Blog #35 - Kaokaland - vast, breathtaking, dusty and surprising

If you have never been to northern Namibia let me try put into words the scenery that will behold you. It is vast. The skies are vast, the space is vast. The drives are vast. Plains and vallies which you can’t see the sides of, towering Rocky Mountains, sand of every shade, from bright eye-watering-white to ochre red. Surprising, refreshing, lush green river vallies. Palm tree oasis’. Gentle red hued Himba people. Brightly fully adorned Herero people. Kaokaland was more breathtaking, more beautiful and more rewarding than I expected.


Our journey to this very north western region of Namibia started at Epupa falls on the Angolan border. A one horse town with about 5 lodges/ campsites, desperately poor people and of course the Kunene river funnelling into a tiny gorge. It is a very cool place to visit and a good place to gather your thoughts before heading out into the proper desert.

Our trip took us straight over the revered/4x4 drivers mega test, Van Zyls Pass. What looks like a short distance from Epupa falls takes you two days of solid rough driving. Van Zyls pass is a rocky steep partially washed away mountain track on the slopes of a very steep mountain. Our video will go into detail about this day, but let’s just say I was absolutely, sickeningly petrified to go down this pass. I cried, I nearly vomited and I cried some more at the bottom. We lost a very good friend a year before on the same day of our descent so think this all made our emotions more fraught.

But we made it. And prayers of thanks to god for his protection over us were huge.


When you are standing at the top of Van Zyls you look down over the Marienfluss valley. A huge valley of breathtaking colours and beauty.


On finally arriving at the bottom you emerge out onto this vast open space surrounded by HUGE mountains on this wide valley filled with red sand, white sand, and beige sand. It is amazing. You could easily drive for 2 days and not see every corner of it. It is one of those WOW places that you have to see for yourself. We found overselves a gorgeous little wild camp enclosed by some rocks What a place to have to yourself for an afternoon and night. The quietness. The solitude, the vast space. But, oh my word the heat. We were hiding in a mere 60cms of shade made by the trailer. The awning had sun beating down on it so was too hot. Trees of any significance are non-existent. But at 5pm when the sun looses some heat and you can clamber up the rocks surrounding you, and surveyand appreciate your surrounds, the heat is forgotten for a while. And then lying on a picnic blanket under this massive alive night sky….these are memories we will hold onto. The kids disappeared for hours climbing rocks, walking and exploring. What a privilege for them to have this complete freedom and safety.

Namibia is very much a destination place and by this I mean there are a lot of “tick-places” one has to visit. BUT the real beauty of Namibia lies in the actual journey from A to B. Honestly the drives are half the trip. The scenery you encounter ….. at times catch-your-breath- beautiful, but sometimes a desolate nothingness…. Making the beauty even more riveting and making you sit up in your car seat from the lazy heat exhausted slouch! In one day alone the scenery can change so vastly you feel like you are being transported through a fast paced time machine. You can go from rocky deserts to sand, to mountains to desert plains……


We were desperate to see The Lone Men of Kaokaland. We had seen pictures of them and read up on these fascinating stone sculptures. An unknown artist with a sense of humour has placed these mysterious stone and metal men throughout the vast Kaokaland area. The exact number found varies from source to source but is anything from 9-14 men. But what makes them so special is NO ONE gives their location away, but people know to search for them. It is like the best adults Easter egg hunt in the world. Honestly I cannot explain the utter joy for ME when finding these little guys. They become like long lost friends. Dev was in hysterics at my excitement levels when we came over a ridge and VOILA there one was!!!!! I think because honestly the roads are long and tiring and as I said before sometimes so utterly boring, but then wham bam suddenly this awesome little stone man is there. One was cruising along the desert plains with a “bag” over his shoulder, another hanging from a cliff face on the side of the road, another one begging/praying in this vast desolate valley and another one lying back down on a rock catching the suns rays. They are so apt to their surroundings. They are awesome and honestly make the long hot days more bearable. I love these okes!!! And we only found 4 so perhaps they also lure you cleverly back to Kaokaland….. Perhaps it is some very clever marketing person ….


