My mom always used to say, ‘Don’t make assumptions.’ Every now and again I forget, but you can always rely on life to come and give you a good kick in the backside to remind you of this old adage. Take my recent trip to the Brits area, for instance − my tussle with assumptions began even before I’d collected the Gecko off-road caravan and Nissan X-Trail.
I had two spare days up in Gauteng before the two vehicles would be available, so I’d arranged to review a Sensation caravan. Riaan Heldinger, the designer and builder, had set up one of his vans at the Klipdraai Caravan Park near his factory in Meyerton.
Typical of us citizens from the southernmost tip of Africa, I didn’t think the venue would be that wonderful. I mean, Meyerton…? Well, wrong assumption number one! The Klipdraai Caravan Park was superb. Buck of all description grazed on my front lawn, and the willow-fringed Klip River was literally on my doorstep. This was the start of my trip to real caravan country: in this neck of the woods, the caravanning fraternity camp in style! And there’s a caravan park to suit all tastes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s get back to my trip.
Nissan delivered the X-Trail to a site at Klipdraai, so I set off from there to Cullinan (just north of Pretoria) to pick up the Gecko at Toni de Lange’s place. (She’s our advertising-sales person up north.) The Gecko is manufactured by Keith & Alison Teubes in the small town of Haenertsburg, in Limpopo province.
The first thing I learnt about the Gecko is that if you want to open anything on this caravan, just remember ‘righty-tighty, lefty-loosie’! Everything on this little van opens with a train conductor’s key. (Remember the train conductors on trains with sleeper carriages? He had a way of clickety-clacking his big silver T-shaped key before opening your compartment door.) ‘Righty-tighty, lefty-loosie’ became my mantra for this trip. My beloved reckons that I have a mild case of Tourette’s. When I get something into my kop, I tend to repeat it ad nauseam… but I was on my own on this trip, so had only myself to irritate. One tends to happily ignore one’s own imperfections!
I noticed that the good people from Gecko had left subtle reminders of their presence in my new home. The first evidence of this was a plastic-laminated map lying on the dinette seat − it depicted a map of southern Africa with numerous tiny red blocks dotted the length and breadth of it.
It turned out that the Gecko had been launched in this very magazine in 2013, and I was travelling with the first Gecko ever built. And all the little red squares on the map were places this Gecko had camped during journeys totalling 21 000 kilometres, criss-crossing Africa. And I’d thought I was sitting in a brand new unit straight out of the factory!
There’s always a slight feeling of anxiety when you set off on a journey with a new rig, but I had miles of highway to slowly trundle down to get used to my new companions − we were making our way to Arendsnes Caravan Park, near Brits. Many thanks to Brian Jeffries for this recommendation; he’s another of our ad-sales people. A keen caravanner based in Durban, he’s been intimately involved in the caravan manufacturing industry for many decades and knows many caravan parks first-hand; in fact, I doubt that there’s a single established caravan park in this country which hasn’t seen the tyre tracks of his and Merle’s beloved Wilk Ruby.
While en route to Arendsnes, I had spoken to Normie Eckard on the phone to ask for directions. (He’s the co-owner of the park, with his parents.) ‘Head through Brits and out on the Thabazimbi road, then cross a railway line, and you’ll see our sign on the left,’ he’d said.
I’m a committed carnivore, and I had been told about the juicy biltong, steaks and wors to be had at Deon’s butchery in the main road. ‘Don’t get the wors on the shelf… ask for the dik ene in the fridge.’ If a mall-trawl is more your thing, Brits has a large one containing all the usual suspects − like Pick ’n Pay, Shoprite, Woolworths, Trappers Trading, Cape Union Mart, and more. It’s well within reach of all the caravan parks I visited for this article.
I managed to get a pair of size 13 Croc sandals from a very helpful Trappers Trading. I’d only brought hiking boots, and it gets quite warm in this part of the world. I also bought a couple of R39 pillows from Pep Stores; given the number of these I’ve purchased while working for this magazine, I should consider buying shares in this company! These pillows are a giant leap forward from my old move of using my underpants wrapped up in a hiking jacket as a pillow.
