To the east of Grootfontein lies the area known as Bushmanland. (This is an old name, but I'll use it here for clarity; it is what most people call the area.) This almost rectangular region borders on Botswana and stretches 90km from north to south and about 200km from east to west.
Drive east towards Tsumkwe, and you're driving straight into the Kalahari. However, on their first trip here, people are often struck by just how green and vegetated it is, generally in contrast to their mental image of a 'desert'. In fact, the Kalahari isn't a desert at all; it's a fossil desert. It is an immense sandsheet which was once a desert, but now gets far too much rainfall to be classed as a desert.
Look around you and you'll realise that most of the Kalahari is covered in a thin, mixed bush with a fairly low canopy height, dotted with occasional larger trees. Beneath this is a fairly sparse ground-covering of smaller bushes, grasses and herbs. There are no spectacular sand dunes; you need to return west to the Namib for those!
This is very poor agricultural land, but in the east of the region, especially south of Tsumkwe, there is a sprinkling of seasonal pans. Straddling the border itself are the Aha Hills, which rise abruptly from the gently rolling desert. This region, and especially the eastern side of it, is home to a large number of scattered Bushman villages of the Ju/'hoansi !Kung.
The wildlife is a major attraction. During the late dry season, around September and October, game gathers in small herds around the pans. During and after the rains, from January to March, the place comes alive with greenery and water. Birds and noisy bullfrogs abound, and travel becomes even more difficult than usual, as whole areas turn into impassable floodplains. From April the land begins to dry, and during July and August the daytime temperatures are at their most moderate and the nights cold. But whenever you come, don't expect to see vast herds like those in Etosha or you will be disappointed.
The other reason for visiting is to see the Bushman people. The conventional view is that less than a century ago these people's ancestors were a traditional hunter/gatherer society using Stone-Age technology. Yet they possessed a knowledge of their environment that we are only just beginning to understand. Tourism is increasingly seen as a vital source of revenue for these people. In placing a high value on traditional skills and knowledge, it is hoped that it will help to stem the erosion of their cultural heritage.
The C44 road through to Tsumkwe is the main access route into the area. This is long, and continues a further 50km east to the new border post with Botswana at Dobe. From there it's a further 150km (3 hours' drive) of patchy gravel road to Nokaneng (a small town on the main tar road which runs down the western side of the Okavango Delta in Botswana).
Tsumkwe feels remote, but it is easily reached from Grootfontein by ordinary 2WD vehicle. From Nokaneng, an experienced driver should be able to get a high-clearance 2WD through to Tsumkwe, but doing this journey in a 4WD is recommended. Virtually all the other roads in Bushmanland require a sturdy 4WD and a good guide, or a GPS, or preferably both.
After travelling east from the B8 for about 31km there is a police station on the south side of the road.
Omatako Valley Restcamp is about 88km from the tar, and Tsumkwe about 226km. Around 89km before Tsumkwe, one of the turnings to the right is signposted 'Mangetti Duin', marking the way to one of the best stands of mangetti trees in the area – notable because mangetti nuts are one of the staple foods of the Bushmen.
Otherwise along this road there are a few turnings to villages, but little else. The area is not densely populated, and travellers coming this way should travel with water and some food, as only a handful of vehicles will use the road on any particular day.
One good way to visit is by combining it with a trip through Khaudum National Park, thus making a roundabout journey from Grootfontein to the Caprivi Strip. Alternatively, approaching Bushmanland from the south, via Summerdown, Otjinene, and the old Hereroland, would be an interesting and unusual route. Expect the going to get tough.