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

Anything but (S)Lowveld…

As this is my first feature for Adventure Afrika, the mere thought of an adventure that had to be turned into an article to take you – our readers – along for the ride was nerve wracking… to say the least! I knew that I would need to find a fine balance between “there’s too much to say” and “I’m at a loss for words”. However, as we jumped into the Kia Sportage, in Kempton Park, I felt in my gut that a lot was going to be said about this adventure. From the very first moment it was that perfect balance I was hoping for. Just like the Sportage, our adventure was a mixture of speed, enjoyment and wonder. Our Kia adventure proved that this area is anything but the (s)lowveld, as busy city slickers sometimes describe it.

Buffaloes and bikes

First on our jam-packed adventure programme was a quad bike game drive at Buffaloland. We were unsure of what to expect, but Jacques quickly put us at ease and explained how our ride would work. Wait a minute… So here we are, on a quad bike – and not a sheltered safari vehicle – on a game farm? Wow! Talk about excitement! Anton did warn me that we – as the so-called youngsters in the editorial team – are always ‘voluntold’ to embrace the wild exploits and adventures… Suits me just fine! We each got a helmet and after a quick lesson on how the quad bike works, we excitedly set off into the veld. We saw a large variety of wildlife including, warthogs, nyalas, impalas, giraffes, and buffaloes and even a beautiful Malachite kingfisher.

Already quite impressed with our sightings, Jacques left the best for last – the white lions. These four lions are part of the same litter and initially roamed freely on the 3 000ha farm. Since poaching is an enormous problem in the area and they were almost victims of this atrocity, a smaller camp had to be set up for them in the middle of the property. Although these developments were kept quiet, the information leaked out and the lions came under threat again, after which a small, electrified camp was set up next to the farmhouse. The two males and two females are among the few animals that have been lucky enough to evade poachers in South Africa.

After we had ticked off the first adventure on our list – as arranged by Lani Smit from Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre – I relaxed in the hot tub at the beautiful AfriCamps in Hoedspruit, glass of red wine in hand, and in complete awe of the beauty of nature. A few zebras came to say hello and grey herons made a noise in their nest in a nearby tree. With a fire crackling and dusk creeping up on us, I couldn’t help but pour another glass of wine with a feeling of extreme bliss… And they call this work?

Still waters run deep

After a lovely night’s rest in our well-equipped family tent – with a fireplace and electric blankets for the cold months, as well as air conditioning for the deadly Hoedspruit heat – we set off early in the morning towards the Blyde Dam for our second adventure. Since I had read about the incredible Tufa waterfall in the area in previous articles in Adventure Afrika, I was very excited at the prospect of seeing it for myself…

The Blyde Canyon is the only green canyon in the world and our guide, Simeon, ensured an exceptional experience. Apart from beautiful birds, crocodiles, and hippos, we saw the Three Rondavels from a different vantage point and then, of course, there was the incredible Kadishi Tufa waterfall, which we could see from up close. The Kadishi is approximately 200m high and is the second highest tufa waterfall in the world. The rock structure that has formed over the years resembles a face and with the water running over it. As such, it is known as the weeping face of nature.

Because we never shy away from an adventure, we made the 15-to-20-minute hike to get to the breathtaking hidden waterfall after the boat cruise. What a sight! It felt like something out of a movie, and I realised anew that one should not just rush through Hoedspruit on your way to the Kruger National Park. This area should be considered a holiday in itself since there is so much to see and do.

Tummies rumbling after our walk, we stopped at Wag ʻn Bietjie farmstall for a bite to eat. I love visiting rural farmstalls because it gives you a glimpse, or rather a taste, of the local culture. We were pleasantly surprised by a wide variety of goodies that are also on sale here – local fruit and vegetables, jams, gifts, light meals and hot or cold drinks. You can either pop in quickly to grab a bite to eat and enjoy on the run or you can linger a while and enjoy the beautiful garden and the scenic surroundings.

