When Anton Willemse Snr heard about the OppiPanne music festival in Botswana he was intrigued. What was it? How would it work? Would it be a success? With more questions than answers, he decided to head across the border to find out for himself. What an extraordinary experience it turned out to be!
A party on the Makgadikgadi pans! Why even? Won’t it destroy this very sensitive ecosystem? These were just some of the questions I had. I mean – can you imagine people doing doughnuts all over the pans? Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t see it happen even once! And you can be sure that if anyone had tried it, they would have been in for a
We heard about the OppiPanne festival through family members, coincidently the same family members who had teamed up with former Stormers rugby player, Joe Petersen, and Bok van Blerk to make the event happen. So, we decided we had to go and see it for ourselves.
The folks from Kia South Africa were happy to loan us the recently introduced third-generation Sorento for the trip. While not the typical vehicle we would choose for a trip into Botswana that would definitely involve some offroading,
we were up for the adventure! Rudu du Plessis of Outdoor Campers agreed to loan us a Vagabond Rogue and, for good measure, we approached Front Runner for a roof rack with some essentials on top, which included MAXTRAX recovery equipment. We were ready to head off into the wilderness of Botswana.
Party on the pans, as we started calling it, was scheduled over a weekend and my driving buddy, Roger, and I decided to make a bit of a trip of it by sleeping over in the Thuli Block on our way there and back. This would give us a bit of a break from driving and ensure that we wouldn’t be dead tired once we got to the pans or back home.
So, on a Thursday morning, we headed for the Platjan Border Post. What a pleasure that turned out to be! It had been upgraded just before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and was supposed to reopen in 2020 but that was postponed until travel restrictions were lifted. The buildings are new and there is even a nice big bridge over the Limpopo River now. Crossing over was quick and easy and from there it was less than 40km to our campsite on the edge of the Thuli Block.
We had arranged with friends of ours to camp on their farm and we literally slept in the middle of nowhere between a bunch of mopani trees. I was immediately impressed by how easy it is to set up the Vagabond. Roger was in my Oztent RV5, so within a couple of minutes our camp was up, and we were lighting a fire. It was at that point that the lions of the Thuli greeted us with their roars and kept going right through the night!
We were up early the next morning as we had about 500km to drive to Nata. To be honest, the Sorento is one of the best overlanding vehicles I have taken on a trip. The undisputed king of overlanding comfort (in my eyes at least), it boasts ventilated seats to keep our rears cool, and the numerous driver-assist features made the road feel considerably
shorter and more comfortable than it actually was.
We stopped at the Spar on the main road in Francistown to pick up some supplies. As we were contemplating why it was so incredibly busy, a local reminded us that it was the start of a long weekend to celebrate Botswana’s 56th year of independence from Britain. So, it seemed that everyone was stocking up. We finally arrived in Nata, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, at around 14:00 that afternoon. It was another 20km or so to the OppiPanne location on the pans and after getting some ice we headed off.
Sorento in the sand?
I was a bit worried about driving the sandy two-spoor track with the Sorento, although it is an AWD vehicle. It has no low range, and its tyres were more suited to on-road driving than tackling the sandy roads of Botswana. As I drove onto the sandy track, a couple of guys in their Fortuners were deflating their tyres and I remembered that the Sorento doesn’t really have recovery points. But I was feeling brave and with the Sand function selected we drove on. Every now and then I would have to accelerate to pull us through the sand, but the Sorento, its Front Runner roof rack, the Vagabond, and all our goodies made it to the campsite in one piece.
We quickly did the rounds to greet the family and headed to our campsite. It wasn’t long before we were settled, relaxing with a cold one in hand. There we were, sitting in a pool – yes, a pool – on the Makgadikgadi pans as we watched the sun set in the west. As my father always says: “Another tough day in Africa…”
Let me explain about the pool. My cousin and his wife are two of the brains behind the OppiPanne festival, along with the people from Elephant Sands, Joe Petersen and Bok van Blerk. They had conjured up the idea of a music festival on the pans to raise funds for Water for Elephants, an NGO that tries to minimise elephant/human interaction in the villages in the eastern part of Botswana. If you have a festival, you obviously need water and the guys from Elephant Sands certainly know about moving water around in Botswana! You see, sometimes the boreholes run dry, and they ave to use a water tanker to supply water to the drinking holes in the area. So, when the tanker arrived at the pans with water for the showers and such, my cousin decided to erect a 3m round pool and fill it up. What a blessing that turned out to be!
