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Namibia Namibias Northern Region

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Namibia’s far North

Between Mahangu Fields and Makalani Palms:

The tarred road transects the plain in a straight line. On both sides of the slightly elevated roadway there are fields and fields of maize-like plants, fenced in with thick branches almost breast-deep and rammed into the ground to form a wall.  

Villagers  Clusters of thatched huts dominate the scene. Every now and then the road passes through elongated depressions with some water still evident in places. Tall Makalani palms - some in sociable groups, others single - raise their green heads into the bright blue sky like oversized dandelions.

Namibia’s far north – the area between Etosha National Park and the Angolan border – is totally different from the rest of the country. It is flat, green and alive with people. The ground is mostly sand; rocks and stones are rare. The numerous elongated depressions which dissect the plain and fill up with water during the rainy season are called Oshanas. Originally this area was a mix of grassland, shrub savannah and dry forest. Save for a few patches on the periphery, however, the forest has disappeared; all that remains are the many fences of the homesteads. The only trees left are the striking Makalani palms in the central north, the Mopane forests in the northwest and mighty Baobabs here and there. Game has also disappeared from this fertile land – to the south, the sanctuary of Etosha. This part of the country is at its most beautiful during the rainy season between October and April. ‘Rainy season’ is slightly misleading, though. It only means that the probability of rain is higher than during the other months, regarded as the dry season, and that water then enters the Oshanas also from Angola in the north. As they will soon teem with fish they represent a valuable source of food.

Since independence in 1990 the area is subdivided into the four regions of Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati and Ohangwena with altogether 780,000 inhabitants according to the 2001 census. This is almost 43% of Namibia’s total population of 1.83 million. Most of the people live in traditional homesteads consisting of several huts which are connected by a system of passages and enclosed by sturdy palisades with pointed tops. But the trimmings of civilization are clearly in evidence as well, taking the shape of a stone house with a corrugated iron roof in the centre of a homestead or that of a satellite dish on a thatched roof. The main road is tarred; in long stretches the concrete bed of an aqueduct runs next to it. Along the way you pass numerous Cuca Shops, which are best described as a small general store combined with a bar. Apart from soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, including Tombo, the home-brewed beer, they stock daily necessities such as maize flour, tinned food and pegs. Customers are lured with imaginative names like “Freedom Land”, “Broadway” or “Marlboro Bar” painted in bold and colourful characters. Larger places boast supermarkets with a more varied range of goods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, while the shopping centres of Oshakati and Ondangwa by far exceed the facilities of places like Tsumeb or Grootfontein.

When it comes to tourism, however, the north has hardly been opened up as yet. Only during the past few years has an accommodation facility or craft-workshop sprung up here and there.
 
Sights and Attractions
The descriptions and information given hereafter are sorted geographically and follow the route via Tsumeb to Ruacana. Even though the district of Tsumeb is part of the Oshikoto Region it is not included here because visitors usually stop there on the usual route to Etosha through the centre of the country.
 
Crafts
Travelling through Ovambo you will come across many small craft projects. Examples are the Tulongeni Craft Market in Omuthiya, 82 km south of Ondangwa or the Ndilimani Pottery Project in Onenongo, 20 km northwest of Oshakati. These projects, some of them initiated by NGOs, are primarily intended to generate an income for women and at the same time keep traditional skills alive. Basket-ware and hats are woven from palm leaves, oil is pressed from the kernel of the Marula fruit, earthen jugs and bowls are baked in pits filled with red-hot charcoal, and handmade paper is framed and printed on.
 
King Nehale Gate
This gate nearby the Andoni waterhole in the north-east of Etosha National Park was officially opened in 2003. It is named after King Nehale Lya Mpingana whose warriors attacked Fort Namutoni in January 1904 and forced the tiny Schutztruppe garrison to flee. If you plan to travel to Namibia’s far north from Namutoni, this gate will save you a 100-km-drive around Etosha’s eastern border.
 
