Van Zyl's Pass is the wildest 4x4 trip in Namibia

Van Zyl’s Pass is a mountain pass at an elevation of 958m (3,143ft) above sea level, located in the Kunene region of Namibia. It’s one of the highest roads in the country.

Van Zyl's Pass

Where is Van Zyl's Pass?

The pass, also known as Van Zyls Pass, is located in the Otjihipa Mountains in the Kaokoveld of the Kunene Region of north-western Namibia. It’s set high between two very steep mountain ranges in Namibia’s Marienfluss. The drive is pretty remote, and the pass sits in one of Namibia’s most isolated regions.

How long is Van Zyl's Pass?

The road to the summit is totally unpaved. It starts at the defiant D3703 district road. The drive is around 15km (9.32 miles) long. It’s a classic extreme road, but not really a road, just a route made over the mountain by travelers over time. The outrageously steep pass itself is a pure adrenaline rush, but the lead-up route is 10-15km of tough driving, dodging its way through boulders, rocks, ravines, and badlands. The descent from the top of the pass covers a distance of ten kilometers – but it will take you three to six hours to negotiate.

When was Van Zyl's Pass built?

The road to the summit was built by hand by 20 men within four months in 1965. The pass gets its name from the Dutch explorer who found the way across in the 1920s with a few hundred Himba and a Model T Ford.

Is Van Zyl's Pass difficult?

The drive is very steep, hitting a 24% maximum gradient through some of the ramps. This is an extreme 4x4 challenge that requires sound experience with cross-country driving and a skillful navigator. Apart from the steep gradient, there are uphill stretches as well. Each tire has to scramble up and down, and the vertical rock formations that protrude from the track in many places pose additional risks to the tread. It is highly advisable to tackle this adventure in a convoy, if only to encourage one another.

Is Van Zyl's Pass Namibia's Most Formidable 4x4 Challenge?

Van Zyl's Pass, reserved for super-experienced 4x4 drivers only, is well-known as the most challenging 'road' in Namibia and presents a great challenge to those who like that kind of thing. It can only be driven in a downward direction, towards Marienfluss, as it is too dangerous the other way, especially if you were to meet anyone coming down. The view from the top of the mountain pass is overwhelming. If the area has received good rains, there could be numerous small erosion furrows. Take into consideration that conditions of the pass change as well. The road is very rough and rocky, not to be attempted without prior 4x4 experience. If you have some experience in off-road driving and not much fear, you'll do it without problems.
Pic: Danie Du Preez