28 May LRA’s Road to Dar – Part 1
In an attempt to encourage overland tourism on our continent and to prove that (sorry boys) you don’t really need an expedition-ready Defender, we set out with celebrity chef (and Land Rover fan) Reuben Riffel to visit five African countries in three weeks. We would stay in a variety of accommodation venues, from exquisite Wilderness Safaris lodges to comfortable campsites and a bit of everything in-between. Our mission? To showcase some of the amazing places you could be visiting and to prove that Land Rover DNA runs deep throughout the range. We’ll cover each country we visited in depth during the course of the next few issues, starting with Namibia.
Leaving South Africa’s borders and heading into Africa is a road too far for some Land Rover owners. Many of these beautiful vehicles don’t get much further than Kruger or the occasional foray into Botswana. I’m not speaking disparagingly of Defender owners (or anyone really) it is just that when you have a family, tackling the unknown is, well, hard. So for many owners the Land Rover purchase is aspirational. Not so much in terms of keeping ahead of the Joneses but rather aspiring to do a Kingsley Holgate one day.
Namibia, perhaps Africa’s most beautiful playground, is a vast, uncrowded country covered in a patchwork blanket of dramatic cliffs and canyons, rolling red dunes and a dry, yet amazing road northbound. While Namibia boasts some of the harshest landscapes of planet Earth, it’s certainly not devoid of any life.
The vivid surrounds, friendly people and diverse wildlife will envelope you in ways beyond belief. I swear Namibia even has its own sky. Drive across the (hassle-free) border and cast your gaze heavenwards, and you will see that the sky has a unique hue. It’s what hooked me the first time I saw it. But falling in love with Namibia is a dangerous love. While you might be enthralled by her beauty and splendor, her harsh exterior can wield some undesirable consequences the moment you turn your back on her. I know of one car hire company that supplies each hire car with two spares and emergency water, lots of it, after losing a client who got disorientated on a backroad after a puncture.
A cast of remarkable characters evolve to survive in some of Namibia’s most surreal environments: thousand-year-old Welwitschia and Baobabs sprout from the driest soil, desert-adapted Oryx, rhino, lion and cheetah patrol the sandy cliffs and canyons while fog-basking beetles thrive on the sharp crests of dunes.
One can learn a lot about the evolution and adaptability of these animals. The Oryx (gemsbok), for example, uses a specific network of capillaries in the nose to cool down the blood travelling to the brain and prevent overheating. Essentially, the Oryx’s built-in ‘radiator’ helps it survive the arid conditions of Namibia where temperatures soar around the 45 degrees Celsius mark.
Even the early traditional Khoisan people were known to survive in these parts despite droughts lasting months by making use of sip wells. The Khoisan would dig a deep hole in damp sand and insert a long, hollow grass stem. Water was then sucked into the straw from the sand, into the mouth, and out again via another straw and collected in an empty ostrich egg.
If ever you thought planning a self-drive through Namibia was hard work, then think again. Our expedition fleet consisted of three Land Rover Freelander II 2.2 SD4 SE vehicles (which some pessimists consider the ‘hairdresser’s 4×4’), and its sexy, slimmer cousin, the Range Rover Evoque 2.2 SD4.
The term soft-roader has been used by other motoring journo’s to categorise these cars, but in truth, calling the Freelander a ‘soft-roader’ does them a massive disservice. They are equally at home traversing the harsh terrain of Namibia than they are cruising the boulevards in Sandton. Unless you intend doing some serious dune driving or building your own roads, these cars will get you anywhere you want to be, especially a Wilderness Safaris camp. And they will get you there refreshed and comfortable – and certainly a lot more dust-free than your Defender driving buddies.
Astonishingly, the average fuel consumption of the fleet averaged just 9.2 litres per 100 km, which we thought was spectacular, especially since each car was equipped with Front Runner roof racks and a host of camping equipment, heavy gear and Reuben’s vast collection of Culinary cooking utensils.
Our expedition drivers were blown away by the capabilities of the baby Land Rovers as the vehicle safety electronics clutched and corrected the cars along some incredibly muddy and sandy conditions. These very capable Freelanders were certainly winning hearts on this trip.
