Namaqualand by 2×1. And 4×4
As a dyed-in-the-dirt adventure motorcyclist, Nick Yell has always got a far greater thrill from being on two wheels than four. Forget the clichés of the wind in your hair and cow-dung in your nostrils, he reckons: it’s just so exhilarating to fly through unspoilt countryside in your own bubble, not one made of tin and softened with creature comforts. But four wheels do have their advantages, too, as he found out on a recent trip to Namaqualand. This is what happened…
Okay, so it seems a little pointless going too far north on the bikes if the flowers are not out yet. Why don’t we test the Jimny on some of the Namaqua Park’s sand tracks and try and spot some flowering vygies at the same time,” I asked our crew on the stoep of our ‘Purple Paleis’ the morning after we arrived at Groenriviersmond Accommodation.
We’d arrived in trying conditions the night before. Well, two of us did. Dirk Ackerman and I had battled the conditions on our motorbikes – the sun was directly in our eyes for the last 20 kilometres of challenging sand tracks. It got so bad at one point that we decided to pull off and wait for the sun to set. Of course, David Lowe, our erstwhile motorcycling mate, who had swapped his BMW GS1200 Adventure for a Suzuki Jimny, was comfortable behind his sun visor and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Our journey to Groen-riviersmond from Bot River took us a day and a half. Following a 50/50 mixture of tar and dirt tracks on Day 1, we spent our first night at the evergreen oasis of Die Mond in the otherwise desolate landscape of the Tankwa Karoo. Enjoying the cold beer and other luxuries we would not normally be able to carry on our bikes, Dirk and I quickly realised the role a support vehicle like the Jimny could play on future adventure bike trips.
Although it was early August, I had set a route that would pass through as many flower hotspots as possible and we saw our first blazes of colour outside the bulb capital of Nieuwoudtville on Day 2. Our plans to continue to Garies via the gravel R355 outside Loeriesfontein were nearly dealt a blow when we discovered the only petrol station in town was closed until later in the day. But just as we were about to divert to Vanrhynsdorp on the tar and access Garies via the boring blacktop of the N7, owner Theunis Coetzer and his wife arrived at their adjacent home after their Sunday outing and opened the pumps for us.
The 150km of challenging gravel and sand tracks of the R355 and R358 that led us to the N7 outside Bitterfontein was an enervating ride; but we all coped well, especially David. When we stopped halfway along to take refreshments from his cool box, his smug grin bore testament to the fact that he preferred facing his motorcycle nemesis, sand, in a 4×4.
After two days and nearly 800km of challenging riding, Dirk and I were not too upset that we’d left our 2×1s back at our lodgings and were now languishing in the comfortable, if slightly squashed cabin of the Suzuki Jimny. David gave me the keys from the outset and I quickly got to know some of the little 4×4’s more obvious idiosyncrasies. For example, on the 5km ride to the lighthouse at Groenriviersmond, I noted the light steering even in 4×4 mode and the bounciness of the ride due to its short wheelbase.
While David and Dirk went to inspect the sealife in the pristine rockpools below, I admired the rollers from afar and took a walk to the campsite I’d spent some time at with my life-partner Annette on our overland trip a year before. Even though the eight campsites here are outside the boundary fence of the Namaqua National Park, they are still administered by the park and, while the facilities are very basic (long-drop toilets and stone kraals for wind protection), they offer unparalleled peace to this unspoilt coastline.
Before setting off to enter the park via the Groenriviersmond Gate a kilometre back up the sand track, the three of us briefly debated whether to try the southerly 4×4 track to Kotzesrus; but seeing as we needed to go back into the park to get a permit to do so, we decided to skip it. Instead, we opted to go north for 29km and then a further 9km north-east from Skuins-baai Noord to the park exit gate at Bitterrivier.
It was an inspired choice. Not only did we give the Jimny an excellent workout on the six kilometres of thick sand (grade 3 driving challenge) about a third of the way up this coastal track, we also did a bit of flower spotting along the way. Although none of us are flower fundis (our talents stretch as far as being able to separate daisies from vygies), a wild flower book I’d brought along allowed us to identify a number of different species flowering in the spongy verdure of the succulent Karoo.
We also learnt there are some 3 000 plant species in the Namaqualand sector of this biome alone, of which 1 500 are endemic. When we reached Skuinsbaai Noord (the second last of the nine campsites on this stretch of coastline), we turned right onto a rough 4×4 track and pioneered our way through a number of deep puddles and muddy sections. Ahead of a 100m section of road that looked more like a river, I got out the car to take some water-action pictures and handed the keys to Dirk.
