Photographs Coenie Snyman & Jaco Venter
N amibia is home to dramatic sceneries, stunning vistas and endless horizons. From one corner of the country to the other, the topography and biodiversity transmute dramatically. From the wet wonderland of the Zambezi region, with its perennial river systems, to the large panoramic plains of the south that morph into canyons and mountain ranges, Namibia is an incredibly diverse and enigmatic land. Etosha, with its splendid white pan and hordes of wildlife, might be the jewel in the crown of Namibia, but the Namib Desert is its heart and soul. The endless sweeping dunes are unlike any other place on earth. You could spend weeks or months or years delving into and exploring this oldest desert on earth. Along your journeys you will most probably happen upon many of the 2 356 different species of fauna and flora that call this barren land home. You will witness spectacular sunsets, windstorms and mercurial temperatures. You will find peace there, and beauty. And you will find magic, in this ancient living place.
SAFEGUARDING THE ADVENTURE
Namibians and visitors alike are incredibly fortunate to be able to still venture into this special corner of the earth. With guided tours and self-drive safaris with companies that hold concessions to certain areas of the desert, the option of a desert exploration is an exciting prospect. The key to this privilege being retained, however, is the very specific and cautious way in which these explorations are undertaken. Namibia is a land open to and teeming with possibilities for the adventurous at heart. There are many corners waiting to be explored, but the key is to conserve the terrain and keep the adventure alive for future explorers.
LIFE WAS MEANT FOR GOOD FRIENDS AND GREAT ADVENTURES
Eleven Cruisers stood in a row. Tour leader Volker was at the helm, and his right-hand man Johnny was in the sweeper vehicle at the back of the long line of Toyotas. Each carried fuel, water, equipment, food, drinks and two grown men. The supplies were stocked to keep the men moving, showering, camping, eating and drinking for five days… in the desert.
The men started their engines in the quaint southern coastal town of Lüderitz and set off on their voyage into the heart of the Namib. Their travels led them north of the home of oysters and crayfish, toward Namibia’s famous ghost town, Kolmanskop. From here, with permits in hand, they ventured into a previously forbidden land, the Sperrgebiet Diamond Area 1. The Ministry of Mines and Energy strictly controls this access point. Once inside the concession area, the eleven vehicles and their fare passed by such points of interest as Charlottental, Agate Beach and Boats Bay. On the second day, the stamina and dexterities of the mediums (i.e. the fleet of Toyotas) were put to the test. Tall, looming dunes were their Nemesis. But they got by, with a proficient guide as a tutor, and a little help from their friends. Over radios, wisdoms were imparted and hints and hacks divulged. Dirkie’s attention to detailed explanations was surely a saving grace. And each dune became a little easier, and the jargon more understandable, until even novices like Leeba knew how to successfully take on a crest and understood the meaning of a three-point turn.
Though adrenalin surely rushed through their veins as the 4x4s dipped and weaved through and over the towering dunes, the Sand Sea and the living desert around them were by far the MVPs (Most Valuable Players). Volker, who many call a walking encyclopedia, laid emphasis on the nature and history of this charmed place, and their expedition included the smaller nuances of a sandy safari. From the dune belt to the beach, they surveyed resilient flora and cunning creatures, such as the jackals along the beach who claim territory over their private pods of seals.
The Namib Sand Sea was, after much anticipation, declared a UNESCO natural world heritage site in June 2013. The proclaimed area includes a large part of the Namib Naukluft National Park, hosting popular tourist areas such as Sossusvlei and Sanwich Harbour, and stretches from the Kuiseb River southward to include 66% of the central Namib dune system. All in all, the proclaimed site covers an area of 30 777 km2.
A BILLION STAR HOTEL
At night, campsites were erected within a protective den of dunes to escape the worst of the (often extreme) elements. With bottles of wine uncorked and dinner being readied, the men enjoyed each other’s tall tales (maybe even taller than the dunes) under a canopy of innumerable stars. The next morning the vehicles would be started up again and the campaign would continue north, leaving only their footprints behind at their makeshift camp. That evening’s wind will clear all traces of their visit. Every night’s campsite was unique, and so was every dune they took on. They continued floating over these lofty dunes, stopped at a few of the approximately one thousand shipwrecks dotting Namibia’s coastline and, with well-timed precision, navigated the narrowing stretch between the Atlantic and the Lange Wand (Tall Wall) before the tide could curb their throughway. They followed in each other’s tracks, and followed the directions of their guide, at every possible opportunity. They encouraged each other through thick sand and a probe from Simon for them to ’commit’ helped them up those steep inclines, all the way to their final destination of Walvis Bay.
How lucky we are to be able to completely immerse ourselves in the splendour of Namibia. With adrenalin coursing through our veins and the beauty of the land warming our hearts, it is easy to believe in magic when you’re engrossed in a wonder such as the Namib Desert.
DID YOU KNOW?
The collective group names of seals are either a pod, bob, harem, herd or rookery. For Example: “Would you look at that massive bob of seals!”
CYMOT Windhoek is home to the Greensport 4×4 Off-road Centre, which specialises in the fitment of 4×4 vehicles for any off-road need. Get kitted out for your own 4×4 adventure and stock up on camping gear while you’re there. Be completely self-sufficient on your next voyage into Namibia’s largely unexplored places!
10 WAYS TO BE A SMARTER AND MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS OFF-ROADER:
1. Stay on the tracks – it takes nature a long time to remove the scars of new tracks that you leave behind.
2. Use your 4×4 – you prove nothing if you try to see how long you can push your car forward on a rough track by staying in 2×4.
3. Check your route – off-road courses often call for inspection so that you can decide on the best route ahead without straying from the existing path and getting stuck in tricky situations.
4. Slow down – the only terrain for which you really need speed is high dunes. Otherwise slow down, take your time and enjoy the environment you’re exploring. High speeds on gravel roads are one of the main causes of corrugation.
5. Use your gears – when heading down steep climbs, use your gears and not your brakes. Low range and a slow pace are the saving grace for inexperienced drivers who tend to overuse brakes.
6. The importance of water – remember where you are when you go off-roading in Namibia. A dry desert country calls for hydration and your most important asset will be water if you experience a breakdown somewhere remote.
7. Tyre pressure – make sure that your tyre pressure is correct for the specific terrain you are on. Wrong pressure levels damage your tyres and the environment and often make for a very uncomfortable drive.
8. Seatbelts save lives – never be under the misconception that just because you are not on a main road you don’t have to wear your seatbelt. Cars roll and accidents happen off-road all too often in Namibia.
9. Handbrakes were made not to be broken – for applying some of the tips above you might need to leave your vehicle, often on an incline. Be sure to put on your handbrake instead of taking chances with a potential runaway.
10. Petrol or diesel: an age old dilemma – though the choice between a petrol or diesel vehicle is a personal preference and a decision you would have made long before hitting the dirt road, it is worth taking into account that in many African countries diesel is more readily available than petrol. You shouldn’t have a supply problem in most parts of Namibia, but taking extra fuel along is never a bad idea.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Summer 16/17 issue.