By Ntsako Mthethwa*
Let’s be honest, road carnage claims many lives every day and a recent study showed that our country has about 1 million accidents per year. Of these, about 40 are fatal on a daily basis. Simply imagine your entire office or lecture room at varsity being wiped out every day. This is the reality we face on the road.
Human factor is amongst the cause of road accidents with, on average over 40 people a day being fatally injured and at least 20 being left permanently disabled.
We recently drove down to the Eastern Cape to take part in the 2019 Eastern Cape SUV Challenge (#SUVChallenge on social media) that aims to discover the wonders of the province whilst promoting road safety (by addressing drinking and driving, texting and driving awareness) and uplifting, and empowering the rural communities.
So this is not a tale of SUVs challenging each other on the road on which model goes about its business, but something rather different and you will understand why I spoke about road safety at the beginning.
The journey to Eastern Cape began in Gauteng and the meeting point was Port Elizabeth which sits some 1,000 km plus away from my house in the West of Pretoria.
Mercedes-Benz X350d 4MATIC
It is no lie that road-trips and great vehicles go hand in hand hence we had the new Mercedes-Benz X350d V6 in Power guise lined-up for the journey.
A little about the car won’t hurt. The X350d is an answer to Volkswagen’s Amarok V6 bakkie and it packs a V6 engine replete with 190 kW of power and 550 Nm of torque. All that amount of power is accessible via a 7G-TRONIC automatic box plus a 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive that provided excellent off-road capabilities.
There is an electronically engaged low-range for those seeking to do the hard stuff. Hill descent control is standard with the 4MATIC AWD system.
Back to the trip. The drive lasted for close to 9 hours, we had refueled the X350d twice before making our arrival at Port Elizabeth at Henry Ngiza Primary School where we educated the students about various career opportunities that are available to them, particularly in the technological industry.
After the event, all the SUVs were lined-up for a photo shoot. That did not take long and we were escorted by the provincial and national traffic police to our lunch venue at Black Impala. I have always known Xhosa people to be avid lovers of meat and I can clearly attest to that.
Our late lunch was braai pork and sausages served with dombolo – what a good treat. The restaurant is a Tshisa Nyama that serves traditional African food and braai / grilled meat. It also has a full bar and is the perfect venue to enjoy a conversation in a relaxed atmosphere. If you happen to travel to PE, make sure you visit this place.
We later made our way to Walmer for our stopover for the night at Victoria and Alfred Collection guest house. The guesthouse is situated 4.8 km from the beach and 1.5 km from Port Elizabeth Airport and makes a great stopover.
Dinner with MEC Weziwe Tikana
Dinner was at The Boardwalk Sun International 5 star Hotel where all the SUV Challenge guests were in attendance including the Eastern Cape transport MEC Weziwe Tikana, motoring journalists from around the country among other stakeholders.
MEC Tikana announced the provincial government has pledged to financially support the event for the next three years, a good thing indeed.
Day 2 of SUV Challenge
The second day of the SUV Challenge was full of fun and lots of driving. Capable as it is, the X350d attested itself in the most impressive manner. With the fuel consumption numbers jittering around the 9.7l/100km mark, it did not disappoint, thanks to the 80-litre fuel tank capacity, we were able to cover over 600 km on a single tank.
After a briefing at the Kings Beach in Port Elizabeth, we made our way to Mngqesha in King Williams town for safety awareness.
Being led in front by the folks in Volkswagen GTIs fitted with intimidating blue lights, the drive took us through the scenic N2 and the X350d has proven to be quite comfortable on the highway.
The drive took us through a 7 km gravel route where the X350d’s 4×4 abilities were put to the test. Although we did not take the vehicle on some challenging off-roading, it handled the drive with so much aplomb. The suspension gets our thumbs up as it flattens the bumps and road uneasiness with style. Unlike other bakkies I have tested, the X350d’s load bin does not jitter over bumps with no load in there – something that other bakkies suffer from.
We arrived in Hamburg at ST Charles Sojola High School to brief grade 11 and 12 students about institutions they can consider after completing their matric.
We used the same gravel route back to the tar road and we made our way to Drifters Raceway Theme Park in East London for a late lunch. The park’s activities include racing cards, quad bike trail, paintball, volleyball, braai facilities, relaxing area, private events, outdoor screens for sporting events, team building, cultural activities and conferencing.
After our late lunch, it was time to head to Silverdawn B&B in East London for our stopover for the night. This is a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast establishment that boasts four en-suite rooms, each with DSTV and Wi-Fi connection.
Day 3 of SUV Challenge
On the third day of the SUV Challenge, the parts of the morning were spent getting the cars refueled before hitting the road to Mqhekezweni Great Place which is situated about 200 km away from East London.
On arrival, the community along with the elders welcomed the SUV Challenge convoy and we were all taken through the history of the place.
About 95 years ago, a young Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would sit under the big gum tree listening to stories from his AbaThembu elders at the Mqhekezweni Great Place, where his guardian and AbaThembu regent Jongintaba Dalindyebo (Mtirara) would be hearing cases brought by his people.
The SUV Challenge participants educated the community about road safety awareness. The health department also handled wellness screenings for the local community while recruitment exhibitions were handled by participating universities. We also gave food parcels to the community.
The road to Coffee Bay was a challenging one as it was already dark and stray animals were everywhere but thanks to the X350d’s high-performance headlights that provided optimum lighting. After ducking potholes and animals, we arrived at the Ocean View Hotel in Coffee Bay.
The hotel is a treasured Wild Coast coastal-country hotel with an exceptional vibe and offers activities ranging from hiking, fishing surfing, diving and culture. Be sure to check it out.
The night was splendid, sadly there was no wifi connectivity in our rooms – something that could have been greatly appreciated.
We spent the morning of the last day of the challenge at the Hole in the Wall tourist attraction site in Coffee Bay. The local Xhosa call this place “izi Khaleni”, which means “place of thunder”. This is a massive hole carved by the waves in a free-standing mountain (or island) in the water.
Looking forward to SUV Challenge 2020
After savouring the moment, it was time to head back to Gauteng. We made a brief stop in Mthatha to get the car cleaned up and before the sunset, we made our way back.
The SUV Challenge initiative is very important and it aims to educate the public about being safe on the roads and to keep the society functioning in the most optimal way.
*Ntsako is Motoring Editor at Opera News South Africa and Co-Founder at Whipdt.
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