Softroader Getaway Adventure in a Crater
Words Gerhard Horn, pics GG van Rooyen
The Peugeot 3008 doesn’t look like your average SUV or crossover, but that doesn’t mean it can’t handle a drive through one of the world’s largest asteroid craters.
Take a long hard look at the Peugeot 3008. It’s not really an SUV or crossover, is it?
It’s much closer to an MPV/station wagon than a sports utility vehicle, but who are we to argue with the French manufacturer? If it says its car is a crossover, we believe them.
It all comes down to where you want to cross over to. If you want to cross over a river, you’d be better off in something with low-range and locking differentials. Some people simply don’t want to cross over that far, so why bother with unwanted mechanicals that just push up the price?
That’s basically the thought process behind the 3008. It has the looks and high driving position associated with SUVs, but that’s about it. Does that make it a bad car? Not in the least, in our opinion.
When you buy a vehicle like this, you are basically making a statement. A car like the 3008 lets your neighbours know that you’re adventurous and that you like spending time outdoors. You don’t want to venture too far into the wild, but just far enough to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Some of you might frown at this concept, but it’s a market that is set to grow in the coming years. From 2015 and onwards, we’ll be seeing a lot more of these compact crossovers with limited off-road ability, and it’s not just the automotive world that’s getting in on this new fad.
Adventure farms are sprouting up all over SA. These places aren’t hard to reach and they offer a host of activities that were previously available only to a brave few who dared to venture far off the beaten path. The Peugeot 3008 was thus the perfect vehicle to take to one of these farms, if only to see how much adventure one can have with a French front-wheel drive crossover.
In the dome
There are a few adventure farms in Gauteng, but we wanted to get some proper time behind the wheel of the 3008. We settled on Parys in the Free State and pointed the new nose of the recently face-lifted French vehicle towards the N1.
A few kilometres before the Grasmere Plaza, the road splits in two. You can take either the N1 and arrive in Parys within the hour, or the more scenic N12. As we are adventurous types, we chose the N12. This turned out to be a big mistake as the road is currently undergoing massive reconstruction. At one point we were down to 10km/h.
In desperation, we made another detour, opting to drive to Parys via Carletonville and Potchefstroom. At the end of the day, this supposed 45-minute drive took us about three hours, but at least we were exposed to the best qualities of the 3008.
This is definitely a car that’s suited to long distances on tar. The unplanned changes to our route would normally have caused considerable irritation, but we were untroubled. The car did a fine job of keeping us cool and comfortable, even though the thermometer was climbing steadily towards 40ºC.
We were also surprised at how easy it was to get to grips with the infotainment system. The Bluetooth connection was set up within minutes and we had a huge playlist of Empire podcasts at our disposal. We were only too happy to enjoy the scenery while listening to film critics discussing the difficulties of making a movie based on an obscure novel.
The time slipped by and we soon found ourselves on a gravel road heading towards our final destination, Thabela Thabeng. This is an adventure farm nestled in the Vredefort Dome – our main reason for visiting the region. We had recently read a book on the subject, and decided to check out the impact site of the asteroid for ourselves.
Imagine our disappointment when we were told that we had been driving around in the crater for the last hour or so! The impact zone is so large that it can’t be identified at ground level. To get a full appreciation of the crater, you must view it from the air.
At least the asteroid had a massive impact on the landscape, so we could at least enjoy the diverse plant, animal and rock formations that formed as a result of a 10km-wide rock colliding with planet Earth.
Before we get to the modern-day adventure activities, some history on the Vredefort Dome. The asteroid is thought to have been one of the largest to hit the planet. The resulting crater would originally have been about 300km wide, but since it has eroded away over time, there’s no way of knowing how large it actually was.
The dome, as it exists today, is a half-ring of hills created by the force of the impact. The visible part is more or less 70km in diameter, but the effects of the impact can be seen much farther away. It is believed that the impact played a part in elevating the gold found in region closer to the surface. The asteroid may have destroyed everything in its path when it smashed into the earth around 2023 million years ago, but at least it provided easier access for man to that most precious of metals.
Not on target
Thabela Thabeng manager Albie de Villiers was kind enough to take a full day out of his busy schedule to show us around, and organise a few activities, including archery. This was something different for us, but how difficult could it be to hit a target a mere 20m away? As it turned out – very difficult!
Albie gave us a quick lesson, which resulted in us shooting more or less near the target, but the experience left us thankful that we live in a modern world where meat is readily available on supermarket shelves. If we had lived hundreds of years ago, our families definitely would have been vegetarians, and not by choice. We feel duty bound to advise the burly men out there not to attempt archery as a means of impressing your partner. Albie said the fairer sex had a natural aptitude for archery, and many men left the range with an undamaged target and a severely dented ego.
Thabela Thabeng is a perfect location for rock climbing and abseiling. There are various tours on offer, but since we were rock-climbing novices, we decided instead to scale a man-made object Albie and his crew have erected on the grounds. It’s a mere 10m high, but objects seem much taller once you’re on them. From up there, the ground felt more like 100m away.
