/ 2 December 2022

Going big in a small SUV

Suzuki safari: A tour through the bush in Botswana, organised by the brand, showed that the Jimny punches above its weight. Photo: Chris Wall/Cris Wall Media

For many South Africans, the bush is a place to escape the chaos of the city. We live in a beautiful country, filled with wildlife and incredible landscapes — we have beaches, mountains and more than a few game parks. 

The bush is a place to relax and recuperate before heading back to the noise and fast-paced lifestyle of urban life, however, for some, it’s a way of life.

I enjoy the open landscapes of our local game parks as much as the next guy, I suppose, but over the last couple of years, I’ve found it doesn’t excite me as much as it used to. 

I blame the tarred roads and countless tourists armed with smartphones and camera lenses which look well-endowed even compared to those of sports photographers. I had begun to think the bush was all about simulated wildlife environments and dodging safari trucks racing to a reported lion sighting, all in the name of pleasing top-dollar-paying tourists. I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.

When you think about leaving the country for a holiday, normally you’d consider the States or Europe, maybe Mauritius. Many people don’t realise the incredible experiences that lie in wait just across the border. Yes, I too was guilty of these assumptions. 

I’ve heard stories of how the beauty of Botswana is out of this world. So, when I received an invitation to join Suzuki and their Jimny on a trip through the country, I was excited to experience the wilderness from a different perspective. 

Day 1

Our journey began in the sky, over the most northeasterly part of Botswana, where our tiny aircraft landed on a single runway with not so much as a taxiway in sight. It’s peculiar to experience a three-point turn on a runway but it did set the scene for one epic adventure. 

We arrived in a little village named Kasane, where we were greeted by the kindest and most adventurous man I’ve ever met. JJ is a tour guide who’s experienced almost everything sub-Saharan Africa has to offer and his passion for the continent is inspiring. Immediately, you have a sense of confidence in Suzuki’s expedition leaders. 

Of course, our weapon of choice for this trip was the small and quirky, yet stupendously capable, Jimny. 

The first day was slow-going. We visited the point where Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe meet, creating an exciting entry point for our adventure. 

After a 90-minute drive to the Mwandi View Lodge, where we watched the sunset over the Linyanti floodplain, we went to sleep with the understanding that we wouldn’t touch a tar road or have cellphone reception for the next three days. As daunting as it might seem nowadays, the thought of being totally absorbed in the adventure was thrilling. 

Day 2

The second day was by far the longest and most breathtaking of the trip. After a quick briefing, we were given tyre pressure gauges and instructed to deflate our tyres to 1 bar. The reason for this simple, yet highly effective, exercise is to increase your tyres’ footprint in the sand and prevent your vehicle from bogging down. 

The sand began almost immediately and would continue for the next 400km. The importance of deflating our tyres became apparent half an hour into our drive when we came across a Toyota Hilux which had been stuck deep in the sand for hours — the driver clearly didn’t get the memo. 

You’d think that would be a difficult recovery, but JJ let down the overinflated tyres and the car practically drove itself out. Well, with a little assistance from the men in the convoy giving it a shove. 

Once the Hilux was out and moving again, a parting gift, a box of Swiss chocolates, was given to us by the wife of the unfortunate driver. 

The kilometres ahead were paved with deep, white sand which provided a most pleasant surface to drive on. With little to no traffic, we could take in the stunning landscape which changed at every turn. 

The occasional park gate brought the convoy to a halt but most of the day was spent bouncing through dried-up watering holes and along deep sand roads and it was an utter blast. However, the wildlife proved scanty, which confused our more seasoned crew members.

The kilometres ticked over with but a few birds in sight. But as the African sun began to set over Savuti, we came across a colossal expanse of open land where the wildlife had congregated. There was a herd consisting of what seemed like thousands of buffalo and dozens of elephants. As many of our team commented, it was a scene straight out of The Lion King. 

After spending a few minutes in awed silence, cherishing the spectacular place we were in, the sudden realisation dawned on us that we were still an hour’s drive from camp. The sun was already sinking below the horizon. The change from safari to rally stage was rather abrupt and soon we were travelling at quite a pace through the Savuti forests, which was nothing the Jimny couldn’t handle. 

Arriving at camp was a relief for a few of the less outdoorsy members of the group. The campsites were already set up metres away from the most spectacular river landscape I have seen. We slept in tents deep in the Botswana wilderness with nothing but a thin sheet of fabric between ourselves and the hippos that would soon make their presence known. 

Once everybody had settled down after the day’s drive, we gathered around the fire to share stories and pictures from the day. However, my wife Sarah had her attention focused on a noise which was getting progressively louder and coming from the river. 

At first, the group found her nervousness amusing but that changed quickly as one of the convoy members noticed a group of around five hippos grazing mere metres from our fire pit. Fortunately, this was familiar territory for JJ and his team and he explained that the hippos weren’t a threat. 

The incredible hospitality of the Suzuki team, alongside the expertise of JJ and his company Explore Africa, made a small part of the Botswana wilderness feel like home for the next two days, thanks to their sheer enthusiasm, which continued into the next day. 

Day 3 

Day 3 was a considerably more relaxed day spent driving up and down the river. We were blessed with a hippo showing off its power and an elephant fancying a bath, unfazed as we strolled past. 

We traversed marshy terrain and of course, a lot of sand, with the day ending atop a raised riverbank overlooking a meander as the sun was setting. Our paramedic shared humorous stories from his career and we all joined in the laughter while the sky changed colour. 

Before heading back to camp, we were shaken by the powerful roar of a nearby lion, reminding me that, although I was driving a Rhino-spec Jimny, the true king of the wild was still roaming these lands. 

Day 4

Our last day consisted of a trip down a terrible gravel road leading into Maun, where we could see some contrasts between Botswana and South Africa. The people there don’t have much but their enthusiastic energy is contagious. Despite being the third-biggest city in Botswana, Maun has a single tar road which runs right through the middle of it, flanked by endless rows of street vendors and family-owned shops.

Suzuki had us living it big in Botswana in a tiny Jimny and it’s only going to get bigger with plans to extend these adventures to its customers soon. 

It provided us South Africans with the reality that there really is so much more to Southern Africa than this country and, well, the Jimny proved the perfect tool for exploring this remote corner of the world. 

Hopefully more South Africans will travel to places like Botswana and see that a big holiday isn’t just a European getaway. 

We really do live in the most beautiful part of the world.