After a few days in Walvis Bay completing lots of the boring admin jobs, we left in search of adventure in North West Namibia.
The first stop was Spitzkoppie, a vast Matterhorn shaped granite kopje in the middle of the desert where we found pools in amongst the granite outcrops, left behind by the recent rains.
Leaving Spitzkoppie we stocked up with food, fuel and water ready for the 75km 4x4 dirt track from Ugab river to Twyfelfontein via the Doros Crater. We did part of this route 10 years ago, but turned back at ‘The Nipple’ – an unusual shaped kopje that Amy’s parents found 20 years ago. One of our regrets on the last trip was that we didn’t have time to do the full route, so it was one of our main goals for this trip. The first 3km of the route are really (really) bad as you drive along the Ugab river bed, which flows over bedrock and so is a boulder strewn nightmare that is driven at 5km/h and has you wincing every few minutes as the suspension bottoms out and sharp rocks slam into the underside of the vehicle. It was a stressful half hour, but eventually we climbed out of the river bed where the route became easier, a mixture of sandy tracks, bedrock and gravel plains.
After 15km we reached ‘The Nipple’ which we climbed, got some photos, and then lost Sammy on the descent. After about 15 minutes of slightly panicky yelling and searching, we discovered him striding out, leading the way back to Brenda, just unfortunately in the wrong direction.
We wild camped in the middle of the desert that night, probably closer to lions than other humans. We spent the afternoon watching a storm develop on the horizon and unload the moisture it had picked up off the Atlantic. The sunset was spectacular.
The following day we made it to Twyfelfontein, where we found the (usually dry) River Huab was flooded and unpassable. Apparently, the storm we watched the previous evening dropped so much water it flooded the river for the first time in years. Fortunately, we met a lovely Namibian couple who were experienced in this sort of thing who were able to guide us through the decision making process. The first plan was to wait until the river dropped and then cross, so we settled down to a cup of tea while the boys went and swam in the flooded river, to the amusement of the spectating locals. After a few hours it became obvious that the river wasn’t dropping. We walked across the river with Stefan a few times, but the bottom was very loose sand in places and the river was too wide to be able to rescue a stuck vehicle by winch.
The decision was taken to try again in the morning, and so the only option was to stay at a very fancy lodge a few km’s away. OK, it wasn’t the only option, but a second night of wild camping seemed less appealing now that the boys were plastered in river mud. Fortunately, Stefan and Daniela were able to negotiate us ‘locals’ rates so it only cost us £140 including dinner and breakfast. The boys went mad for the all you can eat buffet that included Oryx and Kudu, both of which were delicious.
The following day the water levels were still too high, so a guide from the lodge offered to show us a little used track which connects back to the road network where it was possible to drive around the source of the river and continue our trip. A huge thanks to Stefan and Daniela for being such wonderful company at the lodge, and for sharing some of their vast knowledge with us.
Initially we hadn’t planned to go into Kaokoland because of the rainy season, but after hearing more about it from Stefan and Daniela, we felt we couldn’t miss the adventure and so planned a 300km loop deep into Kaokoland. Buoyed up with our new knowledge and experience we set off for the first stop in Sesfontein where we would launch into Kaokoland. The next morning as we prepared to start the adventure, we were told that the bridge (the only bridge) out of Sesfontein had been washed away for the first time in a decade, and everyone had their views on when it would be crossable again – ranging from “3 days” to “this is Africa”.
So for the second time we found ourselves stranded on the wrong side of a flooded river, except this time there were no other roads out. We were quickly learning about wet season travel. A cup of tea and a chat with locals informed us that the rivers in Kaokoland were also flooded, and so we decided to leave Kaokoland until the next time we are in Namibia in the dry season, and instead focus on getting back across the river.
The following day the river levels had dropped a bit, but the world’s most useless police were insisting that it was still unsafe to cross and turned us away. Being Africa, the locals ignored them, and found a place 5km upriver where the river was wise and shallow enough to cross. So with our new friend Eben guiding us, (and after waiting whilst he stopped to shove a live goat in his boot) we drove across the sandy flood plain and found the crossing place. 4 wheel drive and diff lock engaged we took the plunge and Brenda made it across like a champion, and once again we were back on the road network and could continue with our trip.
The plan was to head to Epupa Falls, another remote area in the far north on the border with Angola. However, the C38 north which was supposed to be a good dirt road, was a washed out nightmare thanks to all the rain, so after a day of painful driving, we decided to cancel Epupa and instead head east to Etosha National Park. The rainfall, the poor condition of normally good roads, the remoteness of Epupa and the experience of being stranded twice pretty much made the decision for us.
So that was it, success and failure, adventure and misadventure. We’ll come back again in the dry season and give it another go.