Hearing tales about monster tigers being caught in the Levuvhu River, north of the Kruger National Park, the Adventure Afrika team recently packed our bags and headed out… In search of the elusive tigerfish and to reacquaint ourselves with the SUV segment leader, the evergreen Toyota Fortuner.
It has been said that fishermen are the world’s best story storytellers, but they often opt not to spoil a good story with facts. Now, when we read about some magnificent tigerfish being tamed at the Makuya Nature Reserve we took the same approach: let’s ignore the facts to be able to tell a great story!
The facts, of course, being that after a heavy rain season fish would probably not be in abundance – but we would not let that stand in the way of our adventure. Rounding up some fellow overlanding and fishing enthusiasts, we headed out for a long weekend in the wild. Anton arranged to meet our guide, Aubrey, at the gate and again the “facts” were less than accurate. According to him, everything is just 5.5km away – what he failed to mention was that this short distance could take up to two hours due to some challenging 4×4 driving.
Not that we are complaining – the Fortuner is more than capable to handle anything you throw at her and there were no issues. We were towing the rather heavy Conqueror Comfort Recce but even with this beast behind us, the Fortuner in the new VX guise and upgraded 2.8 GD-6 engine with the 150kW and 500Nm of torque is something special. The upgraded power output certainly made light work of any challenges, both on and off the road.
Makuya is a special place – it is situated about 20km from the most northern gate in the Kruger National Park (Pafuri) and shares a fenceless border (the Levuvhu river) with the park. While it was too overgrown and lush to spot any game, the birders in our group were chirping in excitement around every corner having spotted another special species. While our dream of spotting the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl since we read about a visitor spotting it recently in the area after a 27-year search did not realise, we could mark 77 species off our birding list. Highlights included the Common Buttonquail, Narina Trogan, Crowned hornbill, Brown-headed parrot and the African green pigeon.
Speaking of unrealised dreams: our tigerfish outings were also less than successful. But as one of the group members, Richard Harpur, pointed out: If it was guaranteed it would be called catching and not fishing! Spending time in the bush was the ultimate reward and our wild camp was simply spectacular. Covered with a canopy of Jackalberry and Leadwood trees, shade is abundant and evenings were spent around the campfire with the sound of hippo’s frolicking in the close-by river and the mighty roar from the king of the jungle fairly close by.
On our various 5.5km drives in search of tigerfishing spots, we were thrilled with exquisite views and interesting flora. Huge Baobabs dot the landscape and a visit to the Mutale Falls is a must – what a sight! Did I mention it was hot? If so, it was an understatement – sitting next to the river, one of the anglers aptly asked if we were close to hell! I was killer hot and humid. Fortunately, the 82.5-litre stainless-steel SnoMaster fridge in the Conqueror Comfort Recce meant ice-cold beers when we returned to camp!
Never give up
Not ones to easily give up, the intrepid fishermen criss-crossed the reserve in search of those tigers trying different methods – from using spinning tackle to even fly tackle and bacon on the hook – to land the big one. Alas, the group only managed three barbels during the entire weekend!
Almost as if transferred to another world, there are several elevated spots on the reserve from which to survey the jaw-dropping panoramas nearby. At World’s view, stop for a picnic or a sundown at the cliff-edge where “you can see tomorrow” as locals say. And the views truly stretch that far – as my son commented, here you can truly get lost in the views and beauty. Levuvhu Gorge offers another awesome vantage point, its sandstone cliffs dropping steeply down to the Luvuvhu River. We spotted a herd of elephant from the camp deck and again the birding was a highlight.
The reserve and Mutale Falls Camp forms part of the African Ivory Route (AIR). As the name suggests the elephants initially forged the route with hunters, poachers and traders on their trail. The AIR camps mark the tuskers’ migratory routes around the “Golden Horseshoe” – roughly from Masebe Reserve om the Waterberg, east across the Soutpansberg, over to Makuya adjoining Pafuri/northern Kruger and then down the park’s western side, south towards the Drakensberg.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ‘’great white hunters” such as Cecil Barnard – dubbed ‘Bvekenya’ or ‘he who swaggers when he walks’ by local Shangaan – became infamous along with other outlaws passing through Pafuri’s renowned Crook’s corner. There, at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers where South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe meet, border were easily crossed to avoid arrest. And ivory was pilfered by the ton, often smuggled east to the coast. Get your hands on a copy of 1954 book The Ivory Trail by TV Bulpin for the riveting tail of Barnard.
