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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unless allowed through a concession agreement authorised by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, bikes and quad-bikes may access only the following areas:
This article appeared in the Aug/ Sep 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.