RoadTrip: The Mazda CX-3 goes on a garden route adventure

Image: Jim Freeman
Image: Jim Freeman

“It is a ‘zoom-zoom!’” exclaimed adventure guide Yolande du Preez, echoing the breathy advertising tagline of Mazda when she saw the stylish little CX-3 in which she and Jim Freeman were about to go buzzing around the Garden Route.

Yolande is a registered tour guide (and trained medic … handy in the circumstances) whose professional qualifications, coupled with boundless energy and the fact that she is a mother of a 10-year-old boy, were the basis of a three-day adventure. 

She made all the arrangements for our recreational activities and set a punishing itinerary that kept all four of us (her son brought along his best buddy) busy from Friday evening till Monday afternoon.

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mazda cx-3

                                                   Image: Jim Freeman

There was hiking, Segway riding, canoeing, quadbikes, ziplining, kayaking, and visits to two or three wildlife sanctuaries thrown in for good measure. The premise of the roadtrip was that you do not have to be big and muscular to have loads of outdoor fun in the Southern Cape.

“Big” and “muscular” are definitely not words you would use to describe the sub-compact sports utility vehicle of Mazda. If I had to compare it to any well-known athlete it would be Cheslin Kolbe of Springbok rugby; nippy, focused, and possessing a phenomenal hunger for work. So **Cheslin Zoom-Zoom** our little SUV became.

The four of us met up at the Ebb and Flow camp of SANParks in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park. (Is there a better entrance to a seaside town in South Africa than Wilderness – with the iconic railway bridge over the river mouth on one side and the long Blue Flag beach stretching out ahead?)

mazda cx-3

                                                    Image: Jim Freeman

Limited luggage space

Being four up I feared there would be insufficient space for all of us with our luggage, braai gear, and camping equipment and this was realised when I met Yolande in Wilderness.

We only had to take one look at the collection of cases, bags, crates, cooler-boxes, grids, sleeping bags, and a camping mattress to know there was no way **“SeeZeeZee**” was going to cope. 

That is the chief negative of the vehicle. It is an extremely capable and comfortable little SUV ideal for a young family; provided said family comes virtually unencumbered of earthly possessions in its quest for adventure. 

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mazda cx-3

                                                    Image: Jim Freeman

From the Mother City, the CX-3 whistled up the highway, its two-litre engine chewing up the kilometres smoothly and efficiently, and I crested the Kaaiman’s Pass just as the sun was going down. In this regard, the Mazda CX-3 2.0L Individual Plus FWD Auto behaved more like a hot hatch than an SUV. 

It also looked the part both inside and out; low-riding, sleek, and with a plush interior that included leather seats and a seven-way BOSE sound system. It also sports a range of features of which its larger siblings – both in the Mazda family and the overall SUV genre – will be proud. 

Personally, I can do without auto stop-start, known to Mazda as i-Stop, lane departure warning, and driver attention alert but there are people who find them indispensable. I was far more impressed with the (albeit basic) heads-up display, blind spot monitor, and adaptive LED headlamps.

mazda cx-3

                                                     Image: Jim Freeman

The 264-litre luggage volume was indeed an issue, but it was not the problem I feared. The SANParks chalets at both Wilderness and, on subsequent nights, Storms River Mouth were so well equipped we were able to dump a mountain of extraneous “stuff” at Yolande’s home and, with some clever packing, continued in minimal discomfort.

SANParks efficiency

I can say this for Garden Route SANParks: its operations are friendly and efficient, while the accommodation facilities are more modern, comfortable, and better maintained than many of those I have encountered in other parts of the country.

The adoption of the Cattle Baron restaurant franchise in SANParks camps throughout South Africa has been a masterstroke in terms of mealtime quality and consistency.

