When professional wildlife photographer Heinrich van den Berg and his wife Dana, a keen amateur photographer, joined a 4×4 overland group, their standard Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 Di-D seemed, well, very standard. On the menu was the beautiful Epupa Waterfall, the challenging Van Zyl’s Pass, romance, drama, and a wildlife encounter the couple won’t forget in a hurry.
We did it right, but aft er only 5km of gravel road, we ground to a halt. Aft er driving thousands of kilometres on tar and not picking up a single problem, a flat tyre.
We were genuinely concerned for the rest of the trip. Ahead of us lay several days of gravel-road driving, rock crawling, and sand driving.
To change the wheel we had to unpack the entire loadbay of the Mitsubishi Pajero. With expensive camera gear gathering dust outside the comfy confines of the Mitsubishi’s cabin, Dana and I changed the punctured wheel. Soon we headed off again.
But let’s start the story where we left off last month. Aft er we had spent almost a week photographing wildlife at several locales in Namibia, we were now heading in the direction of Swartbooisdrif, and the Okapupa campsite.
There we would meet up with my cousin Braam van den Berg, the tour leader for this trip through the barren but strikingly beauti ful Kaokoveld.
Arriving at the camp in the dark, we met up with the rest of the group. An impressive and sometimes quirky group of adventurers were gathered there. This included several Toyota Hilux double cabs, a Land Cruiser Prado, a Land Cruiser LC70 nicknamed Bosbok, a Land Rover Discovery, a Land Cruiser 100, Braam’s two roofless Jeeps and the “kostrok” (food truck), a Toyota Land Cruiser bakkie. And our very standard Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 Di-D.
There was also the possibility of love in the air. A young lady called Celeste was teamed up with Donsie, the driver of one of Braam’s Jeeps. Her father had been on a previous trip with Donsie, and had duly decided that Donsie and his Celeste would be, well, just perfect for other.
Nick and Dot Beaumont, driving a Land Cruiser 100, had come all the way from Pietermaritzburg. Nick is the boss of Ramsay Engineering, a company which specialises in designing and fabricating original equipment parts for a host of vehicle manufacturers.
Nick is kind of famous for his inventions and patents. His custom 100 looked like a mobile experiment. Apparently the Ramsay Engineering workshop had ground to a halt the week before the couple left for Namibia, as Nick had all kinds of unique contraptions made up. Like a roof-mounted washing machine.
It is essentially a customised bucket with a lid, which is mounted on the roofrack. In the mornings the Beaumonts simply add their dirty clothing to the bucket, along with soap and water. After a day of shaking around as the vehicle traversed rough terrain, the clothes come out very clean by the afternoon. Simple, and effective.
All in all, it was an impressive armada of 4x4s, and an interesting group of people.
After two days of exploring the Swartbooisdrif area, the convoy headed to the famous Epupa Falls, driving past the Dorslandtrekker monument.
We would be based at Epupa Falls for two nights, and started setting up camp.
During that time we explored a less commercialised Himba village, situated about 30km from Epupa Falls. The ones closer to the falls itself have become a bit of a tourist trap, with the not-so-traditional Himbas demanding unreasonable fees for their photographic services. The village we visited was still largely untouched by this “give-give” attitude, and was also more traditional. The villagers were friendly and accommodating, in return for bags of mealie meal, sugar and other food stuffs.
But a big challenge lay ahead: Van Zyl’s Pass. In a standard Mitsubishi Pajero.
We camped at the top of the infamous Van Zyl’s Pass. It was unbelievably cold! So cold in fact, that we couldn’t even sit next to the fire that night. We almost wished the night away, just to see and feel the sun again! And to tackle that pass.
The pass itself proved all it promised to be. A big challenge, and one which cannot be completed without the help of a “spotter”. The convoy slowly made its way down the pass. Then drama.
The extremely rocky terrain had taken its toll on Nick Beaumont’s experimental roof-rack mountings. With the mountings in pieces, the heavy load on the Cruiser 100’s roofrack was distributed amongst the other vehicles.
We also had a scare. Shortly after the Pajero’s underbelly had touched a rock, someone noticed water dripping from the engine. We halted the procession, and inspected the possibly disastrous damage. But aft er close scrutiny, it was discovered that it was merely the condensing water from the air-conditioning system that was dripping onto the rocks. Phew!
So on we descended towards the Marienfluss, and the Hartmann Mountains. I must say that the Pajero really impressed me on this section. It has the ability to flatter an amateur off -roader like myself. Just hook low-range, select first gear on the automatic gearbox, point it in the right direction, and apply the brakes where necessary… easy as pie.