On our return to AfriCamps, the zebras came to visit again, and we relaxed in the hot tub for the last time. We enjoyed the delicious braai basket, which can be ordered in advance, and with fireflies as entertainment, we indulged the beautiful lodgings on the last night.

Magnificent Mariepskop

Up until now, the Sportage had simply played the part of a very capable and willing taxi, taking us from one adventure to another. However, Anton wanted to stretch the legs of this new generation from the Kia stable with a trip up the Mariepskop Pass.

As if the Sportage hadn’t already impressed us enough with its comfort and a very decent fuel consumption of around 7.5 litres/100km, we forced it outside of its comfort zone on a route that is probably more suitable for 4x4s. The rain made for some huge ditches in the dirt road, but the Kia behaved like a pro mountain climber.

At 1 945m above sea level, Mariepskop is one of the highest peaks in the northern Drakensberg and the highest point of the Blyde River Canyon. The view from the top of this mountain is nothing short of breathtaking – the Blyde Canyon, Three Rondavels and the entire Hoedspruit can be seen from there. However, the main attraction of this mountain is the beautiful fynbos that grows there – interestingly enough, it is the same fynbos that can be found on Table Mountain.

Just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, we jumped into their 4×4 with Lani and her family to check out the Klaserie Waterfall. We followed a slightly challenging trail (since we didn’t have decent walking shoes and I had to brave it in my flipflops), and before we could properly catch our

breath, the view took it away again. The rainbow was the cherry on top and I couldn’t help but once again feel small and insignificant in God’s creation. It was without a doubt worth the effort in my flipflops.

In seventh heaven

We spent the last night of our Lowveld adventure at the beautiful Leopard’s Lair Bush Lodge, situated just outside Hoedspruit. Upon our arrival, we quickly put our luggage in our rooms before it was time for our scheduled game drive in the Pridelands.

With us on the safari vehicle was a family of four from Madagascar and it was truly a pleasure to experience how excited tourists get about our beautiful country! Our guide, Emanuel, was incredible and we kicked off the game drive with four lions lying lazily under a tree – Hoedspruit’s 39˚C had clearly taken its toll. We ran into two more of the Big Five on our game drive: a large elephant bull entertained us at the water while three buffalo bulls (or rather Dagga Boys) were also on their way to the water. We were also delighted to hear Woodland Kingfishers, as they had returned from Europe only a few days before.

Back at Leopard’s Lair Bush Lodge, a delicious dinner awaited us. We enjoyed a glass of wine with Gill, who was there to take beautiful wildlife photos. However, we hit the hay early, as we had heard earlier that afternoon that we had finally been given the green light for a hot air balloon trip.

Since the weather must be 100% favourable for a hot air balloon excursion, our long-awaited adventure had been postponed twice already. It’s an experience that has always been on my bucket list, so I didn’t mind getting up at 03:00. On the contrary, I was so excited that I was awake long before my alarm even went off! Everyone who would join the excursion gathered at 04:20 and we were escorted to the site where the balloons were waiting for us. After the formalities were dealt with and everyone had enjoyed a cup of coffee, we moved to our respective balloons and climbed into the baskets. The son of one of the employees stood ready with a red balloon full of helium and, well aware of his important role, he released it into the air to make sure that there were no unexpected air currents or gusts.

Our pilot for the trip, Wynand Uys, explained what we had to do when we were going to land and then we took off. He deftly steered the hot air balloon, giving us an incredible view of maize fields, citrus and mango orchards and even wildlife, 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers in France. According to Wynand, the brothers took a bottle of champagne with them on their flight, as they were convinced that it would be a success. The flight went well, but the landing took place in a vineyard, causing a lot of damage. The brothers apparently handed the bottle of champagne to the farmers as compensation. A bottle of champagne is now taken on every hot air balloon trip, to either drink yourself when the flight was a success or to hand over as compensation if damage have been caused. Wynand joked that he had packed a second bottle in case we had to hand over the first one to someone as compensation… With enough adventures and experiences to last a lifetime, our Kia adventure came to an end, and we headed back home. As the beautiful Lowveld landscape faded in the rear-view mirror, I thought of travel photographer and blogger Matthew Karsten, who recently said in an interview that travelling is an investment in your humanity, in your growth… Indeed, Matthew, indeed!

