Africa 4×4 Trails Content:
The Eastern Cape has a valid claim to be the “Adventure Province”, and is rightly famous for its rugged, mountainous terrain and spectacular scenery along 800 kilometers of near-pristine coastline.
The Free State is not only famous for its traditional “boere” hospitality; it is just as famous for its spectacular sandstone mountains, hundreds of sandstone buildings, as well as the picture-perfect displays of cosmos flowers during late summer.
Regardless of its small surface area,Gauteng has the most 4×4 venues per area in SA, offering unexpected scenic gems amidst huge industrial complexes, urban sprawl, and super-highways.
Kwazulu-Natal offers some of the best mountain trails in the country, with several routes and 4×4 trails through the magnificent Drakensberg range.
Limpopo shares the Bushveld and Kruger National Park with South West, but it also offers mist-shrouded mountains, eco-trails through lush indigenous forests, and the largest collection of a single plant species in the world. Limpopo is also the gateway to the incredibly rich and varied off-road driving and touring opportunities offered by neighbouring countries. More on Limpopo tourism for the off-road traveler >>
Mpumalanga has the enchanting Lowveld, with more waterfalls than any other part of Southern Africa, the world famous Kruger National Park, and the equally famous Panorama Route, one of the most spectacularly beautiful scenic areas anywhere, and which offers rich off-road touring opportunities.
The Northern Cape has without doubt the largest amount, and most intimidating, desolate open spaces, with vast plains, old, and crumbling mountains, areas with no surface water at all, spectacular wild flower displays, and the largest river in the country, by way of contrast. Caught between the Atlantic Ocean and the Kalahari Desert, the Northern Cape offers the best off-road touring in Southern Africa.
North West has Bushveld, one of three known volcanic ring craters, the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve with some of the best game viewing in South Africa, the biggest virtually uninhabited area in the country, and hidden, almost invisible mountain villages.
Western Cape, which is host to an entire Floral Kingdom, has more 4×4 trails of any other South African province, an indeed, any other part of the African Continent.
Botswana offers dry arid Kalahari sand areas andmud bog holes around the Okawango Delta. Spectacular nature reserves to explore with free range game in Central Kalahari, Chobe, Moremi, Makgadikgadi, Nxai Pan, Orapa, Nata, BwaBwata and Mahango Reserves.
White sandy beaches, grasslands, crayfish and peri-peri chicken, what more do you want?
While many places claim to be “The Paradise of Off-road Tourism in Southern Africa”, that singular honour can only be applied to Namibia, which has a population of only 2 million people in an area nearly that of South Africa. With few paved roads in the hinterland, the courageous off-road tourist in Namibia can travel for several days without ever coming across another human being- which is what makes a true off-road paradise.
Lesotho offers dramatic mountain scenery, and exhilarating mountain passes that can accelerate time in a way that has to be experienced to be believed.
Swaziland offer beautiful mountain scenery, pastoral village life that is regulated by a time that passes slower than ours, and delightful wild life parks, managed like game lodges.
Time was when the off-road exploration of South Africa, and indeed the Southern African Region, was perceived as elitist, and only for those with very deep pockets, but happily, that is no longer the case, if indeed it ever was. Over the last 20 years or so, hundreds of off-road trails have been established all over the country, and many National Parks and Reserves have introduced eco-trails within their boundaries, the most notable being the Kruger National Park, which hosts a 500+km long eco-trail along its entire length. Today 4×4 trails in Southern Africa rank as some of the most diverse in the world.
Nor do you need to own a 4×4 vehicle to explore the rich diversity of South Africa: there are several companies that will let you hire a 4×4 for a Saturday morning traverse of a local trail, or perhaps a weekend away, or even a fully equipped vehicle for a fortnight to explore a province, or perhaps the entire country: Southern Africa has much to offer the off-road tourist, and there are more than one way of exploring it. For instance, if you are not up to the rigours of digging yourself out of sand or mud, or if your technical off-road driving skills are not up to the dozens of magnificent gravel mountain passes scattered across the country, you can simply enjoy a sedate tour of the country on a network of good gravel roads that spans several tens of thousands of kilometres.
However, not everyone has the time or resources to explore the entire South African landscape in one bite, and that is where the hundreds of 4×4 trails that are scattered all over the country comes in. Short, manageable 4×4 trails that can be completed in less than a day make it possible for everyone with a suitable vehicle to enjoy the great outdoors- provided everyone understands what they get themselves into when they first arrive at a trail site. Off-road trails are not created equal- some can be completed successfully with a bog-standard 2×4 double-cab “bakkie”, while others can only be attempted with vehicles with mind-boggling suspension articulation, double diff-locks, and portal axles to increase torque, reduced low range gearing, huge wheels, and sometimes no doors to increase visibility. This latter category of vehicle is of course meant for rock crawling, which is a specialized from of off-roading, but they tend to do well on grade 5 trails as well.
