Testing the Duster in the Desert - News - Gondwana Collection

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Testing the Duster in the Desert

Avatar of inke inke - 03. January 2018 - Gondwana Collection, Tourism


Brigitte Weidlich

It stands there, silver-coloured, shimmering in the sunlight, a bit broad with a square rear end and that nice “Namibia2Go” logo on its doors. The car’s interior has lots of space for children, dogs and shopping bags, a nice city car. And on top of that it’s all-wheel drive? That is what the offer says.

Well, the Dacia Duster (sold in Africa under the Renault label) surely has four-by-four (4x4) with front and rear under-body cover, also called skid plates. It offers 20-centimetre ground clearance. This is higher than most sedans. The 16-inch alloy wheels look good. I open the driver’s door, Anja, of the Namibia2Go department from the local tourism company Gondwana Collection, joins me on the passenger seat. She explains the many technical gadgets this car has. 

I am tasked to test the Duster in the Kalahari Desert. One glance convinces me that this vehicle has all the comfort of a modern sedan, plus full off-road facilities under its gear box. The seats are very comfortable, including the passenger bench at the back. The boot reveals a huge 475-litre luggage compartment. 

With Namibia2Go Gondwana Collection offer self-drive tourists a complete package along four routes through Namibia with its company-owned fleet of Dusters and overnight stays at its 18 lodges. A tablet and a cool box – a typical Namibian characteristic – plus a thermos flask are included in the package. Phone calls within Namibia can be made with the tablet.

Induction is important

Anja grew up on a farm in Namibia and has this hearty and pragmatic, down to earth nature found in so many Namibian women. “The Duster runs on Diesel, as written on the filler cap,” she tells me. “This car has a 6-speed manual gearbox. The reverse gear is a bit different. Lift the gear leaver, shift it forward and then to the left,” she explains. Up, forward and left for the reverse gear? I follow her instructions and succeed, it needs some getting used to. As soon as the Duster reverses, a bleeping tone can be heard when objects like poles or walls are too close, sensors help with reverse parking.

Underneath the gear lever towards the dashboard sits the off-road rotary switch. Seeing the 4WD sign immediately makes me dream of red Kalahari sands and dunes, where the Duster and I will manoeuvre through deep sand and tricky bends on gravel roads. I am exceptionally lucky!

“The normal or two-wheel drive (2WD) mode should be used on tar roads, when gravel roads are really bad or deep sand is expected, then it is better to put it on “Auto”, explains Anja. “Only when the terrain is really, really off-road, then switch it to 4WD”. In addition, 4WD can be used when there are water puddles on gravel roads after rainfalls. 

Navigation system with touch screen

Next is the multi-media touchscreen with navigation system and GPS. The two top range Duster models, Blackshadow and Prestige have this fancy gadget as standard equipment. For the other Duster models they can be ordered additionally (in case one craves to own a Duster after a “Namibia2Go” adventure trip - that ‘danger’ exists!).

The 7-inch touchscreen offers listening delight via various radio stations. Your own music can be played from a USB slot and there is Bluetooth for mobile phones. The Namibia map shows all destinations and the GPS details for all Gondwana lodges are included. In case you don’t know where you are, just hit the “Where am I?” key on the touchscreen and the answer is displayed instantly, quite reassuring. Many commands can be handled from the buttons on the adjustable steering wheel. There is more to learn: indicators, windscreen wipers, manual mirror adjustment underneath the gear lever and traction control… my head spins.

Then comes the grand finale: “We have adjusted the speed limit for self drive tourists to 120 kilometres per hour (kmh) maximum on tar roads and 80 kmh on gravel roads and when driving at night,” says Anja. Above the speed limits a whining and beeping sound warns drivers. The Duster also sends an SMS and an email to Anja’s smartphone. Gondwana Collection can follow from Windhoek where their Dusters are. In case of a little roadside incident like a flat tyre, the tourists can be found quickly, quite a comforting thought. 

By the way, it is obligatory in Namibia to switch on the headlights when driving outside towns. 

