A hotel owner in Namibia told us about an international cyclist who stated that after biking around the world he declared, “Namibia is the toughest part of my trip.” It’s the heat, the strong winds and the “whole lot of nothing” between highlights that make it so difficult.
We were advised byTokkie Bombosch owner of Cycletec Bike Shop (sells and repairs Treks and Gary Fisher bikes) in Windhoek Namibia to rent a four-wheel drive camper truck. Thank God we did. The washboard gravel roads, extremely high temperatures and fickle winds would have defeated us. The highlights are great. Sossusvlei, Swakopmund and Etosha National Park and other lesser-known places were spectacular and interesting but the biking between these places is hard and without support could present some dangerous situations for water. The camper with coolers and snacks waiting made it possible to enjoy the riding when the wind and roads permitted.
We have developed a way that we can both ride and move the car along with us. We call this “Leap-Frogging the car.” Peter starts riding his bike. Sally drives the car and parks the it 15 to 25 Ks. down the route depending on conditions. Sally rides her bike the agreed route. Peter rides to the car, puts his bike in and drives to meet Sally with the car. He tells her how many Ks. further up the road he will park the car. The cycle repeats itself. The car is never left on the side of the road for more that an hour. We don’t ride together but we both get to ride!
How We Rate This Trip
The “D” roads can be very bad. Corrugated, soft sand, rocky or covered cobble like surface. Riding is very tough. Local information is the only good source to find out if a “D” road is well maintained because these gravel roads change with use, wind, and rain. The locals know the roads and a few “D” roads are excellent. The paved “C” roads are very good but again local information will let you know if the dirt “C” road is well maintained. The “B” roads are very good but the shoulders are not well maintained and the traffic tends to be very fast.
Avoid riding on Fridays and Sundays on the main “B” highways especially in and around large cities because fast moving mini vans with trailers speed workers to and from their homes. The paved “C” roads are generally very quiet and most dirt “D” roads are usually quiet. Near attractions like Sossusvlei the roads are busy and dusty.
We like it hot but Namibia can have blistering dry heat. In November temperatures can reach 40 c. Fluid intake is essential. By the end of November the clouds are building and that helps hold down the radiant heat. Occasionally rain was a reason to ride, not stop because it felt so refreshing.
Winds are a problem and hard to predict so it’s hard to know how hard your ride will be in the Namibian heat. An unexpected head wind can really slow you down. The winds are fickle in direction and strength.
There’s a lot of nothing between spectacular scenery. Soussusvlei is mountain-like sand dunes. Areas around Aba Huah look like Utah and the Skeleton Coast seems God forsaken. There are long stretches of a “whole lot to nothing.”
Tokkie Bombosh at Cyletec bicycle shop in Windhoek Namibia who also runs bike tours is an excellent source of information ([email protected]). Local information is King. Tokkie directed us to highlights but locals guided us to the roads that were in the best condition. The tourist board puts out a book with “all” accommodations but there were far more than were in the book.
Road Safety: 4
In Namibia, as in all of Southern Africa, the drivers have no clue to give you some room when they pass you on the road. When they double up, you must get off the road. They will not yield. The traffic is fast moving on all the roads. You must know when a vehicle is coming up behind you. On the other hand, most “C” and “D” roads are safe simply because they are so quiet. “B1” can be treacherous, especially on Fridays and Sundays.
General Safety: 7
There were a few complaints by locals that Namibian cities were going the way of South Africa but we never felt danger. As usual the countryside is safe, but we were warned in Windhoek and Swakopmund not to wander around alone at night, especially at the end of the month when people are out of money. We did walk around in the early evening without a problem. It’s very safe by African standards.
Our camper was very expensive; otherwise all else is good value. Good food and accommodations are at reasonable prices. Fuel was fairly cheap. Simply because we opted (wisely) to have a vehicle it ended up to be expensive.
