As South Africans, Namibia is on our border to the north, and we (husband and I) always knew we would drive ourselves to explore in the comfort of our own car and at our own pace. Of course, I (having helped so many happy travellers with their adventures through Namibia on scheduled overland or organized tours) would fondly say; 'I already know Namibia like the back of my hand' - yearning for the day that I'd actually venture northwards into unchartered territory...
Well, nothing could really prepare us for those long open roads and brilliant landscapes forever changing with every passing kilometre.
No chance to read a good book for fear of missing something out the window! It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you: ‘watch out for those roads... drive safely on the roads’, you just cannot understand it until you are actually driving on them. They may be long and mostly bumpy, but they do offer such wonderful surprises; and sometimes not-so-wonderful surprises too.
Long dirt roads:
This is my account of our travels, so that you - the reader and hopefully next Namibia explorer - can decide for yourself if you are an independent self-driver, or if you would prefer an organized adventure tour with driver and guide.
We set out with a two-week plan to take the quick route up to Windhoek via Springbok and Keetmanshoop, so that we could slowly amble down the scenic touristic route which would be the start of the famous and unavoidable Namibian dirt roads.
Many sources confirm that a 2x4 vehicle is absolutely fine for the dirt roads, but for off-road driving, which you would do on excursions with proper activity providers in most cases, a 4x4 vehicle is required. So, with an all-wheel-drive we thought we'd do very well... And we did, but here are a few travel tips for the first-time self-driver.
In a standard vehicle, travelling on dirt roads with normal air pressure will result in punctures. Before setting off on the dirt roads, pull into a petrol station and get the air pressure set to 1.8 bar. This is the magic number!
Not every town has one! Even those with a petrol sign on the map may not necessarily supply petrol, so be prepared for this and ensure that you carry a Jerry can of petrol for emergencies. These roads are so long and, more often than not, without any form of reception. We always filled up where we could and never got the chance to to use our Jerry can (thankfully)!
We used the Namibia Map produced by TASA, Tour & Safari Association Namibia. This is a brilliant map, which can be bought from most book stores in South Africa. It shows the scenic D-Roads, adding a special charm to the journey.
Having experienced two of these, I can only say they are not fun; but part of the Namibian self-drive journey, so be prepared! Our first was experienced on the road to Spitzkoppe where thankfully a mere 1.6km from our final destination some locals from the village came running to help. With our next destination being Swakopmund, we were able to buy a new tyre from the Dunlop Workshop, which I can highly recommend.
The second was on our way to Sesriem just after passing the quaint town of Solitaire, a definite must-stop (great for lunch, dry wors and biltong)! This puncture occurred in the middle of nowhere, blazing heat and, of course, no one to assist which was absolutely fine... until the jack handle snapped broken. Unable to lift the car we had to flag down a passing vehicle to assist.
With regards to punctures: first and foremost ensure that your tyre pressure is correct, before even attempting the unavoidable dirt roads. After our second puncture we dropped down to 1.8 bar and never experienced a puncture again - I say touching wood as I type from the car on our final stretch to the Orange River along the C10 dirt road... Secondly, do not panic, if you get a puncture! In preparation for your travels, ensure you have vital equipment and that you already know how to use this equipment. Make sure your jack is suitable and if hiring a car, I would highly recommend testing the equipment you are given on site. If the worst comes to the worst remember that you are on a tourist route and people do drive by and are willing to help. Lastly, make sure you have all your hotels contact info in case you need to call for assistance, as well as either your rental company's emergency contact, or your own insurance contact.
These do not always work, but inevitably you will find one that does, although most places accept card for payment. The most important use for cash is to pay for permits to sites and also to offer as tips should you get local help for fixing punctures. We needed cash in Sesriem to pay for a tyre repair job, which I must say was much appreciated and very good to note. If you do need a repair job on a tyre, the Engen Garage (the only garage in Sesriem) has a great setup! Thankfully between the two of us we ended up with enough cash to pay for the repair AND our shuttle to Deadvlei the following morning, because both available ATM's were out of order. Try to carry around R/N$300 on you at all times (written in November 2015).
Well... This is a topic that could take all day, but the short of it is this... Weather in any country can be unpredictable and Namibia is a notoriously hot country being mostly covered in desert, so plenty of bottled water is an essential travel item. There is no shortage of this in all the stores, even in the smallest one-horse towns. Some places, especially coastal spots like Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, offer a much cooler climate which is a welcome relief in between destinations.
What we were not prepared for nor expecting, was to be hit by a furious wind just below the Namib Desert in a town called Aus, gateway to Luderitz and the famous old mining ghost towns.
The wind actually started on the night before we left Sesriem and followed us all the way to Aus, where it continued to blow constantly and from all directions. Coming from Cape Town I'm accustomed to wind, but this was different... In the horizon from our beautiful cabin in the rocks at Klein Aus Vista (highly recommended) we watched in the distance as the wind kicked the sand up creating swirling devils and a deep dark haze. Waking up to the strong winds the following morning we wondered if we could get a little relief on a trip to the coastal town of Luderitz... Sadly, without realizing the severity of it, we headed into the eye of the storm and got caught in a powerful, diamond encrusted, sandstorm where we had to turn around and crawl our way out. This was a scary moment which resulted in major damage to our windscreen. Moral of the story... It does seem this is worst along the stretch of road between Aus and Luderitz, so if the wind is strong and you see a dust cloud on the horizon, a journey to Luderitz will have to be missed.
Apparently winds start around August, but were late this year and literally started the day we arrived in Aus, early November... Hence, 'unpredictable'!
Dust cloud on horizon in Aus:
Sandstorm en-route Luderitz:
Winter months can be fiercely cold at night and in the early mornings, so if you are travelling between April and September take warm clothing as well as light clothing for the days; which are generally sunny and bright.
We had an incredible journey, the route was laid-out perfectly with each distance a reasonable one, allowing us time to explore any gems in the late afternoon, which in turn is a more bearable alternative due to the warm midday sun.
African Budget Safaris offers a host of scheduled overland and small group safaris, as well as private group safaris too. We can also tailor-make charter trips using an overland vehicle, if you have your own family group or a group of friends. So, if you don’t want the fuss of hiring a car and driving yourself, speak to us about our many exciting Namibia Safari options!
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