I stopped just out of town for coffee and a home-baked pie at Beatrix Pretorius’s Sinkdak Padstal. Across the road was Jackie van der Walt’s busy farm stall. Several women were offloading a lorry, each carrying huge bunches of beetroot and spinach. I asked the cheerful Jackie if the beetroot was sweet. ‘Is hulle soet? Moet wees, hulle is dan stil. ’ (‘Of course they’re sweet/ well-behaved – they’re quiet, aren’t they?’) I don’t know if that makes sense in English, but it had me roaring with laughter.
The area surrounding Brits is a patchwork of fertile green fields, filled mainly with all sorts of vegetables. But I also spotted acre upon acre of grapes growing under white shade netting. Much of the area here is fed by the Roodekoppies irrigation scheme. Soon, the X-Trail was packed with cabbage, potatoes, onions, spinach and the quiet beetroot, most of it a gift from the beaming Jackie, who informed me that she’d never eaten a vegetable in her life.
‘Do you survive on rys, vleis en aartappels?’ I asked.
‘Yes; but don’t forget the most important one of all… pap, good old pap!’ she said.
With the aircon set to freezer mode, I headed to Thabazimbi on the R511 road, and on to Arendsnes. The bushveld feel of my destination was enhanced by two zebra standing sentinel at the gate, followed by a small herd of impala and some skittish blouwildebeest. After passing a large dam on my left, I drove into an immaculately-grassed caravan park that offered tons of shade from the summer heat.
I headed for the pool before setting up the Gecko. With the exception of a Jurgens Exclusive with a large extended side tent, I appeared to be the only other camper at Arendsnes. No worries here about the sight of my spreading waistline as I eased myself into the welcoming water. I later discovered that every caravan park I visited had a decent swimming pool. Some of the bigger parks had two or three. In fact, quite a few even had heated indoor pools!
Refreshed, I headed back to my new home, the Gecko. There is something about this little home… I fell in love with it from the start. That was when it took me about 15 minutes to set up for the first time; I was alone, so I didn’t put up the awning. At my second campsite it took me probably 5 to 6 minutes from the time I’d started unhitching from the X-Trail, to when I sat down in my camp chair with a cup of tea!
It was a case of lefty-loosie, then open the front door, whip loose the four black-plastic retaining knobs securing the pop-up roof and pop it up. Voilà, my luxury home was ready for its éminence grise. I’m not known for being in touch with my feminine side, but I liked the gentleness and warm, inviting feeling of the Gecko. I didn’t have the feeling that I was back in an armour-plated Ratel troop carrier back on the border.
This is a great off-road caravan for two. Open the front door, and on your right there’s a small privacy wall, behind which is your loo. Straight ahead is your shower with a fabric curtain − and it works beautifully; Ask me, I’m quite a largesized lump. On your right (as you look to the rear) is a small, yet perfect, dinette for two. Opposite the dinette is plenty of cupboard space. The very comfortable and permanent queen-sized bed takes up the whole of the front of the Gecko. No need to fold away bits and pieces in order to make a bed as it’s permanently in place and offers plenty of headroom.
I found some other clever touches in the Gecko. Firstly, a small nifty pink plug. What a boon to travellers. There were actually four sink plugs fitting inside each other. I also found a green zippered canvas bag containing an ingenious rollup hose. This came in handy when I filled the caravan’s two 70-litre water tanks, and gave the X-Trail a wash for its photo shoot. It was hard to believe that this beautifully-maintained Gecko had done so much mileage in its short life. I was idly dreaming of buying one of my own, when I heard a vehicle approaching.
It was in that lovely bushveld light that you get just after sunset, that an Amarok TDi with a Jurgens Xplorer rumbled up. In the Amarok were André and Natalie Viljoen and their son, Storm, from Pretoria. After I’d set up camp, I’d realised that there was better shade at a nearby site, which I pointed out to the Viljoens; and this immediately broke the ice. I’m always amazed at how quickly you make friends in this camping and caravanning game. I soon learnt that André and Natalie used to have a Gypsy 4, and had only had the Explorer for two weeks.
