Saddle Hill – Chapter 2

[By Johnie Jonker]

[Adapted version published in Leisure Wheels, March 2010]

Saddle Hill

Saddle Hill was used as base, with daily excursions departing from there, returning at around sunset. The idea was to do either the outward or return journey at low-tide, speeding up progress nicely, one way or another, at the same time being a great experience, sandwiched between the sea and dunes.

Saddle Hill Main Complex

Accommodation was basic, with the quick getting dormitories with 4 beds (and mattresses), and the slow, dormitories without doors and window panes, but with a number of bow tents equipped with beds, pitched inside – weatherproof enough, just lacking in audio privacy.

There were plans to improve/develop the accommodation, but due to the Namibian government at the time granting tourist concessions (to Namibian citizens) only on a year-by-year basis, the risk was high that the operator could lose his investment should he not be granted the concession again the following year. As soon as a multi-year concession of say 10 years could be secured, these plans would come into fruition. I am not aware whether at this stage this may well already be the case.

Being very close to the sea, the borehole provides very bracken water for washing purposes, which,  if you’re early, is hot. But better to keep your mouth closed in the shower and brush your teeth with that bottled water you brought along.

The food was phenomenal. Festus and his son turned out cuisine beyond expectation, night after night. Especially memorable was the morning we collected shellfish from the rocks, resulting in a formidable seafood stew. Thanks, Festus!


In terms of things to see, there are of course the regulation/as per brochure stops and photo opportunities – the Bushman’s Candle, the rusted Jeep engine with the fan still tinking away in the wind, shipwrecks, the seal colony, deserted mining facilities, rusted equipment, Mercury Island, spectacular viewpoints, unusual geographical features and some sand.

Bushman's candle

There are however many other non-advertised sightings or discoveries which appeal to each one in a unique way – perhaps not grabbing the attention of the next person – making the experience memorable and special.

Often these smaller, non-landscape things, were the most fascinating. E.g. the flora, some mistakable for a yellow version of a Lavender Bush or a “mushroom” growing between the vehicle tracks, or water eroded indentations in rocks, or the silhouette of a rusted coco-pan resembling an antelope.


Early morning fog is a problem at times in terms of visibility, and on one occasion we had to turn back from our destination prior to reaching it, as the promised feature would not have been visible. Fortunately the tour program was flexible, with events being swopped out, adapting to the weather. In the end we did get to see the initial fog-veiled feature.

Then there are the gullibility checks. Like the directions to the petrified seal site, having everyone chasing up a steep dune on foot, with the tour leader nonchalantly staying in his vehicle. But even with no seals, you are rewarded with a view which you otherwise would have missed.

Likewise the endemic jackal, which has adapted itself to running along the dunes. The legs on one side are shorter than those on the other, so that it can remain level as it runs along the dune slopes. The drawback is, that to get back home, it has to run all the way round the other side of the dune, as it would fall over if it ran with the short legs downhill. We were constantly on the look-out, but unfortunately missed this little creature completely. Perhaps next time.

Sand Driving

Opportunities abound to determine your car/own abilities/risk profile and develop your driving skill, although the difficult parts are always optional.

One of these skills is how to drive along the camber at the foot of a dune. You are instructed to keep your speed up, with the steering wheel turned slightly upslope. Generally this means a speed of around 50 – 80km/h, depending on the gradient of the slope and density of the sand. Should you relax your vigilance and let the speed drop off to below this level, you will promptly be bumped out of the track, and no matter how much more steering input is applied, will keep on heading down the dune. It is uncanny.

As soon as you get the speed up again, it is easy to move upslope and rejoin the “railway line”. This is contrary to one’s natural reaction of first wanting to align the car with more or less the intended direction of travel before heading off. In this case, head off in any direction – guaranteed, it will soon be downhill – get the speed up and as steering control is regained, return to the track.

This happened to the Forester, after slowing down too much for a largish cross-ridge. Once back on track and watching in the rear view mirror what the vehicle behind was doing, showed that as it slowed down for the same obstacle, history repeated itself, and it also was forced onto the same detour. At least the tracks were now already laid down.

Some of the advice given in terms of dune driving will require interpretation in order to validate it for softroader application. For instance: Maintain momentum up the slope, but tap off before cresting to avoid flying through the air and possibly roll the car. This advice is given by the driver of an unstoppable 2.5 ton plus vehicle, with a large footprint and a ground clearance > 250mm.

Your little SUV, with its belly frequently playing touch with the sand and weighing a ton less – therefore with considerable drag and only 60% the momentum (remember, M = mv) – will get hung up on the dune crest if you follow that advice too closely. After getting stuck once, you’ll realize that more power than was originally understood has to be maintained for longer; else a rearward recovery will follow. This was also one of the two occasions the Forester had to be recovered throughout the duration of the tour.



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