Nakambale Museum
In 1871 the Finnish Mission Society established a mission station at Olukonda, situated today about 10 km south of Ondangwa. Missionary Martti Rautanen was at work there from 1880 until his death in 1926. The local people called him Nakambale, ‘the man with the hat’. Amongst others, Rautanen translated the bible into the Ndonga language and in 1889 built the first church in the area. His house, built in 1893, and the church were renovated in the early nineties with financial aid from the Finnish government. Both buildings have been declared national monuments.

In 1995 a museum was opened in the old missionary house, named 'Nakambale' in honour of Rautanen. In his study a wooden stand with scraps of paper will catch your eye. They have Oshindonga words written on them to help the missionary with his vocabularies. An insight into the daily life of those times is gained by photos of the Rautanen family and other missionaries, as well as numerous items from the early years of missionary work. The culture and tradition of the Owambo is also covered, of course. Exhibits include ornaments, pottery, tools and weapons. Furthermore there are attractive boards which, for example, explain the royal houses of this people and their history.

Take the time to look at the traditional Ndonga homestead which has been built next to the missionary house to afford glimpses of an otherwise secluded world. On a tour of the homestead the functions of the different huts as well as the Owambo culture and way of life are explained. A small shop offers craft items from the area.
 
Ondangwa and Oshakati
These two towns have almost grown into one during the past years. There you find modern shopping centres, banks, hotels and even soccer stadiums. Their African character is preserved by the numerous stands and road-side kitchens lining the streets and by the markets which offer anything that the heart might desire – whether colourful cloth or a goat’s head. Oshakati is the administrative centre of the Oshana Region.
 
Oshanas and Lake Oponono
The Oshana system covers a sizable area in the central north. It is no coincidence that one of the regions was named after these extensive elongated depressions which fill up with water after sufficient rainfalls. The main route crosses the area from southeast to northwest. The Oshana system is also called Cuvelai system after its most important tributary. It starts in the rainy Angolan Highlands and ends in the Etosha Pan. But only every two or three years it happens that the floodwaters indeed make it all the way through the Omadhija Lakes and the seasonal Ekuma River to reach Etosha. The largest of the Omadhija Lakes is Lake Oponono. This lake area is not easy to reach as it is surrounded by a maze of paths and passages. Thus it is advisable to take a guide along for directions. The only other water system in Namibia which is similar to the Omadhija Lakes is Lake Liambesi in the Caprivi.
 
Tsandi Royal Homestead
Seven traditional ‘kingdoms’ with highly regarded leaders continue to exist in northern Namibia. One of them is the Uukwaluudhi Empire led by King Shikongo Josea Taapopi. The King’s former homestead in the vicinity of Tsandi is open to visitors. Taapopi himself lives quite close in a solid house of stone. With the help of the Namibia Community-Based Tourism Association (Nacobta) several young people from the area were trained as tourist guides. During a one-hour tour they take you through the former royal abode and explain the royal family’s tradition and history, their values and rituals. By prior arrangement groups will be served traditional dishes and entertained with dance performances. Traditional household items as well as craft items typical of the Uukwaluudhi culture are available in a small souvenir shop.
 
Ongulumbashe Monument
The Ongulumbashe Monument is a reminder of the first violent clashes between the liberation movement and the South African police, which occurred in this spot in 1966. From Tsandi it is a 15-minute-drive to Ongulumbashe; a guide from Tsandi can direct you.
 
Baobab Trees
Several Baobab trees in the vicinity of Tsandi are quite famous. The hollow trunk of ‘King Nashilongo’s Baobab’ was used as an ‘office’ by that king. ‘Sir Howard’s Baobab’ is a particularly large specimen, named in honour of the first South African administrator who visited the area in 1916. You will find the trees faster if you take a guide along.
 
Uutapi
Uutapi’s special feature is the ‘Ombalantu Baobab’. The enormous hollowed trunk has already served as a post office and as a chapel.
 
Ruacana Falls
A few kilometres 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 last happened in 2004, after many dry years. Otherwise the water is fed through the turbines of the hydroelectric power station. Technically-minded visitors can go for a tour of the power station. Guides trained by Nacobta can show you the falls on a walk along the Kunene and they can also take you to one of the traditional OvaHimba villages in the vicinity (see the Northwest above).
 
