You can now visit remote wilderness areas and have a truly exclusive experience – miles from anywhere, the night skies are brilliant and the silence is overwhelming. You can see sights that take your breath away from the comfort of your own vehicle. The freedom this brings is quite addictive, and for some, it's the only way to travel for the ultimate getaway.
Of course, an off-roading trip demands that you know what you are doing, and you have to be prepared for any situation. For many people living in remote areas, this is a way of life. Every detail of the journey has to be planned and you have to be self-sufficient, but there are great benefits in combining a 4x4 trail with time spent in South Africa's beautiful national parks.
Adventure calls - 7 top South African national parks with 4x4 trails
Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail – this is a guided trail and takes place over 4 days between Twee Rivieren and Nossob rest camps (direction changes on alternate months, start Monday and end on Thursday). A minimum of 2 and a maximum of 5 vehicles with low range (without trailers) can take part. There is also another smaller one-way trail that can be done in a day. Look forward to wonderful photo opportunities of wildlife in stark relief against arid landscapes, but beware intense seasonal temperatures.
Spot: Black-maned Kalahari Lion, Gemsbok and other antelope herds, Meerkats, Sociable Weavers and Pygmy Falcons.
Caracal 4x4 Eco Trail – this trail can be done in sections or in one journey which takes 6-8 hours. Enjoy beautiful Namaqua landscapes journeying from Skilpad Reserve in the mountains, through the flatlands down to the coast and the Groen River mouth. Namaqua is renowned for its wildflowers (August / September) but on this route you will see many other wonders and pristine wilderness areas.
Spot: Rare flora, Quiver trees, quartz beds, Klipspringers, Black Harriers, untouched coastline (caves, shipwreck, dunes). This park is undergoing a development phase.
The Wilderness Road – this 4x4 trail follows a circular route through the park and takes about 6 hours, but you could enjoy various side routes and stops along the way as there are a number of view sites, picnic spots and waterholes to visit. The route begins and ends at the main falls and rest camp. Be prepared for stunning sights and scenery around the Orange River gorge and the Augrabies Waterfall.
Spot: Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, Verreauxs's Eagle (Black), Rock Hyrax, Broadley's Flat Lizard, Quiver trees, dramatic rock formations.
Marakele 4x4 Eco Trail – this is a guided 3 day trail in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve for 4x4 vehicles with low range and experienced drivers only. The route travels from the main gate entrance to the Moralane gate twice a week (Friday – Sunday and Tuesday – Thursday) in the dry season only, between 1 April and the last Sunday in October before the rains start. Just 5 vehicles with a maximum of 4 people per vehicle can make the journey. Children under 12 years on request only. Look forward to a challenge, venturing through primitive wilderness areas and seeing the best scenery, flora and fauna in the park on a malaria-free 4x4 safari.
Spot: Elephant, Rhino, Kudu, Eland, Cape Vulture, big cats and cycads.
Bedrogfontein 4x4 Trail – this trail route can be done in either direction between Kabouga and Darlington, taking about 6 hours to complete. Only vehicles with low range facilities are allowed and there could be a tough river crossing involved as an option in certain conditions. You will travel through a range of landscapes including riverine thicket, forest (afromontane), fynbos covered mountain peaks and the nama-Karoo in the upper section of the park. This route was the site of many Anglo-Boer battles during the war and there are Bushmen paintings to be found in this area. Addo is a Big Five game reserve, with a wildlife area where you can experience a malaria-free safari, but there are a number of other sections to explore.
Spot: Rhino, Cape Mountain Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Mountain Reedbuck, Blue Duiker, Springbok and Aardwolf, African Crowned Eagles and Karoo endemics such as the Karoo Chat.
There are three 4x4 trails in the Eastern Cape national park which can be done in dry conditions. The most challenging is the Umngeni Trail which starts at the main rest camp and takes about an hour to complete; the Juriesdam Trail is slightly longer, accessed from the main entrance road and exploring the eastern plateau; the Sonnenrust Trail is the longest and explores the north-western section of the park ending on a plateau where beautiful views can be enjoyed. Look forward to great mountain scenery and champagne air in an historic area.
Spot: Rhino, Buffalo, Cheetah, Cape Mountain Zebra (saved from extinction), Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard and Bushmen cave paintings.
There are 4 regular 4x4 trails and one tough trail for experienced drivers only in the Karoo National Park. Nuweveld Eco Trail is by far the longest and about 50km (31 miles) of it features some steep rocky parts and sandy river crossings (dry), the shorter Afsaal Eco Trail also branches off the Potlekkertjie Loop. Other options, the Kookfontein Loop and the Sandrivier Loop should take about an hour each and lead on from Nuweveld and Afsaal. The Pienaars Pass Trail is slightly longer than Kookfontein / Sandrivier but it is a very difficult route and vehicle numbers are limited. Enjoy views of the rolling plains and scenic mountain vistas in a malaria-free game reserve. This area is of huge importance being one of the oldest known land eco-systems in the world.
Spot: Breeding pairs of Black Eagle, Rhino, Buffalo, Cape Mountain Zebra and fossils.