The Daily Dozen: The Hoanib River Valley

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Did you notice the change from game viewing to scenery viewing? How could you not, right? We’re out of the wildlife-heavy parks, heading into the desert. Wildlife is everywhere (sort of), so keep your eye out for it, but it’s likely we won’t see as much from here on out.

Today we left the Puros Community Campground and the Hoarusib River, backtracking the way we had come, but then we turned off the known route down the Ganamub Canyon to the Hoanib River valley, which would take us back to Sesfontein and “real” roads. That’s for all you map followers (Barb and Beck) and enjoyers of funny names (all of us).

Sandy riverbed.

Leaving our campsite on the Hoarusib River.

As you already know, it’s beautiful rocky mountain, canyon, riverbed country. Montana’s big sky is humbled by the sky here. The wide-open beautiful space, the blue-blue sky, the rugged rocks, the dramatic mountains and canyons, the life that persists out here—they all inspire and uplift. I literally breathe deeply in an effort to take it all in.

Giraffe in the shade

It’s cool to see you here, giraffe.

There is wildlife out here; it’s just not as abundant as it was in the parks. We saw a few giraffes today.

Mountain zebras in the shade.

Hi, zebras.

And small groups of mountain zebras, mostly at a distance.

Circles of plain sand where nothing grows.

Mysterious “fairy circles.” Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

These are “fairy circles.” They’re round patches of earth on which nothing grows. Our book tells us that it’s uncertain what causes this, and I can’t understand why someone hasn’t figured it out. Is it really impossible to figure out? How is the soil in the circle different from the soil outside the circle? I want answers!

But I don’t have any, so I’ll just enjoy the weird, polka-dot landscape.

A natural rock arch.

A hole in the rocks.

Hole in rock = photo op. Such a blue sky to shine through the gap.

Speaking of blue sky . . . the sky here is often blue because it rains so infrequently. In talking with Mickey at the Himba village, we asked, “Is it going to rain tomorrow?” When Mickey understood the question, she laughed at the absurdity and shook her head. “Maybe it will rain next year.”

Maybe it will rain next year.

That stuck with me. What a concept. That’s way-yonder out of my experience. It’s hard to imagine no chance of rain for many months, especially after a very dry rainy season. Day in and day out blue sky, sunny, hot, dry.

White sand, green shrubs, rocky mountains.

Scenery from the Hoarusib, Ganamub, Hoanib 4WD route. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Blue sky, rocky mountains, desert-adapted greenery, sand and rocks. And us.

A whole herd of gemsbok in the shade.

A whole herd of gemsbok in the shade. Clickable pic.

A herd of gemsbok. These hardy antelope, not dependent on surface water, are always immaculately dressed in their zippered cardigans and knee socks. They dress like preppy college students but get on and survive like rugby players. Of all the antelope we’ve seen, these are my favorites. Someday I’ll explain why in detail.

Mike driving.


The Ganamub Canyon route was a piece of cake, and the Hoanib River was fine at first, too. In general, we never went anywhere where we couldn’t turn around and get out the way we’d come. We are not big four-wheel-drivers; we are gentle folk who dislike the vertebrae-smashing, whiplash-inducing, teeth-cracking bumping and vibrating of tracks treated as roads. But we also love getting out to remote places, so we do what we have to do, as gently and carefully as we can.

Unfortunately, the farther along the Hoanib we went, the worse it got: long stretches of soft sand, flowing water in the river, steep banks, sharp turns, multiple tracks confusing the route. Sesfontein, with its real (albeit gravel) road, was only a few miles away if we braved it through whatever lay ahead. If we turned around, it would take hours to get there.

During a many-mile stretch of deep, soft sand, we came upon a group of springbok lingering in the track. “It’s up to you, springbok, to get out of the way,” Mike said. “I’m not stopping.”

They figured it out.

Note the thumbs out on the steering wheel, not wrapped around it. Soft sand can yank the wheel, breaking a thumb if it’s wrapped around. Well done!

Ostriches jogging in the Hoanib River.

Ostriches jogging in the Hoanib River. Clickable pic.

Ostriches on a PT run in the Hoanib River bed. Ohmygosh, they look funny running like that!

Mike walking the sand track to find the best route.

Scouting out the best route.

Scouting out the best route.

It was a difficult and sometimes stressful drive. Mike was pushed beyond his comfort zone. At one point, I was certain we were going to smash in the whole front end of the truck. The steep, sandy bank looked more like a wall than anything a truck could drive up and over, but up it went, turning sharply in soft sand at the top, no less. Four-wheel driving in the US is not as extreme as it is here in Africa. Being a solo vehicle, we did not want to get stuck.

We had a satellite phone if we got into too much trouble.

Driving on the Hoanib River

On the Hoanib River.

We made it. The truck and Mike did great. Mike insists the credit goes to the truck; the most he did was make suggestions.

The down side of Mike driving is that we don’t have as many pictures of the day as we would have if someone else had been driving.

Hoanib River, Namibia.

Hoanib River, Namibia. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

In the end, Mike deemed the experience worth the stress. It is beautiful out there.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

2 replies »

  1. Wow! I’d love to hear more about the camping. You obviously need to bring everything you need with you. No mini markets out there! How do you know how much water you’ll need?

  2. You’re right, Amy: We were self-sufficient campers, which means we could stop and stay anywhere, without requiring any supplies, facilities, or services. This is the way we prefer to travel, and it’s our default method. It could be the topic of a whole post. Remember, too, that as winter caretakers in Bush Alaska, we would plan and haul out food supplies for up to eight months. We are no strangers to stocking up for long periods.

    Water is arguably the most important supply we needed to have on hand. We had a large 20-liter container, several half-liter and liter water bottles, and 2-liter cardboard juice containers filled with both juice and water in the truck’s tiny fridge. We kept these full most of the time, unless we knew we’d have access to water.

    We also had a Steri-Pen for purifying water, so we could drink pretty much any water if necessary, but I also used it on campground water that was probably fine to drink. I’m willing to make extra effort to avoid Traveler’s Tummy–which we did, by the way. We also have some knowledge about how to conserve water, catch water, find water, and do without water. (There’s water in those cans of green beans and tuna; you can catch water that condenses overnight; etc.)

    As for how much we need, well, that varies. It was flipping HOT, so we were sweating and drinking a lot, about 3 liters a day per person, but in a desperate situation, we could have cut back on that amount.

    When we first started out, I expected to have two large containers for water. It worried me a smidge to have just the one. However, we were never all that far from water. If we had been, we definitely would have carried more. As “out there” as we might seem to have been, in the grand scheme of things, we really were not. Other than my initial concern about the second water jug that simply wouldn’t fit in the truck, I was never concerned about having enough water, even when we let ourselves get a bit low.