Van Zyl's in retrospect





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  1. #1
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    Default Van Zyl's in retrospect

    Liz and I have been travelling Namibia for twenty years, but as we invariably travel alone, we had never attempted Van Zyl’s, until last week. Some good friends had invited us to join them on a trip, which would include Van Zyl’s, and we were to be in four cars, two Defenders (our Tdi and a Puma), a Toyota Prado and a Mitsu Pajero. The Prado and Pajero were both aged automatics, fueled by petrol and were heavily loaded. These are my initial thoughts on that experience. I must emphasize that this year there had been no rain, so the road had not been washed out. However, we still had to do a lot of road building. Next year could be totally different story.

    Planning is everything. The Pajero used far more fuel than anticipated and if we hadn’t been able to find some petrol in Okangwati, the car would still be out there. The petrol cost N$16 per litre and was syphoned out of old drums in the back of a shack – I think we took nearly all they had and it was not filtered.
    The road from Okangwati to the campsite is mostly OK, but there are a couple of obscure right hand forks in the sand track, both of which we missed and had to retrace our steps for short distances. Convoy rules are important in these situations, and here we messed up badly. The Pajero became separated, took a wrong road and, more by luck than judgment, found the camp in the dark, but only by going off road and following his GPS through the bush. It could have been a major drama, because we would never have found them if they had got stuck. We all arrived at the campsite in the dark, it was deserted and we couldn’t find the toilets etc, so made camp by the “office”. The camp guys came in the morning, turned on the water and showed us where the actual campsites are. They are very good and I wish we had found them.

    The road from the camp to the head of the pass is extremely slow, and gets progressively worse and worse. Apart from a very difficult section at the top, the rest of the pass is almost an anti-climax by comparison. If you can manage to lift your eyes off the track and look around you, the scenery is superb.
    The Defenders coped admirably, although I have to admit to having had a couple of those “Oh sh.t” moments. Liz and I share the driving, and she also took on a lot of the rough stuff, as did Des in the Prado. Girls ruled OK! The Prado and Pajero both came through more or less unscathed, but ground clearance and width was a problem for them, so they suffered a few scrapes. Being automatic didn’t help either, the Prado frequently had to rely on brute force rather than finesse, and the Pajero was often only on three wheels!
    The bad and very steep downhill section at the top of the pass caused some heart stopping moments for all of us. All four cars lost their grip on the loose surface and slalomed for short distances, the driver just becoming a passenger. I would not like to do it with a heavy trailer pushing me from behind – especially with that steep drop into the valley on the left hand side.

    All in all, it was a great experience, we had a lot of fun, but it was not a walk in the park. The potential for personal and/or mechanical injury/damage is considerable and should not be ignored. Recovery of a damaged vehicle would not be easy. Once you have started on the pass proper, there is no turning back, changing a wheel would be an interesting exercise. Holes have to be filled with loose rocks, some of which become dislodged after each vehicle passes, so there is a lot of heavy road building that has to be done and re-done. You do need to be reasonably fit, and don’t even think about trying it if there is any rain about, as there will be washouts happening all around you.
    As I said, we all had a lot of fun, it was a great experience, we had no mechanical problems, the weather was good and no marriages have ended in divorce. It is, however, a serious undertaking and the risks should not be taken lightly.

    There is a good reason for saying that the Van Zyl’s should only be traversed from east to west, ie, down rather than up the pass. Some selfish people have insisted on driving up the pass, which apart from putting themselves and others at risk, seriously damages the road by spinning all the loose rocks out of the ground and making bigger and bigger holes that others then have to try and fill in. Also, you would not want to meet someone coming the other way on the more difficult and steep sections. Please, everyone, go down and not up.

    At Red Drum we met two German guys with a well equipped Land Cruiser, who asked us where we had just come from. Earlier, I mentioned “planning”, and these two were a case in point. The only map they had was a GPS road map, which clearly showed a nice road from the Marienfluss to Okangwati and Epupa. If, as they had intended to do, they had taken this nice red road with its GPS positions, they would have been trying to go up Van Zyl’s. They had no idea that it was there or what it was like. When I showed them photos on my camera they were quite shocked and decided to retrace their steps to Orupembe, Opowo and then to Epupa. I hope they got there.

    Travel well.
    Chris
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    Last edited by Chris Card; 2013/05/12 at 02:47 PM.

    Chris & Liz Card (Land Rover Defender Tdi (N104 625W) & 1928 4.5L Bentley in UK) Drive safe - better to arrive late, than dead on time.
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    Nice report Chris. Well put together and useful for those of us still planning to 'give it a try'. Appreciate it.
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    Excellent summary, Chris. Perhaps we can ask Dirk to make this a sticky? I have done Van Zyl's twice while on working trips, and I agree that it should only be done as a necessity, and not "because it is Van Zyl's" and you can say "been there, done that". I'm amazed that there haven't been more serious accidents on the pass.

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    Thanks for Posting Chris. Remains on the wishlist!
    Peet Schultz

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    VanZyls is not so easy people said.

    Nesxt time I want to camp half way to enjoy the scene, next day at the campsite and then down.

    One golden rule I think is a good rule, camp not later than 17:00. Lot safer.

    Thanks Chris. Nice to read again.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Weaver View Post
    Excellent summary, Chris. Perhaps we can ask Dirk to make this a sticky? I have done Van Zyl's twice while on working trips, and I agree that it should only be done as a necessity, and not "because it is Van Zyl's" and you can say "been there, done that". I'm amazed that there haven't been more serious accidents on the pass.
    we are planning a 3 week trip in December - and want to go from Epupa down and across to Camp Syncro. We will be in our Prado but towing a conqueror companion (small 4x4 caravan) - so no VanZyls for us !!

    please can I have suggestions on what is the best route to take , if we dont do VanZyls? can one still camp at the top and then take another road , or does one have to go all the way back to Opuwo.

    also, is it possible to make it all the way from Opuwo to Camp Syncro in a day's drive ?

    thanks for your input.
    Lyn

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Card View Post
    the rest of the pass is almost an anti-climax by comparison.

    Thank you!! It is a bad gravel road, that's all!


    If you plan to go there do do drive Van Zyl's pass, you WILL BE DISAPPOINTED! Go for the experience and scenery
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    Thanks Chris and those also adding further info.

    I think van Zyl's has been accurately summarised here, including the feeling of anticlimax on completing it. This route is to be taken slowly and carefully as it is a bad place to get into trouble. The challenge for me is not so much completing the route safely, but having the foresight to avoid becoming so engrossed in the technical demands of driving it, that you neglect the magnificent scenery. When we did it a few years ago all went smoothly, but we were in a very capable vehicle and the road conditions appeared better than average, with minimal apparent damage from washaways. I have no doubt that under different conditions it can be very challenging. I personally would never consider towing on this pass.

    It remains the best route to approach the magnificent Marienfluss from the east. I also agree that when we do it again we would plan to bush camp on the middle of the pass and spend more time on the pass itself.

    To those that are into 4x4 obstacle courses van Zyl's might be dissappointing. However it needs to be considered in the context of its isolation and the distances and terrain involved if seeking help. The vehicles are also heavily laden which is not the case in 4x4 courses. There is very little margin for error and any mechanical problem or even a puncture might be a challenging test for your ingenuity.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gobabisgirl View Post
    please can I have suggestions on what is the best route to take , if we dont do VanZyls? can one still camp at the top and then take another road , or does one have to go all the way back to Opuwo.
    also, is it possible to make it all the way from Opuwo to Camp Syncro in a day's drive ?
    Lyn
    Lyn - From about 20km east of the top of the pass (Otjitanda), which is before the really bad bit starts, you can take the D3703 towards Etanga and Opowo. In about 36km there is a right turn to Otjihaa and Onjuva (Marble Mine) and then on to Red Drum. I haven't driven this road, so can't advise on practicality, especially if towing. Perhaps someone else can advise on this.

    From Opowo, you could also take the D3707 which is quite scenic, but has a bad clay section after Kaoko Otavi. The other way, which most of the conservation people seem to take, is Opowo, Etanga (D3703), Otjihaa, Onjuva, but again, I haven't driven that road.

    Red Drum pass is also quite tricky, rocky and narrow in places, but people do take trailers through.

    Opowo to Syncro in one day is a very tall order - why not stop at Marble Mine.

    One other consideration - the last two years have been dry - next December, who knows? If there is any rain up there, you could be in trouble, so you must keep an eye on the weather.

    Chris

    Chris & Liz Card (Land Rover Defender Tdi (N104 625W) & 1928 4.5L Bentley in UK) Drive safe - better to arrive late, than dead on time.
    .............leaving only footprints.

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    Thanks Chris for this assessment of the track.
    I can say I have done it with a 4x4 trailer in tow, or shall I say, I have been pushed down by the said trailer.
    In principle we did not have a problem despite the weight and the sharp inclines as well as the cliffs to the side. This despite my run-in brake mechanism being damaged and unworkable from earlier in the trip.

    A tip for the ones attempting to do it with trailers:
    I have pulled the park brake of the trailer up to the point that the wheels were just turning thus the trailer braked itself all the times (on the sharp drops) and I literally had to "pull" on downhill. This is no problem as you are going slow and not for long distances so overheating the brakes was not happening.

    The key is slow going and keeping the rig under control at all costs, so movement planning for the next 10-20 meters at the time were essential and if in doubt, stopping the rig dead. My sliding then was limited to half a meter at the time until I could stop completely.

    But, I have to say, my visitors from overseas, driving the second vehicle, decided only one person in the car, the second walking, in case they would lose it and go over the cliff. Survival instinct which lead to some good pictures and debates in retrospect.