On the road with the Duster 

I start my journey southwards towards Rehoboth. The Duster cruises nicely on the tar road, the diesel engine is hardly heard. South of Rehoboth I turn off at Kalkrand in an easterly direction, the Kalahari Desert beckons! After a few kilometres on the good gravel road the red Kalahari sand sea engulfs me. The dunes stretch from a north-westerly to a south-westerly direction over many kilometres and are spaced wider apart than along the Stampriet-Aranos road.

The rotary switch of the Duster “006” has been changed to ‘auto’ mode. The car effortlessly manages the soft, hilly and deeply red dunes – it is like riding waves. Just about 70 years ago, the San or Bushmen still lived here in the Kalahari. The first big camelthorn trees, laden with huge nests of the sociable weaver bird nests show up. Inbetween, the white gravel road changes to dark red. Driving over these patches causes a low humming sound.

Suddenly deep sand is visible. “Dusty, this is your first test,” I direct my thoughts at the car. Changing gears from sixth to fourth gear is accomplished in an instant, my hands hold the steering wheel tightly, speed is down to 60 kmh and we manage this obstacle. The rear end of the Duster does not sway left or right, it remains on course, pulls through the sand like it would air. The trick is not to slam the brakes when reducing speed. 

We conquer a few such spots and then comes a triple challenge: deep sand in a bend right on top of a dune. I apply the same procedure and all goes well. 

Next stop Stampriet 

Near Hoachanas en route to the (Gondwana) Kalahari Farmhouse it starts raining, some puddles have formed on the white gravel along the Auob River. The road becomes a bit slippery. I reduce the speed to 60 kilometres and admire a beautiful sunset after the rain. After entering Stampriet village I park the Duster in front of the reception. A beautiful garden is visible, Stampriet has lots of (artesian) water, behind the buildings is a spring – in the middle of the Kalahari Desert!

Dinner in the cosy farmhouse style main building is excellent, the service very good and friendly. The eleven rooms are also kept in farmhouse style with a lovely veranda each, where you can relax in rocking chairs. 

Before my departure the managers Breshnef and Farieda show me the impressive green houses. “The Gondwana lodges are 70 percent self-sufficient,” Breshnef tells me. “We grow vegetables and fruit. In the butchery we process meat, mostly venison or game meat and also produce different types of sausages. We also produce smoked beef for the lodges and do it the traditional way.” The company’s own cool trucks transport everything to the Gondwana lodges, even as far as the Zambezi Region. 

Dusty and I say goodbye, we want to explore the Kalahari as far as Gochas and Aranos along the Auob River. Ancient camelthorn trees provide shade for sheep raised by farmers, the farmhouses often lie hidden behind a dune, sometimes next to the road. During lunchtime we stop on a dune. The view is amazing in this quiet wilderness with the soft blood-red sand. The city dweller’s soul can shift into a lower gear, too.

The road from Aranos to Mariental is tarred, it is fun to drive the Duster up to 120 kmh again. A few kilometres away from the town lies the Kalahari Anib Lodge, part of the Gondwana Collection. It has 52 rooms and at the water hole, eland antelopes are visible. 

Game drive

The afternoon game drive starts at 16.30 in an open Landcruiser, 4x4 of course. We see many different antelope as well as Burchell’s zebra and even giraffe. Giraffe on the red sand dunes are a unique sight.

During the traditional sundowner on a dune crest, the drivers serve ice-cold drinks from the inevitable cool box. The sun bows goodbye in red-golden colours painted across the western sky. On the way back through the bush the various impressions pass before my inner eye. A huge full moon appears and rises quickly.

During dinner in the big lodge restaurant with its warm wooden textures the staff suddenly form a group, start dancing and singing traditional songs to the delight of the guests.

Before departure the next morning a ride on the electric bicycle (e-bike) is a must. These bikes are also known as fat bikes due to their fat tyres. They carry their riders almost without a sound through the bush on tracks past kudus and springbucks, quite a special experience.

On the way back via Uhlenhorst and Dordabis to Windhoek the Kalahari landscape slowly changes to savannah and eventually thick bush. 

The Duster is not only a comfortable sedan with full 4x4 ability; it also easily manages any terrain.

Further information can be found under Namibia2Go oder email Anja.

Brigitte Weidlich

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