A story that reminds of the explorations of the first American adventurers, moving westward into Kentucky, to find new pastures. The similarities are striking, but fortunately we came equipped with a Unimog and a trusty Toyota pick-up. And we didn’t need to fight our way open as the Himba are a tad friendlier than the Native Americans.
I first laid eyes on Epupa Falls on May 13th, 1990. My mind was set and on August 29th, 1991, I started to develop. On those first visits, I saw no one. Not a single hut or any sign of development in the Epupa Valley.
Off course things are never as easy as they first seem. I had to arrange a meeting with Chief Kapika through the then chief warden, Chris Eyre. I employed Amos, a local lad, to help me clean my prospective campsite. In those first years we only had long drops. Soon the need for water became apparent and the first water tanks were put up. Showers and flushing toilets followed and fire places for the hungry campers. Everything was very basic and even more rustic. We only had Mopani poles and reed to use. The more we built, the more people arrived and soon the first fence needed to be built.
And so Epupa turned into a town. Next to Epupa Campsite, Omarunga Lodge started to develop. A little shop soon followed and today more than 500 people live in the Epupa valley. A police station was erected and a clinic was built – Epupa town was pinned on the map. Yet another lodge was built further upstream.
As word reached the outside world, our campsite had to grow and one very hot December we built donkeys for hot water showers. The need for local guides grew bigger and by the turn of the century I helped to organise two training courses and the current craft centre close to the falls was built with money from the NNF. Shortly after this, we formalised a few hiking trails with the trained guides.
In the midst of all the development, talks of a hydro dam started and I found myself in the middle of negotiations between the government and the Himba. Plans to build the dam were eventually slowed down, although talks have warmed up in recent months. In a bid to completely stop the building of the dam, the bigger Epupa area applied for a conservancy in 2005. But due to internal differences the Epupa conservancy was only gazetted by the end of 2012. Most of these meetings were held under either Mopani or Makalani trees.
Time moved on and Epupa campsite needed a face lift. Early 2010, myself and Amos started the revamp process. The campsite was halved as we started to build Epupa Falls Lodge. Using mostly local materials 5 chalets were built on stilts and our small deck was turned into a fully functional bar and kitchen. Keeping everything as natural as possible, Epupa Falls Lodge and Campsite came about and is now my pride.
But 25 years didn’t come without its challenges. Over the years we had to battle two big fires and a mighty flood in 2011. The flood brought many challenges like simply talking over the thunder of the water. The ground vibrated under my feet as I tried to save what could be rescued. The mere thought of it gives me goose bumps.
But for me personally the biggest development was my relationship with the original inhabitants. The language in itself proved an obstacle, but even with the help of translators, ideas always seemed to clash. The result of endless hours under trees and in immense heat is commitment and loyalty from the Himba leaders.
Epupa Falls Lodge & Campsite; where you are constantly reminded of the pulse of water and where better to feel this living vein than on the deck of the man who saw the potential of these falls 23 years ago?