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A Bull Elephnt Enjoying Its Time At The Waterhole - Khowarib, Northern Nambia

Namibia: Khowarib and Palmwag

The desert elephants of northern Namibia have adpated to the environment and thrive along the banks of regions rivers. Other animals such as lions, antelopes and giraffes have also made their homes in these harsh landscapes, but life is always a fine balance here.

The road to Khowarib was dusty but compared to some roads we have travelled on was not so bad. After a couple of hours, we reached our destination at Khowarib Resort, which is in the stunning Khowarib Gorge. There are 14 luxury permanent tents here, all located within a short walking distance from a gorgeous lodge building. After checking in we were taken to our ‘tent’, which was very spacious. As seemed to be the case everywhere we had been, the towels were made up on our bed in the shapes of elephants. Very cute! At one end of our tent was a small balcony with two chairs that overlooked magnificent red cliffs, that would be stunning at sunset and sunrise, and below we could see the babbling waters of the Hoanib River. At the other end of the tent was our bathroom. It was huge and completely outdoors. The space was approximately semi-circular and about thirty feet in diameter and surrounded by a six-foot high wall, which I could see over but most people couldn’t. It contained a shower, a toilet, and a large tree. I was not completely sure what would happen if you got caught short during a thunderstorm – get wet I suppose!

Just before sunset, we sat out on our deck admiring the changing colours on the walls of the opposing cliffs, before heading to the bar for our sundowner and dinner

Today, we had a whole day visiting the further reaches of the Hoanib River into the desert in search of the famous desert elephants of Namibia.

Our guide for the day was a man called Weareep, and he was accompanied by a driver.
We set out from the lodge towards the small town of Sesfontein. Shortly after leaving the town, we pulled over to let folks take a comfort break using the local bushes. Luckily, we were all European or African so this didn’t cause any consternation. It was also a chance to let the air out of the tyres as we’d be travelling over some sandy ground along the beds of rivers.

The first part of our journey took us through a beautiful desert valley, that was very sparsely vegetated with scrubby bushes and low-bowed trees. Surrounding the valley were mountains that we doused in the early morning sun. It was quite stunning.

The landscape around Sesfontein and Khowarib in Northern Namibia is stunning
The landscape around Sesfontein and Khowarib in Northern Namibia is stunning
Desert landscapes in Northern Namibia

The further we travelled the fewer signs there were of humans. Our only sightings were teenage boys tending their family’s goats and sheep. Only knows what there was to feed them out here!

Suddenly, Weerap spotted a small group of giraffes that live out here in the desert. We quickly changed direction and headed to get a closer look. They looked amazing against a background of yellow sand, green bushes, and brown mountains. It was still early morning, so the sunlight was perfect for wildlife viewing and photographing. Among the group was a mother with a very young calf, that was still a bit wobbly on its feet. Weerap estimated that the calf was only a few days old.

We hadn’t seen the other game-drive vehicles for a while, so we headed out to find them.

The giraffes have adapted to living in the arid desert conditions - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
The giraffes have adapted to living in the arid desert conditions
The giraffes in the foreground and mountains in the background make for stunning photgraphs - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
The giraffes in the foreground and mountains in the background make for stunning photgraphs
A female giraffer with her very new calf - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
A female giraffer with her very new calf
Despite being only a day or two old this calf giraffe was steady on its feet - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
Despite being only a day or two old this calf giraffe was steady on its feet

Before heading into the canyon along the riverbed we stopped at a campsite run by the local concession. There was no one staying here now; it had yet to re-open after the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a blessing as we could use the camp’s toilets. Coffee and cakes were produced, as we got to stretch our legs and soak in the surrounding beauty of the desert and rocky outcrops that surrounded us.

After our short break, we hopped back into the game drive vehicles and headed down the Hoanib River, which this time of year is more of a stream than a river! We were now on the lookout for elephants. The going was getting tougher as we had to navigate rocks and some sandy stretches of track. But it was a lot of fun. About twenty minutes in we found our first elephant, a single bull. He had taken over a small waterhole and was enjoying spraying himself with water. Close by the elephant was an official-looking truck, with a man with an extremely impressive set of filming equipment. This crew were working for the Namibian government filming the elephant here, who are somewhat film stars, as their unique environment situation has attracted many filmmakers from around the world.

