Northern Namibia

Charles Oertel's picture

Points: 6

Overview of the Route

When Cecil Hill asked me to join a group of friends from the club for a 3-week trip to the Kaokoveld, I agreed in a flash.  Although, at the time of asking the trip was a year in the future, soon the trip was upon us and other plans had crept in.  In particular, on the day of departure from Cape Town, I had to be in Pretoria as part of the GS Trophy adjudicating team.

So the route for me ended up looking like this:

Also, the other riders had all canceled - so it was just Cecil and Celeste, and me.  Due to my recent op and cancer and uncertain future, Julie decided to join by driving along in the Jimny.

The plan was that I would depart on Thursday before, ride up to Pretoria for the GS Trophy Qualifier, then rendezvous with the others in Gobabis.  My route would take me through Botswana on the Trans-Kalahari highway.

The others would ride/drive from Cape Town to Windhoek (with a stop at the Orange River).  They would depart on Saturday while I was in Pretoria.

Thurs 11th April - Cape Town to Gariep Dam

Left in foggy/overcast conditions.  Packed for a 3-week offroad bike trip.  Luckily some of the camping gear could go in the Jimny (but not much!).

As per my rule - always go over the Dutoitskloof pass - not through the tunnel.  Spectacular scenery and sunshine at the top was my reward.

On long rides up the highway like this I focus on riding out a tank at a time, and having a rest at fuel stops.

I stopped for breakfast near Laingsburg, and for lunch at La Travalia in 3 Sisters.  Around 5pm I arrived at the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve and got a cottage for R250.

I had supper at a cowboy-themed restaurant in the village - absolutely no vegetarian (let alone vegan) options.  I had a steak dish (my first in over a year), but it was entirely forgettable.  The ride back to the cottage involved a 5km rough dirt road, made more interesting by the dark and the 3 hares and an owl.

Friday 12th April - Gariep Dam to Pretoria

A shortish day - I arrived in Pretoria at Loftus Park! in the early afternoon, and had time to visit the venue of the GS Trophy Qualifier with David de Bruijn to confirm arrangements for the next day.

Saturday 13th April - GS Trophy Qualifier Gauteng

Spent the whole day at LA Sport (a 4x4 facility) as part of the adjudicating team for the qualifier.  Our task was to ensure that each qualifier had the same standard and level of difficulty, and that scoring was consistent and fair.

Sunday 14th April - Pretoria to Kang (Botswana) - 687km

Kang is midway between Pretoria and Windhoek, on the Trans-Kalahari highway.  It is a small town, and it seems as though its main purpose is to provide overnight accommodation for travelers on that long, mostly straight road.

I had breakfast in Rustenburg, and lunch in Jwaneng I think.

My booking in Kang was at a motel-like arrangement attached to an Engen garage.  Suited me fine.  It was very hot, but the lovely pool provided welcome relief.

Dinner was curried vegetables - unfortunately from a tin frown.

Monday 15th April - Kang to Windhoek - 707km

The plan had been to meet up with Cecil, Celeste and Julie at Gobabis, and head towards Etosha Pan.  Depending on how things went we would overnight somewhere between Gobabis and Etosha.  Since we would be without comms while I was in Botswana, we agreed to rendezvous in Gobabis at "Die Plaaskombuis" (which sounded interesting), between 12 and 1pm.

I had an interesting day ahead - what with the cattle on the road, the extremely long stretch (400km) between fuel stations, and no way to communicate with my party.  I departed at 5am, after filling up to the very brim of the tank in the coldest part of the day.

No sooner had I set off than I realised that it was drizzling.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?!  I was riding in the Kalahari in the pitch dark in the bloody rain!  I kept my speed well below 70km/hr until sunrise, as we all know that one should never drive in the dark in Africa (more on this later).

The Trans-Kalahari Highway

This road is tar (yay).  It is long, straight and flat.  The road-reserve is wide and used for grazing.  There are even cattle grids every now and then.  Apparently this is to keep the bush well back to prevent Kudu jumping into the road.

Here is a stretch of typical Trans-Kalahari highway.  In the distance is cattle.  The road is wet, and as a result, horses and donkeys would drink from the puddles forming in the depressions.  You had to be very vigilant.

I spent a lot of time during that ride thinking about the safest part of the road to ride.  In town I normally ride right next to the centerline.  But the occasional big truck coming the other way makes this hazardous.

