Shortly after the cross-provincial travel ban was lifted, the Adventure Afrika team headed to South Africa’s far north, where the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers meet. A spot where you can peer into Botswana or watch eagles soar over Zimbabwe… To the “Hill of the Jackal” or, as it’s known today, Mapungubwe.
Excited by the prospect of heading out of the city for the first time in months after the confinement brought about by the national lockdown due to COVID-19, we couldn’t wait to point our KIA Sorento’s nose north… Chasing the winter warmth of Limpopo, majestic baobabs, the legend of the golden rhino and some of the best birding South Africa has on offer, we hit the road to Mapesu Private Game Reserve for a mid-week break.
The KIA Sorento has been defined as an adventure SUV – a vehicle designed to transport you and your family in comfort and safety while effortlessly dealing with various road conditions. But that’s what the marketing material says. We wanted to put the sales pitch to the test to establish whether it is worth a consideration if you are in the market for a vehicle that can satisfy your adventurous lifestyle.
And what better playground than the picturesque Mapesu Private Game Reserve, situated a few kilometres from Mapungubwe National Park? A 7 200 hectare game reserve with around 48 different animal species which includes four of the Big Five, Mapesu is roughly 500km from Pretoria with most of the travel time being spent on the N1 highway.
Easy-going on the Sorento, then – until you reach the pothole-filled roads just outside Polokwane and you have to sharpen your alertness to manoeuvre around the potential death traps. That said, the Sorento handled the trip to Mapesu with ease by offering a comfortable driving experience
Arriving at our destination
Arriving at our destination Nestled in Mapesu Private Game Reserve is the Mopane Luxury Bush Lodge, the place we called home for a few nights. With a variety of accommodation – including self-catering chalets, campsites and a luxury lodge – on offer, we opted to stay in the Wilderness tented camp. These pods of luxury – each tent has a bathroom en suite with a large tub, outdoor shower, air conditioning and quality bedding – are discreetly tucked away on a hillside with stunning mopane bushveld views. The units are set apart to enjoy privacy while offering comfortable furnishings, ensuring that all nature lovers can relish their time in this secluded and beautiful area of South Africa.
The pool is within a short walking distance of each unit as well as fine dining and excellent cuisine at the restaurant. Ending off each day with a cold one at the bar area overlooking the pool and a drinking hole, we could relax and discuss the events of the day, of which there were many.
What to do at the reserve
There are a wide variety of mammal species either currently in the reserve or have recently been in the reserve. The reserve’s general manager, Johan Pfahl, believes that travel and tourism must be more meaningful, sustainable, and impactful for both the travellers and their destinations. As such the team has embarked on the reintroduction of various species into the wild. In 2016 a herd of elephants found their home, followed by cheetahs in 2017 and sables, giraffes, and buffalos in 2018. In 2019, rhinos were introduced with immense effort and patience, which means that Mapesu has four of the Big Five roaming inside its borders. The remaining species (lion) can be found inside the Mapungubwe National Park to where Mapesu also undertakes game drives.
The team at Mapesu offers a variety of unique expeditions for guests, but take note that some of the events take place during specific times of the year. It is thus best to consult their calendar (available on their website) when planning your visit. One of these activities revolves around elephant contraception, with the next one scheduled for 1 to 8 February 2021. During this expedition, guests will be allowed to get up-close and personal in vital conservation work with Africa’s largest land mammals. Working alongside the reserve team and veterinarian, you will be able to observe first-hand what it takes to protect these magnificent giants both on the ground and from a helicopter.
One of the highlights for the Adventure Afrika team, however, was the invitation by the game rangers to assist in tracking the rhinos on the reserve. The point of these exercises conducted by the Anti-poaching Unit (APU) is to have eyes on these endangered animals, to ensure that they are safe and in good condition. Our excursion started early in the morning as we first needed to find the tracks. A good place to start is usually the local watering hole, and that’s where we first encountered these magnificent creatures. We drove a few kilometres deeper into the reserve until we needed to proceed on foot. As we meandered our way through the dense bush following the tracks, our experienced guide ordered us to halt, pointing into the distance. There it was, a rhino only but a stone’s throw away from us, looking right at us. A moment that felt like ages was over in a few minutes when the rhino moved a few meters and – as big as what it is – vanished into the veld.
When we returned to the lodge later that afternoon we decided that it was high time to sample some of Mopane’s speciality cocktails and their own brand of gin which we enjoyed next to the pool, overlooking the beauty that is Africa. But it certainly did not stop here. To top this near-perfect day off, we decided to put the theory that a night under the bush heavens ensures some of the best stargazing to the test… So, we braved the cold and proceeded to have dinner at the foot of one of the oldest baobab trees on the reserve. Our braai was obviously very inviting as, just beyond the light of our fire, we heard hyenas waiting for us to leave them some of our dinner. What a truly magical experience! I again realised just how blessed we are to live in this beautiful country.
