African Overland Trip 2011


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Africa Overland - Best vehicle for the job????

Posted by Peter Douet on August 28, 2011 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (42)

So you are thinking of driving across Africa? Can't decide on a vehicle? Here is the lowdown on three cars that did it.


As you can well imagine there is much opinion and biased photography from our own experiences as well as plenty, if not a little too much, top gearesque banter from the owner-drivers on our own overland trip. Here are the hard facts of each vehicle. As transparent as possible, and a breakdown meaning - not getting to destination without a tow or repair.


Toyota Land Cruiser 1990 4.2 Turbo Diesel 'Cruiser Loser'.


Breakdowns (4 total): 3 x fuel filter split on engine mount going over potholes - replaced each time and modified on 3rd. Fuel system blocked and injector links misaligned - repaired.


Serious issues requiring attention ( 3 total): Suspension uprated - uprated shocks and springs all round. Split radiator due damage - repaired. Rear diff gasket leaking - replaced. Second radiator inappropriate - repleced again.


Minor issues ( 5 Total): Cracked windscreen, 2 x punctures, Front spot lights smashed, brake pads replaced all round.


Number of tows required:  2 (mechanical issues), 4 (getting stuck); Towed twice for mechanical issues due to fuel system faults.


Range Rover 2.5 Turbo Diesel 1995 'Rangie'.


Breakdowns (6 total): Front wheel king pin fell out- misalignment. Header tank split - could not maintain engine temp. Engine cylinder head failure. Overheating - radiators blocked and faulty thermostat. Radiator and fan destrpyed - botched and replaced. Starter motor failure - could not be bumped.


Serious issues requiring attention (3 total): Rear differential catastrophic failure - replaced. Radius arm bushes failed - replaced twice. Starter motor failure -overhauled.


Minor issues ( 13 Total): Topping up transmission oil due warning light. Air con failed. Heater failed. 3 x punctures. Tighteneing wheel bearings. Replacing rear diff gaskets and oil seals, Fixing split in front diff. Welding up rear bumper mounts. Brake pads replaced. Bonnet latch failed - strapped down. Smashed headlights - caused on tow.


Number of tows required: 4 (mechanical issues), 5 (getting stuck); Mechanical were due to the failed water pump, split water tank, puntured radiator, cyliinder head and gasket failure.


Toyota Surf 3.0 Turbo Diesel 1994 'The Smurf''.


Breakdowns (0 total):


Serious issues requiring attention (5 total): Serious corrosion resulting in cracked chassis - new rear section welded in. Uprating rear suspension with secondary coil springs to cope with increased rear axle loads. Overheating up steep hills at max power, really needed a new radiator but coped till the end using reduced power up hill. Batteries failed - could not hold charge and had to be bump started. Rear hocks replaced due rough roads. Rear shocks replaced yet agin and uprated to Land cruiser shocks.


Minor issues (10 Total): Oil warning lights, low engine oil- topped up. Cracked windscreen. 2 x punctures. Rear window intermittently unreleiable. Sump guards bent - bashed back into shape. Front bump stop replaced due being bent out of shape.  Fuel tank leak, minor and causd by perished fuel gauge snder unit gasket. Extra spot lights smashed up - running into non-reflective targets. Tow bar removed to reduce weight  and improve off road clearance - further towing completed using chassis rail.


Number of tows required; 0 (mechanical issues), 1 (getting stuck); - Dared by some cloggies to drive across a muddy tidal lagoon, failed miserably.


Conclusion (opinions and personal preferences may differ)


Truth be known all our cars were too old to start with, too many miles and too much rust. So if I could do it again I would have to say don't go too old and not for high milers, say max 10 years with not more than 100,000 miles is sensible. Unless of course you go for the throw away option.


For me the surf was good, plenty of power, light and great off road, but the rear axle needs uprating too much to cope with the load. Cheap to buy - but get a good one - rusty chassis's are a pain!

The cruiser was good but also they are not as reliable as people think, but still very popular and highly regarded. The cruiser has a good amount of power for the chassis, good off-road and plenty of room.

