THE RED SAND SEA
The Northern Cape’s red dunes with their green shrubbery might not look as desolate and intimidating as those of the Namib, but they offer their own 4x4 challenge. A trip to the region is well worth the effort.
namibia’s Namib Desert is famous for its incredible dunes, and rightfully so. Devoid of vegetation and epic in scope, these dunes are incredibly intimidating, and traversing this sandy rollercoaster is incredible fun. Few automotive adventures can top the thrill of charging up a massive dune, and then carefully sliding down the slip face on the other side.
When compared to those of the Namib, the Northern Cape’s red dunes can seem rather sedate and unthreatening. Dotted with shrubs and other vegetation, they don’t seem as alien. They’re also not quite as big, so they seem easier. But they’re not. Tackling these dunes is a lot of fun and extremely challenging. In fact, they can be just as tough as anything the Namib has to offer.
The tracks that meander through the shrubbery and up the dunes tend to be steep, long and filled with unexpected little challenges that catch you out just as you start to think that you’ve beaten a particular dune. You might hit a very sandy patch or a deceptive little donga that robs you of all your momentum just as you’re about to crest a dune.
Indeed, there are some experienced 4×4 drivers who believe that these dunes are actually harder than those you’ll find between Luderitz and Walvis Bay in Namibia. They don’t offer the adrenalineinducing experience of sliding down a 100m slip face, but they can be trickier to contend with. So, if you’re looking for fun and rewarding 4×4 adventure, it’s worth heading to the Northern Cape.
There are a few trails in the well-known Witsand area, not too far from Groblershoop. We visited two, namely the Waterford Trail and the Sout-put Trail. The aim of the trip was to test the capabilities of Hansie Coetzee’s 6×6 Cruiser bakkie that graced the cover of Leisure Wheels a few months ago, but it was also a great opportunity to review these trails.
As you’d expect, the 6×6 Cruiser performed impeccably in the dunes. With great traction from the 6×6 setup and the beadlock tyres deflated substantially, the bakkie did amazingly well, especially when you consider it was heavily loaded and fully kitted at all times. Sure, all six wheels were being driven by the motor, but there was a lot of weight to lug up every dune.
But what if you don’t have a 6×6 vehicle with beadlock tyres? Can you still have fun in these dunes? Absolutely! The Waterford Trail, for instance, has a fairly simple and sedate route that you could successfully complete in just about any 4×4 with deflated tyres. Only two things can really cause trouble: a traction control system that can’t be switched off and low-profile tyres that can’t be deflated very much.
Should you be up for the challenge, though, Waterford also has a ‘play area’ at the start of the trail where you can test yourself and your vehicle against some tough dunes. Here you’ll need a hardcore 4×4 with good ground clearance, tyres deflated to around 0.7 bar and some serious oomph. Rest assured, however, that all serious challenges are optional. Escape routes are available.
Soutput is arguably the tougher route of the two. Like Waterford, it has a tweespoor trail that is scenic and enjoyable, but it also has some occasional tough dunes that’ll test your vehicle thoroughly. Should the challenge be too extreme, escape routes are available.
Overall, these two trails offer a great introduction to sand driving: easy enough to cater for beginners, but with enough difficult bits to satisfy experienced drivers. And although the Northern Cape can hardly be described as being ‘close’ to Johannesburg or Cape Town, it is more accessible than the Namib. So, if you’re tired of rock crawling and want to experience something different, or you’re looking for an excuse to embark on an overland adventure, why not head for the Northern Cape?
Main: On a steep dune, the Cruiser’s 6x6 setup comes into its own. Right: These trails cater for all. You certainly don’t need a 6×6 monster to tackle them. Far right: Waterford 4×4 Trail can be attempted in just about any 4×4. Escape routes are always available.