Travel guide

was not at all surprised to hear that Hoedspruit was named as a finalist in Kwêla’s Town of the Year competition in 2021. There are numerous activities and attractions in this special town, which can also be reached by plane. Hoedspruit is located in the Lowveld, about five-and-a-half hours’ drive from Johannesburg and although many people only drive through it to get to the Kruger National Park, there are plenty of adventures and excursions to choose from.

Africamps

AfriCamps’ boutique glamping tents are located on some of the most beautiful working farms, estates and reserves in South Africa. Guests can relax outdoors and and – depending on the location – enjoy activities such as fishing, swimming, birding, hiking, e-biking and mountain biking. The custom-designed tents are spacious and fully furnished with beautiful kitchens, comfortable bedrooms, and large showers. Although these tents can be very romantic for a couple, they are also suitable for sharing with friends and family as each tent can accommodate up to five guests. AfriCamps offers guests the freedom of a self-drive holiday, the proximity of nature and the comfort of a self-catering unit. Delicious braai and breakfast baskets with a large selection of delicious foods are offered at an additional cost. AfriCamps has sites in the Klein Karoo, the Cape Winelands, Overberg, Cederberg, Hex River Valley, the Garden Route, KwaZulu-Natal, Zululand, Magoebaskloof and around the Kruger National Park. Guests can therefore go on holiday almost anywhere in this beautiful country, with AfriCamps as their delightful and well-equipped accommodation. Prices are subject to the tent chosen, starting from R1 940 per night for one or two people for a tent with a hot tub.

CONTACT: +27 21 300 5694 | hello@africamps.com | www.africamps.com*Follow them on social media: @Africamps | @africamps_sa

Leopard’s Lair Bush Lodge

Leopard’s Lair Bush Lodge allows visitors to experience the Lowveld like never before. This hidden gem is located on the Mohlabetsi River in the beautiful Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate and is within driving distance of the Blyde River Canyon and the Kruger National Park. The Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate is 400ha of pure splendour, offering hiking and cycling trails, bird watching and wildlife watching. Lions and hyenas can be heard at night, as the Kruger National Park is only a kilometre away. The Wildlife Estate is located at the tip of Hoedspruit, which ensures that guests can easily and quickly reach all necessary shops or even restaurants and activities. Leopard’s Lair boasts three beautifully furnished rooms with en suite bathrooms, a dressing room, outdoor shower, jacuzzi bath, mosquito net, small fridge, and air-conditioning. All rooms can accommodate two guests and have small verandas overlooking the river or garden. There is also one family room with two bedrooms, each with two single beds, an en suite bathroom and air-conditioning. Guests at Leopard’s Lair Bush Lodge can use the fully equipped communal kitchen and there is a veranda and braai area with a swimming pool overlooking the incredible Mohlabetsi riverbank. Prices are subject to the room selected.

CONTACT: +27 66 038 6506 (for WhatsApp) | info@leopardslairbushlodge.co.za | www.leopardslairbushlodge.co.za *Follow them on social media: @leopardslair.bushlodge.hoedspruit | @leopardslairbushlodge

Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre

The Blyde River Canyon is a 26km long canyon in Mpumalanga. It is the third largest and the only green canyon in the world, with subtropical vegetation. The canyon is located below the Three Rondavels and has a view of the beautiful Mariepskop, one of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg Mountain range. Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre provides unforgettable experiences and attractions in and around the Blyde River. Various activities are offered for the adventurous, including quad bike excursions, quad bike game viewing and paintball. Team-building packages are also available. Furthermore, various aerial activities are offered, which include microlight flights, hot air balloon flights and helicopter flights. The Panorama Tour (which starts at Graskop and includes God’s Window, the Pinnacle, and the Bourke’s Luck Potholes) is a 60km drive in the Blyde River Canyon and is ideal for those who want to experience the unspoiled beauty of nature. Further activities include the breath-taking Blyde Dam boat cruise to the Kadishi Tufa Waterfall and game drives will also be available soon. Nine accommodation options and 21 adventure activities can be booked through Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre. Prices are subject to the activity or accommodation chosen.

