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.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - DOWN & DIRTY TRAIL - Text: GG van Rooyen

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.

THE TRAILS

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.

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