Though 2021 and the subsequent lockdowns were the cause of a few unwelcome hurdles and many of us bore the brunt of business closures and work re-evaluation, I still managed to take my better half on a trip in the December holidays in the luxurious Toyota Prado 2.8 GD6 VX-L. The only proviso from her was that the destination be kept secret. Deciding where to go actually proved quite difficult, because it needed to be far enough to be worth it, but not too far that we would waste an entire day driving to the destination.
I eventually settled on the Oudtshoorn area, as it is an area I absolutely adore and know relatively well. I am fortunate enough that I can get pretty much get access to any off-road vehicle. But I only had one vehicle in mind. My father owns a 2003 Toyota Prado 4.0 V6 and I’ve done over 15000km of traveling through Africa in it, so I was curious to see how the new Prado compares. Fortunately Toyota really liked the idea and were able to provide a 2021 Toyota Prado 2.8 GD6 VX-L. More on the car a bit later.
We set off on the 21st December for our four day road trip, departing from Cape Town. There are multiple route options but truthfully there was only one option, Route 62.
At 786km Route 62 stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (Gqberha) and takes you through many iconic towns and tourist spots. Barrydale is one of the towns where you can spend a whole lot of time exploring the various coffee shops, curio stores and restaurants. If you have time, make a day trip out to Diesel and Crème.
Further along Route 62 you will find one of the favorites for many people passing through, Ronnie’s Sex Shop, which isn’t what the names suggests.
If you don’t believe in the notion that ‘sex sells’ then a small pub in the Karoo will definitely prove you wrong. Ronnies Sex Shop came into being because a few friendly pranksters had a daft idea.
This Route 62 attraction certainly makes for a fun tale. The story goes that Frank Ronald (Ronnie) Price bought a tiny farmer’s cottage on a remote section of the R62. His aim was to open a farm stall, selling fresh produce to the passing trade. He painted the name ‘Ronnies Shop’ on the side of the building, but business didn’t get off to a cracking good start. Then one day, his friends decided for a laugh, they would add the word ‘Sex’ to the name, making it read ‘Ronnies Sex Shop’. Pretty soon this irresistible sign brought in loads of passers-by, and Ronnie’s initial irritation was transformed as he began to see the business opportunity his establishment’s newfound popularity presented. On the advice of these very same friends, Ronnie opened a pub… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Eventually we rolled into Oudtshoorn and found our accommodation in Schoemanshoekvalley, at Le Petit Karoo. To be brutally honest, I find it hard to recommend them. It’s not that it is bad and luckily it is affordable, but what I thought I had booked was not what we got. We were supposed to have our own private splash pool on the deck and a shower for example, which didn’t transpire. I decided to just let it slide so as not to cause a scene and spoil the holiday within 10 minutes of getting there. That being said we had an amazing view, a decent bed to sleep in and on the first day had a great sunset which made the Prado look even better.
Day 2 was a beautiful 27°C with a slight breeze, so we didn’t want to waste the day by sitting in the car. On the way to the camp the evening before, we noticed the Cango Wildlife Ranch. A quick Google search for prices later and we find ourselves at the entrance. Now, I am not a big fan of animals in captivity, but after many chats with various employees at the ranch it does seem they genuinely look after the animals in an attempt to rehabilitate them. For R190 you can get general access or for R290 you can get an up close and personal encounter with one of their ambassador animals.
At Cango Wildlife Ranch you can:
Befriend a snake
Meet a cheetah
Be enchanted by our cheetah cubs
Interact with a Serval
Feed Nanji the African Leopard
Hang out with Ring-Tailed Lemurs
Croc-Cage Dive with a Nile crocodiles
Feed a crocodile
We decided to go for the Lemur encounter as they are a species not commonly found in Southern Africa. After cleaning our hands with animal safe sanitizer (Lemurs are apparently incredibly susceptible to illnesses), we are guided into a large enclosure which felt exactly what I imagine Madagascar would feel like. The two breeds of Lemurs CWR host are indigenous to Madagascar, so they have gone to great lengths to make it feel as similar to the Lemurs’ natural habitat as possible. Humidifiers, plenty of tropical trees, plants and even underfloor heating are used as they don’t like the cold at all.
Enter the competition at the end of this article and you will be in line to win one of our wonderful outdoor and 4×4 books that are up for grabs.
The guides lure one of the Lemurs closer with a very potent fruit cocktail, then the guide allows it to sniff you and then gives it an instruction to jump onto your lap. We were very surprised by how light on its feet it is when it lands on you. This specific Lemur was two and a half times the size of your average cat but weighed half as much. Combined with the puffy soft paws, you barely feel it land on you. After our encounter with the friendly Lemus we walked through the rest of the ranch. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, a tiger, crocodiles, flamingos, vultures, meerkats, turtles, hippos and many other animals make an appearance there. And most importantly, they all looked well cared for.
After 5-6 hours of walking around the ranch, one gets a bit thirsty and peckish. Oudtshoorn is mostly known for two things: the Cango Caves and ostrich farming. Wine production is certainly not high up on their list, but how bad could it be?
