Beating a path into the heart of the Western Cape wilderness, in an eco-conscious way, of course, reveals treasures you could scarcely hope to see from any well-travelled road. There are pristine tracks of indigenous flora, thriving birdlife, vantage points of a breath-taking scale, and new paths that few takkies have trodden before. All it takes to become an intrepid explorer are four wheels with torque and a little horsepower. Let’s see the Cape by 4×4!
The muscle for the hustle
A 4×4 has a two-axle drivetrain capable of providing torque to all four of its wheels simultaneously. In other words, it’s the kind of vehicle owned by people who need power and people who enjoy power. This, coupled with an engine with more muscle than a Howitzer, enables drivers to tackle any terrain imaginable, save perhaps for boiling fields of lava but that goes without saying. This affords people rare and privileged perspectives on our country – no wonder 4×4 touring is such a popular tourist activity and local pastime!
4×4 Guided and self-drive tours
You don’t need to own, buy, or even know how to drive a 4×4 to partake in a little ‘bundu bashing’. There is an abundance of 4×4 adventure companies in and around Cape Town that offer guided and self-drive tours. Some even provide training. Dirty Boots Off-Road Adventures (+27 21 713 1491, Dirtyboots.co.za) runs single and multi-day trips in the Cape and throughout the country.
Xtreme-Trex Adventours & Transport (+27 21 713 1491, Xtreme-trex.com) does the same and maintains a fleet of modified Hummer H3s, Land Rover Defender TD5s, and Range Rover HSEs.
Further afield, Cederberg 4×4 (+27 21 910 1363 Cederberg4x4.co.za) arranges camping trips and overland tours to beautiful, remote locations and even neighbouring countries throughout pretty much all of southern Africa.
4×4 Trails near Cape Town
For those with the necessary tools of the trade and the skills to operate them, you’ll find no shortage of bushwhacking, dune bouncing, and donga diving opportunities nearby. The steep dune systems in Atlantis, 45 km from Cape Town (difficulty level 2-5), offer a thrilling romp for 4x4s. You’ll need a permit, though, which you can obtain at the City Council in Wale Street (Capetown.gov.za). Some other coastal trails include Blombosch 4×4 Nature Trail in Yzerfontein (level 1-2) and Buffelsfontein, which is spread out over Yzerfontein, Darling, and Langebaan (level 3-4).
For more mountainous challenges with gorgeous views of vineyards and farmlands, try:
The Wiesenhof Trail in Stellenbosch
Two Oceans View Route in Somerset West (level 3-4)
Takbok 4×4 Trail in Paarl (level 2-3)
Babylonstoren Trail in Malmesbury (level 4)
Sir Lowry’s Pass Route (bookings through CapeNature.co.za)
Sneeukoppie 4×4 in Rawsonville (level 2-3)
Tierkloof 4×4, also Rawsonville (level 3-4)
Wind in your hair, torque at your fingertips
A 4×4 adventure allows you to visit the remote, hard-to-reach places where life in all its myriad iterations flourishes. More than that: it offers the adrenaline rush of zooming about the bush, beach, mountains, and valleys in a car with serious muscle. And it’s in the name of discovery and maybe just a little danger that we veer off the beaten path to experience the Cape’s and country’s secreted away gems.
This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/20/life-off-road-the-cape-and-countrys-4×4-adventure-tours/
It’s such a simple, logical thing to do and yet it’s a mistake made by novice and, oftentimes, experienced travellers: failing to research the weather of your destination city. Everywhere you go, ALWAYS check the weather (sing it, Crowded House!) This is something you should do before you book your flights because nothing puts a (literal) damper on a holiday quite like a monsoon, or days that are so swelteringly hot that you might actually die if you get locked out your air bnb.
Ask the oracle AKA Google: “what’s the best time of year to travel to [insert fabulous destination city]?” or “what’s the climate like?”
