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Overland Touring is probably one of the most fulfilling Adventure Experiences our there. If you have the time (and the money) you can spend a couple of months touring some of the most remote areas of Africa. "Off the beaten track" is clearly a very apt description for this activity as the trips usually take you through places that few other tourists venture to.
There are many Overland Tour Operators based in South Africa as many of the Continental Overland Tours start/finish in Cape Town. You can either start and finish a tour of Southern Africa from South Africa, or you can start your adventure from Europe and spend 6 months making your way through some of the most remote areas of Africa, to get to South Africa.
Overland Tour Companies generally use a converted truck for their trips. The trucks are usually either a M.A.N, Scania or Mercedes and are custom built for Overlanding.
These trucks are chosen for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are rugged enough to handle the attrocious roads (or lack thereof) that are found in deepest, darkest Africa. They are obviously all Four Wheel Drive and have a very high ground clearance, important when the potholes you are navigating through can swallow a car!
Secondly, the passenger section is elevated, so that you can see much more. The additional height makes a huge difference, especially when travelling along rural roads with high grass on the verges, which would normally make any viewing impossible.
Lastly, these vehicles are built to be totally self-sufficient and therefore need lots of storage space for spare parts, food and of course passengers' luggage.
Credit: Oasis Overland
Overland Trips are not for the feint hearted. There are two perils that are ever-present. Firstly, some African Countries are still in a state of political turmoil/uncertainty. The situation in these countries tends to change from day to day and whilst it generally does not effect visitors to the countries, their is a danger of being caught in another outbreak of the local civil war. Overland Companies, thankfully have a lot of experience in these situations and have developed a large network and local contacts, to keep them informed of any imminent problems.
The second concern most travellers have is if the truck that they are travelling in breaks down. In some remote areas of Africa, the nearest garage could be over 200km away, and even then might not be equiped with the necessary spare parts or mechanics. For this reason, most Overland companies, ensure that the drivers have mechanical experience and most are in fact qualified mechanics and are able to repair most breakdowns themselves. The trucks also carry critical spares onboard, which enables the Driver to do running repairs in most situations.
In addition, most Overland companies have several trucks on the routes at any given time and are in constant radio/telephonic contact with their trucks. In the unlikely event that there is a breakdown that the driver is unable to repair, spares and a mechanic (if necessary) can be flown/driven to the stranded vehicle in a reasonably short period of time.
Interesting Overlanding Facts from Wikipedia - Overlanding has increased in the past couple of decades, and is getting ever more popular in large part influenced by the Camel Trophy event run from 1980 to 2000 with routes crossing some intensely difficult terrain. In 2007 Overland Journal, an overlanding specific magazine, came onto the scene.
Through the use of the internet it is much easier to find the information required for extended overland trips in foreign lands and there are several internet forums where travelers can exchange information and tips as well as coordinate planning (see external links below). While some commercially built overland capable vehicles are produced, many overlanders consider the preparation of their vehicle a paramount part of the experience. Both South Africa and Australia have significant industries based on making accessories for overland travel.
The late 1960s saw the advent of commercial overlanding (see Overland travel). Companies started offering overland tours to groups in large, specially equipped trucks. Mostly in Africa, these journeys could last for months, and relied heavily on the participation of the paying passengers for food preparation, food purchasing and setting up camp. The ultimate of these adventures was always the 'trans', or the complete journey from Europe to Cape Town in South Africa. Commercial overlanding has since expanded to all the continents of the world save Antarctica.
A large collection of Overland Websites and trip reports
News, views and advice on Commercial Overlanding Companies
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Credit - Oasis Overland
Credit: African Overland