Words & Images Andrew Middleton
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The Eastern Cape is chock-full of 4×4 routes, and you don’t even need to stray far from the major towns to drive them. In our case, we decided to visit Off-Camber Adventures, an outfit sited just 40km from Port Elizabeth in the Elands River Valley. With a name like ‘Off-Camber,’ you already know what to expect – this place isn’t a walk in the park.
Cutting through dense indigenous undergrowth, the various rough trails on the property head up and down the Elands River valley with no thought for your easy passage. Delve deeper, and there is ample evidence that this is not just a walk in the park – it’s hard to ignore a legacy of scarred trees, skid marks and AWOL car parts. However, more on that later.
Utilising ‘Off-Camber’ as his backyard testing facility, accredited instructor Jean-Louis Botha teaches 4×4 driving and does regular maintenance on his snake-like off-road tracks. With four trails on the farm, there is opportunity for everyone to have a good time, although I get the distinct impression that Off-Camber favours the brave.
Each of the trails is clearly mapped and the route clearly marked with signs, and all the more difficult sections have a ‘chicken-run’ option if you run out of grip or courage. One such section bears the name ‘Dungeon’. It’s a steep left-hander descent with warning signs that recommend you walk it first, which prompts my exit from the car and a little stroll/skid down the hill on foot.
At almost 40 degrees straight down for 30 metres, then straight back up out of a valley of dense trees and loose rock, this obstacle will cause you serious grief if you get it wrong. I engage low-range first gear, push in the button for the rear diff-lock and turn on the traction control (to aid front-end grip), then give it a go.
The Isuzu KB 300 Extended Cab model we’re driving makes it on the second attempt with a bit of a run-up. Another river crossing and ascent, aptly named ‘Discovery Hill’, still wears the bull bar
of a Disco 2 that fell foul of gravity and a tree that wasn’t going anywhere.
Three of the four rocky 4×4 routes around the farm don’t require a guide, as they are located on the property, but the fourth is a scenic drive. If that’s your choice, take Jean-Louis with you, as he’s the only person with a permit.
In total, the trails cover a scant 11 kilometres, and include river crossings, rock, loose rock, steep descents/ascents and also a deep water crossing where vehicles with snorkels have been known
to float! Don’t let the short distances put you off, though, as most of the trails must be completed in first and second gear low-range.
The time you may spend stuck could also have you watching the clock as time ticks by. It took us about three to four hours to complete the trails, but it was certainly worth it.
As we had Jean-Louis as our knowledgeable guide for the day that I sprinted up and down the tracks like a mountain goat, our safe passage was assured. With that in mind, make sure you bring a friend or another vehicle to act as a spotter: certain sections up steep embankments (as well as an entry into the dam – a deep water crossing) require a second set of eyes if you are to choose the correct line of attack.
As far as accommodation options go, there is a grassed camping site which is also suited to caravans, plus two houses: the guest cottage and the Bass Bunker. The latter is located at the top of the farm and is a fisherman’s choice; bring yourself and seven friends and fish for – you guessed it – bass. The only downside to the Bass Bunker is that it uses a longdrop.
The guest cottage is better suited to a larger group, and, like the campsite, is close to the pool where you can have a dip after long day’s 4×4 session.
The campsite offers a braai boma, flushing toilets, showers with hot water and a communal kitchen. My poor packing skills and disregard for order while camping meant that the Vervet monkeys came out to play − these little fellows will trash your campsite if you don’t pack everything away properly.
Because of its proximity to Port Elizabeth, Off-Camber Adventures is the perfect playpen for you and your mates who need a quick 4×4 outing to settle your office nerves.
If you want more exploration, follow the 76km on the stunning Elands River Road to Patensie for a scenic drive and interesting farm stalls. There are also other 4×4 excursions in the area and plenty of side roads to explore. For even more adventure, travel through Patensie and explore Baviaanskloof. This area of the Eastern Cape has much to offer the 4×4 enthusiast.
What vehicle were we using?
Isuzu KB300 LX Extended Cab
This trail really tests the limits of a standard 4×4 on all terrains. The Isuzu performed admirably, but not without denting its side steps. With the side steps removed, life would have been easier.
The diff-lock was essential in some sections, and we found the traction-control facility on the front axle a particular help on steep ascents. According to Jean-Louis, who runs the facility, the Isuzu performed better than most standard bakkies.
ISUZU OFF-ROAD ACADEMY
To test yourself and the Isuzu KB range to its limits, the Isuzu Off-Road Academy offers a variety of courses to suit your needs. The academy aims to teach existing and prospective owners exactly what Isuzu KBs are capable of off-road while educating drivers how to operate all of the Isuzu’s 4×4 systems when venturing out on their own.
Off-road driving techniques in a variety of conditions including sand, mud, cross-axle situations and emergency recovery procedures are covered, aiding safe exploration through our country.
Various courses are available, ranging from a half-day course to familiarise drivers with the KBs 4×4 systems, moving on to a full-day and an advanced two-day course.
Though based at Gerotek near Pretoria, the Isuzu Off-Road Academy can offer training in other major centres, whether or not you own an Isuzu vehicle.
R500 – Half-day course
R1000 – Full-day course
R2000 – Two-day course
Contact the Off-Road Academy directly on 011 431 2000, or visit www.isuzu.co.za
NEAREST FUEL STOP
Will I get lost?
Remove running boards if you have them installed.
Minimum ground clearance
GUEST COTTAGE – 12 SLEEPER
BASS BUNKER – 8 SLEEPER
BASE CAMP – 10 SITES (group campsite)