Wild camping in South Africa December 2020

One of our main issues before we started our life on the road was the overnighting question. In the past we always pre-booked a hotel, airbnb, self catering or, like on Trokkie’s maiden trip with the grand daughters, a caravan park. Now, being totally self sufficient, we have the opportunity to literally park the truck anywhere and go to bed.

We have now been on the road with Trokkie for a bit longer than three months and in that time we have experienced quite different scenario’s. While writing the blog stories so far, I’ve figured out that an almost necessary part of every story is to explain or describe where, at the end of every day, we decide on a place to sleep.

What did we take away from these first three months? Wild camping in South Africa doesn’t (yet) seem to be the done thing. In our almost 3 months on the road we have camped in the following ways:

  • Camping grounds: pay your fee and park. This is the easiest and most convenient because you have all sorts of facilities. This usually happens when it’s getting late and we haven’t found a suitable spot yet to park or it’s just a practical matter when we are low on power (three to four days without sunshine lets our battery drop too low and then we need shore power) or when we want to do laundry and afterwards want to fill up our tanks again. Sometimes we’re lucky to find a really well run caravan park with nice views, sometimes we find just a place that’s good enough for parking and taking water, but not much more. This way of camping is by far the costliest however and therefore we’re always on the lookout for a spot to overnight without having to pay for it. 

  • Rest stops along national roads. (yes, the ones indicated by signage of a tree and a bench) These spots are not always quiet as- depending which road of course- there can be continuous passing traffic, but so far we have never felt unsafe or have been harassed in any way. Yes, we usually try to find a spot a fair distance away from villages and settlements so any traffic on the road only wants to get home and is not interested in stopping to check us out. Same usually applies for petrol stations and truck stops: not always quiet, but so far without any hassles. Most of the roadside stops however, are not clean. Sometimes we only need a glance to decide to move along to the next one, because the whole area is a litter site. Although so far not one rest stop has been really clean, some are better than others. Got only the one photo from a road rest stop on the N14 in the Northern Cape when the sun went down over the stark landscape of the semi-desert.

  • Copses and lay-by’s on regional roads. It’s the rural version of national roads pull offs and these spots are closer to villages and farms. Therefore we have had police and/or security checking up. We assume they are initially worried about the criminal element (outside Bonnievale we had police exiting their cars with hands on gun), but after they chat to us their worry changes to concern for our well-being. Sometimes they come around more than once during the night to check if we’re still ok.

  • Reserves, passes and wilderness area’s. We have also parked in passes or reserves or even dams where we were probably so far from civilisation that nobody in his right mind would think about coming to harass us. Sometimes it’s a matter of time catching up on you and it’s better to pull over before the sun starts going down than to try finish a track in the dark. Even though we’ve had the occasional ranger wanting to know if we did overnight on a random spot, other wilderness area’s seem to have no problems with anybody pulling off the road at any place.

  • Dirt roads passing through farms. And then, we sometimes just pull over to the side of the road on desolate roads where the road or a pass runs  through private farmlands. Seeing that many off-road roads are criss-crossing the enormous tracts of farm lands, you’ll be actually driving through private property very often, even if the road is indicated as a proper accesible road. These roads are characterized by gates (either open or you need to open and close yourself) and cattle grids. Farmers are very aware of any movement on their grounds. Even when not intending to park and sleep, but simply driving through certain areas gets the farmers on edge: any vehicle or presence out of the ordinary gets stopped and questioned. In most cases when they chat to us they understand we’re no danger to them or their farm. Although it is annoying sometimes, we do understand. Stock theft, general theft and farm murders are of prime concern and they look out for each other. Even though we have been stopped a few times to be questioned while passing through, we’ve only once been requested to  pack up and move away from our night stop and find another place. 

  • Parking lots and street parking. Due to circumstances we sometimes HAVE to be in the urban environment and then we have parked overnight on parking lots of shopping malls or even just in a parallel parking spot on the road. In parking lots you might get a visit from the night watch on duty but they’re usually very OK with us standing there for the night. This kind of parking usually has the practical goal of being able to do shopping, or to go to the pharmacist or bank the following morning. Parking in the street raises even less eyebrows. We’ve done so at e.g. Strand and Bloubergstrand beach roads or Barrydale main street. There we try combine the view, a walk and an undisturbed place just to stand for the night (or two sometimes).

  • Conclusion. So far, so good. Wild camping, free camping, boondocking,… whatever you call it… is possible. It’s a matter of using common sense and being courteous to your surroundings and communities. Many people have asked us about the safety of free camping in South Africa. To repeat myself… so far, so good. We’ve never been harassed by unsavoury characters. We prefer to be as far away as possible from civilisation and camp in the most remote and desolate of landscapes, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Then we make the best of it until we can retreat to the bush once more. 

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2 thoughts on “Wild camping in South Africa December 2020”

  1. Most interesting and certainly valuable information for those that follow a similar lifestyle as you. Do hope you have a pleasant place for Xmas stopover.
    Best wishes
    Stephen Medcalf

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