Mastering the 4×4: An Adventure through Three Countries (Part One)
Inside everyone is the desire to explore, discover and go places they shouldn’t be able to. This simple human instinct probably explains why so many of us insist on buying big expensive 4x4s, even if it’s only to pretend. There are however a select few who choose to use them, who get out there and take on nature, rough and tough it in the name of progress, adventure and of course, fun. In the last few weeks I was privileged enough to be invited on such an excursion.
The course we had mapped out was a large loop traversing three different countries. Starting from Durban, our convoy was to travel up in a north westerly direction through to Johannesburg and continue all the way up to the Zimbabwe border. From there we’d travel east, skirting along the border and into Kruger National Park for a brief period after which we’d hop on into Mozambique, to be met by a trained guide and the wonderfully rough terrain we sort. Turning south, our party would make the great trek down through Mozambique, until entering into Kruger again for a brief stint, whereupon we’d make the dash all the way through Kruger and into Swaziland on our way back to where we’d started in Durban.
Of course a route and a plan is all very well and good, but what you need most for a journey such as this are the right kind of vehicles. This was not a trip for your average Joe’s pansy Sandton soft-roader, no sir, this trip was for vehicles not afraid to wade in and get their hands dirty, those with low range gearboxes, big knobbly tires and high ground clearance. So what exactly did we take you ask?
Well our rag tag group split themselves between five different vehicles consisting of a Toyota Hilux, three Land Rover Defenders and a Toyota Condor 4×4. Now I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. After all I’ve just said about hairy chested man cars, how can we take a Condor along? Well let me tell all you doubters something – that Condor may not have been the most obvious choice, but it did absolutely everything the big boys did and more. And on top of that it was towing one of the precious 4×4 trailers for much of the journey, housing most of our food and perhaps more crucially, booze supplies.
So off we went, armed to the hilt with everything you could want on a 4×4 camping trip, including rooftop tents of both the trailer and car kind, water tanks attached to the underside of the vehicles, enough fridge space to keep even an extremely thirsty Kingsley Holgate’s drinks cold and GPS devices complete with Tracks4Africa.
Now I’m not sure if you’re aware of what Tracks4Africa is, but in a nutshell it’s a map of all the 4×4 trails across Africa, which you’re then able to follow as you would a normal road. So whenever you go away on a journey, you record your path and send the resulting routes in for all others to use and enjoy. Of course people travel the same routes all the time, but this is even better, as everyone’s tracks get layered on top of each other until you end up with an incredibly accurate map system ensuring you’re never lost, even in the middle of precisely nowhere.
Time then to come clean about something. The first part of the journey, miles and miles of highway, crammed into one long day was not what I’d call fun, especially in a slightly cramped Land Rover that was hauling plenty of weight along. Now I’m not saying it was terrible, just not great. I’ve certainly been in much more uncomfortable modes of transport, but let’s face it, Land Rover Defenders are not designed to break the sound barrier or waft you along in the comfort of a Rolls Royce Phantom.
No matter though because soon all the cars would redeem themselves a thousand times over, as after our first nights camp it was time to enter the Kruger National Park and begin the real adventure. As this was my first time in Kruger, I was not sure what to expect, however what I most certainly was not expecting were silky smooth dirt roads where any normal road car may traverse without any worries. It would be up to Mozambique to satisfy my itching for the off-road and boy did it not disappoint.
Upon entering Mozambique the contrast between the two countries hits you like a brick hurled by a woman scorned. Immediately both the tar roads and the silky soft dirt roads disappear completely, while in their place you get tracks, as even by the largest stretch of the imagination they simply cannot be classified as roads. At times you could have sworn what passed for a night’s entertainment was to see how much damage mortars could do them. This is sounding an awful lot like complaints again, but this was what we were here for, the place to be in a 4×4 and I was loving it. What’s more, the dusty, rutted trails took us through some truly stunning scenery, once again proving the harsh beauty of Africa to be nothing but true.
As we continued on our Mozambique trek the low rumble of powerful diesel engines pulled us ever onward to sights such as the Limpopo River, through wondrously named villages like Baobab City and to the worryingly entitled camp site Mamba Pan. I could not help but think that out here the 4×4 is the greatest car in the world. Where most would get stuck, the 4×4 ploughed on, loving every minute of the journey and urging the driver to see what was over the next rise, relishing the challenge as much as its master. The journey itself almost became the entire reason to go, as on one day where we drove down into a valley for lunch, only to turn around and go back the way we came.
That was a day to be remembered. A good day. One that started out in low range and ended in low range – where to get into the valley a steep hill had to be descended over loose rocks and boulders, testing both car capabilities as well as the skill of the man behind the wheel. The reward at the bottom was ample, greeted as we were by the spectacular sight of a sandy shore leading on to a marvellous lake speckled with a couple of crocs, while birds of all shapes and sizes swooped and dived, creating an incredibly beautiful and tranquil place to stop for lunch and an afternoon siesta. The fun of course was still to come…getting back up again.
Even for the experienced 4×4 driver this was a challenge as with all the large loose rocks making up the road, choosing the right path and control over the vehicle were crucial in a successful ascent. Each vehicle took its turn, leaping and bouncing up the path, with each vehicle making it without stopping, until it came time for the Condor that is.
Partially an oversight on our part, we’d made the Condor go last, which of course meant the worst road to travel as all the vehicles before it had thrown rocks every which way, leaving even bigger obstacles to traverse. So as you can imagine the Condor got stuck about half way up, with one wheel off the ground while the opposite wheel tried to climb over a particularly large rock. No matter though as with winches on standby we’d easily get it out. But of course we weren’t about to let the Condor give up that easily. With rocks strategically placed under wheels, much grunting from people lending an encouraging push, the Condor bounced up and out of its predicament to once again rejoin the group, each vehicle having made the tough ascent successfully under their own steam. That night, many congratulatory beers were enjoyed and stories swapped.
After seven or eight days in Mozambique we re-entered the Kruger National Park and were once again welcomed with open arms by our familiar roads, however with just a few minutes gone you wished you were once again back in Mozambique, battling the terrain and having more fun than Desmond Tutu at the opening ceremony of the World Cup. Yes it was nice to meander through Kruger and Swaziland all the way back to Durban, where all the wonders of the modern world awaited our return (such as showers and proper toilets) but it’s just not as fun. Out there in the bush your 4×4 shows its true character. You find out what both you and it are made of, adventuring together. Out there the 4×4 has true purpose and comes alive – and without them we wouldn’t have been able to think about attempting the journey and that would have been a tragedy.
So yes, once again the motor vehicle proved to be the hero of the hour, through which everything was made possible. Which leaves only one question, which one was best…
…To be continued