Big Country/African Outback roof rack add-ons

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Ahead of FINALLY installing the lift kit and getting a roof top tent, I decided to perform some changes to the African Outback on the 100. The rack came from a friend of mine, Sean; he had it on his truck and we transferred it to mine as he was retiring his from being his main overland truck (he built a J7 Cruiser pickup).

The rack came to me with a basket portion and mounts for a shovel, Hi-Lift, and jerry cans. I had the basket portion on the front of the rack while the shovel and Hi-Lift were on the back on either side. Pretty simple.

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I decided to move my spare tire to the rack now. Why? Because Toyota slung the spare tire under the rear cargo area… Now that I run LT285/75R16s, I bounce, drag, and smack the spare on all kinds of obstacles; I really don’t need to damage a tire. Plus, in snow or mud, it’s just something extra to get packed with stuff and kill my momentum. Just look how far it hangs down from my hitch reviver:

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I wont be putting a rear bumper with a swing-out carrier on it (expensive, heavy, puts the weight super far back). Mounting the spare to the rack keeps the weight in the right spot, but unfortunately puts it above the center of gravity. I do think because I’m putting a TJM lift on it, and I run tires with a good footprint, my stability will be fine.

While in South Africa, I stopped by the Big Country/African Outback showroom and grabbed a spare tire mount. I didn’t open it until I got home, it came with no directions or mounting bolts. And as you can see from the top pic, it’s a threaded rod with a welded single tab on the bottom (with one bolt hole). But, African Outback uses a system where there are two grooves in the rails, you slide their custom nuts into the rail and use that to bolt whatever accessory on:
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It’s a strong set up and allows different configurations of the rack’s brackets. But this mount looks like it was designed to go under the rack on one of the support rails.

I didn’t know the rack had mounts there; you can see the groove in this photo as well as how tight of a fit it is:
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Yes, you have to remove the rack to reach this groove (it’s okay, I used it as an excuse to give the truck a bath). In this shot you can see the wide section of the groove where you insert the square nut; I found the best way to slide them where you want is to run a bolt into them and use a wrench to pull them into position:
ResizedImage_14108037422651 To figure out which rail to mount it on, decide where you want the tire, and measure. I placed mine on the rear of the rack and more on the right side of the truck. I measured 17in (a little over half my tire’s radius). from the back and another 17in from the side. After that, just bolt the mount with the threads pointed up through the top of the rack:
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Getting it back one was easy; I did take off the basket portion of the rack, but I left the shovel and axe holder where they were. The tire sits with the threaded bar through the center hole, then the bar slides on, and finally the threaded wing-nut (you can see these two pieces in the top photo). It is a sturdy mount. Everything feels very secure up there.

If you do have, or plan to purchase an African Outback rack and accessories, make sure that you get extra mounting bolts and nuts from them for various brackets. Most of the installation of their products look self explanatory, so I wouldn’t worry about instructions: a simple test fit will show you how it goes.

Now, the truck looks a bit more overland:

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Finalizing the choice for a roof top tent

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Part of the choice of what equipment we bolt to our trucks comes to looks; hell, even what we drive or list as our dream vehicles comes down to appearance. Defenders, 70-Series Land Cruisers, G-Wagen, Nissan GU Patrol… they all look badass. Roof racks, snorkels, bull bars… they’re functional, sure, but we really love them for their looks. And it’s the same with roof top tents, a soft tent in it’s storage bag looks safari. It screams Africa. Australia. Adventure travel.

Sure, we see a few hard roof top tents (like Autohome) out there. But, they aren’t as common as the soft tents and they look like those little aerodynamic storage boxes people put on top of their Subarus or Toyota Sequoias (what do people keep in those things anyway?). The added cost and weight of the hard tents are a couple of extra reasons why we don’t want one (you should research them yourself though, they do have advantages: easier to pack up, better betting, aerodynamic on the roof…).

On our trip to South Africa, we made sure to stop by off road shops to finalize the list of things we wanted in a tent. From our initial thought on size, we realized that a smaller one would be perfectly comfortable for the two of us; a 1.3M x 2.4M tent is a great size for sleeping; the addition of an annex would make it not so cramped when changing. A smaller tent would be lighter, and more compact on the roof rack which makes it a win-win all the way around.

