The Kaokoveld is one of Africa's last wildernesses. Namibia's least inhabited area, it stretches from the coastal desert plain and rises slowly into a wild and rugged landscape. Here slow-growing trees cling to rocky mountains, whilst wild grass seeds wait dormant on the dust plains for showers of rain.
Because of the low population in the northern parts of the Kaokoveld, and the spectacularly successful Community Game Guard scheme there are thriving populations of game here, living beyond the boundaries of any national park. This is one of the last refuges for the black rhino, which still survive (and thrive) here by ranging wide, and knowing where the seasonal plants grow.
It is also home to the famous desert elephants. Some naturalists have cited their apparently long legs, and proven ability to withstand drought, as evidence that they are actually a subspecies of the African elephant. Though this is not now thought to be the case, these remarkable animals are certainly adept at surviving in the driest of areas, using their amazing knowledge of the few water sources that do exist.
Historically the Kaokoveld has been split into two areas: Damaraland in the south, and Kaokoland in the north. Though it is all now officially known as the Kunene region, this book has retained the old names as they are still widely in use. Further, this chapter subdivides Damaraland because, for the visitor, its north is very different from its south.
Southern Damaraland's most interesting places are easily accessible in your own 2WD vehicle. It is an area to explore for yourself, based at one of the camps or lodges. Its main attractions are the mountains of Spitzkoppe and Brandberg, the wealth of Bushman rock art at Twyfelfontein, the Petrified Forest, and various rock formations.
Northern Damaraland attracts people to its scenery, landscapes and populations of game – and is best visited by driving yourself to one of the four huge private concession areas: Hobatere, Palmwag, Etendeka and the Damaraland Camp. From there you can join the guided 4WD trips run by these lodges, which is the best way to appreciate the area.
Kaokoland is different. North of Sesfontein, there are no lodges and few campsites. This is the land of the Himba a traditional, pastoral people, relying upon herds of drought-resistant cattle for their livelihood. Their villages are situated by springs that gush out from dry riverbeds. Kaokoland's remote 'roads' need high-clearance 4WD vehicles and are dangerous for the unprepared. The best way to visit is by air, or using one of the more experienced local operators who know the area and understand the dangers. To visit independently you need your own expedition: two or more equipped 4WDs, with experienced drivers and enough fuel and supplies for a week or more. This isn't a place for the casual or inexperienced visitor.