The concession areas
North of the Huab River lie a number of large areas known as concession areas, which are set aside for tourism. These are chunks of land that the government has allocated to one operator, who has the sole use of the land for tourism purposes. Local people can live and even keep animals within some of these tourism concessions, but development is limited.
Currently four such concessions are being used by operators to give visitors an insight into the area's ecosystems: Palmwag, Etendeka, Damaraland Camp, and Hobatere Lodge. Each is different, but all require time to do them justice. These aren't places that you can drop into for a day and expect to fully appreciate, and a visit to any is best arranged in advance. (Huab Lodge's private reserve isn't technically a concession area, but is similar in style and so included here.)
Landscapes and Vegetation
Approaching from the coast, along the D3245, is perhaps the most interesting way to enter this area. After the flat coast, you soon find the gravel plains dotted first with inselbergs, then with low chains of weathered hills. The land begins to rise rapidly: you are coming on to the escarpment, around 50km from the coast, which is the edge of one of the largest sheets of ancient lava in the world. Sheets of molten lava poured over the land here in successive layers, about 300 million years ago. Now these Etendeka lavas dominate the scenery, with huge flat-topped mountains of a characteristic red-brown-purplish colour.
The rainfall here is still low, and the sparse covering of grasses is dotted with large Euphorbia damarana
bushes. These grow into spiky, round clumps, perhaps three metres in diameter and over a metre tall, and are endemic to this region. Break a stem to reveal poisonous milky-white latex, which protects the bushes from most herbivores, except black rhino and kudu, which are both said to eat them. (A tale is told of a group of local people who roasted meat over a fire of dead Euphorbia
stems – only to die as the result.)
If you could continue as a bird, flying northeast towards Etosha, then the land below you would become progressively less dry. Flying over the Hobatere area, you'd notice that the higher rainfall promotes richer vegetation. In the northern areas of that concession you would see an undulating patchwork of mopane scrub and open grassy plains, dotted with various trees, including the distinctive flat-topped umbrella thorn, Acacia tortilis. You would have left the desert.
Generally the amount of game increases as the vegetation becomes more lush in the east. In the mountains around Palmwag, Etendeka and Damaraland Camp, there are resident steenbok, baboon, kudu, porcupine and the occasional klipspringer and warthog, joined by wide-ranging herds of Hartmann's mountain zebra, gemsbok and springbok. Equally nomadic but less common are the giraffe and desert-adapted elephant.
An enduring memory from here is the sight of a herd of giraffe. We watched them for almost an hour, as they skittishly grazed their way across a rocky hillside beside the main D3706 road. Their height seemed so out of place in the landscape of rocks and low trees.
Black rhino are present throughout the region, but spend most of their days sleeping under shady bushes, and so are rarely seen, even by those who live here. (Both Etendeka and Palmwag occasionally run strenuous rhino-tracking trips, the former more on foot, the latter making more use of vehicles. These expensive but fascinating trips are specially arranged on request.)
Leopard occur, and both cheetah and lion have been seen – but it is thought that only small numbers of big cats are left in the region, and they range over huge areas in search of suitable prey.
The birdlife is interesting, as several of the Kaokoveld's ten endemic species are found here. Perhaps the most obvious, and certainly the most vocal, are Rüppell's korhaan – whose early-morning duets will wake the soundest sleeper. The ground-feeding Monteiro's hornbill is another endemic, though not to be confused with the local red-billed hornbills. There is also an endemic chat, the Herero chat, which occurs along with its more common cousins, the ant-eating tractrac and familiar chats. Though not endemic, black eagles are often seen around the rockier hillsides: surely one of Africa's most majestic raptors.
Looking further east, to Hobatere and Huab, there is more vegetation, making a classic environment for big game animals. These areas can support more game, and it shows. Elephants are certainly more common, and more easily spotted. The desert-adapted species seen to the west are joined in Hobatere by eland, black-faced impala and Damara dik-dik – both of the latter are subspecies endemic to the region. Similarly, the variety of birds becomes wider as you move east, with species that occur in Etosha often overlapping into Hobatere.