Africa trips

Kaokoveld 2009 by Hennie Marais

Overlanding Trips

I’m new, so forgive me if I appear like an upstart. I had the privilege of experiencing Namibia with wonderful family and an awesome mate and wanted to share it.

For back ground: My previous vehicle was a 2000 2.7 Hilux D/C 4×4, which was good but I never really had the opportunity to test it, only had it for a year. Before that I drove a 1995 2.4 Hilux D/C 4×4, an AWESOME vehicle. (Cannot forgive myself for selling it, WANT IT BACK sirriasly!) Had been looking at the 4.0 V6 Hilux D/C during late 2008 (my one bro-in-law, Jan had one) but the price was bit much with the extra’s I wanted. My better halve was not impresed, she wanted a proper car. (What?!) Then early Dec 2008 a mate who works for Toyota called, said there was good discount on Fortuner V6 due to the new shape coming in 2009. So I took a 3.0 D for a test drive. Not impressed. Lazy. (having driven an 2.4 Hilux for 4 years that says a lot) He then got a V6 demo. And I (and the missus) was hooked. Long story= short: bought one.

Back to Namibia(NM for short)): eldest bro-in-law, Philip had been trying for few years to get family trip to NM going. Youngest bro-in-law, Dewald joined in, and BINGO! My best mate who’ve been living in Canada for the past 18 years heard about the trip, immediately declared himself part of my wife’s family, (even offered to change his surname in order to join), and rented a 4×4 to join. The planning was sooooo good, Jan and Dewald having been on these trips before, were very helpful. Eventually D-Day arrived: 26 June 2009. We drove from Barberton to Pta after much, much, MUCH preparation. (I had bought a second hand ex-Escom off-road tool trailer and had some serious work done on it)

Arrived in Pta at +- 17h00, and immediately smelled hot oil when I got out of Forest (named the Fortuner + trailer combo Forest Hump: the Fortuner just wants to run (“Run Forest Run”) the trailer is the camel-(my late father always called a trailer the camel) therefor the Hump.)

Checked and saw some grease spatter on the Hump’s left wheel- checked and discussed with Jan, and decided that it was just excess from checking and repacking.

Convoy Outside Zerust

Convoy Outside Zerust

We Finally left Pta @ 05h00 on Sat: what an AWESOME feeling!!!! The group were: a 1990 4.2 Landcruiser stationwagon with off-road trailer-Philip; a 4.0 V6 Hilux D/C 4×4 towing an Echo Chobe trailer-Jan (en alles wat kan oop-en-toemaak daarin); a 70 Series Landcruiser towing an Echo Kavango Caravan-Dewald (en alles wat nie in die ander een kan oop-en toemaak nie), my 4.0 V6 Fortuner towing an off-road trailer, and a 2.5D D/C Hilix 4×4-Hannes’ rental. Months of planning and excitement finally coming to fruition! Arrived at SA-Botswana border – DISASTER. Spent 2 hours 40 minutes there waiting to go through.

Eventually passed through, but long hard drive to Kang remained. Got there after dark, scrambled to get camp set up, luckily it was not our turn for supper. It was cold! Really cold. Everybody worked with gloves.

Slept well. Got up at 05hoo for trek to Okanhandja! This was for me a serious wake-up call. I was one of two common plain tenters in a group of 5 vehicles, the others had 4×4 caravans or rooftops. They had started their vehicles, and I was still packing! Sirrias stress!!!!!

We left Kang (actually a campsite 20km’s out of Kang) at about 7. I was soon rather more relaxed after Soweto Pepsi or 2. (I’m the one in the middle with the necessary)

About 110 km’s from the NM border, Louize (my mate Hannes from Canada’s wife, they were behind me then) call over the radio- “Hennie, stop, stop, iets het verloor” coincided with a rather loud and unpleasant screeching noise. Before I came to a standstill I just knew, and I was right: the Hump’s wheelbearing I checked out in Pta had come to haunt me. Seized solid.

Although we were prepared for just about anything (as you will see later) we weren’t prepared for this. We did not have wheelbearings, and even if we did, we couldn’t get the wheelhub off. Only one thing left: to carry on to NM border and hope to make it- but we had no grease either.

