SA4x4 and a few friends explore the new four-day Berg-to-Bush guided 4×4 tour over the last ridge of the Drakensberg and into the dusty plains of the Lowveld
Not everyone can find the time necessary for a three-week overland trip, yet we all share the same lust for adventure. The new four-day Berg-to-Bush Transfrontier Wilderness Trail, billed as a 4×4 eco-trail by its organisers (the Transfrontier Parks Destinations or TFPD), may just be the perfect escape for Joburgers needing a long weekend break.
By Andrew Middleton
The route takes us along old Voortrekker tracks previously used by ox carts, to the Letaba Ranch sector of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and into Mthimkulu, driving along the Great Letaba river bed following the flow, and camping in Big 5 country. This tour isn’t for the ill-prepared or the faint-hearted; a proper 4×4 (with lowrange and good ground clearance) is needed, along with an experienced driver who knows his way around a camp site.
We started out trip north of Pretoria, having packed and provisioned our Hilux Revo 2.4 double cab manual equipped with a short version of the Abba Camper, loaned by Jos and Elsabe Joubert, who are driving a Land Cruiser 70 Series V8 4.5-litre diesel, loaded up with a mid-size version of the camper – fitted with everything you can imagine, including a flush toilet. Heading up and out via the R555, we camp at the Ribbokkloof Lodge not far from Stoffberg, where we are joined by Gerhard Prinsloo, in a Rhinoman-equipped Hilux Vigo D-4D. An early start takes us out via the rather ugly Steelpoort chrome mining town, and on to the obscure partial ghost town of Penge, the 11:30 meeting point for the start of this guided trail.
DAY 1: Penge to Mafefe in the Drakensberg Mountains
At Penge we hook up with our TFPD guide, Klaas Boonzaier, in his well-used Defender 130, and Mike Voss, the MD of KZN-based company RSI and his engineer father Wolfgang, in their kitted Hilux Revo 2.8 auto. We learn that they are doing their first camping trip together. It’s a small, relatively nimble convoy. Penge is a rather decrepit asbestos mining town, which was officially closed down in 1992. It’s a wasteland of poverty and mine dumps spewed across a bleak Martian landscape, and the only colour in this area, apart from brown, seems to be SA’s national flower – a plastic bag. Yet this place hides a secret. Just beyond our meeting place at a Total fuel station (without any fuel), the trail starts when we cross the Olifants River. An abrupt left sees Klaas’s well-used Defender 130 skip into the undergrowth and begin climbing. Steep and loose switchbacks on the Grade 3 trail rock our big campers like dinghies in a storm, and for the next few hours we clamber through overgrown bush as it goes from crest to river crossing, while getting further from civilisation with every gear-change.
The Strydpoort Mountains that we are climbing through mark the end of the broader Drakensberg range, with its highest point being Thabakgolo (1898m above sea level). Our heavy rigs clamber over the loose rock, stopping frequently for us to clear a path through overgrown shrub and to pack an odd stone. Klaas points out where others have previously slipped into washaways as the trail steepens. Amazingly, after at least four hours of driving through terrain that doesn’t look like it has seen a vehicle in years, a little village pops up.
The Berg-to-Bush four-day, three-night 4×4 Transfrontier Wilderness Trail is managed by, and booked through, the Cape Town office of Transfrontier Parks Destinations, who manage eight community-run bush camps and 12 lodges.The tour covers a distance of some 280km, and a maximum of six vehicles (each containing no more than four people) is allowed. Vehicles must have good ground clearance, low-range, and be fully equipped and self-contained with sufficient water (and a long checklist of other requirements) for the duration of the trail.
For more info on this tour, and to get in contact with a guide, visit www.tfpd. co.za/4×4-trails/berg-to-bush
1 Mar 2017 – 28 Feb 2018
R3900 per vehicle
1 Mar 2018 – 28 Feb 2019
R4800 per vehicle
Book this trail:
+27 (0) 21 701 7860 or
Abba Camper : Everything and the kitchen sink
I’d be the first to admit that, when hearing I’d be driving a massive camper through Limpopo, I was a bit apprehensive. If I’m going rough camping for a week, I need little more than two T-shirts, one pair of undies (you can turn them inside out and back to front) and perhaps a toothbrush. Luxuries I never even considered include a sink, a double bed and a built-in cooker. Going from my usual ‘rof en onbeskof’ camping style, to the Abba, was like leaving a McDonalds drive-through to enter a Michelin Three-Star sushi joint.
