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Practise makes perfect


Words and pictures by Gordon Stewart.

The overlanding bug bit Gordon and Jean Stewart in 2007. Today, five trips, 106 000 km and 732 days on the road later, they can rightfully lay claim to the title of experienced overlanders. Gordon outlines the process of continual improvement that saw their rig change to meet their travelling needs.

In 2006, my wife, Jean, completed a BA degree in Theology. I was due to retire in February the following year. We were both asking the question: Now what? I had recently purchased a copy of the huge National Geographic African Adventure Atlas and, as Jean paged through it, she reflected on all the places in Southern Africa where students lived with whom she had studied. She suggested that we equip a vehicle and travel through all the countries in order to visit them. It was May 2006, and suddenly the pressure was on to decide on a vehicle and to get all the equipment we would need.

After much research, discussion and advice, we settled on a ’00 Hilux Raider 3000D 4×4 DC with 95 000 km on the odometer. With no turbo, this vehicle’s engine is a real ‘donkey,’ but we considered it to be perfect for Africa as it could be repaired anywhere. A hard-working donkey it has certainly proved to be.

Apart from a minor suspension problem and an engine mounting breaking after we’d hit a huge pothole, plus a rear wheelbearing that needed replacing, this Hilux has not required any mechanical repairs on any of our trips. Considering the roads we’ve travelled, this is a real testimony to the ruggedness of the Hilux and its modified suspension.

Having acquired our vehicle, we shifted the search to canopies; and whilst attending an outdoor exhibition, we saw a vehicle on display that belonged to Jeremy Bergh, founder of Alu- Cab. We liked his canopy; and, after he had talked us through the pros and cons, we decided to fit an identical one to our vehicle. By November 2006, the canopy was complete and had been fitted onto the Hilux. We opted for a Howling Moon Tourer rooftop tent with a ground extension / shower cubicle, and an Alu-Cab awning on the passenger’s side over the kitchen area. Alu-Cab also fitted a complete OME heavy-duty suspension (springs and torsion bars with gas shock absorbers), raised the suspension by about 90 mm, and installed an 83-litre auxiliary fuel tank, hi-lift jacking points and a dual battery system.

A weekend away at the Berg River Resort near Paarl was our first outing, and this highlighted a few minor problems with our rig. These were quickly rectified, and a few more outings before the ‘big one’ helped us to fine-tune the canopy and its contents some more.

At that stage, the Hilux’s load bin housed an 80-litre SS water tank at the cab end, with space for four ammo boxes above it. The ammo boxes were loaded through a side door on the driver’s side of the canopy and fitted onto a track system. We had a storage unit at the rear of the load bin, leaving packing space beneath the ammo boxes between it and the water tank. The storage unit housed a 74-litre double door National Luna fridge/freezer on a slide, with two kitchen drawers adjacent. Above the fridge was another large packing space for loose items. The canopy housed an aluminium table attached to the ceiling. A second door on the driver’s side of the canopy housed a toolbox, towing strap, snatch strap and compressor, as well as a range of items such as a bush saw, a machete, shackles and a Maglite torch. I removed the rear seat in the cabin and made a wooden platform, which carried additional ammo boxes and our camp chairs.

There were two doors on the passenger’s side of the canopy; the front one housed a gas light, a gas cooker ring, four stainless steel mugs, a cutlery set and a grater, whilst the rear door housed a full range of kitchenware and crockery – four dinner plates, cereal bowls and stainless steel mugs, plus an egg lifter, three aluminium pots, a carving knife and bread knife, and a rack for spice bottles. Since the original equipping of the canopy cupboards, we have completely reconfigured the layout and contents of all three.