Elsabé Hoal recently joined Eben Delport on one of his trips through the Namib. She had reservations about the trip, but found it an unforgettable experience. Here she tells why.
Text: Elsabé Hoal
It all started when a friend asked me if I wanted to bundle my camping gear and 15-year-old son into my 4×4 and take part in Uri Adventures’ “Faces of the Namib” guided tour. He was planning on taking his son, also 15, so he thought it would be nice if we tagged along.
I jumped at the opportunity, but as the date drew closer, I started to get a bit worried. From the information provided, it was clear that this was a proper 4×4 expedition. Would I be able to cope?
I studied the list of must-have items. We needed to take water, extra fuel, V-belts (what were those?), gearbox oil, engine oil and loads more. Why did we need all this? My worry intensified.
In an attempt to allay my fears, I attended a bush mechanic’s course. It was very useful. I learned all about spanners and oil and brake fluid. I also learned how to fix a radiator and bleed my 4×4’s brakes. By the end of the course, while by no means expert in fixing 4x4s, I felt at least better prepared for my forthcoming adventure.
I also attended a dune-driving course at the Atlantis Dunes, which was a very sobering experience. I couldn’t even traverse the first little hump at the entrance to the dunes! I struggled a lot – sitting out on much of the fun – but eventually realised that second-gear low range worked well on my 4×4, and things started to improve.
I had done what I could to get ready for the trip, but was still filled with trepidation as we gathered at Solitaire in the south of Namibia for the start of the expedition. Thankfully, Eben Delport – a relaxed and down-to-earth person – calmed me down and gave us some idea of what to expect. I felt better, but only a little bit…
The following morning things started in earnest. The dunes were small and unimposing, but I struggled! I lost count of how many times I had to reverse down dunes and try again.
Somehow, though, I made it! After seven tense but exhilarating hours we arrived at our first overnight stop – the Kuiseb River. Eben and his team took care of the evening meal, so I could sit back and enjoy some champagne.
The second day started out rather pleasantly. We did a bit of rock crawling and enjoyed some wonderful scenery. Soon, however, things changed. The dunes stretching out in front of us were much bigger than the previous day’s. I panicked and quickly got stuck. Just when I was about ready to give up, Johnny from Uri Adventures came to the rescue.
With these bigger dunes, he suggested that I switch to high range. High range in the sand? Would that work? It did. Suddenly, I was flying. Slowly but surely I started to understand how dune driving “worked”.
I had survived the second day. We camped in the absolute middle of nowhere. While Eben and his team prepared dinner, I enjoyed another glass of champagne.
Day three was another tough day, and quite a few recoveries were needed. Getting behind the wheel of my 4×4 at the top of a high dune was as scary as jumping out of an aeroplane!
The dunes were now very imposing, and I was starting to wonder what I had got myself into. But the other members of the group were very encouraging and egged me on over the radio with cries of “Gooi dit!”
As day three ended, I once again reached for the champagne. I needed it more than ever!
Ten minutes into the fourth day we reached a speelgat. Eben showed everyone how to do it, but the hole was so steep, deep and imposing that I did not want to risk it. If I got stuck down there I would never have been able to get out! So my son and I jumped in with someone else and enjoyed the experience as passengers.
Next, we went to Conception Bay, where we saw lovely sights: little houses, stranded boats, oryx running down dunes… Overall, it was a wonderful day.
It was our fifth and final day. And, just as the trip was ending, I was getting the hang of things. Not once did I need to be “recovered”. I had an absolute blast! I did not want the trip to end.
But, of course, it did have to end. As we arrived in Walvis Bay, our trip was officially over. It had been a scary but joyous experience. I will never forget my trip through the Namib dunes. Thank you, Eben!
Patrolling the dunes
Organising a trip through the Namib isn’t easy, writes Eben Delport. As you might expect, there is no infrastructure whatsoever, so absolutely everything you need has to be carted in.
As a guide, you need to provide food for all your guests, as well as the equipment to prepare it. Add the water, fuel and camping gear, and you end up travelling with an awful lot of weight.
Luckily, the Nissan Patrol’s 4,8-litre petrol mill has no trouble dealing with the Namib’s soft sand and steep dunes, even when it is fully loaded. The Patrol really is perfect for this sort of expedition.
Just one thing, though – it gets thirsty in that heat! At the best of times, the vehicle averages around 6km per litre of fuel. In the sand, this figure can drop as low as 2,5 km/l. Still, its strengths in the sand outweigh this shortcoming. Driving in the dunes is a thirsty business, and nothing can be done about that.