Too close to the edge of the road is also dangerous due to the cattle.  To balance these two risks my rule became to ride in the middle of the area bounded by the centerline and the edge of the tar. In practice this is mostly just left of the middle of my lane.

My earplugs were getting increasingly sore to put in.  It seems the long days with them in was hurting my ears and they were getting infected.

Fuel at Tshootsha

Information sources were sketchy about fuel being available at Tshootsha, which was 300km from Kang.  I regard that as the workable range of Honey.  If there is no fuel at Tshootsha, I need to squeeze another 100km out of that tank.

As I get to Tshootsha (ex Kalkfontein), I spot a newly erected Shell garage.  This immediately puts me in a dilemma: I have vowed to push my bike past Shell garages rather than support that company (for many reasons including the oppression and pollution in Nigeria, and the desire to frack in the Karoo).

However, 100km is a hell of a long way to push, with nobody around to see my heroic protest.  Also, I wanted to be with my liefie, not stranded in a foreign country.  So I pull in at the pump of my avowed enemy.  But hey, typical Shell poor service - no petrol attendant.  In fact, no electricity, no staff, no nothing.  The station is not yet working - my dignity and principles shall remain intact!

A driver nearby calls me over to tell me that there is another fuel station a few hundred metres back and down the road to the right.  What a relief!  I fill up there and can finally open the taps to the border.

Die Plaaskombuis

It took a long time to find Die Plaaskombuis.  Mostly because I was looking for an Afrikaans/German coffee shop/eatery.  Turns out it sells staples to farm workers.  I buy two apples and sit on the pavement with the locals while waiting for my party to arrive.

Finally Cecil arrives with his pillion.  But no Jimny with my Julie.  Change of plan - I am to follow Cecil to Windhoek where Julie and Celeste are waiting.  What!  That is when I realise that Celeste's new hairstyle is because it is not her - it is the manager of the B&B in Windhoek where we are staying.  Cecil had offered her a ride for the thrill of it.  The "girls" had stayed behind to enjoy Windhoek while Cecil came to fetch me.

Windhoek

Windhoek is a lovely city and Julie was full of stories about the wonderful things she had seen there.  Julie and Celeste had spent time bonding in the Jimny while Cecil did his thing on the bike, so we were a gesellige group.

We went to dinner at a renowned establishment - Joe's Beerhouse.

We stayed the night in a delightful B&B. Cecil and the girls had had some difficulty getting the room arrangements right.  At first the receptionist wanted to give them 3 separate rooms.  She was visibly shocked when Cecil asked if they could sleep together. It took some time before the receptionist realised the need for two double separate rooms... 

I am told that at the Orange River sleepover, when Cecil walked into the B&B to book a night, the receptionist was unaware that he had arrived on a motorbike.  So all they see is this man in some kind of space suit with a fancy weird helmet (the BMW full Rallye suit and flip up helmet).  They asked him if he had come from space!

Tuesday 16th April - Windhoek to Etosha - 416km

We stayed in a camp south of the Etosha Park.  Since the distance was short we had enough time to set up camp before driving to the gate to enquire about a night drive.

Unfortunately, night drives are only accessible to people staying in the park.  But the effort it took us to find this out was a harbinger of things to come.  Etosha is not tourist- and visitor- friendly compared to our provincial nature reserves.

We resolved to visit the park the next day.

Wednesday 17th April - Etosha Pan National Park

The four of us piled into the Jimny to spend the day game viewing in Etosha.

We were out of season, so things were very dry.  We did see many animals, but the roads were long and corrugated, the signs in poor condition, and facilities inferior to what we enjoy in parks in South Africa.

The highlight of the day was a young hyena resting in the shade of a bush.

Thursday 18th April - Etosha Safari Camp

We had booked to stay at Etosha for 3 nights, seeing as it is a world-renowned game reserve and on our bucket list.  But the long day in the Jimny on bad roads had left us with the desire to enjoy the faciliites of our camp for a day.

We had the resident kudu visit our campsite.  Quite a treat.

The weather was balmy to hot, and the pool rather cool.

Friday 19th April - Etosha Safari Camp to Ruacana - 439km

This was the first gravel road on the bikes (apart from the inside of the Safari Camp which did cause me to drop Honey once).

We ended up on a "D" road of good gravel (D2695) and were making good time.