    I agree completely, it wouldbe silly and unresponsible to try to do the pass in the opposite direction. Yes, it can certainly be done, but prove it to the detriment of the track conditions just does not make sense.

    Last but not least, concentrating on the task at hand can easily distract you from the beauty of the scenery, so plan the time and camp half ways to enjoy the vistas. Take your time.
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    When we did van Zyls we found the road to van Zyls worst than van Zyls self. So if you get to the top the worst is over except for a small section as per the foto in a previous posting on this fread.
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    Default Advice on going down Van Zyl's

    I am going down Van Zyl's in September in my 08 Prado petrol auto. It has a raised suspension (LA Sport) but still has the standard running boards.
    question: should I replace the running boards with rock sliders or will the added ground clearance of the raised suspension (measures 350mm at the bottom of the running boards)? Can anyone recommend a reliable supplier of rock sliders?
    Do I need to add bash plate covers to protect the engine and sump?

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    Hi Chinese,
    You will see from my report that both the Prado and Pajero made it down, although they did bottom out briefly, although not seriously and no damage. Both were heavily loaded and with standard suspension.

    I've attached a couple of pictures of each on the worst bit - you can judge on what you need to do. Above all, go very carefully and slowly.

    Chris
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    Chris & Liz Card (Land Rover Defender Tdi (N104 625W) & 1928 4.5L Bentley in UK) Drive safe - better to arrive late, than dead on time.
    .............leaving only footprints.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Card View Post
    Hi Chinese,
    You will see from my report that both the Prado and Pajero made it down, although they did bottom out briefly, although not seriously and no damage. Both were heavily loaded and with standard suspension.

    I've attached a couple of pictures of each on the worst bit - you can judge on what you need to do. Above all, go very carefully and slowly.

    Chris
    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the advice. Will post some photos and a report after the trip.

    Regards

    Chinese

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    An 08 Prado is still on the new side.
    I suggest leave the standard stuff at home and protect with plates and bars.
    If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right. SJ

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    In my post I mentioned about picking up petrol in Okongwati. As far as I know, there are two people selling fuel out of drums. They have to take the drums to Opowo and fill them at the filling station, and the N$16 per litre is to cover their costs and a bit of profit. They do, however, only go to fill up when their drums are empty so - DO NOT RELY on getting fuel at Okongwati.

    Chris

    Chris & Liz Card (Land Rover Defender Tdi (N104 625W) & 1928 4.5L Bentley in UK) Drive safe - better to arrive late, than dead on time.
    .............leaving only footprints.

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    We did it last week - in a hire car, alone ( me naughty).

    Anyway no real dramas - no grounding at all and no scrapes and in way less time than T4A suggests. I would'nt say it was easy though - as others say you have to concentrate and think on the best way down and miss the scenery. The photos Chris has posted show the "worst" section - steepest, but to be honest I think the worst potential for danger may be in the last very steep section just before the end which is loose rock. I never had a problem but it seemed to me that there is potential here to start a slide and be unable to stop at all if you built up any speed. So just how do you go UP this?

    The road in is in many ways more difficult and tedious and has no views at all and I found the horrible road out from Purros to Sesfontein (D3707?) to be a real teeth loosener.

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    As Scapa has said, there is the potential for it all going horribly wrong at the bottom of the pass. Compared to the top, it is an innocuous looking steep slope with a bend that tightens up on itself. The temptation is to let your speed build up, and then, if you apply your brakes on the loose surface it will provoke a slide that could take you over the edge of the road.

    Chris

    Chris & Liz Card (Land Rover Defender Tdi (N104 625W) & 1928 4.5L Bentley in UK) Drive safe - better to arrive late, than dead on time.
    .............leaving only footprints.

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    Default Kaokaland

    Hi Chris,

    Interesting article. I could not agree more - planning, planning and double planning and be well equipt

    I my mind people do the Van Zyl's pass just to tick it of on their bucket list. If you want to explore Koakoland the road from Opuwa via Koako Otiva (D3707) to Orupembe is much more interesting and have beautiful scenery and you can also see some wild life. You can then overnight at Marble Camp (26km north of Orupembe). From there one can either explore the northen part to Marienfluss or back-track to Orupembe to Purros via the Khumib and Hoarusib river 4x4 road. I have heard that the D3707 from Orupembe to Purror are extremely corrugated and must be avoid at all cost. With the drought this year I don't think that road will be blade.

    During August we are doing a 32 day trip to Zambia (Barotsiland) for some tiger fishing, then through Caprivi, Etosha, Epupo falls, Koakaland, Damaraland and down to Fish river canyon.

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    What options does one have if you where coming from the south and wanted to visit the Mariefluss and then get to Epupa falls without attempting to do Van Zyl's the wrong way round?
    Peet Schultz

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