The Cape to Dar Expedition folk also loved their Pirelli rubber. The Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season tyres picked up a couple of inevitable punctures during our trek through Namibia. The sharp, jagged rocks and stones sprawled out across the road resulted in four tyre repairs (but no sidewall damage). However, this is what our tech editor, Ian Theron, lives for, and he relished the opportunity for some quick tyre changing exercises.
With great lateral stability, wet and snow traction, longitudinal and high lateral siping density, as well as good overall comfort and safety, the Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season tyres are seasoned performers, and got us safely to Dar.
Namibia is one of those dreamlike destinations where different worlds collide – the Namib Desert and coastal plains in the west, the eastward-sloping central plateau; the Kalahari and the densely wooded bushveld of the Kavango and Caprivi regions.
Whether it’s watching a cheetah stalking its prey on a never-ending plain in Etosha; flying down a giant dune on a sandboard or spending a night alone in the desert under a sky thick with stars, there is something for everyone to see and do in Namibia.
Explore the different parts of Namibia:
The south of Namibia is an area that’s rife with wide-open spaces and utter isolation. Off-roading is plentiful here, and simply following the track, we ended up in the world’s second-largest canyon, which plunges dramatically down to the depths of the Fish River. Aus, a village in southern Namibia, was formerly the site of a prisoner-of-war camp to house German inmates captured during WWI. However, Aus is now noted for its herd of wild feral horses who freely roam the desert plains nearby. Aus is small but sports a number of amenities, including a hotel, police station, shop and garage.
The south’s main attraction, however, is the Sossusvlei area of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, where magnificent red dunes climb 300 m into the blue skies of Namibia.The drive to the world-renowned Deadvlei site offered us a great opportunity for a play in the sand with these vehicles. Although prohibited in some places, sandboarding is another great pastime when visiting the dunes and we managed to find a spot where it is permitted and had a fun slide down the sandy slopes.
The haunting scenes of the world-renowned Deadvlei with its white clay floor and dried up camel thorn trunks hosts a variety of desert and mountain landscapes. Surrounded by a 350 m dune called ‘Big Daddy’, the perished trees of Deadvlei are said to be about 900 years old, and the scorching Namib sun has turned them jet black.
While the west of Namibia wasn’t on our itinerary, the bleak, yet splendor strip of the eerie Skeleton Coast is worth a mention in this article. The well-known towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, Namibia’s major ports, offer history fans ample opportunity to appreciate the well-kept German colonial building, such as the state railway station. The entire western seaboard of the Skeleton Coast is littered with shipwrecks. Some notable ones worth visiting include the Dunedin Star, Suiderkus, Sir Charles Elliot, the Seal, Luanda and the Atlantic Pride.
Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is surrounded by mountains; the Eros range to the east, the Auas range to the south and the Khomas Hochland to the west. This bustling city, with its notable German influence and a wide variety of services and facilities, is an ideal starting point for visitors to this diverse nation. Even a 20-minute drive from the city centre will take you to a nearby national park or game reserve for a safari, like the Daan Viljoen National Reserve. On our arrival in Windhoek, we headed straight for the ‘most famous beerhouse on the African continent,’ called Joe’s Beer House. Joe’s has been around for the past 23 years, employs 107 people and can serve an incredible 460 patrons. Packed with ancient relics and memorabilia, Joe’s Beer House is steeped in character with a mouth-watering menu and warm-hearted hospitality. Joe’s famous Eisbein comes highly recommended!
Northern Namibia is a land of vivid contrasts, with arid mountain deserts and lush waterways. Visitors with a penchant for wildlife can enjoy game drives and walks in the Waterberg National Park, or explore the Hoba Meteorite, the largest of its kind in the world, which resides near Grootfontein. In the north, you’ll also find Etosha National Park, one of Africa’s greatest wildlife sites. We made our trek through Etosha, an experience the crew will cherish forever. The Etosha Pan is a large endorheic salt pan stretching 120 km of flat, dry nothingness. The pan remains mostly dry but after heavy rain, it will acquire a thin layer of water, heavily salted by the mineral deposits on the surface. In Etosha, we glimpsed giraffe, rhino, elephant, lion and an assortment of antelope. Game can be seen around every bend, and one doesn’t have to look far to spot them.