The Discovery discovering Kruger National Park. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Discovery discovering Kruger National Park. Picture: SUPPLIED

As most of you know, I’ve handed the editorship of Motor News over to a new editor, packed the family up and moved to the UK.

But before we left I had to make sure our two young daughters got to see the incredible Kruger National Park and its wildlife, in its proper environment. So we organised a Discovery from Land Rover SA, packed everyone in and headed down to Pilgrim’s Rest in Mpumalanga for the first part of what was to become a Discovery family safari in more ways than one.

The idea was to do Kruger Park in the Discovery then head to OR Tambo to fly to the UK where we would pick up a Discovery Sport from Land Rover UK and experience what the Brits think is a safari at the Longleat Safari Park.

First the Disco proper, although for many it is not as proper as previous generations. It retains all the traditional off-road ability, but the new Disco is a bit more lifestyle than before. Yes, many people who own a Disco use it for pavement hopping and Land Rover has probably acknowledged this in the new version but it has lost something in its regeneration. And then there’s that rear number plate issue, but I’ve made my feelings on that clear before.

The quality of the materials in the Discovery Sport is superb. Picture: SUPPLIED
The quality of the materials in the Discovery Sport is superb. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Disco we had was the Si6, boasting a supercharged V6 producing 250kW and 450Nm torque. I’m a big fan of the V6 because it provides ample power when you want it but driven properly a good V6 can be surprisingly economical.

Not so much this one though. We covered more than 1,000km and it drank more than R2,000 in fuel. That’s R2/km and with cautious use of the right foot and plenty of use of the surprisingly basic cruise control. Go for the diesel unless you have a very healthy bank account.

Cruiser

It did the cruise to Mpumalanga well and we fitted an iPad holder to the headrest so the kids could watch a Disney movie while we took in our last views of SA.

The Disco showed its softer side on the twistier Mpumalanga roads, at least as far as the steel sprung suspension was concerned. For a more dynamic ride, move to a higher-spec version with air suspension and a dynamic setting on the terrain response system.

The Disco had proved a comfortable long-distance cruiser, and soon we were exploring.

It is sad to see Pilgrim’s Rest has become something of a ghost town. It is a shadow of what I once knew it to be. It is a pity because it is steeped in history and has the potential to be a significant tourist spot.

A pitstop at Pilgrim’s Rest. Picture: SUPPLIED
A pitstop at Pilgrim’s Rest. Picture: SUPPLIED

The town was one of many stops in the area, from Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, to the stunning God’s Window and Mac-Mac Falls as well discovering the phenomenally electric Smokey restaurant in an old train carriage in Sabie. After years covering the Sabie Rally, I am baffled how I had never even seen this awesome spot.

We also did much gravel road driving, where the Discovery excelled in terms of ride comfort. What was odd though, although in a good way if you want to explore, was that the satnav seemed insistent that the best route was always some narrow, bumpy gravel track, whether to Ohrigstad or through a forest track in darkness and with thick mist to Crystal Springs. We probably missed a setting but it added to the sense of that final big adventure.

The adventure culminated in a trip into Kruger, heading in through Numbi Gate. As much as my wife tried to keep us to the main roads, I kept taking to tracks but we saw many of the Big Five. While the lions eluded us that day, the kids were in awe of the amazing range of wildlife they saw up close. The Discovery was faultless as a game-viewing vehicle. No sooner had we said goodbye to the hippos than we were heading back to Jozi and on to the airport.

The Disco swallowed up all the family’s luggage and paraphernalia for the big trip to the UK, enough to require three trolleys at OR Tambo.

It had done a great if rather thirsty job but it was time to discover a new chapter.

We arrived at Heathrow to be greeted by a driver with the Discovery Sport, this time, a diesel in Namib Orange. The diesel part was even more important because at what was then already about R26 a litre, we were in no hurry to have to fill it up again.

The Discovery Sport at Longleat House, the impressive home of the Marquis of Bath. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Discovery Sport at Longleat House, the impressive home of the Marquis of Bath. Picture: SUPPLIED

In spite of having seven seats, it took some serious Tetris work to pack in the luggage. The Sport has a standard 981l compared to the 1,231l of the Discovery. We managed it and headed west to our new home in a village near Bristol. Despite new views for the kids, they were occupied by Cbeebies shown live on the optional rear seat entertainment system but all were comfortable after a long journey.

Over the next few days the Sport worked hard, carrying everything from the essential Ikea flat-pack furniture to a secondhand dining suite and an enormous shop at the local supermarket. But we wanted to take it on the second part of our Discovery family safari and headed to Longleat in Wiltshire.

Not surprisingly, Longleat with its multitude of family activities, a grand stately home and the safari park was significantly more expensive than Kruger. Think nearly R2,500 for the family compared to a few hundred rand to get into Kruger. For that we got to sit almost in a convoy and see Africa’s finest animals in a not so natural setting. It’s way better than a zoo of course and the animals have a fair amount of space on the huge estate, but it was no Kruger Park, not by a long shot.

We did see lions though and the family loved watching the giraffes chasing a small zebra stripes-emblazoned Suzuki Jimny around at feeding time.

Two very different experiences, in two weeks, on two continents and in two different Land Rover Discoverys.

It was quite the adventure but one that led me to a number of important conclusions: you cannot beat Kruger Park, not anywhere; and the Discovery faces stiffer competition than ever before and it comes partly from its own younger brother.