I recently went on a trip to the South Coast (see Caravan & Outdoor Life issue 666), but before my solo travels got underway, I joined a gathering of Skipper Tent Trailer owners.
I collected a Skipper Oyster from the Kerkhof family at their factory in Park Rynie, before heading down to Fairhills Caravan Park near Margate.
There were 29 Skippers which were meeting at the resort, situated only a kilometre-and-a-bit from the Ramsgate beach and lagoon. It was a superb venue for the get-together.
The park is situated in the rolling hills of the semi-tropical coastal forest that is typically found in this part of the southern KZN coast. There is a large central camping area in a small valley at the bottom of the property, and the other sites are on two well-grassed contours above the central area. Most of the Skippers were in the larger central area, and I decided to move around the collection in a clockwise direction and meet a couple of the campers.
The first couple, Terry and Charmaine, told me why they had bought a Skipper some four years before. Terry explained: “We were camping at Ifafa for the weekend in our Sprite Sprint.
That night, a helluva storm came up. The next morning, we saw that the some of the caravans’ tents which had storm straps had been wiped out.” Shaking his head, he added: “While looking at the damage the next day, we saw two Skippers standing there, happy as you please!
Those Skippers, without storm straps, were standing just as they had been pitched before the storm.”
So the Demmers put their caravan on Gumtree, sold it within three days, and went straight down to Park Rynie to put in an order for a Skipper.
I mooched around the camp, with its seemingly endless rows of neat grey and green tents, before stopping in with Wendy and Rob Mat hews. This couple is originally from the UK, and they told me that camping is what they have always done.
“We’ve been camping in tents since 1983,” said Rob, who bought the Skipper when he retired five years ago. “The Kerkhof’s will bend over backwards to help you,” they said in unison.
As I continued my walk, I heard the evocative call of a Fish eagle. I wished that I had time to take the short hiking trail at Fairhills, but a little later in my circumnavigation, I spied a tow vehicle with the number plate “WILDRON – KZN”, which piqued my curiosity.
I was soon chatting to Ron Whitham, the owner of the vehicle.
With his neatly-trimmed silver beard, he looks like a retired Professor of Zoology or Botany.
The spare-wheel cover on his vehicle has a photograph of two magnificent Fish eagles, and I soon discovered that Rob and his wife Elaine are both birders, with Rob fitting into the “fanatical” class.
While chatting to the Whithams, I discovered that the “WildRon” designation is well deserved.
When Ron and Elaine had been camping just outside the Kruger fence near Pafuri, Ron and his mate had decided to go for an early walk.
A buffalo had charged Ron and his friend, with Ron taking the brunt of the attack. As Ron recalls the event, his belt saved his life: “The buffalo hooked my belt and tossed me in the air.”
Ron had been badly gored and was in a critical condition. “The paramedic said that they lost me twice,” he adds.
He was rushed to the medical facility of a local mine, but the treatment of his injuries was beyond their capabilities.
He was then taken by helicopter to Polokwane where they saved his life… but it was close. WildRon indeed.
However, I decided it could also be BraveElaine, when I heard what his wife had been through when this happened.
She’d been fast asleep. Hearing gunshots, she’d thought the camp was being attacked. Another camper had fired his revolver to try and scare the buff.
By the time Elaine found out what had happened, Ron was already on his way to the local mine’s medical facility, before being flown out. Luckily, he lived to see another day… and have a whole lot more camping trips in their Skipper.
As I meandered around the campsite, talking to all and sundry, something struck me: the neatness of the Skipper tents. They’re made from 100% highquality cotton canvas, and are a standard grey-and-dark green in colour.
Reinhardt’s wife, Charmaine, runs the tent department. And what a superb job she and her team do. If cared-for properly, the tents will give years and years of superb service.
Remember the storm story of Rob and Charmaine Demmers? Seeing the other caravan tents tied down with storm straps and what have you, not standing up to a gale?
The people in the Skipper didn’t even know that it had happened.
I also chatted to Henk and Lyn Minaar from Nelspruit, the Ormes from Uvongo, and Les and Barbara Prinsloo from Scottburgh – Skipper fanatics to a woman and man. I purposely said “woman” first. The owner of one of the top-selling caravan outlets once said to me: “In 30 years of being in this business, I have only once sold a caravan to a couple where the woman didn’t have the final say in the choice of caravan.”
And I can tell you right now, that I met 29 couples that weekend at the Fairhills Caravan Park, and twenty-nine of the ladies would tell you: “I wouldn’t swop our Skipper for any other caravan on the market!”
I reckon the Kerkhof family have certainly hit the jackpot with this tough, light, go-anywhere little tent trailer.