Namibia is an extraordinary country, with long stretches of uninhabited land, spectacular desert scenery and wonderfully friendly people. The northern part of the country (which we briefly visited in the Caprivi Strip) is completely different from the southern part, with a wetter (for Namibia) climate and a much more African feel to it. South of Windhoek on the other hand is mostly large commercial cattle ranches owned by white farmers, and their impact on the local environment is pretty visible in some places, though in others you wouldn’t know people had ever even passed through.
We biked in Namibia in July and August 2010, which is winter there. The nights were cold, occasionally down to freezing, and the days were hot, occasionally above 40°C. We cannot imagine biking there in the summer. I’m sure it’s possible, but I would plan on carrying tons (literally) of water – even in winter, filling up along the way was a constant concern. Never leave a town without full water and more than enough food to get to the next shop (which can be several days away).
Wind is also a problem in Namibia. We were told that in Luderitz at least the winds are 70% from the south, but for us it was generally a swirling thing that came from every compass point during the course of the day. If it gets real bad, they tend to die down after dark and so maybe waiting for the sun to set is better than fighting an impossible headwind.
Also, there is a good bike shop in Windhoek, Cycletec (www.cyclenamibia.com) which has top brands and top quality mechanics. They helped us out when our bikes died, but it bears note that they’re the only game in town and they know it – if you can make it to Cape Town, you’ll save a lot of money on repairs. Incidentally, Cycletec also organizes some pretty cool cycling holidays in Namibia with a support vehicle following behind. From the photos it looks like you can get to some really remote and spectacular areas this way, so check it out!
Route: We entered Namibia first from Zambia at Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Strip. From there we biked across the national park. There is no entrance fee required, though there are leopards, lions, and elephants, so be careful about bush camping here. There is a sizable village called Omega III about 50km in where we pitched our tent – coming from Katima Mulilo it is the last real village before Divundu. From Divundu we turned south and crossed into Botswana, passing through another small game reserve just before the border.
We then re-entered at Buitepos, east of Gobabis, and followed the tarmac into Windhoek. From there, we took the C26, the D1265 and the C24 to Nauchas. From there we passed over the Reemshoogte pass (the bike shop in Windhoek warned us against the Spreeshoogte pass, which is apparently a vertical climb more or less – we didn’t regret the choice). Then we took the D1261 and the C14 to Maltahöhe and Helmeringhausen, and the C13 to Aus and Rosh Pinah and then along the Orange River to the border with South Africa at Noordoewer (about 1000km from Windhoek along this route). We were generally able to find water along this route, though particularly on the stretch from Aus to Rosh Pinah it was a bit more difficult and we almost ran out.
Roads: The road from Buitepos to Windhoek and from Aus to Rosh Pinah are tarmac, all the others are gravel. Tarmac roads are good quality though heavily used and with no shoulder. Gravel roads are anything from sand pits to beautiful stretches you could land a 747 on. It all depends on when the grader last passed through and how many tourists have been flying along in their SUV’s. Good luck!
Dogs: Be careful when going up to farms to ask for water, they all have dogs and they are all trained to be suspicious of people walking up to the house. We had no problems, the dogs were all friendly when we got close, but we often saw them bothering farm workers, so we suspect you might have more problems if your skin isn’t white.
Food: Most of what we ate is what we carried out of the cities – so canned foods, rice, yada yada yada. You will probably be invited by families at the farms along the way as well, and then there is lots of delicious and oh so ecological game meat – Springbok, Kudu, Oryx, etc. There are, to our knowledge, no fruits or veggies in the entire country.
Sleeping: It is tragic not to bush camp in Namibia. While there are pesky cattle fences lining the roads, there is no traffic after dark and on several occasions we just waited for the sun to set and then pitched our tent along the shoulder. Everyone we met told us this was safe to do. It is particularly nice also because campgrounds here are insanely expensive – up to 15 dollars per person per night – and hotels are just out of the question. But once you get used to bush camping you’ll see that there’s no need to pay any of that. The best nights of course were when we were invited by local farmers, which happened surprisingly often.
Things shouted at us along the road: There was no one around to shout anything in Namibia! We were in total peace and totally alone most of the time. When we did meet people though they were unfailingly friendly and polite, we were often invited into farms for a shower and a hot meal and we made some good friends even along the way. It bears note for any non-white cyclists though that Namibia has a hard racial history, and while we were welcomed by white farmers along the way, this may not be the case for everyone who passes through. If you go and have a different experience, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d love to hear what it was like for you!