Born to be wild
Updated: Aug 19
The bakkie-based SUV segment has its established favourites, but if our epic ride over some of Botswana’s toughest terrain is anything to go by, the brand new Ford Everest has just chucked the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons.
We’re on a deep, powdery track, making our way towards the Makgadikgadi Pan. The new Everest’s Terrain Management System – which we’ve set to ‘sand’ – ensures the big seven-seater crawls sure-footedly along the deep jeep track. But the powder that is kicked up by the seven-car convoy is so fine, that we’re soon enveloped by a smoke-like cloud. ‘Keep a safe following distance!’ warns Gideo over the two-way radio. I can’t see a thing, but keep my eyes peeled for brake lights ahead. A few big dips in the road also go unseen, but the Everest’s gentle suspension forgives my blind driving.
Suddenly, the road evens out, the dust clears, and we seem to have arrived on the Moon. The impossibly smooth and massive Makgadikgadi Pan stretches all the way to the horizon, and it’s a landscape so bizarre that it’s beyond any point of reference. We’ve made it to the pan just in time for sunset, and the purply haze enshrouding the lunar-like surface enhances the surreal scene.
The sheer vastness of the Makgadikgadi stuns the convoy into silence – the two-way radio’s quiet for once. It is said that the pan is as big as Italy and, upon seeing it, I can believe it.
We have just driven from Maun, dodging cattle, zebra and skip-sized potholes, before taking the turnoff at Gweta, where the Everest was put through its first sandy test, passing with flying colours, before finally arriving on the pan. We pull up to our camp for the night, pitched in a vast circle on the pan, with a fire roaring at the heart of it. That night we swap stories over dinner under a starlit sky, the Milky Way appearing to arch the pan like a giant heavenly highway. The stars are such an event that a few of us crawl into thick sleeping bags outside of our tents in order to count shooting stars before drifting off.
A beast for all terrains
We’re in Botswana to put the new 2.0 Bi-Turbo Ford Everest through her paces, and so far, so very good indeed. The convoy consists of both the XLT and Limited models, the top-of-range Limited coming with a few more bells and whistles, including 20-inch split-spoke wheels, a panoramic moonroof, sophisticated black interior lines, electric seat adjustment, and so forth. Both models, however, come with the aggressive new bumper- and grille design, keyless entry and start, the celebrated SYNC3 infotainment system, satnav and, crucially, the seamless 10-speed automatic transmission and excellent 2.0 litre Bi-Turbo diesel plant that deliver an impressive 157 kW and 500 Nm of torque. The terrain management system available in both models is also rather handy, and can be toggled between sand, mud, snow and rock.
The next morning, we’re up before the sparrows and the early wake-up call is oh-so worth it. Seeing the sun’s first rays dazzle the Makgadikgadi is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the breathtaking kaleidoscope of dawn colours dancing off the salt a sight to cure all hangovers.
To give all of the drivers a go behind the wheel of both models, we trade rides after breakfast, get a few last snaps of the Makgadikgadi and hit the sandy track back in the direction of Maun.
We have a quick burger in Maun, and then it’s back in the saddle, northwards towards the Okavango Delta. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Delta a few times, but it will certainly never get old. The radios are buzzing with excitement as the convoy enters the game-infested wetland. Shouts of ‘Ellie at two-o’clock, guys!’; ‘yoh, check that massive croc!’; or ‘those hippos look bedonnerd, eh?’ ring out. After a while, though, the sheer abundance of game mean the radios eventually die down as all of us simply enjoy the Nat-Geo-like show from the cockpits of our Everests in hushed astonishment. We pass great herds of elephants bathing alongside bloats of hippo and floats of crocs. Waterbuck, red lechwe, giraffe and wildebeest graze in their hundreds, while a massive herd of Cape buffalo gives the passing Everests bad-tempered glances. We only have to look up to see fish eagles, hawk-eagles, bateleurs, kingfishers and other birds of prey perched on branches and ready to swoop. It’s veritably Edenic.
The Everest makes short work of the various mud-, sand- and dirt roads of the Delta, and, with 225 mm of ground clearance and 800 mm of wading depth, we cross the Khwai River as though it’s a mere dribble. The 10-speed transmission is so seamless in its selection of the correct gear for any speed, scenario or terrain that we barely have to engage low-range at all.
As the sun starts to set on the Delta, we emerge at our second camp near Khwai, operated by Pride of Africa. Lovely permanent Meru tents boasting flushing toilets and showers are set amid thick mopane thickets, and proprietor Patrick Hill and his team welcome our dusty party to a large dining tent and fireplace with views over a huge grassy wetland crawling with lechwe and the occasional elephant.
After a delicious meal, we sit around a crackling fire and a soundtrack of grunting hippos and cackling hyenas. Fences are non-existent here, and game of all sorts roam through camp. Patrick informs us that night before last, guests were stunned when a panicked impala burst through the brush right between tents, with a painted dog in hot pursuit. It’s a wild place.
The next morning, we hop into a few mokoros and cruise into the alluvial waters of the Delta with an experienced Tswana poler at the stern of each dug-out canoe. It’s a silence only broken by poles cutting through the water and the varied song of Okavango birds. That is, until we glide into a hippo’s territory and pandemonium ensues. All seven polers start shouting, slapping the water with their poles and making a general racket to ward off the big hippo bull. Eventually, the colossus relents and moves off, and I can breathe again. As mentioned, this place is wild…
It’s been a short, but epic ride, and the Everest has been a champion companion, conquering everything we could throw at it. A beast that was born for the wild.
• The new Ford Everest seven-seater comes in various models: The XLS (entry level) from R499 900, the XLT from R584 900 and the top-of-the-range Limited from R761 200.
• The XLS and XLT range are available in 2WD or 4WD
• The Everest comes in four engine specifications: the all-new 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo and single turbo both with new 10-speed automatic transmission, or the 2.2 and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi with six-speed auto.
• Contact your nearest Ford dealer for more info or a test drive.
• Phone 0860 011 022, email email@example.com or visit ford.co.za
Pride of Africa
• Pride of Africa Safaris offers a wide range of services from mobile camping safaris, lodge safaris, mobile boat safaris and walking safaris to incentive and corporate events all over Southern Africa.
• Pride of Africa set up our camp on the Moon-like Makgadikgadi Pan, and they also have a permanent camp near Khwai, where we spent our second night in Botswana.
• Contact them (+267) 680 0890, mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit prideofafrica-safaris.com