Battle of the Dunes

Words and images by Andrew Middleton Words and images by Andrew Middleton

Marooned in this desert, with mountains of sand rolling in waves to every horizon, you wouldn’t last very long; a fierce midday sun blisters exposed skin and no-one escapes the bone-chilling cold at night. This is true of the sandy landscape near the Kuiseb River. It’s a harsh environment that isn’t to be played with, but that’s exactly what we’re here to do, as part of the Battle of the Dunes tour.

Though large prizes are up for grabs, this is not really a contest between people. Rather, it’s a test of man and machine in harmony, pitted against some of the highest dunes on the planet. And, in this contest, there are no prisoners. The brainchild of 4x4 guru Werner Schaap (owner of Weca Off-Road Centre in Centurion), this event was designed to get regular folk in regular 4x4s to experience the Martian landscape of the Namibian desert – a place not even imaginable to some. In the course of five days in the dunes, all contestants are pushed to their limits, with novices getting stuck around every corner at the start, before progressing to conquer
gigantic mountains of sand.

It’s here that the Dakar Rally teams fielded by Nissan and Toyota do their desert training. For good reason: the dunes are humbling, and a completely new driving style must be adopted. So much so, that, unless you’ve driven in terrain of this nature, no previous 4x4 training or experience will count in your favour. What’s more, as first-timer Sakkie Coetzee so eloquently puts it, certain parts of this tour will “scare the willies” out of most people. Steep drop-offs and high-speed sections are a severe test of nerve, and when you’re flying through the air at 100km/h, you’d better be ready for the ground.

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