The novelty of getting your passport stamped never gets old, even when visiting our neighbouring countries. Current situations mean that is not possible but that’s not always a bad thing; we have some beautiful places to explore right here at home...

Towards the end of March a call came from Wilderness Safaris asking if we would like to go check out their Kalahari Plains camp in Botswana. One of their aeroplanes was waiting on the apron to fly us there. That was an awesome idea, we thought, but that's not the way we do things here at Leisure Wheels. We live by the mantra of ‘Happiness is a full tank’ and will use any excuse for a road trip, so we elected to rather do the 1 000 km drive. Little planes are sketchy, anyway.

But then disaster struck: we gathered around the TV as President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the knockout blow. The country is going into lockdown. Stay at home, he said.

So we did, and we spent our time reading, writing, listening to podcasts and attempting to stay fit and healthy in our home garage. But the call of the open road persisted.

The Toyota plant in Prospecton, just outside Durban also had to shut down, meaning our road trip companion was yet to be built. Soon the restrictions were lifted, factories could reopen and within a couple of days, Fortuners started rolling off the production line once again.

Some of those were special and one had our name on it and was ready for that road trip. The only problem was, even though restrictions had been eased, the borders remained mostly closed and our Botswana trip was off the cards ... er, map.

But road trip we must, so we headed north just like you would to Botswana. The stretch of N1 from Pretoria towards Polokwane is straight and boring, but gave a great chance to get comfortable with the Fortuner, find the optimal seating position and play with the infotainent system. Where the Fortuner can feel a bit big and clumsy around town and shopping mall parking lots, it comes alive on the open road. It is surefooted and easy to drive and the cruise control is simple to operate, a necessity on this stretch of N1, which is notorious for avoiding guys in khaki uniforms, armed with cameras collecting cool drink money.

A couple of tollgates later and we hooked a left through Modimolle, the former Nylstroom, and onto the R33. The road gets more interesting as it twists and turns, climbs and drops towards the Waterberg Biosphere. The MaPita padstal was closed but make sure you stop at the Spar in Vaalwater. I fancy myself as a bit of a pastry connoisseur and the Chelsea Buns offered at this establishment are some of the best I have ever sampled. Fresh from the oven, six for R12,99. With the sugar levels and diesel tank topped up, we continued towards the Botswana border.

Approximately 35km before the Groblersburg there is a defunct fuel station and a spaza shop. The sign says Steenbokpan and this 40 km dirt road leads to a small piece of paradise.

You can tell you’re close to Botswana as the dirt roads in this region are sandy and rutted. I elected to leave the tyre pressures as they were but selected 4H on the fly. The Fortuner remained surefooted as long as I kept the wheels in the tracks and the interior remained mostly rattle-free across the corrugated sections. The third row of seats was in the folded-up position and did make themselves known, but I suspect most owners will remove these completely and store them in the garage.

A little piece of paradise

Mooipan Lodge lies near Steenbokpan, in the Limpopo Valley, 50 km west of Lephalale, previously Ellisras, and covers and area of approximately 2 000 ha. It is pristine bushveld home to a wide variety of birds and mammals including, but not limited to, giraffe, eland, kudu, oryx, zebra, waterbuck, blue wildebeest, bush pig and warthog. Natural predators include occasional leopard and cheetah and a number of smaller cats.

Mooipan Lodge facilities consist of Mooipan Lodge, which is a luxury lodge that comfortably sleeps 14 people. Although this thatched roof lodge offers all the modern conveniences including air conditioning and a swimming pool, its design is such that it does not detract from the rustic surroundings and the visitor can truly experience the African bushveld. A bushveld bar and lapa combines to create attractive surroundings where guests can relax with a refreshing drink in the African sun, or experience the sounds of the African bushveld by night while staring into the flames of an open campfire.

We stayed at the smaller Zyferbult Lodge, which offers rustic accommodation among spectacular large trees. This lodge sleeps six guests, blends in with its surroundings and offers all the modern conveniences.

