Cunene to Congo River trip
Angola, also known as South Africa’s final frontier, is filled with wild adventures, stunning stretches of white beaches and virtually undiscovered wildlife game parks. It is an unusual destination as it comprises different landscapes, climates and cultures. Each of the 18 provinces represents a different and unique country, from rainforest to wide open plains and huge mountains dominating the landscape.
Major roads between Luanda and the provincial capitals are gradually being improved, mostly by the Chinese. Driving standards and some road conditions are very poor. Landmines remain a serious problem on some secondary roads in more remote areas. Many areas were heavily mined during the war, including roads, bridges and railroad tracks. Areas with suspected landmines are generally clearly marked and travelers should heed these warnings.
The itinerary began at Ruacana, Namibia and after crossing the border, we travelled through scenery similar to the Kaokoveld, where the Himba tribe still live in their traditional dress. We stopped to explore the hundreds of Welwitchias lining our route, and skirted Iona National Park, where we saw numerous small herds of springbok. The desert gradually changed into rocky landscapes. We spent a few days fishing at Flamingo Lodge south of Namibe (previously known as Mocamedes), Angola’s southernmost harbour and fishing town.
Next stop was Lubango via the spectacular Leba Pass with its awesome hairpin bends and waterfalls. The road ascends from the coastal plain to an altitude of over 6 000 feet in just a few kilometres. We drove to Humpata to see the monument that was erected to commemorate the Dorsland Trekkers and visited their church and cemetery. Lubango, formerly known as Sa da Bandeira, is encircled by a beautiful mountain range, with the Statue of Christ situated right at the top. We spent the night around a campfire on the mountain plateau at Tunda Valla, which has a breathtaking view from steep cliffs.
Further north we visited the port cities of Benguela and Lobito. This is a main route used by heavy trucks transporting goods between these centres. Progress was slow due to the very poor condition of the road. The scenery was beautiful however, and we beach camped.
Heading even further north, hugging the spectacular coast, we skirted Luanda altogether and made our way to Sumbe, which is known for its excellent beaches. Highlights included a boat cruise on the Cuanza, the largest inland river in Angola, interminable baobab forests and the mouth of the mighty Congo River at Soyo.
Southbound we turned inland and passed Dondo, Quibala, Waka Kunga, Huamba and Menongue through beautiful countryside, crossing the highest mountains in Angola. The scenery is picturesque with tropical forests, big rivers and country villages. We did not see the Giant Sable antelope, but we saw beautiful wild orchids at Kalandula Falls, the second largest in Africa. We were blown away by the majestic black rocks of the Pedras Negras and found ourselves amidst ever more Sunday daytrippers when camping on the beach of the Cuanza river.
The battlefields south of Quibala, Waka Kungo, Huambo and Menongue were depressing because they are intertwined with the senseless bush war. Our final camp was west of the Okavango river and we then headed south to the border. After four weeks of serious and completely self-sufficient overlanding, we were happy to cross back into Namibia at Rundu.