They say you get two kinds of drivers: those who fill up when their vehicle’s fuel needle hovers near the half mark; and those who see how far they can push the envelope before running out of fuel. And then there are those times when Lady Fate comes visiting – and you land up in trouble either way.
There is an unwritten rule when driving in rural Africa: never drive past a filling station (well, one with fuel) without filling up.
Dolf and Carl Havemann refuelled their Toyota Hilux 2.4 double cab 4×4 at every available point during a trip from Rundu in the north of Namibia, on the Angolan border, to Walvis Bay, on the Namibian coast.
The drive took place 25 years ago, when the infrastructure in rural Namibia, with its vast open spaces of nothing, was even less developed than it is today. Nevertheless, the father-and-son team refuelled the thirsty Hilux SFA’s 65-litre fuel tank at every available opportunity.
The Hilux reached Namibia’s capital Windhoek without incident. The 350km stretch between Windhoek and Walvis Bay was next… and with the Hilux’s tank filled to the brim, the duo headed out on the secondary C28 gravel road, which also winds through the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
Although the Havemanns lived in Namibia at the time, they didn’t get too many opportunities to explore this part of the country. So they took a few detours off the main track along the way. This included some sand driving.
Some perspective: both Dolf and Carl make the chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy seem like a Formula One driver – they just don’t do speed. This also means they burn much less fuel than most other drivers.
And so the SFA made its way west, slowly but surely, towards the Atlantic Ocean. But the two men had been watching the fuel gauge drop at a rather alarming rate… the occasional 4×4 sand driving bits had eaten a lot more fuel than expected. And that four-cylinder 2.4-litre engine was never a fuel fairy to begin with.
Eventually, the Hilux ran dry, about 40km short of Walvis Bay. Since they had already spotted the ocean on the horizon, the lads were not terribly bothered by this inconvenience. They were used to walking great distances in the bush, so they’d simply walk the last few kilometres to town, get some fuel, walk back to the Hilux, and they were sorted.
So they started walking. They soon hit a dune belt, and started trudging through the sand on what they believed to be a short cut to the main road. This went on for several hours. Finally they stumbled upon a gravel road. Not a main road, but at least it was a road. And, as luck would have it, a car appeared on the horizon.
The car stopped, and a concerned-looking driver stuck his head out of the driver’s window: “Where are you guys heading in this heat?”
“To Walvis Bay,” explained Carl. “We ran out of petrol and we’re just heading to town to get some fuel.”
The man looked at the two sweaty hikers, rather peculiarly. “Well, then you have a problem. You’re not heading to Walvis Bay at all. You’re heading straight into the Namib desert.”
Turns out that, in the dunes, the Havemanns’ supposed shortcut through the sand to the main route had thrown them completely off course. If that car hadn’t come along, they may have landed up very much perished.
All’s well that ends well. The motorist returned the two men to Walvis Bay, they got their fuel, found their bakkie where they’d left it (imagine that), and continued safely on their journey. It was a tale they later told around campfires – but it could easily have been a tale with a very different ending. And neither of the two men would have been telling that tale.
* The limited range of the older SFA Hilux’s standard tank was an issue. Thankfully there are a number of fuelling options available these days. This includes the obvious jerry cans and plastic drums, and also aftermarket long-range tanks.