Finally, we arrived in the stunning Marienfluss Valley. There are beautiful places in the world, some of which I have seen with my own eyes, but this place is special. Special in a way that words really can’t describe. You have to see and experience it to understand it.
The Mitsubishi Pajero was making us. Aft er we had surprised the more hardcore off – roaders with our performance down Van Zyl’s Pass, our “it’s okay” attitude towards the big SUV had turned into a “we love it!” one.
The Pajero safely delivered us to Camp Syncro, where we resided for two nights, next to the Kunene River. Lots of fun and photos were had there.
And this was where Nick Beaumont had another brush with Lady Luck. He was hammering a tent pen into the ground when a fountain of water suddenly shot heavenwards. As he rued, he had managed to hammer the tent pen into the one and only waterpipe in the entire Kaokoland!
We also decided to go and visit the Hartmanns Mountains. Apparently one cannot camp there anymore, so it had to be a day trip, capped with a picnic near the area’s majestic red dunes. And so the group set off , and we duly arrived at our picnic venue.
But, more drama. A local official arrived with news that Donsie and Celeste, in one of the Jeeps, had rolled en route to where we were stationed. Instead of a relaxing lunch, we munched down a basic meal in double-quick ti me, and back-tracked to the accident scene.
We found the pair in reasonably good health. We put the Jeep back on its wheels and… Bob’s your uncle! The Jeep was still good to go, but would the accident put a damper on the two lovebirds’ romantic intentions? Only time would tell.
So back to Camp Syncro we went, arriving at 8pm.
Our next stop was Marble Camp, about 22km past the famous “rooi drom”, in the Orupembe Conservancy, in the Marienfl uss. The road to this camp is a “4×4 only” one, and again the Pajero impressed with its comfortable ride on the uncomfortable tracks. Living with the Mitsubishi certainly wasn’t a terribly hardship.
Also impressive was the fuel consumpti on. The 3,2-litre turbodiesel engine drank an average of 11,2 litres/ 100km. Not bad for a heavily loaded 4×4, traversing rough 4×4 terrain.
Aft er one lovely night at Marble Camp we headed towards the famous Puros camp site. What a place! What a camp! This must surely rate as one of the best camp sites… in the world.
Part of the attraction at Puros is the desert elephants – a great photographic opportunity. So I jumped in one of the open Jeeps with Braam, and went in search of these beautifully majestic creatures, in the 38 degrees Celsius heat. We soon found them, but trouble was brewing.
One of the elephant cows was having a bad hair day, and was as grumpy as can be. She was not impressed by our presence, and all the camera lenses aimed in her direction.
Several times she started off on a charge, then backed off. But finally she had had enough. And you’ll never guess who she aimed for: a Land Cruiser 100, with a wide-eyed Nick and Dot Beaumont in the cabin!
The Cruiser’s tyre pressures were too high, and in a hasty effort to escape from the charging elephant, Nick got the 100 stuck in the soft sand. Only one thing for it… Braam gunned the Jeep, and manoeuvred his vehicle between the Cruiser and the angry elephant, distracting her charge. She then focused her attentions on us, as Braam floored the Jeep in the sand, leading her away from the immobile Land Cruiser.
It was a close call, and we left the elephants in peace. There’s no arguing with a big elephant that’s having one of those days.
Our two-night stay at Puros was over far too quickly. And that’s a fact.
On our last night together as a group, we had a right royal party, with Tassenberg wine the main course for the evening. Even former Media24 CEO, Salie de Swart, who owns a wine farm and who was also on the trip, eventually conceded that Tassies is “actually not that bad at all!”
And yes, lovebirds Donsie and Celeste had hit if off too…
The next morning, nursing a slight hangover, it was time to move on. But we were not ready to face civilisation quite yet. In fact, even the settlement of Sesfontein seemed way too commercial for our liking.
So we headed to the Palmwag Conservancy, where we could camp, in the wild, in absolute seclusion.
We were warned, though, about the area’s notoriously unsociable lions. Late that afternoon we took some sunset photos, near our “lion-proof” camp site, fabricated out of our limited camping gear, and a large Japanese SUV serving as “security wall.” Walking back to the camp, we saw lion tracks… all over the place.
As soon as we had settled in for the night, the sounds started. Weird, scary sounds, which made us jittery. Every now and again we would get in the Pajero, drive around our “camp”, not seeing anything, then return to listen to the sounds again.
Yes, it was scary, but it also was wonderful. Absolutely, undeniably… wonderful. In fact, it was the best night of our entire journey.
The next day we headed to Swakopmund and civilisation, the infamous East Wind (which blew our little tent to smithereens), and more photographs in that area’s stunning dunes.
But for us, the Kaokoland, and that night near Palmwag, remained the highlight of our nearly month-long Namibia excursion.