Self-driving Namibia: 3,200km and three tyres later
When I made the decision to embark on a three week journey in August through Namibia, I had very little idea what to expect. All I knew was that Namibians drive on the same side of the road as us Australians. I only found one blog by a South African, that described the actual experience of driving. Which is why I’ve put together some really important things to know before you hit the road.
1. Car rental is expensive. Really expensive.
We travelled in peak season which did not help with pricing. However, my booking experience with Trevor from drivesouthafrica.co.za was great – he explained all the different vehicle types and suggested cars at different price points. For the old Nissan Double utility I booked (supplied by Britz/Kea), I got Super Cover, which meant that any repairs done on the road would be reimbursed to me at the end, minus a 500NAD admin fee. My total cost for 18 days for the ute was a touch over 31000NAD including road taxes – pricey I know. However, the Super Cover proved handy as I spent 3200NAD replacing a totally busted tyre down the track. Oops!
The camper cost 46000NAD for the same period from Avis and had no tyre or windscreen damage cover. Luckily, this car was much, much newer and suffered only a minor puncture once.
Be aware that car rental depots are either in town or near the airport. Transfers can be arranged to pick up your car or after drop off (free in the city and 40NAD per transfer from Windhoek to Hosea Kutako International Airport). Some coordination is therefore required to make sure you’re able to meet ongoing flights etc!
Also be sure to factor in final inspection time. For the camper, this took roughly around an hour as they count every last fork and plate to make sure everything they gave you at the start is returned in the same condition you received it.
2. Road insurance doesn’t cover you for collisions or damage after dark.
Namibian roads are mostly gravel outside of Windhoek and major towns, with no lighting and plenty of obstacles including warthogs, baboons, dogs and big rocks.
Plan any driving to take place only during daylight hours and leave plenty of buffer for roadside repairs, photo stops, etc. Driving in Namibia takes a lot of concentration so try to have more than one able driver on any given day, and swap regularly.
3. Travel at no more than 80kph on gravel roads.
You might see locals whizzing along at 120kph but don’t be tempted as sharp rocks wreak havoc on tyres and bumps may damage your suspension. If you’re on a rural road, help can be hours away or not available at all. Letting your tyres down to 2 bar or less and driving in 4WD mode will help make your journey more comfortable but be sure to reinflate your wheels and switch back to 2WD once you hit bitumen again.
This is one of two graders we saw in action…a rare species in Namibia indeed!
Also, clouds of dust behind other vehicles will impair visibility so resist any urge to tailgate.
By and large, traffic on the road out of town comprise of tourists who are generally sightseeing too. Locals on the whole are patient and courteous drivers except in Windhoek.
4. Understand how roads are graded.
Namibian roads are graded alphabetically, with “B” roads being the best, “C” roads the most common arterials and “D” roads also widespread. We didn’t use anything lower than “D” having encountered the most corrugated road ever on the D2612 between Twyfelfontein and Uis. Pre-planning is necessary to ensure you take the roads best suited to your driving ability and expectations.
Bear in mind that there is significant variation even within a category. This below is an excellent “C” road running from Uis to Swakopmund. The one from Walvis Bay to Sossusvlei wasn’t quite so good.
5. Carry a spare tyre (or two) and know where your tools are.
Our biggest challenge was getting a puncture on the “D” road just before Twyfelfontein and being unable to get a new tyre from the workshop at Twyfelfontein Country Lodge. They just didn’t have any materials to repair our tyre with!
Having no spare weighed on our minds as we bumped along another 100km or so to Uis. If I had to do anything over, I would’ve paid for a second spare tyre just for peace of mind.
We changed three tyres across two vehicles on our 3,200km journey which should give you an idea of how harsh conditions are on the road even when driving with care. The first was unsalvageable, the later two easily repaired. This was probably because after experiencing the first flat, we started stopping almost hourly to check on the condition of our cars.
6. Place anything you care about in the cab with you.
One word: dust. Once we left Windhoek, everything in the back of the ute was well and truly covered in thick dust including food. Leaving the back window open accidentally was a rookie mistake we never repeated!
Corrugations will also destroy anything delicate. Ask my wooden giraffe who lost both her ears. Cans of food were broken open in this way, and we had rice all over the boot by our third stop. Suffice to say, by Etosha, anything of value rode with us in the cab!
In the words of one wise Namibian: you haven’t been to Namibia unless you’ve experienced the dust.
7. Expect every trip to take much longer than at home.
Even on bitumen with speed limits of 120kph such as the dreamy stretch between Mariental and Windhoek, we discovered that distances took far longer than expected. This was due to a combination of wildlife on the road, police roadblocks and breakdowns (we always slowed to ask if everything was OK, as seems to be customary in rural Namibia).
While we had downloaded maps on our phones and had Google Maps, having a paper map (remember those?!) was the most useful. There’s virtually no mobile network coverage outside of big towns. Also, both the GPS and Google Maps were often inaccurate – especially when it came to estimating driving time! This one, I bought off Amazon prior to travelling and I found it came in really handy. Click here or on the image to purchase!
You can also expect to see a lot of hitchhikers particularly in more remote areas. We didn’t have room in the car, but had we, I would have offered lifts between towns. To me, I felt that many Namibians were amongst the friendliest, most honest people I’d ever met. Icelanders had a similar vibe so I presume it had to do with low population density!
8. Diesel is relatively cheap, often payable only in cash.
As we got further away from towns, most servos accepted only cash. We paid roughly 600NAD to fill a 60 litre tank. If you tip the attendant who fills your vehicle for you, they’ll also clean your windows and side mirrors – a real bonus in dusty Namibia.
Always have a stash of cash in small denominations with you. We conserved ours by pre-paying big ticket things such as accommodation before we arrived or putting purchases on credit card.
9. Expect to pay extra for minor repairs and cleaning at the end of your trip.
Particularly if you travelled a long way like we did. 3,200km is probably equivalent to 100,000km at home. Your car will have taken an absolute beating.
We lost our Nissan double’s back numberplate (stuck on with double sided tape!) somewhere in Damaraland as well as a mudflap. A cracked dinner plate and broken spoon were found in the camper also during the final inspection. Both car rental companies charged us less than 200NAD for the damage. Not a big deal considering how hard the drive would’ve been on the cars.
Cleaning was 900NAD, compulsory for the camper, but we got the ute washed before returning it so Britz/Kea waived the fee.
10. Two cars might be better than one depending on your group.
Having two cars was our saviour as this provided much-needed personal space from our travelling companions, extra luggage storage and back up should a breakdown have occurred. It also allowed us to stop where we wanted and travel at a pace comfortable for the driver.
We had mobile phones to keep in touch (although many places had no network) and two way radios that worked in close proximity. One of our travelling companions drove very slowly so to avoid frustration, we often just agreed to meet at a destination by a certain time else we would backtrack.
Hopefully, you’ve found this information helpful and you’re well on your way now to preparing for a self-drive adventure in Namibia.
We review our vehicle here:
We’ve also hired the Ford Ranger Group L fully-equipped luxury vehicle for 2 people for a 3-week safari through Botswana. Watch the review here:
To read about our trip, the entire three week self-drive safari is chronicled on these pages: