Kaokoland is one of the last remaining true wilderness areas in Southern Africa. It is a world of incredible mountain scenery, a refuge for the rare desert dwelling elephant, black rhino and giraffe and the home of the Himba people. Although it is harsh and offers little respite at midday, the rugged landscape is especially attractive during the early morning and late afternoon when it is transformed into softly glowing pastel shades.
The topography in the south of the area is characterised by rugged mountains which are dissected by numerous watercourses, but north of the Hoarusib River the scenery is dominated by table-top koppies. Still further north, the Otjihipa Mountains rise abruptly above the Namib floor to form the eastern boundary of the Marienfluss, while the west of the valley is defined by the Hartmann Mountains.
The Marienfluss valley is very scenic and relatively greener than the Hartmann’s valley. Hartmann’s Valley is closer to the Atlantic and yet much more arid, however, it does receive sea mist off the ocean which gives the area a mysterious atmosphere when it drifts inland.
Kaokoland differs greatly from Damaraland in terms of accessibility and infrastructure. While quite a bit of Damaraland is isolated from the outside world it is Kaokoland which is really the back of beyond: silent, huge and for the most part empty.
Kaokoland is bordered on the south by the Hoanib River and on the north by the Kunene River, which also forms Namibia’s border with Angola. Mountain ranges near the Kunene River are rugged and impressive, with the highest point at 2039m in the Baynes Mountains. It is an oddity that a river runs through this arid landscape, and Namibia’s only true waterfalls are found along its course. The Ruacana Falls are 120m high and 700m wide in full flood, while 135km downstream the Epupa Falls are formed by a series of cascades that drop a total of 60m over a distance of about 1.5km, and at one point reach a total width of 500m. The name Epupa is a Herero word for the spume created by the falling water.
The area surrounding Epupa Falls has richly coloured rock walls, a variety of trees including wild fig, baobab and waving makalani palms. Spectacular sunsets and perennially flowing waters means that the area offers much to see and experience. Bird watching is rewarding, especially for the rare rufous-tailed palm thrush, as well as bee-eaters, the African fish eagle and kingfishers, ranging from giant to the tiny malachite kingfisher.
In terms of wildlife, Kaokoland is probably most famous for its desert elephants. The possibility of obtaining a glimpse, however brief, of a herd of desert-dwelling elephants is what draws most tourists to the area.
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