Between Kalahari and Okavango - Namibia’s Northeast,
  
Small settlements of thatched huts cower under trees and between bushes, followed by patches planted with Mahango, a local type of millet. Cattle move freely about and cross the road at times in search of grazing, which is not plentiful in the dry hinterland at certain times of the year.

Children play in the sand and women gracefully carry heavy loads on their heads quite effortlessly, it seems. Then, suddenly the terrain drops and a broad shimmering band of silver becomes visible. It meanders through a landscape of greens and browns and has lent its name to the entire region: the Okavango.
 
The contrast between the commercial farming land in the central parts of the country, dominated by thick bush and bordered by seemingly endless fences, and the open, tall forests and communally utilised areas of the north is striking. Shacks built from corrugated iron sheets and the occasional little stone house start to take the place of traditional mud cottages, cars oust the sledges drawn across the sand by oxen, plastic replaces earthen ware. But it is the very co-existence of the traditional and the modern in the midst of this vast landscape so rich in vegetation which the visitor perceives as utterly charming. And when you have finally made it to the Okavango River, the contrasting worlds are further highlighted by a lack and an abundance of water, by bush savannah and an almost tropical forest and swamp vegetation.

The descriptions and information given hereafter are listed geographically. Visitors to the Kavango Region usually choose a route which more or less follows the Okavango’s course eastwards. The areas west of Rundu have hardly been opened up for tourism to date. The Popa Falls and Mahango Game Reserve, situated on the Okavango slightly south-east of Andara, are also included here even though they are technically part of the Caprivi Region.
 
Rundu
This little border town is the administrative centre of the Kavango Region. Rundu in particular, is bustling with border traffic to and from Angola. A major co-operative of woodcarvers, called Mbangura, is situated in the centre of town, right next to the Spar. There you are certain to find something to take home with you. Accommodation facilities in and around Rundu offer numerous activities in the riverine scenery of the Okavango. Amongst others, there are boat excursions, fishing and canoe trips, hiking tours or a guided visit to a village to choose from. However, do not swim in the river as it is inhabited by crocodiles.  
 
Kaudom Game Park
This park is situated off the usual travelling routes in eastern Namibia and ends at the border fence between Namibia and Botswana. Patches of deep Kalahari sand make it difficult to negotiate in places which probably contributes to the fact that Kaudom remains one of Namibia’s almost untouched areas. The park is dissected by Kalahari dunes overgrown with dry forest of varying height. There are many types of rare wood among the deciduous trees, like Kiaat or Manketti. So-called omiramba (singular: omuramba) form green veins between the dunes. They are subterranean river courses which fill with surface water only during the rainy season.
Kaudom Game Park is particularly noted for its population of the very rare African Wild Dog. With a little luck you can encounter herds of Elephant, Gnu and Roan Antelope, Hyena, Leopard and Lion. In the thick bush game is sometimes difficult to spot, although bird lovers have more than 300 species to admire, including many birds of prey.
 
Kaudom Game Park is particularly noted for its population of the very rare African Wild Dog. With a little luck you can encounter herds of Elephant, Gnu and Roan Antelope, Hyena, Leopard and Lion. In the thick bush game is sometimes difficult to spot, although bird lovers have more than 300 species to admire, including many birds of prey.

Visitors should take note that this remote park may only be entered in a convoy of at least two vehicles. This rule is foremost intended for your own safety, in case of a break-down.
 
Andara
At the start of the 20th century a mission station was set up in Andara. The graves of the first missionaries are still there to testify to the hardships of those early years. Andara once had a very special significance for the Mbukushu people. Their chieftains used to be laid to rest on Chiefs’ Island in the middle of the Okavango. These days the burial place is at Mukwe.
 
Popa Game Park
The Popa Falls are situated in this tiny park. In reality the ‘falls’ are no more than rapids which ease the Okavango over a gradual drop of three metres. However, the rush of water is audible from a distance and the multitude of water channels, the rocks and the lush green vegetation make for attractive photo themes. Huge old acacias provide shade, a tributary ripples through the park area, birds sing in the trees during the day and at night you hear the deep grumbling sounds of Hippo in conversation.
 
