Namibia's roads are amazing. They will take you to areas of breathtaking beauty and splendour. However, they are also notoriously dangerous, usually because travellers are not sufficiently familiar with what they are actually like. Lots of tourists are seriously injured each year because they lose control of their vehicle in unfamiliar conditions.
We do not intend to give you driving lessons. Instead we will detail some of those issues you should be aware of, and rely on you to keep your wits about you.General
Excessive speed is the main cause of traffic accidents - both on and off the gravel roads - and so it is imperative that you keep to sensible speeds under the speed limit; this means 120 km/h on tarred roads and 80 km/h on gravel. That said, especially on gravel, it is often advisable to keep well below that speed. If you happen to be driving a 4x4, you may wish to consider engaging four-wheel-drive, as this makes the vehicle much more manageable.
Remember, we drive on the left in Namibia. That said, on some gravel roads, you may simply find yourself choosing the best path along the existing road rather than trying to stick to a single 'lane.'
Keep a firm grip with both hands on the steering wheel at all times; a rock or other object in the road can cause a sudden change in direction.
Road traffic signs are there for a reason; always observe them, especially those which indicate a curve ahead:
- In the case of a sign indicating a gentle curve, reduce speed by at least one third of your cruising speed before commencing the turn.
- In the case of a sign indicating a sharp curve, reduce speed by at least one half of your cruising speed before commencing the turn.
Likewise, signs warning you of animals are to be taken seriously. Warthogs, Kudus and Elephants can pose serious problems. Also bear in mind that domestic animals wander around the countryside all the time, especially in the north.
Bear in mind that sudden braking manoeuvres on a corrugated gravel road stand a good chance of overturning the vehicle.
In dusty conditions, it is advisable to drive with your lights on.
As far as possible, avoid driving at night, especially on the gravel roads. This is because wildlife is most active at night, and this wildlife is often camouflaged. Kudus are especially famous for leaping into the path of oncoming vehicles at night.
On gravel, keep a safe distance to any traffic in front; stones thrown up by their tyres not only pose a risk to the vehicle, but also to yourself. If you are stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle, take a break (enjoy the scenery!) and let them cover some distance, rather than trying to overtake them.
Always be on the lookout for animals and of course the unexpected.
If there is an animal or an object on the road, it is often better to keep control of the vehicle but to hit the animal than swerving to avoid it and risking your lives by rolling the vehicle. Don't try this with elephants.
The Rainy Season
Especial care needs to be taken during the rainy season, as the roads can be especially bad and even the tarred roads may be prone to substantial flooding.
You may be faced with a river you cannot cross in a small vehicle. Do not try your luck; instead enjoy the adventure and scenery. The 4x4s can cope with a lot, but we urge you not to cross a river that is flowing. Have no fear: most rivers stop flowing after a few hours. Of course then, they are muddy...
Looks can be deceptive. If you are in doubt as to whether it is safe to cross, walk through the river first to establish a safe route. If there are crocodiles or other animals in the area, wait until the flow is diminished first, and drive through when it is shallower.
Driving into a river with a hot engine can cause serious damage. Likewise, it is very bad for water to enter the engine through the air intakes; stay well clear of water deeper than about 30cm in a small car and 50cm in a 4x4. If you can't tell how deep it is, get out, wade in and look.Off-Road Driving
Namibia is a 4x4 drivers paradise. There are numerous places where 4x4 is not merely recommended but quite simply required, and others still where you'll only be allowed in if you're in convoy.
If you're thinking of hiring a 4x4, then it is obviously a good thing to be able to drive one. There are plenty of courses on offer in most countries around the world, which are a good thing to go on if you're not experienced. Even if you drive a 4x4 at home, be aware that driving a 4x4 off-road is very different indeed from driving it to work. Be honest with yourself: if you think that you could still learn, then do so.
There are also numerous books available on this subject. However there is no better teacher than experience.
If you're serious about 4x4 driving in the more obscure areas, prepare well. There are numerous good maps to be had (notably, Shell produces a passably good map of Kaokoland), but better still is a 4x4 trail guide, which will tell you exactly how bad the road is likely to be, suggested routes, GPS coordinates, detailed maps of those areas where normal cartographers never go and so forth. A good one is Jan Joubert's imaginatively titled 4x4 Trail Guide (available in many places around the country, including Cymot in Windhoek), which covers Kaokoland, Damaraland, the Kaudom, and other parts of the country in sufficient detail to keep you happy, busy and dusty for weeks. It contains hand-drawn maps, extensive notes and lots of other good stuff.
Detailed topographical maps are available from the Surveyor General's office in Windhoek, Tel. (061) 245056. Be aware that tracks marked on these maps may well have moved, and that they're most useful for landmark orientation.
A GPS device is not really necessary, as long as you have a decent map. It does come in handy however.
Any 4x4 you hire should be equipped with at least 2 spare tyres, and if you're heading out into the bush make sure that it is also equipped either with a long-range fuel tank or additional petrol canisters. If you're doing sand driving, remember also to bring a shovel and a tyre pump.All in all...
...you should be fine if you keep your wits about you and if you maintain a certain standard of common sense. Remember that you're on holiday and have fun!