Make sure you specify the “city” or region because countries are large and the climate/weather can vary dramatically from north to south and east to west. The June weather in Michigan, for example, may require a sweater; the June weather in Kansas may require a tornado shelter.
Understanding the climate of your destination will help you make smart choices – like not visiting Puerto Rico in hurricane season or Dubai in mid-summer. And you’ll have a much more comfortable stay for it! It also means that you can pack far more appropriately, like not taking thermal underwear on a visit to Vancouver in July. As it turns out, not ALL of Canada is a frozen wasteland all year around.
Do your research and enjoy a safe, comfortable, and happy adventure!
This is not just a collection of stories – it is the story: a chronicle of my life’s adventures and those of my parents, who imbued in me a curiosity for the world. Over the course of the next however long it takes, I shall be delivering this story to you piece by piece, in succulent little bite-sized hors d’oevres of adventure and awesomeness. There will also be tales of occasional idiocy and human flaw, for travel holds a mirror up to our inner selves and reveals both the beauty and the ugly.
I grew up in a family who liked to travel. My parents had met in South Africa and weren’t married for more than a few hours before they boarded a Union Castle Line vessel – a working mail boat – bound for the United Kingdom that would take them far away from the meddlesome influences of my truly insufferable paternal grandmother. They subsequently spent the next two decades bouncing from one continent to the other, budget travelling harder than Syrian refugees. When necessary, they would drop anchor, get a job, and earn a little money, only to get itchy a year or two later and set sail for the next adventure.
My mother has a beautiful silver bracelet, which she has adorned with charms purchased in almost every new city or country she has visited. The damn thing just about weighs a pound, which just goes to show how well traveled my folks are. Its tinkling would also announce her impending arrival long before she entered a room, which saved my ass from trouble many times during childhood. Australia, Belize, Cambodia, Denmark, El Salvador, Fuji, Germany, Honduras, Italy…for every letter of the alphabet,they can name a country and at least a handful of cities they’ve seen. And so, my brother and I were raised on an intellectual diet of travel anecdotes, geography, and world history.
My parents are walking tomes of travel knowledge, which I have had the extraordinary privilege of tapping into my whole life, not only for the purpose of cracking High School geography but also for my own adventures. My father is particularly fond of recounting old travel anecdotes that end either in a comedic punch line or with someone getting diarrhea, and often both. My mother, on the other hand, loves to thoroughly research a country before visiting and so could just about bore you to death with a sweeping account of its history and culture.
To this very day, my parents speak fondly of five decades of travels as though they have just come back home from the airport. I can’t even get my dad to remember how to work WhatsApp properly and yet, he can tell you in exquisite detail all about their adventures in South America, camping out in the Amazon jungle, escaping political coups in Columbia, and visiting the lost city of the Incas in Peru, all the while dodging cases of “Montezuma’s revenge” and refusing offers of cocaine around communal camping fires. Moreover, he speaks as fondly of these harrowing experiences as one might of a long-loved, yet long-dead family cat.
With two brave, intrepid explorers for parents, I grew up with a particular vulnerability to travel bug infection, which was made fatal when they took my brother and I on our first international holiday.
Singapore and Malaysia
Having kids did little to interfere with my parents’ love of travel and in 1994, when I was nine, we were whisked off to Singapore and Malaysia on an epic three-week adventure of which I have a collection of faded snapshot memories. Starting in Singapore, I remember the cloying heat and humidity, it’s vegetal tropical smell, impeccably clean streets, the delicious coolness of its sleek, air-conditioned public transport system, and skyline of chrome-and-glass skyscrapers.
I remember waffles for breakfast at McDonalds, a spectacular waterfront area guarded by the mythical half lion, half mermaid (Merlion) statue, and spending a day at a waterpark. It was here that I fell completely in love with Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” orchestral suite, which was played as a soundtrack for one of the fun rides. It’s funny the silly things we remember as kids.