The camper itself is made of moulded fibreglass, and bolts to the back of almost any pick-up, taking about half an hour to install or remove at home. The entire job, as fitted to our Hilux double cab, weighs about 600kg unloaded, which is a lot. But it’s dead simple to set up in less than five minutes, with the two folding tables either side, a gas stove and pantry, as well as one fridge in the camper and one inside the Hilux (on the rear seats). The top can be set up and collapsed easily by a lightweight lady (as Elsabe Joubert, wife of camper-designer Jos Joubert proved on this trip) and uses four gas struts and a hinge mechanism to unfold − front first, then the rear.
The Abba really is an extreme case of excess, and although you don’t need a shower that extends out the side, and you don’t need a hot water geyser to survive the day, it sure does make your fellow-campers jealous. The camper is designed as a solution to the tedium of towing a camper trailer. It’s also designed to be easily set up and sleep two people in luxurious comfort.
When driving, we initially found the high centre of gravity to be a bit cumbersome on the fast-yet-bumpy Limpopo highways, but you soon get used to keeping to the speed limit without effort. Rear air springs fitted to a control unit inside the cubbyhole in the ’Lux means that you can increase or decrease pressures on the fly. After a few minutes of fiddling, a compromise between ride comfort and stability is reached, and after new Ironman suspension is fitted, the ride will be even better.
In technical off-road sections, the advantages an Abba shows over a motorhome are obvious. Even though at its widest point, the Abba is about 60cm wider than the Lux’s body, it still manages to squeeze through tight overgrown tracks where something like an Iveco 4×4 overland camper couldn’t dream of going. The weight is a constant reminder to take it easy, and on soft river beds the little 2.4 engine takes a beating to keep it floating on top of the sand, but even so, it went where everyone else did, and I slept like a king every night − when not slumming it in the ground tent.
To summarise, the Abba is perfect for a couple who wants to live in luxury without compromising on the places their 4×4 can take them. It’s great for families too, as extended tents can be fitted to the sides of the vehicle. Just bear in mind that, for a normal double-cab, a fully loaded Abba is approaching its max carrying capacity, so keep your speed down and take in the scenery.
Abba Camper features
It has a double bed 1.8 metres long, and a 50-litre National Luna Weekender fridge/ freezer. The Hilux has a built-in compressor with air springs, with the controller for the springs built into the cab, as well as a compressor hose connection below the rear seats. The camper has an outside shower with hot and cold water as well as a basin and kitchen. It carries about 120 litres of water for shower and washing. There are various optional extras available for the camper, including a toilet and a full Victron electronics suite that allows you to control the electronics, check on battery-status remotely, and even flush the loo from across the world – that’ll give you a shock!
The campers are available in three sizes, to suit various vehicle sizes from the extra-length version, so there is one for single cabs to a standard double-cab bakkie. Each camper is custom-built to customer specification. Visit: www.safaricampers.co.za or call Jos on 0828931851 for more detailed info.
Rhinoman Hilu x: Simplicity is key
Unlike the guys in the Abba camper, Gerhard Prinsloo from Rhinoman has outfitted his Revo with all that you’ll ever need, but leaving superfluous luxury at home − keeping it simple, effective and lightweight. From front to back, the Rhinoman Hilux is kitted with what a typical (albeit very well sorted) bakkie-based overlander will need. He has on a full Opposite Lock armour, including a front bumper, with Lightforce spots and Tough Dog suspension with a lift kit. BF Goodrich KO2 tyres are the business, along with stylish matt black alloys.
The RhinoCab canopy is made from 3mm thick automotive aluminium and powder-coated for a rugged finish. It has a built-in cab sliding window, solid side doors and a wide rear door featuring toughened glass. The canopy is available in six colours and is an extremely high-quality item, letting in very minimal dust over the three days of driving, partly thanks to a positive pressure vent. Components for the canopy are CNC machined, twin gas struts open the doors, and twin push locks keep your valuables secure.
