Otherworldly scenery and prehistoric plantAugust 12, 2012
Quantifying the quad-bikeAugust 12, 2012
by Nicolette Jacobi
You simply cannot get enough of it – kilometre upon kilometre of sand dunes, one more magnificent than the next. Throw an adrenalin rush into the mix and you have a winner.
Off-roading trails in the sand dunes of the Dorob National Park are one of the big adventures the park has to offer, and there is a wide choice of 4×4 trails for adventure seekers.
Since you are at the coast and in one of the most famous dune belts in the world, it makes sense to push your four-wheel-drive vehicle to its limits when in the sand. One of the best places to test your vehicle is in the off-road vehicle (ORV) zones in the dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.
Numerous routes through the dunes – as well as many guides and countless Namibians and tourists to the country – tell the story of this unique Namibian driving experience over the gravel plains and dunes along the coast. It is highly educational and pits man and machine against one other to create harmony and camaraderie during the days spent in the dunes. And make no mistake – although there are choices of shorter tours, it is the longer ones that count when stories are told afterwards.
To the Topnaars
One of the most popular 4×4 tours through the sands and plains of the desert is the trail leading to the Topnaar community in Lauberville. On this scenic and educational drive, it takes between two and three hours to reach the Topnaars.
On the first leg of the tour you will stop at the Walvis Bay Lagoon (a Ramsar Site and Important Bird Area) where more than a hundred bird species and the biggest population of flamingos in Southern Africa can be observed. The next stop is the Salt Works just outside Walvis Bay, where the colours of the pans will amaze you.
“If this is your first introduction to dune driving, it will be an experience you will talk about for the rest of your holiday, and probably remember for very much longer. You can definitely look forward to top scenery, adventure, traditional people and wildlife. And you will have a million and one photo opportunities,” says Herman Neethling of Photo Ventures in Walvis Bay.
Photo Ventures is one of the tour operations that take people through the dunes to the Topnaar Community. In the newly proclaimed Dorob National Park, individual travellers are not allowed to venture into the dunes south of Walvis Bay without a guide. “The dune sand on this trail is very soft and difficult to drive in. You will easily become bogged down. Because of this, people often opt to drive across the mud flats. But this must be avoided, because hidden underneath the dried mud, lies the history and ancestry of the Topnaars. By driving over it, you will be damaging an important part of their heritage and one of the unique offerings of the Dorob National Park.”
South to Sandwich
Another 4×4 route south of Walvis Bay that takes you through the Dorob National Park into the Namib-Naukluft Park is the adventure drive to Sandwich Harbour about 55 km from Walvis Bay. For this route, it is advisable to travel with an operator who knows the area. (Read about Sandwich Harbour on page 16.)
Four-wheel driving in the Dorob National Park is not all about sand. Avid 4×4 adventurers can also choose between numerous tours into the northern parts of the Dorob National Park.
Strathmore and the Dead Sea
A route that many people have heard about but cannot explain exactly where it is, is the Strathmore South Dead Sea 4×4 route. Estelle Rubow, well-known tourism official in Henties Bay, says the turnoff to this route is along the C34 north of Fisherman’s Inn, 300 m past the signboard that says Cape Cross – 20 km. “The turnoff is indicated by a heap of rocks with an arrow painted in white. Follow the track for 7.4 km to the black volcanic rocks on your right. Take a break here and walk to this outcrop to look at the bright-orange lichens growing on the rocks.”
Estelle says this place is not marked, so you have to look carefully. Follow the road further to reach the so-called Dead Sea. The name of the route was derived from an old worked-out tin mine, Strathmore South. “Underground water filled up the excavation hole. Because of the presence of various minerals, the salinity is very high, enabling you to float freely in it. Hence people refer to it as the Dead Sea. However, whether the water has healing powers or not, is debatable.”
