Dune riding is both fun and environmentally friendly!
The Namibian Coast Conservation and Management (NACOMA) project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), has released a new set of rules for off-road drivers at the coast.
by Marita van Rooyen
A Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Coastal Areas of the Erongo and Kunene regions completed in January 2008 highlighted the importance of the Swakop River, the adjacent dunes and the gravel plains as one of the most biodiversity-rich areas on Namibia’s coast. As such it is considered to be of the highest conservation priority. As a result of unchecked off-road driving in the Swakop River course, the nearby dunes and gravel plains, several protected endemic species are under threat. These include the Namaqua chameleon, Damara tern, web-footed gecko (Palmato-gecko rangei), side-winding adder, sand snakes, skinks, wheel spiders, spore spiders, scorpions, beetles and rodents.
Adventure sport operators have agreed to work together and abide to the rules as set out by the MET and NACOMA. The four companies Outback Orange, Dare Devil Adventures, Desert Explorers and Dune 7 Adventures belong to the Quad-biking Association of Namibia. This means that they all adhere to the same safety procedures, the guides receive the same training and the companies wish to first and foremost protect and promote the environment in which they operate. As a result, all four companies are eco-friendly, and collaborate in cleaning up the dunes and assisting the local police and the MET where possible.
Says Debbie Gossow, owner and manager of Outback Orange, “It’s not the quad-bike itself, or even the adrenalin rush you get from driving it. It’s the dunes. The contrast and indescribable beauty of the dunes are what make the experience so spectacular.”
Debbie, who became the new owner of Outback Orange in December 2009, made a few changes to the company’s portfolio. Outback Orange now prides itself in being ‘totally environmentally friendly’ and not as ‘wild and ruthless’ as before. The company’s environmental policy states that Outback Orange has a ‘responsible attitude towards the environment for the long-term sustainable benefit of all’. Debbie says that 80 per cent of her clientele choose to come quad-biking to see and experience the dunes first-hand. Her clientele is mostly younger people with a hunger for adrenalin and adventure.
Outback Orange offers one- and two-hour quad-biking trips through the Swakop River; a two-hour dunes combo that includes lie-down sand boarding; the sundowner deluxe; a two-hour dunes for buddies trip on a two-seater quad; a two-hour combo on a two-seater quad-bike that includes sand boarding; and custom-made trips. Transfers are available on request for the Swakop and Walvis Bay areas. “Driving along the Walvis Bay road, most people have no idea what lies behind the dunes; they don’t have a clue of how fantastic and beautiful it is. I want people to experience it first-hand and share this passion with us.”
The Outback Orange booking office is situated in 44 Nathaniel Maxuilili Street, Swakopmund. Tours depart from the Swakop Bridge.
Dare Devil Adventures
Joao Coimbra is also a new face in the industry. Originally trained as a professional hunter, a small accident (involving a horse) changed his forte somewhat and he has been with Dare Devil since June 2009.
Joao, in a joint partnership with his father, now owns and manages the adrenalin oasis opposite Long Beach. Marked by the patch of green grass and about 70 quad-bikes waiting at the foot of the dunes, it’s hard to miss them. For Joao it’s very important to stay on the marked tracks and not destroy what little is left of the Damara tern breeding grounds in the gravel plains. “The desert is an open area, a place where you have no other choice but to be free. But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not only you out there. There’s a whole living desert that we must take care of.”
Michael Kandjembo, one of the guides who have been with the company for about four years, agrees with Joao. He likes to make a few stops along the way and show the riders secrets of the desert.
Dare Devil Adventures offers rides between 45 minutes and two hours; breakfast runs and sundowners; a five-hour trip to Dune 7, known as the Ultimate Trip, which includes lunch along the way; a lie-down dune-boarding combo; and overnight trips. The overnight trip will take guests to Dune 7, through the Kuiseb River, on to the Topnaar community of Lauberville, where the party will overnight. In Lauberville people can enjoy views over the red dunes, experience the Topnaar way of life, have a braai and chat around the fire. Dare Devil also has a kids’ track, which is supervised at all times so that parents and children can all enjoy the thrill of riding.
Who can resist a slogan such as ‘Come and play in the dunes’? Desert Explorers, brainchild of James Tromp, was one of the first quad-biking companies in the area. Says James, who has been offering dune riding for close to 12 years, “This is the only place in the world where you can go into the dune belt and roam around, appreciating one of the most spectacular settings on earth. A combination of adrenalin and scenery—this is the whole package!”
