The 6th Classic Safari Challenge - 2017

9 October - 5 November 2017

Classic Safari Reports

Safari Diary from Hermanus - South Africa - November 3

Day 19: Cathedral Peak to Phinda Game Reserve - Mud, mud, glorious mud - We awoke to a surprisingly cool and damp morning. But at 1500m above sea level these things are to be expected and, with the mist shrouded Drakensberg Mountains disappearing in our rear view mirror we journeyed on towards two gravel tests within marching distance of Rorke’s Drift. This was the scene of a much storied encounter between the British Army and the Zulus during the nineteenth century.

A passage control at the Rorke’s Drift museum gave the crews an opportunity to take on board coffee and to absorb a little of the savage history of the place.

The next section, the 261km to the night halt in Phinda surpassed everyone's expectations thanks to the combination of heavy rain, bustling market towns and unmetalled roads. Only one week ago we were enjoying temperatures of 40°c in a dry and parched environment. Today, the mercury never rose above 17°c and instead of clouds of choking dust, the crews were treated to rivulets of liquid red mud which transformed every vehicle it touched into something akin to an East African Safari Rally car. The crowds of cheering children along the roads in towns such as Nongoma only added to the occasion.

Whilst the landscapes and the roads of KwaZulu - Natal were certainly magnificent, the rally had good reason to press on towards our night halt in the game reserve of Phinda.

Set in a rare and beautiful sand forest, evening game drives through the reserve had been pre booked and some crews returned just before dinner to report that they’d seen leopard, cheetah and lions within an hour.

The lodges in the Park feature glass walls which give sweeping views of the surrounding forest and the dense canopy above it. We’ve got a rest day here tomorrow, and the prospect of the  5.00am reveille for more game viewing sent most crews scurrying to bed at a reasonable hour.

Day 20:  Rest Day - Phinda Reserve - Game on - A day of game drives, relaxing and of being totally spoiled. The all inclusive Phinda Reserve proved to be an excellent spot for the Rally to hole up, get some laundry done and watch some amazing animals doing some amazing things.

From dawn till well into the darkness, the always attentive guides and trackers took us through the bush, and gave us prides of lions, cackles of hyena, a leap of leopards and a crash of rhinos. Thankfully, given the size of the reserve and the individual nature of each safari drive we never saw a jam of Landcruisers.

Sundowners on the veld, with Amarula and biltong were served as an hors d’oeuvre to a fantastic fine dining experience in the boma. Local Zulu dishes were skilfully blended with South African and European ingredients and washed down with some excellent wines.

Day 21: Phinda Reserve to Umhlanga - Surf and turf - Another early morning start for another (possibly the last of the whole Rally) set of game drives, before our last Phinda breakfast and the drive to the Indian Ocean.

There was nothing too taxing for the crews to negotiate during the morning, save for one gravel section which saw the cars running alongside heavily laden and lumbering freight trains and timing their run to make sure that they were ahead of them before the next unmanned crossing.

We then had lunch at the lovely Mtunzini Country Club and met up with old friend, local resident and sometime rally navigator Seonaid Boyne Davidson Beningfield.

The afternoon’s run took in eucalyptus forest, pineapple fields and sugar cane plantations before we arrived in the chic seaside resort of Umhlanga Rocks, where liveried staff were on hand to give us the best welcome possible.

Stephen and Samantha Hardwick’s Datsun, unfortunately suffered some bodywork damage on the road to the finish, when a local car caught them a glancing blow at a junction. Both crew members were unhurt and the sweep crews are looking at ways of ‘polishing out the scratches’. Doubtless the leaders of the Classic Category will continue with the rally and, with a bit of luck, still be on top spot in Cape Town.

The night halt today is the beautiful Oyster Box Hotel, right on the Indian Ocean, this is the perfect blend of modernity, colonial charm & style and, as we have another rest day tomorrow before the long pull to the finish, most crews wasted no time in making themselves at home.

Day 22: Rest Day, Umhlanga, Oyster Box - Having whale of a time - With just under one week to go, the Classic Safari Challenge finds itself today settled on the shore of the Indian Ocean having left the Atlantic some three weeks earlier.

This is the last rest day before the home run and the Oyster Box hotel had many things to offer our travel stained crews from spa treatments, rounds of golf, whale watching or lounging around in, or alongside the pool.