One of the places we stopped at was Front Runner to look at their Feather-Lite tent:
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It really fit the bill. They do have a branch in California and would make a great option. I did ask the sales guy if it was manufactured in South Africa… and no, they are made in China.

That prompted me to quickly check Cascadia Vehicle Tents when we got back to a place with internet. I knew they had a couple of smaller tents coming, but they hadn’t posted a pic of them. Their new Mt. Bailey tent looks a lot like the Front Runner, has about the same specs, they are based in Oregon (driving distance), and have a strong reputation. This tent looks to be our choice:
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Knowing this, I’ve made some changes to my African Outback roof rack. I’ll post a brief write-up and photos on that and keep you posted on us making a tent purchase.

Spotted Hyena, our favorite sighting.

Yes, the bone crushing predator/scavenger, the ugly one, with it’s laugh and strange gait, gave us a show that we’re still talking about.

I really wanted to see hyena on this trip because we didn’t see any on our honeymoon. Well, we did see one patrolling the fence around one of the Kruger’s camp, but I didn’t feel that counted. We did hear them though, with that strange and beautiful whooping howl blasting through Africa’s early morning air. It made me want to see them that much more.

In the past, I hated the hyena. Or, at least the idea of hyena. I only knew them from nature films where they always show up as the antagonist to the lion. Evil. Dark. Thieves. Cowards They’re typically portrayed as stealing kills that the lions worked so hard to get (I still don’t know why any coward would steal something right from the mouths of lions). Nasty creatures.

But, newer documentaries have been a bit more kind to them. They are predators, successful ones. Yes, they steal kills the lions have made; lions still theirs. They harass the hell out of lion prides; lions do the same to them. Nature is brutal and one creature isn’t more deserving of our admiration than another.

This time around, we saw a really young hyena cub by the side of the road; we were only a couple of minutes into the Kruger and, like an amateur, the camera was still in the bag in the trunk of the car. It didn’t take long for us to start seeing more of them though: in pairs loping through the bush or in small parts of clans with the cubs… Then, our last morning, we left the gate of Olifants camp at exactly 6:00am and saw these little guys with their mom by the side of the road:

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The hyena had killed an impala in the night; the cubs were trying to get mom to regurgitate some venison for breakfast. In the background, another hyena was crunching the skull of the impala.

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This was an exciting viewing; we sat there for quite a bit of time, just watching. It was a long time before another vehicle showed up to share it. Definitely one of the cooler things I have ever seen.

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Elephants and me…

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This is not the best picture of elephants; Natasha and I were driving back to camp just before the closing at 6:00pm and we saw these two in the sunset. I pulled over quickly and just snapped a photo with the camera on one of its automatic settings; the camera focused on a bush between me and the elephants. But, that’s okay, I got another pic to add to my hundreds of photos of elephants.

I love them that much. When I was in my teens, I decided my dream was to get a biology degree and spend time in Africa around elephants. I didn’t care or even think about what I would do; I just wanted to be around elephants. And then chemistry happened.

Chemistry defeats me. I’m okay with the math and generally get the concepts, but putting everything together to pass even a basic class? Nope. Fail. Multiple times. It was basically the class that took me out of college the first time around and then life happened.

But I still dreamt of elephants and seeing them in the wild. Of course, I went back to school to pick up an English degree, then went on to my MFA in poetry. That is where I met my wife. She was born and raised in South Africa; she took me home for our honeymoon where I got to see elephants in the Kruger.

Once again, I snapped every elephant I could. We watched them eat, play in water, even saw a young calf suckle…

They do create traffic jams when then cross the road. We give them plenty of space and look around to make sure we haven’t split the heard up. We saw this heard before they crossed the road and stopped way back and just watched.

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This elephant is close, really close. We were in the back of one of the open trucks on the Sunset Drive out of Olifants Camp; I didn’t have the flash on and there was no spotlight on the elephant.

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There aren’t the best photos. Elephants are hard to capture in the Kruger, even though you see quiet a few of them, because you’re in your car. But, they are so wonderful to see.

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But Jason, you said you’d take pics of trucks while in South Africa

Where are the trucks?

