- A veritable feast of 4×4 destinations across Southern Africa
- A dazzling array of vehicles – many of which can be experienced at the Standard Bank 4×4 track at the Johannesburg International Motor Show 2011
- A multitude of accessories to boot
- The essential art of 4×4 training, safety and eco-sensitive driving
From the stark allure of the Kalahari to the dense forests of Mpumalanga, the extreme mountains of Lesotho to the vast open plains of Zambia, there’s a veritable feast of wonderful 4×4 destinations literally on our door step.
It’s the stuff dreams are made of for many 4×4 enthusiasts, and whether you’re a modern-day explorer such as Kingsley Holgate or someone contemplating their first 4×4 weekend away, the options are endless – there is something to suit absolutely everyone.
Regardless if you’re intent on going back to basics and fending for yourself on a beefy bush expedition, or planning your itinerary around the region’s top five-star game lodges, South Africans are truly spoilt for choice.
Indeed, we live in one of the most diverse and bountiful regions of the world, with the unique opportunity of being able to head well off the beaten track (always on established tracks of course, in order to minimise our impact on the environment).
So one weekend you could be taking in the spectacular game-rich far north-eastern corner of the Kruger National Park’s Lebombo 4×4 trail with an organised group. The next you could be skipping across the border and tackling Namibia’s spectacular Sandwich Harbour sand dunes on a self-drive venture with a couple of mates.
It’s not surprising, then, that so many people are drawn to 4x4s and off-roading, whether it’s a new and invigorating way of getting the family out into the great outdoors, or fulfilling a life-long ambition of adventuring through the mysterious African continent in all its splendour.
And, just as the range of destinations available is quite staggering, so too are the bewildering number and types of four-wheel drive vehicles on the market. Several all-new models have hit the market recently, and a selection of new contenders will be making their debut at the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show to spice things up further.
Double cab 4x4s in particular have become extremely popular amongst the off-road fraternity by virtue of their durable underpinnings, and the steady upwards shift in terms of performance, premium levels of features, refinement and comfort.
For the more hard-core off-road enthusiast, however, you can still rely on a range of extremely rugged single and double-cab bakkies that are ideal for the most arduous roles, whether it’s in a working environment or conquering continents on the adventure of your dreams.
Similarly, the sports utility vehicle SUV) segment has literally exploded in recent years. It encompasses everything from compact models with a measure of light-duty all-terrain ability to the flagships of the genre boasting multiple locking differentials to self-raising suspension, all controlled by a simple dial on the dashboard.
As such, selecting the four-wheel drive vehicle that best suits your needs, aspirations and budget can be daunting at best. To make this process a whole lot easier, the majority of 4×4 manufacturers will be present at the exciting 4×4 track, which is always one of the major highlights of the Johannesburg International Motor Show.
The multi-faceted 4×4 arena is sponsored by Standard Bank this year, and gives visitors the opportunity to be driven around the challenging 1,2 km off-road track by an experienced 4×4 instructor in order to test the mettle of the various vehicles on offer.
For the 2011 show the existing track has been extensively reworked by 4×4 experts Lionel Lewis from LA Sport, as well as Peter Claasen (the founder of the original Jeep Club, now known as the 4×4 ATV Club).
Despite its condensed format, Lewis points out that there’s a wide variety of demanding terrain lined up, including rocks, soft sand, axle-twisting cross-overs, as well as hair-raising climbs and nail-biting descents. There are also less demanding sections for the so-called soft-roader 4x4s.
The selection of 4×4 accessories forms an integral part of any off-road trip, and numerous top-quality suppliers are lined up to provide valuable guidance and advice on everything from tyres to suspension, tow bars, outdoor catering, GPS units – and so much more.
Finally, no 4×4 outing is complete without the requisite driving instruction. Some manufacturers have their own dedicated driving academies, or you can attend a separate course hosted by one of several independent professionals.
Before you hit the road, it’s essential to undergo a professional 4×4 course in order to fully understand the operation of the vehicle, how to get the best out of it and what to do in an emergency or recovery situation. Safety is critical at all times, as is the need to drive in a responsible manner that doesn’t place others in danger, or harm the fragile surrounding environment.