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Voetspore Diary: Can I go too? Pleeeease?

23 December 2016

The theory seems good: take some enthusiastic outdoor adventurers along on a Voetspore expedition. But the practical implications are much more intricate… each of the six seats has to be filled with someone who adds some unique and much-needed skills to the expedition, otherwise the expedition could turn into a bit of a disaster.

The most frequent request we get as a team is: “May I join you? You guys have such a wonderful time, I’d like to go with.” The answer is always the same: “Sorry, but we have a settled team. Each guy is a professional in his own right. A cameraman, a photographer, a logistics man… we always travel as six men in three vehicles. There is room for no more.” This is very sad. How can we deprive so many wonderful men and women – people who love the great outdoors, people who are comfortable camping, guys and girls who can cook gourmet meals on an open fire, people who have an intimate knowledge of nature – the opportunity to join in the fun? There is a solution, of course – why don’t they just do it themselves? It’s right on their doorstep.

Over the years we have been fortunate to see the marvels of the African continent. Pedras Negras and Calendula in Angola, the mighty Congo River, The Ring in Cameroon, the mystical cities of Gao and Timbuktu, the Golden Triangle of Atar, Chiguetti and Oudane in Mauritania, the White Desert in Egypt, the Pyramids of Meroë in Sudan, the Chalbi, the Serengeti, Maasai Mara… the list is extensive. Recently we travelled for three months on the mysterious island of Madagascar. We are very blessed and privileged. Few, if any, have had the opportunity to see the African continent in all its glory the way we have. But does that imply that we are the only ones to be exposed to this pleasure? By no means. What is important is that, like with most things in life, it started with baby steps. And where better to exercise your baby steps than right here inside our borders?

The Namaqualand 4×4 route in the Northern Cape is one of the most beautiful and, at times, also rather challenging. Along the route you may even attempt ‘The road to hell and back’. Travelling further west there is the Richtersveld, the only rock desert in Southern Africa. The rock formations in the north-western corner of South Africa are breathtakingly beautiful. Turning south from the Richtersveld is the wonderful sand track along the coast, going from Hondeklipbaai to Groenriviermond, Papendorp and Doring Bay. During the flower season of Namaqualand, this route is unparalleled in its splendour. The Garden Route is much more explored and tourists from around the globe come here to experience its beauty. If you want to camp under the stars and have some 4×4 fun along the way, few can compete with the exquisite Baviaanskloof.

The Transkei, with its rugged coastline, is an area that once suffered because of its crime. No traveller, especially those vulnerable in campsites, felt safe. In recent times though, things have changed and more people are once again experiencing the unspoilt wilderness of Mazeppa Bay, Qora Mouth, Dwesa and Coffee Bay. The coastline of KwaZulu-Natal has been a favourite for many years. Not necessarily the South Coast – the beaches are too crowded, the queues too long – but the North Coast: Amatikulu, Mtunzini, Maphelane and a personal favourite, Mabibi. Fly fishing in the breakers, strolling on the beach, having some interaction with the locals, the North Coast of KZN has, and will always be, something special.

Towards the interior, the list too, is endless. The Ivory Trail in the Limpopo, Mapungubwe, the Soutpansberg, Marakele, the North West. The Great Karoo as well as the Kalahari, dry, desert-like areas, invite travellers back, over and over again. Doing Voetspore on our doorstep is not difficult. You don’t need a passport, a Yellow Fever Certificate, a Carnet de Passage or special stickers on your front and rear bumpers. You only have to look at a map, decide where you want to go, get friends and family to join you, and set a date. It is that simple. Gearing up is not that challenging either. I am astounded to see how many four-wheel-drive vehicles never make it off the tarmac. Be brave. Try and figure out what the small gear lever is for, and when one should engage a diff lock. This does not have to be an off-road challenge. These vehicles are designed to take us to special places, away from the madding crowd.

Camping equipment can be very involved, or very simple. A pop-up tent, mattress, sleeping bag, two camping chairs, a braai grid, one cast iron pot and a kettle, plus a cooler box full of frosties and a few lamb chops and you are sorted. This may develop to eventually having an off-road trailer with porta potty and hot water shower, but that is not necessary. Over the years, the most important aspect about our expeditions is that we learnt to simplify matters. At first we packed everything, including the kitchen sink.

Now we travel lean and mean. Voetspore may imply travelling from the Cape to Cairo, or across the Equator, or down the west coast of the continent, but here, in South Africa, we have a world in one country. Why not start with baby steps? You may even eventually decide not to go beyond our borders. In this country, there is a lifetime of travel waiting.