While Dewald and Hannes drove on to look for some, Lallie, Philip’s wife wrote GHRIES on an A4 page, and held it up for help. First vehicle to stop was Botswana Police, just to tell me that they didn’t have grease, and no, they didn’t know where we could find some. Then a convoy of 3 veh’s stop about 250 metres past. As I approached them, the last oke got out and asked: “Wat’s die probleem? Wheelbearing?” I said “hoe’t jy geweet” and he just said: ” Been there”

They were two brothers Flip and Francois, and not only had grease, but actually a set of wheelbearings, which it turned out later was the correct size. After they realised we were not going to get the wheelhub off, they gave me the bearings and grease and left.

Dewald and Hannes arrived shortly after, with believe it or not, grease they found at a missionary station halfway from there to the border. Everybody else carried on, with Jan staying with me driving at 30 km’s ph, stopping every half-hour to check the bearings temp. Nerve-wracking, to say the least.

We made the border, and camped in east camp on the NM side. Next morning 7 sharp a guy by the name of Leon arrived from Gobabis with a lowbed trailer and loaded the Hump. When we arrived in Gobabis around 10, I was told that the hub had some serious damage from the drive to the border, and that it had been sent to an engineering place for re-whatever.

Everything else was right, and they had already checked and re-greased the other one. I must just add here: the Hump was worked by two seperate places before the trip, both confirming (and invoicing me for it) that the bearings were checked!

We Finally left at 14h15 for Etosha via Windhoek, Okahandja, Otjiwarongo and Outjo.

Got to Etosha at around 9 at night. Not fun driving in NM after dark, although there were roadsigns everywhere, I only saw 3 kudu in the lights, but I think that was “pure genade”. There are plenty of brakemarks on the tarroads in NM… What did make the night driving worthwhile is that we saw an anteater in the road just before Etosha. I tried to keep it in the headlights in time to get the camera out, but it shuffled of the road before then… so no evidence, but a huge thing.

Etosha was nice, we camped just outside the park, nice grass on which to camp, clean bathrooms, plenty hot water but then the camp was quite empty. Stayed there 2 nights.

Left early for what was planned to be Swartboisdrift. Not do-able in one day unless maybe if you stay on tar as far as possible up to Opuwo. The bil’s wanted to do some off-road driving, and we left the tar about 30 kilo’s from Outjo.

Not a bad road

Not a bad road

Not to bad a road, but bad sinkplaat in places. Just about after lunch, Dewald came over the radio asking me and Hannes who had fallen behind for photo’s, to look out for his caravan’s u-bolts! Found nothing. When we reached them, he had picked up half of the one underneath the Kavango. Emergency repairs. My bil’s are however quite organised. We started one of the small gennie’s, got out the drill and manufactured two new u-bolts right there in the grondpad out of some flat-iron that Jan had with him and some 12mm bolts and nuts that I had taken with for no reason at all. (The Kavango’s other side’s u-bolts also broke about a week later, and we did the same all over again) The grondpad-made u-bolts lasted the whole trip, Dewald says he just going to replace the bolts with high tensile and leave the as is.

Had to make camp right next to the road in a canyon. The wind howled down that canyon, but it wasn’t too bad. Packed up next morning & left for Epupa. About a kilo further we met a man driving a cow and calf next to the road. He asked if we were the people who slept next to the road. Yip, that’s us. “Julle’s mal, hier’s leeus hier” (you’re mad, there’s lion (and leopard) around) Yip, that’s us. And to think I went for veldtie in the dark…

We filled up at Opuwo (last fuel for 800 kilo’s), and were joined by 3 more vehicles at Okongwati, 3 brothers, of which one is related to a Alta, a sis-in-law, too long and arduous to explain. Most important, all 3 drove post 2000 2.7 Hilux D/C 4×4, 2 towing bush-trailers and the other a Bracah caravan (huge thing). We were now 8 vehicles in convoy, all TOYOTA’s!

Only Toyotas

Only Toyota's

We got to Epupa at about 4, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been too, most definitely worth the drive. Lounging on the banks of the Kunene gazing at Angola while nursing a Jack certainly brought back some fond (and not so fond) memories of ’85. The campsite is right on the bank, it was actually flooded earlier this year in the heavy rains. No grass, but clean swept earth. Open showers under Macalani palms’ walls are made of dried Macalani palm branches, and they start the donkeys only once at 16h00, so if you don’t get in before 6, you shower cold.

You can see the campsite on the right bank in the back.

