Gobabeb, Namibia – Part 1

By Johnie Jonker


Reading an article in an old Leisure Wheels magazine – March 2009 – It sure beats working – my eye caught an image of a spider at Gobabeb. 

This reminded me of way back when, when my wife and I toured Namibia and visited the Gobabeb research station, experiencing “A day in the life of a conservation researcher”. 

As access to the research station is now public and it is quite easy to reach in even a non-fourwheeldrive vehicle, I thought some background may be of use.

So in a flush of nostalgia, I compiled a trip report with a bit of a wheels theme, including scans from reprinted slides and photographs.   Shortly therefore, my somewhat belated – 24 years late – Gobabeb Trip Report.

Reporting for duty, sir!

Reporting at the Bronberrik Naval Base in Centurion [it’s only 600km’s away from the sea…. – PGJ] for the final transport arrangements 2 days prior to my third National Service camp, I was informed that it had been cancelled.

After failing to argue myself into an alternative camp, I arrived home disappointed, complaining to my wife that I had prepared myself mentally for being away from work for 4 weeks, but would now have to return.

Let’s go on holiday, Rosemary said. Yes, I agreed. What about Namibia – we leave Saturday!

The Journey

Namiba tour


The map gives a very summarised indication of the trip, just to give you an idea where in the world we were.

On our second day in Namibia, I rolled the Jetta on the road between the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop and Mukurob (the Finger of God, which incidentally, also rolled over in sympathy the following year).

After repairing the severed fuel line, the left hand wheels had to be removed, as both tyres had de-beaded due to the sideways skid prior to the flip-over. The supplied hexagon-shaped pipe wheel spanner however went oval trying to undo the wheel nuts, so with our survival kit – warm jackets, bottle of water and a roll of toilet paper – we started walking towards a farm-house we recalled spotting some distance back.

After a few kms, two farm labourers in an ancient Landcruiser pick-up stopped next to us. The driver and his colleague returned with us to the car, BEAT the pipe back into a spanner with a hammer using the head of another as anvil, and fitted the space-saver spare wheel. The front of the spanner had however by now split due to the repeated cold forming, and the second wheel could not be removed.

The LC wheel spanner did not fit the nuts, but the farmer, who had in the meantime been summonsed by radio, brought his Mazda 626 spanner, which worked.

The wheel was removed and the LC spare tried, but was of a different PCD. So one of the two original tyres was re-inflated by hand pump, fortunately sealing the bead, and after the refit we followed the procession back to the homestead, with both front and rear windscreens on the back seat.

It was explained to us that we were fortunate in being found on the same day, as we were on a road pretty much less travelled AND this farm had actually been reduced to cattle station status and was usually uninhabited.  [So the two vehicles on the picture actually counts for a traffic jam, it seems – PGJ]

The only reason anyone being there, was because it had recently been sold and the owner was in the process of “clearing out” – which I later understood to mean shooting out as much of the game – Springbok – as possible. We were given a hearty supper and put up for the night.

The next day, we continued on our holiday, as Windhoek was much closer than home. The remaining flat tyre had since been refitted to the rim, so the space saver could now go back into the boot.

We still had unfinished business at the Vingerklip (Mukurob), and stopped by for the obligatory foreground pose.


We could now progress faster than 80km/h, and stopped in Mariental, where we bought a roll of duct tape (probably from a Pupkewitz franchise) with which to better retain the front and rear windows, which were taped back in.

The car was going fine, and the only disadvantages were the wind noise, extra effort required on the steering wheel to keep going straight and the sequence of door opening due to the roof now being somewhat skew. First the left REAR door, THEN the front one could be opened, and vice versa.

Arriving in Windhoek, the car was taken to a local panel beater to find out whether it could be fixed in a couple of days, but the answer was: not even in a couple of weeks.

I should have expected that response, judging by the way the owner cocked his head in disbelief as he slowly walked around the car, going tut-tut or whatever the local equivalent of that sound was – perhaps !Xauk! – !Xauk!

Plan B, borrow the Mazda of my brother PG – who was seconded to Namibia for his second year of National Service in what was then still known as the SWA Territorial Force – and leave the bent VW with my cousin in Windhoek, awaiting our return to tackle the 2000km trip back home.

Prior to continuing our trip with the Mazda 323, we visited the Nature Conservation offices in Windhoek to enquire whether a national serviceman friend of mine – a nature conservationist – was still at Gobabeb, where he invited me when we parted ways at our previous camp.

Communication with Gobabeb was only possible via the Walvis Bay Radio ship-to-shore service, which basically entailed phoning the radio station via land-line, them linking you up via radio.

Although you were talking into a telephone your end, phrases had to be ended by “OVER”, so that the radio operator in the middle could switch his Gobabeb radio link to receive mode for you to be able to hear what the other party was saying. The once-daily 15 minute communication slot between Nature Conservation and Gobabeb had expired for that day, but the next morning we could get directions and a date for our visit.

We visited the other Vingerklip

and overnighting at Khorixas.

At the Petrified Forest we met up with another SA tourist (Philip Welle) who was out there all by himself, and from there our convoy of two did the rounds at Twyfelfontein, Burnt Mountain and the Organ Pipes.

At least we now only had to either open OR close the gates (I believe, now replaced by cattle grids?), not both, as we went onwards via the White Lady of the Brandberg, ending up in Swakopmund, getting 2 punctures and completely destroying a third tyre along the way.

The first puncture (of three), illustrating the irritation of having a spare wheel below the floor of the car boot. Strangely, it was not the per usual left rear tyre that went.


We stayed in the cheapest possible municipal accommodation in Swakopmund for a few nights, doing daytrips after first sorting out the severe tyre shortage which befell us.

The Swakopmund morning fog required drying out of the distributor cap prior to getting the car started.

On the agreed date we left Swakop via Walvis Bay and arrived at Gobabeb in the afternoon, after first spending some time at Dune 7.

Gobabeb entrance. The normal viewpoint shows a water tower in the background – crouching low with a 24mm lens to avoid it.


Part 2 to follow