Over the past number of years, Johan Badenhorst has increasingly been invited to address people. The occasions are usually fundraisers for schools or churches, welfare organisations or environmental groups. People are keen to hear about the African continent. Most of them are nervous about travelling beyond our borders, but they all ask the same three questions…
Without fail, when I am a guest speaker at a function, I am asked the same type of question.
The main three are:
“What is the best vehicle to drive?”
“Where are you going next?” and
“Can I come, too?!”
The first question is an easy one. Over a period of 13 year, we driven Land Rovers, Toyotas, Nissans and Amaroks on the eight Voetspore expeditions. The answer should be well documented and recorded.
On the first trip, we used 110 Defenders. This is the ultimate safari vehicle. For many years Land Rover was plagued by serious questions about its reliability. Today there are more Land Rover jokes than blonde jokes. But the guys driving Landies swear by them, even if they do break down.
I drove a 110 Defender Tdi for more than 10 years as my personal vehicle. I loved it, even though it did let me down a few times. But the Landy was a practical vehicle with excellent 4×4 ability. I cut my 4×4 teeth behind the steering wheel of my Landy.
Our second expedition was with Toyota. We had a Prado, a Cruiser pick-up and a Hilux. The Prado was impressive, the pick-up indestructible and the Hilux disappointing, especially in the dunes of the Namib.
Voetspore 3, 4 and 5 were with Nissan. At first we drove the Patrols, then the Navara and also the Pathfinder.
Personally, I believe the Patrol is the most underrated 4×4 on the market. Its resale value is next to nothing, and therefore I look out for a second-hand 3-litre Tdi Nissan Patrol with low kilometres on the clock. This is a vehicle that you can safely invest in, because you will drive it for many years.
Voetspore 6 was done with Toyota Land Cruisers – two 76 series and one pick-up. We drove for 23 000km from Casablanca to the Cape. It was a journey one could tackle with confidence behind the wheel of a Cruiser, even though the vehicle is slow and rather heavy on fuel for a diesel. We had a few technical problems with leaf springs breaking, but that was not a Toyota problem but more a TJM XGS problem. We had to replace four sets of leaf springs en route.
On Voetspore 7,we took the bold step of not driving a tried and tested 4×4. Amarok was new to the scene. Using it was a gamble. Two-thirds of the way through our journey we had a serious breakdown. The fan belt of the vehicle shredded and some of the pieces entered the cambelt, which then bent the valves. It was a mini disaster.
Fortunately for us, VW Commercial Vehicles stuck to their promise. Bohdan de Wet travelled all the way to Nanyuki in Kenya to fix the vehicle and we went on to complete the trip to Egypt. There were no problems with the other two Amaroks, apart from a flat tyre.
This year we decided to give Amarok another try, especially after test driving the eight-speed automatic model. Our journey, Voetspore on the Equator, went off flawlessly. This does not include the seven weeks we spent getting from Kisangani to Kinshasa. That was for different reasons that had nothing to do with the Amarok. We had to wait and wait and wait for cargo to be loaded into the barges before we could travel go downstream to Kinshasa.
As far as the vehicles were concerned, there were no problems. In fact, I rate the eight-speed automatic as probably the best car I have ever driven. It is smooth, luxurious, economical, comfortable… you run out of superlatives. It is a fantastic vehicle with incredible 4×4 ability.
Does this apply to all the Amaroks? Perhaps not. The 120 kW model that we drove on the previous trip, and that Francois Marais drove this time as part of our crew, is hard work off road. One has to work hard to maintain optimal gear ratios. That is where the auto ’box is so handy. Francois was very envious of Andre Bester and me, driving the new version.
So, is the Amarok the best 4×4? I believe that personal choice plays a very important role in your decision. There are few “bad” 4x4s on the market. The best one is probably the one that is paid off and stands in your garage!
It is, however, important to consider all the options carefully before making a decision, as the addition of extras costing more than R100 000 is not unheard of. There are lots of things one can do to a vehicle, just to make it safari-ready for you and your family. Buying an Amarok would certainly be one of the better options.
There are many other things to consider, such as the choice of tyres. I had a lot of faith in BF Goodridge tyres, but on the Agulhas-Alexandria trip they disappointed me. It was as though the rubber compound had changed. We struggled to get 60 000km out of a set.
This year we changed to Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs. They are truly impressive tyres, and performed especially well on the muddy tracks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other extras on our vehicles that were particularly impressive were the Old Man Emu suspension and the Alu Cab canopies. We believe that after eight expeditions we are close to getting it right!
Question 2 – where to next? We have done most of the transcontinental journeys. There are a few countries on the bulge of Africa that may need visiting — Togo, Ghana, Benin, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso… But perhaps we should start looking at other continents as well? Time will tell.
Question 3 – can I come, too? This probably is the question I get asked more than any other. I have a standing rule – I always invite my previous travel companions first. Only once did I not do so, and that was for personal reasons. I need the guys to be team players. That is essential. The team is only as strong as its weakest member. One guy can make three months a very long time for the five other guys.
But with my expeditions we need something else as well. We need to have specific skills such as those of a professional videographer, a sound man, a field guide, a mechanic or a photographer. There is no room for passengers. All six people must also be able to account for themselves in the Voetspore kitchen — from cooking to washing up. You need to be an all-rounder — a team player with specific skills.
So, the answer, unfortunately, is no, you cannot come along with us. But this is not the whole story. The real answer is that what we are doing is to encourage you to do the same. We are not especially skilful in what we do. Anybody can do it. I, for one, learn from other outdoor enthusiasts every day.
If you have the urge to travel the continent, pack your 4×4 and off you go! Set your aim at Cairo, Casablanca, London or Berlin. You won’t be disappointed. I’m sure you can do it!