Self-driving made easy
While you can enjoy accompanied game drives in fully equipped game-viewing vehicles, the Mapesu team heeded to requests from some of the more adventurous visitors and implemented a few self-driving routes within the reserve. The roads have been cleared and somewhat smoothed out to make it easier for SUVs and even crossovers to navigate the dense mopane bush in search of a variety of animals. Here, the Sorento impressed again with its levels of grip thanks to a central differential lock mode. The KIA predominantly sends its power to the front wheels, but it can send power to the rear wheels when it detects that more rear grip is needed.
The 185mm of ground clearance is impressive, however, we did hear a few knocks now and then, perhaps a higher profile tyre would provide for more clearance. Unfortunately, there are some areas in the reserve where the KIA could not go, and it is up to the driver to use discernment and know the limits of their vehicle.
Mapesu and the Mopane Bush Lodge is a must for those who want a luxury getaway where they can relax, recharge and get close to nature. Getting to the lodge is easy, especially if you have a travel companion such as the KIA Sorento which remains a favourite of mine within its segment. The interior space, as well as seven-seat functionality, is impressive. It offers excellent levels of comfort, and the motor is noteworthy. Yes, it is not a full-blown bundu-bashing SUV and lacks the clearance of such vehicles, but it will easily do the weekly commute demanded by the city while offering you the ability to experience a new adventure over the weekends.
Mapungubwe National Park
Bordering Mapesu Private Game Reserve to the south, the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site is the ideal location for anyone interested in varied wildlife and birding, or the rich history of the area. Some must-do activities include:
WALK AMONG TREES: Visit the Treetop walkway overlooking the Limpopo River in the eastern section of the park, close to Leokwe camp. About two storeys off the ground, the raised boardwalk takes you into the tree canopy where identification plaques point out some of the common trees, such as leadwood and fever trees.
WHAT A VIEW: From the viewing decks at the confluence, you can see where the Sashe and Limpopo Rivers meet, and where Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa join along the riverbanks. The four decks – including sunset and sunrise decks – give an expansive view out of the river valley, the meandering flow of water and the inevitable baobabs peeping out over the other vegetation.
TAKE IN THE HISTORY: Take a guided heritage walk up 147 steps to the top of Mapungubwe Hill, see the graveyard of kings and learn more about the history and culture of the people who lived here from 1220– 1290 AD, when they traded with Egypt, India and China through Islamic traders on the east coast. Also, be sure to pop into the interpretive centre and museum near the main gate.
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS: Try to spot the “Big Six of birds” found in the park – Pel’s fishing owl, martial eagle, lappet-faced vulture, ground hornbill, the kori bustard and saddle-billed stork. Remember to look up for a chance of seeing the magnificent Verreaux’s eagle.
About the KIA
The KIA Sorento in EX guise means that you get amenities aplenty. These include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, auto-folding mirrors with side-mirror indicator, LED daytime running lights, auto light control with welcome home function, parking sensors as well as a rear-view camera to name but a few.
Thanks to a dominant front end, chrome-like grille and sculptured bumper the exterior design of the KIA Sorento is quite handsome, with a bold ruggedness. It looks longer than most other SUV offerings in the segment due to its narrow side window profile and lack of curvature in the window line – a feature which I quite like. The rear is tastefully designed thanks to LED rear taillights, a large roof spoiler and silver elements on the lower bumper. The model which we sampled was fitted with 235/60 R18 tyres all round which provided decent impact protection when our route became littered with potholes.
The interior of the Sorento is well put together with decent plastics, leather and soft-touch elements. Our test unit was also fitted with dark wood trim which added an extra sense of class, in my opinion. The rear passengers benefit from rear side window shades as well as ventilation. The 605 litres of luggage capacity also came in handy as did the fact that the capacity can be increased to around 1 662 litres when the rear seats are lowered.
The interior also features a host of USB ports, and our vehicle featured a wireless phone charger which kept our teenage passenger happy and connected. The infotainment screen is easy to use, but once you connect your smartphone and use either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, life just becomes better. The engine – a 2.2-litre turbo diesel which develops 147 kW and 147 Nm of torque – adds to the impressive performance of the Sorento. Power is sent to all four wheels via a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox which goes about its business without notice. The Sorento offers various driving modes such as Econ, Comfort and Sport. Most of our trip was done in Comfort, which is the default setting. It still provided enough throttle mapping to pull off easy overtaking and not once did any of us feel that more power was needed. However, the vehicle did average around 8.8 litres/100 km, a far cry from the claimed 6.5 litres/100 km.
The Sorento regularly scoops the top honours in the JD Power Initial Quality Study, and we can see why: quality finishes, comfortable and safe driving and superb handling – definitely worth considering if you’re in the market for a good all-rounder.