Tag Archives: Epupa Falls

Epupa Falls on the Kunene River

For die-hard 4×4 enthusiasts there is a riverside track running from Kunene River Lodge to Epupa Falls.  When we initially planned our trip we were hoping to take this route, but we subsequently heard such horrendous stories about how bad the road was and how much damage it inflicts on vehicles, that we decided to take the more drivable route, turning South at Swartbooisdrift and then picking up the C43 to Epupa Falls.  This proved a wise decision in the end as the trip was very pleasant and took far less time than it would have going the shorter way.

Our first stop of the day was at the Dorsland (Thirst land) Trekkers Memorial just outside Swartbooisdrift.  The monument commemorates the settlers who trekked north from South Africa due to strife with the Zulus and subsequent annexation by the British.  They settled in Angola (and other areas), but decided to move once again when the Portuguese wouldn’t allow them to speak their own language in schools and wanted to convert these staunch Protestants to Catholicism.  They suffered many hardships on their epic journey and have earned their place in history.

Dorsland Trekker Monument                               Zebra Mountain

Another interesting feature on the trip to Epupa Falls is the Zebra Mountain range that extends south-east and north-west for 48 km between the Kunene, Omuhonga and Otjitanga rivers.  According to  “The New Dictionary of South African Place Names” by Peter E Raper, the name of this range is derived from its striped appearance caused by ironstone ridges alternating with declivities in which pale coloured vegetation grows.  We were there at the right time of the year to see this striking effect, which  may not be as visible once the vegetation turns green in summer.

Our destination at Epupa Falls was Omarunga Camp, another small oasis along the Kunene River that contrasts sharply with its dry and arid surrounds.  Our campsite, under lush Makalani Palms, was just metres upstream from the falls and right on the river bank.  The ablution block was open air and made out of Makalani Palm leaves and branches.  (This sounds a bit flimsy but it is such a lovely experience to shower in a roofless outdoor cubicle like that!)

Campsite under the palms                               Campsite under the palms

It was a bit of a squeeze getting all three tents onto one campsite, but eventually we were settled in.  Jo and Des were most impressed with the ease with which they could erect or take down their Oz tent and at this stage of the journey they had it down to a fine art.

We discovered shortly after arrival that we were camping in a hard hat area, as the large Makalani Palm nuts drop from the trees and could cause serious injury if they hit an unsuspecting camper on the head.  Management claimed no responsibility for damage or injury caused by these falling nuts. Rob attempted to pad our windscreen with some shadecloth and held thumbs that the wind wouldn’t come up during our stay.

We hadn’t been there long when someone pointed out a three metre crocodile in the middle of the river.  Obviously there would be no swimming here, although we did see the locals washing themselves at the head of the falls.  No doubt they kept an eye out for each other’s safety.

The falls are a five minute walk from the campsite.  Unfortunately, we weren’t there at the right time of the year to see them in full flow, but they were stunning nonetheless.  It was late afternoon when we arrived which meant that we were treated to seeing the sinking sun hitting the enormous Baobab trees that dot the area.  I could just imagine them in the rainy season with the water flooding down.  Some cling tenaciously to the sides of the gorge while others stand like fat old ladies paddling, defying the rushing waters to wash them away.

Awesome scenery

Scenic Baobab trees Scenic Baobab trees

Adding some glamour to the falls

Adding some glamour to the falls

It’s a magical spot and we had to drag ourselves away with the promise of a good hike around the area the next day.

We were pleased to find that African mourning doves are plentiful in this area.  I feel sorry for doves in general, because they are so common that most people don’t pay them too much attention. Mourning doves aren’t widely distributed which made the sighting a little more exciting than it would otherwise have been.  We had a number of Red-eyed bulbuls, Weavers and Pale-winged starlings visit the campsite and on a walk we also saw a Short-toed rock thrush and an African pied wagtail.  Sunbirds love the flowers in the palm trees so there is plenty of bird activity in the area.

African Mourning Dove                               Pale-winged Starlings and Weavers

The local community has shown some enterprising spirit by charging tourists to climb a hill that gives one a spectacular view of the falls and surrounds.

We didn’t mind paying the small fee as the view was worth it and we were able to shelter from the heat in a lean-to made out of Makalani Palm leaves.  Unfortunately for Gwen and me, we had started our hike a bit late and the heat was beginning to tell on us.  We decided to head back to the camp when the others carried on along the gorge.  Des was startled by a nearby crocodile when she ventured a bit close to the water.

Besides the falls, there isn’t a whole lot to see or do other than just relax or visit a Himba settlement, so on our second evening we decided to leave a day earlier than planned and head on to our next destination, Ongonga, where at least we could swim in the heat of the day.

