A welcoming neighbouring country with the second-lowest population density in theworld and one of the planet’s oldest deserts. It sounds like the perfect destination for a 4×4 adventure. Indeed, Namibia is a fantastic choice for an overland expedition, and so it proved for the 2014 General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure
Namibia – the perfect overlanding country. Its southern border regions are roughly a day’s drive from just about anywhere in SA, and it has a mild to hot climate for most of the year. The people have a warm and welcoming nature, with strong historical links to SA, so it is highly accessible in terms of language, culture and lifestyle.
The infrastructure and roads are well developed, and Namibia is one of the most stable countries in the regionfrom a political point of view.
This may paint a picture of a rather ordinary proposition for South Africans looking for a 4×4 experience to invigorate and excite, but it is an off – roader’s paradise. The ingredients are all there – a vast country with wide open spaces that haven’t been randomly over-restricted by zealous eco-warriors.
There’s a dazzling variety of terrain, ranging from the mesmerising dunes of the Namib and Kalahari deserts to towering mountains, more traditi onal African bushveld and everything in between.
It’s no wonder, then, that the off -road adventure tourism industry is booming in Namibia, and the number of rental 4x4s travelling the length and breadth of the country is simply staggering.
Considering that the General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure had enjoyed only a brief encounter with Namibia during a fi ve-nati on tour in 2012, the timing was perfect to focus the 2014 event on this captivatingcountry.
The expedition set off at the beginning of July, with the eight vehicles (two from Johannesburg and six from Port Elizabeth) assembling in Upington before departing for the first night of camping at the Augrabies Falls National Park. The group comprised 21 people travelling in a wide range of vehicles.
There were two Trailblazers supplied by Chevrolet SA, a KB Double Cab from Isuzu SA, a Ranger double cab from Ford SA, the Adventure Junkies Toyota Hilux that led the group, along with a Fortuner, a Land Rover Discovery 3 and a Discovery 4. Apart from the General Grabber MT-equipped Hilux, all of the vehicles were fitted with the General Grabber AT— acclaimed winner of the 2012 Leisure Wheels all-terrain tyre shoot-out.
The 60m high Augrabies Falls had been in flood during the recce visit in March, but the flow rate had dropped significantly by July. It was nevertheless still mighty impressive as the water cascaded down the granite into the 240m deep, 18km long gorge. It certainly justified the original Khoikhoi name, which translates into “Place of big noises”. Then it was straight into Namibia via Keimoes, Kakamas and the remote Onseepkans border post, situated on the bank of the Orange River that forms the natural boundary.
Although tarmac had already made way for gravel en route to the border, for the next couple of days the convoy would be travelling on dirt roads as it made its way north. But the gravel roads of Namibia are truly special. For the most part they are extremely well built. Yes, these “unsealed” roads are properly built, and not just graded to oblivion. And they are constantly maintained. As a result you can travel almost as fast on these dirt roads as you would on tar — aside, of course, from the billowing dust that requires healthy following distances and a keen eye for oncoming traffic.
The group travelled along the C10 towards Karasburg and on to Ai-Ais and its popular hot springs resort (Ai-Ais, appropriately, means “Place of burning water”). It is located within the Fish River Canyon and the Ai-Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The spa is a favourite among South Africans and international tourists who are drawn to the natural springs, including the warm indoor pools that are perfect for adults and children alike, as well as the scaldingly hot, 65°C, outdoor spring that is only for the bravest! Day three featured some of the highlights of the trip. It started off with a stop at the breathtaking viewpoint at the top of the Fish River Canyon. It is the largest canyon in Africa and second only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona —160km long, up to 27km wide and 550m deep. The canyon is a remarkable sight that provides a vivid example of the power of water, carving its way into the earth for 1500-million years. After this natural wonder, the theme changed dramatically to man-made splendours.
