NAMIBIA. A place few in population but vast in space, a location which holds some of the largest sand dunes in the world, it’s an eye opener to the new visitor and it’s definitely a location that should be included on anyone’s bucket list, it has always been in mine. Apart from cars, landscape and adventure photography has always a great passion of mine and over the past year Namibia had moved itself up on my bucket list to somewhere in the top 5. So When Francisco called me and asked if I would like to attend the Isuzu launch in Namibia I got very excited, he already knew my answer. The original plans intended on us staying in Namibia for one night, but that would not do for me. I arranged to remain in Namibia for a further two nights so I could get out into the open and explore this great part of the world.
Isuzu would be providing accommodation for the first night, but after that, I would be on my own. I went and purchased an incredibly cheap and pretty useless two man tent, so small that I could not lie down flat inside it without stretching and busting the seams. It might also worth noting that I’m only 167cm tall, it may fit two men wide, but the only person lying down in that tent was a sall child. Good job I didn’t plan on spending much time at all in inside it.
The plans were for me to stay the night at JHB airport and fly out with the other Journalists the next day, which I did. Isuzu put me up in the “ airport hotel “ which I was fairly impressed with and got a goods nights rest. The next day involved the usual, an early rise, an easy check in and pass through JHB international security. The first issue I encountered was the small plane, no I’m not a nervous flyer. It was more the fact that I was lugging two camera bags onto a 40 seater plane with overhead storage so small I would struggle to fit my lunchbox in it. It was amusing to see the flamboyant air steward trying to force close the door, nearly bringing down half the ceiling fascia in the process. I opted to keep the drone on my lap, if the paper plane did go down, at least I would die with my memories.
Looking out the window when Coming into land at Walvis Bay International Airport emphasises the vastness of this land. For as far as the eye can see, it’s sand, with the odd little town coming into view as your eyes adjust and pick out the details. The first treat of this trip was unexpected one as we taxied, looking over the wing we noticed an unusually looking plane. After some consultation with the other guys, we realised that this was a legendary ER-2 high-altitude aircraft, used by NASA for atmospheric tests. An awesome sighting indeed, we even watched this machine go from standstill to airborne in somewhere around 400 meters.
After a few minor issues at the airport, such as a fire and loss of luggage, we were greeted by the Isuzu team and finally on our way. We partnered up and headed down the dusty road in the brand new Isuzu KB 300; this vehicle was the top of the range spec, apart from suspension updates, all the other updates to this vehicle are purely visual, the drivetrain options remain the same. The KB 300 features a 3-Litre turbo diesel producing 130kw and a meaty 380nm of torque. The facia changes to the KB include a newly designed bonnet, radiator grille and front fog lamps. New projector headlamps conclude the changes to the front of the vehicle, with LX models featuring LED daylight running lights. The updated design continues to the rear of the vehicle with an updated rear tailgate, and the introduction of a reverse camera integrated into the tailgate handle on LX models. The LX model also gets updated 18″ alloy wheels, with the rest of the range receiving updated 16″ alloys. Interior changes the same throughout the range with an updated instrument cluster, gear change indicator on manual models to help keep the planet green and finally, roof mounted rear speakers.
All in all, these little changes make a considerable difference and produce a refreshed KB. Heading along the dirt road to our first stop at the Swakop riverbed, it was easily noticed that the KB had a great ride and handled the terrain well. This was most likely due to the time and effort Isuzu has put into refining the suspension on KB models, 4 x 2 models receive updated front and rear dampers with the 4×4 models just getting changes to the rear dampers. Isuzu has refined the rebound control of the damper, which is when the damper is on the down stroke after being bumped or compressed up by a bump or road surface. The dampers primary job is to control the suspension spring and the speed in which it reacts, an integral part of a suspension system.
Dune Driving Day One.
We soon arrived at the tempory white marquee set up near the riverbed before our first exploration. After restoring energy levels, rehydrating and a fantastically exciting briefing, we lowered tire pressures to 0.8 Bar and headed off into the unknown, for the instructors and tour guides, it was their back garden.