View from Sundown Hill                              Our resident chef

Epupa Falls is well worth a visit and Omarunga Camp is an idyllic spot.  The only downside was the somewhat hefty price of drinks in the pub.  If you’re planning to camp in a group, we suggest that you ask for individual campsites as three tents on a single site is a bit cramped.  Omarunga also has a Lodge with beautiful tented accommodation for those wanting something more luxurious than the campsite.

The Himba – Namibia’s proud people of the past

It is hard to imagine that just a few hours drive from the teeming metropolis of modern Windhoek, there lives a small native tribe who exist pretty much as they have done for hundreds of years.  I’m referring to the Himba who are found in the Kunene region of north-western Namibia.  A tribe that is clinging tenaciously to the customs and traditions of their forefathers with little hope of being able to stem the tide of Westernisation that is lapping at their feet, beckoning the youngsters with the trappings of modern life.

Originally part of the nomadic Herero tribe that lived in southern Angola and migrated to Namibia in the early 16th century, they were driven into the waterless and inhospitable Kaokoland area by the Ovambo’s who guarded their own territory jealously and ferociously.  The Herero’s eventually decided to head east where life was easier and they were converted to Christianity, whilst the Himba stayed on the western side of the country and resisted change to their culture.  They often had to beg for food in order to survive and the name ‘Himba” derives from ‘Tjiiimba’ which means ‘the people that beg.’  And they still do, believe me!

Kaokoland/Kunene Region

Kaokoland/Kunene Region

The Herero’s covered their bodies with long dresses and multiple petticoats, whilst the Himba retained their tradition of near-nakedness because of the heat and lack of water. The two tribes still speak the same language in spite of their differences, although the Himba’s are looked upon with disdain by their former tribesmen.

Today they still live a nomadic existence, often abandoning their mud huts and settlements in search of water for themselves and their herds of cattle, goats and sheep, which are their main currency and provide for all their necessities in the way of milk, meat, clothing and utensils.   They have adapted to their arid environment, but are becoming more sedentary due to tourism and modern innovations such as water pumps and wells.

An arid and harsh environment

An arid and harsh environment

The Himba have many unique customs, which tourists find most interesting.  The women are physically very beautiful and adorn themselves with fine jewelry made of metal, bone and skin.  They rub ‘otjize’ over themselves, which is a mixture of butter fat, red rock powder and sap from a local tree.  It gives their bodies a glowing red colour and protects them from the sun and insects.  Himba women don’t wash themselves, probably because of the lack of water.  Instead, they use the sweet smoke from an herb burned in a container called an ‘ombware’ to cleanse and perfume their bodies before smearing the otjize on themselves every morning.  This beauty preparation takes three hours every day.  Time is obviously not a problem for them.
Beautiful lady - beautiful smile!

Beautiful lady - beautiful smile!

Himba hairstyles tell a lot about the person; identifying their social status.  For example, pre-pubescent girls wear two thick braids in front of their faces – these look like ram horns.  After puberty the braids are replaced by many strands hanging all over their heads and faces.  As she gets older the braids are lengthened and tied back, indicating that she is ready for marriage.  Once married, an ‘erembe’ (a piece of goat leather) is tied to the top of her head.  Single men wear their hair in a single braid running backwards from their crowns (called an ‘ondatu’) with the rest shaved off; two plaits if they are eligible to marry and a turban style hairdo for married men.  Often these are covered by a similar shaped hat or material.

On our drive from Kunene River Lodge to Epupa Falls, we came across a Himba burial site.  The gravestones were surrounded by a wooden fence and a number of ox skulls placed on a tree in the area.  The skulls apparently denote the wealth of the deceased – each skull representing one hundred oxen that the person owned.  Also the direction the skulls are placed tells whether the deceased was male or female.

Burial ground

Burial ground

Death of the physical body is not the end for the Himba as they believe that the deceased stays in the homestead with them for two generations.  Each Himba settlement has what is known as the Holy Fire (Okoruwo).  This is always positioned between the entrance to the kraal and the door of the main dwelling.  The Holy Fire is used to light all fires in the settlement and it is the duty of the oldest member of the patriclan to ensure that it is kept smoldering and never goes out.  Flames from the Holy Fire are used for daily rituals and special ceremonies like births, deaths, marriages and circumcision, and it is through this medium that communication takes place with the ancestors.  Special rituals are always performed by the Onganga or witchdoctor.

So much more could be written about this fascinating tribe, but I hope that I have whet your appetite a bit to come and see them for yourselves.  They are a proud and friendly people, although as I said earlier, their begging can be a little off-putting to travelers who would like to get to know them better.