Kruger!

If you’re traveling all the way to South Africa, go see the Kruger National Park. Rent a vehicle, car or even a truck, stay in the rondovels or camp. Just go.

Every time my wife has taken me back to South Africa, we’ve visited the Kruger. Each trip we’ve seen the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino), birds and more birds, and tons of zebras, wildebeest, kudu, impala, hyena, etc.

Our trip last August was no different… here are some shots from our last trip:

Elephants:

 

My wife’s favorite, the Kudu:

Kudu

Lions:

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Southern Ground Hornbill

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Baboon:

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Hyena:

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Lilac Breasted Roller:

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A spooky Sable in the woods:

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Giraffe:

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Rent a HiLux! Go camping!

In August of 2016, Natasha and I headed to South Africa as we try to do every couple of years or so to see family and explore. Of course, we always carve out time to visit the Kruger National Park.

The last couple of times we’ve just used whatever rental car we had (nothing like cruising up next to a hippo in a Kia Picanto) and stayed at the chalets. On this trip, we rented an outfitted Toyota HiLux from Kea Travel; we camped instead.

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We got lucky and ended up with a 2016 HiLux with 76km on the clock. Brand new! The truck was a bare bones basic single cab 4×4 with the 2.5L diesel, manual transmission, steel wheels, air conditioning. The modifications are basic too: full aluminum canopy, 60L auxiliary fuel tank, 40L water tank, drawer system, 50L Engel fridge, Howling Moon roof top tent,  brush guard, and a Hi-Lift jack. Really, not much more is needed.

 

Camping equipment was included too, gas bottle, pots, pans, etc. They also provide sleeping bags and pillows. The gear was easily enough for us, but less than we usually carry.  Kea’s website doesn’t show the equipment list, but Britz 4×4 does (they were located in the same building and had basically the same trucks); I downloaded it here: Toyota Specs.

The only thing we had to add was a way to carry our food, matches, cooking coals, and the like. We ended up grabbing some banana boxes at a Food Lovers while we getting our groceries and using them. Yes, we’ve used banana boxes before: they work and they’re free.

So, if you’re thinking about doing something similar and want to rent a truck, you can go through Britz 4×4 or Kea Travels. I ended up using a broker called Southern Off Road. They were very easy to work with, allowed me to request a HiLux (I didn’t want a Nissan), communicated quickly, and worked with me and our itinerary. I think that them might even have a way to get you from and back to the airport in Johannesburg.

Was it reasonable? Absolutely. For five days we paid R7320 (the Rand to Dollar fluctuates, so check it when you’re ready to book…). Because we stayed in the campgrounds of the Kruger National Park, we paid less for our overnights then renting lodging. It was a brilliant trip.

And some inspiration for renting a 4×4 and doing trips in South Africa: check out Drive South Africa’s You Tube channel here.

Get out there!

A little FJ40 love

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My first Land Cruiser was a 1972 FJ40: F engine, 3-speed transmission, and very few mods. 40s and other more agricultural type 4x4s are my favorites. The rough ride, the smells, rattles, the feeling of driving something robust.

Every time I see a 40, I have to stop  and look, especially if it’s stock or lightly modified. This summer my wife and I took a trip through the north eastern part of Washington on our way to Calgary. This FJ40 was peeking out from a garage in Metaline Falls, WA…

I hope it hits the trail again someday….

How can you safari…

…in a rental Kia Picanto? Or VW Golf?

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The key word is “rental”.

Seriously, Natasha and I first went to the Kruger National Park in South Africa on our honeymoon. We took the Kia Picanto that we’d rented for the Joburg portion of our trip to South Africa. It as a small car. Really small. And, it was quite scary to stop anywhere near hippos, rhinos, etc. in.

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Two years later, we went again; this time we ended up with a VW Polo. Kind of a cool car: manual transmission, roll down windows, very basic. It wasn’t as small as the Kia, which was better, but you still are low to the ground in one. And I worried about the street tires on gravel and dirt roads (there aren’t difficult trails in the areas of the Kruger for self drive safaris). It was slow though. SLOW.

VW Rental

Funny how they’re similar colours…

We’re headed back to South Africa in a couple of weeks! But this time, we’re renting a Toyota HiLux! Yes, it’s diesel, has a roof top tent, camping supplies… safari ready. Now granted, we wont do any hardcore driving, it is the Kruger… But it’ll be nice to sit above the grass, and to be able to say in the campgrounds in a RTT…

Stay tuned for rental information and pics of the truck and, of course, South Africa in the near future!

Lenses for Otis!

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This little 4Runner, Otis, came to our family in really  good shape… A little dirty, and needing paint, but straight and complete otherwise.

Then, Zoe came home one day with that look: tears welling up, sad face. She told me she had really hurt the truck. I thought: “Oh, no, she must have really messed up.”

No, not really. She just did one of those things that make you wonder about teenage brains. On her way to school, she regularly cut through an alley after stopping for snacks at a grocery store. On that day, she found her way blocked by an open door of a storage container; she slowly pushed it closed with her bumper… only to have her left park lamp busted out by a piece of metal.

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Then, not too long after, she was parked in downtown Seattle and came back to the truck to find the left rear light broken out.