At least you’re in control of your own ascent up the structure… Abseiling down is another matter altogether. You stand on the edge while another person slowly lowers you into the traditional abseiling position. Leaving your fate in the hands of someone you don’t know is not easy, but once you get the hang of abseiling, it's fun. We took some comfort from the knowledge that Albie and his crew are fully qualified and take every precaution to safeguard those who want to climb to the top of their tower.
After that scary experience, Albie took us on a leisurely drive on the property, which includes self-catering accommodation and a beautiful section of land where pecan nuts are farmed.
Farther than expected
There was just one slight hitch. We visited Thabela Thabeng’s website a few days earlier in preparation for the trip and on the home page it mentioned that the gravel road on the property was best suited to vehicles with a reasonably high ground clearance. The Peugeot’s ground clearance of 160mm is hardly impressive, but we weren’t willing to accept defeat that easily. Driving on those roads was a nerve-racking experience, but only because of the seating position. We crept down the narrow road in anticipation of the low nose grinding onto something, but that awful noise never came. It turned out the 3008 was far better at soft-roading than we'd expected.
During our venture into the Dome wilderness, we met up with Albie’s children and their horses. Our red 3008 grabbed the attention of the horses and they followed us for a short distance. It would have been only too easy to outrun them, having 170 horsepower (120kW) from our 2,0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, but it seemed slightly unfair to the teenagers, who had only one bhp each. So we parked the car and enjoyed the scenery. The horses were friendly and curious, and it took some effort to keep one of them from nibbling on the side mirror.
Albie chose this moment to share one of his favourite quotes: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” We’re fairly certain that most horse owners will know who said that, but for those who don't it was Winston Churchill.
We ended the day with a leisurely row on the Vaal River. There are a few places that can offer visitors an action packed adventure in the rapids, but our abseiling had stirred more than enough adrenaline for one day.
Once again we'd driven the 3008 into the kind of place it was never intended to go. To get that perfect photograph, it was necessary to park the car on a slippery slope next to the river. It was easy enough to get the car into the spot, but we had some nagging doubts about getting it out. If we couldn't spin it out of there, we could call on Albie’s 4x4 double-cab to tow us out. We decided not to worry about it for a while and drifted serenely on the river.
The shot worked perfectly, and soon we could no longer ignore the fact that we had to negotiate a front-wheel drive car over a wet and slippery incline. The worst-case scenario was too awful to contemplate – the 3008 at the bottom of the Vaal River! Since insurance forms don’t allow much space to explain an accident of this nature, we were hoping it wouldn't happen.
So we drove the 3008 out of there at the very first try. It struggled to find grip for a few seconds, but then flew out with no problem whatsoever. Who said we were worried?
The Peugeot 3008 turned out to be a surprising companion. We have driven it before and it left us impressed with its levels of comfort, space and sophistication. It has a lovely diesel engine, which averaged around 7,0 l/km on this trip, and it is lavishly equipped with standard features that tend to be optional extras in its competitors. The recent facelift has also done its part in turning the 3008 into a rather handsome vehicle.
We’re not suggesting you attempt crossing the Kalahari in the 3008, but it’s nice to know that it can cope on the odd occasion when you want to venture a little way off road.
Like the adventure farms, the 3008 offers entry into an adventurous lifestyle without you having to go the whole nine yards.
Want to do the same?
How do I get there and when should I go?
The easiest way to get to Parys is via the N1. On the N1 the journey takes around 45 minutes to an hour from Johannesburg, but the N12 via Potchefstroom is more scenic. It takes two hours, but it’s worth the trip. Potchefstroom is also worth a visit as there are some interesting places to see, including the historic Snowflake building and the North West University campus.
An all-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary and a compact crossover should do just fine on the gravel roads surrounding Parys.
During the winter it’s extremely cold out there, with temperatures regularly dipping below zero. The best time to go is right now, during the summer months. The yellow hue of the hills has been replaced with a lush green, but take care not to spend too much time in the sun.
Where can I stay?
There are a few places to stay between Parys and Potchefstroom. You can also choose to stay in either one of the towns, where accommodation ranges from basic to ultra luxurious.
Thabela Thabeng has 12 three-star self-catering chalets built on the edge of a cliff. These units are popular, so it’s best to book. (tel 056-818-1116 or e-mail to [email protected])
What can I do while I’m there?
There are more than enough activities to keep the family busy over a weekend. At Thabela Thabeng you can hike or ride your mountain bike through the Dome. Those who prefer something more relaxing can go fishing in the Vaal River, or do some bird watching. There are more than 400 bird species in the Vredefort Dome, so it’s a bird watcher’s paradise.
There are several adventure companies in the immediate vicinity that offer activities such as hot air ballooning, white river rafting and guided 4x4 trips through the Dome.
Source: Leisure Wheels