The north-west of Namibia, also named the Kunene region, stretches from the Kunene river in the north right down to the Ugab River near Twyfelfontein. It is a rugged terrain with rock-strewn hillsides, rugged mountains and sandy plains.
It is advisable to explore this wild and isolated region in four-wheel drive, since most destinations are off-the-beaten track, especially along the Kunene, with its splendid Epupa Falls.
Kaokoland is the ancestral homeland of the nomadic Himba tribe. The Himba are tall, slender and photogenic people of Herero origin. Especially the women are admired for their unusual scultptural features, their intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. Furthermore, the Kaokoland is home to the famous “Desert Elephants” that migrate along river valleys in search for water and food.
The Skeleton Coast Park borders on the cold Atlantic Ocean in the west. It is often referred to as the “world’s shipping graveyard” and its attraction lies in its solitude as well as its formidable angling spots. Photographers have ample opportunity to practice their skills with the ever changing light and dune formations, against the backdrop of salt pans, gravel plains and hills.
Further down, to the west of Khorixas lies Twyfelfontein (meaning “doubtful mountain”), with its open air art-gallery of 2400 rock engravings which has World Heritage Status since 2007. Close by are also the Petrified Forest, the Burnt Mountain as well as the famous Organ Pipes, a series of angular dolerite columns exposed in a dry riverbed. Furthermore, this area offers more geological phenomena such as the 80 km long Ugab terraces, as well as the Vingerklip, a 35m high monolith which towers over the Ugab valley.
In 2007 the Twyfelfontein rock-engraving site in the Huab Valley west of Khorixas was awarded World Heritage status at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand. The 2 000-plus rock engravings represent one of Africa’s largest and most important rock-art concentrations.
Renowned for its extraordinary scenic beauty, the Skeleton Coast remains one of Namibia’s most enduring and mysterious places. Its attraction lies essentially in the colour, vastness, changing moods and untouched quality of its landscape. Once an area for seafarers to fear and shun because of its treacherous coastline flanked by bonetrewn desert wastes, today it is prized as a place of splendour and tranquility.
Visible from the road to Twyfelfontein is the so-called Burnt Mountain, a brilliantly coloured hill of dark maroon, black and charcoal rock. About 200 million years ago the Karoo limestones that formed the mountain were deposited, and about 120 million years ago volcanic lava intruded the limestone as a large sheet, metamorphosing into black, carbonaceous shales. The high temperatures baked the shale, leaving a black, charred mass with brown, red and yellow patches produced by the oxidation of iron-bearing minerals.
This deep chasm of a waterfall with its richly coloured rock walls and classic variety of tree species including baobabs, wild figs and makalani palms, is one of Namibia’s most idyllic and peaceful spots. This is where you can sit quietly for many hours entertained by the twitter of birds, becoming mesmerised as they circle endlessly in the spray above the vortex below, while you wait for the sun to set in a vivid blaze of red.
Bird-watching at Epupa is especially rewarding, as you have a good chance of spotting the rare rufous-tailed palm thrush, rosy-faced lovebirds, paradise flycatchers, African fish-eagles, kingfishers ranging from the giant to the tiny malachite kingfisher, several species of bee-eaters, bulbuls, hornbills and rollers. This is also a place from where you can visit a settlement of the legendary Himba, a seminomadic people who still live and dress according to ancient customs and traditions.