With 4x4s and SUVs getting more expensive, is it worth subjecting them to the hardships of a proper off-road excursion? They are, after all, an expensive investment and you wouldn’t force any of your other investments over a 100m dune…
We recently put the new Toyota Prado through its paces and found it to be a lovely vehicle. It’s a comfortable and luxurious SUV, and when it comes to the business of off-roading, it’s seemingly unstoppable.
It’s a proper dual-purpose vehicle. You could use it as a commuter during most of the year and then drive it over the border to Namibia for your annual holiday. You could do all of that in a Prado, but the question is, should you? Are you brave enough — and let’s be honest about this — to take your brand-new luxury SUV over the border and drive it up and over a dune? Is it wise to subject such a large investment to a tortuous expedition?
Prado prices start at R632 000, while a top-of-the-range model will set you back a rather lofty R742 000. Its main rival, the Land Rover Discovery, is even more expensive. Prices start at R740 000, and go all the way up to R872 000.
This problem doesn’t apply only to the more affluent off-roader. SA’s cheapest proper off-roader, the Suzuki Jimny, retails at R210 000. The average double-cab 4×4 costs between R400 000 and R450 000.
Looking at these prices, we’re not sure we’d do it. But is there another way to have your 4×4, and not bin it?
Yes, actually, there are quite a few ways to get to the same destination. Apart from driving there in your own car, you could fly in and rent a car, or pay someone else to arrange the entire holiday for you.
Which one of these options is best?
To establish a standard by which we could measure all the travelling options, we chose a week-long tour, starting and ending in Walvis Bay.
The option of driving your own car is at a distinct disadvantage here, because before you even set off on the planned excursion, you have to get to Namibia. Anyone who’s done it will know that this is no easy task.
From our offices in Randburg it’s a 1357km drive. The distance from Cape Town is a bit longer, but only by a 100km or so. At least driving from Cape Town you only have to cross one border, but from Johannesburg it’s much faster to cut through Botswana, which means you have to deal with two border crossings.
The biggest cost is fuel. Obviously it would be too difficult to “guestimate” this expense, so we chose two popular vehicles and worked out the cost according to their claimed fuel consumption figures.
The first and obvious choice for a couple on holiday is the Nissan NP300, formerly know as the Hardbody. For larger families, we chose the Toyota Hilux double cab.
The 2,4-litre petrol engine in the single cab Nissan NP300 consumes an average of 11,1 l/100km, while the 3,0-litre turbodiesel in the double cab Hilux needs only 8,6 l/100km to keep it going. Using these figures, we calculated a fuel usage of 300 litres (to Namibia and back) for the NP300 and 234 litres for the Hilux. At the current price of fuel, it would cost you R4188 to get the Nissan from Johannesburg to Windhoek and back, while the Hilux would cost R3077 to do the same.
Then there’s the heap of paperwork you need to carry with you. To cross the border into Botswana, you need a letter of authority from the bank and the vehicle’s licence papers. At the border you’ll be charged for a road transport permit, national road safety, third party insurance, a temporary import permit and a ZA sticker if you don’t already have one. An international driving licence isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a good idea to get one, if only for peace of mind.
Getting into Namibia is a bit easier, with only a compulsory border crossing fee of R220. Third party insurance isn’t necessary, but it’s always a good idea to ensure you’re covered anyway.
The cost of all this paperwork is somewhere in the region of R750.
With the paperwork sorted, there’s still the duration of the trip to consider. Driving more than 1000km in a single stretch is never a good idea, so it’s worthwhile spending a night in Botswana. You could simply pitch a tent somewhere around the halfway mark, but if you’re in the market for something a bit more luxurious, you can add at least another R1000 to your costs.
Flying and renting:
The cheapest flight we could find through Flight Centre was a return flight from OR Tambo to Windhoek International Airport. The cost per person is R3290, which works out at R6580 for a couple and R13 160 for a family of four.
Once there, you have to rent a car from one of the reputable rental agencies at the airport, but you also have the option of renting a kitted-out 4×4 with a rooftop tent and all the necessary accessories. A single cab bakkie like this will cost you between R800 and R1100 a day, while a vehicle for a family of four will cost between R1100 and R1350 a day.
