Imagine you’re behind the wheel of a Polaris General 1000. Crisp, dry morning air chills you and sand stings your skin as you drive through the dunes. These dunes have no tracks, trails, or flags marking them. You crest dune after dune unconcerned with other riders because there are none. You’re at the head of a caravan of UTVs climbing a 400-foot monster that hasn’t been touched in years if ever. As you reach the top, your view clears the surrounding dunes and you see where you really are. The sea of dunes drifting in indolent waves stretch beyond the horizon, their unspoiled ridges and ripples are beyond understanding.
You’re in Namibia, and the world’s oldest desert is your playground. Penetrating this frontier won’t be easy but your cab is loaded with gear, and your next great adventure into an unknown world is about to begin.
Hans Verspoor doesn’t have to imagine. He lives in the small town of Long Beach along the west (and only) coast of Namibia. His backyard is a sand sea that makes up part of the 31,000 square mile Namib Desert. It’s an ideal stomping ground for him and his group of friends that go riding together.
The Namib Desert is one of the most arid deserts on the planet and one of the oldest. It runs in a 120-mile-wide strip along the coast of Namibia and, due to its harsh climate, remains mostly uninhabited with a population density similar to that of Alaska.
Why does that matter? It means that the Namib Desert is untouched. The landscape is dramatic and varied owing to age and erosion. Dune seas lead to dry riverbeds and almost alien foothills. It’s a desert unlike any other.
Hans, just like you, loves to ride. But his trails take him down unproven paths with uncertain ends. And that’s just what it takes to bring a Dutch man out of Europe and into Africa.
But how did Hans, originally from the Netherlands, find his way to Namibia? The dry dock in Walvis Bay had a lot to do with it. Hans is a maritime engineer by trade and got a job with the Dutch Caterpillar company maintaining the dredging fleet in Dubai that was working to build the Palm and World Islands off the coast.
In 2009, the global economic recession forced a halt to all dredging in Dubai and Hans was left with a choice. Play it safe and go home or step forward into the unknown toward some new frontier.
Adventure called and Hans answered. He started his own ship maintenance company based in Dubai and it was only a matter of time before the local motorsports caught his eye. That’s where he got into riding UTVs. His friends had buggies and quads and he soon found himself importing Odes and Renli buggies from China to join them.
Riding in Dubai was new and different but the scorching heat—summer days regularly top 100°F—made it hard to ride most of the year. Luckily, life would soon take him somewhere new.
Eventually, his business expanded internationally to the point where he needed a local presence in the southern hemisphere. In 2015, he opened an office and workshop in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and bought a home in the nearby resort town of Long Beach.
“Long Beach is on the beach, and behind us we have the mighty Namib Dunes, and if we cross the dunes and drive 20 miles over a gravel road, we can ride on the old Swakop Riverbed that goes on forever.”
Long Beach is home to just a thousand or so residents and is governed by Walvis Bay, where most of Long Beach’s residents work. Quads and UTVs are very popular in town, and Hans runs most of his errands exclusively on the back of one.
“We are very blessed in Namibia,” he says. Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, and Walvis Bay is one of the most important West African ports for dry docking and maintenance. As a former German colony, it is well organized with good infrastructure. If a crew wants good service and a good rest, Walvis Bay is the best choice for thousands of miles. Because of the excellent port, the people in the region work good jobs while living in small, tight-knit communities. The area is safe and well developed, and with ocean and desert all around, it’s the perfect place to go for a ride.
Namibia, as it turned out, was a great place to ride especially compared to Dubai where he still spent half his time. The ride season in Dubai is short, limited to about 3 months out of the year when the daily high isn’t over 90°F. In Long Beach Namibia, the wind currents off the Atlantic keep the region cool with a summer high that hovers around 85°F. In fact, the only thing that will stop a ride is wind and cold.
Without a place to buy or service UTVs in Namibia, he was forced to ship his UTV’s down from Dubai along with spare parts. What he wasn’t anticipating was the demand for them in Long Beach once people got their eyes on them. He quickly sold his toys to his friends, and then, left without a UTV, was on the prowl for another vehicle.
Back in Dubai, he got his hands on a barely used Arctic Cat Wildcat X and sent it straight to Long Beach. He was impressed with the power of this sportier, higher tier machine than competent but staid Odes machines.
“It was a new experience for me.” The punchy throttle, superb handling, and flat-out power cut through dunes, rocks, and riverbeds of the Namib Desert was like nothing he’d ever ridden before.
But, just like with his Odes, eager eyes and open wallets soon came for his Wildcat. “It started with a joke when a guy asked me the price,” said Hans. He gave the guy a number, and to Hans’s surprise, he agreed. “I was without a UTV again for the second time in one year.”
