We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Subaru South Africa website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie settings at any time. You can find detailed information about how cookies are used on this website by visiting our terms and conditions.

Subaru Desert Run – The Underdog Victory

I started hearing about the famous ‘Desert Tour’, a tour-operated self-drive journey from the Lüderitz in Namibia to Walvis Bay some 1037km in distance. I was tempted to try it out in the Forester 2.5XT

Subaru Desert Run – The Underdog Victory

The Journey: 23 January – 2 February 2020
From: Johannesburg to Namibia – and back
Distance: 4200kms
Starring: MY2008 Subaru Forester 2.5XT

I’m no stranger to the Subaru brand. I’ve been driving a Subaru Forester since 2003 and loved it every day since. In 2011, I convinced my wife that she needed one herself and we bought a pre-owned 2008 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT. We loved it too and soon put it to a number of amazing adventures to Namibia and Sodwana without too much drama. Confidence in Motion.

But at some point in 2017 I started hearing about the famous ‘Desert Tour’, a tour-operated self-drive journey from the harbour town of Lüderitz in southern Namibia to Walvis Bay some 1037km in distance. I was tempted to try it out in the newer Forester but this was my wife’s car and she would need some convincing. I began to do my homework as this was no simple get-in-and-go journey. This was serious business. Homework and planning done, I approached my wife (who I affectionately call Gogga) and pleaded my case. She said Yes! Again.

In August last year, I put the plan into action. I booked the trip with the tour operators Live The Journey. They are experienced operators who supply the guide vehicles, operators, food, toilet, showers and overnight stops. They asked about my vehicle and when I mentioned the Subaru, they were somewhat uncertain and concerned about the lack of low range on my car and a lack of sufficient ground clearance. Being so experienced, they also couldn’t recall ever having a Subaru on one of these excursions. But I was prepared and informed them that I was going to have the car raised and was going to fit bigger tyres. They said Yes as well…Eventually.

The work began and the Forester was lifted by 25mm; the tyres replaced with 16” higher walled all-terrain rubber and 6mm spacers, a sump protection plate fitted, a 190-litre fuel tank and a roof rack for two spare wheels. When we tested all the new kit, we realised that the larger tyres were touching the wheel arch inners so I had the covers removed as well. The Forester and I were ready – but the car needed a name. Of course, we named it GOGGA! With a sticker label to make it official.

Setting Off

Roadtrips are always better with the right company, so I invited my one friend Marthinus to accompany me on this trip. Everyone was happy to oblige. We departed from Benoni on 22 January 2020 and 800kms later, we spent the night in Upington before another smooth but long drive to land in Lüderitz the next afternoon. Here, we brimmed the tanks with fuel (60-litres in the car and 180l in the extra tank) and water (3 x 25l containers) and met the tour guides and other tourists at a spot called Ritzi`s Restaurant for a much needed dinner and tour briefing.

The Real Journey Begins

The next morning with pre-inspections done and radios checked, we fell into convoy for the six-day trip to Walvis Bay. The others weren’t too shy to make some curious remarks over the radio about the ‘normal’ Subaru that was accompanying them. Our radio call sign was of course – GOGGA!

As we approached the first dunes, the tracks became increasingly bumpy and our average speed slower. At the foot of the first series of dunes, we deflated tyre pressures to 0,8 bar and from here, things got really interesting. With the Hilux taking the lead, GOGGA followed wherever it went. The softer sand took some getting used to but with some expert instructions from the guides, we remained in their tracks and ploughed on. The first morning was reasonably easy with some tricky uphill climbs while the afternoon became slightly tougher with the two diesel cruisers calling in their first “we are stuck” radio calls. The guides quickly advised the drivers to reverse in the same track to a harder surface and “give gas” for more speed and momentum. Things got better as the day progressed…until we too picked up the radio to utter those two words. “We’re Stuck!”. Twice that afternoon we got into trouble but could easily reverse and get through without being towed. Day 1 done! We felt good.

Day 2 brought some higher elevations and sand dunes with more vegetation. This meant the terrain was slightly more choppy causing the vehicles to hop, skip and jump quite often, a different experience from the smoother dunes the day before. I got stuck crossing over one of the dunes and experienced the first “recovery” by being towed back out by one the guide vehicles. To navigate through this section, we found a different surface a few metres to the left and we managed to cross over the obstacle with relative ease. That was the only real drama for the day.