Most of the water comes from deep wells under the desert and it’s excellent. The problem is distances between stores. Riding without support would be problematical for fluids. Our camper with coolers was the perfect solution to having lots of cold water. Namibian breweries are excellent, and South African wines are available a reasonable prices everywhere
Meat, meat more meat and potatoes. It’s all very good. The big German influence is seen for breakfasts and lunches of cheese and salami on fresh rolls. It’s all very good quality. Drinkable yogurt was a favorite fast breakfast.
We ended up camping in a 4×4 truck with a tent on top of the cab. The distances were so long we needed a car. We don’t like to camp. There are a lot of B& B’s, guesthouses, guest farms and safari lodges. There are also lots of very nice places to camp.
There’s a post card that depicts a VW bug riding through a huge desert expanse with a cartoon caption, “Where are all the people?” There are few people but they are friendly and helpful. The locals will talk with you all day. And they are interesting and opinionated. The far north is really the only ethnically interesting area.
The south is very white, South African and German influenced. In the far north there are some unique and intact cultures. Heraro, with their Victorian dress, the bare breasted Himba and the Bushmen with their subsistence and joyful lifestyles. All are unaffected by the outside world. Their music is the 4, 6 or 8 part voice harmony. There are many tribal languages including the “click” language.
It’s a short history. Strictly from the European point of view and dating from 1890. There are a few colonial building in the cities not much else.
TOTAL SCORE 68
Namibia Route Descriptions and Maps
Namibia, November 2002
Airport to Windhoek 43 Ks
The road is a paved two-lane road, only busy when flights arrive or leave. The road is very hilly with some views.
Windhoek to Daan Viljoen Game Park (Day-Ride) 30 Ks
This is a nice day ride. The Cardboard Box Backpackers Hostel shuttles mountain bikers to this park to ride. The route is on C28 east for 25 Ks (we saw Baboons on this road) and the last 5 Ks are up hill to the turn off for the park. It’s 4 Ks to the park gate and 4 more Ks to the park office to buy a ticket. From the office there is a dirt road of steep hills back toward the gate. On this track you can see game (Zebra, Giraffes and Wildebeest) and good views of Windhoek.
Windhoek to Nauchas and Namibgrens Rest Camp 150 Ks
Take C26 east. It starts as a paved four-lane road, narrows to two-lanes and quickly becomes a good dirt road. The climb up Kupferberg pass is mostly good grades but long. It is 90 Ks to the turnoff for Nauchas on D1265. (Here C26 continues to the Gamsberg Pass about 30 Ks. From the pass the views are beautiful but the road is chunky and in poor condition.) The road has sweeping hills. The winds are unpredictable. There are no shops. There are some rest camps but they are far from the road. Follow D1265 for 30 Ks to C24, a good road with o.k. scenery. C24 is mostly flat for 23 Ks to Nauchas. Then it’s 7 Ks on the Spreetshoogte Pass road to Namibgrens Rest Camp. It is a good dirt road with good scenery and hills. ( From Namibgrens Rest Camp to the Spreetshoogte Pass it’s 9 hilly Ks. The road drops precipitously over the pass at a 20% grade in places. There are fabulous views from the top. It was too windy for us to bike down with winds at 100 K per hour. “Our car was a rockin.”)
Namibgrens Rest Camp to Solitaire 87 Ks
Leave Namibgrens Rest Camp proceeding back toward Nauchas for 7 Ks. Turn right on C24 toward the Remhoogte Pass. The road has good grades for 45 Ks. with good scenery but not as dramatic as the Spreetshoogte Pass. After the Remhoogte Pass there is a gradual decent to a T-junction at C14 on a good dirt road. Turn right or north on a flat dirt road for 13 Ks to Solitaire. Solitaire is a gas station, store, hotel and campground.
Solitaire to Sesriem 83 Ks
C19 is a wide road with varying surface quality and flat with small hills. Good scenery and quiet. After 71 Ks. turn-off to Sesriem camp for 12 more flat Ks.
Sesriem to Sossusvlie 63 Ks
This is a paved road in the Park. This is an excellent flat ride with fabulous scenery of mountain like sand dunes. At K45 there is a sand dune everyone climbs. We did this ride twice. The best.
We returned to Solitaire from Sesriem.