A black baboon resting on the rocks along the canyon - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
A black baboon resting on the rocks along the canyon
A bull elephnt enjoying its time at the waterhole - Khowarib, Northern Nambia
A bull elephnt enjoying its time at the waterhole

It was time to let this elephant have some peace, so we turned our attention upstream.
Our luck was in. After several kilometres more of bumpy tracks we came across a small herd of the so-called ‘desert’ elephants. This is not a specific genus of elephants, they are genetically the same as the other elephants that are found in Namibia, but they have adapted to live in the harsh conditions of the desert environment. Elephants are amazingly good at finding water, with their incredible sense of smell, and these ones are especially proficient! One of the adaptations of these elephants is their size. They are appreciably smaller than the average African elephant. These desert elephants live in the arid to semi-arid north-western regions of Namibia, in the southern Kunene and northern Erongo Region (formerly known as Damaraland), the desert elephants encompass 115,154 km2 of mostly sandy desert, rocky mountains and arid gravel plains. This region is arid and receives approximately 50-150mm of rain annually.

In Namibia, several distinct desert elephant subpopulations are living in the following ephemeral rivers, namely the Hoanib, Hoarusib, Uniab, Huab and Ugab Rivers.

In this herd were some males, females, and some calves. They spend most of their time travelling along the beds of these rivers sheltering and feeding on the Ana and Camel Thorn trees that thrive in the river gorges. With such sparse vegetation, it was very easy to spot and follow the elephants. They are also somewhat accustomed to people, so it was possible to get quite close to them.

For nearly an hour we were lucky enough to hang out with the elephants. They were headed downriver in the direction we were going to be headed back to the lodge, so we were able to spend more time with them than if we’d had been going upriver.

It was now lunchtime, so the guides found a shady spot by the water underneath the shade of a large tree. The problem for us with lunch was that the people preparing it did not get the message we were vegans. So, we ended up pulling the meat out of the sandwiches and eating what was left, which almost certainly was not vegan! We were not too upset (just a little) as we all climbed aboard our game drive vehicles to set back off to Sesfontein.

On the way we had seen the giraffes, but the other vehicles had not. So, it was decided we’d try and help find them some giraffes on the way back. Luckily, for them, a couple of giraffes were spotted some way away. The game drive vehicles left the main tracks and set off across the sandy desert floor. When we arrived near the spot where the giraffes had been seen they had gone. Although there was not much vegetation these giraffes were quite adept at hiding, even though that was most likely not our intent. They were spotted again across a dried stream bed. Our driver launched across the stream bed, through the deep sand, and successfully climbed to safety on the other side. Another vehicle tried to cross further up, and low and behold got stuck in the sand. After some revving of engines and spinning of wheels, they managed to dig themselves in deeper. It was not looking good. Weerap and the driver team, who were obviously more experienced in the conditions, were simultaneously amused and upset, as they knew they were going to have to go over and effect a rescue. There was a lot of digging and putting things under wheels, but after about 15 minutes the other vehicle was free and clear.

The desert of elephants of Northern Namibia hav adapted and thrived to the conditions - Khowarib, Northern Namibia
The desert of elephants of Northern Namibia hav adapted and thrived in the dry conditions
The desert elephants are generally smaller than their plains conterparts - Khowarib, Northern Namibia
The desert elephants are generally smaller than their plains conterparts
These elephants are used to people so you can get quite close - Khowarib, Northern Namibia
These elephants are used to people so you can get quite close

We travelled back to the point where we’d entered the valley and re-inflated the tyres.

Our plan had been to travel back to the lodge, but we were stuck with the Belgium tourists who had signed up for a tour of a local Himba village.

The Himba, or Ovahimba, are indigenous peoples with an estimated population of about 50.000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region (formerly Kaokoland) and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola. The Himba are a semi-nomadic, pastoralist people, culturally distinguishable from the Herero people in northern Namibia and southern Angola and speak Otji-Himba. The Himba are remarkably famous for covering themselves with otjize paste, a cosmetic mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment, to cleanse the skin over long periods due to water scarcity and protect themselves from the extremely hot and dry climate of the Kaokoland as well as against mosquito insect bites. Otjize is considered foremost a highly desirable aesthetic beauty cosmetic, symbolizing earth’s rich red colour and blood the essence of life and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty.

