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Blog: Matt's Hidden Namibia
Having fallen in love with Namibia for its ever-changing scenery, spectacular views and sense of adventure on offer, our Namibia specialist Matt set off to find something more remote. Searching for a true African wilderness experience led him to the Damaraland and Kunene regions in the north of the country and a unique mobile safari. Here are Matt’s highlights…
My most recent visit to Namibia took me through Damaraland and Kunene – vast areas of wilderness where you could spend weeks, months, or even years and barely see another soul. It’s a place of dramatic and contrasting scenery. An area rich in interesting desert-adapted flora and fauna. Somewhere for a true adventure in the wilds of Africa.
Damaraland and Kunene are the jewel in the crown of Namibia’s wilderness areas. Millions of years of volcanic and tectonic activity have created natural springs forced to the surface by beds of basalt and granite rock so that wildlife and vegetation can survive in the area despite the lack of rainfall. A lack of local villages, tourists, and no fences at all make this the perfect place to escape civilisation in to the wilds of Africa … an area the size of Switzerland just waiting to be explored!
My journey began just north of the Palmwag veterinary gate where we entered the Palmwag Concession – covering a huge area of 5,500km². The fence which demarcates the concession is an interesting geographical feature in itself. Designed as a measure against the transmission of Foot and Mouth Disease, any livestock north of the fence cannot be exported. This has resulted in the movement of communities to live south of the fence; leaving vast areas of Northern Damaraland and Kunene completely devoid of human settlement.
From the fence all the way to the Skeleton Coast in the west, to the Kunene River which forms the border with Angola in the north, to Etosha National Park in the east, there are no fences and the wildlife moves freely across conservancies and concessions. This makes this area the perfect place for a remote and wild adventure!
My first adventure was had tracking black rhino at Desert Rhino Camp which works in close association with the Save the Rhino Trust, giving guests the unique opportunity to discover the difficulties associated with and importance of rhino conservation – a topic which is on the radar now more than ever! The wildlife here is some of the best in Namibia. In addition to the rhino, the main attractions are desert-adapted elephants and big cats. Damaraland and Kunene boasts the largest population of free-roaming black rhino in the world, with an estimated 70% of this population resident in Palmwag.
The scenery in Palmwag is stunning too. The volcanic basalt and granite rock beds push water to the surface, creating natural springs in this otherwise arid setting. This is a special place with scattered euphorbia and ancient welwitschia plants dot the boulder-strewn landscape with the Etendeka Mountains towering above. It’s incredible!
From here, we struck out on our mobile safari – to me this is where the real adventure began! Taking on the wilderness in our fully equipped 4×4 Land Rover it was just me, my guide Durr, and our camp-hand Thabo. We camped in the shadows of mountains under the awe-inspiring star-strewn African night skies. By day we spotted elephants, oryx, cheetah, lions, rhinos and giraffes. We passed through valleys, over dry riverbed and ploughed through desert plains and sand dunes. It will remain for me a truly unforgettable experience!
There really is something incredibly special about cooking over an open fire and watching the sun go down with a cold beer in hand overlooking a water hole and seeing a desert-dwelling lion, meeting the Himba people and visiting the scene of BBC Africa’s famous giraffe fight. Another incredible sight was seeing Hoanib River flow for the first time in 2 years and sitting on the roof of the car as we drove through huge dunes and the beautiful Hartmann’s Valley in the far north of Kunene – these are the experiences that you can get if you go truly off the beaten track!
Whilst there, I was fortunate enough to be able to learn about the desert-dwelling lions and the valuable conservation work of Dr. Flip Stander. Since 1997, when Dr Stander started his work, he has managed to restore a population of lion species that was considered heading towards extinction and helped significantly with tourism to Namibia in the process.
My final nights were spent at one of Southern Africa’s most remote camps – Serra Cafema which sits on the Kunene River looking over the border into Angola. I couldn’t have chosen a better spot to end my adventure at. The suites were super luxurious (a world away from the mobile safari) with unique activities including quad biking in Hartmann’s Valley, croc-spotting on the Kunene River, and the chance to visit a traditional Himba village.
Namibia is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most diverse countries with so much to offer in terms of unique experiences. Getting off the beaten track into the far north to experience the desolate landscapes of Damaraland and Kunene will give you a true wilderness experience unlike any other that this vast Continent has to offer!