Mahango Game Reserve
In the eastern part of the park the road follows a river course. From your slightly elevated position you will ever so often enjoy fantastic views of the Okavango’s floodplains below. It is a picture of vast plains of grass and reeds, bordered by patches of shaggy palm trees or towering mighty Baobabs. In the west, on the other hand, the vegetation on the banks of the Mahango and Thinderevu omiramba is dominated by dense dry forest. You need a 4x4 to follow these subterranean river courses.

The Mahango Game Reserve is particularly known for its Elephant. You can also spot Buffalo or the shy Sitatunga and Lechwe. Similar riverine vegetation exists in very few other places in Namibia, as most of it has been destroyed by endeavours to till the land.
 
Bushmanland
Far above the ground the trunk of the enormous tree spreads out into a crown which looks like a delicate root system – as if giants had uprooted the tree and stuck it back the wrong way round. The bark of the rotund, smooth trunk is often deeply scarred – testifying to the tree’s tremendous age of up to 1.000 years. Many stories and legends of the San revolve around the fascinating Baobab. Particularly impressive Namibian specimens are found in Bushmanland.
 
So-called Bushmanland can roughly be divided into two areas. The western part covers about 9,000 km² from the village of Omatako, east of Grootfontein, to Tsumkwe. Approximately 4,500 members of the !Kung San live in this area. In 2003 they established N#a Jaqna, a communal conservancy which uses income derived from tourism for nature conservation and community development. Another conservancy, Nyae Nyae, is situated in eastern Bushmanland. It covers an area from Kaudum Game Park along the border to Botswana and in a wide stretch across Tsumkwe down to Gam. This conservancy was established in 1998 and is home to about 2,000 people.

Try to combine a visit to Bushmanland with a detour to Kaudom Game Park. In both cases a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential, and navigation is considerably facilitated by GPS. Since 2002 it is possible to continue from Tsumkwe into Botswana. However, you have to cross about 180 km of no-man’s land, which should only be attempted with a guide and in a convoy of several vehicles. Bushmanland is particularly beautiful after good rains. Then the Nyae Nyae Pans south of Tsumkwe also fill up with water and attract thousands of birds, including pelicans and flamingos. The enormous Baobab trees are another attraction of this region. Some of the best-known specimens, with a girth of more than 30 metres, are called ‘Holboom’, ‘Homasi’ and ‘Dorsland Tree’.

Several San communities at Omatako and Tsumkwe afford visitors an opportunity to learn more about their way of life. You can participate in a traditional hunt, have the art of reading tracks explained to you (when looking for Elephant, for example), gather veld foods or help with the cooking. However, strangers are rarely welcome to witness traditional song, music and dance. Please take note that a visit to one of the communities should be booked at least several days in advance through the office of the Namibia Community-Based Tourism Association (Nacobta).
 
Tsumkwe
This hamlet consists of approximately 20 houses, including a small hospital, as well as a church, a police station and the Nature Conservation office. There is no petrol station.
 
Namibia’s remotest northwest,
Bubbling masses of water plunge into the depths with a resounding rumble. A scintillating rainbow hovers behind a veil of mist. An enormous Baobab clings to the wet, steeply dropping rock. Hundreds of Makalani palms line the river’s delta ahead of the precipice.
Epupa Falls  Naked rock rises from lush vegetation between cascades of frothy white waterfalls – a green island in the middle of the barren brown landscape of the surrounding mountains. The Epupa Falls are among the many attractions of Kaokoveld in the far northwest of Namibia.

Epupa Falls  
They are part of the Kunene River which forms the boundary of the region and the national border between Namibia and Angola. In the east, Kaokoveld borders on the Omusati Region inhabited by the Owambo people and on Etosha National Park; the Skeleton Coast Park is the boundary in the west, and in the south it is the seasonal Hoanib River which runs from east to west. At approximately 49,000 km² the area is roughly the size of Switzerland.

Kaokoveld is regarded as one of the last wild and secluded areas in Namibia – even though tourism has increased considerably during the past years. As yet, travelling routes concentrate on a few villages and connecting roads. The largest part of this huge land, especially the west, is scarcely populated or not at all. Getting there is adventurous to say the least and only possible by 4x4 vehicles.

