The intrepid Suzuki Jimny takes us into some of the most delicate and edifying Northern Cape landscapes in what has formally become known as the Suzuki Safari: Berg to Sperrgebiet overland tour.
If you didn’t know it yet, there’s real joy in overlanding. There’s a sense of enlightenment. A sense of shedding the strains of life as each kilometre ticks over and over. Most adventurers refer to the ‘freedom’ of it all. In Moshe Dayan’s words, it’s real ‘oxygen for the soul.’ You don’t quite get it until you’re immersed in it and truth be told, it’s not for everyone. It involves careful planning and strategy and of course, it requires the right tools for the job.
In some respects, the Suzuki Jimny wasn’t quite for everybody either. It was, historically, a product driven by incipient sales from a group of people that enjoyed the lifestyle and mechanical reliability of the small 4 x 4. It had its people. And they loved it. The previous-generation JB43 was bought by 9,200 Jimny-loving South Africans. Not a small number at all, until Suzuki released the new Jimny in 2018. That little group of people went ballistic, as did a whole new generation of Jimny lovers who saw the light. The sales numbers have already breached the 4,800-mark.
The new Jimny was and continues to be a huge hit with global demand outstripping supply by some margin. In our local context, demand for Jimny hit an all-time high from the first day with some waiting periods exceeding 3 years. Suzuki just had to do something and earlier this year, Suzuki announced increased production of the Jimny at its Gurgaon Plant in India. It’s the same plant from which the Suzuki Swift and Vitara Brezza models are assembled. The plant adds Jimny assembly to its floor. It’s the same Jimny as before, with 100% Japanese-sourced parts – just built at Suzuki’s third-largest factory in India.
At the time of writing this, Suzuki Auto SA had just taken delivery of its first consignment of new Jimny’s built at the very same plant. It is big news and the next few months should see monthly sales increase ever so steadily. November sales of the Suzuki Jimny just pipped the 250-vehicle mark.
To celebrate what really is big news for Suzuki SA, they birthed the idea of the Suzuki Safari, a four-day jaunt to the Northern Cape for a spectacular adventure.
DAY 1: Charles, the desert and the Blue Bulls
We met our bevy of Jimny’s at Upington airport, fresh and clean with canvas bags in the back packed with camp chairs, tyre air compressors, camping shovels and more. With bags packed, my wife and myself hopped into a Medium Grey GLX model and headed for Pofadder, our first stop. It’s here that we meet the full complement of Suzuki Safari compadres and where we brim the Jimny’s 40-litre fuel tanks, deflate the tyres and engage High Range before venturing off the beaten track towards the small Northern Cape town of Pella, a tiny oasis in the middle of a sweltering and rugged Namakwa district. The 230-km journey from Upington to Pella has gradually given way to an arid mountain desert landscape in Pella. The town is small but clearly there’s historic depth within from centuries of laboured activity. Despite its weather-beaten slant, there’s positive proclamation as you drive into the town. ‘Forward Ever. Backward Never. Welcome to Pella.’ A hand-built church monument towers over most everything else in the town, dwarfing our Jimny party as we stop by for a brief introduction and history of the town and church that literally was a safe haven for many in the past.
Through Pella we head through Charles Pass, a scabrous yet incredible mountain pass that forms part of the Namaqua 4x4 route, riddled with rough and rocky terrain. We stop on the pass and stand incredulous at its harsh but beautiful scenery. Beyond the mountain, the mighty Orange River flows and that’s our next stop for a quick dip in the flowing waters. Our stop is right on the border of neighbouring Namibia. After our Orange River break, the day continues over and through the desert terrain, dotted with little smallholdings where nomadic, pastoralist lifestyles continue to this day. We stop for a meet and greet with Adam Barnard, a local, who proudly lives in a small holding in what seems like the middle of nowhere. He is welcoming and charming and despite being a fierce Blue Bulls supporter, I’m intrigued by his sense of self and contentedness. As we bid him farewell, I’m left with a thought – I wonder what he thinks of the chaos of the big cities from where we come? It must be the worst thought in the world for a man like him. Except Loftus of course.
Occasionally on our trek we switch between 4H and 4L as the Jimny tracks through the desert sand and precarious rocks without so much as a sweat. The day has been long. The sun has been unforgiving – late into the afternoon, all I can think of is an ice-cold beer to end what has been a tiring but spectacular day. I swear it, not sooner had the thought left my mind did our guide burst onto the radio and literally announce that very thing. My wife has never seen me so elated. We arrived at our rest stop, a campsite at the foot of a canyon in the middle of the Namakwaland. It was the best beer I ever tasted and the best campsite I’ve had the privilege to experience.