Our standard holiday consists of six days in Namibia, which means renting a car will cost from R6876 for a basic small off-roader for two people, all the way to R12 680 for a family-sized vehicle.
A standard car from a rental agency will cost significantly less, with a single cab Nissan at around R2700 for six days and a Toyota Hilux double cab coming in at around R7000.
You do, however, have to bring your own tent and camping accessories if you take this option.
Driving and renting:
If you feel strongly about not using your own car for the tough part of the journey, but you still want to take the trip to Namibia, you have the option of driving your car to Windhoek airport and then renting another car to complete the tour. This way your pride and joy remains unharmed and protected from the hardships the rented vehicle will be facing, but you do get to use your own car for the main road driving. You can then tell your friends that you took your 4×4 to Namibia, but they don’t need to know that you rented another car for the tough stuff!
The costs involved in this option are the same as driving to Windhoek, plus the cost of renting one of the vehicles mentioned above.
It’s a sensible choice if you want to save on expensive airline tickets for the whole family, but remember to factor in the costs of overnighting on the way to Windhoek.
As mentioned, we settled on a standard tour to make the comparison easier. It’s a bad idea to explore this part of Namibia on your own, as you are likely to get bogged down in the middle of nowhere without help in sight. Unless Bear Grylls is a close personal friend, the probable outcome is death. The paperwork and permits from the Namibian government are nearly impossible to come by, so we recommend paying for an all-inclusive trip, which leaves someone else in charge of the paperwork.
The trip we chose is called Faces of the Namib from Uri Adventures, which takes you on a six-day journey across the 80 million-year-old Namib Desert.
The trip includes all meals, and knowledgeable tour guides who will give you valuable insight into the Namib. Two-way radios are issued and the guides are always on hand to help you out of a sticky situation.
The trip covers a distance of 550km, which equates to 61 litres (R850) of petrol for the Nissan and 47 litres (R620) for the Toyota.
Uri Tours also supplies a list of vehicle necessities, which you’ll have to bring with you. These include your own tent, folding chairs, water, a spade, brake fluid, gear oil, engine oil, fuses, spare V-belt set and two large bags of firewood. Shop around and you should be able to get everything for around R2000.
The total cost of the Faces of the Namib tour is R7250 per person – R14 500 for two people and R29 000 for a family of four.
It’s expensive to go to Namibia, no matter how you get there. What we can say is that the trip is worth the expense – there’s no place like it.
As for getting there, here are the basic facts: it’s cheaper to drive all the way in your own car. For two people driving a Nissan NP300 Hardbody, the entire trip comes to a total cost of R23 288. For a family of four in a Hilux, the trip should cost around R36 447.
Flying and renting is more expensive, but not by much. Flying to Windhoek and renting the NP300 will cost you a grand total of R26 630. It’s more expensive for families, however, with the additional airline costs bringing the total to R51 780.
Renting a specialised 4×4 removes some of the equipment costs, but the total is still more than renting a base vehicle. A small 4×4 with all the necessary accessories pushes the total to R28 956, while a larger 4×4, fit for a family of four, will see the entire trip costing R55 840.
There is another solution, which seems to fit in nicely between the driving and flying. Driving there yourself and renting a Nissan will set you back R25 988, while renting a Hilux will cost R43 447. Taking your own car and then renting a tricked-out 4×4 will set you back R28 164 for a small car and R47 127 for a large one.
Yes, it is a cheaper option to just use your own car for everything, but the added cost of renting another car once you’re there seems a small price to pay for the knowledge that your prized vehicle will stay intact.
The price of airline tickets brings a tear to the eye, but there’s something to be said for the added comfort of spending two hours in the air instead of 24 hours on the ground. And besides, can you really put a price on the trip of the lifetime?
The option we’d go with is driving to Namibia in our own car and renting a specialised 4×4 for the tougher part of the journey. The trip there is part of the experience and worth doing in something you have a bond with.
Once you get there and the going gets tough, it’s best to use a rental. It’s one of the toughest parts of Africa and it takes a massive toll on a car, which is why it’s best not to use your own.
As the old saying goes, don’t be gentle, it’s a rental.