Do you really need a 4×4? Off-roading on the West Coast with two Beetles

Posted by Anita Froneman on 11 February 2022

You don’t need a 4×4 to overland, sometimes simpler is better. Two friends decided to load up two old Volkswagen Beetles and hit the road on the West Coast’s most rugged dirt tracks, camping along the way and mostly staring off into sunsets at the end of every eventful day.

Written by Hendri Mouton and Dieter Pey

Everyone always goes off-roading and camping with their highly modified 4x4s. The scene can quickly become a bit of a pissing contest to see who’s got the best and latest camping gear. We wanted to see how little we can get away with and experience the original camping scene of back in the day, so we went with a budget camping setup and the time-travelling started.

Pierre Nortjie is an avid VW air-cooled collector. While we were chatting about camping over a beer one day, he mentioned that he’s really struggling to find a decently priced 4×4 in the current overpriced second-hand market. After thinking for a second, I responded saying you really don’t need a 4WD vehicle to reach 90% of the local camping spots, and that’s where the idea began.

While Pierre’s Beetles were all in good running condition, some required a bit of work from its long-standing hiatus to prepare them for the journey. He pulled out his vintage 1961, 1200cc dark blue Bug with original paint and patina. I chose the orange 1971, 1300cc twin port bug.

On our first scenic test drive, we quickly discovered some gremlins we had to sort out before our off-road excursion. Hendri’s Beetle was the first to break down a mere 3km from home, so we spent a few nights in the garage, removing the engine, replacing old rubber parts and doing some general maintenance work while we were at it. Pierre also had some vintage roof racks for the Beetles which helped quite a bit to be able to pack some basic camping gear.

This was perfect for bulky items such as recovery sand tracks, portable braai, firewood and food crates. The cooler box, drinks, bedding and camera equipment took up most of the interior space. Pierre’s vintage Beetle had some crank seal issues just a few days before the trip, but we were unable to find the correct parts in time. Luckily he had another backup 1968, 1500cc light blue Beetle for the trip.

We set off on a Saturday morning, taking the first dirt road detour to Darling via Darling Hills road. Immediately the unfavourable road conditions had us deflating the tires to around 1.2 bar to ease the ride and improve the handling. We had a quick lunch stop at the Darling Brew taproom and set off again on our West Coast journey.

The Beetles drove surprisingly well when loaded up, even with the air brake aerodynamics of the loaded roof racks. They weren’t the fastest vehicles on the highway but people did not seem to mind being held back by adventure-rigged Beetles on a road trip. Many cars were waving, hooting, and taking pictures while passing by. For some it became a sight of nostalgia while others saw it as ‘punch buggies’, I guess. (Is that still a thing?) Anyway, we didn’t travel too far up the West Coast road before driving coming to Velddrif.

The orange Bug started developing an increasingly bad flat spot in the low rpm range which made slow town driving a bit difficult. We’ve tried to fix this issue previously on our test drive trip, but we were unsuccessful in completely eliminating it. Nonetheless, it would sometimes disappear again after giving the Bug a good rev, the universal ‘she’ll be alright mate, just rev it out’ fix.

Soon we hit another gravel road, and this one led us straight to Trekoskraal. We weren’t far into the dirt road until the orange Bug started losing power and eventually died. I tried run-starting it while we were still moving but the attempts were futile and came to a halt. Luckily, with a quick diagnosis from Pierre, we found no fuel in the carburettor, which was either a blocked fuel filter or this Bug was heavy on juice. Opened up the fuel cap and air came rushing in, it seemed like the fuel tank breather was blocked and we were off again!

As soon as you enter the beach area of Trekos you have to descend down a rocky, steep section. This is usually where you park your ‘platkar‘ (low clearance vehicle) and get in a 4×4 bakkie to explore further. While we were waiting at the top, a Fortuner made its way up, spinning and rocks flying everywhere. Pierre and I looked at one another and thought how on earth are we going to make this back up the following day? The Beetles had very little ground clearance as they are stock standard and have normal road tyres on, so rocks are not ideal for these vehicles. Slowly and with guidance between the drives we chose the best line down this hill. One or two scrapes from the undercarriage, but we were down!

We were now cruising as happily as can be next to the coast on softer sand, passing every brand of 4×4 vehicle you could name. All the campers, fishermen, kids and families stopped what they are doing to come and look at these two rigged Beetles driving past, while they sat next to their fully kitted 4x4s. The road had some tough spots, a few dodgy rocks between soft jeep track sandy climbs and deep cross axle sections, but the Bugs ate the terrain like they were made for them.

We cruised up and down before settling on the perfect spot to set up camp. While we were planning our camp layout, Pierre pulled in the orange Bug and immediately sank the Bug on its chassis. Not even once did we get stuck on this whole adventure trip until we pulled into our campsite. We had our friend Ryno tag along with his 4×4 bakkie, but this trip was to be self-sufficient with absolutely no external help unless there was an emergency. Luckily, we packed a set of sand tracks and after a few shovels of sand, they were under the rear wheels. A push here and there got the wheels just enough traction to climb the tracks and voila! The Bug spun free and we immediately parked it on harder ground. While setting up camp we had a few 4WDs passing and a few that asked if we really drove them there.

We had finally achieved our goal and it was time to celebrate with a few cold ones from the coolers. We lit the fire and just stared at the incredible scenery of waves crashing right in front of us with the sun setting behind our two vintage Beetles. This scene made every breakdown, the bloody knuckles and hours of sweat worth it.

Trekoskraal has since been closed for overnight camping and only day visits are allowed. We’ve already started planning for our next epic adventure, now that we’ve proven these old vehicles are still up to the task.

Take a peek at their adventure below:

Pictures and videos by Hendri Mouton and Dieter Pey

You can follow their adventures on their YouTube Channel or visit their website: https://www.zombieoffroad.co.za/

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