CONTACT: +27 15 795 5961 / +27 81 487 2267 / +27 65 671 9455 (for WhatsApp) | book@blydecanyon.co.za |

www.blydecanyon.co.za

*Follow them on social media: @Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre / @Blyde_canyon_adventure_centre

Behind the wheel: Kia Sportage

For a trip like this, you need a vehicle with three key attributes. It has to be practical, it has to have decent ground clearance, and it has to be frugal. The new Kia Sportage has all these attributes in the bag, with the added bonus of being very attractive too.

Combining space and luxury

I was a big fan of the previous-generation Kia Sportage. It was a remarkably well-rounded vehicle, offerings heaps of space and subtle good looks. The design of the new Sportage, however, is a massive departure from what we have come to expect from Kia. Kia’s new design language has certainly yielded some beautiful cars, notably the 2022 Sorento and Carnival. However, even when compared to its relatives, the Sportage stands out. It is more in line with the design language of Kia’s EV model, which means it is a very striking car.

The Sportage is more than just a pretty face, though – it is also very practical and capable. Based on the very popular modular N3 platform, it measures 4 515mm in length, 1 865mm in width, and 1 645mm in height, with a wheelbase of 2 680mm. This means that it underwent a bit of a bulk-up between generations. Kia claims it leads the way in legroom, headroom, and luggage space, and after our trip I have to concur. With 591 litres of boot space, which can be expanded to 1 780 litres by folding the 40:20:40 split rear seats flat, it easily swallowed all our camera equipment, clothes and even a camping fridge.

Apart from being very spacious and comfortable, the interior is also filled with numerous high-tech features. The first thing you notice is the large screen that stretches from the cabin’s centre to the instrument cluster. It certainly looks impressive, but the infotainment system could do with a bit of an update. The absence of wireless Andriod Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity is a bit of a disappointment, but apart from that, the cabin is well laid out and very intuitive, especially for the driver. The GT line we sampled also had a few touches of suede and Alcantara, which gave it a sporty feel. At the same time, the chrome accents and ambient lighting inside the cabin lend the Sportage a feeling of refinement, further establishing Kia as a more luxury-orientated brand as opposed to its budget image of years gone by.

Fast and frugal

Petrolheads will know that GT stands for Grand Tourer, which generally refers to vehicles that can complete long distances in supreme comfort. The GT Line Kia Sportage is no exception. The 440km, five-hour drive to Hoedspruit was delightful, thanks to the silky smooth 1.6-litre turbo engine. It is exceptionally well-balanced and quiet and boasts power output of 132kW while pushing out 265Nm of peak torque. This means that the Sportage can sprint from 0 to 100km/h in around 8.8 seconds, making it rather nippy when neccessary.

Unfortunately, the Sportage is only available with this single petrol power unit, unlike its cousin (the Hyundai Tucson) which also features a 2.0-litre Smartstream diesel. Nonetheless, the 1.6 performed very well during our trip and is well mated to the eight-speed automatic gearbox. I was able to muster a whopping 750km from a single tank of fuel, with an average consumption figure of 7.5 litres/100km.

Verdict

The previous generation of the Sportage was the living embodiment of what a Kia is supposed to be. It was a trustworthy and practical everyday family cruiser, and the new model builds on that image. Its punchy power unit offers a good balance of performance and frugality. The interior is refined and modern, giving the Sportage a high-end feel. You certainly get plenty of bang for your buck.

*The Kia Sportage line-up consists of five derivatives, starting with the 1.6-litre T-GDi LX at R539 995 to the top-end model we sampled, priced at R734 995. All models come standard with Kia’s industry-leading 5-year/unlimited warranty, which includes roadside assistance and a pre-paid 6-year/90 000km service plan.

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