Finding Adventure in South Africa
Visiting Africa conjures up thoughts of malaria tablets, shady border agents, and months of logistics and planning. This is not that kind of trip. As your thoughts turn to what you will be driving, you might picture a Defender 110 with a rooftop tent, ARB fridge, and loads of spare fuel, and tires. This is not what we were driving. This is a very different kind of African adventure. No spare parts, no tools, no satellite phones-hell, we didn't even bring a map! This is the story of two college buddies who reunited for a few days of fun in the bush.
Royce Ferguson relocated to Cape Town with his family a year ago and drives a bone-stock Land Rover Discovery 3 (badged as the LR3 in the States) that has never been off pavement. I had plans to visit Africa, reunite with this old friend, and introduce the Land Rover to the dirt in the process. Shortly after arriving in Cape Town, we loaded up the LR3 with biltong (South African jerky), water, and sleeping bags and headed 500 kilometers northwest, through the South African wine country to Karoo National Park.
Our perceptions of Africa were changing quickly as we travelled at 75 mph over smooth roads on our way towards Karoo. We had no reservations, no plans, and no expectations other than finding adventure and having a good time. How did we decide on Karoo National Park? The park is one of 17 national parks in South Africa, but among those only four parks contain "4x4 Eco Trails," and of the four, Karoo is the closest to Cape Town. What's a 4x4 Eco Trail? Instead of paving roads and busing people in like you see in Yosemite and Denali National Parks, the clever folks in South Africa realized that these wide open spaces are best enjoyed from behind the wheel of a 4x4 on unpaved roads.
We arrived at Karoo National Park after dark and set up camp in the established campsites in the park. These grassy sites each contained a fire pit and were close to the restroom facilities, which were clean and included plenty of shower stalls. With no rooftop tent in our possession, we set up camp right under the stars for the night. Karoo is not home to large African predators like lions or cheetahs, so we carefully packed our food away and took our chances with the rhino, baboons, and fox that inhabit the park. For those who are feeling less adventurous, there are thatched-roofed, Dutch-style cabins available at the park as well.
After a breakfast of biltong, we headed to the main lodge to grab the keys for the Embizweni Cottage. This completely self-sufficient cottage is off the grid and uses solar-powered lights and gas-powered appliances. What's more, the cottage is located at the far side of the 45km Nuweveld 4x4 Eco Trail. The trail begins by winding its way up to the top of the Klipspringer Pass and has expansive 360-degree views. Cliffs at the top of the pass house nests for black eagles, which are just one of the raptors found in the area.
Birds aren't the only wildlife to be found in Karoo. Along the route to the Embizweni Lodge, we saw baboons, hartebeest, gemsbok, ostriches, and tortoise-but the black rhino eluded us. Traveling at a relaxed pace and stopping often to photograph the wildlife, we arrived at the cottage in early afternoon. The route was relatively easy and we didn't encounter anything that required low-range, though we did take the opportunity to explore a few more challenging washes in the LR3. After a peaceful afternoon at the cottage, we headed out at dusk to search for more wildlife. Following a spectacular sunset, we were greeted by the sounds of a hissing tire instead of the sounds of wildlife. A quick trip back to the cabin allowed us to change the tire on a flat surface, but it also left us with no spare. Fortunately, the tire change took little time, as a thunderstorm quickly rolled in after dark. The lightning provided the only light for miles around and lit up the park with splendor.