It was a fairly easy route with small and moderate climbs and descents, the path through the riverbed twisted and turned as massive dunes towered on either side of us. This run was to help us find our “sand feet”, it was pleasant and an extremely enjoyable drive until we finally stopped off at one random pipe sticking about 1 meter out of the ground. A few meters behind the pipe were the remains of an old truck, mainly the steering column and suspension lay rusted and half buried in the sand. The story goes that in the 1970’s, a team came here to drill for water, the truck broke down and they left, never to return to collect it. It takes around 8 seconds for a mere R1 coin to hit the bottom of the pipe, making it roughly 170m deep! After the break, we swapped drivers and headed back the way we came, although I recognised nothing.
The evening ended with us checking in at the beautiful stand hotel which looks over Swakopmund beach, Along with everyone else, I still not have my luggage. Isuzu were fantastic at this point as they had arranged fresh clothes, deodorant and toothbrushes for all, even thought the lost luggage had nothing to do with them. We settled down for a hearty meal, banter and some good conversation before grabbing an early night; we had been told that the next day would be fantastic, 8 hours in the dunes, how could it not be?
Dune Driving Day Two
The next day we rose early, full of anticipation and excitement. A quick breakfast with the team, a change of vehicles and we hit the road. We headed through Walvis Bay and-and onto the beach where we stopped and again, dropped our tires pressures to 0.8 bar. Stretched out in front of us was miles of beach, it was a very gloomy morning with lots of fog and soft light, adding to this was the 3-foot left-hander wave running peacefully just off the shoreline. It was all very surreal.
30 minutes later we were still tearing up the sand as we pelted across the beach, a line of Isuzu bakkies seemed headed for nowhere, every now and again the odd seal would sit up and screech as we passed. The heat of the sun began to burn off the mist as we headed closer to our destination. Slowly coming into view were the sand dunes we would soon be attempting to conquer, one of the only places in the world where sand dunes meet the ocean and man, it was beautiful. The morning light hit the dunes and turned the sea blue as we headed closer, as a photographer I’ve seen many beautiful sights, this was definitely one of the best.
The convoy came to a quick stop with dunes on the left and ocean waters on the right, many have been caught out here by the rising tides, causing them to be trapped and vehicles consumed the ocean. Nature doesn’t play games. As we carried on ploughing through the sand, the beach opened out and in the distance was an Isuzu bakkie, ready and waiting with cold refreshments before we started to sweat. The excitement was in the air as we stared on at the dunes we would be facing, small jackals could be seen climbing the steep sands. They made it look easy, would the Isuzu KB do the same?
No more child play and the speed hole.
There was no easing into this day, we turned off the beach and straight into a sharp drop with a steady, long accent which needed all the momentum we could muster. A few of us got stuck here, not realising the brute force sometimes needed. This style carried on for a while, steep accents followed by very steep descents. The Isuzu handled it well although we were told that it’s not about the vehicle, but the driver. This was my first experience off road dune driving and it amazed me at how aggressive one needs to be, we were informed to feed the throttle and use every ounce of power the 3Litre Diesel produced. Today made yesterday look as natural as a child making sand castles, more challenges lay ahead. Being here really helps to realise the beauty and sheer scale of the Namib desert, this is a place where appreciation for 4×4 systems rings true, it still blows my mind the things that man and machine can conquer.
If you asked me what was their highlight of my time with Isuzu, I would reply with a few simple words “Speed Hole”
After a few hours of negotiating drops and climbs, we pulled up on the top of a rise and jumped out of the vehicles, the view in front of us was what could only be described as a huge desert shaped breakfast bowl, steep on the sides and incredibly deep. Another briefing came, this one was a little more interesting. ” I’m going to give you a rollercoaster experience” was some of the words mentioned. The aim : drop down and climb up the other side of this huge sand bowl, We were all offered the opportunity to give it a go and the instructor gave us a demo. The Isuzu KB Charged up to the entrance of the speed hole at full tilt and entered the decent. Once on the decent it’s all about power and momentum, at no point during this do you even slightly back off the power. They say when the vehicle reaches the bottom of the hole, it is easily doing three figures on the speedo. The daunting bit comes when the vehicle enters the climb, speed slows dramatically and the throttle stays pinned. You hope and pray that the Isuzu keeps momentum and continues over the crest. You do not want to get stuck, be the one guy who left a brand new Isuzu KB in the bottom of a hole in the Namib desert, there is a very thin chance of vehicle recovery.
