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

The Corolla way to draw a giant rhino

Inspired by Toyota South Africa’s Corolla Cross advert featuring a father and son duo drawing a giraffe on back country roads, Anton Willemse Snr headed out to Mapesu Game Reserve in Limpopo with a mission in mind: to draw a rhino in the bush.

The Corolla Cross is not the first vehicle that comes to mind when you think about trying to draw a rhino outline on dirt roads in a game reserve. However, here at Adventure Afrika, we are not afraid to “cross boundaries” (to borrow from the brand’s launch campaign). When we saw the TV commercial at the launch of this new crossover towards the end of last year, we immediately thought we could do this… slightly differently. So, we chatted to our friends at Mapesu Private Game Reserve in Limpopo, convinced the Toyota PR team to give us a chariot, and headed out to create some ‘art’.

Back at the launch, the Corolla Cross impressed with its comfortable urban drive, and it aced the dirt we tackled, but I was keen to put it through its paces in more extreme conditions. Could it live up to its launch promise as a competent adventure partner?

For this challenge, we would be driving the Corolla Cross 1.8 XR CVT. When I hear CVT, I want to run for the hills. It is a cheaper alternative to a regular automatic transmission, but with an elastic band quality and more of a whine, and it is not always the most frugal solution. (In recent weeks, we’ve tested some CVT-equipped small cars that gulped a staggering 11 litres/100km!) Somehow Toyota seems to have hit the sweet spot with this one. The revs do not race ahead of actual speed when accelerating, and we got decent fuel consumption of just over 7 litres/100km on our journey to South Africa’s most northerly point. Inside the vehicle, everything is convenient and easy to use, from the wide centre console to the switches on the multifunction steering wheel. Tech is at a high point too, with voice command, multiple USB ports and a decent infotainment system. Safety features such as lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and collision alert allow you to relax while driving, secure in the knowledge that these safety features will assist you in emergencies. Considering the relatively affordable R425 000 price tag, it feels both durable and upmarket.

But back to our art project. Just how do you draw a rhino in the bush? Well, the trick is to know where a rhino has already been drawn in the bush! The Sky Rhino at Mapesu Private Game Reserve was created a couple of years back and is visible on Google Earth. Why a rhino, I ask Mapesu’s general manager, Johan Pfahl, on arrival. He explains that the Sky Rhino project started a couple of years ago when poaching in the area saw a sharp increase. “At the same time, the reserve was clearing the excessive overgrowth of Mopani shrubs on the reserve, and we thought ‘Why not make this interesting’,” laughs Johan. So, armed with a GPS and a map, the Mapesu team set off to an area about 3km south of the main lodge and started plotting their giant rhino. Soon, the outline started to take shape, and the clearing of Mopani shrubs began.

Nice story, I thought, but why on earth go through all this trouble if you could have cleared the bush in many simpler, less labour-intensive ways? Why draw a rhino with a circumference of over 5km? According to Johan, the reason is two-fold. First and most important is that Mapesu was formed with conservation in mind, as a home to the Big Five. Until recently, they had four of the big five on the reserve (excluding lions, which they are hoping to introduce soon), but during the peak of Covid-19 they lost all three of their white rhinos to poachers. This, of course, underlines the second reason for the Sky Rhino – awareness of this important conservation issue. The international flight beacon located just a couple of kilometres north of the reserve on Mapungubwe National Park means that all international flights from Europe to South Africa pass over the Sky Rhino. At 30 000 feet, the Sky Rhino is admittedly tiny but still visible, and, says Johan, hopefully it sparks interest in the importance of rhino conservation. The roads making up the Sky Rhino outline are constantly maintained, and provide a fun cycling, jogging or hiking route for visitors to the reserve.

But tackling it in a Corolla Cross definitely wasn’t on the radar when the team laid it out. So, armed with a GPS to track our progress and a couple of cameras, we set off to draw our rhino. We headed out with head ranger Annalike van Damme as our guide, and Johan joined us for support and motivation. Our first try was unsuccessful, albeit cause for much fun and laughter. We quickly learnt that our plan to drive and track our route in an area with minimal mobile network coverage would create a Picasso-like rhino rather than the real thing. Luckily, we had booked a few days’ stay to get this right, so we headed back the following day to try again. This time everything went smoothly. We did two laps of the Sky Rhino and made sure we had enough video footage before heading back to the lodge for a well-deserved cold one.

Having said that, the most deserving of a reward after this little adventure was undoubtedly the Corolla Cross. Remember, this is not a 4×4 yet it behaved every bit that way in the somewhat overgrown bush. The decent ground clearance (161mm) means it can tackle gravel roads more suitable for bakkies. Although maintained, the Sky Rhino’s perimeter road is not technically a real road and was never designed to be used by anything other than one of the reserve’s game viewers. This did not stop the Corolla Cross, though. This consummate crossover overcame every rocky patch and sandy drift and just got on with the job at hand. Crossing boundaries? Check!

In a nutshell

Model tested: 1.8 XR CVT

Engine: 1.8-litre petrol*

Transmission: CVT

Power: 103kW at 6 400rpm

Torque: 172Nm at 4 000rpm

Fuel index: 6.8 litres/100km

*We averaged around 7.3 litres/100km

Fuel tank size: 47 litres

Wheels: 225/50 R18 alloy (Space Saver T155-70D17 spare)

Boot space: 440 litres

Towing capacity: 800kg braked (700kg unbraked)

Dimensions: 2 640mm wheelbase | 1 825mm width

Driver Aids:

• Adaptive cruise control

• Reverse camera

• Park distance control

• ABS & EBD

• Blind spot monitor (with rear cross traffic alert)

• Hill assist

• Vehicle stability control

• Lane keep assist

Model line-up & pricing:

• 1.8 Xi: R349 900

• 1.8 Xs: R390 100

• 1.8 XR: R425 400

• 1.8 Hybrid Xs: R413 000

• 1.8 Hybrid XR: R448 300

*A six-services/90 000km service plan is standard on all Corolla Cross models, with service intervals of 12-months/15 000km. A 3-year/100 000km warranty is included. The Hybrid model carries an 8-year warranty on the drive battery.

About Mapesu Private Game Reserve

Mapesu Private Game Reserve, which is adjacent to Mapungubwe National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), covers an area of 7 200ha and forms part of the Limpopo Valley Conservancy. Besides various game-viewing options, such as day and night game drives, the team offers plenty of other conservation tourism activities including endangered wildlife tracking, walking safaris and expeditions that include tracking collar replacement, animal introductions, game counts, and much more.

Various accommodation options are offered to suit your pocket and the experience you want. These range from the luxury 4-star accommodation and self-catering chalets at Mopane Bush Lodge, to stunning luxury tents at the Wilderness Tented Camp. For those adventurers who prefer roughing it, there is an unfenced campsite.

CONTACT: +27 015 534 7906 / +27 083 633 0795 | www.mapesu.com | bookings@mapesu.com

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