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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.