It’s cold and rainy, and the sky is three shades of grey in Magoebaskloof, Polokwane. They don’t call it the land of the silver mist for kicks. #ChallengeAccepted
We’re heading out on a 4x4 trail with winning Vodacom Red clients and their partners, a few Blue Bulls players, and some influencers for a weekend of unexpected surprises. The moody weather doesn’t put a damper on the electric atmosphere. First, we take on the mountain.
Questions bounced around before we head out on the rugged landscape; “is this your first 4x4 trail?” And, “how scary is it?”
“All will be revealed soon enough. You’re in safe hands,” reassures Grant McCleery from Isuzu Driving Academy.
The rain pelted the tracks the night before, and morning revealed some seriously slippery slopes. Driving in convoy with 12 Isuzu KB double-cab 4x4s, our team opted for the automatic – let the vehicle do the hard work.
The Haenertsburg trail is our destination. Slow and steady is the name of the game. After a briefing on how to optimally operate the Isuzu and engage it from 2x4 to 4x4 (it’s as simple as turning a dial), we set off up the mountain following a ribbon of mud track. You have to love the comforts of a double-cab bakkie. Why settle for rugged and bumpy when you can have smooth and efficient?
The mist clings tightly to the mountain and at some point, we could barely see the vehicle in front. We snake upwards, cutting through the mud, effortlessly. The counter steer is immediate. At this point I realise I’m not in charge, it’s the vehicle that’s guiding me through this experience. The power behind the beast is a 130 kW/380 N.m engine. I didn’t drive it long enough to gauge fuel efficiency.
The cabin is spacious and has plenty of leg- and headroom. If you want to build a vehicle meant to tick as many boxes as possible, make sure it’s family friendly. This double-cab design has taken all family members into consideration. There is keyless entry and start system, plenty of torque and Bluetooth technology for the kids to have their way with the playlist. With 12 bakkies in tow, you would expect a roar that disturbs the tranquil natural surroundings, but the Isuzu is all class, as it purrs uphill.
One of the most important factors when climbing rugged terrain is safety, and the Isuzu doesn’t skimp. Dual airbags up front, ABS, roll bars and traction control (for tar roads) add to the air of invincibility. The rear-view camera and park-distance control were particularly useful when we discovered that trees had fallen across our path, leaving no way around the obstacle.
The problem was, turning on a single lane is impossible because to our right was a sheer slope of jagged rock. With the meticulous guidance of McCleery's team, we backtracked slowly, turning blue from holding our breath. We managed to steer our way to a wider path and turn towards safety. If you wondered where adrenaline features during this experience, well you now have the answer. But trepidation soon gave way to exhilaration.
While climbing higher and higher on a path that seemed utterly impassable at times, the Isuzu didn’t even break a sweat. The first stop was a wooded forest, tall and proud. Rows of trees stood to attention, I inhaled the priceless view.
The journey was filled with highlights along the way. There is something to be said about the freedom of unknown roads. The mist beat us to the top of the mountain, and the cherry on the top turned out to be just the top.
Lunch was served with high volume banter of how we survived the treacherous climb. McCleery lathered on the praise.
“The weather proved how fantastic the vehicles are, at the start of the mountain trail it was pretty rough conditions. But the vehicles performed and so did the drivers. Fun is all fun when it is safe,” he said.
And we did feel safe. True to Murphy’s Law, minutes before we left, the fog made way for a sneak peek of our surroundings. We were perched on a mountain so high we couldn’t see the bottom. I can only imagine how glorious the view must be in better weather conditions, though some members of our entourage who are afraid of heights, were more than happy to give the view a skip.
For former Miss South Africa, Liesl Laurie, there aren’t enough words to describe how incredible the Vodacom Red 4x4 experience was. “It was one of those experiences that pleasantly surprised me.
“I had so much fun! I think the great advantage of this adventure was meeting so many cool people who you wouldn’t normally get the time to hang out with. Vodacom has created an opportunity to get to know people better, and what’s more important than reconnecting with people? You’re stuck in a car with them for 4-6 hours, and it’s so much of fun learning about each other. I think that for me was the most important thing. Mud aside,” said Laurie.
And she would be 100% right. Technology has made us more communicative in places where it doesn’t matter and less where it does.
As we wind our way down, I keep my hands on the wheel and try to steer a path of least resistance. The physical exertion offers the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life and a refreshing recalibration of the senses.
This experience takes you out of your comfort zone and plunges you right into the heart of the wonderfully unpredictable. With the Isuzu doing all the heavy lifting, you get to sit back and take it all in.
“It’s all about learning a new technique. South Africans are mad about the outdoors, and they’re mad about 4x4s. We have the continent to do it and the weather. Get out there and try something new,” McCleery advises.
The day ends with lots of high fives, friendships sealed in cabin spaces and an experience to last a lifetime. Hats off to Vodacom for curating a weekend that brought together a group who started off as strangers and ended as "framily".
Liesl Laurie, Elma Smit and Lizo Gqoboka accepted the challenge.
Author: Nidha Narrandes