Nothing Adventured, Nothing Gained

Posted on 21 April 2021

A grand old pass between Joburg and Hoedspruit is the perfect detour for Ford’s new-look Ranger.

Beyond the confines of the concrete jungle, tar soon gave way to gravel and the adventure began.

Words: Mark Samuel | Photos: Colin Mileman & Mark Samuel

Adventure – it means something different to everyone. For Bilbo Baggins, stepping out the front door was ‘a dangerous business’, while TS Eliot encouraged us to explore further than we thought we could, to see how far we can actually go. The measure of adventure is on a spectrum.

My hunch though, is that South Africans, and Getaway readers in particular, know a thing or two about true adventure. Tucked away at the bottom of Africa, our location has instilled in us a self-reliance, an independence, and made us value the raw beauty of our own country. And this was even before the global pandemic struck.

To venture to the less-frequented remote spaces you need a vehicle built tough, with big tyres and good ground clearance, as well as low-range off-road capabilities. And that’s how my adventure kicked off… with the introduction of Ford’s Ranger XL Sport Pack edition, and a quest to plot a route on secluded back roads between Jozi and Hoedspruit near Kruger National Park.

The Ranger can ford water 800mm deep – I put it to the test crossing the Olifants River.

A top bakkie seller and local favourite for years, we’re all familiar with Rangers. The new Sport Pack option bolsters the XL spec, adding a high-gloss black grille, upgraded 17-inch cast-alloy rims with bigger tyres, and a tubular sports bar to what was already a solid work- and leisure horse. Now it’s more capable, and better looking, too.

I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

After touching down at Joburg’s OR Tambo Airport, I cut a swift path eastwards along the N12, then branched off to the north-east, skirting the invisible Gauteng–Mpumalanga border. Low barbed-wire fences separated the road from miles of farmlands, and very quickly tar gave way to gravel – just where this bakkie likes to play.

Crossing the N4, I took a wide berth around Bronkhorstspruit, and then, just before exiting Gauteng, stopped for lunch at Grace & Glory Tea Garden and Cheesery. Off the main drag and next to the Wilge River, the lush lawns and large trees are just the spot for a quiet pitstop. Stock up on home-brewed ginger beer, and buy some of the delicious cheeses for the road.

Grace & Glory is a delightful spot for lunch. Stock up on their delicious cheeses.

Back on route, I snuck across a narrow cleft of Mpumalanga, then entered Limpopo, with beautiful bushveld now vying for dominance over agricultural land. As shadows lengthened, I pulled into Aloe Bush Game Lodge for the night.

Hitting the road early meant the muggy heat was only just descending as I turned left on to the R37, then immediately right on to the Orrie Baragwanath Pass, my main reason for selecting this back route, where the spectacular scenery blends with a high degree of technical off-road driving. Running from west to east, the 30km pass traverses the Lekgalameetse Provincial Park, a conserved mountain wilderness area of almost 19 000ha. On the west the road is tarred, running adjacent to the Olifants River that carves its way through the region’s rich red soil. A few tiny villages mark the end of civilisation, then a steep, rocky climb into the Wolkberg begins, a trail full of switchbacks under a thick forest canopy. Swathes of Lekgalameetse (a Sepedi word meaning ‘the place of water’), are covered in rainforest. It’s lush and bursting with wild-life – look out for white-throated Samango monkeys, and the endangered Cape parrot.

The first part of the Orrie Baragwanath Pass runs alongside the Olifants River.

Using only low-range, I rock crawled up the narrow track, mostly sheathed in heavy forest with a steep, hidden drop-off to the right that demanded my attention. Just 5km (that felt like 20) later, the trail levelled and the trees thinned, and spread out before me was a vast tract of open land that could’ve passed as a mini Ngorongoro Crater. Grazing zebra dotted verdant grassland, and the red-earth tweespoor track trailed off into the distance.

Further on, before descending the pass for the home stretch to Hoedspruit, I detoured up a grassy koppie to a lookout on the edge of the escarpment. As if draped with a giant green blanket, the undulating landscape extended into the distance beneath cotton-wool clouds, with hints of Mozambique on the hazy horizon. Right there and then I knew I’d achieved the adventure I’d been seeking.

Driving from west to east, the pass begins with a steep, rocky climb through thick forest.

Motoring Match-Up

Road-trip vehicle

Ford Ranger DC
XL Sport

For R16 500 extra, you get sexy rims, bigger tyres and a roll bar on the XL spec Ranger. It’s the same, tough bakkie, only better.
118kW @ 3 700r/min
385Nm @ 1 500–2 500r/min

Service plan
Six-year/90 000km

From R520 900 (without Sport Pack)

Contender 1

Nissan Navara 2.3D
SE 4×4 DC

Class-leading fuel consumption figures, handsome looks, and a rugged design on a fully boxed ladder-frame chassis make this a crowd favourite.
140kW @ 3 750r/min
450Nm @ 1 500–2 500r/min

Service plan
three-year/90 000km

From R623 900

Contender 2

Isuzu D-Max 250
DC 4×4

A brand with a die-hard following, you either love the looks of this legend, or hate it. What’s not in question is its tough work ethic, and reliability.
100kW @ 3 400r/min
320Nm @ 1 800–2 800r/min

Service plan
Five-year/90 000km

From R565 200

Aloe Bush Game Lodge

Aloe Bush Game Lodge

Choose from permanent tents, self-catering chalets or the honeymoon suite at this lodge in the Limpopo bushveld. There are two swimming pools, and the main lodge and bar open on to a boma that’s perfect for sundowners. Accommodation is self-catering, but meals can be arranged for large groups. Luxury tents are R700 for two (single R550), and chalets are R1 380 for two (single R800). Between Groblersdal and Marble Hall, Limpopo.
GPS: S25°01’19” E29°21’02.9”

Moholoholo Ya Mati

Moholoholo Ya Mati

On the banks of the Blyde River and around the corner from Blyderivierpoort Dam, this lodge is tucked beneath shady jackalberry trees. It has spacious luxury chalets as well as campsites with power points. Chalets from R1 320 for two. (Meals provided at an additional cost.) Camping from R400 (tents) with 4 people, and R550 (caravans) with 4 people. On the Jonkmanspruit Road, Limpopo.
GPS: S24°30’12.6” E30°50’18.7”

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