Gravelog: The journey across South Africa

Date:20 December 2019 Author: Kyro Mitchell Tags:, , , , ,

Choosing a good final destination is a key element in the success of your road trip, but selecting a good road to get you there is just as important. A regular road trip usually consists of endless hours of boring driving on smooth tarred roads. Thankfully, Ford South Africa had a different kind of road trip in mind when they decided to send us across the country.

Aptly named ‘Gravelog’, Ford South Africa tasked us with the job of driving from Cape Town’s Winelands in Durbanville to Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg under one condition: we were not allowed to use any tarred roads along the way. That meant we would have to drive near 2,350 km all off road. Thankfully, Ford knew that we would need some serious power to complete this journey, so they graciously lent us two Ranger XLT’s, two Wildtraks and two Raptors from their Ranger series to assist us in getting there.

Before setting off on our Gravelog, the rest of the pack and I were treated to a fresh, country breakfast, courtesy of the folks at Meerendal. The men in charge of safely navigating us from Cape Town to Johannesburg were head-driver Gideo, lead navigator Manesh, and the world’s best bush mechanic-doctor and jokester, Bertis.

The first leg of our cross country adventure saw us enroll as honorary bush-delivery men tasked with the job of delivering hay bales to a farmer who had been struck by the recent drought. Initially pulling up to the farm where we collected the bales, I had some doubt in my mind about whether these huge bales would fit in the bed of the Rangers. However, the Ranger’s 844 kg and the Raptor’s 758 kg payload capacity quickly put those doubts to rest.

Once our vehicles were filled to brim with hay bales, it was time to set off on our off-road Gravelog. I chose the Ford Ranger XLT for the first leg of the journey. It was my first time driving for an extended period on gravel roads, so I thought it best to start out with the least powerful but still comfortable 147 kW at 3,000 rpm XLT model. This turned out to be a great choice, as it gave both my co-driver and me enough time to properly get to grips with the 4×4. Making the switch from my old VW Golf to the brand new Ford Ranger meant I had to get used to a few new things, such as the XLT’s hyper-responsive steering and breaks. But after about 15 kms of twisting gravel roads, my confidence in the vehicle had grown ten-fold.

Our campsite for the night was at the AfrikaBurn festival grounds in the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Unfortunately for us, AfrikaBurn would only be taking place between 27 April and 3 May 2020, so we were a bit early for the celebrations. After settling down in our surprisingly roomy tents it was time to let our hair down and have some fun. This included a trip up to a look-out point on a mountain to watch the sun set majestically over a sea of never-ending hills and dunes. Then it was time for dinner. Delicious chops, pap and veggies were on the menu, with an open bar to help wash it all down.

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep, we were ready to deliver our precious cargo to the farmer in need. Finally getting to the farm in the Namakwa District was a huge weight off all our shoulders because it meant we had completed the biggest detour of the Gravelog. More importantly, it meant the farm animals would get their feed. The farmer told us that the hay bales would feed his animals for about a month, during which time the rains are scheduled to come, giving his crops about two weeks of undisturbed growth.

After what seemed like an eternity behind the wheel we reached our home for the night, Ganora Guest Farm & Excursions just outside Nieu-Bethesda. Expecting to sleep in tents again, it was a relief to see we’d have some sturdy cover overhead with running water and electricity! Besides the 5-star lodgings, we were treated to a dinner of mouth-watering Karoo lamb with roast potatoes and beetroot.

Once we had all woken and filled up on breakfast, it was another day of gruelling driving, but thankfully it was our turn in the BiTurbo diesel, 157 kW Ford Ranger Wildtrak. First getting into the Wildtrak, I couldn’t help but notice the small differences inside the cabin, such as the bright yellow stitching along the dashboard and the electronically controlled seats. I remember thinking that this 4×4 was a lot more serious than the XLT Ranger I’d driven previously. After waving goodbye to Ganora Guest Farm, it was time to put some serious kilometres under our belt.

That night, we found lodgings at the 4-star Otterskloof Private Game Reserve, home to kudu, eland, impala, zebra and other wildlife. Seeing as this was our last night together, we decided to place our phones in the middle of the giant table and the first person to reach for theirs would have to pick up the tab. For a group of journalists and influencers, this task proved much harder than you might think.

Our final leg of the journey will be remembered for having the most driving time for the entire Gravelog, but this didn’t faze me or my co-pilot because it was finally our turn in the 10-speed, 2.0-litre BiTurbocharged diesel Raptor. Spying the bright red dials and paddle shifters, I was keenly aware that I’d climbed aboard a built-for-off-road machine. Aside from the raised body, and flashy Raptor stickers plastered on the vehicle, the specially developed chassis, which was designed to withstand the rigours of off-road driving, gave me the full confidence to throw the vehicle into corners without having to worry about the back end slipping out, or worse yet, flipping the vehicle on these less-than-ideal roads.

In what seemed like no time, we were just outside of Krugersdorp, and that’s when our lead-driver Gideo came over the radio to give us the good news.’Alright guys, Lanseria is just a couple of kilometres away!’ As soon as he had said that the entire convey let out a collective sigh-of-relief, as we’d been driving virtually non-stop for the last four days.

I do believe that if were tasked with finishing this journey in any else but Ford Rangers, it would have been nigh impossible to complete this Gravelog. The comfortable and spacious cabins gave my co-driver and myself more than enough room to move around in without feeling too cramped. And the powerful motors in the XLT, Wildtrack, and Raptor gave us full confidence that we would make the 2,300 km journey in record time. While there were a few a close calls along the way, the Ford Ranger series managed to deliver us all comfort and style, proving their vehicles truly are #BuiltForTough.


Pictures: Kyro Mitchell

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