I was not keen on visiting the village, to say the least. I had heard many bad reviews and was concerned about exploitation. The men of the tribes in many of the ‘traditional’ villages are not present. In fact, many of these villages are not actually occupied, with the villagers living elsewhere in less traditional accommodations. So, I decided to hang back in the game drive vehicle, at least for a while as the others went to look around. There were around 30 Himba in the ‘village’, all women, and children. Most of the Himba were outside, but apparently, there was one woman with a very young baby inside one of the huts, and incredibly the tourists were encouraged to enter, despite there being the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Anyway, after a while I decided to go and look around the village compound, taking pictures of the huts, goats and other items lying around. I could not help but be fascinated by the otjize paste the women had covered their bodies and hair. Apparently, the Himba women do not use water to wash, a function that is performed by the ochre paste and by bathing in smoke. Much to my consternation I ended up taking photos of the women and children.

The children as always were fun to interact with. Karen especially loves interacting with the children and taking pictures of them, which she then shows them. The children ended up taking her phone off of her and taking selfies. One of the young ones took Karen’s glasses from her head and was wearing there while taking selfies – we ended up with some photos that made us chuckle!

Eventually, much to our relief it was time to go. We all got back on our vehicles and headed out, back to the Khowarib Lodge.

A hut in the Himba Village near Sesfontein, Namibia
A hut in the Himba Village near Sesfontein, Namibia
A young Himba woman with her child - Sesfontein, Northern Namibia
A young Himba woman with her child
Himba Village near Sesfontein in Northern Namibia

Palmwag Under-Canvas sleep-out
Our trip today was thankfully short, so we had a very calm start to our day and a leisurely breakfast. After checking out, we drove south for 60km back to the small community of Palmwag, and to the Palmwag Lodge.

The lodge is somewhat incongruous with the rest of the place, it is modern and looks luxurious. We were not staying here, but it was the base for our next expedition, an under-canvas sleepout in the Palmwag concession.

Our trip was not due to start for a few hours, so we killed sometime around the lodge, using their Wi-Fi which was marginally better than we’d been getting at the Khowarib Lodge.

At the appointed time we met up in the reception with our fellow explorers, Sam (Samantha) and Kevin, a young Dutch couple from Amsterdam, and our guide Rodney. In addition to Rodney, we had a driver (sorry I cannot recall his name).

The six of us set out for the concession. It would be just us sleeping in some wilderness under the star. It promised to be good.

Before going to our campsite, we went on a drive around the concession. We weren’t the only tourists out there as we came across a couple of other game-drive vehicles along the way.
The track we were on was rocky in parts, in other deep sand, and undulating as we climbed up and down the hills in search of wildlife. The vegetation was largely scrub and included the Euphorbia damarana, also known as the Damara milk bush. The toxic milky latex of the plant can kill animals and humans except for rhino and oryx who feed upon it. It is said that rhinos who feed on this bush become ‘drunk’ and behave strangely. Now that would be a sight to see!

We spotted a bat-eared fox wandering around the rocks, but that was about it, so we headed down to the river to try our luck there. Lying in the bushes on the riverbank were a lioness and a large male. They were well disguised, so we didn’t get a clear view until they started to work their way alongside the river.

The day was drawing to a close and the sun was starting to set over the hills, so we made our way to our campsite.

It was very basic, with four, admittedly large two people tents, that we were well spaced. They had supplied good mattresses and blankets, so we were definitely going to be cosy. The toilet was a lot more basic, and most definitely a bush toilet. It consisted of a chair, which was rickety, to say the least, with a toilet seat on it, suspended over a hole in the ground. I suspected for anything other than ‘number twos’ we’d be finding a quiet spot behind a bush.

Rodney and our driver worked on preparing dinner, including some vegetarian options for us. As well as bringing food, they had also brought a goodly supply of alcohol, which we made the most of. A table had been set up and a campfire lit, which we gathered around. At one point during the proceedings, Rodney appeared with a frying pan, in which there was a small, white scorpion. Luckily, the scorpion was not on the menu, so it was safely released into the darkness of the bush.

We sat around talking about anything and everything. Sam and Kevin were fantastic company and a lot of fun, we had such a laugh (we continue to be in contact with them). As we sat there the stars started to appear, and an incredible show it was. A short while later the moon rose, to add to the celestial performance, which gave Sam the chance to show off the camera on her new iPhone 14, which made Karen somewhat jealous.

