DO's & DON'Ts... Namibian self-drive
Here, Philip Hamilton-Grierson explains ten ‘DOs’ and ten ‘DON’Ts’ to a self-drive holiday in Namibia.
A self-drive holiday in Namibia can be an inspiring, liberating, life-affirming experience. Such is the scale of the landscapes, the splendour of the wildlife, the wild beauty of the scenery and the extraordinary sense of emptiness that your mind can slip into an altered state of peace. Five hours on the road in Namibia is not to be compared to slogging up the M1 in England. Getting from A – B is a large part of the reason for going to A or B in the first place.
1. Request a sturdy 4 x 4 vehicle – not to go off-road, but to deal with some very changeable surfaces.
2. Listen to all the instructions – particularly about changing wheels. Punctures are not unusual.
3. Ensure the vehicle has two spare tyres – and get a punctured tyre repaired at the earliest opportunity.
4. Make sure you have a mobile phone that works throughout Namibia – you may break down a long way from any habitation.
5. Ask for a vehicle with a fridge – drives are long and hot (5 or 6 hours is typical), so a cool drink and edible food are a great relief.
6. Carry plenty of food and water – it’s advisable to stock up on essentials in Windhoek at the outset, because retail opportunities are few and far between on many routes.
7. Stop whenever you see a petrol station – there aren’t many and the few there are sometimes run out, so keep your vehicle topped up.
8. Carry a scarf to cover your nose and mouth – passing cars are infrequent, but they can kick up a lot of dust on a gravel road, which will find its through any holes in the car’s exterior. It is worth closing the cars vents when you see another vehicle approaching.
9. Check other people are OK if you see a car stopped beside the road – Namibia is a very friendly country of very few people (only Mongolia is less densely populated) so if you see anyone who may be in trouble do check they’re alright. The next time it might be you.
10. Take bets on the timing of the next vehicle you see – on many roads the standard unit is hours rather than minutes.
1. Drive after dark – visibility is key in Namibia and since no one else drives at night there will be no one around if you get into trouble.
2. Drive on the right – you’re not on the continent here.
3. Go off-road – the roads themselves can be quite challenging enough. The terrain off road is highly unpredictable and may be less benign than it looks.
4. Get too close to elephants or black rhino – they can be very aggressive.
5. Drive too fast – the distances may be long, but half the fun is getting there, so it’s a shame if the whole country becomes a blur. Also, gravel roads can hide sharp stones, sudden dips, skiddy sand patches and severe corrugations, all of which need a cautious approach.
6. Fail to slow down at dips in the road – many roads have steep dips where they ford rivers (generally dried up). There are signs to give advance warning and it’s important to shift down and slow down when you see one.
7. Use your brakes only on steep downhills – always select a low gear, as you’ll keep much greater control and won’t burn-out your brakes.
8. Expect many opportunities to find shade – if you’re driving a long looking for a good picnic spot, it may never happen. Even the acacia trees offer very little shade. Wide-brimmed sunhats are a must.
9. Leave valuables on display – Namibia is a safe country, but there’s no point in tempting fate, or petty thieves.
10. Forget to stop – with long distances to cover it is easy to get into a trance-like rhythm and forget to stop. There is plenty of amazing detail to enjoy amid the vast landscapes.
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