If you are ever planning a trip to this area stock up. People often spoke of Puros and Sesfontein and I used to imagine a quaint little village with perhaps a Spar or something. No no no, these well known desert villages have NOTHING besides the essentials ….. cold beer and coke (very welcome treats!) and if you lucky (which we thankfully were) much needed fuel. N.O.T.H.I.N.G else.


From Marienfluss we zig zagged down to Puros an equally desolate and beautiful drive. And a LONG drive. Not sure why we did such a long drive but guess sometimes your foot is on the pedal so you keep going….. maybe the 3 lone men we found that day also lured us …. Puros on initial arrival was rather disappointing– howling wind and dust/sand everywhere. But the next morning it redeemed itself as we drove out through the Puros Canyon which had sparkling flowing water in it. In the dry harsh desert this lush green river bed was a joy to your brown adapted eyes. It was amazing. Cattle’s, birds, goats…The kids ran and ran in the shallow river so excited to see water again after days of harsh desert. What a stunning drive this was. Then we cut along the skeleton coast “boundary” and felt like we were driving on the moon. High plateaus of nothing but gigantic views and the cool breeze from the Atlantic. Stark and strangely beautiful. Then downwards finally in the Ana tree lined Hoanib river where we hoped to see desert Ellie’s and lion. We found another amazing remote camp just off the riverbed and were at once surrounded by the beauty, quietness, and peace of the desert.


From Hoanib we drove another zig zag route up the river beds to Sesfontein, stopped for quick lunch in the thick walled cool Old German Fort in Sesfontein then onto Khowarib lodge campsite for a much needed swim and shower after days on the road.


Our plan the next day was to just do a quick in-out trip to the Skeleton Coast but on arrival at the east gate we completely changed our plans and decided to splash out and stay at Terrace Bay lodge in the northern section of skeleton coast. But don’t think fancy lodge……these are basic, rather run down fishing chalets on the battered weather beaten shoreline. But what a treat to be in a bed again and to have a hot shower. Plus to have the most delicious 4 course dinner and breakfast cooked for us. Bliss. It also made me realise how much Sophia has missed having her own space- Within minutes of arrival she had found herself a table in the room and put all her toys and stuff out. She has really missed having her own little girly corner.


The Skeleton Coast is most fisherman’s “haven” and where they flock with their 4x4s and massive rods attached to their front bumpers. Obviously, we needed to fish too and our very kind South African neighbours gave us some bait and off we went to fish on our day of departure. What fun sunning ourselves on this pebbled shore whilst fishing and watching the seals and dolphins playing in the sea. After this, we drove down & out of the skeleton coast and wild camped on the beach in some windy freezing cold spot. Dev loved the views and kids loved being at the beach again and playing in the sand.

I realised once again I hate sticky sea air and am a hot dry person!


We now find ourselves in the awesome Spitskoppe. What a place!! In the vast flat plains these Inselberg mountains of jagged rock stick out high into the sky. The campsite allows you to camp in amongst the boulders with the towering rocks above you. What a magical place.

Tonight we put our beds under the sky and got out the warm sleeping bags. The moon initially lit up the sky stealing with it most of the stars but also illuminating these enormous rocks. You feel like you are on eliminated stage but hiding behind a little box in the shadows. It is such a huge space. The wind blows and we bury ourselves deeper into our sleeping bags, the moon has disappeared, and the stars reveal their glory. Tomorrow we will climb up as far as possible to the Spitskoppe then go for another hike to the well photographed stone arch. This is another place everyone should visit. It is amazing and seems to restore your inner peace.


In two days we head to Swakopmund, where we have booked into a little apartment to avoid the cold sea mist which descends over the shoreline every day. Buy also, after weeks of being on the road and many 1-night-camp-set-ups we need a little change in scenery. Time also to catch up on photos, do some work, give the car and trailer some TLC, washing our heaps of laundry and perhaps even eat some fish and chips and an Eisbein or two!