Then, moving on to Malaysia, I remember sinister-looking komodo dragons sprawled out on a beach we visited, the awful smell of stinky dugong fruits in the open-air markets, and the enchantment I felt at watching amphibious fish called “mudhoppers” skip across the fetid mudflats.
I remember being chased by cantankerous temple-dwelling monkeys, ordering apple juice off a restaurant menu and receiving a glass of chunky, pulverized apple, and, on a rickety bus ride somewhere, watching an old Malaysian gentleman eat some kind of cream bun and thinking, man that looks delicious. I remember relieving myself in the hole in the floor that was the bathroom of the island-hopping boat we had hired for the day and feeling terribly distressed that I had ruined the beautiful turquoise waters with a monstrous turd, the kind of which only back-to-back days of hard travel and strange food can concoct. I agonized over whether or not to tell my family to vacate the water but embarrassment won the day.
P.S. I was a kid – I stopped pooping the minute I became a lady.
My early travels with my family are a collection of these sorts of snapshots: multi-faceted compositions of colour, sound, smell, visuals, and remembered emotion.
Travels in Southern Africa
About a year later, in 1995, our family and my parents’ friends embarked upon a safari style trip to Zimbabwe, catching a two-night train from Cape Town all the way to Bulawayo, a major city in southwest Zimbabwe. From here, we toured the country’s largest game reserve, Hwange National Park, and drifted for a few days in a houseboat on Lake Kariba. We hiked the Matobo Hills and took in the breathtaking Victoria Falls, even walking across the bridge to visit Zambia for a fleeting moment.
I have a lasting impression of each place – again, all sensory compositions that are difficult to craft actual narratives around. I remember being young and feverishly excited by nature. I kept a list of all the birds and animals and would shriek in excitement every time we saw something new. I imagine my parents’ friends wanted to garrotte me on those lengthy game drives but my parents were nothing but patient; grateful to have a child who was enthusiastic about nature and travel. It’s rarer than you would think.
In 2000, I simultaneously embarked upon a journey through puberty and Botwana’s Okavango Delta, an oasis of waterways, lush vegetation, and sprawling savannah in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. We travelled with a guide and his elderly chain-smoking lady friend who drove us around in a weathered safari vehicle, cooked dinner over a fire each night, and told us the most spectacular stories about past adventures in the bush. We journeyed through a spectrum of landscapes and witnessed a staggering diversity of wild animals and birdlife, from African fish eagles and great eagle owls to little bee-eaters, crimson shrikes, and lilac-breasted rollers.
We explored the delta’s intricate network of waterways by mokoro, a Botswana dugout canoe, and were treated to a flight over the region in a 6-seater propeller plane. How I wish I had discovered the joys of photography early on, for then my souvenirs of these magical places would be more than just a collection of memories, obscured by my inexorably advancing age and perhaps just a little tequila-induced memory loss.
I remember the acute sense of freedom I felt at being out in the bush with absolutely no fences to keep the wildlife out of our camp. At the time, I was also in a particularly cloying relationship with a boy who was excessively protective and quick to get angry if I didn’t pander to his insecurities.
To illustrate, he once showed up at my door on a night he was supposed to go out. When I asked why he wasn’t out partying with his friends – privately grumbling that my night of toenail clipping, series bingeing, and popcorn hoovering had been ruined – he told me that he couldn’t trust himself to behave so he decided to do the gentlemanly thing. I think he expected me to be grateful or proud of him for not cheating on me. Instead, I shat all over his head and sent him home. He stormed out the house, furious, which lasted about a minute before he came back knocking on the door to engage in further heated debate. I was 15 at the time and even though he was my first real-ish boyfriend, I knew bullshit when I smelled it.
