Pretoria: We hadn’t visited the folks at the holiday cottage at the South Coast for a December holiday in a while, so it was time to point our long term Ford Ranger Raptor SE to the N3 and join the throng of Gautengers heading the same way.
Except, we had a Raptor and while it’s comfortable cruising along the highway, its real home is when you take a sho’t left onto the dirt.
Which we did after getting a similar route from Ford’s event guy and expedition leader, Gideo Basson, who had taken us to Durban to watch the Sugarbelt 500 earlier in the year.
We would take the N3 and turn left between Warden and Harrismith, follow farm roads, dirt tracks and a few not-often travelled passes.
But, first, a few logistical things had to take place such as deciding when we would drive down and what food we would take for four people including two 17-year olds with a rather large appetite.
We decided to hit the road early on December 27 because I wasn’t prepared to put ourselves at risk of South Africa’s diabolical drivers, especially over a Christmas public holiday when liquor, speed and stupidity rein.
Our thinking behind the food was that we wanted to spend as little time as possible in public places because I was heading to the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia early in January, and didn’t want to risk Covid spoiling the opportunity.
Second, shops in the area think they need to make up the year’s profit in a month and charge ridiculous prices, even for basic items, never mind meat or even a bag of charcoal for R100.
One of the SE’s additions over the standard Raptor is a Mountain Top roller shutter. It’s great as a security device to protect items in the load bay but does, however, restrict you to exactly below the shutter.
That meant I had to borrow a friend’s camping fridge which we used as a freezer running from the socket in the bin, because mine was a tad too high and we couldn’t close the loadbay, whereas with a tonneau cover I could have stretched it over. For every advantage there’s a disadvantage, I suppose.
While it may be a bakkie, there’s not an infinite amount of space after you’ve loaded ammo cases, two fridges and a few other odds and ends before luggage, so careful packing is needed for four people.
We took to the road just as the sun was rising. A few hours later, we took a left turn and left the black stuff behind. South Africa has been seeing an enormous amount of rain, so our route would see a lot of mud and rutted roads, perfect for the Raptor.
The two almost-grown boys in the back had more than enough legroom, with my partner and I comfortable in the front.
I toyed with the idea of putting the Raptor in Baja Mode but that would have left me in the same category as the people I was trying to avoid the day before, so I settled for mud and sand as we marvelled at the amount of water around us.
I had packed boerewors, rolls and charcoal and on the top of a hill overlooking the valley of a thousand hills that a “normal” car couldn’t get to, a lunch much better than any roadside franchise could offer was enjoyed.
We drove through Colenso that looked like the battle of Colenso (fought on December 15, 1899 during the Anglo Boer War) had just been wrapped up, which is unfortunately what most rural towns look like as municipalities mismanage them into destruction without consequence.
From there, back onto the N3 at Pietermaritzburg to end an enjoyable drive a few hours later, unstressed thanks to the comfortable seats fitted in the Raptor.
It seems too that the Raptor has taken hold locally because I saw several of them on the road and one fitted with a good-looking canopy and rooftop tent which would be my option should it be parked in my garage.
It’s popular as well, with many people asking after it wherever we stopped, some even needing convincing that it was a 2.0-litre twin turbo diesel with 157kW and 500Nm fitted to a 10-speed auto box.
Before heading back, I scoured my tracks4africa map for an alternative route home that would see us off the tar again.
Just before Van Reenen’s Pass, there’s a road that takes you over the mostly two-spoor Sandspruit and Tintwa Pass which was also one of the routes used by the Voortrekkers, including Piet Retief.
It’s a very rough track, the kind of terrain the Raptor was designed for, and the views from the top over the Drakensberg are breathtaking.
Having to open and close gates along the way and meandering over rocks and muddy ruts caused some doubt about whether we were on the right path but with the car’s Sync3 infotainment system fitted with tracks4africa, it showed we were on the right course, eventually ending up back on the N3 close to Warden.
It was raining, so there were no boerie rolls but we did roll back in the driveway just over 2 000km later, having returned consumption figures of 10.5l/100km.