The Kunene is a major river with some serious gorges in totally inhospitable terrain, cutting through the Kaokoveld and Namib Desert.
The river has been paddled from source to sea, first by Willem van Riet and Gordon Rowe, and then by Darron Raw, Johan Radcliffe and Matt Pitman. Other parties have also done shorter sections of it. All those who lived to tell the tale (and not everybody did) have stories of extreme sections interspersed by pools inhabited by crocodiles. Some major portages are also part of the mission at certain sections.
The upper part of the river, going through Angola, is relatively uneventful, with crocodiles being the greatest cause for concern. There are a few waterfalls that should be portaged, and the terrain is rugged and isolated. Unfortunately for the environmental cause, but fortunately for paddlers, there are no more hippos on the river, as they were all shot during the ongoing war in Angola. This applies to wild animals in general in this region.
From the well known Ruacana Falls, the river forms the border between Namibia and Angola. A hydro-electric scheme at Ruacana regulates the flow of the river from here on. The 120km section between Ruacana and Epupa Falls is as accessible as you can get in this rugged area, with a road following the course of the river. Commercial operators offer ad hoc rafting trips on this section. The rapids are mostly class 3 to 4, but don’t under-estimate the section. A highlight is the Ondurusa Falls, about 40km downstream of Ruacana, which can be negotiated. (more…)