When you have a bakkie designed to take the road less travelled, then it’s only right you do it justice.
By: Willem van de Putte
WHEN you have a bakkie designed to take the road less travelled, then it’s only right you do it justice.
Which is what we did with our long term Ford Ranger Wildtrak X over the festive season, spending much of the almost 3,600 kilometres we drove on gravel roads far from the madding crowds.
I’m not one for packed beaches and holiday resorts, gridlocked highways and having to engage much with fellow holiday makers, so starting with Kimberley followed by Sutherland, the Tankwa Karoo, Cederberg and Die Hel in the Gamkaskloof we set off on another dirt road adventure.
It had taken months of planning that included scouring various detailed maps, the internet for accommodation and a number of offroad websites to ensure that we used the Wildtrak X’ abilities as much as possible.
Six ammo boxes strapped down in the loadbay, a small portable braai, camping chairs, a couple of bags of charcoal, a deep cycle battery wired for solar charging for when we were stationary and a bag or two were safely ensconced under the roller shutter.
The Wildtrak X is also fitted with a Flexible Rack System and folding roof racks that can be locked into five different positions which was an ideal place to tie down my sand tracks, High Lift jack and a spade.
Inside I had removed the rear seat to make space for the camping fridge/freezer which I tethered to the seat belt mounting points and plugged into the 400W/240v inverter behind the centre console (there’s also one in the load bay which we would later use) and also to make extra space for our luggage.
We pointed the nose to our first destination in Kimberley to reacquaint ourselves with the big hole, something neither of us had done for almost 30 years.
The Wildtrak X is fitted with Ford’s 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine producing 154kW and 500Nm and it was soon cruising along pleasantly in 10th gear of the automatic transmission.
With adaptive cruise control, Lane Centering and Lane Departure Warning it’s almost semi-autonomous which took a while for my partner to get used to when she got behind the wheel later during the trip.
Music was connected via the Sync 4 infotainment system, the phone charged by the charging pad with the navigation clearly displayed on the 12-inch touchscreen.
The navigation system works well with simple destinations but there were a couple of hiccups later on which I’ll highlight when we get to the drive from the Cederberg to Die Hel.
A big plus factor especially for my partner was the adjustable lumbar support from the seats. Her back plays up often on long drives but having found the correct position she had no pain even after four hours or more of constant driving.
The historical village around the big hole is pretty much as we remembered it and still well preserved, which is more than can be said about large parts of the city, and the visit was made thoroughly enjoyable by the friendly and knowledgeable guides.
After two nights we loaded up again and set course for Sutherland popping into Vosberg to purchase some Karoo lamb eventually coming in on the R354 which is gravel for almost 70km before you enter the town renowned for its stargazing and the SALT telescope.
It’s well maintained, friendly, well stocked and has a butchery that sells lamb, of course, and some of the best boerewors I’ve tasted.
We again stayed for two nights and after lamb chops, what else, at a local watering hole and restaurant, joined 30 other guests at Sterland just outside town, for a very informative two hours about our solar system and an up close look at stars and planets with some powerful telescopes.
When they explain light years, the size of planets and black holes it puts your almost insignificant spec on this earth really into perspective.
After airing down the tyres for the drive to the Tankwa we made a right and headed towards Ouberg Pass.
When we stopped for obligatory photos at the top of the pass I had a quick look at the fridge and it seemed that the inverter plug connection was playing up. That’s when we were thankful that there’s a second one in the load bin which we connected with an extension lead and ran it back into the cabin where it worked for the rest of the trip.
Alternatively it would have required “MacGyverying” the solar panel onto the roof rack and running the cables to the spare battery for the fridge to run.
The views from the top into the vast Tankwa Karoo are spectacular but there had been reports of water damage after heavy rains earlier in the year.
It’s been mostly repaired and with dedicated Bilstein Position-Sensitive Dampers, 265/70 R17 General Grabber AT3 all-terrain rubber and 261mm of ground clearance we easily cruised down the pass.
I had the Ranger in 4H Normal mode (there’s also Eco, Tow/Haul, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl) because although steep with some sharp curves, it wasn’t overly taxing on the vehicle at all.
A couple of dry river beds and farm gates later through the Tankwa National Park we hit the R354 and then the R355 which is the longest gravel road in South Africa and joins Ceres and Calvinia.
I had played around with the various settings and settled on Slippery Mode which seemed to make sense considering the relatively high speed the Wildtrak X was comfortable with as well as the road surface.
When we stopped at Tankwa Tented Camp the temperature showed 41 degrees. It was going to be a hot Christmas and we were well and truly into our gravel adventure.
Tankwa Tented Camp was previously the venue for Afrikaburn and to say it’s an eclectic mix of accommodation, structures and people is an understatement.
Still, Christmas lunch in the shade of a tree next to a concrete farm dam to cool off in the midday heat with the fridge gently humming in the back of the Wildtrak X to keep wine cool and ice frozen, must rate as one of the more memorable and unique experiences.
From there we would head to the Cederberg and into Die Hel via some spectacular passes, but that’s a story for another edition.