The point is, going away to the Okavango Delta got me away from the noise and discomfort of a suffocating relationship and into the bush, where the distractions on offer invigorated and awakened my soul. Travel gave me such a healthy perspective on life, my problems, and the way forward, and it still does. Even though the spiders in Botswana are the size of cats, our campsite was routinely marauded by baboons, and a hornbill voided its bowels into my eye – not even exaggerating on that one – I absolutely loved it and will definitely make my pilgrimage back there before I kick the bucket.
A few weeks ago, my best friend and I climbed aboard a boat and struck out for Duiker Island, a seal, seal pup, and seal poop covered collection of rocks tucked around the corner from The Sentinel Mountain in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Why would anyone endure the swells and smells for such an excursion? Aside from the staggering beauty of the Cape peninsula and the pleasure of watching seals in their natural habitat, we were here to go snorkelling with them!
For one blissful hour, we escaped reality to submerge ourselves in the moody greens and blues of the Atlantic Ocean, where prolific kelp forests swayed and swished in the swell and the playful seal pups were close enough to touch. Usually, I use my words to describe experiences. This time, we hired a Go Pro camera from the company who took us out – Animal Ocean – to document it all and so I present to you my first ever (shoddy) attempt at putting together a travel video!
Dear Why? Because Science! friends, family, and followers,
For six years, I’ve been in a relationship with this blog. Together, we made beautiful blog babies, learned metric tonnes about the natural (and sometimes unnatural) world, connected with science enthusiasts from around the world, and even made lifelong friends out some of those connections. Our relationship was a richly fecund source of ideas, inspiration, and creativity and it even became the bedrock of a book, Why? Because Science!
However, as much as science remains at the forefront of my interests, I have a new love. Well, truth be told, it has been my love all along but now it beckons to me the way an emotional affair seduces you out of an old, stale relationship. And that love is travel.
I’m leaving you for travel
What I’m saying to you all is that I now intend to chronicle my adventures as a traveller and all the bizarre foods, fine beverages, tips, tales, and tipsy tales they come hand-in-hand with.
I have agonised over whether to start a fresh blog or evolve this one to become the platform for my new adventure. On the one hand, it feels somewhat like moving a new lover into a home you shared with an old one – it feels a little disrespectful to the old relationship. On the other hand, Why? Because Science! is not my partner, it’s my intellectual child, which means that I can damn well do what I want with it!
Said more respectfully: it is time for me to move on.
I am sad to say goodbye to science, even temporarily, but if I am to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with my creativity, I need to migrate with its flux. And its powerful current is carrying me towards travel writing.
What does this mean for you?
You all came on board with Why? Because Science! because of your interest in science. But now I intend to transform this very blog into a travel blog, which will become a chronicle of my adventures on my home turf of Cape Town, South Africa, as well as abroad. In other words, if this creative journey were a train ride, we’re no longer heading to destination science; we’ve switched tracks to planet travel. If this bores the pants off of you, I understand that you will be getting off at platform “screw this, I’m out!”
Just remember to put your pants back on before you disembark.
It is, however, my sincerest hope that you stay on the train, which brings me to the fun bit. Where exactly are we going?
Destination known…sort of
My new venture/adventure already has a name and it’s (insert lengthy drumroll) Wander Woman Thea. Yes, it’s cheesier than Swiss fondue and that’s exactly how I like it.
This new blog is essentially a tell-all of my extreme, borderline obsessive passion for travel and it will provide readers with all kinds of value and entertainment, from travel tips, advice, and thrilling stories to green monster provoking pictures and gut-busting travel anecdotes. Wander Woman Thea will endeavour to connect with, satiate the curiosity, and expand the minds of travel, wine, and food lovers from all over the world.
And, yes, it’s all written in my trademark irreverent style laced with saucy innuendo, bad puns, and tequila jokes. The Facebook page is already set up, which you can check out here and follow and share with all of your friends.
Are you in?
It has been a pleasure and privilege writing about science and having you join me for that adventure. Now, I’m riding off into the sunset (on the back of a T-rex) to a new destination.
Besides science, I’m obsessed with travel and adventure.