Quantifying the quad-bike

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Text Nicolette Jacobi

Unequalled fun and environmentally friendly adventures wait for those daring enough to explore the dunes of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay on quad-bikes.

You see them from afar, creeping up in line against the face of the dune to the crest and then disappearing to the other side where a world of exploring and adventure awaits.

The recently proclaimed Dorob National Park and its new set of regulations were by no means established to limit quad-biking activities.

“No,” says a spokesperson for the Namibian Coast and Conservation Management Project (NACOMA), “everybody knows that quad-biking is a valuable contributor to the coastal economy. And besides, it is definitely not quad-bikes that cause the most damage to coastal environments.”

All the quad-bike operators between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are committed to following environmentally friendly practices when they do their tours. These days it is not simply a matter of getting onto a quad-bike and off you go. To the contrary. The ideal way to go is with one of the quad-bike operators, who offer a wide variety of tours through magnificent dunescapes that are accessible only by quad-bikes.

First up is a safety briefing – easy riding to get used to the bikes and the dunes, and then the adventure awaits. Once you reach the crest of the first dunes and disappear from the view of onlookers from the ocean side, a new world opens up. Your passage through the dunes is exhilarating. Wind rushes past your helmet, adrenalin spurts through your veins and you feel free. It is not only the quad-bike that gives this sense of adventure but the dunes themselves

Hidden environmental treasures

The contrast and beauty of the dunes make the experience spectacular. Most people driving on the B2 between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay cannot even begin to imagine the hidden beauty and environmental treasures of the dunes beyond their view.

The dunes host most unusual fauna and flora, all of it wonderfully adapted to the sandy environment. And the quad-bike guides will tell you this. A quad-bike tour in the dunes is not all about fun, sand and speed; it also gives you a closer look at what makes the dune landscape so special.

quad-bike adder side-winder

Sidewinding adder

The common vegetation in the dune belt is a cushion-like plant, Trianthema hereroensis. This succulent absorbs fog through its leaves and soil moisture through its roots. Many animals and insects are dependent on these plants because they flower and carry seeds throughout the year.

Some of the interesting smaller animal species you might come across are often endemic and under threat due to irresponsible behaviour by holidaymakers in the past. Such species include the Namaqua chameleon, web-footed gecko, side-winding adders, sand snakes, skinks, wheel and spore spiders, scorpions and even small rodents.

The guides will, therefore, instruct you to avoid vegetated areas when driving quad-bikes through the dunes. This is because the slipfaces of dunes, the gravel plains and the areas where plants grow are the most sensitive and productive habitat in the desert. Off-road driving impacts the abundant life found there.

Striking the right balance

Quad-biking is one of the most controversial adventure activities along the coast because people tend to think it destroys the sensitive desert environment and because it is so noisy. When consultations were done with the various stakeholders as to which areas should be demarcated for quad-biking, the right balance needed to be struck. The decision was taken to allow only quad-bikes and motorbikes on the beaches between Swakopmund and Henties Bay.

palmata gecko namib desert

No quad-bikes are allowed north of Henties Bay because the landscape there is more pristine and requires specialised conservation management. The beaches south of Swakopmund are also important conservation areas. “Driving on beaches has a huge impact on mussels and other macro-fauna. Racing up and down the beach is both inconsiderate and dangerous. Vehicle tracks are the most serious form of visual pollution in the Namib,” advises NACOMA.

Another area that is off-limits for quad-bikes is riverbeds. “Riverbeds are linear oases for wildlife in terms of food and water, particularly for the larger mammals. The endemic animals and plants in the dune belt are severely impacted.”

NACOMA warns that if people do not adhere strictly to the regulations, a moratorium will be put in place and all off-road activities will be prohibited on state land. But it is not all doom and gloom for those who want to enjoy the desert on their quad-bikes.

The zoning of the dune belt between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay was done specifically to accommodate the different activities and minimise the impact on the dune ecosystem. These areas were identified specifically as zones for ORV activities.

Quad-bike zones and regulations

Unless allowed through a concession agreement authorised by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, bikes and quad-bikes may access only the following areas:

  • Any proclaimed road, subject to the relevant Traffic Ordinance and regulations.
  • The coastal strip between Swakopmund and Henties Bay, west of the main coastal road but excluding all demarcated and signposted exclusion areas (seawards of Mile 14, Jakkalsputz and Wlotzkasbaken), private property, the Swakop River, Damara-tern breeding sites and dune hummocks (note that no bikes or quad-bikes are allowed to leave a proclaimed road anywhere north of the Omaruru River in the Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park)
  • The ‘ORV area’ east of Swakopmund, bounded by the Swakopmund Municipal boundary in the west, the Namib Lead Mine road in the east, the railway line in the north and the Usakos-Swakopmund tar road (B2) in the south.
  • The central strip of the dune field between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, with access to this strip through demarcated corridors near Dune 7, Dolfynstrand and Langstrand.
  • The riverbed (between the northern and southern banks) of the lower Omaruru River, from the river mouth to a point 5 km inland of the mouth.

Permit requirements and important to note

  • When you want to experience the adrenalin rush of quad-biking in the dunes, you don’t need to rent a quad-bike from the operators. You are allowed to enjoy the dunes on your own. You will be a bit more limited as to where you may ride and where not. This is to ensure that the sensitive dune areas are not destroyed.
  • When venturing into the dunes on your own, you have to know in which areas you are allowed to drive.
  • You will need a permit when you want to explore the dunes on your quad-bike. Permits are issued by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism or any of the quad-bike operators and information offices along the coast. The permits are free of charge.
  • Concessions for quad-biking will be introduced soon. At least three areas in the ORV zones have been earmarked as concessions for the tour operators. Once the concession system is implemented, permit regulations and fees might change.

Advantages of quad-bikes

  • All off-road vehicles have the potential to damage the fragile coastal environments in the Dorob National Park. Quad-bikes are not the exception to this rule, but the impact of quad-bikes is much less than that of 4x4s. Quad-bikes are lighter, their tracks are smaller, and because you are closer to the ground, you spot sensitive areas more easily.
  • Due to the fact that you are not enclosed in a vehicle and are closer to the ground, you experience the desert and dunes better. You can see unique desert plants from close by, and have the opportunity to see the web-footed gecko or spot a side-winding adder sliding down a dune.
  • Many of the routes in the dunes are accessible only on quad-bikes.
  • In the framework of the new regulations, keen quad-bike enthusiasts can have a blast in the dunes. You can show off your expertise on a manual bike, weaving, zooming and spiralling up the dunes. Pump the accelerator, feel the combination of flying sand, fresh ocean air and the freedom of vast open spaces take control of your adventurous spirit while enjoying the awesome surroundings.
  • The quad-bike group is the one with the largest turnover operating in the dune belt. Operators run businesses with up to 100 quad-bikes and generate turnovers up to N$0.5 million per month, attracting Namibian holidaymakers and Southern African and overseas tourists. Other tour practitioners, such as desert tour operators, also make use of quad-bikes and also have big turnovers each year. This results in a huge contribution to the economy of the coastal region.
  • Under the umbrella of the Quad-biking Association of Namibia, all quad-bike operators adhere to the same safety procedures. The guides receive the same training and all of them protect and promote the environment in which they operate. As a result, the quad-bike operators are eco-friendly and collaborate in cleaning up the dunes and assisting the authorities where possible.

This article appeared in the Aug/ Sep 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.

 

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

1 Comment

  1. Drusilla says:

    great put up, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this
    sector don’t realize this. You must continue your writing.
    I’m sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

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