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These are the kind of things you have to fix; if you don’t, the truck will look shabby and it seems other things will go wrong..

Zoe ordered replacements to match OEM. The rear taillamp lens is all one piece. And the front corner lamp is all one unit with a bulb included. The feel and look of these two lenses are good. It’s hard to tell if they’ll match OEM pieces though; that’ll take a lot of time and weather to know.

The rear lens fit absolutely fine. It was a straight bolt on.

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The front one, however, wasn’t as easy. It did take some fiddling around, pushing, and pulling. We finally got the bottom screw in, and I pushed on it to line it up the other two holes and she ran the screws and got it all bolted up.

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A little cosmetics goes a long way; now the truck is back to where we had it after a few improvements.

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Now, on to the next things!

“The pedal suddenly goes to the floor.”

“And it’s really scary when stopped on a hill…” Zoe says while we’re watching TV.

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Nice. And she was so calm about it.

The symptom made it really easy to diagnose, but we double checked anyway. It was simple: start the truck, put my foot on the brake, and wait… There would come a point where the pedal started dropping to the floor.

Master cylinder.

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Zoe picked up a stock replacement from O’Reilly’s and we had her wrench another repair on her 1987 4Runner. Putting a new master cylinder on a simple vehicle like this little truck is the perfect project for a beginner:

First, unplug the lead coming out of the master cylinder cap and then disconnect the brake lines from the old master cylinder (we used a bottle under them to catch leaking brake fluid). Find something to cover or plug them so that no contaminants get in. Zoe used some plastic wrap.

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After that, simply remove the four nuts holding the master cylinder to the brake booster, and remove.

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Here is the cool part: the directions for the master cylinder give you the step by step procedure on how to bench bleed it. This involves placing the new master cylinder level in a vice or other clamp on a bench, filling it full of brake fluid,  and running tubes from the fitting for the brake lines back into the reservoir. You then use a dowel to push the cylinder in and pump the air out of master cylinder.

But, I don’t have a vise or other way to hold it.

We used the truck as our “bench” by bolting the new master cylinder on to the truck without attaching the brake lines. Then, we copied the bench bleeding procedure by filling the reservoir with fluid and let some drip out. Next, we fitted the green fittings they supplied, attached the plastic hoses, and ran them back into the reservoir:

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Zoe pushed the brake pedal down slowly while I held the hoses in the fluid. I had her repeat the procedure until no air bubble were present (there were a few really big ones right away, but they disappeared quickly. We didn’t even try to get all the very tiny ones out). At this point, we quickly pulled the green fitting out, put the brake lines back on, topped off the fluid, capped the reservoir, and plugged it in. Done.

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It was that simple. And by “bench bleeding” the master cylinder this way, we managed to get zero air in the lines. The brake pedal feel was firm right from the start, and braking performance greatly improved. We’ll still bleed the entire system just to make sure…

Easy project and Zoe saved quite a bit of money by doing it herself.

A couple of notes though:

Buy a set of flare nut wrenches that are appropriate for your vehicle. They’ll make working on fuel and brake lines so much easier.

And! Tie back your hair. I didn’t think about it while we were doing this, but when I looked at the pics I saw it: Zoe should’ve had her hair tied up and out of the way. If this would’ve been a project on a running vehicle… yikes.

 

review: Front Runner Wolf Pack

Banana boxes worked great for our camping/overlanding organization. Free. Light. Quiet. But, the best thing about them was that they allowed us to learn what we needed to pack, and what had to be left behind, before we spent money on storage. Of course, the dampness of the Pacific Northwest meant that we replaced them often and the lack of a lid made stacking them difficult if their load stuck out.

As our packing and camping became more streamlined, we decided to go with Front Runner Wolf Packs:

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They are based on South African ammo boxes; they are plastic, well built, and are stackable. They do lock together, which means you have to lift them off of each other (if you’re just after one box); they do have good handles to grab. I am not sure if it was something that was part of the design, but the bottom shape and the plastic they are made of doesn’t allow them to slide at all on the carpeted top of our drawer system.

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After a few trips, these things have proved their worth. We love them and they’ve made the back of the Land Cruiser so much more organized.

Our only complaint is the plastic latches them come with. To open, you lift the tab on the bottom of the latch; to close, you push in the middle of the clip. Easy. While packing them the first time, one of the clips broke off. It was easy to live with a box with only three clips, then  a second one on the same box snapped. Ugh.

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Front Runner does have a fix: metal clips. The second one was nice enough to break while we were at the Northwest Overland Rally, so we stopped by Defenders NW booth to pick up two packs. The swap was simple: gently pry out the plastic ones, squeeze in the metal clips:

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The one thing I notice about the metal clips is that it’s best to gently lift the bottom loop to open, and I close them with two fingers (one on each side of the wire). It takes a little bit more thought to open/close than the plastic ones. Also, I saw quite a a few other Front Runner Wolf Packs at the rally, and ours were the only one that had a broken clip…

In conclusion, we can’t say how much we like these. Packing and unpacking is so much easier with these boxes. The size and shape is perfect.

And they look more “overland” than banana boxes.