The Falls

The Epupa Falls

Here we go again. I’m going to try and finish Van Zyl’s Pass in one go. Hope you enjoy it.

I keep on forgetting things. On our way from Epupa to Van Zyls, the one 2.7 towing a Bushbaby’s rear bumper with towbar and everything broke off completely, hanging only by the electrical wires. Inspection revealed very old cracks in both sides, to the extent that one side had broken of long time ago, and that the rough terrain was the final straw for the other side. Luckily we had a loose horse in the pack, my mate Hannes from Canada, and after the bumper was promptly tied onto the roof rack, my mate hooked the trailer and off we went.

This was camp before Van Zyl’s.

Camp Before van Zyls

Camp Before van Zyl's

We broke camp early Monday morning, 6 July, on my late father’s birthday, and set off at 06h00 for Van Zyl’s. We were looking at getting as far into the Marienfluss as possible. But looking back I can remember reading that the so-called “approach to Van Zyl’s” must not be underestimated, but none of us paid serious heed to that. Mistake.

Dont undersestimate Van Zyls Pass

Don't underestimate Van Zyl's Pass

Down

Down

It’s rough, though not all the way consistently very rough, you do reach 30 km/h now and again. What also took time as the fact that there were 8 vehicles in the group, which each had to navigate the really ugly bits. The Bracah caravan often had to be very carefully negotiated over rocks. None of the other vehicles however had serious problems…

Van Zyls Pass

Van Zyl's Pass

Otjitanda and Otjihende on the map are literally mere Himba villages. It is glorious, wonderful, rough 4×4 country, with the only other people a few Himba’s and their cattle. After a stop in a riverbed for a Canadian Brunch, we hit Van Zyl’s Pass.

Van Zyls

Van Zyls

Believe all you read about it, but if you do it like porcupines mate (very carefully) it’s an awesome experience. Philpi’s, and my aim was to get back with minimal damage, and maximum enjoyment, and I got just that. Sometimes that day I weren’t as sure as now….

Van Zyls

Van Zyl's

When we reached the lookout over the Marienfluss the sight was breathtaking, and all was relieved that we made it there. Down, however looked very far away to me, and Philip, who had left the lookout first, soon confirmed my uneasiness when his voice came over the radio: “manne, julle het nog niks gesien nie…”

This photo is from the lookout, and that’s him down there middle left of the pic just before the nothing…

Nothing in middle of pic

Nothing in middle of pic

And this is what the nothing looks like…

Nothing

Nothing

This is the part you see in every photo on the net when you search Van Zyl’s…

Van Zyls at its best

Van Zyl's at its best

And it’s not over yet after that…

More of Van Zyls

More of Van Zyl's

Van Zyl’s is done when you have a beer at the heap of stones at the bottom, not before..

The Bottom of Van Zyls

The Bottom of Van Zyl's

We reached the Bottom at 10 to 6. 32 kilometres: 12 hours. Nuff said.

We came down Van Zyl’s with virtually no damage at all, apart from a few scratches on the bottom of some vehicles. I did not even take off Forest’s running boards, and only had two slight dents right and one left. The Bracah had a few really close calls, because of it being very low, but if you do the pass voetjie-vir-voetjie, or as you would eat an elephant (one bit at a time) any 4×4 can get down. I was obviously in low range locked in first all of the time on the bad parts, but Forest’s transmission helped zip with the braking, but then everybody stood on their brakes with both feet going down. And of course, “padmaak is die in ding”, everybody, the kids included, did their bit.

Building a road

Building a road

Currently going east (or up) is not recommended, simply because of the steepness and the damage caused by spinning wheels. There is serious talk that the whole area is going to be regulated very soon, and going up will be not be allowed at all. I am most certainly a raw rookie as far as this kind of driving is concerned, and this was an awesome ride, but to want to go up is nuts. None of us will ever forget going down. The Missus walked most of the pass, as did most of the other misuss’es. On the serious parts all assessed and decided on the best strategy and route, but on the lesser evil parts it was only the Missus’s directions that got me through, because even there the driver cannot see where he’s going. (That was once we sorted out what did which flapping of the arms mean)

Camp in the Marienfluss was very good, but we suffered our only mishap of the whole tour there. Two of the smaller children in the group’s bags of clothing, two pairs of boots and two “tandesakkies” (toiletry bags) were stolen that night. We suspect some Himba kids that met us at the bottom, but best avoid sleeping too close to the bottom of Van Zyl’s. We made a laager, and planned on a serious kuier, but Van Zyl’s exacted it’s toll…