And with a history of celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Wesley Snipes, Catriona Andrews, Valiant Swart, Michelle McLean and many others who enjoyed riding- the dunes with them, it promises to be a good package indeed. “Our niche market is young, old, international and local,” says James. “We have people from every age coming to ride the dunes.”
Desert Explorers offers quad-biking ranging between 45 minutes to two hours. According to James, the two-hour trip is the most popular. “We ride the wildest dunes, roller coasters and spirals of the Namib. Excellent photographic opportunities and adrenalin rush guaranteed.” The company also has a two-hour Explorer Quad Tour that is much slower than the adrenalin-rush option and makes many stops on the way where your guide will show and tell you a little about the creatures of the desert. The three-hour combo offers lie-down sand boarding and quad-biking in one. Then there’s the 70–80 kilometre quad breakfast run and overnight tours from one to five nights.
Desert Explorers has an activity centre where any other adrenalin activity in the area can be organised, be it paragliding, horse riding, skydiving, dolphin cruises, camel rides or any kind of fishing, team-building activities, paintball games and many more. They are situated at the foot of the bridge over the Swakop River, on the way to Walvis Bay.
As tourist Scott Riddell exclaims, “It’s an awesome experience! Just don’t forget to look at the scenery.”
Dune 7 Adventures
An adventure-tourism based company, Dune 7 Adventures, hosts a variety of activities other than the photographic and adrenalin-filled guided quad-bike tours that made them popular.
“The idea was to establish Namibia’s first nature-orientated theme park, where families from all backgrounds, local and abroad, can spend an affordable fun-filled day. We have the hydro balls (Zorb) in which people roll down the dunes, an activity that is extremely popular amongst all customers. We do sand boarding, dune 4×4 drives, sundowners, corporate and private functions and parties. The revamped adventure park will soon offer other activities as well,” says owner Jenifer de Jager. “Our outlook on life: you have only one; live it!”
“We are extremely aware of the eco-sensitivity of our area and have established a fund named Save the Dune to systematically reverse damage done to this area in the past. Dune 7 has a great heritage value to our future generations. It is a world-known landmark, and is frequently vi-sited. Thus far we have invested a significant amount of capital towards conservation in our area and have been fortunate to have some of our local businesses support this cause by generously donating materials and funds towards it.”
The Dune 7 theme park is located at the foot of Dune 7 – the highest dune of the coastal region – about 10 kilometres outside Walvis Bay.
MET/ NACOMA off-road rules for the Central Namibian Coast
Drivers of any vehicle that can go off-road (4x4s, sedans, bakkies, beach buggies, quad- or two-wheel bikes) must adhere to the rules prescribed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism when utilising off-road areas in the Central Namibian Coast area between Sandwich Harbour and the Ugab River. Driving in conservation areas is prohibited.
• From the Kuiseb Delta to the Ugab River, sedans, 4x4s, bakkies and beach buggies may go anywhere on proclaimed roads and existing clearly well-used tracks, except where not allowed.
• No driving is allowed on the beaches at Henties Bay, Wlotzkasbaken, Swakop-mund,- Cape Cross and the camping sites at Mile 14, Jakkals-putz, Mile 72 and Mile 108. Beach driving is allowed elsewhere on existing well-used tracks. Quad-bikes and other motorised bikes are not allowed on the beaches between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund or any of the beaches north of Henties Bay.
• No driving is allowed in the Swakop River bed up to the Rössing Golf Club. Only limited concessionaires may operate there under tourism-specific MET permits. Quad-bikes and other motorised bikes are strictly prohibited in the entire Swakop River course.
• Bikes and vehicles may enter the dunes only through the access corridors at Long Beach, Dolphin Park and Dune 7. They should stay within the demarcated access corridors.
• Quad-bikes may ride west of the coastal road between Swakopmund and Henties Bay only on existing well-used tracks. They may travel- without a permit in the Omaruru River bed only 5 km inland from the beach. No quad-bikes are allowed northwards from the Omaruru River up to the Ugab River.
• Driving in any conservation area is strictly prohibited.
Permits can be obtained from the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, Desert Explorers in Swakopmund, Dare Devil Adventures at Langstrand and Dune 7 Adventures at Dune 7.
his article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.