The varied, vast and incredibly silent landscape, home of the OvaHimba people, quickly casts its spell on every visitor. Steep mountain ranges dissect this country, with passes which seem unconquerable - like the famous Van Zyl‘s Pass. Wide valleys open between them and after the rains silvery-green fields of grass sway on their plains - like at Marienfluss. Far to the west a sea of sand dunes takes over, beyond which lies the infamous Skeleton Coast. Rivers meander through these semi-desert and desert scapes. They are seasonal, which means that they only carry water after sufficient rainfalls. Nevertheless they sustain people and animals in their meagre existence – like the Hoarusib or Hoanib River.
 
The Sights
Descriptions and information given hereafter are sorted geographically and follow the standard route, starting at the Ruacana Falls, along the Kunene to Swartbooisdrift, via Epembe to Epupa, then south to Opuwo and to the Khowarib Gorge near Sesfontein. During the dry season these routes are manageable by all.

The western part of Kaokoland, however, is not easily accessible and will not be dealt with in any detail. Suffice to say it is an area inhabited by wild animals and almost no people. There is nothing that resembles a road. Thus it is easy to get lost, and in the event of a break-down you are totally left to your own devices.

This area can only be negotiated by 4x4, and it should always be a party with at least two vehicles. Careful preparation and suitable equipment are a must; there is no shortage of travel literature, maps and GPS data. Unless you are a very experienced off-road driver and wilderness camper, you should join an organized, guided tour if you want to explore this part of Kaokoland.
 
Kunene
This river originates in the Angolan highlands and for 350 km forms the border between Namibia and its northern neighbour. It is one of the few perennial rivers in Namibia. In contrast to the Orange River in the south, the Kunene is still inhabited by crocodiles – thus swimming is not advisable. 

Fishing
The water level is subject to continuous change as it is not only determined by rainfalls in the catchment area but also by the hydroelectric power plant at Ruacana. The turbines are not permanently in use and sometimes the sluice gates have to be opened to decrease the pressure on the dam. 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 deposit their eggs.

The road between Ruacana and Epupa follows the course of the river. From Swartbooisdrift, however, it turns into a challenging and time-consuming 4x4 track. You can also travel this leg of the journey by boat: special two-seater inflatable canoes are used for a tour (in a group) of several days. Some of the accommodation facilities along this part of the river also rent out boats for excursions of just a few hours. For more details see our information sheet ‘Going Wild for Namibia’s Waters’. Driving is not possible beyond Epupa, where the riverbanks are tropical green in places, as the steep slopes of the Baynes and Otjihipa Mountains constitute insurmountable obstacles.
 
Swartbooisdrift
Participants of the 'Dorslandtrek' (Boers from South Africa on their so-called Thirstlandtrek) crossed the Kunene at this fjord more than 100 years ago when they returned from southern Angola. The hardships suffered by the Boers are called back to mind by a small memorial on a rise south of the ford. Swartbooisdrift is where the roads part. Skilful 4x4 drivers, who really want to know their worth, continue next to the Kunene’s course. They will need one or two days to negotiate the 100 km to Epupa. Everybody else will turn south, pass the Zebra Mountains and arrive at Epupa in about four hours.
 
Epupa
This little spot consists of a few huts and small houses, two adjoining tourist camps directly on the river – and the waterfalls. Before reaching the falls the river widens into a small delta. Besides the main channel, which plummets into a narrow gorge, there are numerous cascades of varying width. On the rock islands huge Baobab trees raise their branches to the sky. During the day there is ample opportunity to explore Epupa and the surroundings on foot, whether on a guided hike of several hours or just a walk along the falls. Towards evening everybody flocks to the rocks opposite the falls to watch the sun go down. Photographers will revel in the endless array of glorious themes when daylight turns into dusk. Apart from the picturesque falls Epupa has an interesting geology – with the oldest rocks in Namibia. The Metamorphic Complex is between 2,100 million and 1,750 million years old and dates back to a time when two ancient continental plates collided.
 