Camp after Van Zyls

Camp after Van Zyl's

The plan was to go to Camp Synchro from there, but 2 days’ delays put paid to that. (thankfully for me, ‘cause Forest would never have made it on the fuel I had- 105 l onboard and 4 jerries at ) We left early the next morning trying to make Puros canyon, but got caught in the beauty of the vastness of NM. This is what the Marienfluss’ floss look like

This is what the Marienfluss’ floss look like

This is what the Marienfluss’ floss look like

Brunch was made at Red Drum

Brunch at Red Drum

Brunch at Red Drum

Blue drum- Check out the sign

The Blue Drum

The Blue Drum

We missed the Orange one. After this, it was “valstande in jou sak en bra-straps vas”

That whole day, travelling for 7 hours over vast valleys and plains, we saw only one other human being, a Himba “bum” who polished off a really serious part of a 2L Bottle of water in one go without taking a breath.

We didn’t make Puros. Not even close. We camped at Orupembe in a dry river bed. Again, awesome. Philip, Lallie & family made some serious supper under a near full moon, with pudding and all. That must be what it’s gonna be like in heaven…

Camped at

Camped at Orupembe

Ok, I’ll first do some Q & A’s.

We had to be able to carry fuel for 1 000 km’s, actually 967 km’s to be exact. The last reliable fuel is at Opuwo, and there were no unleaded. We did get fuel at Okongwati, but DON’T count on that. It is stored in 44 gal drums, and pumped by hand into one specific “calibrated” plastic drum, and then poured into jerries. Needless to say, that “calibrated” plastic drum is at least 2 litres short, and it would have taken a century to pump fuel like that. We ended up convincing the lady in charge to allow us to pump directly into jerries at a price of R200 per jerry can.

If we hadn’t gotten petrol there, Forest would never have made it. I had 105 litres on board and 4 jerries, and Philip carried another jerry for me, but I was very optimistic to budget for 5km/l driving 4×4 and especially sand. But like I say, DON’T count on fuel at Okongwati.

Next fuel is only at Sesfontein, where there were none… not petrol or diesel. We were down to our last bit of petrol when we reached Palmwag, where unleaded and diesel is fairly reliable.

All of us had at least 80l water capacity, and we filled up wherever we found water- at Epupa campsite, outside Puros at Puros Community Camp, a windpomp in the veld near Otjitanda, a community water station close to Red Drum- you need to be able to carry water, but water was fairly easily available- just keep your eyes open. And the locals are extremely friendly and helpful, leftover food or literally just a few bucks will get you far.

It’s far, and some places quite arduous driving. In the small family group (5 veh’s) we had 9 children between 3 and 14. Eldest (mine) and youngest were girls, rest all boys. Bows and arrows we bought at Epupa gave the boys endless delight, but they need to be kept busy in the cars. Nintendo’s and Ipods did the trick for us.

We camped out in the veld for 6 days out of 7 after Epupa. Never once felt unsafe, even though some things were stolen after Van Zyl’s. There are lion around, and we saw a few elephant and plenty of evidence in the riverbeds, as you will see later… So keep in mind that any child younger than 15 is perfect lion-bait.

From Orupembe we drove through Puros Concervancy to Puros. Some more magnificent wide open spaces

From

From Orupembe we drove through Puros Concervancy to Puros

We got into the riverbed, and that’s where the next bit of fun started.

The fun started

The fun started

All the bil’s got stuck sometime, and Hannes got stuck 3 times before we realised it was because his tyres were pumped 3 bar plus.. All of us deflated tyres, except Hannes, but then again, he was probably taking peekchars then…

Stuck again

Stuck again

We didn’t see any elephant, but another group of 5 vehicles who were on the same radio frequency as us came through the riverbed about an hour after us. Their group was split by a herd of 7 elephant. We camped in a corner in Puros canyon.

camped

We camped in a corner in Puros canyon.

Our Camp

Our Camp

Next day we drove through Puros Canyon on to Ampspoort, meaning to sleep in the riverbed. We climbed out of Puros into wide open vlaktes again.

Riverbed

Riverbed

Saw a few elephant in the river…

R

Saw a few elephant in the river...