Newer Range Rovers are much better apparently but the classics are incredibly underpowered and/or overweight. The comfort and ride quality over the bumps is very good. The lack of reliability speaks for itself. The V8 motor is a must apparently and preferably manual gearbox.


Toyota's do have the benefit of being all over Africa and critically parts are available, everywhere and in every country we visited. Range rover parts proved difficult at times to get genuine parts, and often great distances had to be covered to procure parts, although better in southern Africa.


Critically, if like us, you like going off-piste or get bored easily and take your cars to the most ridiculous terrains you can deal with then the car needs to be light. No unecessary shite, max 2000- 2500 kg is good. Also be prepared for knocks and dents so fancy motors won't go home looking the same. You can go for the dirt cheap option but this could come with perils, rust in my case, but simply throw it away when you get there. Simple economics dictate that if you vehicle is worth less than £1500 when you get there then it's a write-off.

It is improtant to get the vehicle fully prepared before you leave with everything on top line before departure. Fixing things en-route is a pain and your companions will soon get fed up of waiting for vehicles to be repaired. Really - after the first breakdown or two and repair the novelty soon wears off and you'll just want to crack on.


I would say go for a crew-cab Toyota Hilux, the benefits of the Surf but can take the load on the rear axle, you could keep the roof tent low and out of the airflow which would reduce drag, improve handling and fuel economy greatly. You can get one with air con if you need it but only more to go wrong. The 3.0 KZ diesel engine has no silly electrics, simple cooling system, has the grunt to get you through the rough stuff and get up hills without blowing the arse out of the engine every time. Definently go for a manual gearbox and diesel engine. For £4000 you would get a cracker.


RIP The Mighty Smurf

Posted by Peter Douet on August 28, 2011 at 3:45 AM Comments comments (0)

It is D-Day for the mighy Smurf- our faithfull friend is off to the big car scrap yard in the sky!With a handmade chassis lovingly grafted from a Massey Ferguson tractor cab and other chassis components that could best be described as - a little loose in fit; getting an MOT back in blighty was hopeful at best. More importantly in simple economic terms spending £1500 shipping a car back worth tuppence was hardly worth it.


The mighty smurf had a fitting end to her life with a great adventure, going down in a blaze of glory! She was however old and tired with the cancerous corrosion never really ceasing to consume her. Alas, it was time to employ a necessary application of that kindly method now used in a farewell to beloved and too aged dogs.


So pulling into Mo's Scrap Yard I turned off the ignition and within minutes the deconstruction had begun. With our SARS customs supervisor watching in bewilderment, the car that I had loved, repaired, serviced, cherished and driven flat out on just about every road surface imagineable was torn to pieces. For the next hour 'scrap yard Tommy', his wife, two unwieldly gas axemen and I could not destroy it quickly enough. The doors were removed, windows smashed out, fuel drained, driveshaft removed and after some persuasion with oxy acetylene torches we pulled the smurf into two - literally.


Thankfully there is a video that our Cloggy friends Ralph and Martijn made and as you can imagine they were on hand for good banter as well as bagging a couple of trophy pieces of the legendary Smurf. With the customs supervisor satisfied we hopped in a taxi - our work done. That was the end of a faithfull friend and a wonderful truck with many happy memories and unlike our contemporaries; the old girl had never actually broken down and had always got us to our destination, even this one.

Durban...The end of the Road - We made it!

Posted by Jenni on August 28, 2011 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

So here we are in Durban - yes we finally made it! A long road from Cape Town where we said goodbye to the others.

Since then we're travelled through what can only be described as 'the real South Africa'. Not a single white person in sight, township after township and locals giving us advice of 'don't stop there'! But despite that, it's been so lovely - and let's face it, after everything we've seen, stopping really wasn't a problem - no guns in our faces, no people peering in the car and very little begging at the windows.


Priority number one for us in Durban was to start making a fuss at Customs (South Africa Revenue Service - SARS) about getting our car scrapped! (...Shhhh i hear you say the Mighty Smurf will hear!).

We headed to SARS each morning to get some answers and it was like getting blood out of a stone. No-one knows what's going on or how it needs to be done. We were bounced from one person to the next, to the next; from Durban to Vioolsdrift (the border post) to Durban - no-one could take any responsibility! 'TIA' was very much to blame here!

