The reactions when I told people I was going to do a solo self drive in Namibia varied from, “wow that’s so excellent” to “are you crazy” and everything in between. The reality is, Namibia is a pretty civilised country in Southern Africa and most travellers choose to self-drive… maybe not on their own. I can reveal that generally it’s an easy country to navigate and despite a couple of pitfalls I arrived home safely. In this post I talk about the practicalities of the car and the driving. I will cover the lodges and my journey through Namibia in another post.
What travel agents say
Most of the agents I reviewed said something along the lines of ‘self driving in Namibia isn’t particularly adventurous due to the good condition of and, straightforward road network’. They also say it’s possible to drive Namibia in a 2WD. The reality, certainly in 2016 is that the gravel roads are in poor condition and you’d be a lot more comfortable in a 4WD. Accident figures in Namibia are a lot higher than Europe and insurance is often invalidated if you flout the law, especially by speeding. However, if you’re sensible, ensure the car is in good condition and don’t speed, it’s actually a pretty easy country in which to drive yourself.
I was advised to spend a bit more on a 4WD and as I wanted to camp, include a roof tent…how exciting! My truck was hired through Value Car Hire, essentially I think this is the sister company of the better known ASCO but older cars and trucks. I hired a 2013 Toyota Hilux double cab (just for me!).
I was picked up at the airport in Windhoek, taken to Value’s centre in the city to run through the paperwork and get to know the truck and camping equipment and have the all important instructions on how to erect and put away the tent! Value’s insurance excess is rather high at around £1400, but you can choose to reduce this by adding extra cover. One thing to note is that all vehicles are fitted with a black box, meaning that if you’re involved in an accident and are speeding then the insurance is invalidated, resulting in you being charged all costs to fix the car or truck; a “write off” may cost you tens of thousands of pounds! I checked that the tyres had a good amount of tread and that the equipment to change a tyre was all present and correct. Finally I was shown a rather scary video of people rolling their high cars on the gravel roads, it hit home the need to be careful.
Car Equipment: 2 Spare tyres, compressor, jack etc, tyre pressure gauge.
Camping Equipment: Roof tent, duvet, pillows, gas and burner connection, plates and cutlery cooking utensils, pots and pans etc, fridge, bowl, water tank for washing and light. (I also took a head torch from Petzl)
The roof tent was actually very easy to manage and very cosy!
The Hilux was great to drive, and despite my generally poor back it was really comfortable despite some 6 hour plus drives. My accelerator foot/leg can’t say the same as my back though, it ached quite a bit. The tarred roads were excellent but I had to be wary of the other slightly more insane speeding drivers. The gravel roads differed greatly between really good condition and very poor and corrugated, the road between Twyfelfontein and Palmwag for my pickup for Etendeka was especially rough…and I didn’t see another soul for 2 and a half hours which made me think I was on the wrong road! However, it was however breathtaking in terms of the mountains and landscape…I wish I’d stopped to take photos now.
When driving on gravel roads I reduced the tyre pressure to the advised level, this reduces the likelihood of a blowout and ensures better grip.
I had a good map and didn’t need GPS; I’m not sure GPS would have worked in some of the places I visited. Gravel roads have a speed limit of 80km, tarred roads 120km. I don’t think I got over 60km on a gravel road and sometimes this felt too fast due to the loose gravel, potholes and the risk of sliding! I was also wary of windscreen damage from stones thrown up by other vehicles, so kept well over to the left when another car approached to prevent this. Even with this caution stones did hit the windscreen, but luckily no damage was caused.
I had to return the truck full of fuel, and they went through all the equipment to ensure nothing was missing and gave the truck a thorough look to check for damage. There was no damage and everything was present; another couple were being charged for some damage so I was lucky that everything was in order.
By all means self drive. It’s good fun and allows you flexibility on your journey and where to stop etc. Expect: long driving days, bad roads, the need to change a tyre or two and a full inspection for damage on your return.