There it is

There it is

We got out of Ampspoort and ran into the worst dust you can ever imagine. It’s called poepstof, as fine as powder, and if you stop the dust cloud around your vehicle is so bad that you get disoriented. Hannes said it was exactly the same as a whiteout in a snowstorm.

Sesfontein was like an oasis, and a few of the missusses (and drivers) decided it was enough of camping in the veld. So we slept in Fort Sesfontein- very nice, hot water, etc, but not cheap. We did not get fuel there, but used the time to pump wheels again…

Pump the wheels

Pump the wheels

Next day we slept near Abu Huab just past Twyfelfontein in the veld in a comunity campsite. On the way there, at Twyfelfontein we introduced the kids to another kind of ride.

Donkiekar

Donkiekar

Again, beautiful and awesome are overused and inadequate words to describe the place…

Beautiful View

Beautiful View

Last stretch. We left early Saturday morning before the rest meaning to catch some of the Bushman paintings and petrified forest, but between me turning left instead of right right at the beginning, not reading the map properly and not entirely understanding the workings of Dewald’s spare GPS, we missed out on everything and eventually decided to head for Swakop. Nice drive through semi-desert to the Western Coast, although some have found it hazardous, and at last found some less corrugation on the salt road from just north of Henties.

Salt Road

Salt Road

We arrived in Swakop fairly early- I’m quite sure it was the only time we were first ever on the whole trip- nice feeling to unpack at your leasure. The camp at Alte Brucke was very good, neat, grass sites, clean bathrooms (very campsite has its own) and close to the beach- not that it mattered- the wind blew seriously.

Wind

Wind blew seriously

Swakop is a beautiful town, you won’t regret including it on your itinerary.

Dunes outside Swakop

Dunes outside Swakop

Jan tried his best to talk us into doing Dune 7, but only Hannes was dumb enough to fall for that one. We did do some quadbiking with the kids, fun, but the sundowner run in July is not for sissies- seriously cold- one of the few times I really didn’t care too much for a Tafel Lager.

Dunes 7

Dunes 7

We stayed in Swakop for 3 nights, and left for Spitzkoppe on Tuesday. Leaving the town, we were again struck by the unbelievable cleanliness of the town, and NM as a whole. A strong headwind made for the worst fuel consumption by Forest on the whole trip: 3,8 km/l.

Spitzkoppe was awesome: this heap of massive boulders and rocks in the middle of nowhere. It must have just fallen out of God’s bag on His way somewhere else.

Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

We camped in the community camp right underneath a huge rock, and climbed the lowest point we could find the next morning. It was still too high- didn’t make it all the way. This pic was taken about halfway up- that’s our camp middle left.

Camping

Camping

But there the Missus and I saw what we drove all the way there for: the Namibdruif, or Woestyndruif in its natural habitat, various kinds of the species with the botanical name Cyphostema, endemic to NM. Plants that are literally hundreds of years old, and that was simply awesome. We saw some in the garden at Fort Sesfontein, but here they were something else.

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Cyphostema

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We left for SA on Thursday morning, and made the border by 4 in the afternoon. It was the coldest night of the whole trip, Forest showed minus 4 the next morning. We left NM Friday morning at 06h15, and arrived in Pta at just before 21h00, after having greeted Hannes and Louize at Rustenburg.

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We arrived home in Barberton on Saturday, 18 July 2009. 22 Days; 6 325 kilometres; litres and litres of fuel; plenty of frustration; lots and lots of kuier and fun; an infinite amount of memories; a truly awesome, awesome experience.

Be wary, very very wary when you visit Namibia. We did not see or experience any crime (apart from the bags and shoes at the bottom of Van Zyl’s) but Namibia stole a part of my soul. I’ll have to go back to look for it, but I’m worried I’ll only lose some more…

Most of the photo’s in this story were taken by Hannes, who obviously knows what he is doing, and the others by Jan, Dewald and Lallie Hattingh, who also took some equally good pic’s. These, and all of the previous photo’s, were their work and inspiration.

(Thankfully they were there, as my camera’s battery died on the third day, and after searching Forest in his entirety from bottom to top for the charger, and swearing that the kids must have kicked it out somewhere, the Missus found it in the cupboard in our bedroom when we got back…) This was my one and only good contribution in that department.

And finally, this is what it was all about….

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And finally, this is what it was all about....

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This trip report was compiled by:
Hennie Marais