The team enjoyed a delightful brunch at the Canon Roadhouse — an astonishing tribute to vintage motoring seemingly in the middle of nowhere. On arrival, you encounter a handful of classic cars that have been creatively sculpted into the rugged desert-style landscaped gardens. Quiver trees pop out of engine bays of sweeping 1930s-era saloons, sedans from the 1950s peek out of the bushes and others have cacti and various types of succulents sprouting from the cabins. Head into the vast roadhouse building and you find a simply astonishing variety of automotive memorabilia, including trucks and cars placed between the tables, badges, hubcaps and grilles mounted on the walls and hundreds of posters and trinkets adorning every available surface. It really does take you back to a wonderful bygone era! Although many more hours could easily have been spent at this great venue, it was time to move on, travelling along the superb gravel highways to Aus. Although a stop-over at the Garub Wild Horses lookout revealed nothing more than two lone ostriches scampering off into the distance, we soon came across a stunning group of free-roaming stallions and mares. They are said to be descendants of German cavalry horses used during the First World War, but no one seems to know exactly where they originated from. With time marching on, the convoy continued north, travelling via Helmeringhausen to Betta along a range of recently graded roads and some less predictable tracks that dished up a mix of soft sand and tricky marbles, requiring a more deft approach behind the wheel. But the General Grabbers did not put a foot wrong, allowing all eight vehicles to cover the day’s long 634km route through the barren, rock-strewn landscape at a respectable average speed. Along with the first signs of the region’s famous red dunes, we started seeing springbok and gemsbok dotted across the vast open plains.
The team finally settled in at the Betta campsite just as the sun disappeared over the horizon in a rich golden salute. A fresh morning at 1°C greeted the African Adventure on day four, and the team set off eagerly for Sesriem and the renowned Sossusvlei reserve. A 68km detour on tar and a bumpy 5km trail on sand led the group to Deadvlei, the iconic dry pan characterised by a scattering of ancient dead trees and surrounded by massive 330m-high dunes. It’s an arduous walk to get there, but it’s certainly worth every huff and puff endured along the way — and the cool air certainly helped! This stunning region of southern Namibia features a seemingly endless array of nature reserves and parks.
On day four alone the General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure traversed the Namibrand Nature Reserve, the Sesriem/Sossusvlei Reserve and the Namib-Naukluft Park en route to the overnight stop, camping at Solitaire Country Lodge after covering 362km. The superb route produced a staggering array of visual delights — although the rocky roads had become a lot more taxing on the vehicles and drivers, especially with the roller-coaster dips and climbs. The topography changed constantly between massive rocky mountains interspersed with vast open plains and desert sands, along with an equally memorable range of colours and textures. It also delivered plenty of wildlife, dominated by numerous herds of gemsbok with their extraordinarily long horns.
There were also plenty of springbok, desert zebra and the odd jackal searching for a scarce morsel in this harsh, arid terrain. The route for day six had a bit of everything thrown into the mix, from smooth gravel to trickier rocky sections and even a series of mountain passes for a bit of fun on the way to Walvis Bay. Indeed, the Gaub Pass dished up
a thrilling stretch of gravel, tracing a winding and twisting path over the undulating terrain that would have any enthusiastic driver totally enthralled — and others gritting their teeth in trepidation. Once again the General Grabber AT and Grabber MT tyres were praised for their confidence-inspiring levels of grip in the unpredictable and ever-changing conditions. Despite the intense dust that required everyone to remain on their toes at all times, particularly with the dramatic increase in two-way traffic, the convoy passed the Tropic of Capricorn without incident. The C14 then led the eight vehicles into the southern corner of the Dorob National Park, which is characterised by vast flat and totally barren plains with virtually no semblance of plant or animal life as far as you can see. The latter section of smooth salt roads soon made way for tarmac and revealed
Walvis Bay in the distance. The convoy skirted around Walvis and made its way to the quaint and welcoming town of Swakopmund, which appears to be experiencing a remarkable boom in upmarket holiday homes, apartments and trendy hotels. After an easy 272km for the day, the African Adventure booked into the superb Tiger Reef campsite, located right on the beachfront, which would serve as our base for the next three nights. The next day was spent exploring the many tourist attractions and rich German heritage of Swakopmund, but day seven embodied the essence of the General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure —the chance to tackle the Namib at the popular Dune 7 Adventures just outside Walvis Bay. The fun started off for the kids (and some of the young-at-heart adults) with a thrilling ride on Dune 7’s very own monster truck before we headed into the trail, now with tyres deflated to around 1,0-bar. For some of the participants this represented their off-road initiation, and although several of the nail-bitingly steep obstacles proved too much to conquer, it was a major step up in terms of off-roading experience and confidence — and new respect for the capabilities of the vehicles and tyres alike. All too soon everyone was attacking the dunes with inspired vigour, and before long even what seemed to be the most daunting climbs were conquered with relative ease — in no small part due to the impressive traction afforded by the General Grabbers. After a couple of hours playing in the Dune 7 “sandpit”, the convoy departed for the “moon landscape” — a remarkable viewpoint overlooking a mesmerising region that easily mirrors the most vivid images you could conjure up of a lunar world. And if that wasn’t enough, we then descended into this arid desert realm leading into the Dorob National Park that would become more remarkable only if we stumbled upon Armstrong and Aldrin’s Apollo 11 moon landing craft from 1969. As if to bring us back to reality, the convoy was brought to an abrupt halt on the snaking downhill pass by a tiny desert chameleon