We were doing around 100km/hr, Cecil in front, when suddenly the road ahead was thick sand.  There was no time to stop or slow down, so Cecil stood up and opened up.  He almost made it through when he went down and bruised his ribs.  I was able to stop and choose the easier line at a more civilised pace.

This is why D roads are classified that way - you can expect some unpleasantness.  Here we are regrouping after the incident.

We hit the C35 and turned North on tar towards Ruacana.  Close to Ruacana the GPS showed a turn to the left onto a sandy track.  We decided to take it although the signs showed we could stay on the tar.

The sand proved interesting...

A local in a bakkie came past and motioned for us to follow him.  We were able to ride in his tracks to the tar roads of Ruacana.  We found a lovely resort/lodge for the night - but not before a relaxing swim and dinner.

Cecil's ribs were really sore, not helped by the manhandling of the GSA through the thick sand.  Julie dosed him up with strong pain killers.

Saturday 20th April - Ruacana to Epupa Falls - 170 km

This must be one of the most fantastic rides I have had the privilege of doing.  The road winds along the Kunene River and has several "river" crossings.

It was hot, and the water looked inviting...

But Julie shot down any suggestion of a swim.  Her brother had been on the border here, and apparently the river has crocodiles.  Later research revealed that this river has the highest density of crocodiles of any river on earth.  We later spoke to a landowner on the banks, and he had lost 4 dogs in the last 3 years...

 

Again Cecil had to help me pick up my bike, sore ribs notwithstanding.  Between his injury and my weakness from the cancer, we were quite the pair.  It didn't help that our gooses were watching us from the Jimny.

Cecil and Celeste Hill, stretching their legs.

A riverside campsite 30 km before Epupa Falls offered ice-cold beer and we had to stop for a visit.  The guy's name is Corné, and this would be a place to stay instead of Epupa Falls.

Sunday 21 April - Monday 22nd April - Epupa Falls

For quite some time we thought the falls was just this in the video and photo below it.  It was only on the last afternoon when we went to the lookout point on the hill that we realised we had been aware of a fraction of the real falls.

 

Monday 22nd April - Epupa Falls to Khowarib - 336km

Having camped at Epupa Falls, we were delighted to find the cottages at Khowarib were only R1800 including a luxury dinner and breakfast.  What we only discovered at checkout the next morning was that it was per person, not per cottage!  But the comfort was good for us all and especially for Cecil's ribs.

By now my ears were very sore and I spent as much time as I could with my hearing aids out, and was doctoring the infection with an earbud dipped in tea tree oil.  As a result I was more random than usual during conversation.

Tuesday 23rd April - Khoharib to Brandberg - 300km

We rode to the White Lady Lodge, along a sandy road.  By this stage my ear infection was so bad I couldn't hear what was going on.  I think it was too expensive or the place was full.

We visited a place called "Organ Pipes" where the rocks were cracked in long pipe-like patterns.  Next to it was a big mound of black sand/rock.

Then we found a place to camp - it was empty but acceptable.

Wednesday 24th April - to Swakopmund - 228km

 A really beautiful ride to Swakopmund.  We went to Brandberg to enquire about accommodation, but it was not to be.

When we left, Cecil and I rode ahead, while Julie and Celeste followed.  Julie radioed me to say she had a puncture.  When I tried to tell Cecil over the headset, he was already out of range.  He was moving fast and I figured he would soon realise I wasn't behind him and turn back.

The Jimny had picked up a big roofing nail.  Julie insisted on changing the tyre herself, for the experience.  When it was done, Cecil arrived - embarassed at how long it took him to realise that what he thought was a bike in his dust just was not so.

On the way to Swakopmund we passed many busses belong to mine companies.  The coast was covered in mist and when we entered it the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.

Thursday 25th April - R&R in Swakopmund​

We woke up to this misty morning view from the hotel window.

Julie and I needed to do a few things in town, like replace the Jimny tyre, see a doctor about my raging ear infections, and see a bike mechanic about the leaking fork seal on Honey.

Cecil and Celeste wanted to do laundry and a few other things.

We found some reasonably-priced tyres after a bit of running around, and a clinic provided medical services in the main road.  The doctor scolded me for using earbuds (nothing smaller than your pinky should go into your ear), and prescribed me anti-biotics and eye/ear drops.

