Our recent Safari Centre 4×4 ladies training competition, in which 10 readers could win a weekend’s 4×4 training at Safari Centre’s Echo Trail in Mookgopong, was met with wild enthusiasm. A bonus was that the winners could each bring along a female friend for the fun and games. Entrants had to write a motivation on why they wanted to attend, and what the course would mean to them.
Text and Photography: Leilani Basson
“Winning this competition and doing this course would make me the first and only woman in Piketberg with a ‘licence’ to go offroad. Being a farm girl, I invested in a Land Rover Defender and just love the look and feel of it. Now, I want action!” – Christelle de Villiers
“I was watching Wimbledon when I started reading your article. Well, that was the end of tennis for me! My husband has landed us in some serious trouble in the past. I cringe to think of what would happen if I had to take over in an emergency. I really need to learn to do this – in my pride and joy, my Pajero!” – Anita Schreuder
“I have just bought a Ford Everest and I want to know how to operate it better in difficult terrain. I am an adventurer with a capital ‘A’. I have already done the impossible and gone through the middle of the Luangwa Valley in Zambia in my old 4×2 Ford Ranger bakkie, so that’s why my husband said I have earned my Everest (no mountain too high?).
I am looking forward to lots of adventure in my Everest, and this would be the perfect start!” – Jill Masterton
Serious women with serious 4x4s. That’s what we asked for and that’s what we got.
The ten contestants had to meet at Thaba Moia game farm near Mookgopong at around 16:00 on the scheduled Friday afternoon, to enjoy a welcoming glass of sherry with Andre de Villiers and the Leisure Wheels Bush Babe back-up team, Leilani Basson, Lee Wright and Patricia Oliver.
The sherry was more than welcome. The weather was playing up and it was clear that this was going to be one of winter’s colder weekends – windy, gloomy, cold and dry.
The ladies soon decided who to share their chalets with, since four people were staying in one chalet, each with a patio, living room and fully equipped kitchen.
The decor and most of the building materials were sourced from the farm itself. The authentic antelope-horn door handles, and chairs made from indigenous trees, add flair to Thaba Moia.
A varied group of women gathered around the drinks table under the thorn trees, making small talk and getting to know each other. There were three Mitsubishi Pajero squads, a Ford Everest team, a Jeep Wrangler squad, the Jeep Cherokee crew, a Toyota Fortuner and Hilux panel, the Terios team and the lone ranger in her Land Rover Defender, who drove all the way from Piketberg.
Later that evening, the smoky atmosphere in the lapa was warm and cozy. The pre-dinner sherry worked its magic, and everyone started relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.
The ladies were clearly fascinated by the presence of a TV celebrity, and competed for a bit of Andre-time. With his jovial smile and kind manner, Andre made time for everyone, answering their questions with passion and enthusiasm.
Yvonne, Andre’s lovely wife, made things flow all the better with her soft, caring way, reassuring the group that if she could do this 4×4 course, any woman could.
As the flames grew smaller, the ladies headed for their chalets. It was freezing, and the next day was going to be a long one.
On the Saturday morning, our winners and their partners met up for the academic part of the day, chatting over steaming cups of coffee.
Andre, a master of marketing and brand building, started off by handing out full-colour brochures on Safari Centre and Thaba Moia, as well as neatly bound training manuals and lists of interesting facts.
Andre explained technical terms in an understandable and interesting way, and his multi-media presentation held the participants’ attention throughout the session.
The introduction of various videos to explain the workings of diff-locks and other technical issues in off-roading made getting to grips with the subject child’s play.
Discussions ensued on automatic versus manual transmissions, and petrol versus diesel engines. It was obvious that these women meant business. Knowledge equals power, and lots of questions were asked about the particular vehicles, and not just 4×4 driving in general.
After lunch, it was time to do what everyone had been waiting for. Andre started off the practical part with demonstrations in deep dongas and axle twisters, to help explain the workings of low range and the diff lock… as well as the importance of leaving that cursed clutch alone!
Having watched Andre’s vehicle hanging in the air at times, most of the drivers were a bit hesitant. “Do I really have to do that in MY car?” they wondered.
For the passengers, it was a lot less stressful, though most of them had the tough job of taking pictures and filming every motion of both driver and vehicle.
Though at first wide-eyed and distrusting of Andre’s instructions as he walked next to each of the cars, the women eventually made it through. Andre was hugged spontaneously more than once in an outpouring of relief and delight. And once the sense of accomplishment had set in, “I want to do it again!” was the universal response.
It took a while to dispel fears that their vehicles were going to stall, capsize or roll down a hill, but soon the drivers were enjoying the ride.
The highlight of the day was driving on the inside walls of a dry dam at a 36.6 degree angle. It was beyond exhilarating.
Next morning, a few women were at it again – round and round the steep dam wall, inching up higher with every lap, the smile broadening each time. They were here to make the most of the weekend’s training, and they weren’t going to miss a thing.
It was time for the dreaded stall and start manoeuvre on the dam wall. After the previous day’s preparations, the ladies remembered to let their cars do the work and succeeded with flying colours.
This was followed by sessions on rocky terrain, muddy inclines and difficult downhills on the actual game drive.
Although some teams had to leave early and the “lone ranger” in her Defender faced a long drive home to Piketberg, everyone felt empowered and blessed, and eagerly looked forward to taking on the great outdoors with their new-found skills.
We hope the Leisure Wheels Bush Babes Club and Safaris, which will be up and running in November, will reunite us with this 20-member squad – sooner rather than later – on one of our exciting trips or events.
To find out more, contact Leilani on [email protected], Facebook or Twitter.