Ford Ranger #Gravelog | Hidden gems and humble people: gravel roads naturally unearth the beauty of SA

<i>Image: Wheels24/Robin Classen</i>
<i>Image: Wheels24/Robin Classen</i>
Robin Classen

South Africa really is a beautiful place. Yes, the current state of affairs might not accurately reflect that but a unique drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg put everything into picturesque perspective.

As their very last event for the year, Ford South Africa wanted to do something different, fun, and memorable. Their plan? A drive from the Mother City to Johannesburg entirely on gravel roads - aptly called a #gravelog.

Sights and sounds

The serene surrounds of the Meerendal Wine Estate was the meeting point and lined up next to one another was the journey's weapons of choice: Ford XLT, Wildtrak, and Raptor bakkies were prepped and ready to do battle in the dust and dirt roads awaiting its appearance. 

SEE | Off on a roadtrip this holiday? Here are 5 wise travel tips from the off-roading guru Kingsley Holgate

With a gentle breeze in circulation and the sun poking its head out at a glance, it was time to set sail on the gravel voyage laying in wait.

Communication was done with two-way radios placed in each bakkie where we could listen to any updates from convoy leader Gideo 'bush Jesus' Basson and also join in on a bit of banter across the channel we were on. Any sort of nervousness and introvertedness was immediately left behind as everyone warmed up to one another.

The phrase 'eat my dust' came to fruition here as all bakkies kept a safe following distance from the multi-coloured patches of gold and pink sand thrown up into the air.

Everyone got a chance behind the wheel of the 132kW XLT, 157kW bi-turbo Wildtrak and range-topping 157kW Raptor throughout the journey. Safe to say, many wanted to drive the bakkie that got its name from a dinosaur most of the time because it's so well-suited for the surfaces we were driving on - not that the other two weren't, but the Raptor is just a different beast.

There is really nothing to fault about the bakkies we were in. Whether it was the XLT, Wildtrak or Raptor, the leaf spring and coil suspension soaked up the undulating, sometimes tetchy, roads with ease. It also provided one of the smoothest rides on the roughest of surfaces. The on-tap torque in both the single and bi-turbo models is mighty impressive and gives you another sense why people love it so much.

One massive standout was the amount of space available to passengers on the backseat. A bakkie's clear advantage is the loading space but surprisingly there is more than enough to accommodate passengers perched on the rear seats.

Bakkies are generally considered to be gas-guzzlers due to their weight and bigger displacement but the average fuel consumption across the spectrum, with the aircon on for basically all of the trip was around 9.0l/100km, and that is pretty impressive considering where, and how far, we were driving.

An injection of SA

Day 1 kicked off with getting a feel for the trip and also trying to acclimatise to the scorching heat bearing down. Water stops became a regular theme as the group tried to keep a cool head, thank goodness for airconditioning in all the vehicles! 

ranger gravelog

                                                                        Image: Wheels24/Robin Classen

We were instructed to make our way to one of the farms just outside Cape Town to load up on hay bales which needed to be transported to a farmer in Sutherland in dire need of it for his 300 sheep.

As the sun started to set and after losing a few bales on the way, we proceeded to our stop for the night - the Tankwa Karoo National Park. No wifi, no signal, just human interaction - no amount of money can buy those kind of moments. The little town also plays host to the annual Afrika Burn festival.

Rustic car art was scattered throughout the barren land with no hint of modern technology anywhere in sight. You could take a dip in the 'Gene Pool' or have a drink at the 'Onverklaarbar'. If you wanted to sit, car seats from various vehicles were laid in a circle and we each took turns trying to guess which car it came out of.

We awoke from our tents, had a quick breakfast, and driver briefing before we headed towards the menacing mountain pass towards the Eastern Cape village of Nieu-Bethesda. With the sweltering heat making its presence felt, Day 2 was to be the most testing as conditions changed from dry to wet the deeper we ventured through the sometimes desolate yet mystical towns.

Ford gravelog

                                                                   Image: Wheels24/Robin Classen

Drivers had a bit of fun in the wet and muddy conditions, letting the rears slide out and those with Raptor's activating 'Baja' mode for that extra bit of spice. We exceeded our expected ETA due to a small mishap but once everything was sorted, the show went on. After tackling some twisty roads in the dark, the Ranger troops eventually found their way to the Ganora Guesthouse in Nieu-Bethesda.

SEE | 5 cool things about driving on South Africa's gravel roads in a Ford Ranger

After some much needed rest and a 45-minute history lesson on the fossils found in South Africa, the day's festivities continued. Gideo informed us that we would only be driving a total of 300km for the day as the bulk of it would be done the following day.

Ford definitely left the best for last here as the last stopping point of the journey was the lush and luxurious Otterskloof Private Game Reserve in the Free State where everyone relaxed and put their feet up.

Ford Gravelog

                                                                    Image: Wheels24/Robin Classen

The last 800km of the road leading to Johannesburg was the only thing left to conquer. With the last tank refill for the day, we  prepared ourselves for the last voyage. The penultimate stop before the final destination was in Wolmaransstad where a last supper was enjoyed.

After four days, 2 303km and eight Ford Rangers - the blissful journey came to an end at Lanseria Airport. As everyone went their separate ways, they went home with something other than dirty apparel - the memories.

There might be plenty of issues happening in the country at the moment but travelling on gravel roads and soaking in nature's beauty reminds you why we love this country so much.

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