I’m sure Natasha was tired of me spotting trucks: “oh, look at the D110! Wow, my dream truck, a 76-Series Land Cruiser.” “I love those 79-Series dual cabs, those are my dream trucks…” And on and on…

Surprisingly, I didn’t take a shit ton of pics of trucks. But, it’s not because I didn’t want to, it’s because I saw the most badass ones while driving. I missed taking pics of the few Nissan Patrols I saw, and of a couple of 60-Series, 40-series, and the one FJ55 I spotted.

Here are a few things that I did see:

First up, the Mahindra Scorpio. I find them interesting. They were supposed to make it to the shores of the U.S., but they didn’t make it because of a host of issued with importing and reported fuel mileage. These truck are strangely ugly, but seem to be fairly simple and solid.

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I’m not saying I would buy one, I don’t know much about them, their reliability, or build quality… and they don’t seem to be highly supported by the aftermarket world either. But still, their funky styling has me looking.

Next, the Land Rovers. This time around, I saw mostly Defenders out and about:

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There isn’t much to say about the Defenders. Probably the best designed 4×4 out there; too bad their build quality isn’t better.

Then a couple of odds and ends:

Short wheelbase Mitsubishi Pajero:

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And the so cool Suzuki Jimny (I would love to drive one of these):

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And the one truck that I would possibly take over my beloved Land Cruiser, The Mercedes G-Wagen:

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But, I’m a Toyota guy through and through. So, how about an older SFA HiLux Raider (with swapped in Lexus V-8)?

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New HiLux/Foretuner?

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Or a few 100-Series:

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And the ever so dreamy 70-Series Land Cruisers for work and play:

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Ah, the 76-Series wagon… that is such a beautiful truck.

There was so many trucks I saw. The North American market is pretty lame in comparison. The amount of pieces and parts available there is crazy too; I could win the lotto and still go broke outfitting trucks.

Next up: Elephants!

Elephant guns, mud, and catfish…

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Those two rifles? .416 Rigby. Big. Loud. Hard hitting.

Our guides on the bushwalk carried them as a backup. Leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, big scary things… when you’re out in the bush you might stumble into one. The guides are well trained and, honestly, they do their best to avoid anything like lion or leopard when they’re with you. But, the bush and wildlife are unpredictable; they are armed for the worst case scenario.

Natasha and I went on one for our honeymoon and had a wonderful experience; so we booked one on this trip too, out of the Satara camp. On a bushwalk, you meet your guides at 05:15 and leave the camp around 05:30 for a 4hr trip. It’s a short drive out, an educational walk out in the bush (he guides use the good hunting technique of keeping the wind in the face as to avoid spooking game), and the drive back into camp. Because the drive out is in the dark, the guides use spotlights to illuminate the bush out to the sides of the truck on the drive out. This is an amazing time to see wildlife.

On this one, we saw a pride of lion on a buffalo kill, including the male lying on the road, just a few minutes past the gate. It was a huge pride, with some being around the carcass while others were lounging by a nearby waterhole. There were a few other players on the scene, including jackal and vultures, waiting for their turn to eat. It was a great sighting.

The real beauty of the bushwalk is getting close to or seeing animal tracks, habitat, and even animals that you wont by driving through the park. Our guides included a dam in our walk. As we approached it, we could see an African Fish Eagle in a tree overlooking the waterhole. It hadn’t rained since April in the Kruger, and the dam was dry except for the thick black mud in the middle.

As we approached it, the mud began to wiggle and splash. It was full of barbel catfish. They bury themselves in the mud and go dormant until the rains come. It’s a crazy phenomenon. There are even stories of locals making bricks with the mud only to have live fish come out of the walls when it rains.

If you look closely at these pics, you can see fins, mouths, whiskers.

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Of course, the Kruger National Park isn’t only about the big cats

Bushbuck:

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A naughty little Vervet Monkey (that is a candy wrapper that it’s licking):

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Zebra butt!:

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My wife’s favorite, the elegant Kudu:

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The endangered Southern Ground Hornbill (we saw four of them by the time we left):

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I will keep posting up more of the shots I have in the next few days. There are more of the Kruger, a whole bunch of trucks of course, and other scenes from our brief trip to South Africa.