Here at the Southern tip of Africa we're an outdoor, adventure-loving nation with a lot of serious real estate to explore. Lush indigenous forests, gargantuan mountain ranges, vast swathes of bushveld, pristine valleys, secluded wetlands, encroaching deserts and sand dunes, you name it – our choices are almost endless. Even better, these varied biomes combine in their own idiosyncratic ways, creating unique topographies that never fail to fill the human spirit with awe.
However, getting to witness these (often remotely-located) natural treasures isn't always easy. To do that you probably need to take a long, sometimes adventurous scenic drive. No wonder 4x4ing makes up such a huge part of our local outdoor adventure scene; it allows South African families from all walks of life to explore our nation's vast and varied natural landscape just the way we like it – up close and personal.
Speaking of which, here are 5 great 4x4 trails where you can take your family, have a great time and get intimate with the natural beauty this land of ours has on offer.
Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail (Northern Cape)
Location: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
GPG Coordinates: S 26.2826, E 20.3648
Located within the expansive boundaries of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, on the border of South Africa and Botswana, is the legendary Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail. This 4-day, one-way route is nothing short of breathtaking in its stark, red-sand beauty. Extending between the Nossob and Twee Rivieren camps, departing from either location on an alternative basis – it's an impressive 214 kilometres long, taking around 85 hours to complete. This is no easy drive, consisting of gravel, sand dunes and sandy stretches guaranteed to challenge handling skills to the max. As a consequence, visitors are required to take one of the experienced, qualified guides along as this is not a self-drive course.
The absence of man-made barriers (except to the west and south of the park) has created a conservation area large enough to maintain examples of two ecological processes that were once commonplace throughout Africa – the large-scale migratory movements of wild herbivores (wildebeest, springbok, eland and red hartebeest); and their predation by large carnivores. These processes are impossible to maintain except in the largest of areas, making this park particularly special.
The honey badger, pangolin, bat-eared fox, ground squirrel and meerkat are some of the park's other regularly-seen residents. But it's the excellent chance of spotting predators – namely cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyena and the definitive black-maned lion – that are the park’s main attraction.
How to get there:
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is situated approximately 250km from Upington in the far Northern Cape, or about 904km from Johannesburg. Visitors driving from Johannesburg have a choice of two routes, either via Upington (255km tarred road) or via Kuruman, Hotazel and Vanzylrus (about 340km gravel).
Hennops Offroad Trails (Magaliesburg)
Location: Near Hartbeespoort
GPS Coordinates: S 25.7914, E 27.9801
Gautenger's wanting to escape the urban jungle need look no further than Hennops Offroad Trails. Conveniently located near Hartbeespoort Dam, 30 km from Sandton and Pretoria – this 4x4 trail is ideal for enthusiasts wanting to brush up on their off-roading skills and spend a fun day outdoors. It's also a great spot to properly get to know your vehicle before heading off on your own mini version of the Great Trek.
This self-drive trail is about 9 km long and takes between 2 – 3 hours to complete, depending on how busy it gets on the day. The trail – graded between 2 (low-range required but suitable for first timers) and 4 (technical trail for the experienced) – is layout in such a way that visitors can take detours whenever they encounter obstacles they don't think they can handle, making it suitable for all experience levels.
While on the trail you'll encounter axle twisters, rocky climbs, declines, dongas and mud-holes. You can also expect to see herds of zebra, blou wildebeest, blesbok and impala, together with a wide variety of bird life and smaller animals along the trail. And, while you're at it, keep look out for the local celebrates – the herd of Zonkies, a feisty hybrid mix of donkey and zebra.
Their picnic area (comprising braais and basic ablution facilities) may also be used for camping, but there is no hot water or electricity available. So if you want to really test your camping gear before heading out into the great dusty unknown, then this is the place to be.
How to get there:
Leaving Pretoria on the N4, head towards Pelindaba for about 22km. Take the Elias Motsoaledi St / R104 exit and turn left. 2km later, turn right onto the R511 and continue for a further 1.6km. Turn right, then immediate left.
Rust de Winter 4x4 Bundu (Limpopo Province)
Location: 50 km from Hammanskraal
GPS Coordinates: S 25.1154, E 28.3432
The Rust de Winter 4x4 Bundu trail starts and ends at the 4x4ATV Club, a private campsite situated on the banks of the Elands River that welcomes day visitors. Taking two days to complete and covering 80km, the trail cuts through predominantly mountainous and rocky terrain, and is guided by experts who have intimate knowledge of the area. It winds through deep gorges and valleys, then climbs steadily up rocky mountain passes to the overnight camp.
You'll encounter various obstacles along the way, and cross several mountain streams that'll test your driving skills – so this trail requires drivers know their vehicles and have some off-road experience. Some demanding sections are virtually impossible to negotiate without guidance. One is a very steep, rocky descent that few would attempt on their own. The second, a similarly steep ascent, requires considerable momentum and will probably demand more than one attempt.
