Text: Loftus Viljoen and Naomi Myburgh
Photography: Loftus Viljoen
What type of 4×4 should you purchase if you plan on travelling extensively through southern Africa? That’s a thorny issue that I won’t even attempt to address here! What I will say, however, is that all good overland 4x4s have a few things in common. And the most important of these is good ground clearance.
When travelling on tar, ground clearance is not an issue. When venturing off road, though, decent ground clearance becomes very important, because it will ultimately determine your vehicle’s ability to deal with ugly tracks. Sure, other factors such as wheel articulation and the presence of differential locks are also important, but these are crucial only when tackling 4×4 trails or truly horrendous roads. When travelling overland through Africa, a 4×4 with good ground clearance will be able to go just about anywhere.
Some vehicles’ standard suspensions offer adequate clearance, while others are a bit low. Thankfully, though, there are after-market suspensions that can help increase clearance. Choosing a suspension can sometimes be a bit daunting, so it’s best to speak to someone who is knowledgeable on the subject before purchasing a specific kit.
Another thing that all experienced overlanders would recommend is a new set of tyres. A lot of SUVs are sold with tyres that are better suited to on-road travel than dirt roads. If your vehicle will hardly ever venture off tar, these tyres are fine, but if you’re planning an overland trip, they should probably be replaced. All-terrain tyres offer the best compromise and will still provide respectable performance on tar, while offering better traction in sandy and muddy conditions. As an added bonus, their large side profiles will also increase ground clearance slightly.
KIT IT OUT
Paging through the advertisements in this magazine, you will quickly realise that there are a great number of off-road accessories available for virtually every 4×4. The question is: should you spend money on these items?
Well, that’s a difficult issue. While I would say that good ground clearance and all-terrain tyres are important, I wouldn’t necessarily urge you to purchase anything else. You could certainly travel to many great overland destinations north of our border in a standard bakkie or SUV, but there are a few accessories that I would recommend.
The first is a bull bar. A replacement bull bar not only improves your vehicle’s approach angle but protects it in case of an accident. I once hit a donkey, and had it not been for my bull bar, the damage would have been very extensive. A bull bar is pricey, but not nearly as expensive as fixing the front of your luxury SUV.
It is also worth considering a winch, especially if you’ll be travelling through a treacherous environment with only one or two other vehicles.
Spotlights are, in my opinion, also indispensable. Driving after sunset while on an overland expedition is never a good idea and should be avoided if possible. But unexpected delays often occur, and for this reason you should be prepared. Spotlights will make getting to your campsite after dark much easier.
A snorkel is also an under-appreciated accessory. Many novices assume that its primary function is to provide air to the engine while travelling through water. It’s main function, however, is to provide cleaner, cooler air while travelling in dusty conditions. You’d be amazed at the amount of dirt an engine sucks up when you’re travelling in an area such as the Makgadikgadi Pan. A snorkel would help your engine deal with this sort of environment.
The final accessory I would recommend is a dual battery system. This system allows you to run items such as a fridge, and to charge laptops and cellphones, without running the risk of exhausting your primary battery. Just remember that batteries have a limited storage capacity, so they need to be recharged periodically. And if left too late, a battery could take as much as 48 hours to recharge.
KNOW YOUR VEHICLE
You could purchase one of the most capable 4x4s on the market, and you could kit it out with every conceivable off-road accessory, yet you could still find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere.
How so? Well, even the best vehicles have limitations. Some areas are virtually impenetrable for large parts of the year and should not be travelled through, even in a hardcore 4×4.
As mentioned last month, you should know your destination well before setting off. You should also understand your vehicle and be aware of its limitations.
Nowadays, 4x4s are incredibly capable. Their ability to climb over rocks and trudge through mud is astounding, but some environments are simply too hostile. So when planning an overland trip, check that conditions won’t be too extreme during your visit. After all, an overland expedition should be a fun adventure, not a fight for survival!
EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT AND SPARES
Modern 4x4s are very reliable, but when venturing into the bundu, you should still take a few spares along. Here’s a short list of things you should pack.
- Radiator caps
- Fan belts
- Fuses, globes and replacements for electrical parts.
- Tyre valve caps and a repair kit. If you’ll be travelling over very tough terrain, take two spare wheels.
- Wheel bearings and grease.
Ngonyama Safari Club offers courses in:
- Safari planning
- Digital wildlife photography (with an emphasis on how to use a digital camera)
- Vehicle repairs while on expedition
- Proper use of a satellite navigation system
- Off-road towing
They also organise tours and safaris to:
- Central Kalahari
- Makgadikgadi Pan
- Kafue (Zambia)
- South Luangwa (Zambia)