You’ve been planning that first trip to the sand dunes for a long time. You’ve done all the research but you still need some recovery gear. So you head to your local outdoor and camping store, and they sell you a miracle sand extraction device, for a pretty penny.
There we were, next to the Atlantic Ocean, on South Africa’s beautiful West Coast. Ahead of us lay some sandy tracks, leading to the Hondeklip Bay lighthouse. There are two routes to reach the lighthouse. The first – and most popular option – is an easy sand road, accessible by most vehicles if the driver employs some logic and sand driving acumen. Secondly, a much more intricate, difficult route that runs up and over some sand dunes. These tracks are not suited to normal sedans. In fact, we had to use a fair dollop of momentum to get our low-slung Subaru Outback 4WD through some sections. With even more difficult dunes looming ahead, we decided to rather park the Scooby and go and enjoy the rock pools with the kids.
Enter our pal Frikkie*. He has been looking forward to this moment for months. You see, he drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6 V6, and he’d been planning to test its sand driving abilities since the day he drove it off the Jeep dealership’s floor. Being a man of careful and calculated approach, Frikkie had gone shopping before this trip, acquiring an expensive ‘sand recovery system’ consisting of bags, made from a heavy-duty plastic (which one is supposed to fill with sand). Well, this was exactly the moment Frikkie was waiting for, never mind if the Subaru was parked, or not.
He had those amazing sand recovery bags in the boot if the unthinkable happened and he got the Grand stuck. So off went Frikkie, the 209kW Jeep Grand Cherokee blasting up and down the sand tracks. This went on for a while, as Frikkie’s demeanour progressed from trepid to brave to unstoppable. Then it all went very quiet. Too quiet. After 10 minutes there was still no sign of the Jeep. Then we saw a shiny object in the sand, far away. It was the Jeep, and it seemed very much stationary. So off we headed into the dunes while the kids played in the rock pools, keen to see how well those sand bag contraptions work. But when we reached Frikkie he had a slightly hot and bothered look about him. He wanted to know if we could maybe work out the ‘magic’ part of his recovery bags.
So, it ostensibly works like this: you fill sand bags with sand. Then you insert said sand bags under wheels. Perfect right? Er, no. Those bags, in the heat of the day, proved to be as slippery as ice. So the wheel just spun on the smooth plastic surface, gaining absolutely no grip at all. Hence no forward momentum, and no miracle recovery. In the end, it took about an hour’s worth of digging, pushing and swearing to extract the big Grand Cherokee from its predicament. The ‘recovery’ bags proved to be as useful as an empty box of matches. That night, around the campfire, Frikkie vowed to return the useless sand bags to the ‘sender’ and to head straight to his local 4×4 accessory store for some real sand recovery equipment. Strangely though, he doesn’t seem so fond of driving in sand anymore. * Not his real name.
The real deal
General outdoor gear shops stock a variety of accessories and camping gear that you will find useful. Some may even stock proper recovery gear. However, if you want specialist advice, rather head over to a specialist 4×4 accessory company. Most of the counter sales staff have experienced various products in the field, so they’re (normally) better qualified to advise 4×4 drivers on suitable recovery gear.