Saddle Hill – Chapter 1

[By Johnie Jonker]

[Adapted version published in Leisure Wheels, March 2010]


In 2006 I enquired as to the suitability of my 2001 Forester to be permitted on a 5-day Saddle Hill/Spencer Bay tour, departing from Luderitz. Don Nieuwoudt from West Coast 4×4 thought that this would be possible and subsequently put my name on his July school holiday tour list.

Not without reservations, though.  I was reliably informed that Don was heard saying: “Hierdie ou wil wragtag met sy Subaru deur die Namib!” (This guy seriously wants to do the Namib with his Subaru).

Other than varying routes, these kind of tours also come in a variety of themes, e.g. the manne tours (men’s tours), photographic expeditions, and then this one, which was more family orientated. Not that there was not opportunity for the “men to visit” or that there were not great images to be captured.  The daily routine was just quite laidback with latish starts after a good breakfast, so inevitably, no sunrise pictures.

Most importantly, the tour was fully catered. So other than clothing, sleeping bags, pillows, 25liters of water, snacks and drinks, required nothing else. Fuel was available at Saddle Hill at a R1 premium above ZAR prices, but as (South African!) fuel was 85c cheaper in Namibia than at home, this was a bargain. Therefore no jerry cans were required, being very good news for us owners of small SUVs, as together with the 25liter of water, where to put it?


Other than a completely destroyed tyre – a spare which had to be couriered overnight from Windhoek to Keetmanshoop – we had a pretty uneventful trip from Pretoria, overnighting at Upington (Die Eiland) and two nights at Ais-Ais.

Tyre go home...

From there we travelled via Aus.

We visited the tame horses of the Namib – it felt as if I had not moved off, a very inquisitive horse would have put his head through the car window, just to say hi. Then through those kamikaze birds en route to Luderitz. What on earth were they?

Namib horse

Not so lucky was one unfortunate expeditioner who had lost reverse gear on his vehicle en route from PE to Luderitz. He was however duly introduced to a local resident with a suitable vehicle, culminating in a private rental agreement which enabled Gerhard and Nicky to accompany the rest of us on the tour. The stricken vehicle was left in the care of the Obelix Village owner until our return.

Having arrived a day early to experience the sights of Luderitz and Kollmanskop – and we were blessed with an exceptional spell of good weather, with the bay calm as a dam – we had the opportunity to see the rest of the group file in towards evening of the next day.

This was, to say the least, somewhat intimidating, as with the vehicles filling up the Obelix Village Guest House yard, the Forester soon disappeared amongst them. This is an emotion to be expected, as you are so clearly the odd one out, or “what is wrong with the picture”. Perhaps not a bad thing, as when on edge, you tend to try harder.

The tour departed from said guest house, which provided excellent accommodation and dinner the night before – the latter being included in the tour package. The convoy being 15 vehicles large – in hindsight too large; should be no more than ten – took a while to mobilize following Don’s final briefing, as some late starters had to first go into town for last minute shopping the Monday morning, having to wait for the shops to open.

Departing eastwards towards Aus past Kollmanskop, the tar road is left after 35km, heading NE on a gravel road, amongst others used by the Namibian Water Board for pipe/pump maintenance.

At the point where this secondary road was left for the tracks and sand, the convoy waited for the mall stragglers, whiling the time away by deflating tyres to 1 bar.

So, how did it go?

From here, as a precaution, the Forester was placed second in the convoy behind the lead vehicle – a Landcruiser bakkie – in order to not have too deep tracks for the car with clearly the lowest ground clearance in the group.

The regular mispronounciation of Saboera instead of Subaru, was laid to rest with the car being nicknamed Platbekpadda (Flat Mouthed Frog? – sorry, idiomatically this translation simply does not work! – PGJ).

The Forester was advertised – and measured up after purchase – to have 190mm of clearance throughout. Modifying the central exhaust attachment bracket, an additional 10mm of clearance was gained. By further installing spacers front and rear, the ground clearance was increased to 210mm minimum. Prior to departure, the tyres were deflated to 0.8bar and a 15mm loss measured. It was still uncertain whether this would be sufficient, but at least now the limitation was known.

As everyone was issued with a radio, a light-hearted banter was maintained along the route, with each being addressed by a nickname – yours truly being Platbekpadda. Don ever so often issued warnings regarding the klein jakkalsies (small jackals)– sandy ridges crossing the route which, due to the almost directly overhead position of the sun casting no shadow, only became visible once you were virtually on top of them. This tended to re-arrange the luggage somewhat if caught unawares.

Frequent stops were made, as on the first day the goal was only to reach Saddle Hill, covering around 170km, more than 2/3 of it sand. Initially the dune highways running in a NNW direction are followed, but as the route approaches the coast, some dunes need crossing. These tend to be steeper downhill in the direction of travel, i.e. slip faces towards the coastline, easily negotiated with tyre pressures at 1 bar. On the return journey tyre pressures had to be 0.8 bar in order to float on top.

An exceptionally good rain season had preceded the trip, and in the road/sand transitional mountain area, the terrain was covered by a green tinge.

Driving the smallest car there, on a number of pit stop occasions other tour members were caught with incredulous (which later turned into admiration) looks on their faces when regarding the Forester, almost as if to say “what were you thinking”?

What were you thinking, bru?

The rule of Platbekpadda second in the convoy was waived by the second day and we could travel where we liked.



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