Nonetheless, regardless of a trail’s difficulty grading, all 4×4 trails have something in common, and that is the fact that they bring you, and your family, into close and intimate contact with nature. All nine of South Africa’s provinces, as well as the closely neighbouring countries have something unique to offer the off-road tourist on trails that accommodate almost all types of 4WD vehicles, as well as drivers
with all skill levels.
Touring and off-road driving opportunities await the adventure seeker, over terrain that includes uncharted areas in Zimbabwe, bushveld and near rainforest areas in Mozambique, and dry arid Kalahari sand that terminates in a vast wetland- the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Both Lesotho and Swaziland offer dramatic mountain scenery, pastoral village life that is regulated by a time that passes slower than ours, and exhilarating mountain passes that can accelerate time in a way that has to be experienced to be believed.
Thus, with many options to choose from, the initiated driver may be tempted to attempt a 4×4 trail that could appear inviting and manageable, but on which he could damage his vehicle irreparably, as well as suffer serious personal injuries or even death. These are all very compelling reasons to pay attention to a particular 4×4 trail’s difficulty grading, and while no grading can ever be absolute and perfectly definitive of the conditions on that trail, a difficulty grading nevertheless offers some guidance on what could be expected on that trail. With the exception of guided eco-trails in Parks and Reserves, all South African 4×4 trail owners and operators are required to make drivers aware of its grading, which can only be a figure between one and five, or a combination of two adjacent values, such as “This trail has a grading of 2-3”, which means that vehicles without low range gearing should not attempt it. Although there is much subjectivity involved in 4×4 trail grading, it does not mean that gradings could be disregarded: many, if not most 4×4 trails have arrived at their current grading because most drivers agree that it conforms to a certain standard, and that certain driving skills and vehicle equipment are absolute requirements in order to complete it successfully.
So, with all that said, below is a brief explanation of what each trail grading entails, as well as the types of vehicles that could safely be used on them, but always observe the track owners’ guidelines on the subject of what is acceptable, and what is not. Being out in the sticks does not mean you can go off the track and start new 4×4 trails, nor does it mean you can dig the wheels down to donga depths just to be the man who did it. Soil erosion is a big issue in Africa, and a 4×4 trail owner or operator can be compelled to repair environmental damage and/or put measures in place to prevent it- or be shut down. Tread softly, because real men do it without losing traction.
While South Africa is blessed with vast areas of unspoilt natural beauty, which makes for great off-road driving, the fact is that much of this natural beauty falls into ecologically sensitive areas, such as the coastline, or National Parks and Reserves, where off-road driving was banned because of the extensive damage caused to sensitive eco-systems and habitats by unregulated and uncontrolled off-road driving.
The upshot of this blanket ban was that during negotiations with the SA Government to have the beach driving ban lifted, or at least relaxed, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, invited the off-road community to devise means to regulate itself in order to avoid even more stringent bans on off-road driving in all parts of the country. The implied threat was clear; either apply self-regulation, or have the Government impose regulations that could kill off the off-road industry by slow strangulation with restrictive regulations.
Thus was born the National Off-road Workshop, a confederation of the controlling bodies of all off-road disciplines, which came up with a system of self-imposed rules and regulations that control all aspects of off-roading in South Africa today. Some of these rules pertain to driver competency, meaning that in order to minimise the negative effects an off-road vehicle has on the environment, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas, a driver must be in possession of a DCC, or Driver Competency Certificate that is recognized by the South African Qualifications Authority, before access to sensitive areas can be obtained, with uncertified drivers being required to use a certified, qualified guide in these areas.
The rationale behind this is the need to make off-road drivers aware of the negative environmental impacts of driving in these areas by teaching responsible driving practices on the one hand, and to enable them to perform recovery operations safely and with minimal damage to the environment, on the other hand. There are several accredited training institutions that offer this certification, and all off-road drivers are strongly encouraged to obtain this qualification to improve their off-road driving skills, regardless of where they do their off-road driving.
Of course, not all 4×4 trails in South Africa require DCC certification, but what is required from 4×4 trail owners and operators, is that their trails be registered, and in full compliance with relevant environmental legislation. This requirement is strictly enforced, and it goes a long way towards ensuring the safety of all who use it, while at the same time minimising negative impacts on the environment. However, there is another requirement; one that has direct bearing on the drivers who actually drive over a trail and that is the difficulty grading of a particular trail.
