What Vehicle will suit my holiday best in Namibia?
If you are considering a “Self Drive” Tour through Namibia, choosing the correct vehicle is very, very important. If you choose the wrong type of vehicle, you could directly endanger your life and the lives of your passengers. I see lots of guests trying to save money by hiring the cheapest car (often the small sedans) - the only result is that they are so tired on the 3rd day already, from constantly concentrating on keeping the vehicle on the road, and mainly because most guests have no idea how tiring, noisy, irritating and dusty most smalls cars get by driving only for 45 minutes on a slightly corrugated road. An average driving day in Namibia rarely has less than 4h30min, and if the roads have not recently been graded, I found that guests are so irritated by the time they reach their accommodation, that bickering, complaining and even fighting between each other normally takes place.
Always take into consideration that although in general our roads are very good, we often have stretches of 30 - 90 km that has not been recently graded. The handling of your car on these stretches directly influences your mood, and therefore also your experience in Namibia. Small cars have smaller tyres, and therefore get cut and punctured by our stones much more frequently. Always make sure you have at least 2 spare tyres with you, ESPECIALLY if you are driving a small car.
We have many car rental companies in Namibia, renting from VW Polo to fully equipped campers, so the market is big enough for you to choose the right vehicle for your tour. (Double check that the tread of your tyre is no less than 3 mm.)
A larger vehicle (like a Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, VW Kombi 1.9, Hyundai Tucson etc.) will always have more advantages over a smaller car, in cases like tyre strength, better game viewing, better gravel road handling, and a better overall Namibia experience.
Check your engine oil and tyre pressures daily, it is possible for stones to do underbody damage to the car, therefore also check for oil spills under the car in the mornings. A slow puncture on a tyre (loses air slowly) can become overheated by friction and result in a “blow out” after which the tyre is irreparable.
Never brake around or in a corner - ESPECIALLY not on a gravel road, often there are river dips in the corners with soft sand and a change in the level of the road, this is how most people roll their vehicles. Rather slow down to a safe speed BEFORE reaching the bend, and accelerate gently through it.
While driving on corrugated roads, if you should feel your vehicle’s back tyres “drift” loosely from side to side, FIRST accelerate gently a bit until your back tyres are under your control, and thereafter try decreasing your speed slowly until you should feel comfortable. Recommended speed limits for gravel roads are 80km/h, but often river dips, sandpits, corrugations and sharp stones will slow you down. For timing from 1 accommodation to the next, (how long your driving time is) use the following formulas:
GRAVEL ROADS: Distance (km) divided by 60,
TAR ROADS: Distance (km) divided by 80.
Therefore if you have 300km to do on Gravel, your driving time will be roughly 5 hours. Then you still need to add stops as well (photo, toilet, lunch, fuel etc).
The above is very important, as in my experience I have seen countless guests trying to “Quickly do the Sossus Dunes and head to Swakopmund after that”. THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED! The 220 km from Solitaire to Walvisbay alone takes no less than 4 hours, due to stretches of bad road, large river passes, stunning scenery, a lunch stop, and normally at least 3 - 7 photo stops. Guests who try this often get to Swakop some hours after sunset (taking into account they were active 1.5 to 2 hours before sunrise, and had the very noisy and tiring stretches of corrugated road, often found between Sesriem and Walvisbay). Sossusvlei is truly beautiful, and really deserves a day to itself. (“Do not book yourself a “Ferrari Safari!”)
Fill up at any available Fuel station, if you are unsure, ask your accommodation, or phone ahead to make sure if a fuel station has Petrol/Diesel. KNOW what your vehicle can drive on a tank of fuel, and use this information to plan ahead. Important: when refuelling, tell the service station assistant if you need Petrol or Diesel, PAY ATTENTION and double check that: (A) - You are being supplied with the right fuel, and (B) - your fuel cap is replaced properly. Trust me - this can save a lot of time and stress later.
A flat tyre is a very common experience. Use this opportunity (not to swear and fight with each other as is often the case) to first stretch and take a short break. Explore the surrounding area and see if you can find interesting stones. THEN change the tyre (apply handbrake, first loosen the nuts, then jack up the car. Have the spare tyre ready BEFORE you remove the flat. Switch the tyres - fasten the nuts, jack down the car and fasten the nuts again properly.) If your vehicle is too low for the jack to fit under (as in soft sand), find a suitable size square stone, and possibly a smaller one to use as a “drive up step” and drive the flat tyre up onto the stone, as to gain enough height to fit the jack under the car.
Take care of “Mirages” in the road, or “dry water”. Drive with your normal lights on (NOT YOUR BRIGHTS!) to be more visible to other vehicles in these mirages and also in dust.
KEEP LEFT!!! Some cars actually have a sticker on the dashboard or steering wheel as a reminder, it works...
Take enough breaks to refresh, and try to plan your trip so that daily you won’t have to drive more than 350km on a gravel road, or more than 500km on a tar road...
REMEMBER: If you are unhappy with your vehicle,
you will be unhappy with most of your Namibia experience!