Breakfast was nothing short of superb and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. Oysters and smoked salmon proved popular for many although the good old cheese omelette certainly wasn’t forgotten.

Perhaps confirming the old adage that there’s no rest for the wicked, there was obviously some spannering to be done and one or two crews were busy in the car park checking, adjusting and inspection. Some also took the opportunity for a bit of car cleaning after the wet - and muddy we had enjoyed on the way to Phinda. The typically enthusiastic car washing / valeting service therefore proved to be very popular and Graham and Marin Goodwin took full advantage of this and had Pearl, their Bentley, washed and shampooed and, thanks in part to this enthusiasm with the high pressure lance, the Cricklewood cruiser needed some slight encouragement to get going again.

Sadly, Albrecht and Christine Haase have had to leave us today to fly back to work. Over the last three weeks they’ve proved to be a more than capable endurance rally crew, and they’ve been great company. We look forward to seeing them again very soon and wish them Auf Wiedersehen und gute fahrt.

Day 23: Umhlanga to Umngazi - Spooky, scary - Feeling thankful that we weren’t heading towards Durban, the Rally slid out of town on some excellent freeways and rolled past the huge coastal Toyota factory. As proud sponsors of the Classic Safari rental car challenge, there were a few crews who might have uttered a silent prayer of thanks in its direction.

The Test for the day was at the Dezzi Raceway, a looping roller coaster of a circuit in full view of the ocean and exposed to the winds which whipped from it. The hairpins, dips and chicanes brought out the best - and the worst - of both the cars and the drivers. Whatever though, it was great fun and the whatever they were driving the drivers threw their cars from apex to apex with handfuls of opposite lock, forearms tensed and beads of sweat on their brows. The navigators meanwhile, grabbed whatever they could and simply held on tight.

Coffee was taken at the nearby Hillbillion resort whereafter we began the long trek to Umnagazi. The landscapes were breathtaking and huge. We climbed to 1000m around the town of Bizana before heading through the vast rolling grasslands of the Eastern Cape and then onwards to the Wild Coast which boast some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world.

Along the way José and Maria de Sousa were stopped with Jamie Turner in attendance. The clutch in their Volvo was playing up and, as nothing could be done by the side of the road, the advice was to nurse the car into the night halt where a full inspection would be possible.

Umnagazi lies at the mouth of the Mzimvuba River, which flows through a gorge known as the "Gates of St John" into an estuary on the Indian Ocean. The Umnagazi River Bungalows sit at the mouth of this and a more idyllic and tranquil spot would be hard to imagine. Unfortunately tonight is Halloween and a coven, comprising the likes of Zoe Lovett and Jo Roberts were hell bent on staging the most fabulous fancy dress party this sleepy little town had ever seen.

Day 24: Umnagazi to Cradock - The morning after - The Halloween High jinks ran late into the night and, as dawn broke over the narrow sandbar separating us from the ocean, there might have been a few sore heads rising reluctantly from their softly plumped pillows in their well appointed rondavels. Breakfast therefore was a slightly hushed affair but the papaya, pineapple, pancakes and porridge soon set things right; along with gallons of coffee.

Today we struck west, inland and upwards towards the desert plateau that is the Karoo and the night halt in Cradock. Very quickly we saw 1,000m appear on the altimeter and the landscape changed from lush grassland to rocky scrub.

There was one test today, shortly after the time control in Queenstown which was a pleasant spot for refuelling the crews and the cars. After this ‘lunch halt’ we took to the gravel via the small town of Tarkastad, close to the site of the Battle of Elands River (1901) which was fought during the Second Boer War.

There was plenty of opportunity for a bit of showboating on the wide piste, and a short rain storm kept the dust down and lowered the temperature slightly.

The Victoria Manor hotel in Cradock is a favourite of the Classic Safari and we’ve visited it three times in succession now. The property comprises 30 traditional Karoo lovingly restored to their former glory. The houses occupy the entire street, at the end of which is the Victoria Hotel itself. We were also privileged to have the kitchen choir sing for us while we dined in the impressive restaurant.

José and Maria de Sousa sadly missed all of this as they had to stay behind this morning with a broken clutch. The Volvo limped in last night and the crew have ordered spare parts from Durban, if they arrive on time then they expect to rejoin us in Hermanus.

Syd Stelvio



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