Once on a training course a lady told me that whilst she enjoyed a 4×4 experience she preferred 5 stars (Hotel) as opposed to a galaxy (camping). This got me thinking as to the way in which trail owners, rate a trail as opposed to what a customer really expects.
Generally in terms of the order of difficulty trails are rated from 1-5 with 5 being the ultimate test of “person” and machine, at this level one requires a highly experienced driver and a modified 4×4.
Let’s not dwell on that and rather consider the customer, obviously the degree of difficulty is a consideration when selecting a breakaway, but what else makes up that total experience? After all at the end of the day it’s all about the experience. Recently I have had a few people complain about trails they have visited when it was apparent that they did not ask all the questions.
A good example is the Lebombo Trail in the Kruger, not that daunting with a few rocky sections, some river crossings and good dirty mud! Why then is it booked up for at least 18 months in advance? Well it is about the ability to shower in the great outdoors (take your own shower), cook brunch whilst gazing at endless vistas and sleeping amongst the animals. Here you see the stars, the animals and parts of the park that a normal person will never see. Even when at Crookes corner the ranger takes you further to see the actual confluence of the borders of Zim,Bots and Moz.And to top it off you are guaranteed to tick a few unique sightings off.
Now hit the 5 stars, in the Eastern Free State Moolmanshoek is a Top 10 trail in terms of driving, but it’s a 5 star experience in terms of the catering and accommodation, a great opportunity to drive all day in really rough terrain and follow it up with a hot shower, excellent meal in the restaurant dropping off afterwards into a well made bed with comfortable bedding – off-road bliss!
Then you get the hellhole- I once stayed at such a trail –highly rated by a well-known publication- and left as soon as I could. On arrival there was no wood for the braai, gas for the showers and toilet paper. All of which should have been there on arrival. The trail was badly marked, poorly laid out and not well maintained. I made it up to the family with a great lunch in nearby Clarens.
In the main trail owners are great people, they welcome the visitors and enjoy the company, some are farmers who simply add a trail in for the additional revenue and enthusiasts it brings and some approach it as a business offering a wide variety of other activities.Moolmanshoek is one such trail the lodge is well built and run and the venue is extremely popular as a wedding venue being booked up for many weekends in a year. In addition the game has been restocked, domestic animals moved and the bush is virtually indigenous.
It’s important that you ask the questions before making a booking, peruse the trail website and see what is offered. One mans meat is another mans poison – regulation although mooted years ago is unlikely to happen and trails generally are not members of tourism associations or grading councils. But satisfy yourself and ensure that the family and friends enjoy the total experience – ask the questions to avoid disappointment.
- Is the trail a full trail or a training track- how long is it?
- Is it marked with a route map or guided?
- Are there escape routes at the difficult sections?
- The type of accommodation and ablutions (hot water).
- What activities exist for children and adults?
- Catering options.
- Kitchen facilities.
- Availability of food if self-catering (nearest town).
- The environmental character of the trail, is it pristine bush with game of are there invasive species with domestic animals?
- The nearest medical facility (especially if travelling with small children).
Always ensure that you travel with a well stocked first aid kit as the little ones tend to let their hair down and go wild in the bush, common injuries being cuts and grazes, splinters and minor burns.
Don’t forget the cellphone signal and electricity for the hair dryer!
And enjoy yourself –we have so many great routes and so little time!