4×4, Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia

DECEMBER 2006 – A red 4×4 speeds along the C34 in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast National Park, creating a huge dust cloud. © Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

The story behind the image

When we started to plan our trip to Namibia, we purchased two travel guidebooks from well known German publishers. We also received a lot of information from the Namibian Tourist authorities. We read some stuff on the Internet. And we talked to people who have been to Namibia already. But virtually nobody told us to get a 4×4. And honestly, I don’t know why? The only reason I can think of is – they all used a 4×4 when they were there and have never considered renting a sedan. And they might be interested in selling the trip to you (especially tour operators and travel agents).

Here’s a quote from one of the guidebooks: “Tarred roads are almost always in a good condition. (…) On gravel highways you usually also get along quite fast (but this can change quickly after some rain). The condition of the ‘D’ roads varies. Sometimes there are lane grooves, but in most cases these roads are still good for driving.”, or another quote, from the other guidebook: “The whole infrastructure of Namibia is a perfect match for individual trips with rental cars. Depending on the itinerary, a sedan type car is fully sufficient. 4×4 vehicles are just required for trips to the Kaokoveld, into the Kaudom Game Park, and into the National Parks on the Caprivi Strip.” (translation for both snippets by me).

Sorry. This is complete nonsense!

Based on this information, we selected a sedan type car (a Volkswagen Polo Classic 1.6, to be precise) from our preferred rental company, Avis. The car was great and extremely reliable, but today we know that it was not suitable for our trip at all. Most gravel roads are in a good condition, yes, but even then the gravel puts a lot of stress on the tyres, and the potholes certainly test the workmanship of the car’s body. We were lucky, because we got away with just one flat tyre (in the Skeleton Coast National Park). The next town was still 45 kilometers away, there were almost no cars you could have stopped, it was late already, and the town did not have a tyre shop to replace the damaged tyre. Our booked accommodation was another 70 kilometers away (from there). It would have been a really bad situation if we had just another flat tyre on this way (or, if it would have happened earlier that day). Sure, such problems are solvable, but you can and should avoid them, because it prevents you to enjoy your trip as you should. Also, you may not be able to access all sites and attractions as you would like.

Of course, a 4×4 is more expensive than a sedan type car, but you should make this investment. I’ve seen offers for older 4×4’s starting from 65 Euro (roughly N$ 650 a day, in 2006), which is not so much more than our rate (N$ 430 per day) for the Volkswagen. So, please, please, please do yourself, and your family, a favour and…

  1. Do rent a 4×4. Do not listen to others who say it can be done easily with a normal car. Yes, it can be done, but it’s not a fun way to spend your time in Namibia.
  2. If money is an issue, please still go for a 4×4. You could use cheaper lodges or guestfarms during your stay, or you could reduce the duration of the trip (e.g. two weeks instead of three).
Go get a 4×4. Forget about renting a sedan.

One more comment regarding rental car companies: this is Africa, not the United States or Europe. A car is of substantial value here, and upon returning it they will inspect your car much more thorough than elsewhere. In other words: if you return a damaged car, they will most likely find the damage (one more reason to go for a 4×4, by the way). And the inspection takes time. At Avis’ Windhoek Airport station it took about an hour (!) to return the car. There were people in front of me, then they told me the car had to be re-fueled and inspected at the Avis petrol station at the airport (regardless of the fact that we filled up the car in Windhoek. They could fill up for N$ 18 – wow!), and only then we could complete the paperwork at their counter. Took us an hour.

So, here’s our tip number…

  1. Always drive carefully. When returning your car at the airport, plan at least one hour for this. Ask for details on returning the car when you pick up the car so you can plan ahead and avoid delays. Yes, you can drop the keys with them, but they will charge you all the damages found no matter what. 🙂

The high resolution image

Capture Date & Time02-DEC-2006, 13:06
LocationSkeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
CameraCanon EOS-1Ds Mark II
LensCanon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Exposure1/4000 sec at f/5.6
Digital Image Source FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, AdobeRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions4992 x 3328 Pixels
Copyright© by Mark Zanzig/zanzig.com

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