In keeping with its “spirit of adventure” philosophy, Land Rover organised an adventure outing to the small town of Alicedale. Leisure Wheels joined the “Amazing Race” in and around this Eastern Cape village in a Freelander
Text: Ian Tonkin Photography: Carlie Norval
What does a motor manufacturer do when there’s not really anything new to say about a particular vehicle, but it does want to create some publicity to keep it in the public eye?
You invite motoring journalists on an adventure trip to an exciting destination, which also promises to be a lot of fun. Which is exactly what Land Rover did.
On arrival in Port Elizabeth, the journalists were greeted by six Land Rover Freelander models parked outside the airport building. The destination was the small town of Alicedale, where the Bushman Sands Hotel was to be our home for the next two days.
We immediately became well acquainted with the village when we set out on an “amazing race” type expedition. Each team of three journalists was given an instruction sheet that provided clues to various landmarks in the town.
The locals had probably never seen so much traffic before as the six vehicles scooted from one end of the town to the other, with the occupants stopping off to drop-kick goals at the rugby field, attempt to putt at the golf course and get a train ticket at the station – to name just a few of the tasks!
The day ended with a relaxing sundowner cruise on the New Year’s Dam, a stone’s throw away from the hotel.
The dam is in the Bushman Sands game reserve, where animals such as elephant, waterbuck, ostrich and eland can be spotted drinking in the late afternoon.
There was an early start next day as we left for the Kamala Game Reserve, close to Somerset East. The convoy of Freelanders took to many back routes and dirt roads, but we would find out later that this was the easy part!
On arrival at Kamala we stopped at the foot of the mountain and the drive to the top was spectacular, to say the least. Sharp rocks, sheer drop-offs on the 4×4 trail and very steep ascents made driving challenging, but thanks to the Freelander’s capabilities not impossible.
After a quick snack and some much-needed water after the formidable drive, the crews strolled across to try the gorge swing and abseiling. The gorge swing, as the name suggests, comprises three steel cables that run from one side of the gorge to the other. Those brave enough to go are strapped in a harness and swung to the other side. The views are spectacular – not that everyone noticed!
Abseiling was also a bit of an adrenalin rush as you’re required to slither down a vertical rock face with “only” a couple of ropes stopping you from plummeting down.
Soon it was time to leave the mountain summit and head back the same way we came up. The Freelander is equipped with Hill Descent Control (HDC), which makes the trip down steep slopes fairly easy. Push the big yellow button next to the gear lever and the vehicle does the rest. HDC works by applying the necessary braking to the wheels if they exceed a certain speed. This ensures an easy ride down the hill, while minimising the risk of losing control.
The Land Rover Freelander’s off-road engineering translates into real on-road driving benefits.
Driving around the Eastern Cape in the Freelander TD4 was for the most part effortless. The car falls into the premium category of so-called soft-roaders and it is easy to see why. Seats are covered in Alcantara fabric and there is a host of electronic devices to make life easier.
The Harman/Kardon sound system with 6- CD autochanger is an up-market feature that projects very crisp sounds from the nine speakers.
In keeping with the Freelander’s “premium” status, the vehicle is equipped with a permanent 4-wheel-drive system to ensure maximum traction in all weather conditions.
There is a choice of three engines: a range-topping 2,5-litre quad-cam 24-valve V6, a 2,0- litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel and a 1,8-litre 4- cylinder petrol. The model we drove was the 2,0-litre HSE turbodiesel, which performed admirably on the open road as well as off it.
Once the driving was over we headed back to the tranquillity of the Bushman Sands Hotel. Alicedale owes its existence to the railway line, which made it an important link in the trade routes around the Eastern Cape. These days its fortunes are being revived by the modern leisure activities centred on the hotel and golf course.
The main building at the hotel was once the old railway training college, built by Scottish masons in 1900. This building has been declared a national monument and is central to the hotel’s prestige.
The hotel boasts a recently opened Gary Player-designed 18-hole golf course that is challenging and well kept.
The new Freelander is expected in 2007. It will certainly have exterior and interior changes to keep it up to date, but the “spirit of adventure” will never be replaced.
The Alicedale experience showed again just how much South Africa has to offer, and exploring its out of the way places will surprise and delight you.