After a very warm day with the mercury rising well above 35°C, it cooled down to a very manageable 17°C once the sun had set. Dinner was prepared on our Go Anywhere Braai. Sosaties and braaibroodjies were on the menu and I was able
to test my new gadget for the first time – a Teflon braai bag from Craft Braai. I have to say it was the best braaibroodjies I’d had in a long time, and I decided then and there that the braai bag would henceforth be one of the first things I pack when I go camping.
Enchanting Elephant Sans
The next morning at around 09:00 we headed off to Elephant Sands – some 80km away – where there is a pool and a restaurant. We arrived there just after 10:00 and there were already about 10 elephants hanging around the waterhole. There’s an urban legend at Elephant Sands which I know for a fact is true, and it goes like this. During the dry months the water levels in the boreholes and waterholes drop, leaving more mud than water. Because the drinking trough can’t
accommodate all the elephants that show up for a drink, they have learned that they can get water in other places, such as the septic tanks behind the chalets and ablution blocks.
These gentle, but genius giants have figured out that where the sewerage pipe comes through the wall from the ablution block or chalet there is normally a 90-degree turn down into the septic tank, and that there is a lid they can unscrew. They then stick their trunks down the pipe and suck up the fluids from inside the septic tank – a bit disgusting, I know! When that tank also runs low, they blow into it and with their trunks firmly covering the service hole, there is only one way out. So, the poop literally shoots out through the toilet. I was telling this exact story to a bunch of Bots newbies at the lodge when one of them went very quiet and whispered: “That happened to me last night. I even had it on my ears!” Thus, be warned – if you’re ever at Elephant Sands and you hear a funny gurgling noise while on the loo, get out!
After a relaxing day in the pool at Elephant Sands, we headed back to the pans, where we bought mopani firewood and got dinner started. Braaibroodjies were again on the menu, this time accompanied by a delicious fillet and mushroom sauce. We sat around the fire listening to the opening acts and watching the sunset over the pans. Bok finally took to the stage and to say it was magic is an understatement. The sound must have carried for miles and being on the pans, the lights were probably visible from the International Space Station! Attendance was limited to 1 500 people but in my opinion, it was a huge success. The damage to the pans that everyone was so worried about never happened, and by next year after the rains, there will be no evidence that there was ever a party! We went to bed way after midnight, grateful to have been part of this special inaugural event.
Early on Sunday morning it was time to pack up and head back to the Thuli. Our last night in Botswana would be spent on a reservation where field guides are trained, and we had permission to set up camp in a boma next to a waterhole. There is a viewing deck up in the trees and despite my loud protestation Roger decided that he was sleeping there, on only his stretcher. At 02:00 we were woken up by four hyenas in the camp. I was snug in my Vagabond, but Roger was armed with only a chair to fend off the hyenas that were contemplating going up the stairs to check out the view from the deck. Needless to say, I slept like a baby while Roger stood guard for most of the night.
A trip to Botswana is always special for me, but this one was extra special. OppiPanne was great and the funds raised will keep the elephants from wandering into villages and causing havoc or even death, and subsequently being shot. It was all for a good cause and hopefully, OppiPanne 2023 will be an even greater success. I can’t wait!
Sorento at a glance
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel
Power: 148kW @ 3 800rpm
Torque: 440Nm @ 1 750rpm – 2 750rpm
Transmission: 8-speed wet double-clutch (8DCT)
Drive type: 2WD/AWD
Length: 4 810mm
Width: 1 900mm
Height: 1 700mm
Wheelbase: 2 815mm
Ground clearance: 176mm
GVM: 2 550kg (2WD)/2 600kg (AWD)
Maximum towing capacity: 2 500kg braked/750kg unbraked
Model line-up & pricing
Sorento 2.2 CRDI EX+ DCT 7-Seater: R813 995
Sorento 2.2 CRDI EX+ AWD DCT 7-Seater: R853 995
Sorento 2.2 CRDI SX AWD DCT 7-Seater: R918 995
Sorento 2.2 CRDI SXL AWD DCT 7-Seater: R998 995
*All Sorento models ship as standard with Kia’s industry-leading unlimited kilometre/5-year warranty (inclusive of roadside assistance), as well as a 6-year/90 000km maintenance plan.
What a rack!
SUVs usually don’t have much packing space. For me, a double cab bakkie is the preferred option for overlanding. But if it’s an SUV that the wife wants, there are some options out there for you. Front Runner has a line of roof racks specifically designed for ‘softer’ SUVs and even compact crossovers. This includes a roof rack with a dynamic load
capacity of over 100kg for the Kia Sorento.
