Meet the Leisure Wheels Offroad recruits

Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Leilani Basson and Katy Sokolewicz

Seven is a lucky number. To some, the number of purity and fortune. To others, just the days of the week or the name of a discontinued chocolate bar. Or perhaps it’s a sign of wisdom and mystery. But when seven unacquainted city girls hit it off like a house on fire on their virgin voyage to Marloth Park to become the Leisure Wheels Bush Babes, who knows what will happen?

It all started with the idea of getting a group of Joburg coo-girls together, teach them all there is to know about 4×4’ing, camping and hitting the long road (sans men) – even with an off-road caravan… eventually. Their adventures and “hardships” will be covered in Leisure Wheels over the coming months, to create awareness about the Leisure Wheels Bush Babes Safari tours and 4×4 training that will kick off early in 2011. (So, watch this space, gals! It’s going to be the kind of adventures you and your sistas have been waiting for.)

But back to the Bush Babes: they were hand picked to match the yuppie criteria, yet the personality types needed to gel (for various reasons).

The tribe has spoken and Janize Deerans (a Botox and Filler practice manager and guru), Karen Stewart (accountant and gym buff extraordinaire), Katy Sokolowicz (professional photographer), Jackie Hefez (journalist at Living and Loving magazine), Michelle du Plessis (brands and marketing manager for Tuffstuff Insurance) and Maryka Bezuidenhout (owner of an award-winning hair salon) were chosen to accompany Leisure Wheels journalist Leilani Basson on a euphemistic version of Survivor SA.

The destination for the three day meet-‘n-greet was Royale Marlothi Lodge – a recently opened four star establishment in Marloth Park, Mpumalanga. It offered everything the Magnificent Seven would need to get acquainted, and thankfully was strategically positioned so that the rowdiness of city girls gone wild would not bother the “peace-and-quiet” contingent who usually visit these parts.

The girls were to depart from the Leisure Wheels offices in Randburg. One after the other they arrived on the long-awaited morning – casual, but stylishly dressed and sandal-soled (NOT takkie clad).
Everyone had enough luggage for a month. The spacious interior of the Mercedes Benz Viano swallowed every vanity case, suitcase, hat and handbag – not to mention the generous supply of well, um, provisions for the trip.

At 9am, the Viano headed off amid a hail of laughter and witty comments, with the ladies wasting no time in letting their hair down and raising their bottles of “vawter” to a weekend of uninhibited fun. The pilot and co-pilot (Michelle and me) naturally could not take part in the folly of the Festive Five in the business class-like rear cabin of the Viano.

Upon arrival at Royale Marlothi, the girls were welcomed by Sharon McDonald, owner of Marlothi Shopping Centre, who took care of all the arrangements and played chaperone to the female squad for the duration of the weekend. She checked the girls into the three individually decorated chalets, each with its own splash pool and mini deck.

Serving as a practice run for the tent camping that was still to come, accommodation had to be shared.

Michelle, Katy and Jacky were put up in the Swazi Chalet, Janize and Karen in the Moroccan Chalet and Maryka and me in the Africa Chalet.

It was time for the late afternoon game drive, aka sundowner booze cruise. Game-driver cum chef cum lodge manager cum what-ever-you-need-to-make-your-stay-pleasurable, Chris Norval, was standing at the idling vehicle with a cooler box stocked with icy cold refreshments – just what a girl needed after a long and winding road with only “Vawter” to one’s disposal. Eish!

Chris was in for a thing. We had hardly set off when more than a few topics of (hilarious) discussion had him blushing. If men only knew what their women are like when they are set loose in the bush!

In-between all the fooling around, Chris managed to “arrange” for some great game viewing. An abundance of elephant, hippo, crocodile, kudu, impala and a wayward warthog were all at their posts – despite all the laughter and Maryka’s infectious chuckle.

The news about seven girls from Leisure Wheels visiting Marloth Park spread like wild fire. In some cases the flowing hair, skimpy tops and healthy cleavage on the game vehicle attracted more attention than an endangered species. The unusual gathering of eligible (and not so eligible) young (and not so young) men at the Marlothi Shopping Centre and at Royale Marlothi’s dinners over the course of the weekend seemed to confirm this. A busload of dazzling damsels staying in Marloth Park could well be classified as endangered species in these parts.

Dinner at Royale Marlothi is a splendid affair, not only because of the scrumptious food prepared by Chris and his wife, Pamela, but because of the interaction with wild animals.

Little groups of zebra and their young congregate around the lapa in the hope of a few specially formulated game pellets. And they allow close contact – so much so that they can be hand fed. The girls loved this, and it was definitely one of the highlights that kept their cameras clicking. Katy had the privilege of feeding a warthog and a kudu as well.

The comprehensive menu caters for any palate – even the fussiest Parktown prima donna. Despite the six size 10s and one size 8, the girls tucked into the menu (the starters…and main meal…and dessert…and Dom Pedros) without a hint of shyness. The bathroom scale seemingly stayed behind in Joburg.

Not long after dinner, the Babes retired to their beautifully decorated rooms. Goodie bags stuffed with marula jam, a leather sun cap, an embroidered towel and a locally hand crafted cellphone pouch, were waiting on every pillow. This little extra touch was thanks to chaperone Sharon.

Up with the larks (and the zebras) the girls departed for a busy day ahead: an elephant safari and microlight flip, brunch in the bush and genuine interaction with the elephants on the nearby private game reserve, Kwa Madwala.

Tania Cilliers, general manager of Kwa Madwala, went out of her way to make the adventures offered on this exclusive reserve as memorable as possible.

On arrival, the team were welcomed in true colonial style with rusks and coffee. While Sharon and I accompanied Maryka and Jackie to the elephant safari, Tania went with Janize, Karin, Michelle and Katy. Photo shoots ensued as if there were no tomorrow. Riding on the majestic big foot was a sublime experience for all. It was also voted the best game viewing “vehicle” imaginable. The air flip over the farm was pretty exciting too.

Brunch was served in the bush under a canopy of trees. The friendly staff from Kwa Madwala prepared and served a royal English breakfast/brunch, and had the girls going for seconds.

Back at Royale Marlothi, the cool splash pools beckoned. It was decided that Janize and Karin’s were the best. A social session of great magnitude ensued, and the water was left only minutes before dinner at 7pm. This was another scrumptious example of Chris and Pamela’s culinary creations.
After an early breakfast the following morning and interview with Bosnuus, the local newspaper, (the Bush Babes really did create a stir) the luggage was bundled back into the very forgiving boot of the Viano. The zebras were fed one last time, countless greetings and thank yous were exchanged and a few last moments captured on memory discs. The silver bullet departed just before the rain came down.
After a weekend of unbeatable fun in the bush, the Leisure Wheels Bush Babes were safely on their way home in the comfort and luxury of their “airbus”…somewhat more subdued on the return “flight” than they were on the “departure” tour. Even tuff girls get worn out sometimes.

In their next venture, the Leisure Wheels Bush Babes will learn to set up camp, make a fire, prepare food, sleep in a tent and take on those terrifying abl
ution blocks with the compliments (and assistance) of 4×4 Megaworld. An all-girls trip to Lesotho is also on the (wild) cards.


Royale Marlothi Safari Lodge: 083 743-7703, 084 509-7423, [email protected],

Marlothi Shopping Centre: 013 792 4816, 3884 Olifants Road, Marloth Park

Kwa Madwala Private Game Reserve: 082 826 2106, [email protected],