The Yamaha dealer in Main road examined the fork seal and tried to find a replacement.  The nearest one was in JHB at BMW and would take 4 days to arrive.  He cleaned the seal out as best he could but I would have to ride it out - no danger - the forks don't do anything special, it is all handled by the shock.

That evening we walked out to the restaurant at the end of the pier, as Julie's parents had eaten there and described the experience as wonderful ("terrific" to quote her mom).  It was weird walking in the dark over breaking waves.  The place was fully booked, so we made a booking for the next evening.  It was not to be.

Friday 26th April - Swakopmund to Mariental - 535km

We were looking forward to a full day of shopping and exploring Swakopmund.  But during breakfast Julie received a call from her mom advising that her dad had been hospitalised with fluid on the lung.  There and then Cecil changed our plans.  We would abort the trip through Southern Namibia (which we had all done a few times before), and head straight home.

We still needed to collect laundry, and this is me kitting up at the petrol station with clean kit just before we hit the road.

We rode/drove to Walvis Bay (50km) along the coastal road.  I had last been there in the navy in 1983.  Then we headed inland towards the B1 and Mariental.

Some distance from Walvis the tar was left behind.

We entered Mariental close to nightfall.  Julie was worried about her dad and wanted to try reach Cape Town the next day, or at least get as close as possible.  Being deaf, I was not privy to the discussion.  Apparently Cecil and Celeste elected to take it easy, while Julie and I would leave early the next day.

Saturday 27th April - Mariental to Clanwilliam - 993km

The astute reader will notice that this is not particularly far for such an early start and single-minded purpose.  We lost almost two hours to the accident.

The Accident

Many accidents are the result of a comedy of errors.  This was no different.  It started with my ear infection some days before, which resulted in my not being able to wear hearing aids or my communication earplugs on the bike.

So, when we set off for South Africa at 5am in the dark, I was unable to radio Julie to warn her she was driving too fast in the dark.  I seeled our fate by also not taking action and riding ahead of her to slow her down.

We were on the B1.  Namibian roads are relatively animal-free.  It was pitch dark and Julie was on the speed limit of 120km/hr.  I was riding two seconds behind her - careful to be close enough to see the road ahead in her headlights, but not too close.

Julie starts slowing down, then suddenly comes to a full stop.  I realise she is stopped just a split-second too late.  Heavy braking and I hit the back-right corner of the Jimny.  As I go down I see a pure-white horse in the road in front of us.

I was rather sore and shocked.  Julie pulled to the side of the road and I tried to pick up the bike.  In a hurry, as the bike was in the middle of the road on the white line, and I could see the lights of trucks headed our way from the front and the back.  I eventually got the bike up in a super-human, adrenaline-fuelled effort with help from Julie.  Then I tried to push the bike out of the road but it was in 6th gear and even starting the engine and using it to help me push resulted in a stall.

In the nick of time I had the bike out of the road.  Did I mention the pitch darkness?  I could not see a thing.  It was surreal.  A quick assessment of the damage with the torch showed scratches on the left side of the bike (screen, pot, pannier), and a black mark on the right rear bumper of the Jimny.  My left ankle, knee, elbow and wrist were more than slightly sore.

We had just hit a double-whammy: both our vehicles were damaged in the same accident.  Insurance was gonna love this.

We limped to Keetmanshoop for breakfast and for me to recover a bit.  We also filed an accident report at the police station.  During breakfast, Julie told me what had happened.

She saw what at first looked like those white concrete pillars that mark the side of the road.  They seemed to be indicating a curve.  But one of them was bigger than the other.  As she got closer she thought they might be white termite hills.  She slowed down a bit as it seemed the termite hills were in the road.  Then she realised it was a snow-white mare and foal, walking towards her in the road.

She managed to stop the Jimny a foot away from the foal.  As she looked in the rear-view mirror to see where I was, she heard the thump as I hit the car and went down.  When she look up the horses were gone.

We had been so lucky.  If I had been distracted for a split second at the wrong time I would have plowed into the Jimny at speed and killed us both.  If the horses had not been snow white we would also be dead now.  If I had managed to swerve around the Jimny instead of braking hard, I would be inside the mare.  And if Julie had not managed to stop in time we would be stuck there with an injured horse, in the pitch dark, watching its agony and eventual death.