West of Brandberg
A famous route that departs from Henties Bay is the Brandberg-West 4×4 route. You will travel eastwards across the Namib plains to a tributary of the Ugab River, along the western section of the Brandberg. An option here is to camp at the Ugab River Camp. To follow this route you travel along the C34 to Mile 108 and then take the D2303 in an easterly direction. Be on the lookout for the dollar bush, Bushman’s candle and the well-known Welwitschia mirabilis.
“From Henties Bay you can travel in a southerly direction on the D1918 to the world-famous Spitzkoppe. Further along the route you enter the Omaruru River at Lêwater. Here the river develops into a linear oasis that supports a variety of trees and plants. You will eventually reach the Omdel Dam, actually a delta where rainwater filtrates into underground fresh-water reservoirs.”
Estelle warns that this route can only be taken during the Namibian winter, as heavy rains in its catchment area can cause the Omaruru River to flow strongly. Most of the route runs through stretches of thick sand.
Other interesting routes with Henties Bay as its base are the Welwitschia 4×4 route, the 4×4 trail to the Messum Crater and numerous routes to the Kunene Region in north-western Namibia.
Take note: Do not divert from the track and, for safety’s sake, travel with your GPS and make sure of the routes before you leave.
Tips for off-road driving
- It is a well-known fact that off-road driving causes damage to the environment. Drivers should therefore acquaint themselves with the regulations and techniques required to remain within the rules.
- Try to decide which route you are going to take and which places you want to see before starting your trip.
- Plan according to your route. Pack enough food, drinks and water and ensure that you have enough fuel. Also, pack the basic equipment you’ll need in case of a breakdown.
- Tell somebody where you are heading and how long you will be away.
- Use your GPS.
- When driving in sand, engage the 4×4 function before the time. Deflate your tyres to the 0.8 bar. Avoid spinning your wheels and stay on existing tracks. Drive between the low- and high-water marks when possible, and avoid driving over vegetation.
- Never break hard in soft sand. Your wheels will dig in and you’ll stop faster than you expect. Simply slow down, as this will bring the vehicle to a standstill.
- Always stop downhill or where it’s flat
- Don’t forget to re-inflate your tyres once you are back on hard ground
Zones and regulations
Unless allowed through a concession agreement, beach buggies and motor vehicles may access only the following areas:
- Any proclaimed or park road, subject to the relevant Traffic Ordinance and regulations.
- The coastal strip between Swakopmund and the Ugab River, west of the main coastal road but excluding all demarcated and sign-posted exclusion areas (seawards of Miles 14, 72 and 108, Jakkalsputs and Wlotzkasbaken), Damara-tern breeding sites, lichen fields, private property and dune hummocks.
- An 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, the guano platform, Dolfyn Beach and Long Beach (all demarcated).
- The bed of the lower Omaruru River, from the river mouth to a point 5 km east of the mouth.
- The bed of the Swakop River east of the Swakopmund municipal boundary.
- The coastal strip between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, excluding the demarcated areas bordering the sea of the beachfront houses in all municipal areas, as provided for by municipal bylaws.
- The existing tracks throughout the park north of Swakopmund, except where signage stipulates that such tracks are closed. Other than on the beach, driving off a road or existing track is therefore not allowed.
- In the gravel plains between the Kuiseb and Swakop rivers and inland from the Swakopmund–Walvis Bay dunefield, vehicles may drive only on proclaimed roads or park roads. For driving on park roads, a permit is required.
- Residents of the Topnaar community who require access to their properties and natural resources in the Kuiseb River area in the park, may use existing tracks off the road network, but may not create new tracks.
Permit requirements and good to know
- The permit system in the Dorob National Park has not been finalised yet. However, if you plan to participate in a 4×4 excursion, you need a permit, and also for venturing off any of the major roads into the park onto minor tracks. Permits are issued by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism free of charge.
- Nobody is allowed to enter the dunes south of Walvis Bay. If you want to undertake a tour to the Topnaar settlement about 35 km from the harbour town, you must be escorted by a tour operator. The reason for this regulation is that driving across the dunes is difficult and by driving over the mud flats, the ancestry of the Topnaars will be harmed.
This article appeared in the Aug/ Sep 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.