The trail proceeds through “lovers lane” – a water-formed gorge through alluvial rock, covered in evergreen trees that form a leafy, shady tunnel. Trees along the trail are identified with National Parks signage and numbering. The best time to visit is in the summer months, when the valleys are covered in green and streams flow with crystal clear water.
The 4x4ATV Club campsite has about 160 permanent stands and about 200 casual sites available for day visitors. A touch of luxury is provided by 7 ablution facilities and 12 water tanks fed through a bore hole or pumped from the river system depending on the time of year and water level in the river. It's not fit for drinking though, so remember to bring your own.
How to get there:
Follow the highway from Pretoria to Warmbaths. Take the Hammanskraal / Boekenhout off-ramp, turn right across the highway and travel east. Then, just after crossing the highway, take next tar road left going north. At next T-junction turn right. Pass the Rust de Winter dam road sign and continue straight through the next tar cross roads. Pass a small settlement with stores and cross the Elands River bridge. Turn right just after the river into the grounds of the 4x4ATV Club.
Boegoeberg 4x4 (West Coast)
Location: Lambertshoek Farm, Clanwilliam
GPS Coordinates: S 32.1723, E 18.4524
This scenic trail, boasting panoramic views of the coast to the west and the Cederberg mountains in the East, is set high in the “Engelsman-se-berg” on Lambertshoek Farm. Buchu is still actively cultivated here, and a variety of activities based around this medicinal herb are offered to visitors. In fact, all the initial roads in the area were made to harvest the Buchu in the first place, which grows naturally high up in the mountains. Prior to the roads, harvested Buchu had to be carried down the mountain by hand and donkey. These routes now form part of the Boegoeberg 4×4 trail.
From the start of the 30 km trail, the climb begins – passing interesting places en-route such as “Buurman-se-gat”, “Sarel-se-kop”, Kliphuis, Die Poort, Groenvlei and Stillerus. Eventually you reach the Platklip viewpoint, where panoramic views reward intrepid visitors. You'll encounter a number of challenges along the way, from steep ascents and descents, to technical driving sections where you'll have to negotiate your passage around and over large rock formations. On the last section to the Platklip viewpoint a stream gets crossed on numerous occasions. Depending on the time of year, this section can get tricky, seriously testing your driving skills and vehicle's traction.
In addition to the mountain trail, you can also drive a short circular route with a variety of challenges, including a particularly tough sand hill climb that's still waiting to be given an appropriate name. Two campsites are available on the farm for visitors, one at the start of the trail, under large trees and next to a dam, the other on top of the mountain at the Kliphuis. Both campsites offer basic toilet facilities and fresh water.
How to get there:
From Cape Town take the N7 north. Turn left at Paleisheuwel signpost 10 km before Clanwilliam. Drive for 12 km and turn right at the Graafwater signpost. After 7 km turn left at Boegoeberg 4×4. The farm is 3 km further on down the road.
Bedfogfontein 4x4 Route (Eastern Cape)
Location: Addo Elephant National Park
GPS Coordinates: S 33.4833, E 25.7500
The Bedfogfontein 4x4 Route – once used by Boer commandos and British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War – runs between the Darlington and Kabouga sections of the Addo Elephant National Park. This historic, 45 km trail takes about 6 hours to complete, immersing travellers in breathtaking scenery and early 20th-century history. Graded 2 – 3 on the complexity stakes, the rugged mountain passes this trail winds through can be a real challenge. An experience that will no doubt increase your respect for the perseverance of those early pioneers' who somehow managed to cross these mountains in ox wagons.
The trail cuts through a variety of vegetation, from riverine thicket, to Afromontane forest, fynbos on the peaks and into the arid Nama Karoo. Two species of ancient cycads grace the mountain slopes, while towering yellowwood trees pierce the sky and offer welcome shade during summer. This is not an extremely technical or challenging route, but the scenery and views are spectacular, particularly along the Sundays River section. Remember to keep a look out for black rhino while driving through the Rhino Camp on the Darlington side.
Water is scarce and summer temperatures regularly hit 40 degrees, so visitors should ensure they carry enough drinking water. A maximum of six vehicles are allowed on the route at any one time, and it is strongly recommended that at least two vehicles travel together for safety purposes. The route is only suitable for vehicles with 4x4 and low range facilities. Remember to check conditions with the ranger should you wish to attempt the optional Grade 5 river crossing.
How to get there:
From Port Elizabeth follow the N2 highway towards Grahamstown, then turn left at the exit signposted ‘Motherwell’ and ‘Addo Elephant National Park’. Proceed through Motherwell, following this road until you pass through the town of Addo and further on until you see the entrance to the park on the right.
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