Resting on top of the canopy is a low-profile clamshell 2.1 x 1.4m rooftop tent made by Rhinoman subsidiary The Bush Company, who also supply all the drawer and storage components mentioned below. The proudly South African tent features heavy-duty 400gsm ripstop canvas and YKK zips. The clamshell design ensures that setting up or collapsing the tent takes less than a minute. The aluminium shell is fully waterproof, dustproof and extremely durable, which proved necessary on the Berg-to-Bush trip because of countless low-hanging branches. A sturdy collapsible ladder stored in a bag inside the tent can be attached to any access point around the tent for convenience.
Because the canopy allows modular kitchen units and accessories to be added, this Vigo was given full treatment with a fridge slide for a big Snomaster fridge, and drawer systems, as well as a kitchen unit accessible from the left side opening, which is made of canvas and is easily removable to where you need it. Ammo boxes and a gas bottle lie on a secure rack which rests on top of the drawer slides, accessible easily from the right-side opening. A water tank with pump is fitted below that.
To keep the underbody protected, a fulllength 4.5 mm alloy bash plate is fitted. It’s a simple, clean design without large branding on it, in keeping with the honest, simple, yet effective, nature of this build. Visit www.rhinoman.co.za
RSI Hilu x Revo : Neat and Techy
From the glamorous Abba Campers to the simple but effective Rhinoman Vigo, the vehicles on this trip cover each end of the spectrum. What the guys from RSI bring to the table is perhaps something in-between. Managing director Mike Voss and his father Wolfgang were very quick to set up their system, which had plenty of home comforts. The Revo double cab is fitted with RSI’s top of the line Smart Canopy. It’s a sturdy stainless steel unit with an extremely robust design. RSI is known for their high quality canopies, and this one is no different. Lockable gull wing doors on both sides that extend nearly the length of the canopy make access extremely easy. There’s also a huge variety of colours available for RSI canopies, as well as colour-matching options. Improvements to the latest canopy include better proprietary hinges and an improved sealing mechanism to previous versions. There are no huck bolts and no lip on the edges of the canopy base, for a neater finish. Inside the canopy, a fridge slide for the Engel was fitted for convenience, while an easily deployed RSI awning (attached to the right side) provided shade.
A dual-battery system and controller provides some high-tech gadgetry, with a control panel featuring a 220V inverter outlet, 12V outlets and easy-to-read switches.
For cooking purposes, a kitchen (complete with cutlery and crockery) hides beneath the right side lockable gull wing door comes with two tables. The tables slide out easily from inside the canopy, which is convenient and helps keep them clean. Next to the kitchen, a Cadac gas stove with two burners folds down on a hinge mechanism so that it is low enough to cook on. The kitchen also comes with two tables that fold out – one for washing, and one for cooking. The kitchen was updated in the course of 2017 following user feedback, with an improved drop-down mechanism and easier access to cutlery and crockery.
Another innovation from RSI is the very handy folding roof rack. What this rack does is unclip and slide from the centre of the rack and fold over the side of the vehicle, making it extremely easy to access items like jerry cans or bags of wood that may be hooked to the rack. It clips in place tightly so that on bumpy roads it doesn’t rattle or squeak, and the actual operation is well controlled as it is damped by a gas lift – this is a truly practical as well as unique product on the SA market. For sleeping, an Oz Tent RV3 was used. This is a heavy tent which is usually fairly difficult to store away on a standard roof rack – the folding rack made removing and storing much easier.
Apart from the RSI-specific gear, the Revo was equipped with a sturdy ARB bumper, integrated winch and ARB Intensity spotlights, plus the latest very neatly tucked-away ARB rear bumper, which features (rather unusually) a wraparound fender protection section that looks as if it could be stock – yet is much tougher. In all, a progressively kitted overlander.
THE KIT LIST
• RSI SmartKitchen – R12 275 including vat
• RSI SmartRack – Price to be confirmed – launching soon
• Alu Awn – R4500 including Vat
• Engel 40lt Fridge – R8500 including Vat
• Fridge Slider – R1995 including Vat
• Dual Battery System – R10 696 including VatAvailable at all 4×4 Megaworld stores nationwide Visit www.smartcanopy.co.za for more info or www.4x4megaworld.co.za for availability in your area.