I am not a happy camper. Or, any kind of camper. I have never seen the point of leaving a home full of things like comfy beds, dishwashing machines and microwave ovens to attempt to relax on a skinny little back-busting stretcher, waiting for wood to turn to charcoal before being able to cook anything and, worst of all, having to do the washing up by hand in cold water.
I am, on the other hand, addicted to the world of cruising on ocean liners simply because I can unpack once and for the next 10 days or so visit different countries without having to lug suitcases to and from hire cars, trains, buses or airports.
I am equally addicted to the bush – particularly the Kruger National Park. The only problem being having to pack and unpack as you leave one camp for another.
Being someone who wants his bread buttered on both sides, I started thinking how I could possibly marry the concept of cruising with touring the Kruger Park.
I phoned Holland America Lines and asked if they would consider sending one of their 70 000-ton liners up the Sabie River but they very tactfully said that all their ships were busy. My second call was in response to an advertisement I saw in a travel magazine. It was to a charming young woman called Ana who works for Bobo Campers in Kempton Park.
She told me that one of the great benefits of a camper van was that one could do precisely what I wanted – that is, unpack once then cruise around the country without having to pack again.
I decided to give it a shot and a month or so ago my wife and I headed off from Joburg in a Bobo Discoverer 6 camper.
Now, of course we could have taken a two-berth camper or even a four-berth camper but given that we were not actually campers we would probably need a lot more space than real campers who are all adept at moving out of their comfortable homes and actually enjoying living in a tin can of a caravan or tiny tent.
Our first stop was Crocodile Bridge Camp and after we had checked in, we headed off to choose a campsite. Dead easy, particularly in the Kruger, where I have to say SANParks does an outstanding job in terms of beautifully clean, spacious campsites, spotless ablution blocks and so forth. I even found one of their staff crouched behind one of the ablution blocks polishing up the brass connections of the water outlet pipes. Unbelievable attention to detail.
We parked reasonably easily among caravans and tents that other campers had spent a hour or two or more putting up, getting ready and fitting tent extensions for their porches, kitchen and dining areas. And even some who had erected satellite TV dishes.
I did nothing other than switch off the engine and haul out a couple of chairs and a table from a canny little nook in the side of the camper. From parking to taking the first sip of a sundowner was about three minutes.
That night we converted the back table and seats to a full-size double bed, turned on the air conditioner and slept as comfortably as we did at home. We left the bed made up because there was another dining nook we could use.
And I have to say that the highlight of my holiday was parking next to a remote waterhole, having a nice big lunch and then hopping into bed for an afternoon kip.
My next best experience was when we parked at a picnic site just after breakfast and a big white Mercedes 4x4 roared in, skidded to a stop and four people leapt out and ran like hell for the public lavatories.
I had to smile at their obvious discomfort and not being able to do as I did – and that was to go to the loo wherever I was, simply by parking at the side of the road and walking two metres from the cab of the camper to the lavatory.
This is an incredible boon for geriatric travellers.
But back to our good night’s sleep after that first exciting day of discovery. Next morning, instead of having to grab a quick cup of coffee and a rusk, perform early morning ablutions then pack a car for a morning game drive, I rolled out of bed, unplugged the electricity cable, got into the driver’s seat and headed off into the bush as my wife dreamed on.
At about 9.30am, somewhere between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie, she decided to get up, so we parked at a waterhole and sat at our dining table next to a big picture window and had breakfast. Sitting at a table with knives and forks and napkins.
I then made use of the toilet, I must admit with some trepidation, because it was one of those chemical jobs and it scared me. What a pleasant surprise it was to discover that chemical toilet technology had kept pace with bathroom best practice, so it was not only just the same as going to the toilet at home but it was entirely odourless.
We cleaned it out every three days – also dead easy because the chemicals reduce everything to practically nothing. Then one just drops in another little bag of chemicals, and you’re good to go.
The on-board shower did the job too, but we preferred to use the camp ablution block showers. Mainly just because they were there and also because I was too lazy to keep filling the camper’s water tank.
On top of a fully functioning toilet, shower, washbasin and two double beds, the Discoverer 6 had afair-sized fridge that held a week’s worth of supplies, as well as a kitchen unit with a sink and two gas rings.
It also had a microwave oven, air conditioner and a reversible fan above the double bed at the rear. The other double bed, by the way, is above the driver’s cab and the other two beds in the dining area can be found midway along the six-metre length of the camper.
In my opinion, if you are going to camp this has got to be the best way of doing it. Especially for families, because kids have a lot of room to play in although, when you are on the open road, it’s probably advisable to have kids seated in the diner seats, which have seatbelts.
We drove halfway up the length of the Kruger Park from Crocodile Bridge, visiting Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Satara and Letaba, all of which offered superb camp sites with electricity and water laid on.
Camper vans can survive the night without having added electricity but then you can’t use the microwave or air conditioner.
So, I have become what I suppose you could call a lazy, spoilt, fussy camper. Yes, we did braai on one or two evenings but mostly we succumbed to my new-found lazy, spoilt, fussy, camper disposition and ate out at the camp restaurants.
Would I do it again? For sure… it’s a great way of seeing the country without having to pack and unpack.
And it’s popular – we saw dozens of campers of varying shapes and sizes in the Kruger Park. And everyone I spoke to loved the experience.
My wife enjoyed it too, in spite of the fact that whenever the subject of camping has come up in our many years of wedded bliss, she has always ended the conversation with: “It does sound like fun but let’s face it, we’re both far too precious to be campers”.
If You Go...
Bobo customer service – 10/10
Further information: www.bobocampers.com
Tel 011 395 6900