Day 2: The Spectacular continues
Is there anything as satisfying as that glorious first cup of coffee in the morning with a campfire at your feet? It’s a good start to day two. There’s another full day of travel as we trek from the campsite heading westwards via Springbok towards Komaggas and on to our rest stop for the next few days, Die Hout Hoop Farm House in Steenvlei. The first eye-opener is Spektakel Pass that descends from Springbok down towards Komaggas as we make our way to the ocean. It is as the name suggests, simply spectacular. Komaggas is a tiny town that forms a line in the sand for vegetation to totally change into that semi-arid, desert that one encounters on Mr Attenborough’s shows. We come across miles and miles of quiver trees resplendently standing in the scorching sun and sand. The roads are rough and mottled and there’s hardly a car in site. It’s steady and unencumbered driving, and it dawns on my wife and I that these really are moments where we get to connect and catch up once again. No kids. No radio stations. No mobile phone network. Just hundreds of kilometres of Kalahari Desert scenery that we’ve never encountered – and a shared new experience for the two of us.
In the early evening we arrive at Die Houthoop, a magical farmhouse-come-guesthouse oasis run by the lovely Jacqui. There’s a comfort and simplicity to this place that makes us feel right at home. From the home-cooked meals to the honesty bar, we call it a night with much to be thankful for…and still much to look forward to.
Day 3: Mourning the Piratiny
Legend has it that on the morning of 12 May 1943, a steamship from Brazil came to a rocky end on the shores of the West Coast. It was, ironically, on its final voyage. The Piratiny was carrying a general mix of stuff, including reams of material that the locals quickly salvaged and turned into their Sunday best, evident at the next Naagmaal, the Sunday service of the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Piratiny was a massive, 5000-ton steamship and its rusted remains lie on the shores of the Diamond Coast some 50-kms from Kleinsee. After almost 80-years, not much remains of the ship in relative terms, but it’s still a sight to behold. There are a few legends surrounding its demise, one involving a German U-boat and the other, involving a mysterious mist that still engulfs the area to this day. Your call as to the one you find more interesting…
This was our first major stop along the Diamond Coast, an area of South Africa that has been ravaged by diamond mining for decades. We continue northwards along the route finding a colony of seals and two more shipwrecks along the way, each with its own legend and history. The going is through soft sand and the Jimny seems to like it. Nothing phases it, nothing unearths some slight problem on the little car, even the absence of a diff lock doesn’t phase the convoy much. The sweltering heat is no match for the little Jimny’s climate control either. At times, we’d just run back to the Jimny for a cool down, before venturing back out into the blazing sun for more scenic soul food.
The Namaqualand-Namib area is fascinating. It is affected by coastal moisture within the arid desert of the Kalahari. In flower season, the area is said to be exceedingly spectacular but that seems to be just one month a year. Beyond that, the diversity of plant life here is made up entirely of succulents, my wife’s favourite plants.
We venture from the coast back inland to discover a crater-like sand dune very close to the Houthoop farmhouse. The sand is soft with a tinge of red-pigment and of course, the tour involves dune-driving in the Jimny’s for what feels like the beginning of the end of the tour. It is here that we indulge in sundowners as we witness the sun-drenched sky give way to the night. And it is here, within the sunset-lit dunes that Suzuki Auto SA announces its intention to add 2 more derivatives to the Jimny range in the form of a middle-spec Jimny package. The 1.5 GL in manual or auto form will sit in between the base-spec GA and the flagship GLX adding a few more niceties such as electric windows & mirrors, Bluetooth audio and alloy wheels among others.
The other addition for owners, new or old, is that the Rhino special edition kit has also been created for the current-gen Jimny replete with window and rain deflectors, Rhino Decals, Rhino Edition Spare Wheel Cover, Red Mudflaps and a cooler Heritage Grille. The Rhino Edition is synonymous with Jimny and it is introduced here as part of the 40th Anniversary of the Rhino sub-brand.
Day 4: A sad end
Day 4 is where we all part ways, but not before making our way back to Springbok through the Wilderperdehoek Pass, a treacherous, 30km, off-road stretch that forms the extreme opposite of the asphalt-lain Spektakel Pass. It’s steeped in history and legend but it also offers unhindered views of the arid but amazing landscape below and the occasional siting of a curious baboon or two. And then we arrive in Springbok to say our goodbyes, brim the tanks once again and head off in our own directions, each of which ultimately leads back to a bustling and city.
That settles it then – and concludes the first Suzuki Safari which has now been officially opened as an adventure tour for Suzuki Jimny owners.
The Jimny isn’t the last word in many motoring disciplines. It can be scary in harsh wind on the open road for instance. But it will get into your heart first, and then worm its way into your mind and you will start to understand its true character and intention. It’s light on its feet, equipped with a decent clearance, short wheelbase and low-range 4 x 4 capability. And it looks ever so cool. Perfect for the adventurer. Perfect for the coastal towner. Perfect for the burbs.
The Suzuki Safari is the brainchild of JJ Du Toit of African Expeditions, a family-run outfit that do this as a labour of love. Founder JJ and his son Justin, professionally took care of us throughout the Suzuki Safari. They’re a minefield of knowledge, full of character with a deep love for the overlanding safari lifestyle. Thank You guys.