Despite Namibia’s excellent national roads, the real allure of driving in this country lies far away from the tarmac. With a convoy of 4×4 vehicles even the most remote areas open up to adventurous travellers. Beautiful scenery, unique attractions along the way and interactions with the locals are great incentives to take a detour and make your Namibian journey one of a kind.
A sturdy off-road vehicle gives you the freedom to explore areas that are not on the average tourist map. The /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park allows travellers to venture across the South African border. Highlights in this area include the Fish River Canyon and rafting tours on the Orange River. The deep south of Namibia also has variety of hiking trails and the former diamond area is now opening up to tourism as the Sperrgebiet National Park.
The Kunene Region in the north west of the country is another vast area that is completely untouched by civilization. Rare desert adapted species, stark mountains and encounters with the statuesque Himba people make the area south of the Angolan border an Eden for 4×4 enthusiasts. However, not all of Namibia is arid. The coastal areas and the big river systems of the northeast create a diversity that has adventurers and nature lovers spoilt for choice.
Namibia has some of the most scenic and challenging mountain passes. The Namib Desert connects with the Khomas Hochland and Windhoek through a variety of scenic mountain passes. The Spreetshoogte Pass is one of the steepest roads in the country and is guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping. The views from atop the Great Escarpment are rewarding and provide and provide aerial views of the orange sea of the Namib Desert. The Gamsberg Pass is a long and scenic drive across the flat-topped mountain. The Remhoogte Pass is the easiest drive across the Great Escarpment and still offers beautiful views.
The Kaokoland is serious 4×4 territory and driving into the Marienfluss and Hartmann valleys will challenge even experienced drivers. Especially Van Zyl’s Pass that leads down into the Marienfluss Valley wakens fear and ambition in the passionate 4×4 driver. The pass is steep rocky and should only be driven downhill. Van Zyl’s pass should only be attempted by experienced drivers.
Driving in Sand
Manoeuvring your vehicle over the soft sand of the Namib Desert requires quite some skill. The desert is also a delicate environment and drivers should always stick to recommended paths. The highlight in the Namib Desert are the towering orange dunes of Sossusvlei. The Sossusvlei car park is accessible with sedan cars, but the last 5 km require a 4×4 and give you the opportunity to test your sand driving abilities.
One of the most popular and pristine drives on sand is the trail to the Sandwich Harbour Lagoon. Permits to drive over the pale dunes can be obtained at MET offices in Windhoek, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Sossusvlei. Sandwich Harbour is known as a sanctuary for coastal and fresh water birds. The lagoon nestled between the icy Atlantic Ocean and endless sea of sand with no sign of civilization.
The trick to driving in sand is to deflate you tires. This creates a larger contact surface between the vehicle and the sand. To avoid getting stuck it is essential to preserve your momentum. Avoid braking and never stop on an uphill. If you do park, make sure it is on the top of a dune or on a downhill.
Namibia’s best game viewing is in Etosha National Park. Driving in the park doesn’t require a 4×4, but the concentration of game around the waterholes and the sparse vegetation will give you an incredible amount of sightings. Etosha also is also the best place to see the endangered balck rhino.
If you are looking for an untouched and untamed piece of African wilderness, Namibia’s northeast is the land of your dreams. Thick vegetation, abundant wildlife and a complete lack of first world amenities make the Caprivi and Kavango game parks will appeal to the explorer in you. If you have a convoy of two 4×4 vehicles and are self-sufficient in regards to fuel, food and water head into Khaudum National Park, Bwabwata Game Park, Mudumu National Park or Mamili National Park.
4×4 Driving Tips
- Respect the delicate Namibian environment. Only follow well-defined roads and tracks and never leave existing track. Leaving existing tracks will damage plants and small animals and scar the landscape.
- Treat local people with respect and honour their culture and traditions.
- If you are travelling into remote areas, a convoy of two vehicles is advisable as help can be days away.
- Before negotiating steep roads, loose sand or rocks engage four-wheel drive and manually lock the front hubs if required.
- When driving in sand deflate you tires to 1 Kpa in the front and 1.2 Kpa in the rear.
- If you get stuck in sand stop immediately. Clear the sand infront and behind of the wheels and make sure four-wheel drive is engaged and the front hubs are locked. If available place rocks or sticks under the tires.