Kunene River Expedition - August 2012


We are looking for one or two volunteers who want to join us on this trip with their 4x4. If you may be interested please give this a read and contact us, thanks!


One of just five perennial rivers in arid Namibia, the Kunene River winds its way from Angola to the desolate Skeleton Coast, forming the natural border between Angola and Namibia. It is a precious resource for the people, plants and animals that live near it. For centuries the river has supported the semi-nomadic Himba people. Kaokoland, a vast area of rugged mountains, is bordered on the north by the Kunenelace. Along the Kunene River are the spectacular Epupa Fallslace formed by a series of cascades that drop a total of 60m over a distance of about 1.5km.

Very, very few people have ever managed to negotiate this remote and dangerous river. Many have tried, the first attempt was in 1965, and the last was in 1998. In the entire history of this river, only a handful (6) of adventurous white-water rafters or canoeists have managed to survive the journey from below Epupa falls to the sea. This is partly due to the numerous & dangerous rapids, some of which require extensive portaging. Some expeditions have been abandoned due to the physical difficulty of the terrain and deaths by drowning in the rapids. Another factor is the large number of aggressive crocodiles that regularly attack and destroy the canoes. One canoeist counted 62 separate attacks on his craft, another 34!

To add to the danger of such an undertaking is the lack of access to the river by support vehicles. Below Epupa, there are many stretches of river which do not allow access to the river by any vehicles other that helicopter, forcing those on the river to go for days on end without being able to meet up with their seconds. Should a person drown, become sick, be attacked by a crocodile, bitten by a snake or injured, help is sometimes very far away.

There is the added problem of how to end the journey once the sea is reached. You have the cold and windy Atlantic Ocean and the arid Skeleton Coast that has to be negotiated for 120 kilometers south to the nearest pick-up point. Due to the nature of the inflatable raft (no keel or ability to paddle into the prevailing trade winds), the raft must be pulled along the beach for several days. Either that or the vehicles must negotiate the treacherous low-tide sands to work their way north to pick up the canoeists. Needless to say, this would be too dangerous to attempt with only one vehicle (if it became stuck at low tide).

A husband & wife team have resolved to do the trip from Ruacana dam to the sea in a two-man raft specially crafted for this trip. Ian Paton-Ash (61) and his wife Cherry (49) have been preparing for this trip for over two years. Ian has led a life of adventure from his youth as a Special Forces paratrooper, to a career in the security business providing close protection (bodyguard) services. Both he and Cherry (an accountant) are superbly fit and well prepared. They are determined to do it for themselves with little support, for no other reason than a passion for adventure and a love of the remote African wilderness. Ian approached us needing another volunteer to assist the driver (and mechanic) of his support vehicle, Nicola Spaddacino (45). We discussed it amongst ourselves and decided and this was a unique opportunity to film & document this adventure.

There are really two amazing adventures here. One is on the river with Ian & Cherry battling the elemental forces of a wild and remote African River. The other is with the support vehicle (or vehicles) traveling through the pristine wilderness of Kaokoland to the Skeleton Coast on roads that are inadequately described as “4x4” territory! This area is a refuge for the rare desert elephant and the black rhino. The only other place where elephants live in such conditions is in Mali on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The intense midday heat in Kaokoland offers little respite, yet the rocky landscape is beautiful during the early morning and late afternoon, when it is transformed into glowing colours. The entire crew will spend more than an month (05 August to first week of September 2012) on this expedition.
The documentary team consists of Richard Bellon (30 - camera & sound) & Malcolm Thomas (33 - grip). Both have experience in the industry and already have much of the equipment needed. Other people being considered to make up the support team are Dr Galya Chinnery (37 - doctor/surgeon) & Meike Chinnery (34 – camera).

We believe that there is a lucrative market for a well-made documentary series on this expedition (R10,000 per minute for 52 minute or 24 minute series - SABC, National Geographic, DSTV etc.). We are looking for partners in the movie industry, investors, sponsors and a worthy charity to get involved. We have already spent several hundred thousand rand thus far and could do the expedition without any external support. However additional partners or volunteers (e.g. to bring along another vehicle etc.) could add to the safety of the trip and quality of the end-product that may otherwise be lacking.
For more information contact John van Zyl (co-ordinator) 082-920-1246, jvz7@yahoo.co.uk