It offers enough space to take a bunch of extra goodies along on your trip, from bicycles to canoes or – in our case – some essential accessories for overlanding. It’s also relatively quick and easy to fit. In less than 40 minutes the roof rack, with all the accessories, was on top of the Sorento and it even gave the vehicle more bush cred!
To be honest, there was space for more, but this is what was fitted on the roof of the Sorento:
• Front Runner Slimline II roof rail rack kit
• Wolf Pack Pro with quick release mounting brackets
• MAXTRAX with quick release
• 20-litre Pro water tank with mounting system
• Gas bottle holder
• Spade bracket with spade
• OZtent RV5 strapped on with Stratchits to keep it in place
*Check out http://www.frontrunneroutfitters.com/za for all your camping and overlanding needs, ranging from
roof racks, coolers, storage solutions and power/lighting solutions.
Towing Guide: Vagabond
For me, a big and heavy off-road caravan is somewhat of an overkill. I want something small and easy to tow and set up. And to be honest, what do you actually need when you go camping in the bush? A kitchen? Check! A comfy bed for two? Check! Ample packing space? Check! The Vagabond Rogue, available from Outdoor Campers, delivers on all of that and more.
We opted not to take the additional room along as Roger slept in my OZtent RV5 and the 60-litre water tank was more than adequate for both of us. This little trailer boasts a fully integrated kitchen that includes a 12v/220v 50-litre SnoMaster fridge, a two-burner gas stove, plumbed tap and basin, a grocery and utensil cupboard, and an ammo box
locker. There’s even a microwave… not that we needed it… but it’s there.
There is 200kg of packing weight available and the space inside the teardrop is ample. In addition, the one we used was already fitted with a battery system that can recharge either from your car while driving, through solar panels, or
plugged in at the campsite. The light weight (the GVM is only 750kg) means that you don’t need an EB licence and it can be towed by most cars, while the fairly short length makes it easy to manoeuvre. If you really want to you can upgrade it to a GVM of 1 400kg, but then you would need a EB licence.
The roads in Botswana are great most of the time, but some patches are a bit sketchy. The Vagabond behaved extremely well on all surfaces. Towing it behind the Sorento in the sand was easy and we didn’t even deflate the tyres!
The light weight and sleek design also meant that our fuel consumption only increased by about 10%. We had a huge 270-degree awning that gave ample shade and was pretty sturdy in the winds that usually start blowing on the pans late afternoon.
• Tare: 550kg
• GVM: 750kg
• Axle: 1 400kg
• Width: 2 120mm
• Length: 2 100mm
• Width: 1 500mm
• Bed: Queen
• Two-burner gas stove
• 50-litre Snomaster fridge
• 60-litre water tank
• 12v/220v charging system
• 12v Hella plug (x 2)
• Basin with tap
• Roller blinds
• Gas bottle
• 103ah deep cycle battery
• 15-inch wheels
• Roof rails
• LED lighting
• Charging system
• Powder coated checker plate
• Solar panels
• Bigger wheels
• Mag wheels
• Awning brackets
• 270-degree awning
• Entertainment system
• En suite cubicle
• Rear tow hitch
You’ve got the power!
We always need ice in the bush but to get ice you need a fridge… and power. That’s why I decided to take our EcoFlow
Delta Pro along, a beast of a portable power station with 3 600Wh available at 12v that delivers 300Ah. This means that without charging it we could run a camping fridge with a constant load of 5A for 60 hours! It’s heavy though, weighing in at around 50kg.
However, its worth its weight in gold when it comes to convenience and ease of use. I was able to plug our Vagabond trailer straight into the EcoFlow and keep the lights on for our entire stay. It also kept our fridges running. No worries and no effort, and if we had a few solar panels for it we should have been able to camp there on the pans
indefinitely – weather permitting of course.
The EcoFlow Delta Pro has ample outlets. The plugs are the EU type, so you’ll need an adapter, but with a host of USB and USB C ports as well as a 12V automotive plug capable of delivering 10A, there are more than enough charging options. While driving we had it plugged into the vehicle’s power socket and that kept the EcoFlow Delta Pro fully
charged for the trip.
The EcoFlow Delta Pro can be charged via your vehicle’s power socket, through solar or direct from DC and the best part is the fact that it is a UPS, this means if you use it during loadshedding you won’t even realise when the power goes off! At around R73 990 the EcoFlow Delta Pro seems expensive but it is worth every cent!
*For more information on the range of EcoFlow products: https://za.ecoflow.com