Opuwo
This little town is the administrative and educational centre of the Kunene Region. And it is the only place far and wide where you can fill up your car and buy the most essential groceries. Opuwo appears rather bizarre to the traveller, as this is where the totally opposite worlds of western civilization and traditional Africa collide: the 4x4 next to a donkey, the Himba man clad in jeans and a European soccer club’s tricot next to the bare-breasted Himba woman with skin shimmering red, the ice-cold Coke next to a calabash holding traditional sour milk.
 
Baobab Forest
On the way between Opuwo and Fort Sesfontein you pass a major stand of enormous Baobab trees. With some imagination – and compared to the prevailing vegetation dominated by bush and grass – this patch could be called a ‘forest’.
 
Desert-dwelling Elephant
The courses of the seasonal Hoanib and Hoarusib, but also those of rivers further south, right down to the Aba Huab, sustain elephant which have adapted to the arid, hostile environment of Kaokoveld. They are one of the few free-roaming populations worldwide. These so-called ‘Desert-dwelling Elephant’ are not a species in their own right but rank among the African Savannah Elephant. They feed on leaves, twigs and the bark of shrubs and trees and dig for water in the river courses – if no surface water is available. About 80 years ago there were still about 3,000 of them in the Kunene Region. At the start of the eighties they had become almost extinct. After they were placed under protection the numbers increased again – today there are an estimated 700 Elephant.

In recent years they have unfortunately become quite famous through the attention of the media, which resulted in a rush of ‘Elephant Tourism’. Tour groups are out to 'hunt' for the fascinating pachyderms and vie for the most spectacular pictures. Cornered in the confines of riverbeds, which often take the shape of ravines, Elephant at times have been harassed to an extent that has already provoked attacks and accidents. Thus, one should always bear in mind that these are animals of the wilds which have to be treated with respect and consideration. In order to protect the Elephant of Kaokoveld from unnecessary stress, ‘Elephant Guides’ have been trained in Namibia for some time now. They are able to track Elephant in the river courses in such a way that the animals are disturbed as little as possible.

Elephants  If you join one of these guides you can be certain of an exciting and enriching experience even if it should so happen that you do not spot any Elephant at all. A little luck is always needed if you want to see animals in the wilds.
 
Sesfontein
The name of this hamlet means ‘six springs’. It consists of quite a few scattered huts and small houses, a school, a little shop and a petrol station. This settlement dates back to 1896, the time of a devastating rinderpest. The German colonial power chose Sesfontein for establishing a veterinary post to control the cattle trade from the north. During the next ten years the post grew into a fort. It was abandoned after the First World War and subsequently dilapidated until only remains of the walls were left. The fort was later reconstructed to serve as tourist accommodation. Sesfontein is an ideal starting point for a tour into the seasonal Hoanib River or a safari into Kaokoveld.
 
Ongongo Waterfall
A few kilometres outside the little settlement of Warmquelle water from a lukewarm spring cascades over a small waterfall into a natural rock basin. This is a very popular spot with Kaokoveld travellers as it offers the opportunity of a refreshing bath to wash heat and dust from weary limbs.
 
Khowarib Gorge
The Hoanib River has dug itself a gorge which is up to 500 m deep and about 23 km long. Experienced 4x4 drivers can explore the gorge during the dry season.
 
Rivers aplenty – discovering the Caprivi
The piercing, drawn out scream sets your teeth on edge. Plaintively it resounds from the floodplains of the Chobe River. In the twilight of dusk an African Fish Eagle swoops from a treetop, skims the water and with a swish of powerful  wings   and  wriggling  prey  in  his
talons, returns to his perch.

Like no other animal the majestic bird with its striking cry represents this part of Africa where water is plentiful, vegetation diverse and the animal world abound. Part of the Caprivi consists of huge areas which have been under protection for decades. Since - depending on water levels - they are not always accessible, their wonderful fauna and flora has been well preserved.

The Caprivi in the north-east of Namibia is a narrow strip of land, 450 km long and up to about 100 km wide, which was added to Namibia’s main body like an artificial limb. It was conceived on the drawing board in 1890 as a result of a swap agreement between Imperial Germany and Great Britain: Germany got the appendage with the desired access to the Zambezi River (and on top of it the island of Helgoland); in return Britain received the island of Zanzibar off the coast of German East Africa (today’s Tanzania). The name of the newly acquired strip of land was chosen in honour of the German chancellor of the time, Count Leo von Caprivi.