Lessons Learned

  1. It would have been better for us to have breakfast in the dark, and ride when it got light.  When we got to the border, we met Cecil and Celeste.  Our early start and crazy driving had not bought us any advantage.
  2. More haste, less speed.
  3. Do not ride in Africa in the dark.

The Journey Continues

We got to Clanwilliam as the day and my strength was at an end.  We checked in to the Clanwilliam Lodge, right at the entrance to Clanwilliam, opposite the petrol station.  The place is perfect for an overnight stop.  We had dinner on the stoop.  Julie was overcome by a wave of nausea caused by the doxycyclene we were taking against malaria from our time at Epupa Falls.  She vomited on the lawn thinking nobody would notice.  When she was done, she realised it was not grass, but astroturf.

We ordered a jug of water and she quietly cleaned it up.  I would have left it and it would have been blamed on the wedding reception in the hall.

Sunday 28th April - Clanwilliam to home - 247km

We got home in the morning, having had breakfast at the lodge (lesson learned?).

Aftermath

Although we lost a week of holiday, I made up for it by joining Geoff's dirtbike tour of the Transkei a week later.  Julie went to see her dad in PE and look after her mom.  On our return from the Transkei I was dropped off in PE, and arrived a day too late.  Julie's dad had passed away from stage 4 prostate cancer.

The trip was fantastic and I encourage you to try something similar.  I had time to connect with myself during the solo traveling, and enjoyed the company of good friends when the group was together.

Cecil and I both felt it would be great to lead a tour in that area.

The route

The route to Ruacana was this:

I cannot get Google Maps to draw the route between Ruacana and Epupa Falls.  Apparently it is undrivable.  Maybe it is ploy to keep crowds from ruining a fantastic ride.  Even Tracks4Africa had the road marked as heavy 4x4 taking many hours.  The truth is the road has been rebuilt and is much better than old maps and navigation systems.

Anyway, the connection between Ruacana and Epupa Falls is along the southern bank of the Kunene River.

The trip back home looks like this:

Total trip = 6565km + the drive from Ruacana to Epupa Falls (approx 80km).

Jacqui Ferreira's picture
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Joined: 2010/03/27

A riveting account...  Thanks for sharing Charles!!

Committee: Social Secretary

GeelKameel's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/21

Thanks for a great report on a great trip!!

Worth waiting for this report!

En veels geluk dat jy so'n trip aanpak en suksesvol doen!

yessmiley

Geoff Russell's picture
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Joined: 2007/09/25

Great report Charles.

Committee: Ride Captain

Mwendo's picture
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Joined: 2011/04/13

Ah! What great memories... 

I probably shouldn't say this too loudly, but I actually enjoyed the best of both worlds; Precious Cargo was on tour with us but, apart from the first 200km to our breakfast stop at Kardoesie, on the Piekenierskloof Pass, and the last two days home from Mariental, I was riding solo while she and Julie bonded (and bonded, and bonded and...) in the Jimny.

We spent our first night (Sat the 13th) at the Norotshama River Resort on the Namibian side of the Orange / Garieb river. It is here that the receptionist was a bit taken aback by my suggestion that (at least) Celeste and I share a room.  I can strongly recommend Norotshama both as an overnight stop and a longer stay either in a self-catering chalet or camping.

The ride to Windhoek, on the B1, the following day was uneventful but quite tiring. Several factors contributed to our decision to spend a second night in Windhoek, instead of carrying on to meet Charles in Gobabis on the Monday. Amongst others, it was Julie's first visit to the city, Celeste and I had forgotten our malaria meds at home and Windhoek was easily our best bet to get fresh stock and, after our visit to Joe's Beer Garden, we all agreed (correctly) that Charles would approve of a repeat visit.

To call that stretch of the D2695 which nearly claimed a few of my ribs "deep sand" is a euphemism and an understatement of note. I am more inclined to think of it as a 'swimming pool filled with the finest talc imaginable'. It is never a good idea to dive into a pool without testing its depth, much less so at 100km/h. That stuff entered every imaginable crevice on the bike, in my clothing and in my body. I swear I couldn't fart, not even silently, for the next few days because of the tell-tale dust cloud it would leave in my wake.

The ride along the southern bank of the Kunene, from Ruacana to Epupa Falls, past Cornie's Place, remains one of the highlights for me.

 Thank you Charles, Julie & Celeste for a most delightful & memorable trip, bruised ribs and all!

--
The only problem with hindsight, is you don't see it coming!

 

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