Riding Across Namibia
The following is an interview on my ride across Namibia by the Namibian Tourism Board to bring awareness to the unique opportunities their country has for motorcyclists around the world.
We got the chance to interview Africa Motorcycle Tours‘ Tyler Hare about his experiences when he rode across Namibia on a motorcycle. Tyler is about to embark upon his second trip through the Namibia and we found why he was coming back to the Land of the Brave.
First up, could you explain to our readers who you are, where are you from and what kind of motorcycling have you done through Namibia?
My name is Tyler Hare and I am an American who explored Southern Africa’s paved and unpaved scenic byways on an adventure motorcycle. I entered Namibia at the Caprivi Strip when leaving Zambia after visiting Victoria Falls on an 11,000 km loop through seven countries.
Riding through Namibia was a highlight of my trip that has led to a two-year quest to return and explore the country’s potential. I am returning to Africa in a few months to see everything I missed. I will be spending a lot of time in Namibia and will be updating my exploration on my personal travel blog.
You have written that your first trip to Namibia was largely unplanned. Tell us a bit about this- would you do it the same if you could do it over again?
Largely unplanned is an understatement, I virtually knew nothing of Africa before landing in Cape Town a month prior and did very little research. I was following a rough outline of where to ride suggested to me by owner of the company where I rented my bike.
Whilst waiting to check into a hostel in Windhoek I had a change of heart after looking through some tour brochures and decided to lengthen my trip instead of returning the bike in a few days as originally scheduled. I realized I was so close to the deserted Skeleton Coast, Sossusvlei with its deep red sands as well as the iconic lunar landscape near the Dead Vlei. How could I possibly miss all that.
From a biker’s perspective I was foolishly underprepared in my exploration of Namibia. I am thankful now, though, to be given an opportunity to approach things differently on my next trip. I would not change a thing as good luck was with me on my journey but may recommend a different course of action to other riders.
Given that you didn’t completely plan your trip down to every last detail the first time you biked across Namibia, would you say that other first-timers should following your footsteps or find a guide to help them out?
I had fallen in love with the excitement and uncertainty each day brought. Wrong turns were solved by friendly locals; tales of routes that shadow mine were shared on roadside shoulders with other bikers; and tips on accommodation or where to ride to next were given by many of the locals I came across. These kinds of experiences can still be had on a trip with better planning and I encourage your readers to be prepared.
Namibia is a vast gorgeous country with so much biodiversity and if you only have once chance to visit it I suggest you plan your time wisely and prepare properly. Read ride reports, find out what the country has to offer your interests and then seek a scenic route to link those locations together.
There are lots of options available in Namibia for motorcyclists and it makes the decision to just get out there and go easier. A planned tour is an excellent choice, a ride with friends would be a dream, but if these options are not available it is better to do it by your self than not at all.
What are the three most important pieces of advice you give to someone who is setting out on their first motorcycling trip through Namibia?
1. Fresh Tires.
Just over 10% of the roads are paved which makes it a dual-sport motorcyclist paradise, but with that comes the risk of wear and tear on the bike where the rubber meets the road.
2. Bring goggles!
Sunglasses won’t cut it so my advice is bring a helmet that allows goggles to be worn under the visor.
3. Take the time to enjoy it.
The roads, even the unpaved ones, are impressively maintained which may allow for higher speeds. Don’t be tempted to ride any faster than is necessary and be sure to pull over and sit to enjoy the seclusion offered in one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
Let’s talk gear… First, what kind of motorbike is best suited to riding through Namibia? Also, are there any specialty pieces of gear that you recommend bringing to Namibia that other riders might not think to bring?
The best type of motorcycle is a properly maintained one. While I have a love for the desolation, the desert offers it is not necessary to ride strictly off road. There is so much to see along the major highways from the Orange River in the south to the Etosha Pan in the north.
A massive adventure bike may not be the best option if you are riding unpaved highways as a smaller bike tends to be more nimble, easier to handle on sandy roads.
Bring a well-ventilated riding suit if the outfitter you rent from is unable to supply you with one for your trip. The climate changes quite a bit from the coast to the interior and you will want to change with it to avoid overheating or dehydration. Ensure your suit is armored and you ride in boots with good ankle support. An injury is what I considered my most serious threat while riding through southern Africa.
You have been through places like the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Nakluft, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Fish River Canyon… What was your most memorable area to ride through in Namibia?
This is a tough one, but the most memorable area to ride through, for me, was the Namib Nakluft on my way to Sossusvlei purely based on the sheer openness the road offered.
But one of the most memorable moments on my trip was my stay in the Okavango Delta headwaters. I rented an en suite tree-house over the river where wild crocodiles and hippos swam freely beneath.
While I showered with river water in open view along the banks Cape buffalo would graze across from me in the Bwabwata National Park. The highlight of this stay was swimming in a giant floating cage protected from the rivers predators.
Budget is an important factor when planning trips through southern Africa- it can get expensive really quickly- do you think people can still do a motorcycling trip through Namibia on a medium budget as you did in 2012?
Adventure is always possible. Expeditions do not have to be done on a grand scale, with a personal bike, a seemingly limitless budget and planned down to the tiniest detail. My life was changed in several short weeks with no direction, a rental bike, and a middle-class budget.
When travelling by motorcycle you have a different set of priorities. If possible bring or secure camping equipment and take advantage of the isolation the desert offers with its unmatched views of the night. Hostels are often overlooked but as a rider you really only need secure parking for your bike and a place to shower. I chose hostels for accommodations on days that weren’t deemed needed for recovery, you will often find that B&B’s have more character as well as lower rates than chain hotels. ***Click here for a list of unique hostels and B&B’s in Namibia***
What makes motorcycling through Namibia unique when compared to its southern African neighbours?
The vastness of the desert has an ability to make you feel small and insignificant, especially after hours of travel with seeing very few people, you truly do feel lost in a great big world. The isolation, the chance to be alone with your thoughts and experience a place few will ever see makes riding through Namibia even more special.
My personal view on adventure is that I develop a more profound admiration of places I visit when I have no expectations. The amazement I found in Namibia’s natural beauty came as a complete surprise. The scenery changes from lush and tropical in the Kavango-Caprivi to dry and desolate in the Namib Naukluft.
Are there any tour guides or Motorcycle tour operators in Namibia that you can recommend?
Paul Shaw is an accomplished rider who has left very little of Namibia unexplored and he offers a magazine for free on his site. Their 2013 “Cape to Etosha Route Biker” magazine is a 96 page guide filled with maps and route choices, photo galleries, and anything else you can imagine which can be downloaded for free on their page.
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For more on one of my favorite countries in Africa please visit the Namibian Tourism Board to read more stories like mine and explore their extensive website showcasing this diamond in the rough here: http://www.namibiatourism.com.na