Sprawling along a bluff above the Okavango River, sub-tropical Rundu’s rapidly expanding population – an estimated eighty thousand, many of whom are of Angolan origin – has doubled over the last fifteen years. With the Trans Caprivi Highway speeding east to Zambia, and improving links with Angola, the town is developing as a commercial and transport hub, prompting the municipal website to declare optimistically that it is “much more than a refuelling stop”. Most tourists, however, have yet to be convinced, rarely spending more than a few hours, or a night, here en route to somewhere else. Yet, outside the town, along the river, there are several relatively inexpensive lodges where you can unwind for a few days, though the setting is not as spectacular as that of some of the lodges further east. Their main appeal is the chance get on the water in a boat, sidling up to hippos and crocs and watching the birds flit along the riverbank. Take note, though, that at the height of the dry season (Sept–Nov), there’s rarely enough water in the river to float a canoe, never mind a motor boat.
Rundu itself has little in the way of tourist sights, but it’s worth getting a flavour of the frontier-town feel by wandering round the main shopping area, where the pavements outside the shops overflow with street vendors flogging fruit and vegetables, cloth and cheap goods. Call in at the Mbangura Woodcarvers Cooperative, next door to the Spar supermarket – the Kavango inhabitants of the region are renowned for their woodcarving and here you can see artisans at work, and drop in at the open market. Down at the river, Rundu Beach is another focal point, where folk wash, play in the water, and party on the sand.