The Caprivi Region borders on Angola and Zambia in the north, on Botswana in the south, and with its eastern tip even on Zimbabwe. Four large rivers serve as boundaries and also traverse the strip of land. The Okavango River first forms the border to Angola, then cuts through western Caprivi and continues into Botswana where it disappears in the world-famous Okavango Delta. The Kwando divides western and eastern Caprivi, forms part of the border to Botswana and when in flood fills the waterways of the Linyanti and Chobe. The Chobe is the southern border to Botswana until it joins the Zambezi at Impalila Island, the easternmost tip of Namibia. The legendary, mighty Zambezi from the north becomes the border to Zambia at Katima Mulilo. Further downstream, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, it plunges over the Victoria Falls and into spectacular gorges, and in Mozambique it finally reaches the Indian Ocean. The Caprivi with its tangled system of rivers, channels, floodplains and relatively generous rainfalls is the only part of Namibia where water is plentiful. Vast plains are flooded almost every year, depending on the rainfalls in the neighbouring countries in the north.
Then, only higher-lying islands rise from the water here and there. During the dry season the floodwaters slowly recede to reveal fertile pastures and arable land. The riverbanks are permanently lined by subtropical vegetation.  

The contrast to the arid main body of Namibia could hardly be more pronounced. Lush vegetation in the finest nuances of greens and yellows spreads out exuberantly, birds contribute dots of blue, red and yellow and the deep blue sky is mirrored in the water. The colourful Bee-Eater, the rare Angola Swallow or the mighty African Fish Eagle fill the air with their chirping and calling. Herds of Buffalo and Elephant move across the borders of parks and countries; occasionally you spot the rare Sitatunga. And ever so often you come across a small village and the people who inhabit this region.

The parks and villages described hereafter have been sorted geographically, following the usual route taken by travellers arriving from the south-west.
 
Caprivi Game Park
The almost 200-km-stretch of land, drawn with a ruler between the settlements of Divundu and Kongola, has been a nature conservation area since 1963. In 1999 the game reserve was renamed 'Bwabwata National Park'. This vast, flat area is largely covered by mixed forests and it has not really been opened up for tourism yet. Only on the eastern bank of the Okavango, in the vicinity of the Popa Falls, there is a communal camp site – which also happens to be the best place for capturing the rapids on film. In the south-eastern end of the park, a few kilometres from the village of Kongola, you can camp in the open at Horseshoe Bend. Getting there is quite an adventure, though, which should only be attempted by 4x4 drivers with considerable experience in wilderness tours.
 
Kongola
This tiny settlement consists of a few small houses and a petrol station. At ‘Mashi Crafts’ you can buy handcrafted items from the surrounding villages at very reasonable prices, especially baskets in many African patterns.   

Lizauli
In the Caprivi you pass dozens of small settlements along the roads. As a keenly interested traveller you would love to stop and visit one of these busy little hamlets, if only you could be sure of being welcome. The show village of Lizauli south of Kongola aims to overcome such inhibitions. Totally at ease, you can walk into the replica of a traditional homestead and have the workings of everyday life explained to you. Apart from the Chief’s house you will be shown a chicken pen and a granary, for example, and how Mahango porridge is cooked. To wrap up the tour of one or two hours, a play which illustrates the legal system of a village community is performed for you: A ‘thief’ who has robbed a visitor is brought before the traditional village court. In Lizauli you can also buy the versatile, very pretty basket-ware which is made right there: waterproof document folders, for example. Proceeds from the show village are used for the community.
 
Mudumu National Park
The western boundary of this nature reserve is the Kwando, while in the east it gradually blends into the communal area. Mudumu has barely been made accessible. The sandy paths in the eastern parts can only be negotiated by 4x4 and only during the dry season. The riverine vegetation is of a subtropical green. The exuberance is matched by an unbelievable diversity of bird life: more than 400 species are found in this magnificent corner of the world. The many waterways of the Kwando are best explored by boat, but for a close encounter with nature you can also go on a hiking tour. Depending on the season, Elephant, Buffalo and predators, including the very rare African Wild Dog, move through this area. Crocodiles and Hippos are, of course, permanent inhabitants of the rivers and floodplains.
 