Being the humorous sort of bloke he is, Dirk made sure he came in nice and close to where I was standing and gave me a good soaking of sulphurous water in the process. Giggling like boys in a playpark, Dirk and David stopped up the road and handed me a cold beer and a towel… who can argue with that? But just before we drove off, a black korhaan rose out the bushes next to us and squawked so shrilly, we felt as if it was admonishing us for behaving like children. A few kilometres outside the park’s gates, we decided to take the 30km ‘shortcut’ to Nariep. It was already about 5pm and with the sunlight fading fast, we knew we were in for an engaging ride. The white sand and gravel tracks of the park had long given way to slick red sand and our ‘4×4 track’ detour played out a bit like an unexpected rally stage.
But the Jimny took the rough and sometimes corrugated track in its stride, and not being able to dislodge Dirk from the driving position I’d handed him earlier, and now sitting in the passenger seat, I got more of a workout than the car did. This wasn’t due so much to the fact that I was hanging on for dear life and bruising my right knee frequently on the too-close-for-comfort centre console; it was more to do with the 15 gates I had to open and close en route!
My efforts were rewarded, though, when at one of these gate-opening stops I saw three bat-eared foxes standing in the road ahead. So often seen only as roadkill, these quintessentially cute predators ran ahead of us for about a kilometre, before peeling off into the bush. And just as they exited stage left, out came a succession of steenbokkies as a finale to this worthwhile ‘4×4’ (grade 1 when dry) route.
Around the braai at the Purple Paleis a while later, Dirk and I tried to persuade David he should still buy himself another adventure motorbike, even if it was a smaller one, with the funds garnered from the sale of his BMW GS1200 Adventure. But we knew the off-roading abilities the Jimny had shown on our trip would probably convince him otherwise. Sometimes, a man’s just gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Engine Four-cylinder 1328cc 16-valve VVT petrol
Power 63kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 110Nm @ 4 100r/min
Gearbox Five-speed manual with transfer case
4×4 system Part-time (2H, 4H and 4LOW)
Kerb weight 1 090kg
Ground clearance (claimed) 190mm
Approach angle 37 degrees
Departure angle 46 degrees
Route & travel advisor:
Day 1 Bot River to De Mond: via Van Der Stel’s Pass, Worcester, Touwsrivier (fuel stop); Hottentots Kloof; and the R355 towards Calvinia. Distance Day 1: 300km,
128km (43%) on dirt
Day 2 De Mond to Groenriviersmond: via the R355 towards Calvinia, the Uitspankraal/Soutpan back road to Nieuwoudtville; the R357 towards Loeriesfontein; the R355 towards Kliprand, the R358 towards Bitterfontein; the N7 north to Garies and the Garies to Groenriviersmond Road. Distance Day 2: 490km, 380km (78%) on dirt.
Day 3 Groenriviersmond accommodation round trip: No bike riding, but a 90km round trip through the Namaqua Park, predominantly on 4×4 tracks, in David’s Suzuki Jimny. Distance Day 3: 90km.
Day 4: Groenriviersmond to Bot River: via dirt track to T-junction with N7 north of Bitterfontein; the N7 to Citrusdal; the Middelberg Pass and R303 to Ceres; the R43 through Worcester and Villiersdorp to the Caledon-Bot River N2 junction.
Distance Day 4: 560 km – 110 km (20%) on dirt.
Total distance travelled 1 440km over four days, and about 708km (49%) on dirt roads.
Experience required Beginner to moderate experience required (some sandy sections).
Best time of year to go First week of August to mid-October.
Route highlights Uitspankraal/Soutpan Road; the R355 and 358 from Loeriesfontein to Bitterfontein and the Namaqua National Park route via Nariep
What it cost us Accommodation R1 060 each for three nights.
Accommodation notes: Die Mond Tel: 023 317 0668; Groenriviersmond accommodation (Purple Paleis) Tel: Elrien or Kolie 027 531 1012.
The Suzuki Jimny in a nutshell
What we liked The off-road ability of this little 4×4 is excellent, particularly on sand; build-quality is high; steering is light for a 4×4; visibility is good; entry and departure angles are very good (without nudge-bar or tow-bar fitted); strong ladder frame chassis and good fuel economy. What we didn’t like: Cramped cabin for larger drivers and passengers; suspension set-up is hard for general driving around town and bouncy short wheelbase handling takes some getting used to; plus lack of driver information and dated/tinny sound system.