Wonder

Ruacana Falls

Ruacana Falls at high water
Ruacana Falls at high water, March 2011. / Tom Jakobi, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue  In short

There are times when Ruacana Falls on the border of Namibia and Angola is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. During the floods, the screen of white water here is more than one kilometer wide and 107 – 120 meters tall.

4.5 out of 10 stars 45.3%

GPS coordinates
17.3942 S 14.2169 E
Location, address
Africa, on the border of Angola, Cunene Province and Namibia, Omusati Region, some 25 km west from the Ruacana town
Height
Around 107 – 120 m
Width
Average: 700, during the floods: 1100 m
Average annual flow
Around 130 m3/s (if the water would flow through the falls)
Stream
Kunene River

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Ruacana Falls on the border of Angola and Namibia
Ruacana Falls / Rubend Nazario, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Waterfall has formed on a massif of Proterozoic gneiss. The front of the waterfall is rather unusual – a rough, jagged rock with a steep but not vertical face. The waterfall is sliding down along the steep rock, hitting countless ledges. As a result, when the water is high, the sound of Ruacana Falls is overwhelming.

The stream is divided more or less equally over the whole width of the falls – at low water, it divides into numerous smaller streams. A bit more water flows through the western part of the falls.

Unusual features of this waterfall are trees that stand on the cliff ledges. The trees seem to defy the gravity and immense power of the falling water – a photographer’s delight!

Trees in Ruacana Falls
Trees in Ruacana Falls. / Tom Jakobi, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

After the falls the stream flows in a narrow gorge. The banks of the river gradually turn into a long, charming oasis until some 140 kilometers further down Kunene River reaches the next major waterfall – Epupa Falls.

The best viewpoints are on the Namibian side. There is also a concrete stairway leading down – but the stairs are dilapidated and somewhat dangerous.

Ruacana Hydro Power station

Unfortunately, for the most part of the year, there is little water in this grandiose waterfall. Most of the stream disappears underground before reaching the falls.

These are the consequences of a major infrastructure project from the 1970ies. Ruacana Hydro Power station was built on the border of both countries (then – colony and occupied country) in order to supply the energy for Namibia.

The power station is located under the ground. Water is taken from the territory of Angola, where Kunene is dammed. Then it goes through the pipelines below the ground and reappears below the falls in Namibia.

The power station was reconstructed in 2012 and is the largest power plant in Namibia, with an installed power capacity of 330 MW.

When to see the falls?

The waterfall is far away from the usual tourist routes.

Many visitors are disappointed by Ruacana Falls – the trip is long, the landscape rather monotonous and when they arrive at the falls, there is not much to see – falls are dry or there is a little amount of water. Such sight is common in July-November.

Ruacana Falls at low water, August 2014.
Ruacana Falls at low water, August 2014. / Martin Cígler, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Meanwhile, in December-June there is some hope to see something more impressive. Then there is high water and power plant has no capacity to take it all – thus water returns in the falls.

The best chance to see much water in Ruacana Falls is in April-May but even then no one can warrant it.

In April 2018 the power of the river reached 1 609 m3/s but in April 1984 – more than 3000 m3/s. In such moments Ruacana Falls are among the world’s most powerful waterfalls.

References

  1. Ruacana Power Station, Nampower. Accessed in 23rd May 2019.
  2. Ruacana Falls, World Waterfall Database. Accessed in 23rd May 2019.

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