Johan Badenhorst and the Voetspore team have swapped their convoy of Volkswagen Amaroks for something a little more legendary, in the hopes of conquering Madagascar
In September we left on the tenth Voetspore adventure — Voetspore in Madagascar. This was the first time we had left the continent, even though the island is technically part of Africa. We went offshore and we did it in brand-new vehicles. Three Toyota Land Cruisers were shipped from Durban to the port of Tamatave on the eastern coast of Madagascar.
But why the switch? Were we not happy with the Amaroks?
It is a difficult thing to explain. The Volkswagens were good. We did three major journeys in them. We only had one major breakdown. All in all, we can say that these “soft” 4x4s surprised us. We were especially impressed by the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The 2,0-litre engine is adequate. But, to a certain extent, one gets tired of the question of how well the Amaroks — and any other vehicle for that matter — compare with a Cruiser. The Toyota Land Cruiser is undoubtedly the king of Africa. That is why we decided that, instead of driving a vehicle that may or may not compare with the Cruiser, why not drive the real thing? When Calvyn Hamman, senior vice president of Toyota SA, offered to provide Cruisers for the next three Voetspore expeditions, I was more than happy to accept.
At the Voetspore Shop and Fitment Centre in Woodlands Boulevard, Pretoria, we received the two double-cabs and one single-cab, ready for our Madagascar expedition. It is true that a Land Cruiser 70 series is a very basic vehicle, but these basics are what make the Cruiser so reliable.
It is also, by far, the best vehicle to fit exactly to your specifications. The team in the workshop, led by Francois Marais, had a fantastic time getting the Cruisers ready. I don’t think I have ever seen Francois, Louis, Danie, Herman, Trevor, Leighton and Charles more proud in finalising a job.
We approached all our old partners — the ones we have come to trust over the years. Deon Venter of 4×4 Megaworld was once again more than keen to provide us with Old Man Emu suspensions, ARB bull bars and fridges and T Max winches. Jeremy Bergh of Alucab provided us with canopies, as well as a roof-top tents and awnings.
Then there were the other regular suppliers such as Frontrunner, Cadac, LK’s, Lumeno, Polly Craft, the dual battery management system from Ctek, seat covers from Escape Gear, clothing from Drimac, various Tentco products, Gerber, Maglite, Helle and Chef’ease. But there were also a few new friends. Uys van Rooyen gave us serious and proper rock sliders, Northern Off-road fitted the two double cabs with recently developed extra fuel tanks and we also had new rubber with Dick Cepek rims and Mickey Thompson tyres.
This time we were better prepared than ever before.
The vehicles looked good. Driving them down to Durban, we drew more attention than we would have received in a convoy of Lamborghinis. We were the envy of many a guy. This is what a safari vehicle should look like. But there is more to it than appearances. This is also what a safari vehicle should drive like.
We were spoiled with automatic gearboxes and vehicles without low range. Now, suddenly, we had to “drive” again, and nothing felt better.
The V8 under the hood is a serious piece of machinery. It purrs like a cat, and we seldom had to change down from fifth to fourth, all the way to the coast.
There is no doubt that the Land Cruiser is the safari king of the continent. This is a reputation based on experience, not acquired through some advertising campaign. In Africa, it is not only the safari enthusiasts who drive these brutes, but also the shopkeepers, the government officials and the ambulance men.
In certain parts of Africa and the Middle East, wars are waged in Land Cruisers. The combatants have long since realised that a Cruiser is even more reliable than a military machine.
Madagascar would challenge our vehicles, and us. Distances are not that great, but the road conditions are horrendous. We were very happy that we were in a position to tackle our challenges with absolute confidence, knowing that if we got to an obstacle that looked impossible to overcome, the Cruiser would manage it, if any vehicle could.
As the Toyota guys say: “It’s a Cruiser thing. You won’t understand…”