The 6th Classic Safari Challenge - 2017

9 October - 5 November 2017

Classic Safari Reports

Safari Diary from Cathedral Peak - South Africa - October 26

Day 15: Victoria Falls to Francistown - Back to Botswana - After a luxurious breakfast in the Victoria Falls Hotel, we left the best of Zimbabwean hospitality behind us and crossed the Kazangula border back into Botswana. 

It’s a big country out here and, although this section was 305km, the busy yet efficient border meant that no one was delayed. Elephants are often spotted roaming wild along this main road and today one or two crews were luck enough to see the odd pachyderm jogging along beside them.

With the ink on the visa stamps barely dry, we started our engines and hit the tarmac roads which took us to Nata for lunch. Here the Rally was served a lamb braii in the boma of the Pelican Lodge. And, after eating their fill, there was then an excursion onto some  red dirt gravel for a short Time Control section through the area around Mathangwane where small knots of young rally fans cheered us heartily and waved like they’d never waved before.

The tarmac roads then took over again and whisked us onwards to our overnight halt in Francistown, Botswana’s second city. Francistown was the centre of southern Africa's first gold rush and is still surrounded by old and abandoned mines.

Our night halt is the Cresta Marang Hotel with lush landscapes gardens filled with traditional thatched rondavels crews bedded down for the night.

Day 16: Francistown to Sun City - The sun always shines - Today we followed in the footsteps of Vasca da Gama and crossed the ‘Great, grey-green greasy Limpopo River’ which was made famous by Rudyard Kipling in his book ‘The Elephant’s Child’.

This mighty river forms part of the border between Botswana and South Africa and once we’d driven over that bridge then we knew that we really were on the home leg of this rally.

The crews left the Cresta Marang Hotel bright and early today and began the long pull south, through the many veterinary checkpoints for which Botswana is famous. After some 235km, just before the border, a treat was in store for us however, in the form of a well placed passage control in Lerala. Not only were crews able to purchase fuel and cold drinks, but they were also able to partake of some excellent homemade cupcakes and coffee.

Graham and Marina Goodwin unfortunately had little time to enjoy these refreshments however. They arrived on the end of a rope, attached to the rental car of Gary and Debbie Culver. A problem with the clutch was diagnosed and, taking their cue from Andy Inskip, the Goodwin / Culver train pressed on through the Martins Drift border and all of the way night halt at The Palace of the Lost City - in Sun City.

A lunchtime Control, in the Ocean Basket in Lephalale brought the Rally together over the likes of sushi, fish and chips or oysters. On a day as hot as this the cool maritime environment served up a welcome break.

Sun City itself comprises 25 hectares of jungle, theme park, hotels, casinos and conference centres and is surrounded by mountains and is bordered by a small game park. It’s a unique setting and the sheer scale of the Hotel took our breath away.

Whilst most of us were able to enjoy some of the unforgettable hospitality on offer, the sweep crews were getting down and dirty with Graham Goodwin. The Bentley Boy had sensibly packed some spare clutch components and, over the course of four hours, he and messrs Inskip, Jones, Turner and Harrod had the problem solved.

Day 17: Sun City to Riverside Sun - Track Time - For some, there was a lazy start to this morning with time to enjoy a relaxed breakfast in an unforgettable setting. For others though, there was a slightly earlier reveille which gave them the chance to visit the nearby Pilanesberg National Park.

It’s a typically well stocked park and in three hours we were lucky enough to see around ten rhino, a brown hyena, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, hippo and lions.

There was then time to return to Sun City for one of its famous breakfasts where all manner of international delicacies were available. Finally, at 11.30am the flag dropped and the crews pointed themselves towards the Zwartkops Raceway for a buffet lunch and two laps of the track. After the long straight roads of the last few days this short and sharp reacquaintance with the steering wheel and the gear-lever came as a welcome relief.

Next came another interesting diversion, Rally Director Fred Gallagher had wangled an invitation to the Hallspeed Toyota Dakar Workshop, just outside of Kyalami. As the Classic Safari rolled into the carpark, the machinery on display was indeed impressive and the cars in the workshop were also worthy of some closer attention. For those who know and love the sometime utilitarian Toyota Hilux, the transformation which these guys achieve is nothing short of remarkable and the ERA sweep crews were busily scribbling down crib notes for their own vehicles.

Renowned engine maestro and Citroen fan, Mario Illien also got thoroughly involved with both the nuts and bolts, and the theory of the engineering which he found himself surrounded by. And, evidently, it was difficult to drag himself away from the cars to continue the run through the environs of Johannesburg to the Riverside Sun night halt.

Day 18: Riverside Sun to Cathedral Peak - Peak Performance - Today we headed for the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains, a favourite ERA stomping ground having visited the area for the last three Classic Safari Challenges.

Bright and early then the Rally pulled out of the Riverside Sun and immediately crossed the Vaal River and took to the back roads towards the combined passage control, coffee shop and chocolate shrine in Poelanies Guesthouse in the bustling town of Reitz.

No-one left disappointed and a few left with some essential cocoa based supplies to get them through the next few days.

If the morning coffee was good, then the lunch in Clarens was even better. This artistic little town boasts some fine restaurants, cafes and craft shops and, sitting in the sun with cheese and ham toasties in front of them the Rally was in a happy place.

After this simple dejeuner then it was on the highlight, quite literally, of the day as we climbed into the sun kissed Golden Gate National Park under a perfectly blue sky. The view from the windscreen was tremendous, enormous pink and yellow sandstone cliffs rose above golden grassland, with highland zebra grazing peacefully alongside.

The epic landscapes continued over the Oliviershook Pass and the Steelfontein Dam, through villages of mud walled and grass thatched dwellings and on to the famous Cathedral Peak Hotel, which boasts one of Africa’s most comprehensive buffets. In 1964, the crew of the film ‘Zulu’, which portrayed the events of the battle of Rorkes Drift in 1879, stayed here whilst filming in the area.

Finally, we all wish many happy returns to Ed Howle, who celebrated his birthday in style this evening with a rousing chorus of happy birthday and a cake.

Syd Stelvio



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