Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Girls trip to the lovely Lowveld

The Subaru Forester was one of the first active crossovers to hit the market when it was introduced in 1997 and, similarly, the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was one of the first of its kind when it was established in 1991. A meeting of OG’s then, as my teenagers would say (for those readers who are not teenagers, OG’s refer to originals).

I read a quote the other day, saying a daughter is someone to laugh with, dream with and love with all your heart – basically a little girl who grows up to be your best friend… I am indeed blessed to have two daughers who are growing into my best friends and our recent all-girls weekend to the lowveld was just what the doctor ordered to relax, recharge and reconnect.

When Subaru phoned us, asking if we’d like to test the all-new Subaru Forester – now boasting more style and a fraction more power – the entire team immediate put their hands up, wanting to drive this all-time favourite. Since I’m the boss (now it is published so it MUST be true), I simply ignored all requests and booked this baby for a girl’s weekend.

So with the car sorted, we just needed to decide where we wanted to go – and doing some research for easy to access weekend getaways within six hours from Johannesburg with many activities enroute I again realised how blessed us South Africans are. Our challenge lies in deciding on a place finding one should never be an issue – from Johannesburg you can opt for a bushveld break to Limpopo or the North West, tranquility in the Free State, meandering the Natal Midlands, visiting the beautiful mountains in Clarens or head out to the lovely Lowveld… Which is exactly what we felt like.

A while back, while doing research for another project on conservation tourism, I read about the amazing work Brian Jones and his team at Moholoholo does. It peaked my interest – for the obvious reason of heading out there to see what they get up to and get to meet the world-famous honey badger called Stoffel, but also because I have always loved beautiful Graskop area en route to Hoedspruit and been looking for an excuse to show my girls. The fact that the world’s highest cable gorge swing was a great adventure stop only sweetened the deal for the girsl…. As for me, it was the part that almost had me opt for one of the other destinations. Why on earth would you willingly want to freefall for 70 m, reaching 140 km/h in three seconds? In this case, girls must take after their father – stark raving mad!

With the itinerary in place, the only thing left was to pack our bags and head out. Luckily the Subaru’s larger than life load capacity made easy work of all the bags and camera gear. Not to mention the easy work it made of the 500-odd kilometre journey though the highways and byways that is Mpumalanga. Never shying away from any challenge, the Subaru is not only capable but it is truly a comfortable drive and thanks to all the high-spec safety features I could nod off, knowing Loré will get us to our destination safely (even though this was one of her first long-distance drives).

Adventures enroute

Arriving early at the Graskop Gorge Lift Company, which forms part of the Mpumalanga Panorama Route, we were not surprised to see how busy it is. This one-stop adrenaline and adventure stop offers visitors a host of activities ranging from the aforementioned Big Swing and equally exciting zipline to the more relaxed lift which takes visitors 51m down the face of the gorge to the indigenous forest below. There are also two restaurants, a community craft centre and he 52 m suspension bridge 70 m above the gorge. It offers views for days – simply stunning!  

After a hearty breakfast and the subsequent adrenaline-rush, from all the activities we were refreshed and ready to get going to our end destinate. En route we stopped at the God’s Window lookout point where they say you can see the Indian Ocean on a clear day. While the weather certainly played along the queues during this long weekend at the end of April was simply too long and we had to be satisfied with a quick stop at another, much smaller viewpoint. Same applies for the famous Bourke’s potholes we considered visiting…. Next time, I guess!

Not that Moholoholo does not offer visitors spectacular views and experiences. Based in the majestic North Eastern Lowveld Drakensberg mountain range, in the shadow of Mariepskop, “The Very Great One” travellers a perfect place to unwind and relax in one at one the three amazing properties. After a day on the road, we arrived to a warm welcome to the equisite Forest Camp where Anita checked us in before we headed out to their other property, Ya Mati, to witness a gorgeous bushveld wedding set-up. Dinner back at Forest Camp was devine and we hit the hay quite early since a busy day at the Rehabilitation Centre was on the card for the next day.

The Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1991. A businessman from Pretoria in South Africa, Mr Strijdom, owns the farm on which the Centre is situated, and asked Brian Jones to establish and run the rehabilitation centre. Brian already had a Crowned Eagle in his possession and his reputation for the work he did with wild animals had preceded him having helped and cared for injured and orphaned animals from the age of four. Very soon a variety of animals were being brought to him that were either orphaned, injured or poisoned and in need of help. The plight of Africa’s animals and our natural system has always been the main concern at Moholoholo and the philosophy is that awareness must be spread if we are to save our wildlife for our offspring.

Rehab in motion

“At the centre we are often faced with the difficult decision of what to do with an injured or poisoned animal which will not be able to be released back into the wild,” said Brian about when asked about critics of rehab centres. “We do have a number of permanent residents that reside at the centre which we use as ambassadors for their species, allowing members of the public are therefore able to get an ‘up close and personal’ experience of these incredible creatures with 90-minute tours of our facility,” he explains.