Solitaire to Naukluft Camp 75 Ks
Right or south on C14 to Bullsport, which has a store, a gas station, and a B & B. This is a good dirt road but very dusty. Good scenery and gradually climbing to Bullsport. Turn right or east on a mostly flat road toward Naukluft Camp. The road is a little chunky. Then in the park there are 13 Ks on a fairly rough road to the Campground. A hard ride with steep hills and good vistas.
We returned to Solitaire from Naukluft Camp
Solitaire to Walvis Bay 267 Ks
There are no facilities on this road. A few guest houses off the road. Follow C14 all the way. The road is variable but never good. It’s soft and rutted. There is a gradual ascent to Gaub Pass and down into the Gap (bridge). In this area the road is steeper with good scenery. Then up gradually to Kuiseb Pass. Lots of choppy short hills and poor surface. After Kuiseb pass there are rolling hills and a gradual drift down. Very boring. The winds were from the west. The road is poor to o.k. There is a narrow tarred road for the last 58 Ks into Walvis Bay. This part of the road is jammed with truck traffic and you have to take care.
Walvis Bay to Swakopmund 50 Ks
The main road is narrow with fast traffic on B2. This route is on a quiet road. Follow C14 back toward Solitaire for 10 Ks to Dune 7 road. Turn left 2 Ks to the entrance to Dune. The road is packed sand and along a railroad track looking over flat desert to the east and tall pink sand dunes to the west. Then left on C28 for 5Ks to B2. B2 is a good road called the “Kalahari Highway”. There is fast traffic on B2 for 6 Ks into Swakopmund.
Swakopmund to Cape Cross (Day trip) 117 Ks
We did this as a day trip one-way. The ride is on C34, which is a salt road. Salt roads are just like tarred road, hard packed. Views of the Ocean but boring scenery with light traffic. A flat 71 Ks. to Hentis Bay and then 46 Ks. to Cape Cross. Cape Cross is where you view hundreds of seals.
Swakopmund to Welwitschia Drive – roundtrip (Day trip) 88 Ks
Out of town east on the busy B2 and a slight up hill for 6 Ks then right on C28 for 15 Ks and left at sign for “Moon landscape”. This road is in Namib-Naukluft Park and you need to purchase a permit from the office in Swakopmund. The scenery is interesting but the road is very rough and corrugated with hills. It takes all the fun out of the ride. But like all gravel roads it could be worked on and be just fine at another time. If graded this is recommended for the landscape and fauna. The loop back to C28 is 32 Ks. C28 is a well-graded road for 21 Ks back to Swakopmund.
Swakopmund to D1930 120 Ks
Go west on B2 a gradual rise. The wind is usually from the west. The road is narrow with a gravel shoulder and very fast traffic. You must give way and ride with a mirror. Poor ride. There is no place to stay at this junction, just locals selling minerals.
D1930 to Uis 108 Ks
Good ride on quiet road. Mostly flat with minor hills and good views of Spitzkuppe Mountain and the Erongo mountains. Close to Uis you can see Brandburg Mountain. Good scenery. The route is D1930 for 9 Ks to D1937 for 19 Ks then D3716 for 18 Ks to D1931 for 57 Ks to C36. C36 is paved and it’s 5 Ks to Uis on this road. The Lonely Planet said this was a ghost town but it isn’t. There are several places to stay, a restaurant, gas station, two stores and a butcher.
Uis to Abu Huab Camp 150 Ks
We experienced newly maintained and very good roads to poor awful roads. It’s a good ride with some hills and some flat and Utah like scenery. From Uis on C36 for 5 Ks, then right on C35 for 70 Ks to D2612 then 70 Ks to the turnoff for Abu Huab Camp and another 2 Ks to the Camp. D2612 was a very bad road that was being improved.
Aba Huab to Palmwag Camp 109 Ks
It’s 2 Ks back to the junction with D2612 turn left for 21 Ks gradually down to junction D2620. Good ride with good dirt roads and excellent scenery. The road is quiet but dusty. On D2620 there is a 40 K climb. It is a total of 79 Ks from D2620 to the D3706 turn off for Palmwag Camp and another 6 Ks to the Camp.