The camp shops were adequately stocked, and prices were not exorbitant, so we could purchase food and other perishables daily, and for those on extended stays, the chalets are equipped with flat-screen TVs and limited-bouquet DStv. 

mazda cx-3

                                                     Image: Jim Freeman

No coach-potato antics for us, though – the Brown-hooded Kingfisher Trail, a 2.5 km (5 km round trip) bush walk that culminates at a waterfall, awaited and the next morning we went quad-biking and Segway riding at WildX Adventures.

It was just the thing to kickstart the weekend for 10-year-old boys, especially if neither of them has done it before! There are several WildX Adventures branches between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth offering activities such as archery, paintball games, mountain-biking, abseiling, canoeing, electric cars for the real youngsters, and tandem paragliding for those seeking a natural high. “Kids” go half-price on quite a few of the activities, says owner Johnnie Borrett.

There was no let-up. The boys were still digesting their boerie-rolls when they were fitted into ziplining harnesses at Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure and led wide-eyed to the first of eight launch platforms above the Kruis River.

mazda cx-3

                                                      Image: Jim Freeman

“One of the great advantages of being a woman adventure guide,” says Du Preez, a freelancer used by a number of established companies, “is that boys and men refuse to show they are too scared to do something a ‘girl’ has no problem with. 

“Women, on the other hand, feel that if I am doing something physically challenging or adventurous, then it is okay for them to do the same. They put their trust in me and that is extremely empowering for all of us. Very rarely will one of her clients refuse to “step off the edge”, she says.

Adventure activities

The “original” zipline, the longest of the eight slides crisscrossing the river, is 211 m long, and the “triple”, the longest of the three slides, is over half a kilometre long. Still pumped with adrenaline the boys gambolled along the storm-tossed shoreline while we unpacked at Storms River. 

Their final “physical” experience was kayaking and lilo-riding on the Storms River with Untouched Adventures, which operates from a rented site inside the park.

mazda cx-3

                                                       Image: Jim Freeman

Participants in the two to three-hour excursion would don wetsuits and booties and paddle from the main parking lot across the sea to the river mouth under the imposing suspension bridge and onwards into the gorge. Experienced guides help paddlers into the two-person kayaks and partnered with the boys for the experience.

Next day, we visited two of the wildlife sanctuaries operated in The Crags by the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance, Monkeyland, and Birds of Eden. Monkeyland is the first multi-species free-roaming primate sanctuary in the world, housing around 500 ex-captive apes, monkeys, and lemurs in 12 hectares of pristine indigenous forest.

Species include gibbons, langurs, saki, capuchin, squirrel, vervet, howler, and spider monkeys as well as black and white-ruffed and ring-tailed lemurs.

Animals are habituated to humans, not tame. This allows close-up and relaxed viewing of their antics but touching or petting is strictly forbidden! Birds of Eden is equally remarkable: encompassing over two hectares of natural forest and waterways, it is the largest single-dome free-flight aviary on the planet and is home to about 3500 birds from over 200 species.

mazda cx-3

                                                     Image: Jim Freeman

Visitors can either be accompanied by an experienced guide along the 1.2 km walkways or explore the facility at their own pace, equipped with the colourful Birds of Eden guidebook-cum-ticklist.

They can also expect to see giant fruit bats, miniature monkeys, and blue duiker, the smallest antelope in South Africa.

Our vehicle: Mazda CX-3 2.0L Individual Plus FWD Auto

Engine: In-line four-cylinder 16-valve S-VT (SKYACTIV-G) petrol

Displacement: 1,998 ccPower: 115 kW @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 206 Nm @ 2,800 rpm

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Gross weight: 1,735 kg

Luggage space: 264 l 

Ground clearance: 160 mm (unladen)

Consumption: 6.7 l/100 km (manufaturer figure)

Fuel tank: 48 l

Price: R404,200 (without extras)

mazda cx-3

                                                     Image: Jim Freeman

We like

On-road handling and ride comfort, performance, and fuel economy. High level of driver aids and equipment. Phenomenal lights.

We do not like

Very limited luggage space and backseat legroom (for an SUV). Low ground clearance.

RoadTrip rating: 78%

road trip

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