The difference between here and Botswana is simply a line on the map, the bushveld is the same, the abundance of wildlife is the same and the vast array of stars that litter the night sky is just as spectacular.

The Epic treatment

The Toyota Fortuner remains SA’s bestselling SUV, with the combination of space, versatility, modern design and go-anywhere ability firmly etching it into the South African motoring landscape.

Built on the foundation of its Hilux stablemate, the seven-seater SUV has proven that its blend of style, off-road competency and people-carrying ability perfectly suits the South African lifestyle.

For 2020, Toyota has bestowed the revered Fortuner with a host of exterior additions and created the latest iteration, named the Fortuner Epic.

Two versions

Two variants of the Epic are on offer, both based on the 2,8-litre GD-6 derivatives, the standard Fortuner and the Fortuner Epic Black. As the name implies, the Epic Black utilises black accents to up the ante visually. The Epic package will be applied to all Fortuner 2,8 models built from March this year, thereby offering customers enhanced value at no extra cost.

The exterior and utility has been enhanced with the fitment of a branded nudge-bar and tow bar. Epic black models feature a bi-tone design with black roof, black roof rails, black sideview mirrors and unique, all-black 18-inch alloy wheels. These high-contrast elements are exclusively combined with Glacier White paintwork on the Epic Black to create a bespoke model that will certainly make an impression on both bush and boulevard clientele.

The black roof, white body combination really elevates the look of the Fortuner with the upper section appearing to be lower and sleeker and gives the vehicle a premium appearance it lacked before.

Epic variants can be had in Glacier White, Chromium Silver, Graphite Grey or Avant-Garde Bronze.

What’s new on the inside?

Inside, a touch of class has been added with metal scuff plates and an Epic-branded carpet set. The usual Fortuner luxuries apply, such as the leather interior and soft-touch dashboard trim. The interior layout remains unchanged, with elevated second and fold-up third row seating.

The usual array of 2,8 Fortuner specification items apply, including dual-zone climate control, smart entry and push start, touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, reverse camera, TFT multi-information display, blue Optitron instrumentation, cruise control, steering switches, power adjustable driver seat and power back door. Although the infotainment system is capable of reading your phone as a USB device, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it seems we will have to wait for the all-new model to experience those tech conveniences.

The interior space serves up myriad storage compartments, cup and bottle holders, which is perfect for road trips. Two in-dash storage compartments are provided, which includes a cooler box in the top binnacle.

All Fortuner models are equipped with ABS, TRC, VSC, BAS, EBD and hill start assist. Four-wheel drive models additionally feature Toyota’s A-TRAC off-road traction control logic and downhill assist control, to make navigating obstacles a breeze. On the fly selectable 2WD, 4WD and 4WD low range further add to the overlanding pedigree.

Under the bonnet, the 2,8-litre power plant remains unchanged with 130 kW and 450 N.m on tap and is coupled to a slick shifting six-speed automatic. The powerplant provides adequate propulsion for a vehicle of this size and the use of the Eco button allowed us achieve a fuel consumption figure of 10,0 L/100 km on this trip that consisted of highways, byways and dirt road driving.

The Toyota Fortuner remains a safe bet, reliability and resale value are unrivalled and should something go wrong, there is always a dealer in every town, even the smallest ones. That is exactly what you want from a vehicle during these turbulent times. It is no wonder this model is forever on the podium in surveys relating to customer satisfaction and value retention. Whatever epic adventure you may choose, the Toyota Fortuner is ready for it.

I want to go, too!

Mooipan Lodge: www.mooipan.co.za

Model range and Pricing
Fortuner 2,8 RB Epic 6AT: R673 200
Fortuner 2,8 Epic Black 6AT: R683 500
Fortuner 2,8 4x4 Epic 6AT: R743 600
Fortuner 2,8 4x4 Epic Black 6AT: R753 900