Off-road trails are graded on a scale of one to five, with one being the easiest and suitable for novice drivers and almost all vehicles with at least some off-road capability, and grade five trails only being suitable for experts that are skilled in technical driving and recovery operations.
That was the short version of 4×4 Trail Grading Explained: the long version is a little more complex, the issue being one of objectivity on the one hand, and vastly differing perceptions and driver skill levels on the other, making it impossible to award an absolute grading to any particular 4×4 trail. What this means, is that while every effort is made to have the difficulty grading of a trail be a true reflection of the conditions that could be expected on it, the actual driving conditions could change for the worse due to weather conditions such as rain, snow, or conversely in some cases, by a trail owner going “soft” by improving sections of a trail to attract more business.
In practice, this could mean that even though a particular 4×4 trail has a grading of say, 2-3, which is relatively easy, heavy rain or snow could turn that same trail into a grade 5 monster that will test the capabilities of even the most experienced drivers with the toughest vehicles. Thus, trail gradings should be seen as a general guide only, and the driving conditions of all 4×4 trails should be confirmed with the owner or operator before setting out.
Driver Skills Required:
Novice, meaning these trails are suitable for drivers with no, or limited off-road driving experience.
Typical 2×4 “bakkies”, or SUV’s, which in off-road lingo are known as “Soft-roaders” since they have no low range, and their suspensions are set up for comfortable highway driving, rather than maximum wheel articulation.
Driver Skills Required:
While some off-road driving experience is beneficial, it is not required. Novice off-road road drivers should have no trouble on grade 2 trails.
All vehicles with AWD capability, whether permanent, or selectable part-time engagement, since grade 2 trails could include conditions such as some sand or mud, which could require AWD to negotiate safely.
Driver Skills Required:
While grade 3 trails generally do not require expert off-road driving skills, some off-road driving experience is highly advisable, if not actually required, since grade 3 trails could include thick sand, deep mud, gradients with loose surfaces, and even water crossings.
Grade 3 tails should only be attempted with proper 4×4 vehicles fitted with low range, since the obstacles on these trails usually include steep gradients with loose surfaces, rocky sections, thick sand, deep mud, and particularly hill starts, which is something that vehicles without low range cannot cope with.
Driver Skills Required: Drivers attempting grade 4 trails should be fully conversant in, and have extensive off-road driving experience. Grade 4 trails are usually a whole lot more than mere upgraded grade 3 trails: grade 4 trails are more often than not as difficult and challenging as off-road driving gets, and it is strongly advised that drivers contemplating embarking on grade 4 trails be in possession of some off-road driving certification obtained from an accredited training institution. Grade 4 trails require a degree of technical driving, as well as a working knowledge of 4×4 recovery techniques.
Grade 4 trails should only be attempted with proper 4×4 vehicles with above average ground clearance, such as can be obtained with raised suspensions, as well as low range and a rear diff lock as minimum requirements.
Driver Skills Required:
Grade 5 trails are only for expert off-road drivers with extensive technical off-road driving experience, since off-road driving hardly ever gets worse than the conditions found on grade 5 trails. Drivers must also have a thorough knowledge of recovery techniques, as well as being able to apply this knowledge effectively and safely. Grade 5 trails should never be attempted alone, or with just one vehicle, and it is highly recommended that all participants be in possession of some sort of driver training (and certification) obtained from an accredited training institution.
Strictly proper 4×4 vehicles only with exceptional ground clearance, excellent suspension articulation, above average approach and departure angles, low range, diff locks, and suitable protection for the engine and transmission in the form of skid plates, since severe vehicle damage on grade 5 trails is a distinct possibility. However, even while doing battle with grade 4 or 5 trails, take it slowly and enjoy the surroundings; do not see it merely as a contest of man and machine against nature- you will only be doing yourself a major disservice if you do.
Due to the nature of the off-road industry, new 4×4 locations, routes, and trails are being developed all the time, while others are closed down, altered in some ways, or expanded in ways that are not always advertised. Therefore, in ongoing efforts to provide the most up-to-date information on existing 4×4 trails, routes, and destinations, the owners of this site invite comments and updates on existing trails, routes and destinations. Corrections, and additional information on all subjects touched upon on this site are also invited, as are comments of a general nature, such as blow-by-blow descriptions of 4×4 trails, mountain passes, and eco-trails through National Parks and Reserves.
In addition, comments and opinions on off-road equipment, particularly recovery equipment, camping gear, camp sites, crime hotspots, and the like are invited. While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of all information on this site, it is only through the input of every member of the off-road community that the most accurate and up-to date information can be made available on an ongoing basis. All contributions and comments will be appreciated and acknowledged.
Contact us at: http://4x4africa.co.za/contact-4×4-africa/