While the big one (and the small ones) got away, the memories made on our Fortuners&Fishing weekend will stay with us forever – and the lessons learnt with our fishing fails will be banked for when we try again on our planned trip to Gonarezhou later this year.
About the Reserve
Highlights: Spectacular location and views
Activities: Game viewing, birding, 4×4 trails, tigerfishing
Accommodation: Tented camps, with a superb communal braai and kitchen area. | Log cabin suites for families (with its own kitchen) | Wild camping sites with basic amenities
*Accommodation costs anything from R150 per person per day to R600 per night, depending on where you choose to stay.
Activities: Guided river walks | Game drives | Fishing | Birding
Nearby points of interest:
- The Kruger National Park: enter through Pafuri gate, only 20km away
- Awelani Caves: Inhabited by local Venda people for centuries (as recently as the 1970’s), the caves are home some exquisite rock painting and old granaries. Guests staying at the neighbouring Awelani Lodge can request a candlelit supper/braai in one of the biggest caves, with the Milky Way appearing through the sandstone crevasse overhead.
- Thulamela: All that visibly remains of this ancient kingdom are a series of dry-packed stone walls and foundations of former royal homes – still wondrous in its simplicity, though.
How to get there: Follow the N1 for approximately 60km after Makhado, then turn right towards Tshipise; after 110km turn right towards Mutale; pass through Mutale, then turn left towards Makuya Park; after 7km a mining area is reached; turn left at the traffic circle and follow this road past mining dams and dumps before turning right at the filling station. Follow the signboards towards Mutale Falls Camp and Makuya Nature Reserve for another 2km. Please note: 4×4 only.
*Download the impressive birding list before your next trip: www.africanivoryroute.co.za/safari-camps/mutale-falls-safari-camp
Behind the wheel
I was thrilled to hear we would be taking the upgraded Toyota Fortuner, now offering a decent 150kW and 500Nm of torque, thanks to the new 2.8-litre GD-6 engine first introduced in the Hilux.
As we were wild camping, we chatted to the guys from Conqueror Connection East Rand, who was more than happy the let us try out their Conqueror Comfort Recce. The Fortuner has always been a favourite for me and having the chance finally to tow with it was exciting. Our destination laid north of the Soutpansberg which meant about five hours on the tar. Towing on the N1 is a breeze – the roads are well-maintained and fairly straight, apart from a couple of hills before Polokwane. The Fortuner now equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which ensures safe connectivity and some lekker tunes – if only the trip DJ could be as competent as the Fortuner!
The Fotuner’s first test came when we headed up the Soutpansberg, climbing a fair bit of winding roads with lots of trucks that are heading to Beitbridge. Again, she took it in her stride and the drive was effortless. Arriving at Makuya Nature Reserve we checked in quickly and headed to the campsite, approximately 5km from the gate. The road to the camp was a bit worse than what we expected, with a lot of the sand washed away during the recent heavy rains, leaving pretty much a very rocky road ahead. I had to engage 4-High to ensure enough traction to tow the Conqueror Comfort Recce. Without having an upgraded suspension, it was here that we noticed the rear sagged a bit, and after going through a couple of ditches, we ended up scraping the tow hitch through the rocks. But apart from a few scratches, there wasn’t any damage.
Parking the trailer was made easy with the Fortuner’s rear-view camera and some assistance from my fellow campers. Within a couple of minutes, the camp was set up, and we could get the fire ready.
The roads in Makuya are pretty rough and overgrown at this point due to all the rains, and everything seemed a little further than usual. With the rocky roads, I opted to keep my tyres at 2.5 bar to try and prevent any sidewall punctures, but in the process, I was prepared and expected to lose grip on the factory fitted all-terrain tyres, which are definitely more suitable for highway terrain. Yet, I was impressed as it was never an issue for us. Even when a road completely washed away and our fellow travellers in their Land Cruiser 70 made a new road, the Fortuner just took it in her stride.
Driving on the riverbed, I was worried a couple of times I might get stuck due to my refusal to deflate, but again it never came. We drove some seriously overgrown roads, and the Fortuner in its Attitude Black paint job that almost looks like a pearl black really wasn’t the perfect colour scheme for driving in overgrown bushveld and river forest. But a good polish when we got back really worked its charm.
