East of Owamboland, and west of Caprivi, lies the region of Kavango – which broadly corresponds to the old region of Kavangoland. Within this, Rundu is the main town. It is a useful stopover for most visitors, but an end in itself for few. Further east is Popa Falls, a set of rapids on the Okavango River. These mark an important geological fault, where the Okavango starts to spread out across the Kalahari's sands, to form its remarkable delta in Botswana. Popa Falls has only a small waterfall, but a lovely little restcamp.
Just downstream from Popa, on the border with Botswana, Mahango National Park is tucked into a corner of the country. Bounded on one side by the broadening Okavango, it encompasses a very wide range of environments in its small area, and its game has improved vastly over the last decade. It now boasts Namibia's highest count of bird species in one park, and some prolific big game. With its expansive reedbeds, tall trees, and lush vegetation, Mahango is typical of the game parks further east.
Driving from Grootfontein to Rundu
Grootfontein to Rundu is about 250km of good tar road. Initially the only variation in the tree and bush thorn-scrub is an occasional picnic site by the roadside, or band of feathery makalani palms towering above the bush. About halfway to Rundu, you stop at a veterinary control post; a gap in the veterinary fence. This is the line where land-use changes drastically: from large, commercial ranches to small, subsistence farms. The fence is put there to stop the movement of cattle, and the transmission of foot-and-mouth and rinderpest disease. The difference is striking; the landscape changes drastically, becoming more like the stereotypical Western view of poor, rural Africa. Drivers should take care, as with more settlements there are now many more animals and people wandering across the road.
Gradually shops and bottle-stalls appear, and eventually stalls selling wood-carvings. Closer to Rundu, especially during the wet season, kiosks appear piled high with pyramids of tomatoes and exotic fruits – evidence of the agricultural potential in the rich alluvial soils and heavy rainfall.