Refusing to give up and standing in the way, we (politely) kept asking for answers when one guy finally gave in and started to help. Unfortunately it was just a shame he only managed to get hold of another idiot! Blood started to boil! Paperwork and processes explained in quiet shhhh'd undertones (just encase some overheard him actually working!) we left with instructions of what needed to be done tomorrow.


Tomorrow came and we followed the instructions only to find out we had to jump through some more hoops....but that appointment got make (we took TIA into our own hands for a day!)  and we left with our fingers crossed for Thurdsday; Scrap-day for the mighty Smurf!




The Kingdom in the Sky

Posted by Jenni on August 28, 2011 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The Drakenberg mountains are absolutely stunning and well worth a visit if you should ever be in South Africa. With very little time left we had to decide between the Northern, Central or Southern regions and with the Kingdom lying in the Southern (and actually the closest) how could we not go there!


For our last Smurf advernture we travelled to yet another country, where no 2wd car can go...quite literally - the authorities just wouldn't allow it (although i think that's more of a challenge myself!). We drove up the beautiful Sani Pass, climbing some 1000m up the escarpment, the only southern route into the Kingdom of Lesotho, 'The Kingdom in the Sky'. The mule track was beautifully stunning, if not a little rocky, muddy, extremely bendy and demanding, whilst being covered in a foot of snow which had fallen a few days previously,it really was a great last challenge.


Many a 4wd has been known not to make it up, and the faces of those at the border post when they saw we have brought our own car were in shock! Not many make it so we're told, but the mighty Smurf knows no bounds. It saw the sign asking cars to give way to those ascending, (proudly sponsored by Land Rover), and laugh all the way to the top! And yes, passing a Range Rover which had broken down and had placed a blanket over its bonnet to keep itself warm - Land Rover must have a lot of calls from that region!


At the top of the escarpment is not only the Lesotho border post (another passport stamp - woo hoo), but they've also built the 'Highest Pub in Africa' - a must, and to which we stopped at. Their views were amazing, not only looking back across the valley from where we'd come, but also across the cold snow capped Kingdom which lay in front of us.  A beautifully stunning and adventurous day and well worth it before we finally get to the end of the road in Durban.



For some the journey continues....Cape Town and beyond...

Posted by Jenni on August 19, 2011 at 6:20 AM Comments comments (2)

With a sombre start to the following day, feeling like the trip is over, then remembering we've got another 1000 miles to go, Pete and I skipped it across to Hermaus for some Southern Right whale watching. No need to pay a hefty fee to some skipper who'd just make you sea sick; these beauties were playing in the bay not more than 50m out! However without James' amazing camera the images i've captured are nothing more than a few splashs and perhaps a fin or too in the waves....

Since then we've continued travelling up the Garden route, thinking about doing another wine tasting as the vineyards keep on coming - but would it live up to Stellenbosh? Knysna called where we stayed at The Heads for a lovely evening and drinks overlooking the lagoon (well we didn't end up going to the vineyard had to have just one glass (or two!).  Stopping by the Mitchell Brewery on the way out of town the next day, Pete finally managed to find a real Ale in the whole of Africa and prompty purchased it for that evening! Is South Afruca turning us into alcoholics???

We're now currently up in what is known as 'The Settlers' of Grahamstown where we wanted to eat at Maxwells as we'd read they serve lovely Game food; but having got here we've found that the student population of this town somehow doesn't make it profitable to stay open and they've closed down!  So now i've got a very hungry Pete on my hands and no Game around for shooting or eating! Will he be happy with the yellow archs i wonder!?! .....I guess I best keep looking!

Onwards to the Drakensberg Mountains on Sunday but not before trying to catch the SA v NZ match tomorrow....and finally heading into Durban at the start of next week to find a customs dude who'd like to stamp out carnet! Sad times are ahead of us.....

Day 137 Monday 15th August (RS): Cape Town

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (1)

The plan for the day is to sort out the final shipping details, sort belongings into what is being shipped/thrown/carried etc and really, to say goodbye. It is definitely a strange feeling now that the trip is over. We have spent the best part of 5 months living, sleeping, eating, driving etc together: and now it is over!

