Fancy a bit of 4X4, old chap

When Barrie Dunbar left South Africa to go to Europe he didn’t have any plans set in stone. He was just another youngster going overseas to see what it was like. Now, many years later, he is the owner of a thriving business leading 4×4 expeditions to the continent he left behind. One day, he says, he will be back with his young family. For good.

Text: Stephen Smith Photographs: Waypoint Tours

In South Africa we’re spoilt – our country is beautiful and diverse, and there are more adventurous places to visit than you have time for. There are also guides who will take you there, and take care of everything else too.

But England is a little different. It’s pretty, we’ll give it that, and there are definitely places where you can get your 4×4 stuck in the mud. But where’s the space? The adventure? Where can you push your vehicle to its limits, and experience things you’ve never experienced before? We feel for the Poms, we really do…

When Barrie Dunbar arrived in England in the early Nineties he realised that there was a big market of people with 4x4s yearning for adventure, but with nowhere to really take them. And 4×4 owners in England don’t have all the expertise and kit that we do in South Africa. They don’t even know how to braai properly.

Barrie already had experience in expeditions, having travelled extensively throughout South and southern Africa and further afield in places like northern Africa, Australia, southeast Asia, central and eastern Europe, and the more isolated and remote Mediterranean areas.

But Waypoint Tours began as a hobby.

Barrie missed adventure, and began looking for places he could travel to from England, in a 4×4, much as he did when he was in South Africa. Morocco appealed to him, and he made a few trips there.

Then he began to lead tours to the area, even catering for his guests, which is almost unheard of in the UK. He put his braaing skills to good use, and got very favourable reviews from his guests. Waypoint Tours grew and grew in popularity, becoming the fully-fledged specialist 4×4 expedition company that it is today.

Morocco is still the primary destination for Waypoint Tours, but Barrie also leads trips to Western Sahara and the wilder parts of Portugal, while Mauritania is also on the books for 2011.

The routes that Barrie chooses are not easy, and he even warns potential customers about this in the beginning. The terrain is challenging, and always includes dune-driving, water-crossings, rocky areas and steep mountain passes, and snow isn’t out of the question by any means.

Though risks are carefully assessed, Barrie remains adamant that Waypoint Tours will never be like some other operators, where danger drives shot-gun. Barrie’s routes don’t backtrack either, so every day his clients see new areas for the first time, and if they go on more than one trip they won’t be subjected to the same sights, because new routes are planned for every trip.

But Waypoint Tours isn’t just about hardcore off-roading. Morocco is full of cultural highlights, as are Portugal and Western Sahara, and Barrie leads his tours in their direction, avoiding tourist traps but finding genuinely interesting cultural and environmental sights for his clients. He will also tailor-make tours for people with a special interest, such as archaeology, photography, exploration, film, anthropology and adventure sports activities.

Barrie attributes Waypoint’s success to a simple recipe: “We offer a very high level of professional and personal service, focusing on the combination of challenging piste (sand track) driving and gourmet-cuisine catering, whilst always taking into consideration our clients’ specific requirements and requests.”

What really sets Barrie apart from other tour operators in the United Kingdom, though, is his catering. He was the first to market fully-catered, self-drive tours in the UK, and is still the only one to do so. And Barrie takes his typically South African love of braaing with him on every tour, as you can see from the comments made by past customers!

Barrie blends the local cuisine with the subtle art of the braai, creati ng mouth-watering meals every day and night, even in the harshest of climates. In fact, he’s actually a registered caterer! He also uses a tagine, which is a traditi onal clay pot used to slowcook stews, not unlike a potjie in practi ce.

Some of Barrie’s creations from the tagine include: beef with dates, almonds and pistachios; lamb with prunes, figs and honey; and beef with sweet potatoes, peas and ginger. His specialities on the braai are salmon with sweet chilli and lime; spicy beef keftas (meatballs) in pita with tsatziki; and chicken with pineapple and sweet peppers. He uses only free-range and organic fresh meats.

We asked Barrie what his personal favourite expedition meal is. “It’s definitely succulent lamb chops and loin steaks, pre-marinated in our special garlic decoction and sprinkled with Mediterranean herbs while on the braai. It’s top-quality meat, braaied very quickly on a furiously hot bed of coals.” It does sound good!

But Barrie’s culinary skills aren’t limited to the braai, and days start early with simple French breakfasts of pastries, filter coffee and tea. Lunch is a local Mediterranean affair and usually includes tasty fl at breads with fresh fruit and vegetable and other produce.

There is more to Waypoint Tours than food, though. We’ve said that the driving is demanding (and the pictures bear testimony to this), and so a real 4×4 is required. Barrie has a set of minimum requirements that must be met by vehicles joining his tours. The vehicle must be a well-maintained and recently-serviced 4×4 with low range. It must have quality all-terrain tyres in good condition. It must have a good ground clearance and comprehensive underbody protection. The driver must carry spare fluids and parts, as well as 20 litres of fuel and full recovery gear. He also suggests a minimum of 20 litres of water per vehicle, and a first-aid kit that is equipped for dealing with bleeding and burns. A two-way radio is also essential.

A maximum of five vehicles are allowed on each tour, making for an intimate holiday and no convoy-related holdups. Accommodation is camping, and everyone is required to bring their own tent and sleeping paraphernalia. Barrie recommends rooftop tents, and actually sells South African Tentco rooftop tents in England.

A typical Waypoint Tour starts in England. Some of the clients meet Barrie and his co-driver in Dover, from where they take the ferry to Calais, France. They then drive down together through France and Spain to Morocco. Other clients do a similar route, but in their own ti me, joining up with the group in Gibraltar. Some clients take a different route, leaving England on the Portsmouth- Bilbao ferry to cut out the French section, and then meeting up in Gibraltar.

The first week of the tour usually traverses the most challenging pistes of the high Atlas Mountains en route to Marrakech. The second week encompasses a testing desert crossing along the Algerian border to the dunes of Chegaga. As we’ve said, Barrie uses different routes to cover these distances every ti me.

It’s great to see Waypoint Tours taking some of South Africa’s adventurous spirit to the rest of the world. It’s equally good to see a local lad making good doing what he loves. We left Barrie by asking him what he plans for the future, and how he sees Waypoint Tours evolving? “The future of Waypoint Tours,” Barrie believes, “is in the continuous improvement of our unique service, which combines the most challenging driving conditions with the most delicious cuisine, all the while adding to our destinations by exploring further afield, primarily in the north and northwest of Africa”. Sounds like a great recipe for success.