Palmwag to Kamanjab 118 Ks
6 Ks to the junction with D2620 then left to Kamanjab. It is 20 Ks to Grootberg Pass (elevation 1540 meters). The road is good dirt, good scenery, quiet but a steep climb. The climb is steep up then a 1 K steep down and then another steep up. After the climb it’s a gradual 10 K down. From the top of the pass it’s marked as 97 Ks to Kamanjab. This part of the ride passes through some hills. The winds were fickle.
Kamanjab to Outjo 155 Ks
Flat with boring scenery but an excellent quiet tarred road for 145 Ks. At the junction with C38, turn toward Outja for 10 Ks. We had been on rough gravel roads for days so we opted to take the tarred road and felt like we were riding on silk.
Outjo to Anderson Gate at Etosha Game Park 95 Ks
This is a direct rout on C38, it’s mostly flat on good-tarred road and quiet. Winds were from the south and switched to from the north. Dull scenery.
No bicycles are allowed in Etosha Game Park
Lindequist Gate at Etosha to Ondangwa 198 Ks
From the gate it’s a flat-tarred road for 23 Ks to B1. Then left or north for 175 Ks to Ondangwa. The route is mostly flat, on a good tarred road with a rough shoulder. The winds were from the east. The scenery is boring but the life of the blacks who live here is interesting to see. There are stores for water and cold drinks.
Ondangwa to Tsembe 252 Ks
Never, never ride on a Sunday or Friday on a main road such as B1. The Van taxi buses with trailers are many and fast. Follow B1 all the way. The route is flat and dull. The town of Tsembe is an old mining town with good restaurants.
Tsembe to Grootfontein via Otavi with detour to Meteorite 167 Ks
This is a very good ride. Take C43 to Otavie for 57 Ks. There is a small pass that is 2 Ks up and 2 down. There is a grocery store in Otavi. From Otavi take B8 toward Grootfontein. This is a very good road with light traffic and marked 90 Ks to Grootfontein. There is a sign to “meteorite” 30 Ks before Grootfontein. Follow the signs for 24 Ks of good flat dirt road and nice scenery. Then from the meteorite to Grootfontein on D2859 to C42 a total of 21 Ks to Grootfontein.
Grootfontein to Waterberg Park 155 Ks
Local people recommended the route we followed. Follow B8 back toward Otavi and turn left after 35 Ks at a sign for Reitfountain on to D2804. This is a good dirt road, boring in this section. Go 17 Ks to D1610 and then 30 Ks to D2512 with some downs and ups running through dry riverbeds. Follow D2512 for 73 Ks to the Waterberg Park gate. Good scenery toward Waterberg.
Waterberg Park to Outjo 236 Ks
From Waterberg Park to C22 on D2512 it is 18 Ks. C22 is tarred and it’s rolling hills for 41 Ks to B1 and 27 busy Ks to Otjiwarongo. Get off when traffic doubles up. Take C38 to Outjo. Tarred road with little shoulder but quiet. O.k. scenery of distant mountains and often flat.
Outjo to Omaruru 163 Ks
Out of Outjo on C38 toward Otjiwarongo for 4 Ks then turn right on #63. It’s 81 Ks of very quiet, well-maintained dirt with a very gradual rise. Turn left at the junction with C36 for 78 Ks of tarred road into Omaruru. O.K. scenery, good tarred road with upward bias. No stores along this route. Quiet with some fast traffic.
Omaruru to Okahardja 131 Ks
Follow C33 out of town for 3 Ks then take a left on C36. Follow this well maintained dirt road with some good views for 35 Ks then left on D2110. Take this road all the way to Okahandja for 93 Ks. It fun because there is lots of game on this road and it’s a good ride. There is a gradual decent for the last 45 Ks to B1.
Okahandja to Windhoek 66 Ks
Please don’t do this. Narrow road, no shoulder with bumper-to-bumper fast traffic and huge trucks. The road is mostly up with rolling hills. The last 15 Ks, if you make it this far, is on wide four-lane road with a shoulder.