Exploring the Hoanib River

Definitely one of the most spectacular and scenic riverbeds of Namibia’s north-west. As with the Khowarib Schlucht I recommend exploring the river from east to west (and in a proper 4×4 vehicle with low range).

Several routes provide access to the riverbed:

  • The Ganamub 4×4 Trail
  • Crossing the Okambonde Plain
  • The D3707 via the Hoanib Gorge
  • The Palmwag Crowther’s 4×4 Trail

I prefer crossing the Okambonde Plain and to enter the riverbed just east of Elephant Song (a camp deserted due to lions). Crossing the Okambonde Plain can however be a daunting prospect due to the hundreds of tracks picking their way through dust holes  and scattered mopanie trees. Keep too far to the left and you end up in a gorge missing the entry point altogether or stray too far to the right and you get cut off by a small mountain range requiring a detour via the Ganamub River.

Once in the riverbed roll down your windows and go slowly. Natural springs at Elephant Song will make the going slow anyway but by going slowly you’ll have the best chance to spot whatever animals there are to see, and to really get a feel for the river.

The Hoanib is probably the Kaokoland’s most populated riverbed when it comes to animals. It is home to large numbers of plains-game as well as several herds of desert-adapted elephants. Being home to animals such as springbok, oryx, kudu and giraffe also ensures a healthy population of predators. On several occasions I have had the privilege of spotting cheetahs and hyenas, but catching a glimpse of the deserted-adapted lions is by far the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in the Hoanib.

It was 2012 and my wife and I were leading a convoy on my “Five Rivers Adventure” when we spotted fresh lion tracks near Amspoort (Amspoort is close to the Skeleton Coast Park’s border). A few minutes later we spotted five cubs (they would later become known as the “Five Musketeers”) and followed them up the bank where we greeted by two females. They gave us enough time to take a few photographs before disappearing into the basalt hills on the southern bank.

Chances are best to encounter the elephants after passing through “The Poort”, a narrow gorge flanked by spectacular rock formations on either side. It is here where the Ganamub River joins the Hoanib. While the first section of the riverbed (from Elephant Song to “The Poort”) is beautiful, passing through the gorge is like driving into Kaokoland heaven. Large Anna trees (faidherbia albida) make for excellent, shaded picnic spots. The banks are littered with bright green mustard bush (salvadora persica) providing cover for a healthy population of predators such as lion and cheetah.

The river cuts through breathtaking desert scenery. Towering cliffs covered with a splatter of dune sand blown in on the east winds. Travel further west and the rocky cliffs make way for impressive vertical sand cliffs. Even further towards the Skeleton Coast the river slices through the Namib’s northern dune belt.

Sand cliffs of the lower Hoanib

Camping wild in the Hoanib is an awesome experience. There are however a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t camp under an Anna Tree – elephants like them, they are likely to come pay you a visit during the night.
  • Don’t wander off, especially not during the night – lions sleep during the day.
  • The area is sensitive – stay on the tracks and take your rubbish with you.
  • Don’t make large bonfires.

Sleeping under the stars in the Hoanib is an experience that will linger in the memory for years to come.

*A permit is required to enter the Hoanib Riverbed and can be obtained either at Palmwag Lodge or upon entering at Elephant Song.




Published by


Professional dad, prone to accepting random challenges of endurance. Novice writer and would-be mountaineer. Firm believer that you can burpee your way to hapiness. I'm not taking myself seriously and neither should you. Trying each day to make less mistakes than yesterday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s