The academy is based at the Leribisi Lodge in Tierpoort, just behind Rietvlei Dam so it’s within reasonable driving distance from Joburg and Pretoria.

CRA Motoring & Adventure News – South Africa

By Laurette Morgan 

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The academy is based at the Leribisi Lodge in Tierpoort, just behind Rietvlei Dam so it’s within reasonable driving distance from Joburg and Pretoria.

It’s been twenty-four years since I did my first off-road driving course, and having worked in radio and television studios for years, I was keen to get out there and get my hands dirty again.

So Mahindra’s invitation to attend their off-road academy came at just the right time.

The academy is based at the Leribisi Lodge in Tierpoort, just behind Rietvlei Dam, so it’s within reasonable driving distance from Joburg and Pretoria.

Once there you are greeted by driving instructor Derick Crous and the Mahindra public relations team, and treated to a breakfast bun and coffee which gives you fuel for the morning session. And believe me, you need it.

First Derick conducts a thorough theory session, educating you about the do’s and the don’ts whilst off the beaten track. He starts with knowing your vehicle and understanding its capabilities and, equally important, its limitations.

You see a large part of negotiating obstacles successfully lies in your knowledge and preparation.

Everything from turning circles to wading depths and rollover angles are discussed.

Other points discussed include tyre pressure, approach and departure angles, and climbing and descending hills.

He explains what to do when driving through water and crossing over rocks, what to do when you find yourself in loose sand or going through thick mud and, if you don’t get that right, he illustrates a winch recovery. It is also important that you have a first aid kit in case something should go wrong.

Then it’s time to get to business. Two drivers team up per vehicle.

I run for the Mahindra Karoo Pik Up auto first.

It’s fitted with a 2.2 mHawk turbo diesel engine that is said to deliver a 103 kW of power and coupled to an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission produces 320 Nm of torque, so I’m curious to see if it will live up to the good reviews I’ve read about it.

Before I know I’m in the thick of it…literally. Thick mud and deep water but the Karoo gets through it without flinching.

Then onto crossing rocks which has never been my favourite. A lot of bouncing around but by carefully positioning the wheels there are no problems getting through the obstacle in a jiffy and without too much discomfort.

As I progress I find it a very decent off-road course, particularly for first-timers to cut their teeth on as it includes all the scenarios you could expect to encounter in the real world.

Before lunch we tackle the scariest obstacle, “Mother-in-Law”. It is named by Derick because everyone has trouble with it.

I get to the top of the hill.

It’s been a while since I’ve been off-road and my heart is pounding. It’s easy for him to say, “put it in first, take your feet off everything and drop.” I hold my breath…and take the plunge. What happens next impresses me no end.

The new hill descent control system on the S11 is incredible.

I have driven every serious off-road vehicle you can think of during my career and own a Mercedes Benz G300 Professional, which is the most capable, most durable off-roader by far (fact). It costs the price of a house though.

But I never expected a vehicle in this price range (under R450 000) to be this capable.

On some more expensive 4×4’s, the hill descent, a system which uses engine and vehicle braking to regulate speed, can be very jerky and jittery. On the Karoo Pik Up it is smooth and gives you confidence that you’re going to be able to clear the obstacle without incident.

The climb out of the ditch is also effortless.

We break for lunch and then move on to part two of the training. A little more advanced to say the least.

I must admit even I got a little scared. I’m now in the manual S10 CRDe Thar, named after an Indian dessert. It requires more skill to overcome obstacles in a manual vehicle. The course is more condensed than the one before lunch but it is relentless.

To give you an idea, it starts with “Mother-in-law” (the least tricky obstacle on stage 2) and then it becomes hair-raising.

Rocks are now replaced by boulders … huge boulders scattered few and far between, so now the skill is to try and keep a grip with at least one wheel at all times.

Fortunately, Derick is on hand to give advice and teach you how to best approach this scenario. It’s scary but following his instruction, we get through it incident-free.

Up another, what I thought was a scary hill, and another blind drop and around to approach the same hill from a different angle.

Derick calls all of us out of the vehicles and onto the hill and when I get to the top I think, “There’s no way I’m going down here” It’s aptly named “Braveheart” and I’m not feeling particularly brave.

It is a massive hill with an even steeper drop on the other side of it and nothing but thin air on either side of you.

As he explains several different scenarios of what can go wrong here, I’m thinking of excusing myself to go to the loo. Then my Viking blood kicks in. I fire myself up ready to go into battle. I start the engine and make sure I’m in first gear.

I gently let the handbrake down and start edging forward.

Then I give it beans to get to the top of “Braveheart”. It’s a delicate balance, too much power and you ramp over the precipice to disaster. Too little and you’ll never make it up. And believe me, although you can perform a reverse start in the Thar, it’s not something I’m in the mood for halfway up this mountain. Suddenly all my training comes into its own.

I stay calm and apply just enough power to ensure sufficient momentum to get me to the top. Then I pray my wheels are as straight as I think they are and drop into the abyss.

My heart is now in my throat but I don’t flinch. Once again the hill descent control kicks in and safely transport me into the belly of the beast. I exhale for the first time and realise I made it.

Quick acceleration and I clear the obstacle, my adrenalin pumping.

What a rush! Afterwards I can’t resist putting the fear of God into the remaining drivers for a chuckle. The training is over.

A quick interactive session with Derick on what we’ve learnt and it’s a wrap. We are each handed a “Basic off-road Driving” manual compiled by Derick that is a reflection of our basic training for the day and some valuable additional theory on the science behind off-road driving to refer to in the future.

This course is a bit brutal but very educational and loads of fun and I would recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of taking on the more remote parts of Africa.

It could save your life … well, at least your holiday.

For more details or to book your course email

Article Credit To Rising Sun Chatsworth.