Rolling into Camp
With a caravan in tow, photojournalist Leon Botha has travelled to some of South Africa's prettiest spots.
The ability to track down postcard-pretty landscapes and plenty of fresh air is encoded in South African genes, much like our pioneering spirit and love of camp fires. Some moments on the road are forever etched in your mind: the sight of the Augrabies Falls and the raw power of the Orange River. A sicklebush campfire somewhere in the Bushveld and the chance to grow quiet. Experiences so vivid that you become a part of the landscape. There’s no way you could head off to the closest chalet for a night in a strange bed, you simply have to pitch camp right there.
If you ever want to feel like you are in the middle of South Africa’s oxygen-supply plant, hitch your caravan and make your way to the Drakensberg to peg down your rally tent near the dramatic Amphitheatre. Mahai campsite, tucked away in Royal Natal National Park just past Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal, is the kind of place where you can get a second wind before heading back to town.
Pottering around the garden at home there’s little chance of raising your eyes to the heavens and seeing a bearded vulture. But look up at the mountains here and it’s a different story. Now you are camping in the aerial maestro’s backyard. With the first rays of the sun painting the Dragon’s jagged spine red, it feels as if the world was made yesterday. Everything around you is fresh, as if the first of its kind.
For once my watch doesn’t matter. As Mom and the kids indulge in a last dream under their snug blankets, I motivate their rising. The smell of fried onions and bacon crisping on the gas stove will sort out any sleepyhead.
In the mornings I like to sit by the caravan and watch my fellow caravanners: my own reality show. On a fold-up table a kettle is puffing clouds of steam while the coffee mugs get a spoonful of sugar each. Next door two pensioners are holding hands like two young lovebirds.
When I pull up at a new caravan site I know my neighbours and I speak the same language. It doesn’t take long for the kids to clear out and before I can even get the caravan level they’ve made friends with the neighbour’s lot. Once the children are out of my hair it’s time to set up camp, an almost magical ritual for every caravanner. Caravan level, pop-up roof out, ground sheet down, rally tent up. Before I can get the camping chairs out of the boot, my neighbour’s holding his hand out: “Pleased to meet you.”
Must-haves for caravanning
1) Towing mirrors if your caravan width exceeds the car width.
2) A caravan stabiliser to minimise sway at towing speed.
3) Spare bulbs and fuses (which might not be the same as the towing vehicle’s).
4) Proper hammer and decent tent pegs.
5) Emergency equipment, from a fire extinguisher to a medical kit.
This article was first published in the spring issue of Wild 2012.