White Lady Rock Painting
The Brandberg Mountain is the highest Mountain in Namibia and was declared a National Monument in 1951. The highest point of this mountain is the Königstein (German for King’s Stone) and is 2573 meters above sea level. The nearest settlement or village is that of Uis which is approximately 30 km’s away.
The name ‘Brandberg’ is Afrikaans and comes from its glowing color which is sometimes seen as the sun is setting. The Damara people call this mountain ‘Dâures’ which means ‘burning mountain’. The main tourist attraction here is the famous White Lady Rock Painting. A guided tour is available with a local guide and visitors are able to view the White Lady Rock Painting. There are over 45000 rock engravings in this area and the Brandberg is a spiritual site of great significance to the San (Bushman) tribes.
The actual White Lady painting is located in a cave known as ‘Maack Shelter’ (German explorer and topographer Reinhard Maack first discovered this painting in 1918) and portrays several human figures as well as Oryx’s on a rock panel. The painting has long been an archaeological dilemma, and several different theories have been put forth regarding its origins, who painted it and how old it is. It is now usually accepted to be a bushmen painting dating back at least 2000 years ago.
Travelers wishing to visit this attraction can do so as a half day tour and continue with their journey. Accommodation is available in the nearby village of Uis at the rest camp or choose to stay at a nearby lodge which offers chalets, tented camp and camping.
The Himba Tribe
The Himba tribe is a group of semi-nomads who live in scattered settlements throughout the Kunene Region and are of Herero descent. It is estimated that there are approximately 50000 Himbas living in the Kunene region as well as over the Kunene River in Angola. The Himbas have been relatively successful in maintaining their culture and their traditional way of life. One is able to visit a Himba village and interact with the villagers; however it is advisable to do so with through one of the lodges with one of their escorts. The escorts are often Himbas themselves and will translate any comments or questions the Himbas and visitors might have for each other. Visits to the Himba should be done with respect and sensitivity to their traditions and lifestyle. Remember when taking a photo of the Himbas it is expected that you first ask for their permission and then pay them a small fee for being allowed to do so. Your guide will inform you as to how and what is expected from you to get the most out of your cultural experience with the Himbas.
Wildlife and Game in Damaraland & the Kunene Region
These regions are home to Namibia’s iconic Desert Elephants, Desert Lions and Desert Rhino. Namibia also has the largest population of the highly endangered black rhino and many can be seen in this region.
Namibia is home to one of only two desert elephant populations in the world – the other one is found in Mali. The Desert Elephants (or desert-adapted elephants) are not a sub-species of elephant as initially thought and are now considered to be African bush elephants. They tend to migrate from one waterhole to another and follow traditional routes which depend on the seasonal availability of food and water. These Desert elephants can cover vast distances in a day to get to water. The main adaptations of these desert elephants are that they tend to have relatively broader feet, longer legs and smaller bodies than other African bush elephants.
It is also believed that the size of the tusks of these desert adapted elephants is smaller than your average African bush elephant due to the lack of calcium in their diet. The Kunene region is a dry and hostile environment and it is a remarkable achievement how these massive animals have adapted to these tough conditions.
These desert dwelling animals are best experienced and viewed on a game drive which is on offer at most of the lodges and tented camps in the region.
The Desert Lions of the Kunene Region have become an iconic species and are major attractions for tourists from all over the world visiting Namibia. These Desert Lions are genetically the same as other lions found in Etosha or other African countries however they have adapted to life in a harsh and often extreme environment. Remarkably they can survive with very little water despite often very hot temperatures. These lions obtain much of the moisture they need to survive from their prey that they hunt and kill. It has been reported that the coats of these predators are thicker than lions from other areas in order to deal with the colder temperatures that the coastal areas of the Kunene Region can experience. Desert lions have also adapted to eat seals which they hunt along the coastline.
It is estimated that there are approximately 120 Desert Lions living in the Kunene Region. Sadly these lions come into human wildlife conflict on a fairly regularly basis which often results in these magnificent predators being poisoned or killed by the local community of farmers. They are under constant threat. There are currently programs in place that serve to protect the lions and some of them have been fitted with tracking collars so that conservationists can keep an eye on their movements.
Speak to your lodge about arranging a game drive to view these desert lions.
Desert Rhinos and Rhino Tracking
Namibia has the biggest population of the highly endangered Black Rhino in the world and many of them are to be found in the Kunene Region. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s the population of these rhinos was virtually wiped out by hunting and poaching. Thanks to organizations such as Save The Rhino Trust the population of these magnificent creatures has increased substantially. It is estimated that Namibia contains approximately a third of all the black rhinos that are found on the African continent.
The desert adapted Rhino are different to other rhinos in that they have had to adapt to this barren and hostile environment. These prehistoric looking beasts are mostly nocturnal so that they can avoid the intense heat of the day. These Rhinos are able to endure sweltering heat in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and below freezing temperatures that occur regularly once the sun has set.
The horns of these desert adapted black rhinos are generally longer and thinner than other black rhinos – this assists these animals to forage for food in this barren region. The Kunene Rhinos are usually found on their own and not in small groups unlike other black rhino populations. The mother of a calf will however stay with her calf for up to two and a half years which is sufficient time to teach her young how to survive in this tough environment.
Some of the lodges in this region offer Rhino tracking. These black rhinos are not the most social of animals and are considered to be highly strung…they can get angry very quickly if they feel threatened at all. Generally vehicles are driven to approximately one kilometer of a rhino and then tracking them by foot starts. Qualified guides will lead the rhino tracking and will advise you of what is expected from you. Rhinos do not have the best eyesight but their sense of smell is very good. Your guide will ensure that you are always downwind when approaching rhinos in order to avoid being smelt by them. This is one of the most exciting activities one can do in Namibia – the sight of these huge beasts and how they survive in this hostile and extreme environment will create lasting memories!
The Epupa Falls are located on the northern boundary of Namibia on the Kunene River in an area commonly known as Kaokoland. Directly across this river is Angola. The Epupa Falls are created by the Kunene River and the name ‘Epupa’ is a Herero word for ‘foam’ which refers to the foam that is created by the falling water. The river is about 0.5 km wide and drops via a series of waterfalls that are spread over a distance of about 1.5 km. The greatest single drop is 37 m.
If you traveling on a self-drive tour to Namibia and are planning on including Epupa Falls in your itinerary one would head towards Opuwo and from here towards Epupa. Depending on the time of the year that you plan to travel to Namibia you may not necessarily require a 4×4 but your vehicle needs to have good ground clearance. Speak to your car rental company and they will advise you accordingly as to what is the best suited car for your holiday in Namibia. If you are planning on traveling to Namibia during the rainy season then it is recommended to travel with a 4×4.