Crossing the Angolan Namib Desert (May 2014)

The Namib Desert stretches for about 2000km along the coast of Angola, Namibia and South Africa and is the only true desert in southern Africa as well as most likely the oldest in the world. It contains the second largest sand dunes in the world which tower along the coast followed by gravel plains and saller mountain outcrops further inland.

The area on the Angolan side came highly recommended by Andrew and we were looking forward to some more adventurous traveling again. The small town of Tombua actually had a fuel pump and diesel so we could fill up one more time for the coming 850km throuh the desert. Since our auxiliary fuel tank was still not connected with a proper valve because we could not find any it meant filling up jerry cans and even plastic water containers to be able to drive the distance. There are two options to reach the mouth of the Kunene River from here. One leads along the coast with dunes towering on one side and the waves crashing on the other with only a narrow beach to drive along. If you get the tides wrong, stuck or hit by a wave it can easily mean the end of your vehicle and likely your life if you have set out on your own without backup. It sounded tempting but would have been foolish to do without at least a second vehicle. So we opted for the longer but still rough and remote route east of the sand dunes.

Before turning off onto the track down south east we visited Lake Arco which ocasionally fills up with water and therefore allows some farming to be conducted. It’s a beautiful area with large sandcolored rock arches and bolders but no water at the time of our visit. Following the track deeper into the desert we came across a river glittering in the sun and a donkey caravan but otherwise only rocks and sand. The night was spent camping on top of a small hill surrounded by smaller welwitschia mirabilis specimens.

The following day the scenery became slightly more vegetated and we often followed endless wooden fences of fazendas (large farms) but without seeing a trace of a human being or the farm buildings themselves. Wildlife became more abundant in form of springboks and stenboks and at one point we stopped at the largest known welwitschia mirabilis which must have grown for many hundreds of years. A small detour led us to the Pediva Hot Springs with a small settlement and shy locals before we hit a huge and out of place gate marking the entry to Iona National Park. Even here there was no soul to be found and we continued along a dry and sandy river bed with small hills on either side and the first Himba huts popping up as well as some wild horses. The rocky hills often looked like giant pertrified forests and the track got steep, rocky and narrow in places.

A turn west brought us closer to the coast again and all vegetation disappeared. The landscape turned flat and rocky only interrupted by the occasional lonely tree. We spotted the first oryx, a desert adapted antelope which can go long stretches without water and has dry pee to keep as much fluid as possible in its body. The weirdest sight though was an old wreck of an American saloon car in the middle of this barren landscape. Who brought it that far, how and why will probably stay a mystery to us.

Before hitting the coast we followed a sandy path down to the Kunene River and one of our most beautiful bush camps so far. A narrow stripe of green vegetation follows the path of the river but right on the opposite side lays Namibia and the dunes are rising high and far. Trying to get close to the river we ended up in deep sand and got stuck badly in a matter of seconds. Even lowest tire pressures and a lot of digging could not free the Land Cruiser as the sand was so fine that the car sunk deeper and deeper. Time to get our waffle boards some exercise we thought but the lock on the chain securing them to the roof rack had collected so much dust over the last year that it would not open. So we had to carry huge flatish rocks from the river bank and build a solid ramp to get back to firmer ground. It took a couple of tries and a lot of sweat but we succeeded just as the sun went down. We spent two nights in this magnificent spot, I had some unsuccessful fishing attempts, Jasmine baked some bread in the dutch oven and we tried to determine the many spoors we found around us in the morning. One was definitely from a large cat. Some thumb sized white bugs also entertained us always one riding on the other, probably to cool their feet as the sand becomes very hot here. Their bright white colour also reflect the sun rays and they were the only animals we actually saw.

After crossing a large area of white sand dunes we arrived at the mouth of the Kunene River with a small police outpost and a lot of wind. We met the South African anglers again at the beach. They had taken the coastal route with the Flamingo Lodge manager and almost lost one of the vehicles when a wave hit it. Seeing that they pulled one huge fish after the other out of the ocean I tried my luck again as well and actually caught two decent sized ones. That said the area is known to be one of the richest angling grounds in Africa so even my notorious bad luck could not stand against that. Hundreds of turtles also enjoyed themselves in the river mouth and occasionally stuck their heads out of the water to catch some air.

We camped on the way back east in the middle of a rocky part of the desert and enjoyed the absolute overwhelming silence as well as the grilled fish which tasted strangely similar to trout.

The next day was rough and long as we headed east through hundreds of small dry river crossings and over very rocky terrain. On several occasions the rock sliders at the back of the Land Cruiser would touch ground. The scenery was beautiful nevertheless and we saw more himba huts and simple cattle enclosures before setting up camp with a nice mountain view. It was only the following day that we hit a larger settlement buzzing with tribes people coming to fill up water at the communal well. The track got smoother and we met Semba and Himba along the way and had a very friendly encounter and photo session with a group of the former. Closer to the Kunene River their settlements also became prevailant and we had our last bush camp in Angola before arriving at the Ruacana border post with Namibia. We were running on the last diesel fumes and had met a total of 6 other cars in the last weeks rough drive.

Leave a Reply