Spending time with Brian in the museum, you cannot help but be infected with his passion for the plight of our continent’s animals. No animal is too insignificant for Brian who is called up daily for rescue mission of animals ranging from baby rhinos, leopards and cheetahs to vultures, squirrels and anything else in-between. The centre is also actively involved in ‘problem animal’ control on farms and in tribal areas which see the team removing animals from the area where they are unwanted and relocated to an area where they are welcome. “The reality is that the habitat of all animals – not just those making it onto Wildlife programmes or receive endangered species status – is under threat,” explains Brian.

To this extent, Moholoholo is involved in various research projects including the movement of leopards and vultures; as well as successful breeding programmes for serval and cheetah (in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust). In 2003 Dr Ian Player nominated Brian Jones for the Terra Nova Award and Moholoholo’s work has been featured in many TV programmes and series, such as ‘Wild Orphans’, which have been screened far and wide including on the National Geographic Channel. The centre has also, over the years, scooped various TripAdvisor awards and is widely recognised as a leader in its field.

But wait, that’s not all!

Following the afternoon spent with Brian at the Rehabilitation Centre and our hearts stolen by it world-famous resident, Stoffel, we were treated to even more Moholoholo hospitality and activities. Our weekend guide, Anita, took us on a later-afternoon game and impressed us with her knowledge of particularly the fauna of the area. We stopped for a sundowner at the hippo pond where we witnessed an afternoon of boisterous frolicking, coupled with some rich birdlife. That evening – like all the evenings in this piece of paradise – was spent around a massive boma fire enjoying the scrumptious meals prepared by the chef.

The next morning, the girls undertook a wildlife walk with Anita while I chatted to some of the volunteers who were participating in the student programme. They were full of praise for the centre and the work they do, but also the incredible facilities the reserve – particularly the Mountain View camp – offered. After visiting the latter that morning to complete my tour of all facilities, I was fascinated how the areas differ in terms of fauna although they are all within a 10 km distance from each other. Anita explained that this has to do with the location of the mountain and told us that, more often than not the one camp is bone dry, while the next one is experiencing sky-high rainfall.

Indeed the very great one, Moholoholo should be on your South African adventure list. Not only will you be able to relax and recharge, you will be inspired by their story and delighted by the pristine bushveld beauty that surrounds you.

Stoffel’s story…

A couple of years ago a hilarious video featuring a honey badger attempting (and succeeding) multiple escapes from his enclosure made Stoffel famous. So what is Stoffel’s story?

According to Brian, Stoffel was hand-raised by a farmer in the area but, as he reached adolescence, he started wreaking chaos in the household. He was brought to Moholoholo more than 20 years ago, where he was allowed to roam free with the other two female honey badgers at the centre. These females eventually went back to the wild, but Stoffel
stayed because humans had been imprinted on him from such a young age.

Still the stubborn “teenager”, he continued to cause havoc in the rehab centre – killing small bucks, rabbits and even an adult tawny eagle – and also visited the local lodge where management received frantic calls for help as Stoffel chased the kitchen around, helping himself to whatever was in the kitchen.

“Eventually, we decided to put him in a quarter-hectare (2 500 m2 ) camp with natural trees and grass but in true Houdini fashion, he still broke out of the camp to fight with the lions, which landed him in the hospital clinic for two months,” says Brian. “He was then put back in his camp, at which point he immediately tried to get back to the lions.”

At present, Stoffel lives in a brick house sponsored by the Rotary Club, but he continuously tries to escape. “In short, a human-imprinted honey badger can be a problem in captivity as proven by this naughty bugger,” says Brian, adding that Stoffel will remain loved by all at Moholoholo as a great ambassador for his species.

Travel Guide

Graskop Gorge Lift Company

The Graskop Gorge Lift Company is centrally located on the Panorama Route (on the R533 towards Hazyview). While it is an ideal stopover point, it is also an end destination in its own right, with lots to do on-site which include a walk in the gorgeous indigenous forest, plunging down the gorge or ziplining over it, enjoying a coffee with a view or supporting the local arts and craft talent at the fleamarket.

CONTACT: +27 (0)13 767 1144 / +27 (0)66 305 1572/3 / info@gglc.co.za / www.graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za /

@graskopgorgeliftco

Moholoholo

Offering a wide range of activities and services, the Moholoholo group of properties is a true Lowveld gem worth visiting on your next trip:

  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre: Two daily tours from Mondays to Saturdays (09:30 and 15:00) and one on Sundays (15:00), it is a must-see experience.
  • Forest Camp: Luxury accommodation for 22 guests with dinner, bed, breakfast and game drives included.
  • Mountain View: Offering comfortable accommodation for 28 guests with either bed and breakfast or full catering available, you can also book guided bird and wildlife bush walks and game drives.
  • Ya Mati: Full/Self-catering accommodation for 32 guests as well as well-equipped camp/caravan sites.
  • Student programme: Be part of the day to day activities at the rehabilitation centre as a volunteer and become a pivotal part for the care and treatment of wild animals and raptors.
  • Courses: Whether you are pursuing a career in conservation or looking to further your knowledge as nature enthusiast, Moholoholo has the perfect course for you
  • Junior Wildlife: Tailor made packages to suit School Groups up to 80 learners where they can participate in a wide range of conservation activities.
  • Wedding and functions: Situated on the Banks of the Blyde River and hidden under Lush trees surrounded by beautifully kept lawns, Ya Mati is the ideal venue for that very special wedding or function for up to 150 guests.

