The new Toyota Fortuner has touched down in South Africa and to mark the momentous occasion, the SUV’s makers treated local media to a two-day trip across the most beautiful and remote regions of the Western Cape.
Starting in George, the top-of-the-line VX 4×4 was our chariot for a 232km stretch inland to an overnight stop in Prince Albert, followed the next morning by another 177km route through picturesque towns and passes to get back to where we started.
Two days with South Africa’s favourite seven-seater
Arriving at the George airport, Toyota South Africa welcomed its invitees with a row of shiny new Fortuners in multiple hues ready to tackle the road.
A short driver briefing took place letting us know more or less what lies ahead without spoiling it, and shortly thereafter we were through the parking lot gates and on the open highway.
This gave us our first taste of the Fortuner as an open-road cruiser, leisurely skirting along the edges of the Indian Ocean towards Hartenbos, the SUV seemingly not bothered in the slightest by this task.
Not long after crossing Klein Brak River, we finally got off the wide tarmac roads and headed inland, where breathtaking landscapes and barren flats lay in waiting.
Moving through tiny towns such as Brandwacht and Bonnievale, the convoy of no less than a dozen Fortuners turned many heads, and before we knew it, the first of four passes, the 860m-high Robinson Pass, was in our crosshairs.
The steep climb started abruptly but the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel Fortuner VX showed no strain, foreshadowing what we could expect for the rest of the journey.
Down the other side, we hit our first patch of gravel road.
The updated Fortuner’s suspension was slightly reworked and while it’s certainly more comfortable than the pre-facelift model, it still provides a harsher ride than most of its rivals and this was mostly felt on dirt.
Finally, we reached our first stop 145km later in Calitzdorp for a refresher and driver swap, and on we went.
Hugging the Nels River, we exited Calitzdorp and continued on dirt roads for another 87-odd kilometres.
A quick stopover at Kobus se Gat allowed spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and photo opportunities aplenty, just before hitting the most daunting pass of all, the Swartberg Pass.
According to the tour guide, this mountain road was built by hand and opened in 1888, and to this day, it’s the only gravel pass in the country with national monument status.
The route was a long, winding pathway to the 1,575m summit with sheer drops just metres away at all times, and once again, the burly engine proved to be up to the task while the climate control and excellent JBL speakers in the flagship Fortuner kept us cool and entertained in the scorching temperatures.
Down the other side again, the most beautiful mountainscapes and rivers South Africa has to offer acted as a great resting spot and another photo opportunity, with but a handful of kilometres laying ahead before reaching our overnight stop in the historic town of Prince Albert.
The next morning, the Toyota convoy headed out bright and early to get back to George again before the flight takes off, with a much shorter 177km road planned.
The first hour consisted of highways and just as things were getting mundane, we rounded a corner to reach the spectacular Meiringspoort Pass, which runs alongside the Groot River and crosses it no fewer than 23 times, said the tour guide.
The Fortuner behaved dependably through the series of twists and turns and with the pass behind us, we put foot to get to our end destination quickly as a bout of stop-and-go traffic control measures put us behind schedule.
Coasting back on our way to Oudtshoorn, the convoy was stuck behind a slow-moving truck and had to pass it one by one.
At the rear of the line, we activated adaptive cruise control through convenient buttons on the leather-and-wood steering wheel and sat back to enjoy the ride while the Toyota automatically kept a steady following distance from the vehicle ahead until it was our turn to overtake.
Outeniqua Pass was the final scenic road and offered amazing vantage points of the blue ocean about 30km away, and before we knew it, we were back at the George airport and on a plane, with two days in South Africa’s favourite seven-seater now behind us.