Once again our valiant steed whisked us away with its 500Nm of torque deeper into the Schoemanshoekvalley towards Karusa Vineyards. I am not a big wine drinker but their Sauvignon Blanc was so good we bought a box. What food would be the perfect match for a wine tasting with various whites and reds? An ostrich pizza of course. The light and savoury dough pairs well with the white wines and the ostrich meat compliments the reds.
After taking in the scenery and sipping on surprisingly decent wines, we decided to head back to the camp and plan the adventures for the penultimate day of our trip.
The one definite thing I had planned for day 3 of our trip, was to drive the Swartberg pass. It’s not the most technical, in fact we had multiple sedans and hatchbacks come past us, but the views are next level. On the Oudtshoorn side, you have green rolling hills and on the Prince Albert side, brown rocky mountains. Although the pass can clearly be done in a city car, this is where the Prado came into its own. We had heavy rain on the Oudtshoorn side and try as I might I could not get the car to slide around even with the traction control off. The car has an impressive amount of mechanical grip despite the highway biased Dunlop Grandtrek tyres.
Another major benefit of the Prado is its ride comfort. Some of its competitors rely solely on air suspension but the Prado has an ingenious suspension setup that ensures the off-road ability and reliability of coil suspension, with the adjustability that comes with air suspension. It has a traditional coil spring setup, with an airbag inside the coil to allow for height adjustments. Crucially though, if the airbag had to fail, the weight of the vehicle is still supported by the coil springs. This is what sets it apart as a true continent crushing cruiser instead of a mall crawler. I’d be more than happy to take this deep into Africa, I can’t say the same for many of its rivals.
Summiting the pass we were greeted with warming rays of sunshine, allowing me to test the Prado on loose dry surfaces. Once again the Prado lived up to the its incredible reputation… compliant, comfortable and powerful.
I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, but there is a section near at the foot of the pass where the road is butter smooth and at one point Robyn nudged me and said, “You know you are doing 160km/h?”
After completing the pass we cruised into the quaint little town of Prince Albert. The town offers wide open spaces to hike and bike, crisp clear air, star-filled skies and quiet to restore your soul. It showcases beautifully preserved Victorian, Karoo, Cape Dutch and uniquely gabled buildings. It is home to artists and crafters, purveyors of fresh produce and good food, as well as the friendliest people in the Karoo.
We stopped in at the Gin Bar at the Swartberg Hotel for a delicious meat and cheese platter and then got back on the road and made our way through breathtaking Meiringspoort. The well-maintained tarred road through the poort is popular and it follows a series of bends and curves, crossing no fewer than 25 drifts, each with its own story and name. Nooiensboom Drift, Perskeboom Drift and Wasgat are but a few along this scenic route.
The road is a feat of engineering and it was only the frequent flooding of Meiringspoort that prompted the engineering of the Swartberg Pass as an alternative. But, the main attraction is the jaw-dropping beauty of the poort as it winds its way through the Swartberg Mountains. Scenic stops include the Skelm, a waterfall information site. This tumble of water into what appears to be a bottomless pool is said to be the home of a fresh-water mermaid. Whether she really does inhabit one of the five popular swimming holes at the Skelm or not, the story is a lovely one.
You can’t go on holiday in South Africa without having a braai. After breezing through Meiringspoort in torrential rain, we stopped at the local shop to get some groceries and made our way back.
Once again, I was a bit let down by our accommodation. It only had a small communal braai, which isn’t ideal when there are multiple families all trying to use it. But combined with our portable gas stove we managed to whip up a lovely bush dinner paired with yet another lovely sunset.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to Cape Town via Hermanus. On the home stretch we attempted to use as many gravel roads as we could to make our way back to Cape Town, while not losing too much time as we had Christmas Eve plans with Robyn’s family. We made our way down to the coast in search of Plaatjieskraal, often referred to as a ghost town, but in reality it is merely abandoned accommodation. It is only accessible with a 4×4 and it sits right on the beach. Sadly the sand was warm and loose, and I didn’t have my brave pants on to tackle the section on my own. If I were to get stuck, I would be in deep trouble. It’s not that I doubted the abilities of the vehicle, (you can check out our video of taking this exact vehicle to the sand at Ou Trekpad below), I just didn’t feel like making the “please come help me” call if I had bogged down.
After about 6 hours of driving over various terrains and surfaces, the Prado returned 9.2L/100km over about 1200km of driving. Overall, it was an awesome trip filled with great experiences, scrumptious food, beautiful views and scenic spots coupled with two superb driving companions, my better half and the Toyota Prado. And boy, the Prado certainly held up its side of the bargain, oozing power and driving like a dream.
Do you have adventure snaps that you’d like to send us showing your Toyota out and about? We’d like to see your photos! If your photo is chosen, you will be in line to win a wonderful book prize relating to outdoor and 4×4 activities. Simply visit our Facebook page and post your photo in the comments of the Prado post by clicking here