This arid, mountainous region in the north west of Namibia, is sandwiched between the Skeleton Coast and the Etosha National Park, and bounded in the north by the Kunene River. It is the most rugged, remote part of the country – much of it only accessible by 4x4 or fly-in safaris.
Water courses such as the Hoanib and Hoarusib rivers have gouged deep, rock-walled valleys through the rugged mountains. These form the migration routes for the desert-adapted elephant and rhino for which the area is famous. In this harsh climate you don’t get large concentrations of game.
But, even in the dry season, several natural springs support a surprising diversity of plants and animals, with regular sightings of Hartmann’s mountain zebra, spotted hyena, oryx and even, occasionally, desert-adapted lion.
The area can be explored on self-drive or guided 4x4 excursions, while adventurous types can track rhino and elephant on foot, or go rafting on the Kunene River. The magnificent Epupa Falls, one of Namibia’s most popular tourist attractions, is a highlight of a visit to the north and the nearby rock pools and lush vegetation provides some relief from the otherwise harsh environment of the region.
The Kunene is also the ancestral home of the pastoral Himba people who live in scattered settlements throughout the far north west. Distinguished by their natural beauty, intricate hairstyles, distinctive jewellery and body adornments, they have clung onto their traditions, and can be easily recognised by the red colouring of their skin, produced by the application of a mixture of red ochre and fat that protects against the harsh desert sun.