Mamili National Park
The secluded wilderness of this vast swamp area is unique in Namibia. The park is criss-crossed by waterways, some of which make it all the way to the Linyanti River. Densely wooded islands as well as patches of tall reeds or wide grass plains are typical for this park. During the rainy season large parts of Mamili are flooded and cannot be accessed. Even in the dry season you should attempt this area only in a convoy of at least two vehicles. Right at the start, when you enter the park, you have to cross a rivulet which will give you a faint idea of the difficulties ahead. Nights are spent at rudimentary camping sites in the middle of the bush.

Mamili is particularly known for its birds. With a little luck you will also encounter Buffalo, Tsessebe, Lechwe and Sitatunga as well as Hyena, Lion or even Leopard.
 
Lake Liambesi
Four different rivers and the labyrinth of channels and swamp areas usually have travellers in eastern Caprivi rather confused at first. Small wonder when waterways with different names are connected, combine or intertwine. This is not all. Some rivers in the Caprivi also flow backward at times. This amazing phenomenon occurs, amongst others, in the Chobe and the Linyanti which is connected to it. If the flood level of the Zambezi rises to more than seven metres, the floods push back the water of the other two rivers and thereby cause them to ‘flow in reverse’.

If the water level of the Linyanti rises far enough, the river overflows at Lake Liambesi and rushes into the huge basin. This last happened in the early eighties when the lake covered an area of about 100 km² (it later dried up completely). When the Zambezi flooded in April 2004 the basin filled up once more to form a lake of about 50 to 60 km². For the local population Lake Liambesi is an important part of their livelihood. Within the shortest time the lake teems with fish. Once it dries up the fertile soil is cultivated.
 
Katima Mulilo
This little town became the administrative centre of the Caprivi Region in 1935. For many years, until Namibia gained independence, income in Katima was mainly derived from a South African army base that was located there. Military operations against the national liberation movement Swapo, which operated around the border area of Zambia and Angola, were directed from this town. After the army had left it was largely the small-scale border traffic from Zambia which put new life into the remote town. In May 2004 the old ferry across the Zambezi was replaced by a bridge which makes an excellent link through southern Zambia to Livingstone at the Victoria Falls.

In the centre of Katima Mulilo there is a modest market where women sell fruit and vegetables as well as dried and fresh fish. The small Caprivi Arts & Crafts Centre on the opposite side offers a good selection of handicraft, also from neighbouring countries. Items range from Geckos made from recycled metal to artistically woven baskets, finely carved drums and stylishly shaped pottery.

At the outskirts of town the Zambezi’s heavenly nature beckons: you can go on fishing trips, boat and kayak tours or enjoy yourself bird watching.
 
Schuckmannsburg
This traditional village is comparatively large, but otherwise it looks just like the many other settlements along the Zambezi. From 1909 to 1914 this was Imperial Germany’s only administrative outpost in the Caprivi. Rather pompously it was named after then-governor Schuckmann in Windhoek. The colonial presence was maintained by a major with a few soldiers and some servants. The main task consisted of surveying the area and recording meteorological data. No traces from those times are left in Schuckmannsburg.
 
Salambala Conservancy
Following other examples in Namibia, this communal conservancy was established with the aim to attract tourists through nature conservation. Income generated from tourist facilities are ploughed back into nature conservation efforts or used for building schools or clinics for the community. Salambala Conservancy was set up around 1996 and apart from trophy hunting, also offers guided hiking tours. There are elevated platforms for game watching and a watering point which is regularly frequented by game.
 
Impalila Island
You can reach this easternmost corner of Namibia only in a roundabout way - it is the most wonderful experience. The boat which takes you across the Chobe River departs from Kasane in Botswana. Visitors to Impalila Island can join a tour of the river’s inlets in a mokoro, a dugout canoe; they can explore the island which is about 11 km long and 4 km wide, visit villages and their inhabitants or just enjoy the fishing.

 

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