Gary van der Merwe’s new Suzuki Jimny and Jurgens Camplite combo opened up a host of camping and travel opportunities, including a traverse of the scenic Swartberg Pass.
This particular jaunt makes no claims to a place in the annals of exploration – or daring. In fact, all it does is fly in the face of some oft-repeated – and oft-ignored – paternal advice: ‘Don’t go at it like a bull at a gate. Take it easy and first think it through.’ Nothing wrong with the advice, just with the child. Childhood is long in the past, but the advice stills echoes down the years every now and again.
It all started when my wife and I decided to get rid of our timeshare. It turned out that it would probably be easier to solve world tension than dispose of our annual allocation of holiday points. ‘Not for love nor money’ brought a sad realisation: those potential buyers who had the money didn’t love us. As it turned out, no buyer would love us on any terms. (Our therapist is making a fortune out of helping us with the rejection.) So we gave our share of the time away and decided to go camping instead.
In order to look the part, we thought we needed a more appropriate car than our old Hyundai Elantra. And besides, any excuse is good enough to buy a new car. Into our lives came a Suzuki Jimny – a car with serious capabilities cunningly disguised behind the word ‘cute’. This is a car that should come off the showroom floor with the message, ‘You may go faster, but I go anywhere’. We now owned a vehicle that, cute or not, would take us camping anywhere – but, as we soon learned, not with everything.
Out came the rear seats and in went a very cunning second level which surely would allow me to pack twice as much … or so I thought. Yet as the trials and the errors mounted, so too did the list of essentials we needed to leave behind. An example: my wife is not a ‘rough’ camper and, truth be told, that usually suits me, as it gives me an excuse not to have to act macho, and my image stays intact. However, this tacit arrangement found a voice in my previously unrealised need for a fridge – not a cooler box, but a fridge, no less. Now, it’s not a big fridge: just a 50-litre Waeco – but it takes up half the back of the Jimny! The problem lies with the ‘cute’ part: it’s tough for big things to be cute, and cute things tend not to be that big. Decision time again: do we give up on the camping idea, get a bigger car, or stay at home and sulk? Well, we decided, let’s give it one try. After all, we’d already agreed to meet a friend at the Karoo National Park, and we couldn’t disappoint him, could we? Okay. What did we still need? Oh yes, an extension lead adaptor. (Got to have power – no roughing it.) So we walked into an outdoor equipment shop which just happened to adjoin a caravan showroom. Because in previous lives we’d both been caravaners, we made a quick detour through the showroom to see what the latest models were offering. And there, tucked into a back corner, was a Jurgens Camplite trailer. ‘That’s very nice, but unfortunately we only have a small car – with a 1300 cc engine,’ I glumly confessed to the salesperson. ‘No problem, sir. What’s the tare rating?’ came the reply. ‘Barely over 1000 kg. It’s a very small car.’
‘No problem, sir. The Camplite can be towed by a vehicle with a tare of only 750 kg – and anyway, the trailer’s self-braked, so you can load up another 400 kg or so – excluding the tent!’ I stole a look at my wife and saw the message written all over her face: we’ll have one of those! And so we went on our first camping trip with the Jimny – and the Camplite. Yet something was missing. Where was the adventure and the (largely imagined) danger, all supposed to be part and parcel of camping? True, this wasn’t intended to be a particularly rough camping trip, but hey, I did have a 4×4, and that needed to be put to the test. Here I had all the goodies – including a fridge – and enough space to pack most of it into, so this was my chance to take on a modest challenge.
We were now in the Karoo, so why not go home along Route 62? But wasn’t that over the mountains? Exactly! And so the jaunt was born. We make no pretence of having the skills required to give a technical analysis of either the towing vehicle or the trailer. But that doesn’t in any way diminish the excitement we felt as we left Prince Albert after a delightful one-night camp at Olienhof. We left at around 08:30 because we wanted time for a leisurely drive through to Mossel Bay, where we were to meet up with some family. I’ll not repeat their horrified cry of disbelief when they heard we were towing over the Swartberg Pass – in a Jimny! Suffice to say the comments were colourful. The sign at the northern entrance to the pass informed us that it was illegal to tow caravans over the pass. I’m not going to get into any discussion – or argument – now about whether a trailer-tent is closer to being a caravan than a trailer, or the other way round. At the time, there wasn’t anyone to ask, was there? We proceeded, and didn’t encounter problems, but rather, let’s say, confronted conditions that needed addressing.
Firstly there was the condition of the road. It wasn’t bad, but some stretches were rougher than others, with corrugations and loose stones. At the push of a button we were in 4×4, and the stresses and strains were better distributed. Next, towing a new Camplite made us very aware that stones were being flicked up that seemed intent on pitting and chipping our brand new trailer. No problem: we travelled slowly and didn’t spin any wheels, but, certainly on the steeper parts, too slow caused its own problems. Another button to the rescue: we found low range ideal for crawling along without slipping clutch or juddering engines. Surprisingly, the rearview mirrors were most useful, even though we encountered nothing that could even vaguely be called ‘traffic’: we only met four vehicles coming the other way. But the tow was so smooth and uneventful I had to keep checking the mirrors to see if the trailer was still there! With the short wheelbase and the well-behaved trailer, even the hairpin bends were a doddle. And, when necessary, we could easily tuck ourselves into whatever slight road widening would let other traffic pass.
Up past Die Tronk we went, with many a stop to record our epic ascent photographically. It’s a very frustrating pass to photograph, because it’s difficult to find a view that captures the magnitude of the scenery. But then we were at the top, Teeberg, looking south-west toward the valley leading to Die Hel. To the south, toward the ocean, we watched the Swartberg doing its best to preserve the Karoo by wringing all moisture from the sea breeze. Clouds were sweeping over the peaks, then clearing as they got further north: the rain shadow in action.
Clouds obscured most of our views on the journey towards Oudtshoorn, and although it got a bit drizzly, the 4×4 and a suitable gear made the descent a pleasure. I loved the Jimny before the trip. After it, I was besotted, and the Camplite made a most fetching bridesmaid. Admittedly our speeds weren’t high, but nevertheless the Camplite towed as if painted on behind the Jimny and never once tried to step out of line. It kept us snug and dry during the Karoo downpours – yes, rain in the Karoo! – and honourably withstood the onslaught of a very determined Mossel Bay wind.
The Camplite does not pretend to be an off-road or 4×4 trailer, but it’s very game and more than willing. Take the spare wheel from underneath to give a little more ground clearance, and it’ll tow over all but the roughest terrain. I’m more than happy with the rig as it stands – utterly delighted, in fact. So if you should see a trailer called ‘Meand’er’ on its way to the middle of nowhere – or just this side of it – give us a wave and join us for a cup of whatever seems most appropriate.