Nestled in the remote and rugged northwestern corner of Namibia lies an adventure that has become the stuff of legends amongst the off-road community: Van Zyl’s Pass. Known for its rocky terrain and dramatic scenery, this road requires skill, nerve, and a reliable 4×4 vehicle to successfully navigate.

Van Zyl’s Pass: A Brief Overview

Van Zyl’s Pass (or Van Zijl’s Pass) is named after Ben van Zyl, the first administrator of the Kaokoland area. He and his team created this rough and rocky track in the 1960s as a route between the Marienfluss and the valley of the Kunene River. Despite its ruggedness, it’s a stunning piece of natural scenery. The pass offers jaw-dropping views of the Marienfluss valley, creating a dramatic and unforgettable journey for those who dare to traverse it.

A 4×4 Challenge

As much as Van Zyl’s Pass is a testament to the rugged beauty of Namibia, it is also a formidable challenge for any 4×4 enthusiast. It’s not a traditional road, but rather a track forged through the rocks and mountains of the Kaokoland. With a length of about 10 kilometers, it is considered one of the most challenging 4×4 trails in Southern Africa.

The road consists of extremely rough and rocky terrain, with steep gradients and sharp turns. The road is so challenging, in fact, that vehicles can only traverse it in one direction, from east to west. The descent from the top of the pass to the Marienfluss valley is steep and daunting, often requiring drivers to navigate around large rocks and through loose, gravelly soil.

A vehicle with good ground clearance, off-road tires, and reliable brakes is an absolute necessity. In addition, a driver who is experienced in handling the unpredictability of off-road driving is crucial to navigating the pass safely.

The Ultimate Adventure

Despite the challenges, conquering Van Zyl’s Pass has become a sought-after achievement for many off-road adventurers. The pass is remote, difficult to reach, and the journey is demanding, but the sense of accomplishment and the spectacular views are rewarding beyond measure.

Visitors often stop at the top of the pass to take in the panoramic view of the Marienfluss valley stretched out below, an awe-inspiring vista of rolling grasslands and distant mountains. As they begin the tricky descent, they can enjoy a unique perspective of Namibia’s rugged landscape and its untamed beauty.

Wild camping is permitted in certain parts of the Kaokoland, offering a chance to immerse oneself in the silence and tranquility of this remote wilderness. However, it’s vital to ensure that you leave no trace behind, respecting the pristine environment and the unique ecosystem.

Safety and Preparation

Safety should be a primary concern for anyone considering taking on Van Zyl’s Pass. The pass is isolated and help can be hours away, so it’s important to be self-sufficient. Traveling in a group with more than one vehicle is advisable. Carry sufficient water, food, and fuel, and be prepared for the possibility of a breakdown.

While the pass is usually passable between May and October, the weather in this region can be unpredictable. A seemingly benign rain shower can quickly turn the track into an impassable, muddy mess. It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast and the road conditions before setting out.


Driving down Van Zyl’s Pass in a 4×4 is not just about the thrill of the challenge, it’s also about experiencing the incredible beauty of Nam

ibia’s remote wilderness. As you navigate the steep descents and rocky terrain, you’ll not only be conquering one of the most daunting 4×4 trails in Southern Africa, but also embarking on an unforgettable adventure. This is one for the bucket list of any serious off-road enthusiast.

Remember, with the right preparation and respect for the environment, Van Zyl’s Pass can be an experience of a lifetime, a story to tell, and an achievement to be proud of. Just make sure your 4×4 is up to the task!


Cover photo credit: Richard van Ryneveld

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