When camping, I am an early riser, but I found that the energetic 13-yearold Storm had beaten me to it the next morning. By the time I was up, he had already cycled all over the farm and scouted the nearby dam – he’s a madkeen fisherman. So, while his folks enjoyed their early morning slumber, I was learning about Night Hawk reels, bombs, floaties and some of the craziest-looking goops and unctions these guys slap on their bait to catch carp and barbel.
The nearby Crocodile River is an extremely popular fishing spot. Storm and his folks were off to try a spot of fishing on a section of the river belonging to Arendsnes. Storm said he would also like to visit a nearby crocodile farm, which apparently had a small reptile centre. I cried off on that; but I did meet Japie and Janette, the couple camping in the Exclusive, and discovered that they had already been at Arendsnes for a month.
They were from Vereeniging, but had already been on the road for four years after renting out their home. Later, I met friends of theirs, the Pelsers, at Drie Berge campsite. They are all part of a group that humorously call themselves the ‘Wyse Gryses.’ I thought I might give them my own translation of the name, and call them the Wise Old Indunas!
Apparently there’s a group of about 19 of these grey nomads who trek up to Richards Bay from June to August. I asked the Pelsers what they particularly loved about Arendsnes, and they agreed that it was ‘…firstly the clean, shady, well-grassed campsite… followed by the wildlife, the bush…’ And mostly it was the undisturbed peace and quiet they found at Arendsnes. They felt the same about Drie Berge, which they visit every year.
For good measure, they added, ‘And even though we feel we are completely away from big-city life, in less than half an hour we can get to the mall in Brits if we really need to.’ I was seeing more and more why this area is so popular with caravanners in Pretoria, Johannesburg and surrounds.
Brits & Surrounds Images
I stayed at four camps on this trip: Arendsnes, Bosveld Oase, Drie Berge and Dube Game Reserve. I also made an extensive exploratory recce of the very popular Klein Paradys Resort. All the campsites are in close proximity to each other, but at the same time very different in character. Interestingly, Bosveld Oase and Klein Paradys are open only on weekends but − trust me − they are extremely popular and fully booked. I found that fishing was a great attraction at all the camping sites with the exception of Dube Game Reserve.
At Dube one was able to walk, cycle or drive over miles and miles of good bush gravel roads while admiring the plentiful game on the reserve. And Dube had a large, open swimming pool and a huge enclosed indoor heated pool as well.
Sitting here writing this story (at the Erindi Private Game Reserve in northern Namibia, and I’m actually writing it while sitting in the shower cubicle – the coolest place I can find), I have started to realise that each camp has its own character and attraction. So, I will try and give you a brief look into the various caravan parks and campsites I visited. The first type of caravan park will have the title of ‘resort’ or ‘oord’. They have swimming pools, water slides, puttputt and (in the case of Klein Paradys) free use of the numerous canoes on the lake. The two parks that fall under that category are Bosveld Oase and the nearby Klein Paradys. (I stayed for two nights at Bosveld Oase, and enjoyed a thorough visit and look-around at Klein Paradys.) Both of these resorts are open only on weekends. At both these resorts, I met families with kids and people of all ages and persuasions; both are great campsites for the whole family.
I had a great stay at Bosveld Oase, which has only recently been opened. It is the brainchild of Elna and Eugene Muller; Eugene once had a large transport business running trucks as far as Angola and Zambia. From the moment you drive up through the acacia thornveld with a couple of zebras checking you out, you realise that money hasn’t been spared when building this fine resort. A huge waterslide and a putt-putt course were in the final stages of completion when I arrived for the weekend. The immaculate green lawns that surround the whole resort remind you of a world-class golf course. It was the time of the semi-final of the World Cup, South Africa versus New Zealand, so the resort was chock-a-block; but that didn’t stop the Muller’s making me feel very welcome and at home.
Eugene runs a tight ship. No rowdy behaviour; and quiet time starts at 22h00 sharp. I got talking to Lesley and Ian MacIntyre who belong to a chapter of the Caravan Club of South Africa. Ian said of Bosveld Oase, ‘It’ s a really neat, well-run caravan park. It’ s only open on weekends so it gets quite full, but it remains really quiet and peaceful. Lesley and I really enjoy that.’