The engine upgrade on the 2.8-litre GD-6 really makes a difference on-road and off – driving normal highway; we managed the get our fuel consumption to just above 9 litres/100km, but towing did make a difference, and the consumption increased by about 50% to 14.5 litres/100km. Traversing Magoebaskloof on our way back, we even saw 21 litres/100km at some points!
I enjoyed towing with the Fortuner and never felt tired as the seats are really comfy. Coupled with the adaptive cruise control and other driver assistance tools, it really is a good drive (and this, unlike most of the fishing tales, is a fact!). Packed to the brim, we must have been close to the trailer’s GVM of 1 500kg but only felt it tugging behind the Fortuner on a couple of occasions. However, if you are planning to tow or add a couple of aftermarket accessories like roof racks, rooftop tents and fridges, I would recommend some kind of suspension upgrade.
All in all, the Fortuner is a great towing vehicle and the six-speed auto box really impressed. I never thought it was searching for a gear, and there was always a little bit left in case I needed it. Off-road, it impressed as always, with even our camping companion in their Land Cruisers commenting on the fact that it never struggled to follow in the master’s tracks.
New Flagship Grade
While a two-tier grade strategy (entry and mid) has been in place since introduction, changing market requirements have led to the introduction of a new ‘range-topper’ in the form of the new 2.8 GD-6 VX. The VX suffix is employed on Toyota’s other SUV ranges (RAV4, Prado and Land Cruiser 200) and denotes the highest specification level on offer.
The design team focused on retaining the characteristic profile of Fortuner while accentuating and refreshing the façade. At the front a larger, blacked-out grille with wave-like mesh pattern (gloss finish on VX) is accompanied by a silver-accented “skid-plate” underrun for a tougher, more integrated look. Re-profiled Bi-LED headlamps provide a sleeker look and these are further enhanced by prominent chrome accent strips that bridge the grille and headlamp assemblies. On the VX-grade, the side profile is enhanced with a thin, chrome belt-line that extends towards the rear, effectively wrapping around the vehicle, and complementing the other chrome detailing.
One of the key change points, is the shift to a black interior, in line with market requests. The previously employed brown-leather interior has been replaced by sophisticated black ‘hide’ with silver contrast stitching. High-brightness treatment has also been applied to the accent areas of the interior, resulting in a more premium atmosphere both visually and tactility.
A new instrument cluster design has been employed with metallic-blue dial faces, white needle pointers and a simple, elegant font – complementing the blue interior lighting. These are augmented by an expanded, centrally-mounted Multi-Information Display.
Wheels & Tyres
The 2.4 GD-6 models retain their 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 265-65-R17 rubber while the 2.8 GD-6 variants receive a stylish new 18-inch alloy wheel with turbine design and metallic surface treatment – employing 265-60-R18 tyres.
An all-new 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android allows users to mirror applications off their mobile phone – for seamless connectivity.
The towing capacity of 2.4 GD-6 4×4 models has seen a significant increase of 800kg, now registering 3.3 tons and matching that of the 2.8 GD-6 4×4 model. Subsequently, 2.8 GD-6 4×4 models now also boast a towing capacity of 3 300kg (an increase of 300kg over the outgoing model).
Some travel companions
Flexopower Lithium444 and Mojave 220 Solar panel
We tested the Lithium444 Power Pack from Flexopower, which turned out to be a lifesaver during the trip. Due to the fact that we did not have a kitted-out vehicle rigged for an off-road trailer to hook up to our biggest worry was power. We had two fridges that needed power and although the Comfort recce did have its own solar system available, the additional power harnessede from the Lithium444 really helped us a lot and the huge Mojave 220 solar panel with its build-in MPPT regulator made charging and keeping the Lithium444 charged a breeze. The Lithium also helped when our cameras needed charging with its build-in 400w ultra-pure sine wave inverter. What a great back up for power to have when you are in the bush.
For more info go to: www.flexopower.co.za / 011 658 0500
A nice fire or as we like to call it bush television is always a great ending to the day and struggling to get the right stands or braai grid ready for cooking is always a pain. But we got to test out the new Socialite Braai from Go Beyond Gear. This lightweight braai is constructed out of five pieces of stainless steel and have a grill size of 45cm x 35cm. It is extremely easy to assemble and folds flat to pack away into its canvas bag. It fitted easily into one of the drawers on our Comfort Recce and barely took up any space – the next morning pulling the braai apart again got rid of all the ashes and a quick wipe had it ready for its bag. Suggested retail price – R1 695.
For more info: www.gobeyondgear.co.za