As you enter the valley, there is a small sign covered with weatherworn glass. It stresses the ecologically important things you must do, and includes a diagram of how to turn a vehicle around to minimise damage to the environment. Take time to read it and remember.
Hartmann's Valley itself is very arid, though its weather can vary dramatically. As well as searing heat, the valley receives sea mists, which creep up from the coast, making it an eerie place to visit.
It is 70km from end to end, a minimum of 21/2 hours' drive one way, and the condition of the track along it varies. In the south, the road starts by crossing a number of steep-sided river valleys. It soon changes to compacted corrugated sand, which shakes your vehicle violently. Finally, this becomes soft before high dunes prevent you reaching the Kunene by vehicle. Despite the harsh conditions, it is very beautiful. Drive through at sunrise if possible; then it's cooler than later and shows off the surrounding hills at their finest.
Where to stay
There are two private camps at the end of the valley:Serra Cafema Camp
Tel: 061 274500; fax: 061 239455; email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Wilderness Safaris)
Recently taken over by Namib Wilderness Safaris this has been long been a very basic camp owned by the owners of Palmwag. As I write, it is being rebuilt, and is due to open in mid to late 2003 as a very upmarket, luxurious camp. It's planned to have six large canvas and thatch chalets, built like the rest of the camp on substantial elevated wooden decks, beside the edge of the Kunene. These will have the high quality and space that's become a trademark of Wilderness's properties, and guests will fly in here – not drive.
The intention is to create a camp to which visitors can come after a trip to the Skeleton Coast Camp. Because the Skeleton Coast is quite a harsh environment, and the long excursions there can be tiring, Serra Cafema is envisaged as a more laid-back, relaxed spot. Having spent time here recently at the old camp, and enjoyed both floating down the river and exploring the outlying areas with a super guide, it's easy to see how it makes sense. Because of the difficult logistics of getting here, and the high comfort levels of the camp itself, it's not a cheap camp – however it can offer some of the experience of the Skeleton Coast Camp at a substantially lower cost. (That said, it also works well for a few days relaxing by the river after a Skeleton Coast trip.)Kunene Camp
Run by Skeleton Coast Safaris, this very small and simple camp is usually used for a final night as part of their fly-in trips to the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld.