I recall school teachers telling us that we should always write about the ‘things you know and love’. Giving this advice to a teenage boy never seemed utterly sane. The things I knew and loved would NOT have been appropriate for school essays! Fortunately, over the decades, my interests have broadened, so deciding on the subject for this first post was a less tricky endeavour. The one thing I’ve loved doing was planning self drive Namibian holidays for friends, family and our clients.
Probably the most commonly asked question from first-time self-drivers in Namibia is ‘Will we be safe?’. The simple answer is ‘yes’ – but with caveats.
A lot of your safety will depend on how sensible & aware you are. Driving in Namibian can be demanding – but will take you through some of the most beautiful places in the world. Namibian roads can consist of two varieties: Tarred (given a ‘B’ prefix on maps) and unsealed Gravel (a ‘C’ or ‘D’ road depending on the size). Both types of roads offer unique dangers.
On tar, one needs to contend with other road users, many of whom seem to have no depth perception and a complete death wish. Apparently, Namibian drivers are amongst the worst in the world. But take it slow, trust no-one to drive sensibly, expect someone to be overtaking on that blind rise. And get off the major routes as quickly as possible – the C + D roads are nearly always more scenic and offer a more relaxed (if somewhat dusty) experience.
Warning - warthogs ahead
Chomsky enjoying the drive
You were warned!
“If the road is not patchy, rough and on a hilly terrain, then the journey is not often worth undertaking as all destinations are already enough crowded.” — Anuj Somany
Fortunately, the majority of your drive time will be on gravel. Here the main risk is yourself. Single vehicle accidents (where the driver loses control) are by far the most common accidents on Namibia’s gravel roads. There is one main reason for this: SPEED. Take it slow, remember you’re on holiday. Appreciate those incredible vistas (they are why you’ve come to Namibia); make frequent stops (but not on a blind rise!); investigate the small things you see along the road. And above all enjoy the drive – Namibia is a road-tripping paradise.
It would be remiss not to mention external non-driving related issues. Here are a couple of tips:
- Don’t leave unattended valuables in your car in urban areas. They will be repossessed.
- Get a decent map, most travel agencies and some car rental companies should provide you with a standard road-map.
- A GPS is not necessary, roadsigns are good, and turnoffs are few.
- Adhere to the speed limits. Local drivers treat these as a minimum speed, but on gravel roads you should probably be travelling slower than the limit.
- If you intend to use Google Maps download an offline copy for the areas, you will be visiting. Internet is patchy around the country.
- When you see a petrol station full up. It may be some distance to the next one (and occasionally that next station may have run out of petrol)
- Never drive at night. It’s not safe! Wildlife often crosses the road and grazes on the verges. Part of the joy of self-driving in Namibia is seeing the wildlife. However, having a quarter of a ton of kudu crashing through your windscreen is not the optimal game viewing experience.
- Leave early. Check out of your accommodation and hit the road; this allows you to drive slowly without pressure.