Getting another sporty UTV wouldn’t be easy, and so he imported another Odes Raider and a Linhai T-Boss—more commonly known as a Massimo T-Boss here in the states. Adjusting to these budget models after spending time on a Wildcat was difficult. He was spoiled by riding with double the horsepower, but these working models also illustrated the shortcomings of the sporty Wildcat in Namibia.
“Now we have quite a nice group of friends with all kinds of brands,” said Hans. His ride group had grown thanks to people’s constant interest in his UTVs and his constant willingness to part with them. Hans had helped seed the area with a handful of UTVs and a larger community of riders had blossomed. For the people living there, that meant they could see Namibia in a way they never had before.
Riding in the Namib Desert is serious business. It takes planning and preparation. One of Hans’s favorite routes involves riding across the dunes and down a twenty-mile gravel road to reach the Swakop River—an ephemeral river, only flowing after heavy rainfall, but perfectly dry and rideable most of the time.
The Swakop Riverbed is endless, affording well-stocked riders hundreds of miles to ride through remote wilderness without ever doubling back or crossing their own path. And even this single riverbed offers enormous variety. It passes by the aptly named “Moon Landscape” where much of 2013’s Mad Max: Fury Road was filmed. At one bend in the river, a pile of massive boulders, each one the size of a house, creates a sort of shelter known as the “Flintstone Caves.”
To reach some of these locations, and to journey even further down the riverbed, requires plenty of forethought. Hans’s group has to bring along camping and cooking gear, food, tools, spare parts, and lots of water. Breaking down in the desert without the tools to self-recover is never good but breaking down in some remote corner of this untouched desert can make the situation ten times more difficult. And dangerous.
Hans and his friends learned just how dangerous it can be the hard way. On their very first trip out to the dunes, they suffered a blown belt. With no belt, no tools, no jack, and no other people as far as the eye could see, they would have been in a pretty sticky situation had they not had a second functional vehicle in their group. And, luckily, they were only an hour away from home when they broke down. They only had to wait in the dunes while the second vehicle made a two-hour round trip for supplies. Since then they always bring abundant tools and spare parts, but had they broken down further from home or had the second vehicle broken down as well, this first trip could have been their last.
When out on a ride, Hans’s UTV is his lifeline and there’s no room to take chances. He wanted something better than his Odes Raider. Something more fun to ride but with the utility to get him through the desert. The obvious choice was a Polaris General 1000, and after some searching, he had one shipped to Walvis Bay along with spare engine parts.
He’s since decked out his General with a light bar, rock lights, front and rear spotlights, and flags. And now he’s got a safe ride, the perfect backyard, and friends to enjoy it with. It’s a rider’s dream. Every weekend in Namibia is a ride weekend, and every weekend brings a sprawling, diverse adventure. When it comes to his General, Hans is not disappointed. “Man, I love this machine.” And what’s not to love? The 100 HP engine and the 13 inches of travel give it the power and handling to make the most out of Namibia’s wild landscape.
And, importantly, it has enough cargo space to keep him self-sufficient. He rides with a group mostly made up of mechanical engineers which is a strength in itself, and without so much as a UTV mechanic anywhere within a thousand miles, they have to take care of every aspect of their vehicles themselves. Any mishap or breakdown can only be repaired with their own two hands. Compared to shipping vessels, though, fixing a UTV is easy. Like any true adventure, a journey into the heart of Namibia requires preparation and the know-how to save yourself.
When asked about why he chooses to ride side-by-sides over Jeeps, Hans says there’s no comparison. He is a Jeep owner himself but says that the dunes there tend to be tough for heavy Jeeps to crest where nimbler UTVs can conquer them easily. Only sometimes will they bring a Jeep along in their caravan to act as a pack mule for supplies and tents, and to carry the less adventurous travelers.
But at the heart of his love for UTVs, is that connection with nature. The open cab and the steering wheel become an extension of the driver. The lugs of the tires become fingers sifting through sand.
Hans says it best: “With a UTV, you’re one with nature.”
Hans and his friends cut their own trail through the cascading Namib Dunes in the same way he forged his own path through life. Adventure requires you to move forward, to put one foot in front of the next, and to step on the gas. And in a small corner of the African continent where man has yet to tame the inexorable forces of a desert laid out some 80 million years ago, they get the sense that they are visitors to another world. The Moon Landscape, the Flintstone Caves, the Swakop Riverbed, and the mighty Namib Dunes are remote secrets by virtue of their inhospitality to man, protected and stewarded by mother nature herself who invites just a few lucky adventurers in. And those who brave its uncharted expanses know there’s no better way to explore it than behind the wheel of a side-by-side.