Day 3 was packed with soft dune running but by this point, my co-driver Marthinus and I were a lot more adept. We were mastering the following distances, approach angles, revs and speed we needed for the different sand density and inclines. The Forester has a CVT transmission that also allows for manual gear selection which was perfect for this application. We were driving in manual mode and running mostly between 1st and 2nd gear. The toughest part was approaching the “SLIP FACES” at the crest of a dune where you need to keep momentum until the car`s front wheels go over the edge of the dune…and then only apply brakes. The result is that the front of the car tips over while the rear end stands bum-in-the air. It’s only at this point that you see the near-90 degree slope you are hanging over.  It’s all very dramatic and exciting. The adrenaline is pumping like never before at that moment. WHAT A FEELING! It’s indescribable. On this day we bellied twice and had to be towed out from the dune crests. We didn’t feel too bad because the three Cruisers were also towed out, the diesels more than us and the V8 equally as much. They were beginning to realise that the Subaru was not such a ‘normal’ car after all.

Day 4 was the highlight of the trip perhaps because it was filled with difficult dunes and some speed thrown in for good measure. Faced with slightly harder and higher dunes where the texture of the sand was a mixed bag depending on where you were so you never quite knew what was underneath you. The Subaru Forester soared through the tough climbs except for one. We got another belly-tow out. We also experienced the “Roller Coasters” which were smoother crater type dunes where the car can get downhill speeds of around 110-120km/h. This was where the performance of the boxer engine really stood out and entertained all around. Given the speed and fun we had here, some of the other tourists (from the Cruisers) even took turns in “GOGGA” driving up and down the Roller Coasters to feel the g-force and speed. GOGGA was becoming a star.

Day 5 brought some respite with a slightly easier day – or maybe we were just much more experienced. One of our guides named Luciano told tales of abandoned trucks, bulldozers, structures and ship wrecks along the route, such was the treachery of the coastal desert route we were driving. It was a history lesson and entertainment all at the same time. Most entertaining and spectacular of all were the amazing views of the ocean as it kisses the world’s oldest desert, the unfiltered blue sky and as evening broke, the crystal clear, bright stars that make up our Milky Way.

Day 6 was the last stretch of the journey from Sandwich Harbour to Walvis Bay. With about 70km ahead of us, the two 6-cylinder Land Cruisers were too low on fuel so they were taken on a straighter route along the coast while Luciano took GOGGA and the V8 Land Cruiser back into the desert for a last morning of fun. Being one of the last few standing seemed to fill us with more pride particularly in the company we were keeping. The competition between the other Japanese car was on. It was very exciting and the two vehicles followed the lead Hilux all the way without any hiccups at all. GOGGA was in her element and really running at her best.

A few clicks before the end there was a massive dune with a serious climb after a real high slip face. It was a daunting site and we wondered whether we’d make it. We just had to but we were a little doubtful. We watched Hilux make its way up the dune losing momentum and then digging quite deeply into the slope but then just just making it to the crest.

Luciano then gave us the go ahead and instructed us to give GOGGA “as much gas as possible.” I gave everything starting off in first gear then a moment before the boxer wants to climb out from under the bonnet, I clicked to second gear and ran hard most of the way up. Just as she started losing grip, I clicked back to first gear keeping my right foot on the floor.

GOGGA went all the way up. It was unbelievable! Exhilarating! We conquered the toughest dune of the trip. So what happened with the V8 Cruiser? You guessed it, the V8 was next in line after us. The car stormed up the hill but only made it about halfway up before those two words were heard through the radio, “we’re stuck!” They reversed, tried again and failed again. Luciano saw a smaller incline to the right and directed the V8 towards the easier slope which allowed them cross over to reach us.

We were heroes!

From there it was an easy ride to meet up with the others and make our way to Walvis Bay. We were very proud of being the best vehicle among the tourists. The tour officially ended with a great lunch at The Bush Café in Walvis Bay, where final thank-you’s and goodbye’s were said.

What an experience. This was the most exciting item on my bucket list which gave me great moments with great people in a great car. It is very surprizing and rewarding to explore the outer limits of the abilities of this all-wheel drive machine. I will do it again, any time – if only I can get approval from the Gogga who stayed behind.

Thank you Subaru for making outstanding vehicles. View our range of Subaru SUVs and Sedans and book a test drive today!