Not many attempted this feat, I was nervous, more to the fact that I didn’t want to be “that guy” especially on my first launch with Isuzu. I knew if I left the Namib desert without completing this task, I would be extremely gutted. Time was short; I teamed up with Andrew, we agreed he would do the run one way, and I would return. To this day it was one of the coolest things I’ve done, the speed, G-force and sense of accomplishment is a feeling I will hold onto, besides the fact that you feel like a badass and that you are part of 5% who had the gonads to do it.
Back to Deserting
The trip carried on, climbing and descending sand mountains, One of the warnings we had in our briefing was about cornering too quickly. Due to low tires pressures, there is always a risk of the tire leaving the rim. This happened to one certain Isuzu man, who merely sat back and chuckle as he proceeded to tell the team it was a good job they practised this procedure before hand. The off-road team quickly rectified this issue, and we were back on our way.
There was only one point in the trip where I got really stuck, 3 times. I don’t know what it was. Apparently I wasn’t using the “full power “of the vehicle. Well unless the other Isuzu’s had more travel in their accelerator pedals, that was not the case. It wasn’t even that steep, a steady accent with thick sand and at this point we had moved into low range mode. I feel I was too close to the Isuzu in front and could not build up enough momentum for the climb. I finally got out of the mess and enjoyed catching up with the rest of the crew, it was a benefit in disguise being left behind for a short while as I got to enjoy the path head, uninterrupted at a good pace. My partner and I had some fun moments when we needed to decrease speed quickly because the a sharp drop appeared out of nowhere. Visions of the Dakar rally filled our minds, well Dakar rally wipeouts. As good a car the KB is, I don’t think it was built or designed to slide across the sand on its front end.
As the day draws to a close and we could see a simple white tent in the distance the dunes progressively got smaller but more enjoyable, a few occasions came about with the rear of the vehicle sliding out during a cornered decent. The bigger dunes were great to tackle but the smaller ones are more technical and can be taken at a greater speed, which is also very fun.
On any adventure trip like this, there are always going to be a few challenges, apart from the time above when we got stuck, there were a few other challenging times. For me, I like to see where the vehicle is going, the path ahead, you could say. On steep descents you cannot see the dune below or where it flattens out until you have committed, it’s nice to plan ahead but this wasn’t always possible, and it takes a little faith in the vehicle to push over the edge and continue with the decent.
Another challenge was to remember which way the wheels are directing the KB in, when in the heat of the moment your attention is drawn away by other things such as the surroundings and the challenge ahead. At a quick glance it may seem the wheels are straight but more often than not you may find that you are a full wheel rotation away from the wheels facing straight ahead. This can affect you badly when out in the dunes as the front wheels scrape and sand builds up quickly in front of the wheels which can cause the vehicle to get stuck. It’s important to keep some attention on what you are doing with the wheel.
The 4×4 experience was over, and it was time for me to part ways with the team, I picked up my hire car and headed out on my lone wolf mission. I would spend two nights at Spitskoppe, a beautiful campsite surrounding a mountain a few hundred KM’s away from Swakopmund.
These two days were spent photographing and videoing the vast landscapes and impressive night sky; it was during a new moon period which means the sky is extremely dark and the milky way shines brightly. This was a fantastic two days but can be a little lonely during the hot days, as there is not much to do. There is so much to see and experience in this part of the world; I experienced only a very small part of what Namibia has to offer and will be heading back. It’s a vast land with friendly people and it feels very safe to head out and explore. Many companies offer 4X4 Hire with endless camping equipment, if you have the chance to go, don’t hesitate, spend a good few weeks taking in everything this land has to offer.
Overview – The Isuzu KB
Overall the small changes to this vehicle make it a good upgrade, Apart from the NB 300, Isuzu has the NB 250, which is also a Turbodiesel producing 100kw and 320Nm. Also available are two workhorse models. The 250 Base Single Cab and 250 Fleetside Single Cab producing 58kw and 170Nm
I like to think of the Isuzu KB as a workman’s bakkie, it’s a workhorse, but it is not too fancy or luxurious like you might find in a Ranger Wildtrack, for example. It’s a solid vehicle, looks great and does the job. A big advantage to the KB is that it comes with Sat Nav, it’s a little finicky to use and has a terribly annoying speed warning system, that is deactivated when Navigation is not in use. Thank goodness.
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