CONTACT: +27 84 511 3000 / marisa@moholoholo / www.moholoholo.co.za/ / @moholoholo_rehab_centre

Confidence in motion

This new Forester is certainly more exciting than ever before, thanks to more power and trim options coupled with impressive safety features and – for the more challenging terrains – the driver-selectable X-Mode system. Add to this its generous 220 mm ground clearance, and it is certainly more capable than most in its segment.

The 2.5i-S ES CVT derivative we sampled was powered by a new 2.5-litre direct injection SUBARU BOXER® engine with
Lineartronic® CVT and a Start/Stop system, delivering 136kW of power (21kW more than the 2.0-litre engine) and 239Nm peak torque (an increase of 43Nm over the 2.0-litre). Despite the increase in power, it remains as efficient as the 2.0-litre model and we averaged a frugal 7.8-litre/100km to 8.4-litre/100km on the open road. In urban traffic, we struggled to keep it under 9.5-litre/100 km, though!

Practical drivability 

But does it tick all the right boxes from a drivability and practicality perspective? Our team was divided. I loved it. My daughters loved it. My son – admittedly a massive Subaru fan – enjoyed it. Leaving only the hubby, who was rather critical, saying the CVT engine felt underpowered and sluggish. To be fair, though, he is critical of CVT gearboxes in general.

During our time with it, we gave its pulling power a thorough test through the familiar Lowveld passes while also testing the handling since you have to criss-cross the road to miss the myriad of potholes on some of these sections! I am happy to report that the Forester performed well beyond our expectations – we could confidently overtake, never feeling the rather big body was dragging (although I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “nippy”). On the uphill sections, it soldiered on, impressively so!

And speaking of the big body – what a practical interior layout, filled with ample storage space! My lanky teenager was in heaven in the back row with ample legroom, with various creature comforts such as USB charging ports, cup holders and a central armrest to boost comfort. From a luggage perspective, the load bay – with a convenient electronic tailgate – offers 520 litres of packing space,

Information at your fingertips

I really enjoyed the media screen Subaru offers – it’s easy to use and is bright and colourful, and I like the fact that it’s not a floating tablet-style screen which I find less user friendly. There is also is a secondary screen above it, which shows you a bunch of information about the car that you theoretically will never actually need to know.

That top pod also has a driver monitoring camera system that monitors you all the time and will warn you if you take your eyes off the road for too long. This class-leading EyeSight Driver Assist Technology is a huge plus… Intriguingly, though, it flashes a warning onto another screen – the one on the instruments, which also makes you look away from the road…

The Forester’s driver aids can be bit of a sensory overload, though. I liked it, but if you like minimalism, you’re not going to want the number of things in front of you. The eight-inch touchscreen media system sports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, as well as an impressive Harman Kardon sound system. However, it does
not have wireless charging, which comes standard in many of its competitors.

The Subaru’s major strength definitely relates to its impressive safety features. The award-winning EyeSight Driver Assist System and integrated Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Pre-Collison Braking, Lane Departure, Sway Warning and Lane Keep Assist really does make you realise how much you’re not looking at the road ahead or sway from lane to lane (potholes, as I said!). I’m a constant glancer, it seems, and tend to drive where I look and not look where I go. The multitude of safety systems constantly blared out a warning – which also helped to keep the driver awake when all passengers were taking a nap in the cocooned comfort the Forester offers.  

The verdict

There is much more to like than to dislike when it comes to the new, more powerful Subaru Forester. Its performance on the open road impressed, and this car will undoubtedly appeal to adventurous families who values practicality over “future-forward, stylish” design. Not that it is not a good-looking vehicle – our Horizon Blue Pearl did turn heads… And had people astounded that this is one of the most affordable in its segment. It is undoubtedly a whole lot of car within a decent budget (the 2.0-litre is available from under R500k) and should be on your shopping list. 

In a Nutshell:

  • Model tested: Subaru Forester 2.5i-S ES (R629 000)
  • Engine: 2.5-litre petrol, naturally-aspirated
  • Power/Torque: 136 kW/239 Nm
  • Transmission: CVT
  • Average Fuel Consumption: 8.6 l/100 km 
  • Load capacity: 520 –1 770 litres

Model line-up and pricing:

  • 2.0i-CVT: R486 000
  • 2.0i-S ES CVT: R564 000
  • 2.5i-S ES CVT: R599 000
  • 2.5 Sport ES CVT: R629 000

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