At the top of the line I met Herman and Drika Engelbrecht. They were having breakfast, and I was invited to join them in a plate of pap and kaaings. (Tim Noakes would have heartily approved of the crispy crunchy pork fat, but the carbo-rich pap would have been a Banting no-no.) I met the Ayres, Chris and Corrie, as well as Piet and Linda Smith, and Jeanette Grace, the Club Treasurer. I also learnt about the collection of little wooden spoons on the doors of many of the club members. These were awarded for ‘Stirring £@*’. And the biggest Stirrer of the weekend was given a wooden spoon, the size of an oar, that he or she had to carry chained to him, or her, for… I am not sure how long. Knowing my own ‘stirring’ habits, I would probably have had the wooden spoon chained around my neck permanently.
Then the weekend was over; and I was looking forward to visiting Drie Berge and Dube Game Reserve.
The drive to Drie Berge, winding up through the green bushveld mountains, already had me singing. This is a splendid caravan park and one especially loved by the Wyse Gryses. The folks that have made the road their home, like swallows, migrate back to their shady camping with the gentle sound of the Crocodile River lulling them to sleep every night. As it was expressed by Corrie and Magda van Zyl, camping in their Super Sport, it’s about ‘…sit, kuier en slaap’. But, trust me: these Wyse Gryse don’t slaap nearly as much as you think. And their caravans usually have a large side tent, if not two, and are truly lekker homes. Take a look at the pictures to get an idea.
Another couple I met, Valerie and Frikkie Gous, camp every year at Ballito, and the aforementioned Van Zyls migrate to Scottburgh every winter. While enjoying a stroll alongside the river, I met Flip and Jossie Wessels − who actually came from nearby Brits, but had rented out their house and were playing swallows in their neat Sprite Swing towed by a Hilux. Further along, I met madly keen fisherfolk, Hannes and Shirley Botha, from Kempton Park. They had a fold-up Jurgens Slipstream. I must say I was mightily impressed with the open and roomy design of this type of caravan.
My journey was coming to an end, and it seemed appropriate that it should end in true bushveld style in the Dube Private Game Reserve. After booking in at the large thatched open-air lapa that overlooks the dam, I headed down to the camp. The first thing I noticed was an odd-looking camper on the back of a newish Japanese one-and-a-half tonner. It was my introduction to Peter and Joan Grossett.
I hope Peter doesn’t mind my mentioning his age − he is 84. The camper was home-built, and came off their old Toyota Land Cruiser. ‘It had only 3 gears…’ said Peter. The camper was testimony to an amazingly adventurous couple who have been in the film business all their lives. (In fact, they spent 11 years making wildlife documentaries with John Varty of Londolozi fame.) Peter had extended his old camper and fitted it onto the new vehicle, as the old Cruiser, without power steering, was getting a bit much. Peter had done all the extension work himself, I have to add.
Peter and Joan, who know the bush well and are extremely fit, love Dube because it is so close to their home in Muldersdrift. And the peace and quiet are very much part of the attraction of this bushveld caravan park.
My next door neighbours, Stephan and Karien Colyn, were a young couple from Pretoria, travelling with their son, Henroe, and camping in a big Conqueror Supra 11 off-road caravan. It was the second trip they had done with this rig. Karien was in a wheelchair after a fairly recent accident in Namibia, but what a feisty woman – I watched her playing swingball with Henroe, and just getting on with life. In fact, she was soon going to take part in the 94.7-kilometre cycle race, riding tandem with Stephan. In case you are wondering, Karien does have some mobility in her legs. She very happily agreed to my phoning her to find out what it’s like camping when wheelchair-bound, so that I could write about it.
I also met Ron and Rita Williams, from Honeydew. They just loved Dube: ‘You are really in the bush here…but you can walk or drive wherever you like in the reserve.’ They also spoke about the reasonable cost of camping at Dube. I finally had to bid farewell to the Brits area, as my next trip up to Namibia was beckoning. But it was a somewhat chastened Kaapie who headed south, back home − I had once again learnt not to make assumptions – not ever. The Brits area had reinforced the lesson.