After what has seemed like an eternity, 100 days of social distancing to be exact, we decided to head out and have a day out of the house. Still adhering strictly to the guidelines of level 3 lockdown, we chose to do a drive to Dinokeng Game Reserve in Hammanskraal where they offer a self-drive game drive.
Disconnected from Cape Town for a year, we were missing the convenience of quick escapes from the hustle and bustle of daily life to open spaces, fresh air and the beauty of the outdoors. In Gauteng, one must make a rather greater effort for this experience. Things are not just around the corner over here. Being the intrepid explorers that we are, and suffering with “lockdown-itus”, we ventured forth ready for a great wildlife adventure.
Situated an hour out of Benoni, the Dinokeng private game reserve promised to be a day of sun and game viewing from the comfort and security of our own car and minimal interaction with the public at large. They charge R80 per adult and R50 per child. The route is about 2 hours and has places to stop for comfort breaks, meals or picnics. We packed a picnic basket of fruit, chicken-mayo rolls and every luxury Taufeeq could find in the pantry cupboard, crisps chocolates and of course the fresh choc chip biscuits he baked last night. Quietly I packed a flask of rather strong coffee to help deal with the craziness that ensues when the little man’s excitement for a long drive wanes and I have to start answering the “are we there yet?” questions.
Little did we know our day was not going to go quite as planned. With great weather and quiet roads, we made good time. Even the ridiculously high toll fees didn’t dampen the mood (us Kaapies don’t know what toll fees are – just saying). And then it happened, starting with a slight hum and then a light rattle, and then a progressively worse shudder, yes you guessed it, a puncture on the left back tyre.
This was fortunately just ten kilometres from our destination but still on the N1. I found a safe spot to stop, hazards on, and got out to check the damage. No surprise I have a screw fully embedded in the tread. Now as much as I know this, it never ceases to amaze me, when I finally got to the spare wheel under the concealed tool tray, that I have a biscuit spare rather than the proper one. With wife and son watching and directing, I did a wheel change that would have made a Formula One Pit-stop Manager proud. By the way, the replaced wheel does not fit in the space provided, go figure. Only slightly rattled, manly honour intact, we head off for the nearest filling station. There is no way I am going to a game reserve with a biscuit tyre in place and no spare. My skill set does not extend to changing a tyre under the watchful eye of a creature that views me as the entré on its next meal.
Hammanskraal is new territory for me. I have been here on a business trip some years ago but it was short and as a passenger I did not take an interest in my surroundings. Afterall I returned to the safety of the Cape after that trip. We stopped at a Shell garage just off the off-ramp from the N1 and quickly found out that they could not help. The next stop was a Total garage we spied on the opposite side of the main road attached to the Rebro Shopping Centre. Things were starting to look up, the attendant at the Total could help and for R50 would fix the damaged tyre. Whilst I oversaw the repair, the rest of my troop went into the convenience store to fill up on supplies. More luxuries and something cold to drink. The tyre burst at the compressed air pump. Beyond repair now. Frustrated I ventured to the store to collect the troops and decide on the next steps. This is where I met Bilal, the owner, manager of the garage.
I explained my predicament and Bilal promptly phoned a friend who ran the Wheel and Tyre place down the road, to see if they could assist. Being Sunday afternoon, they had just closed and all staff gone home. When I explained to Bilal we were going to Dinokeng, he promptly offered us his bakkie to carry on to the reserve so as to not waste our trip. This guy hadn’t spoken to me for a full ten minutes and he was offering me a vehicle for the afternoon.
Seldom have I come across this level of trust or compassion from a stranger. I was extremely grateful but was not going to complicate matters more than necessary. We exchanged details and he suggested that should I have a problem on the way back, I should call him as he had tow trucks at his disposal.
Before we left we bought some fries and a burger from the Halaal Steers inside the convenience store at the garage and headed slowly back to Benoni on our biscuit tyre. We broke the slightly longer trip back at the Total Petroport with its novel restaurant court which is built over the highway. It houses a Nandos, Spur, Illy Coffee and Steers. Sadly, none of these were halaal. So we just had coffee and a milkshake while we watched the cars zoom by on the N1 beneath us.
We arrived home safely, having enjoyed a day with nice weather, open roads and great road music. The fact that we did not get to do our game drive did not even matter. Bilal, this is a shout out to an upstanding guy. Next trip to see the wild animals in Hammanskraal we will definitely pop in and say hi.
Not all plans turn out the way you want, but there is always a silver lining. The kindness of strangers does much to restore one’s faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.
By Zulfikar Umar, the other half of Hungry for Halaal.
Also read: Halaal Restaurants open for sit-down service