Wild and wonderful time in the bush

04 December 2013 - 13:13
By BRUCE FRASER
DOING IT IN COMFORT: Our long-term BMW 125i proved the perfect vehicle for a trip into the wilderness
Image: Times Media DOING IT IN COMFORT: Our long-term BMW 125i proved the perfect vehicle for a trip into the wilderness

The finishing line for 2013 is just on the horizon, but still, there's nothing like a couple of days away from the rigours of city life to restore the energy levels.

And for me, that means leaving behind the smog-filled skyline of Johannesburg and heading for the tranquil beauty of the Waterberg mountain range. Or more specifically, Mabalingwe nature reserve, which is just 30km outside Bela-Bela on the R516 Thabazimbi Road.

Its been a favourite place to escape to for a number of years, with its self-catering chalets nestled on the slopes of the valleys, providing easy access to a wide range of facilities and abundance of game on its 12 500 hectare property.

A comfortable two-hour drive from Gauteng, this particular lodge is not one where access is gained solely thanks to a rugged 4x4. No, with Mabalingwe its paved all the way so I decided it would be an ideal time to release our long-term BMW 125i from the confines of an underground parking lot and hit the road north.

With a boot space of 360 litres, it was no problem fitting in all the necessities - read into that food and refreshments - and a cargo net kept everything secure.

The stretch of N1 from Pretoria to the Bela-Bela turnoff is a favourite haunt for the men-in-uniform so it was a case of setting the cruise control within the prescribed speed limit (120 km/h) and enjoying the drive.

Even at that speed the vehicle was pulling effortlessly at a shade over 2000rpm and returned a fuel consumption figure in the region of 9.5 litres/per 100km. Not bad, but must admit I was expecting a little lower. But, I guess, somewhere along the line you pay for that superb 4-cylinder twinpower turbo engine.

Within the reserve itself, a speed limit of 40km/h is strictly enforced, and besides, rush and you are bound to miss the game.

For those who know the area - where temperatures regularly crack 40c - you will appreciate that an airconditioner is a non-negotiable, while the tinted windows on the Beemer managed to deflect a large amount of sunlight.

Also, with the electric sunroof fully open, it provided those in the back with a novel way of viewing game. And game they saw!

Rhino lolling about in the cool shade of a Marula tree, a gang of meerkat foraging for food, warthog with their antenna-like tails rushing about, baboons casually strolling about while their loud booming grunts reverberate through the valleys, nervous-looking springbok, bored-looking kudu.

The stop-start technology of the 125i also came in handy in the bush with the engine cutting out when the vehicle came to a standstill. The moment the foot is lifted off the brake, the engine kicks back into action like a startled guinea fowl, of which we saw plenty.

In parts of the reserve, where often at night the only light supplied is courtesy of the stars above, the vicinity lighting in the door handles helps you find and access the vehicle easily.

Mind you, in a region as beautiful as this, I could stay lost forever!