Roaming the landscape in a Land Rover
A German Lutheran bazaar is the perfect excuse for a trip to the Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, and a Land Rover Freelander 2 is the perfect set of wheels.
Isibindi Zulu Lodge is just 250-odd kilometres from Durban, but it’s a long, crooked 250km of roads that aren’t perfect. Camouflaged cows materialise in the middle of the road with no warning, and potholes sneak up on you, usually when you’re avoiding one of the cows.
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It is, in short, the kind of road that reminds you why SUVs are so popular in this beautiful, vast country, where so many of the best places to visit are at the end of just such roads. It’s also a good reminder of why clever engineers thought up xenon lights, I thought, as a black cow was lit up in cool brightness, her murder-suicide plans foiled for this dark night.
Some people pooh-pooh the SUV, arguing that if you aren’t going to go off-road, it makes more sense to buy a sedan. Well, they have a point if you stick to the highways and cities, but there’s a lot to be said for an SUV when you venture into wandering bovine territory.
Meet the Freelander
Take the Land Rover Freelander 2 that was busy keeping us safe. Recently revitalised for 2013, the Freelander is probably the class leader when it comes to all-round ability, especially when one of the criteria is decent off-road ability.
The heart and brain of the Freelander, and the source of its breadth of capability, is the Terrain Response System that allows the driver to flip between different traction control modes depending on the terrain you are navigating. So as I dodged cows at night on a tar road, the system was in General Driving mode. An hour later we turned off the tar and onto the dirt road to Elandskraal. I pressed a button and selected Grass-Gravel-Snow, and with that, the traction control was adjusted to keep the vehicle on the straight and narrow on the loose gravel surface. The next day I would choose the Mud and Ruts setting for a steep, rocky decline, and Hill Descent Control would automatically keep me from running out of control. All of this is combined with excellent aperture and departure angles and 210mm of ground clearance.
While the Freelander’s facelift includes more purposeful looks, even more features and improved comfort, the most newsworthy element is an entirely new engine. Replacing the 3,2-litre V6 petrol engine is a 2-litre turbocharged unit good for power output of 177kW and 340Nm of torque. It is sensational to drive, but I, for one, would choose either of Land Rover’s four-cylinder diesels (either 110kW or 140kW, and both with 420Nm) over it any day of the week, mainly for the far better fuel economy and the resultant extra range per tank, but also for the extra torque.
While it’s never a bad time to visit Isibindi Zulu Lodge, what with Rorke’s Drift just down the road, and unique, luxury, beehive huts to sleep in and beautiful views over the aloe-strewn bushveld, we were on a more specific foray.
In the 1920s, while New York was caught up in all that is Gatsby, a little church community called Elandskraal in rural KwaZulu-Natal was organising a bazaar to pay for the building of their new church. They managed to do this and more, sending surplus funds (more than 14 pounds) to Germany to look after children orphaned by the Great War. Well, it’s 90 years later and the swinging ’20s are but a romantic memory, while Elandskraal’s Lutheran Church Bazaar continues to prosper and raise money for good causes.
It’s a lovely, very German event where you get the opportunity to buy local meat, butterkuchen, mettwurst, genuine German breads, gherkins, biscuits and all the other goodies that add inches and reduce years.
In fact, it’s such a festive occasion that families drive from as far as Cape Town and Joburg to take part, and the party goes on late into the night, with people quaffing beers to German drinking songs, and braaing meat they bought earlier in the day.
From the farming community of Elandskraal it’s a short drive to Rorke’s Drift, which is where we spent the rest of our day exploring. I would love to do this again, combined with Isandlwana and a guide who can bring it all to life. Even by itself, and with just a brochure for information, Rorke’s Drift is fascinating and palpably thick with history. The Queen may have handed out 11 Victoria Crosses, but the attacking Zulu impis must have been equally brave to hurl themselves at the British throughout the night.
The area around Isibindi Zulu Lodge, as well as the reserve itself, is both beautiful and interesting, and if we had had a bit more time we would have easily used it up exploring and discovering. To me, the Freelander 2 remains the best vehicle in its class to do this sort of trip, well worth its price premium.
- Name: Land Rover Freelander 2
- Body type: SUV
- Engine capacity: 2-litre turbocharged petrol
- Power output: 177kW
- Torque: 340Nm
- Price: Land Rover Freelander 2 TD4 S
(Manual) R433 500
Land Rover Freelander 2 SD4 S R449 300
Land Rover Freelander 2 SD4 SE R496 500
Land Rover Freelander 2 SD4 HSE R545 500
Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 Dynamic R500 400
Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 HSE R546 000
- Isibindi Zulu Lodge: +27 (0) 35 474 1473; [email protected]
- Land Rover
- Elandskraal Bazaar: First Saturday of June every year, +27 (0) 72 819 5686; [email protected]
Words Stephen Smith
Photography Stephen Smith and Land Rover SA