Is a 4WD Necessary for Self-drives?

Is a 4WD Necessary for Self-drives? #1
Is a 4WD Necessary for Self-drives? #2

For Namibia and Botswana we always recommend a 4WD vehicle for safety and comfort. For South Africa a 2WD sedan is adequate.

A 4WD vehicle - known variously as either a 4x4, a pick-up, a double-cab or a bakkie - is the most comfortable way to travel around Namibia and Botswana.

Namibia is known for its natural beauty and picturesque landscapes, with so many opportunities to explore this beautiful country. Any good adventure begins with proper planning, and your choice of vehicle is paramount in this instance.

In Namibia it doesn't take long before you're off the paved (tarred) roads and onto the well-graded gravel roads that criss-cross this massive area. While you can get to all the major highlights of Namibia in a 2WD drive sedan, the journey is so much more enjoyable in a sturdy vehicle. It's also safer as you can engage four-wheel drive on the gravel roads to ensure maximum traction. In Botswana, most of the attractions are inaccessible to all but the most experienced off-road drivers.

And seeing as you'll spend many an hour on these gravel roads during your self-drive tour (see driving distances and times here) it makes sense to do it in comfort and safety.

Although most gravel roads in Namibia are in good condition, the gravel can put added stress on the tyres of a smaller vehicle - you will travel more reliably with the stronger tyres on a 4x4.

If you visit Namibia during the rainy season (December to March), when roads can quickly deteriorate, a 4WD provides you with better traction, stability and ground clearance. The road surfaces can become extremely slippery in areas, and even the tarred roads can be prone to flooding.

On gravel roads, be on the lookout for potholes and large rocks and stones - drive slowly and carefully so that you don't have to brake suddenly, or swerve to avoid things, which can cause your vehicle to veer or spin dangerously. Also, keep a safe distance from any vehicles in front of you to stay clear of stones being thrown up by their tyres.

Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel when driving on sand roads, and in dusty conditions it is advisable to drive with your headlights on. You should also deflate your tyres, giving you a larger surface of contact between the vehicle and the sand. If you get stuck in sand, stop your vehicle immediately, and clear the sand from in-front of and behind the wheels. Place rocks or sticks under the wheels if possible, engage four-wheel drive and proceed slowly.

And of course, always be on the lookout for animals wandering onto the roads.

Where to go with your 4x4

Namibia's mountain passes are beautifully scenic, but are also steep and rocky, and definitely require a 4x4 vehicle. Some of the other Namibian highlights which can only be reached by 4x4 are:

  • Sossusvlei Dunes and Dead Vlei, Namib Desert. You can get to the foot of the dunes in a 4x4, instead of walking quite a distance from the parking lot.
  • You reach the Kuiseb Canyon and the so-called "Moon Landscape" via a long, winding gravel road, which is more safely navigated in a 4x4.
  • Namibian Kalahari. The Namibian area of the Kalahari Desert is covered with trees, rivers and watercourses. Desert driving definitely requires a 4x4 vehicle.
  • The road to the Skeleton Coast Park from Swakopmund is a salt road which can become very slippery due to heavy mists. This road can be driven without a 4x4, but it's not recommended.
  • Twyfelfontein Rock Art, Petrified Forest and Organ Pipes, and the Palmwag Desert Elephants in Damaraland. Damaraland ranges from water courses with open plains and grassland, granite hills and deep gorges, to endless sandy stretches in the west, which are infinitely more comfortable to travel in a 4x4 vehicle.
  • Kaudom area in the Caprivi Strip. The Caprivi Strip links northern Namibia with Zimbabwe and Zambia. A 4x4 will limit your chances of getting stuck in the sandy conditions.
  • The Kaokoveld region in north-western Namibia can only be accessed by 4x4.

4x4 Trails in Namibia

A powerful 4x4 vehicle gives you the freedom and opportunity to explore some of the more remote areas of Namibia, opening up yet more beautiful and scenic attractions to travellers and adventurers. Namibia also offers a number of off-road 4x4 trails, which are veritable playgrounds for the 4x4 enthusiast. Some worth mentioning are:

  • The Namib Naukluft Adventure Trail stretches for 73 km from Luderitz through the National Namib Naukluft Park.
  • The Isabis Trail is situated in the rugged Gamsberg region, spanning 130 km.
  • The Messum Crater Trail is 250 km long with incredible views, and is home to archaeological sites.
  • The Topnaar Trail is a 6 day off-roading adventure taking you up and over monstrous dunes and past the wrecks of the Namibian Skeleton Coast.
  • The Kalahari-Namib Eco Route has many 4x4 trails to choose from.
  • The Dorsland Trek Route is the longest of Namibia's 4x4 trails at 2000 km, stretching from the Marico region in South Africa, through South Western Namibia, ending in Humpata, Angola.
  • The Ugab Menhir Trail is 312 km long, exploring the south of the Ugab River.
  • The Omaruru River Trail is a 270 km drive with exceptional rock formations.

There are many adventures to be had in Namibia, and even if you are not a 4x4 enthusiast, this is still the safest way to travel through the country.

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