Ten Things To Know When Driving in Namibia

When I made the decision to embark on a three week journey in August 2017 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.

Now, we travelled in peak safari season which did not help us 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 our travelling group of four (comprised of two couples), we booked two cars.

For the old Nissan Double utility (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 in a very remote location. 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 logistical coordination is therefore required to make sure you’re able to meet ongoing flights etc!

Also be sure to factor in final inspection time when you return the car. 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 gravel roads 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 re-inflate your wheels and switch back to 2WD once you hit bitumen again.

This is one of two road graders we saw in action…a rare species in Namibia indeed!

Also, huge clouds of dust behind other vehicles will impair visibility so resist the 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 within Windhoek!

4. Understand how the roads are graded (or not!)

Namibian roads are categorised 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 on our trip was getting a puncture on the “D” road just before Twyfelfontein and then being unable to obtain a repair or new tyre from the workshop at Twyfelfontein Country Lodge. They just didn’t have the materials to repair our tyre or the ability to replace it!

Having no spare after this weighed heavy on our minds as we rattled 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.

To give you an idea of how harsh the roads are, we changed three tyres across two vehicles on our 3,200km journey (tyre changing skill level now: expert!) 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

The one word that defined out trip: 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 the time we reached Etosha National Park, 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.

The offending window!

Our bags and spare tyres caked in dust.

7. Expect every trip to take longer than it does at home

Even on bitumen with speed limits of 120kph such as along the dreamy stretch of tar linking Mariental and Windhoek, we discovered that distances took far longer than expected. This was due to a combination of animals on the road (a huge lizard, goats, giraffe, oryx), 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!

I bought a great Globetrotter map off Amazon prior to travelling and it came in really handy. You can also buy these maps out of vending machines at the airport as well; however, I’m afraid didn’t take note of what payment methods were accepted.

You can also expect to see a lot of hitchhikers particularly in more remote areas. We didn’t have room in our car, but had we, I would have offered lifts between towns. I felt that Namibians were amongst the friendliest, most honest people I’d ever met. Icelanders had a similar vibe - something to do with low population density, maybe?

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.

My tip: try to 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 by putting larger purchases on credit card.

9. Expect to pay 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 ute'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 - hardly surprising given the rattling! Both car rental companies charged us less than 200NAD for the damage. Not a big deal considering how hard the journey 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 may be better than one, depending on your group size and composition

Having two cars was our saviour as this provided personal space, 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 carried mobile phones to keep in touch (although many places had no network) and two way radios that worked in close proximity. One of us drove very slowly so to avoid frustration, we often just agreed to meet at a destination by a certain time.

Hopefully by now you have an idea of what to expect on a self-drive adventure in Namibia - I hope you have a fantastic trip! 

Driving in Botswana? Read this post first.