The evening rolled on and we were really enjoying ourselves, that was until some car lights appeared in the distance. This put Rodney and a driver on alert as vehicles were not supposed to drive around the concession at night. The rest of us began to be concerned, as you do hear stories of tourists being attacked in the wild of Africa. In truth, most of these attacks happen in cities, but remote cases tend to get more publicity. This went on for twenty minutes. Finally, Rodney speculated what we actually saw was a vehicle travelling on the main road, which he believed we could see from the elevated vantage point of our camp. This event put a bit of a dampener on the evening, and soon we all headed off to our respective tents to get some shut-eye.

A bat eared fox in the Palmwag Concession in Northern Namibia
A bat eared fox in the Palmwag Concession in Northern Namibia

As is often the case when you camp, we were all up early. Rodney and our driver made up a new campfire, which was lovely as it was a chilly morning, and the fire soon warmed us up. The addition of some freshly brewed coffee helped to get us all started. Breakfast was prepared, and Karen and I continued to build on our friendship with Sam and Kevin, as we shared more stories about travel and our lives beyond.
After we were down with breakfast it was time to break camp. Luckily, we didn’t have to take down tents, as another crew would take care of this stuff later.

On the way back to the Palmwag Lodge we were going to be doing a couple of hour game drive through the concession. We followed the tracks back towards the river, along a different section to the one we had visited the previous day. We were in luck as we came across a small herd of elephants feeding on the lush vegetation next to the river. The matriarch was not too happy we had disturbed them and started to become agitated, so we retreated a bit further away, which made her calm down. After several minutes of watching, we retraced our route back out of the canyon and started to head back to the Palmwag community, looking for wildlife along the way. In such a dry and arid area, the wildlife is widely scattered so we didn’t see anything of note along our route.

By the time we reached the Lodge, it was mid-morning, so we took advantage of the facilities at the lodge, including a much-needed shower. We decided to spend a bit more time with Sam and Kevin before we headed our separate ways. Our chat over coffee turned into an early lunch.

We really did have to go now.

Planning your visit to Khowarib Lodge

By Road

The camp is situated 1 Km off the main track from Palmwag to Sesfontein (D3706) to the east of the Khowarib settlement. Consequently, the lodge is easily accessible to casual tourists as well as 4×4 parties. The nearest airstrip is at Sesfontein 20 kms away. Lodge vehicles are available to collect guests arriving by air charter.

By Air

The nearest airstrip is at Sesfontein 20 kms away. Lodge vehicles are available to collect guests arriving by air charter.

Those who want to travel to Nkasa Rupara by air independently can fly to Katima Mulilo on a scheduled flight from Windhoek. The park is located about 130km / 81mi southwest of Katima Mulilo.

Things to bring:

Car Equipment

Two spare tiresSeed net/grillPuncture repair kitSand tracks
Spade/shovelHigh-lift jackKinetic strap/ropeCompressor
Tire pressure gaugeCar tools and spares  


Water and foodFuelBraai WoodFlashlight
HeadlampFirst Aid KitCameraBinoculars
Wide-brimmed hatSunscreenMosquito spray 

Best time to visit Khowarib

Khowarib has a desert climate. The daytime temperature is warm to hot, while it can also be cold at night. You won’t have rain here anytime soon. The average annual temperature for Khowarib is 57° degrees and there is about 93 inch of rain in a year. It is dry for 266 days a year with an average humidity of 34% and an UV-index of 6.

Climate Khowarib by month

Day temp. (°F)908887848277778592959391
Night temp. (°F)727069666154545966717373

Where to stay


Khowarib Lodge nestles on the banks of the Hoanib river in the magnificent Khowarib Gorge in north west Namibia.14 canvas chalets project out from the river bank on stilts over the river bed providing unrivalled, shady views of the cliffs opposite. On the fringe of Kaokoland, the lodge offers a perfect jumping off point to explore the remote north west of the country, either independently or on one of the lodge’s extensive guided tours. The immediate surrounding area of Damaraland has many rich and interesting activities including desert-adapted elephant and Himba settlements within easy reach.

Location:Off the C43,
Kunene Wilderness,
Banks of the Hoanib river,
Khowarib Gorge
Reservations:+264 64 402 779
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