ambling slowly across the road, providing an intriguing source of fascination for the children and adults alike. The astonishing scenery continued to enthral at every turn, with the ancient volcanic rock dishing up a tapestry of contours and textures. The route then entered the Khan Riverbed Trail, with its soft white sand providing a dramatic counterpoint to the towering rock-strewn mountains flanking either side of the track. Although only 170km was covered on the day, it was a full programme that wrapped up with a superb dinner at the traditional German Swakopmund Brauhaus, which does an excellent eisbein and offers an equally delectable choice of local and imported beers. The final day in a decidedly chilly and misty Swakopmund was spent with a morning beach drive, followed by a visit to Walvis Bay to see thousands of flamingos feeding in the shallows, and a squadron of pelicans a short distance from the shore. Eventually it was time to bid Swakopmund farewell, and the convoy headed inland towards Windhoek along the Trans-Kalahari Highway for its nominated community project — a central part of every General Tyre African Adventure. Continental Tyre SA donated R10 000 to the Michelle McLean Primary School in Otjomuise, just outside the capital city. The school was built
in 2000 as a joint venture between the Michelle McLean Children Trust, headed by the country’s former Miss Universe, and the Namibian government, and does great work in serving the local community. Adventure Junkies also handed over much-needed clothing parcels for the pre-primary children. After spending the night camping at the neat Arrebusch Travel Lodge, located on the outskirts of Windhoek, the group began the long haul back to SA via the friendly Rietfontein border post. Already there was consensus that although everyone had thoroughly enjoyed their journey in this fantastic country, we had merely scratched the surface of what was on offer—and most will be back for more. The afternoon drive took us along the so-called Red Dune Route towards the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and, incidentally, past Hakskeen Pan, which is being prepared for the Bloodhound SSC attempt on the world land speed record, and its target speed of 1000 mph (1600 km/h). We eventually descended on the Molopo Kalahari Lodge late in the afternoon, having completed 783km on the day. Everyone managed to set up camp for the last night of the adventure just before dark, which was softened by a stunning full moon.
It was almost as if the Kalahari didn’t want to let the convoy leave the next morning, hanging onto the group with an icy -4°C grip that had everyone huddled around the fire long after the intended departure time. But we eventually left the lodge and soon diverted onto the gravel R31 towards Askham and Van Zylsrus. It became immediately evident that Namibia has an ace up its sleeves with its many superb gravel roads. By contrast, the R31 featured an extremely rocky and rutted surface, interspersed on occasion with short sections of soft sand and sharp sudden dips that gave the vehicles and tyres their toughest workout yet. The fine lingering dust also made following distances a critical issue in the interest of safety. But fortunately none of the vehicles had even the slightest of “moments” in the challenging conditions, thanks to the all-round brilliance of the Grabber ATs and MTs. Finally, our arrival in the hustle and bustle of Gauteng well after dark signalled the end of the 2014 General Tyre 4×4 African Adventure, wrapping up with a mileage of 5180km. Almost a third of the trip (1635km) was completed off-road, comprising everything from desert sand to rocks, boulders and every type of dirt road you could imagine. The remaining 3545km was done on tarmac of varying states of repair, from smooth highways to patchy roads well beyond their sell-by date.
Despite the challenging route, the General Grabber AT and Grabber MT performed faultlessly, conquering the best and worst driving terrains with ease. Only a single low-profile 19-inch tyre on one of the Land Rovers came a cropper after encountering a large, sharp exposed rock on the verge of a recently graded road near Sesriem — a hazard that no regular tyre would survive. Remarkably, it was the first tyre casualty in three years. That the Grabbers completed the distance with very little sign of wear, despite the long, fast stints on many punishing roads, was testament to their durability. In fact one of the vehicles, the Farrar family’s Toyota Fortuner, was on the same set of ATs used on the 2013 African Adventure that travelled all the way up to Zambia and Malawi. And they still look good enough to tackle another couple of expeditions, along with many more kilometres in the rigours of city life! In all, a cumulative distance of nearly 42 000km was completed without incident, matched to exceptional levels of comfort, safety and reliability. There’s now a new band of General Tyre fans that will fit nothing other than Grabbers from now on! And you can bet that they will be back in Namibia before long. And probably in Botswana, Mozambique, Zamibia… and beyond!