After completing his #HiluxDevilBuild project (which we wrote about a couple of months ago), Stuart Queripel rounded up family and friends and headed out to northern KwaZulu-Natal to put his rig through a true wilderness test.
The idea of wild camping in a Big 5 game reserve has always intrigued me. What would it really be like sleeping in a tent, knowing that a lion could visit you at any time during the night? Not one to shy away from such adventures, I rounded up some fellow adventurers and booked a “campsite” under the Tamboti trees at Somkhanda Game Reserve in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal.
Somkhanda is a four-hour drive north of Durban, not far from Pongola. This remote community-owned Big 5 reserve spans 12 000 hectares of rolling hills and natural bushland habitat. We booked our trip for late April 2021, and from the moment we arrived, we knew this was going to be an experience we would never forget. Even before we began setting up at our Tamboti Tree campsite, we were greeted by a curious rhino, giving us a very real reminder that we were completely exposed in the middle of a Big 5 game reserve.
After unpacking and exploring our surroundings, we found the bucket shower and the “toilet”. This was rustic camping at its very best. As the sun disappeared on the first day, we gathered around the campfire to enjoy dinner and a glass of wine with a mixture of both excitement and trepidation. I have to admit I did not sleep much that first night… In fact, I climbed into my tent armed with a knife, an alarm and the brightest torches I own!
Luckily, I needed none of those weapons. We woke up to a chorus of wild birds, all limbs intact, and marvelling at this experience of very remote camping. Sheer bliss! After two cups of java and a quick breakfast to fuel our bodies for the day, we eagerly headed out on our first self-drive in search of the Big 5 and other game.
This was when the trip took an interesting and unexpected turn. I was aware that Somkhanda had some spectacular 4×4 driving trails, and I was rather excited to put the Hilux through its paces to find the most remote places where a pride of lion or herd of elephant could be found. Little did I know that for the next four days, I would be in 4×4 heaven! This must have been some of the best technical 4×4 driving I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. We climbed, we crossed, we descended, we cross-axled, and we got bush rash to show for it.
The main reason for this rather exciting (and unplanned, to be honest) 4x4ing is that large parts of the park are basically inaccessible due to the lack of road maintenance. This is a real pity as it means most of the park remains out of bounds for even the bravest 4×4 enthusiast. After four days of traversing the park without many animal sightings, we were convinced the Big 5 had migrated to these inaccessible parts of the park to seek solitude. We did, however, enjoy some excellent elephant sightings and saw an array of plains game. The bird watchers amongst us (they like to call themselves ornithologists) were in heaven and managed to tick off several interesting species. For me, this trip was about relaxing and recharging. The game sightings were merely a bonus. Additionally, it was about testing out the various accessories on my Hilux during a true wild camping experience – and boy, did the Hilux step up to the plate! We were comfortable, dry and warm throughout, never wanting for anything. I loved the rustic camp and the bucket shower – using water heated up next to the fire – was a daily highlight. How amazing to be enjoying a steaming hot shower in the middle of the African bush, with nothing but Mother Nature surrounding you – simply an incredible experience.
To book your adventure at Somkhanda chat to Lundy Bredberg via the Wild Connection website
( http://wildconnection. | co.za/somkhanda-zululand-kzn/ )
Follow Stuart’s adventures on social media: @hiluxdevilbuild | @just_q_and_his_canon
Wild camping tips & tricks
Research your campsite: Find out as much as you can about your intended campsite and the facilities available. It helps to know what to expect and what to pack. A good information source is Facebook groups and other online forums.
Test your gear: Make sure you understand how everything works (especially your power supply). Remember, your vehicle is part of the gear. Make sure you understand its limitations and know how to fix the basics. It’s a good idea to test your recovery gear before departing!
Respect natural dangers: While wild animals do not treat tourists as their food, basic precautions are still necessary. The cardinal rules are never approach any animal on foot, never feed wild animals, and do not keep food in your tent. Apart from larger wild animals, also familiarise yourself with insects, poisonous plants, snakes and other critters.
Fire is life: Starting a campfire does not have to be a Survivor-like challenge. Remember your firelighters or consider making your own by covering a cotton ball with Vaseline and placing it in aluminium foil. Simply slit the foil and pull out a little bit of the cotton to light it up. Be sure to store your matches in a fireproof container or carry a gas lighter with you.
Light of my life: It may sound romantic to sit under a moonlit sky in the wilderness, but remember it gets pitch dark out in the bush. That’s when shadows and strange noises can play tricks on your mind. Carry torches, spare batteries, headlamps and lanterns to make life a little easier.
Camping near water is a no-no: While we all know that a watering is a great place for game-viewing, it is best to avoid pitching camp near any water body. Predators and prey will come to the water (especially at night), which may leave you vulnerable.
Leave only footprints: The golden rule for wild camping is to leave the area in the same condition as you found it. As tempting as it may sound, never take back branches or other plant life as a souvenir and never feed the wildlife. Last, but not least, always take all of your rubbish back with you!
Basic packing list for wild camping
- Tent and associated gear
- Sleeping bags and other sleeping solutions
- Enough warm clothes – remember a rain jacket
- Lighting – headlamps and torches (remember the batteries)
- Firestarter kit
- Plastic bags for rubbish
- Power bank or other power solution
- Kitchen equipment (gas bottle, cooking supplies, kettle, cutlery, crockery, etc.)
- Water – for consumption and bathing, if needed
- Personal hygiene gear (toilet paper, hand sanitiser, wipes, etc.)
- Navigation equipment (maps & GPS)
- Sun/wind/rain protection
- First-aid kit
- Basic vehicle repair kit
- Recovery gear
- Tyre repair kit
- Mosquito repellent (top tip: burning sage is a natural bug repellent)