The Captain and Lady Jennifer plan to drive on to Durban in a scaled down Surf which is being scrapped at the end: a shame really but the chassis is totally knackered and the rest is starting so show signs of being tired! I am going to spend more time backpacking in SA and the other 3 are heading home to loved ones and civilisation: good luck everyone, it has been a blast!

Day 136 Sunday 14th August (RS): Cape Town

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Comms is a bit of a challenge with the others and, having no idea where they are staying, we plan to climb Table Mountain and trust that we will be in touch soon.

After a somewhat wet and overcast day yesterday, today was stunning sunshine although it was blowing a gale for our mountain climb and at times it was difficult keeping out footing as we were being thoroughly blown about. There is an incredible view from the top though which was truly rewarding (as we shivered with cold from the penetrating wind: it is winter I guess!)

Even though the climb was forecast to take 2.5hours each way we completed it in half the time and so drove around to other viewpoints and then headed back to our current favourite place in town: an ale pub on the Waterfront which we found was serving Sunday Roast for dinner: yummy!



Day 135 Saturday 13th August (RS): Stellenbosch – Cape Town

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Finally, after a short drive today and a circa 18000 mile total trip, we arrive in Cape Town. Well, the Surf arrives in Cape Town but we get a text from Pete saying that the other 2 cars are on their way and still plan to arrive today: fingers crossed they succeed. We still have no idea whether they have managed to fix the cracked head in the Rangie or if she is on tow!

We stay at a B&B belonging to Farni and Erena who we met in Malawi: a beautiful spot called Be My Guest, situated just north of the main city and in area with a great view of Table Mountain.

The Springboks are playing Australia today in the tri-nations cup and so, after a tour of the castle in the centre of town, we head to a pub on the Waterfront to watch the match: disappointing as the Boks loose but fun nevertheless. Strange indeed though to be doing such a “normal” thing after months on the road: this is definitely a different Africa from the one we have driven through.



Day 134 Friday 12th August (RS): Vanrhynsdorp – Stellenbosch

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

After a night at a great caravan park (yes, there is such a thing) where we were welcomed, fed, charged a relative pittance and given free coffee in the morning, we headed off to Stellenbosch. The Cloggies were heading straight to Cape Town as they planned to do a wine tour with other friends so it was just us 3 and what a time we had!

After settling in at Stumble Inn (highly appropriately named) we headed off for a tour of several vineyards. Being drinkers of pretty much any wine we definitely found it surprising the huge difference between supermarket wine and the same vineyard’s collection wines, produced from the same grapes but stored for longer in better barrels: we accelerated to posh wine drinkers swiftly!

Each vineyard we visited was slightly different: some serving optional cheese, others chocolate, others pate. One even was adjoined to a cheetah rescue and rehabilitation centre! We got merrily sloshed throughout the course of the afternoon and “stumbled” back into our hostel where Pete proceeded to use Jen and I as target practice using the oranges from the tree in the hostel garden! He also tried playing catch with the hostel cat which, thankfully, was of a placid temperament! A great experience and, although my taste buds may have become wine snobs, my wallet certainly hasn’t so it is likely to remain supermarket plonk for me! At least I truly have tasted the difference though and understood the cause!



Day 133 Thursday 11th August (RS): Fish River Canyon (ish) to Vanrhynsdorp South Aftica!!!!

Posted by Peter Douet on August 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

After a quick run it is time to sort the vehicle and bikes out ready for the off to our final border crossing. Luck is not quite on our side as the Surf has woken up with a very, very flat tyre and we also discover that the rear LH shock absorber is bent out of shape. The Captain wastes no time in changing the wheel and removing the shock: the Surf has experience of being without rear shocks and we will be on tar: long live the Surf (well, for another 2 weeks anyway!) The fuel leak seems to be ok so no filling up above ¾ tank!

The border crossing passes with ease and we feel as though we are back in Europe: efficiency, good and clean facilities and no touts: fantastic! We plan to drive south as far as possible to allow a short day driving tomorrow so we can enjoy a wine tour of the vineyards in Stellenbosch: brilliant!!




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