Driving on sand is the most popular of 4×4 activities and when Francois Rossouw announces a sand expedition, it is always fully booked well in advance.
Namibia has recently inflated its prices to the extent that going there has become the most expensive holiday you can have, if you include the cost of fuel, the long drive, guest houses on the way and the thieves that grab whatever they can in Henties Bay and at other towns. It is even more expensive than a Mauritius holiday.
As a result of this sad development, we have come to rely more on our South African destinations. The beaches are obviously out of the question for sand driving, but the Kalahari remains our own sandy 4×4 Mecca. The red and white dunes north of Upington are especially attractive.
In a recent venture, we gathered at Goerapan, 100km north of Upington on the Kgalagadi road, where Pierre Kotze has built a lodge with chalets, as well as a campsite with ablutions. The pan covers 600ha and lies right next to a tar road, making it easy to reach, even for caravans.
The pan is in the middle of some terrific dunes and every day you can go in a different direction.
On our first day we went on a sightseeing trip that took us over a lot of reasonably challenging dunes, but the second day really tested us properly. We put all the powerful vehicles with the most experienced drivers in front, and the rest followed.
Then we attacked the “Snake’’. This is a long dune of about a kilometre — quite high, with a sharp crown stirred up by the north-westerly wind.
We had to get to the summit and then drive all the way along the top through the uneven waves caused by the wind. If you fall off the top, the vehicle can easily roll down the dune for 100m or more, so we moved slowly. Fairly often, a vehicle had to be towed over a sharp point, with nerves getting increasingly frayed.
There were 35 vehicles at the start, but every now and then someone slid off so far that it was impossible to recover him and he had to bail out, keeping the front of the vehicle facing directly down into the valley below.
We had to straddle the pitch of the dune and if one wheel went off line, you were in trouble. If you did not turn directly down, the 4×4 would roll, but we were careful and helped one another. The pitch became sharper all the time so that only the bravest of the brave lasted the pace. Eventually only five of the original 35 vehicles made it to the mouth of the Snake.
The next day we had a quartermile drag race on the pan. Everybody wanted to see what his time would be, so you chose an opponent and went for it.
We had electronic equipment to measure the times, and the main event turned out to be between Louis de Wet in his supercharged FJ Cruiser and Zirk Jansen in his imported Dodge 5,7-litre petrol V8.
The FJ was ahead by a short distance, but the naturally aspirated Dodge surprised us all. The sound and speed of the 3,5 ton vehicle made Zirk very popular with the ladies!
We will definitely be back at Goerapan next September. This trip is a must on the sand driving enthusiast’s calendar.